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’s drone problem (still); 92k vets hired; Saudi spy chief steps away from the U.S.; Flournoy: sustaining Afg; Forbes wants Taiwan in RIMPAC; Remembering @NatSecWonk; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold [A big e-mail SNAFU occurred this morning and our apologies for being more than three hours late this morning, er, afternoon.] The indiscriminate use of drone warfare in Yemen, described. Writing on FP, Letta Tayler: "On a sultry evening in August 2012, five men gathered under a cluster of date palms near ...

By Gordon Lubold

[A big e-mail SNAFU occurred this morning and our apologies for being more than three hours late this morning, er, afternoon.]

The indiscriminate use of drone warfare in Yemen, described. Writing on FP, Letta Tayler: "On a sultry evening in August 2012, five men gathered under a cluster of date palms near the local mosque in Khashamir, a village of stone and mud houses in southeastern Yemen. Two of the men were locals and well known in their community. The other three were strangers. Moments later, U.S. drones tore across the sky and launched four Hellfire missiles at the men. The first three missiles killed four of the men instantly, blasting their body parts across the grounds of the mosque. The final strike took out the fifth man as he tried to crawl to safety.

"Yemen’s Defense Ministry described the three strangers as members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group that the United States calls al Qaeda’s most active branch. The men were killed, ministry officials said, while ‘meeting their fellows.’ But these two ‘fellows’ had no known links to AQAP. Rather, they were precisely the kind of Yemenis that the United States has sought as allies in its fight against al Qaeda. One, Salim Jaber, was a 42-year-old cleric and father of seven who preached against violence committed in the name of Islam. The other was the cleric’s 26-year-old cousin Walid Jaber, one of the village’s few police officers. Just three days before his death, Salim Jaber had delivered a particularly adamant sermon against AQAP at the Khashamir mosque. The three strangers then showed up in the village in search of the cleric, relatives of the Jabers said. Fearful that the men might be seeking revenge for his sermon, Salim met with them only after his cousin offered to accompany him for protection." Read the rest here.

Is Obama adhering to his own guidance on drones? The WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman: "Reports by two human-rights groups call into question whether the Obama administration is adhering to standards for U.S. drone strikes set by President Barack Obama in May. The reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, set for release on Tuesday, seek to document the civilian casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and the fallout on survivors, relying on firsthand accounts of witnesses. The reports also highlight the complex counterterrorism challenges the U.S. faces as it executes its unpiloted aircraft program and weighs the value of killing terrorists against the risks and costs of killing civilians." Read the rest here.

Civilian drone strikes still a big problem. The NYT’s Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud in this Page Oner: "In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as ‘surgical’ and ‘contained,’ has dropped sharply over the past year.

"But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them. Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah: "The drones are like the angels of death…Only they know when and where they will strike." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday’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.

As of this morning, more than 93,000 veterans have been hired under the "100,000 Jobs Mission." An initiative by JPMorgan Chase and 10 other companies to foster the hiring of as many as 100,000 veterans by 2020 has topped 92,869 vets through the end of this quarter and grown to 121 companies, Situation Report is told. JPMC is announcing the number this morning. The idea behind hiring veterans is not only about hiring veterans, company officials say, but narrowing the gap between civilians and military cultures generally and "breaking down barriers to employment," as JPMC says. The 100,000 Jobs Mission has also created something called the Veteran Talent Exchange, an employer-led Web tool that is described by JPMC as something that "facilitates the sharing and referral of veteran career profiles" among the Jobs Mission members. Military and veteran job seekers (and their spouses) can joint the VTX at or here.

The Saudi spy chief distances himself from the U.S. The WSJ’s Ellen Knickmeyer: "Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington’s policy in the region, participants in the meeting said. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud’s move increases tensions in a growing dispute between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies. It follows Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision on Friday to renounce a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The Saudi government, after preparing and campaigning for the seat for a year, cited what it said was the council’s ineffectiveness in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian conflicts. ‘This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,’ Prince Bandar was quoted by diplomats as specifying of Saudi Arabia’s decision to walk away from the Security Council membership." Read the rest here.

Even spy-crazy France is surprised by the NSA’s reach. FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson: "It’s hardly a secret, or much of a shock, that the United States spies on some of its closest allies. But recent revelations about the National Security Agency hoovering up the telephone calls of French citizens have even surprised officials in that country, one of the world’s great bastions of espionage. According to a report in Le Monde, the NSA has monitored more than 70 million French phone calls in a 30-day period. French officials had initially expressed little shock at a previous report that the United States was spying on its officials — that is, after all, what intelligence agencies do. But they were taken aback by the scale and scope of the latest revelations about monitoring its citizens, a French official told The Cable." More here.

Randy Forbes wants Hagel to include Taiwan in the RIMPAC exercises. Rep. Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the HASC’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcomm, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday asking that "an invitation be extended to the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate" in the RIMPAC 2014 exercise. "While the People’s Republic of China has been asked to participate, Taiwan remains uninvited despite the opportunity to enhance its humanitarian assistance/disaster relief capabilities," Forbes office said in a statement. Forbes: "Taiwan has been a faithful, democratic ally of the United States for decades and remains, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aptly noted, an ‘important economic and security partner’ in the Asia-Pacific." The letter, here.

It’s a critical month for Afghanistan and former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy argues for sustained U.S. engagement. Flournoy, writing on FP: "…Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That’s why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative – the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.

