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.

Hagel: Morale is the issue here; Little leaves the Penty; FP: Shabab targeting the U.N.; Does Mike Rogers have what it takes for NSA? Amos, reawakening the Corps; Want 10 percent of $5m? And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold FP Exclusive: Shabab is targeting the U.N. compound in Mogadishu. FP’s Colum Lynch: "The United Nations recently uncovered a ‘credible’ plot by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab to mount a major terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Mogadishu, according to senior U.N. officials briefed on the plan. It’s another sign that ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

FP Exclusive: Shabab is targeting the U.N. compound in Mogadishu. FP’s Colum Lynch: "The United Nations recently uncovered a ‘credible’ plot by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab to mount a major terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Mogadishu, according to senior U.N. officials briefed on the plan. It’s another sign that the militant outfit, once thought to be all-but-expired, has once again become a major force for terror in East Africa.

"The warning, one of several threats against the U.N. in recent months, drove home the harsh risks of life in Somalia for the United Nations nearly three months after the Islamist movement attacked the organization’s humanitarian compound in downtown Mogadishu, killing eight U.N. employees. It also reinforced the fact that al-Shabab, which widely considered to be organizationally spent earlier this year, has regrouped. Late last month, Shabab killed dozens at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. ‘U.N. premises in Mogadishu may come under direct terrorist attacks,’ according to a confidential security assessment of Somalia produced jointly by the African Union and the United Nations. The report, which was shared with U.N. Security Council members, said the ongoing ‘risk of asymmetric attacks has significantly curtailed the mobility of U.N. staff in Mogadishu and hampers delivery of critical UN programs in support of [Somalia’s] Federal government.’

… But can the U.N. be truly safe in Somalia?"

J. Philip Pham, a specialist on Somalia at the Atlantic Council, isn’t convinced it is: "Yes, more troops will provide more security for those already present in Somalia… We can clear out some more space from Shabab controlled areas. But in a year, we will be asking for more troops and airpower. This is a never ending cycle." Read the rest of Luynch’s piece here.

Reuters this hour: Two corpses recovered from the mall in Kenya are believed to be Shabab attackers. Reuters’ Richard Lough: "…Automatic AK-47 rifles of a model not used by Kenyan security forces and a rocket-propelled grenade were found close to the two bodies, said Gethenji, who is co-chairing the parliamentary investigation into possible intelligence failures… Al Shabaab have said they carried out the mall attack because the Kenyan government had ignored its warnings to pull Kenyan peacekeeping troops out of Somalia. Uganda, which also has troops in Somalia, warned on Friday of a possible ‘imminent terror attack’ on its territory. Al Shabaab attacked Uganda in 2010 in a twin bombing." More here.

From yesterday’s Antiwar blog: "U.S. Inflating Threat in Africa to Justify Expansion." Read that here.  

New: George Little is leaving the Pentagon. Pentagon Pressec George Little announced just a few minutes ago that he is leaving his podium perch in the Pentagon briefing room soon, looking forward to a BlackBerry-free Thanksgiving dinner. Little was there for the end of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the rise of the Arab Spring -and winter; the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, taking the flag down in Iraq and numerous other major muscle movements over the last several years. "He has been a leading voice on every national security crisis for the entire Obama presidency," one administration official told Situation Report this morning.

Little, who will be out by Nov. 15: "I have reached the difficult decision, after long consultation with my wonderful wife and two young sons, to step away from the podium and return to private life and the private sector.  After over two years as Pentagon Press Secretary and over four years as CIA spokesman, I simply need to turn more of my focus to weekend soccer games, helping with school homework, and building Lego sets that demand a higher level of engineering expertise than I currently possess."

Then the U of Virginia alum quoted Jefferson: "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

Welcome to Friday’s late 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.

Hagel talks about the impact of the shutdown when civilian workers are told they are "non-essential." The Pentagon estimates that it lost $600 million in productivity during the 16-day shutdown, including from the four days in which about 400,000 civilians were furloughed before the majority of them were brought back. Yesterday in the Pentagon’s briefing room, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, followed by Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, talked about the bigger cost: a loss of morale. Chuck Hagel: "All of our leaders, civilian and military alike, deeply regret what this shutdown has done to our people, and we’ll work to repair the damage beginning today. Echoing what President Obama said earlier today, I want all of our civilian personnel to know that the work they do is critically important to this department and this country. It matters to this department, and it matters for the country. The military simply cannot succeed without our civilian employees, and the president and I appreciate their professionalism and their patience throughout this very trying period. Now that this latest budget crisis has become history, and we have come to an end, we have an opportunity to return to refocusing on our critical work."

