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.

An administration split over Geneva II for Syria; The U.S. and Pakistan’s deal on drones; Gates, looking for the adults in Congress; Lawmakers on Iran negotiations: Wendy Sherman done good so far; Do not call that Navy 0-6 ‘thickset;’ and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold There’s a division within the State Department over plans for a high-profile peace conference next month on Syria. "Geneva II" would put negotiators from Syria’s main opposition groups and government officials from the Assad regime in the same room for the first time. But despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

There’s a division within the State Department over plans for a high-profile peace conference next month on Syria. "Geneva II" would put negotiators from Syria’s main opposition groups and government officials from the Assad regime in the same room for the first time. But despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that the conference go ahead, there’s a deep concern if anyone will show up. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "Kerry is strongly committed to holding the talks and has spent the past several days prodding key Syrian opposition figures to take part in the negotiations. But according to several senior State Department officials, some of Kerry’s top advisors believe that the conference should be called off because the most important of those opposition leaders are unlikely to come. ‘The only person who wants the Geneva conference to happen is the secretary," a senior U.S. official told FP. ‘Who’s going to show up? Will they actually represent anyone? If not, why take the risk?’"

"…The Obama administration and its top allies believe that the fighting in Syria is largely at a stalemate, with forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad unable to fully vanquish the country’s insurgents and the rebels looking to unseat Assad unable to conquer Damascus or oust him by force. Peace talks, Kerry argues, offer the only realistic chance of ending a civil war that has already claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians and forced millions of others from their homes. There’s just one catch: a growing number of key Syrian opposition leaders say they won’t attend the conference unless Assad promises to transfer power to a transitional government and then step aside… Top State Department officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, have told Kerry that it would be hard to cobble together a broad coalition of Syrians by mid-November, the scheduled start date for the talks, and cautioned that many prominent opposition figures were likely to sit out the negotiations altogether." A senior State Department official, to Dreazen: "It’s possible we can get a delegation there… It’s not impossible, but it will certainly require some work." The rest here.

Syria just released 61 female detainees in a three-way prison swap. The AP, in Beirut: "The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had freed the women over the past two days. There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials, nor details of who the women were or their current location. The SoHR said the release was part of a hostage swap brokered last week by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority (PA), in which Syrian rebels freed nine Lebanese Shia Muslims and Lebanese gunmen released two Turkish pilots as well." More here.

Could NATO play a role in the removal of Syria’s chem weapons? The WSJ: "…Officials said the discussion was in an early phase and it wasn’t clear whether-if military help was requested-it would be delivered under a NATO umbrella or bilaterally by those countries willing to help. At a news conference after the meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: ‘It may well be that NATO will be asked for some assistance.’" More here.

A family lost in the darkness in Jordan. The UNHCR’s rep in Jordan Tweeted this pic this morning after stumbling across a Syrian refugee family on night along the border in Jordan, here.

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The "understanding" between U.S.-Pakistan over drones has finally been confirmed. The WaPo’s Greg Miller and Bob Woodward obtained secret CIA documents that show, finally and in explicit detail, the degree to which Pakistan has endorsed the CIA’s drone operations – even as it denounced it publicly. They write: "…Pakistan’s tacit approval of the drone program has been one of the more poorly kept national security secrets in Washington and Islamabad. During the early years of the campaign, the CIA even used Pakistani airstrips for its Predator fleet. But the files expose the explicit nature of a secret arrangement struck between the two countries at a time when neither was willing to publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program. The documents detailed at least 65 strikes in Pakistan and were described as "talking points" for CIA briefings, which occurred with such regularity that they became a matter of diplomatic routine. The documents are marked "top ­secret" but cleared for release to Pakistan."

"…The files serve as a detailed timeline of the CIA drone program, tracing its evolution from a campaign aimed at a relatively short list of senior al-Qaeda operatives into a broader aerial assault against militant groups with no connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The records also expose the distrust and dysfunction that has afflicted U.S.-Pakistani relations even amid the undeclared collaboration on drone strikes. Some files describe tense meetings in which senior U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, confront their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence purporting to show Pakistan’s ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces, a charge that Islamabad has consistently denied." Read the rest here.

And yet this: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Washington this week, after speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, is urging Obama to stop drone strikes. From the BBC:  "…Relations between Islamabad and Washington nosedived more than two years ago, when US special forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad in north-eastern Pakistan without giving the Pakistani government advance warning. Their ties were further tested by the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a US air strike along the Afghan border later in 2011. Following the meeting, Mr. Obama acknowledged that tensions and misunderstandings would persist between the two nations. ‘It’s a challenge. It’s not easy,’ he said. ‘We are committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, it can be a source of strength.’ More here.

