Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Obama: Open, sesame; Hagel to Swenson: mistakes were made and “we’re sorry;” The NSA, drone strikes and Heritage; Rubio likes more sanctions on Iran; Who makes John McHugh nervous; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Obama just opened the government. After the 16-day closure or partial closure of the federal government and a tense political standoff finally ended last night, President Barack Obama signed a directive to re-open the government and get hundreds of thousands of civilians back to work at federal agencies, parks, museums and monuments ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Obama just opened the government. After the 16-day closure or partial closure of the federal government and a tense political standoff finally ended last night, President Barack Obama signed a directive to re-open the government and get hundreds of thousands of civilians back to work at federal agencies, parks, museums and monuments around Washington. Congress voted late last night to fund all agencies, recalling civilians back to work, and agreed to raise the debt ceiling to $16.7 trillion. The move keeps the government open through Jan. 15 and raises the debt limit until Feb. 7.  All that ended a stalemate after Tea Party conservatives pushed to block funding of the federal healthcare law by using the threat of a government shutdown to do it. The WaPo’s Lori Montgomery and Rosalind Helderman: "That campaign succeeded mainly in undermining popular support for the Republican Party, however. By late Wednesday, dozens of anxious GOP lawmakers were ready to give President Obama almost exactly what he requested months ago: a bill to fund the government and increase the Treasury Department’s borrowing power with no strings attached.

The lede of the WaPo’s David Fahrentold, referring to conservative Republicans’ bid to shut down Obamacare: "It was over. They lost."

Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan’s lede: "If these last two weeks have proven anything, it’s that House Republicans haven’t yet mastered the art of using their majority. Many House Republicans believe they’ve gained next to nothing from a two-week government shutdown and near debt default."

The Pentagon had recalled most of its furloughed civilians already, but as of today all of them will be back, including all the folks in the Inspector Generals’ offices, legislative and public affairs.

"The Pentagon," a senior defense official told Situation Report, "is open for business."

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at and we’ll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Why the debt fight revealed American vulnerabilities overseas. American Security Project’s August Cole: "Asia’s nations need the personal reassurance that the U.S. is economically, militarily and politically committed to supporting a historic rise in Pacific prosperity that mutually benefits America. That kind of touch can only come from the top. Moreover, Japan and China together hold more than $2 trillion in U.S. debt – for now. Their view on the long-term value of what should be the world’s safest investment has ramifications throughout the financial markets and at central banks around the world. This is one of those times when President Obama has to try and think more like a corporate executive trying to manage his board of directors than a politician who thinks he can outsmart his most irrational foes." More of that bit, here.

Reports from Geneva reflect a generally positive view of the talks with Iran. Iran and the group of six world powers said they had engaged in positive discussions on Iran’s nuke program, pledging to meet again next month. But Marco Rubio wants more sanctions, not less. FP’s Ali Gharib and John Hudson (with Gharib in Geneva): "…Back in Washington, the enthusiasm is not shared by Congressional hawks who immediately dismissed the talks and proposed a new round of sanctions against Tehran — even though the administration had yet to reveal details about the progress of discussions. ‘No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva,’ said Sen. Marco Rubio in a statement attached to a new resolution calling for additional sanctions. Rubio added earlier: ‘Now is not the time to suspend sanctions, but to increase them on the Iranian regime.’"

And: "To a number of more dovish lawmakers in Congress, additional sanctions threaten to erode the already minimal amount of trust between Washington and Tehran. "There are very hawkish voices being raised and there is a push for additional sanctions in the Senate," Rep David Price (D-NC) told The Cable. "I think it’s ill-timed." Read the rest here.

Page Oner in the WaPo: Documents reveal big NSA role in drone srikes. Greg Miller, Julie Tage and Barton Gellman: "It was an innocuous e-mail, one of millions sent every day by spouses with updates on the situation at home. But this one was of particular interest to the National Security Agency and contained clues that put the sender’s husband in the crosshairs of a CIA drone. Days later, Hassan Ghul – an associate of Osama bin Laden who provided a critical piece of intelligence that helped the CIA find the al-Qaeda leader – was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt. The U.S. government has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. But documents provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden confirm his demise in October 2012 and reveal the agency’s extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy." The rest here.