Asked about the longer-term "reduction in force" of civilians that are inevitable, Hagel deferred to Bob Hale. Bob Hale, speaking in the third person: "Well, you know, [Hagel] said he’d defer to Bob Hale. Bob Hale is going to defer to the future, because we haven’t decided."

Bob Hale expanded on the question nonetheless: "But, look, if we face budgets at the BCA cap level, roughly $50 billion less in ’14, we’re going to have to get smaller. I can’t tell you exactly how much. Yes, that will mean fewer civilians. We will try to avoid reductions in force. We’ll keep them at an absolute minimum. We would look to do this, if we have to, through attrition, but, yeah, we’re going to get smaller. I just can’t tell you exactly how much." Full transcript here.

BTW, why no Early Bird? Although the shutdown ended Wednesday around midnight, the Pentagon is still working on getting the daily e-mail of defense stories distributed to DOD personnel up and running. First Bird should be coming soon, we’re told. In the meantime, if you want to us to sign you up for Situation Report, send us a note at

Read Robert Hormats, writing on FP, about why another debt crisis would be a national security disaster, here.

Why Mike Rogers, "a card-carrying crypy," is on the very short list to replace Keith Alexander and what might be his handicap. FP’s Shane Harris, with an assist from Situation Report: "Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the odds-on favorite to be nominated by President Obama as the next director of the National Security Agency, has all of the intelligence and military credentials for the position. "A walking resume for this job," said retired Admiral James Stavridis, who recently served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and has known Rogers for more than a decade. But is Rogers a master politician? That may be the more important question if he takes over the helm of the country’s biggest spy agency at one of its most perilous moments, when leaks about the the NSA’s inner workings have damaged its credibility in the eyes of a large number of lawmakers and the public. Those who know the Chicago native and have tracked his rise to admiral don’t doubt his professional qualifications for the NSA job. Over a career in the Navy spanning more than 30 years, Rogers has worked in cryptology, signals intelligence (or electronic eavesdropping), and recently helped write the Navy’s strategy for cyber warfare and ‘information dominance’ in the Internet age…

"But he has a less demonstrable track record when it comes to interacting with members of Congress — some of whom want to scale back the NSA’s surveillance authorities. It’s unclear how he’d deal with the NSA’s bureaucratic partner — and arguably its rival — in cyber security operations, the Homeland Security Department…

[Former CNO Gary Roughead] acknowledged that Rogers would be taking over the NSA at an unusually sensitive time, when some lawmakers have questioned whether the NSA’s surveillance activities, such as the collection of Americans’ phone records, violate the Constitution. But he predicted that the admiral would carefully examine all the legal and political issues surrounding the NSA’s missions and ultimately make a credible leader."

Retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norty Schwartz, for whom Rogers worked on the Joint Staff, told Situation Report that the key thing about Rogers is that he is a "card-carrying crypy," and that will make a difference at the NSA. "He is a siginter by profession and is well respected and that is an important credential," Schwartz told us. But he will also confront a learning curve in the job, perhaps more so than Alexander, who had academic or even technical credentials going into the job.

"My view is that while he might not have academic credentials that Keith Alexander has, I think that Mike has the operational experience, the field experience, both with sigint and cyber," Schwartz told Situation Report. Where Rogers might have a learning curve is sussing out how to communicate externally, with the media and Capitol Hill, where he has less experience, he said.

Rogers was described by Schwartz as having "relentless energy" while at the same time maintaining a steady calm. Another senior officer told Situation Report: "With Mike Rogers, the wheels never stop." Read the rest of our story here.

Speaking of The Replacements: Jeh Johnson, Obama’s expected pick to lead DHS. The Pentagon’s former top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, rumored at one point to replace Attorney General Eric Holder or be given the nod for another top position in the Obama administration, is now thought to be headed to the Department of Homeland Security to replace Janet Napolitano. As the Pentagon’s general counsel, Johnson oversaw the end of "don’t ask, don’t tell" that barred gay and lesbian service members from serving openly, legal issues surrounding the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, legal complexities surrounding the administration’s reliance on drone warfare and other critical issues. Well liked within the administration, his selection, which should be announced by the White House later today, still comes as a surprise since he wasn’t among those thought to be under consideration. The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman: "Johnson’s experience dealing with counterterrorism and cyber-security threats will comfort many on Capitol Hill. He is less versed in the areas of disaster relief and immigration enforcement, also key elements of the DHS mission. Still, administration officials do not expect the nomination to be especially polarizing and are hopeful Johnson will receive a relatively warm reception in Congress.  

A senior administration official to Klaidman: "The president is selecting Johnson because he is one of the most highly qualified and respected national security leaders, having served as the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world." That full story here.