"The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan’s central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country’s more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops. Why surrender this success in the area of security — the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?

"The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country’s future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections — undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs — that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country’s voters." Read the rest of her bit here.

Know someone who’s missing The Bird? Send ‘em our way – we’ll put them on the distro for Situation Report – we know a guy. [Note to all of you who ask – the Early Bird is the Pentagon’s daily compendium of news stories distributed to DOD personnel only; it remains on hiatus for now.]

What happened to @NatSecWonk? @NatSecWonk, the indomitably – and, in some circles, infamously — snarky Twitter voice on all things national security, has disappeared from the Twitterverse. The eponymously named @NatSecWonk handle — the mask for an anonymous individual who challenged the Twitterati with his or her views about policy, operations and politics — was abandoned within the last several days. Searches came up empty starting late last week: "Sorry, we couldn’t retrieve user," came the response from TweetDeck. There was no reason given for the demise of NatSecWonk, who sniped at government officials, reporters — and even complained about typos in think tank event notices. Some might say his or her demise was premature. Others were happy to see him or her go.

One official, who insisted on anonymity if the person could be described as "NatSecFlak" said NatSecWonk would not be missed. This official described NatSecWonk as one might talk about an abusive parent who had finally met a sorry end.

"NatSecWonk was an acerbic Twitter pundit that relished taking anonymous shots at senior leaders who are doing their very best for this country," NatSecFlak told FP in an e-mail. "The rants seemed pathological and personal.  I hope whoever was behind the feed will get better soon.  Their hate, rebranded as ‘snark,’ will not be missed."

NatSecWonk described him/herself as someone who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks. A keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene. I’m abrasive and bring the snark." 

Like a sniper in his hide, NatSecWonk delivered blows from his or her darkened perch. Anyone in the media, government or think tank world was fair game. But within the Beltway, NatSecWonk  was considered a valuable source of information. Earlier this summer, for example, the Atlantic’s Steve Clemons wrote that he called the White House about Obama’s approach to the G20 summit based on a NatSecWonk tweet. And if NatSecWonk liked what he or she saw, it was considered high praise. But it was the snark for which NatSecWonk was known. Read the rest here or look for a link @glubold.

The Navy is hog wild for a stealth battleship strike force.  War is Boring’s David Axe, writing on FP: "The Navy’s newest warships are hard to detect on radar, heavily armed with super-accurate guns and missiles … and gigantic. Six hundred feet long and displacing 15,000 tons of water, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class ships are designated as destroyers but are actually as big as some World War I battleships.The lead ship in the class is slated to launch any day now — a milestone briefly delayed by the recent government shutdown. The Navy is building three of the Zumwalts over the next five years and deploying them to the Pacific to counter China’s fast-improving military. That’s assuming the $7-billion-apiece Zumwalts don’t simply capsize the first time a powerful wave strikes them from behind. The high-tech battleships feature a novel, downward-sloping "tumblehome" hull that’s optimized for stealth not stability — and lacks the wave-resisting qualities of traditional ships with upward-flaring hulls…Even if they don’t sink in heavy seas, the Zumwalts are controversial vessels. Besides being by far the biggest and most expensive surface combatants in memory, the Zumwalts are actually inferior to older, smaller ships in certain key stats, in particular radar performance and missile capacity.

"But what they lack in weapons and sensors, the new battleships make up for with other enhancements, including space for their own robotic air forces plus massive electrical output that, in the near future, could support powerful laser weapons." Read the rest here.

Jon Greenert argues for an advantage under the sea. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, writing on DefenseOne: "Unrest around the world and budget constraints at home have many Americans concerned about the ability of our military to influence events abroad. It is clearly getting harder to remain preeminent in all "domains" — air, land, maritime, undersea and in the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace — as technology and geography combine to challenge our ability to counter threats in key regions around the world. One domain in which our superiority is assumed, however, is under the sea. Yet even this long-standing advantage is not guaranteed. Military and commercial activity under the ocean is rapidly increasing, which could detect or conflict with our forces’ operations or create new threats to our interests. Other nations are fielding increasingly capable and longer-range submarines while companies and scientists are sending unmanned vehicles and sensors throughout the ocean to find everything from fish stocks to oil deposits." Read the rest here.

Rush Limbaugh calls troops "welfare queens" and "moochers." The Duffel Blog: "From the upscale Palm Beach corporate headquarters of his Excellence in Broadcasting Network, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh unloaded on America’s men and women in uniform, insinuating their motives as less than pure." Limbaugh: "You see, Master Sergeant," began Limbaugh, rubbing his hands together, "you have exposed yourself. I thank you for the call – and I thank you for your service, I really do – but you’ve exposed yourself. Of course you like the idea of the government putting a Band-Aid on every little boo-boo you get, wiping your nose for you, giving you free prescription Advil when you could buy it at the drug store like the taxpayer, so on and so forth. You like that idea because you’ve lived with that your whole life. You said you joined the Army at 18. My guess is that before that, before you enlisted, you were on welfare. When you joined, you were essentially on welfare, because whether or not you ever go to war, you get free medicine, free food, free place to sleep, even free clothes to wear to work every day. The taxpayer even gives you years-long paid vacations to exotic foreign lands. I’m not saying you’re not appreciative, but when you’re used to people giving you free ice cream for forty years, if you suddenly have to pay for your own ice cream, you’ll understandably be upset." More 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

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