The NSA scandal is tearing apart the Heritage Foundation. Fahreal. FP’s Shane Harris: "Ever since ex-senator and Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint took over the Heritage Foundation earlier this year, mainstream Republicans have been fretting that he’d turn the prominent conservative think tank into a political proxy for the most extreme elements of the GOP. The debt-deniers and defund-Obamacare die-hards who propelled the government into a shutdown have found a political, if not quite intellectual center of gravity at Heritage. Now, hawkish Republicans who have long embraced strong national security authorities have reason to believe that Heritage is mounting an opposition on that front, too. Recently, Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act — which authorizes some of NSA’s activities — and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy. But the paper’s conclusions did not sit well with DeMint, the sources said. More here.

FP just hired two new writers, Dan Lamothe, from the Marine Corps Times and Jamila Trindle, from the WSJ. They’re both award winning journos with a rep for digging out great stories. Starting October 30, they’re with FP. Lamothe has written for MCT (Situation Report’s alma mater from five jobs ago) and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008 and has covered the war in Afghanistan extensively. He broke the story that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer would receive the Medal of Honor and, with a team of other reporters, has exposed potential wrongdoing among the senior Corps leadership. He’ll continue that deep-dive coverage, investigating the technologies, people, plans, and budgets that make up the national security landscape for FP.

Jamila Trindle has covered financial regulation, the economy and breaking news for the Wall Street Journal for the past three years and has also reported for PBS’ Nightly Business Report. She’s been a freelancer in China, Indonesia and Turkey for NPR, Marketplace and the Guardian. She’ll be covering global finance, international market-makers, and the nexus of Wall Street and Washington for FP.

John McHugh fixed a problem in the Army. Army Captain Will Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, was in the Pentagon yesterday for the military ceremony there. But that’s where officials made a much more public acknowledgement of the tough road his MOH nomination took, a botched process after he criticized his senior officers during the investigation into what went wrong in the battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan in 2009 for which he received the medal. Following the battle, he told investigators that the rules of engagement were wrong, senior officers didn’t send help fast enough and that he was second-guessed for requesting fire support. That contributed in some way to the protracted process to nominate and award Swenson the medal. So Army Secretary John McHugh announced yesterday that the Army was fixing the problem. Yesterday McHugh issued a directive requiring that all Medal of Honor noms be sent immediately to the awards and decorations branch of the Army’s Human Resource Command. McHugh: "As soon as an honors packet is created at battalion level, we will have immediate visibility at Army headquarters. Each subsequent command’s review will also be required to be immediately forwarded to HRC; and in return, HRC will follow up with the original command every 30 days until that award packet reaches its final review. A parallel process that will provide greater oversight; a way by which we can ensure that no future award packet is lost along the way, or paperwork misplaced or somehow forgotten in the fog of war," McHugh said. Then he added: "Our heroes have always taught us many things, and that’s true here, today. Sometimes our heroes teach us how to make ourselves better. And Will, for that as well, I — we all — want to thank you."

Chuck Hagel apologized to the family of Army Capt. Swenson. Also appearing at the Pentagon ceremony was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said that in addition to Swenson’s valor on the battlefield, he exhibited courage and character by questioning authority when he criticized senior commanders during the battle. Hagel: "He questioned — he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to.  Mistakes were made in his case…As the institution itself reflected on that same courage and integrity institutionally, the institution, the United States Army, corrected the mistake.  They went back and acknowledged a mistake was made and they fixed it." Hagel, eschewing his prepared remarks and speaking off the cuff, also said: "Another great dimension of our republic, of our people, we have an inherent capability to self-correct.  Free people have that capability if they have the will and the courage to self-correct.  And we all do in our own personal lives.  Institutions don’t always. Eventually they will be forced to.  In this case, the United States Army was not forced to.  It did self-correct.  It was a wrong.  They corrected it.  They fixed it. We’re sorry that you and your family had to endure through that, but you did and you handled it right."

What made McHugh nervous yesterday: Will Swenson’s mom, an English teacher. McHugh, at yesterday’s Pentagon ceremony: "Will’s mom’s presence that has me a little nervous… more frightening, [Will Swenson’s mother, Julia’s] field was English. And as the President noted, she made sure that even at a young age, Will not only dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s, but he practiced perfect grammar at all times. So, Julia, ma’am, I have done my best today and will continue to ensure correct usage and correct syntax. Or, as we say back home where I’m from, I hope I got good English." Full transcript of McHugh’s remarks, here.