John Kelly’s defense of a Marine captain didn’t help him: Capt. Clement is (probably) done. A Marine Corps Board of Inquiry in the case of Capt. James Clement concluded yesterday that Clement should be honorably discharged from the Corps for his role as the commander of the unit from which four Marines urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in July 2011. Despite the testimony of Gen. John Kelly, now the commander of U.S. Southern Command, the three-colonel panel substantiated allegations that Clement exhibited substandard performance, misconduct and professional dereliction related to the incident. "The Board members recommended separation from the Marine Corps with a discharge characterized as Honorable," a statement from the Corps said. [Correction: The original post incorrectly referred to Kelly’s command as U.S. Central Command].

It’s not over yet, necessarily. Senior officers will review the decision before making a final recommendation to higher-ups. And Clement’s attorneys, have indicated they will appeal the decision. Clement wasn’t present during the urination incident, which was filmed and seen widely across the Internet, inflaming anti-American sentiments across the region. Kelly had testified this week that it wasn’t so much Clement’s misconduct as the loose culture of the battalion of which his unit was a part. But Kelly’s testimony apparently didn’t sway the colonels on the board.

Meanwhile, Jim Amos is trying to reawaken the soul of the Marine Corps. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos issued a letter to his Corps’s noncommissioned officers, directing them to refocus on the Corps’ core values and ethos as he attempts to get his service back on track after 12 years of war.

"By soul, we mean those timeless attributes and habits that have defined our Corps for 238 years: persistent discipline, faithful obedience to orders and instructions, concerned and engaged leadership (24/7), and strict adherence to standards from fire team leader to general officer," Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett wrote in the letter to NCOs, published yesterday. "These habits, these attributes, our undeniable belief in ‘who we are and what we do’ form the soul of our Corps."

Amos went on to say that he knows "98 percent of our Marines are doing the right thing," but, he said, "we also know there are some who aren’t living up to our sacred title." The Corps is confronting a small but troubling trend of disciplinary problems, from issues with senior officers – two two-stars were just relieved this month – to problems among the rank-and-file, like allegations of rape and sexual assault at the Marine Barracks in Washington, the historic and ceremonial home of the Corps that also literally serves as the doorstep to the home of the Commandant. Amos himself is being investigated for exhibiting improper command influence in the case of the urination incident in a bid to ensure the men were punished for their role in it.

"Sergeant Major Barrett and I need every one of you in this fight," Amos and Barrett concluded in the letter. "NO greater a compliment can be bestowed to a fellow Masrine than to say ‘I can count on you always!’ Never forget who we are and what we do for our country. Move to the decisive point in this battle and through your presence, professionalism and tenacity… turn the tide of this fight for the sake of Corps and country."

BTW, We counted six exclamation points in the one-page letter to NCOs! Not that there’s anything wrong with that! The NCO letter, here. Here is the Oct. 9 letter Amos sent to his general officers outlining what he wanted to see done. See it here.

The Army’s training chief says the military should train on ability, regardless of gender. Read Robert Cone’s piece on DefenseOne, here.

State’s internal watchdogs were few and far between during the shutdown. The Cable’s John Hudson: "As hundreds of thousands of federal employees returned to work on Thursday, the headcount at the State Department barely changed thanks to a clever use of rainy day funds preventing mass furloughs. But one office in Foggy Bottom wasn’t so lucky: The Office of the Inspector General. During the 16-day government shutdown, the internal government watchdog tasked with investigating fraud, waste and mismanagement was reduced to a skeleton crew unlike the vast majority of offices in the building. The disproportionate furlough allotment has led critics to accuse the department of undervaluing the watchdog office, though the department strongly disputes that. ‘On day one, they sent home the IG’s office without knowing how long the shutdown would last,’ a Congressional staffer familiar with State’s shutdown planning told The Cable. ‘I think the Department’s action speaks for itself about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and oversight.’ Read the rest here.

The e-mail we didn’t expect. The scam e-mails usually come from inside a palace of a country you’ve never heard of, written in flowery but broken English. This one was a first. A person claiming to be a U.S. Army officer stationed in Iraq wants Situation Report to help him invest $5 million in the U.S. and my take would be a whopping 10 percent. Calling Charles Schwab! Or maybe not. The person identifying himself as U.S. Army officer "Major Bruce" (West): "I will appreciate it if you can assist me urgently in securing and investing the money in your country pending when I will disengage from my military assignment. I promise to compensate you with 10% of the funds for your assistance while hoping that you assist me as soon as possible. I await your urgent response." We’re passing on this intriguing opportunity. Interested? Write



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

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