Joe Peters is the first Army Criminal Investigation Command agent to be killed in combat since 1971. Special Agent Peters "wanted to do the exciting thing," Stripes Nancy Montgomery quoted Special Agent Brian Mason as saying. "You feel good that you’re out there helping, risking your life to protect our nation." Peters died Oct. 6, just as his deployment to Afghanistan was ending, in a "devastating series of blasts from suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices" in a compound in Afghanistan west of Kandahar as he accompanied Army Rangers on a night raid.  Peters was soon to be reassigned to an Army protective unit that provides security for VIPs like the Secretary of Defense. He left behind a 20-month old son, Gabriel. Montgomery’s story in Stripes, here.

Don’t pigeonhole the San Antonio. The amphib isn’t just the ship that briefly housed Abu Anas al-Libi, the suspected al-Qaida surveillance and computer guru nabbed by Army commandoes in Libya and interrogated on the ship. Yesterday, it provided assistance to the Maltese government, picking up 128 people "in distress" who were for some reason found themselves on a raft in high seas. Navy story here.

John Kelly defended a Marine captain in connection with the Marine urination incident in Afghanistan. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: "Marine Gen. John Kelly, the four-star head of U.S. Southern Command, testified during an administrative hearing here Wednesday that it is the battalion and unit leadership – not Capt. James Clement – who should answer for failing to properly supervise the scout snipers who made a video of themselves urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Kelly testified for the defense before a board of three senior officers overseeing the hearing. They will determine whether Clement, who is accused of substandard performance and misconduct, keeps his military career or is thrown out of the Marine Corps." Kelly: "I would say that it was a battalion that was, in my estimation, loose in the way it did business… a lot of people doing great things but general confusion in how people were organized for combat." Her whole story here.

Next week, the Foreign Policy Initiative holds its 2013 Forum with David Petraeus, John Allen, Dov Zakheim, Eric Edelman, Seth Jones, Eliot Engel and Mike Rogers. FPI’s 2013 Forum this Tuesday Oct. 22 between 9-4 includes discussions about "What Defense Does America Need?" the crisis in Syria, post-2014 Afghanistan – "What are the Stakes?" and "Assessing the Asia Rebalance." The forum, to be held downtown, will include a number of national security folks and panels will be moderated by the likes of CBS’s Lara Logan, the WaPo’s David Ignatius, Armed Forces Journal’s Brad Peniston and the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin. Make a contribution and attend the private, off-the-record dinner with David Petraeus – the same one that John Allen will be joining as well. Info and RSVP here.

Rosa Brooks: "It really was nice while it lasted." She’s talking about the idea that is America. Writing for FP, Brooks wonders how this episode will be remembered in the year 2060. Brooks: "It was nice while it lasted. Having a government, I mean. You grandkids don’t remember the government, of course: We got rid of it long before you were born. I don’t remember why, exactly. Some people got angry because they thought the government was going to force them to get health insurance, which they didn’t want because — well, I’m not sure why they didn’t want it. No, no — the government wasn’t going to send them to prison or anything if they didn’t get health insurance. It was just a tax: The people who could afford to get health insurance but refused to buy it were going to be taxed a little more than people who bought health insurance. The tax was to pay for giving health care to people who couldn’t afford to buy their own insurance. But the same people who didn’t want to be told to get health insurance didn’t want to be taxed to pay for something that would help someone else. Yes, those were the people who called themselves the Tea Party, after the Boston rabble-rousers who threw several boatloads of British tea into Boston Harbor in 1773. Though there was a big difference between the two groups: The Tea Party of 1773 was protesting the imposition of taxes by the British Parliament, in which the American colonies had no elected representatives. The Tea Party of 2013 was protesting taxes voted on by the American Congress. Our own government.

"You didn’t know that? Well, no reason you would. Somehow the Tea Party managed to make it sound like the law requiring people to get health insurance or pay a tax had been foisted on them by an undemocratic, alien entity, but that’s not how it was. I’m not saying President Obama — you’ve heard of that guy — was perfect, but the American people voted for him twice, and Congress voted to pass the health care legislation Obama wanted, and the Supreme Court said it was constitutional. The Tea Party people in Congress kept trying to get everyone else to vote to overturn that law, but they kept on losing, vote after vote after vote. "And you know what happened? They shut the government down."The rest here.




Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.