Gates is looking for a few good adults in Congress. In a speech last night at AUSA, the Army’s big trade show in Washington, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a pitch for the U.S. to remain a strong presence across the globe. But that’s only possible if Congress figures its way out of the paper bag. Gates: "My hope – and it is a faint hope – is that the remaining adults in the two political parties will make the compromises necessary to put this country’s finances back in order, end the sequestration of defense dollars, and protect military capabilities that are as necessary today as they have been through the last century.

"Because, for all of our hopes and prayers, we have not seen the end of war. If history – and religion – teach us anything, it is that there will always be evil in the world, people bent on aggression, oppression, satisfying their lust for wealth and power and territory, or determined to impose an ideology based on the subjugation of others and the denial of liberty to men and women.  I have steadfastly supported "soft" power diplomacy and development, but we must never forget the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st Century, as in the 20th, is hard power – the size, strength, and global reach of the United States Military."

And: "Since I entered government nearly a half century ago, I’ve shifted my views and changed my mind on a good many things as circumstances, new information or logic dictated. But I have yet to see evidence that would dissuade me from this fundamental belief: that America does have a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet."

Also, this: Gates is giving $1.5 million and his personal papers to his alma mater, William & Mary. From the school’s internal publication, this morning: "…Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 will donate his personal papers to his undergraduate alma mater, the university announced today. Gates and his wife, Rebecca, have also committed from their estate a gift currently estimated at $1.5 million, which would include a $1.45 million bequest to help attract and support international relations and global studies undergraduates of outstanding academic distinction by providing them scholarships. The remaining $50,000 has been designated for the cataloging and digitization of Secretary Gates’ papers." More here.

American spying, jumping the shark? Germany says the U.S. listened in on Merkel’s cell phone. Germany believes that U.S. intelligence agencies may be spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone in what would be a remarkably intrusive policy to surveillance of allies overseas. The White House yesterday said it wasn’t listening in on her phone – nor would it – but press declined to say if it had happened in the past. The WSJ’s Anton Troianovski and Siobhan Gorman: The uproar in Berlin is the latest sign that the National Security Agency scandal has the potential to continue to inflict damage on Washington’s relationships with overseas partners. Earlier this week, Mr. Obama called French President Francois Hollande, who expressed his ‘deep disapproval’ over reports that the NSA was collecting data on tens of millions of French phone calls and messages. Reports of U.S. spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as well as Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto during his successful presidential campaign have already strained the U.S. relationship with Latin America.

"The German government’s sharply worded statement came after it looked into an inquiry from the weekly Der Spiegel, the magazine reported. Der Spiegel said U.S. spies may have specifically targeted Ms. Merkel’s cellphone-as opposed to having just intercepted her communications as part of a broader dragnet. More here.

And regarding the Europeans’ overall concern about spying, the WSJ’s editors write under "The French Collection," today: "…The real danger is the Greenwald-Snowden view that portrays America as the greatest threat to world freedom. Yet for all of their stolen secrets, they haven’t turned up a single example of law-breaking or misuse of the collected metadata. The greatest threat to American, and for that matter French, liberty would be if their revelations lead to the end of the NSA’s intelligence gathering in an increasingly dangerous world." More here.

Yesterday, the Obama administration held its first classified briefing with Congress over its high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran. FP’s John Hudson: "Despite deep skepticism of White House engagement with Iran — and despite a fresh lobbying effort by AIPAC — exiting lawmakers appeared mollified by the State Department’s chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman, who led this month’s talks with Iran in Geneva. The talks between Iran and six world powers this month offer the Obama administration the chance to solve a key foreign policy goal: Preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without the use of military force. But many in Congress fear Iran’s newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani could be using the talks as a stalling tactic to reach breakout nuclear capacity. Despite those concerns, lawmakers expressed a willingness to give the administration’s diplomatic efforts a chance."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Dem from Maryland, to Hudson, on sanctions: "All I know is that sanctions seem to be working and that’s a positive… If they weren’t working, Iran would not be reaching out at this point." Read the rest here.

Yesterday in Situation Report we referred to Jofi Joseph as "Josi," which of course is wrong. We knew better but it didn’t show. Rookie mistake, our apologies for the stupidity of the typo – and the confusion it caused.

FP’s David Rothkopf on @NatSecWonk: "…The fall of @NatSecWonk should serve as a cautionary tale to others who find that logging on to their Twitter and Facebook accounts offers as reliable a source of false courage as a couple of stiff drinks did for their parents. Hopefully, it will also lead his supervisors at the NSC to ask where they went wrong in their own messaging and management to allow such a dumbass misstep to occur. But in terms of long-term impact, it doesn’t hold a candle to the posturing of the other NatSecWonks out there whom I have encountered on Twitter and in real life who have become the faux-knowing, world-weary apologists for the administration’s National Security Agency (NSA) fiasco."

One of the Tweets Rothkopf sent @NatSecWonk at one point in August 2012: "Just because we have the technology to express every feeling we have in real time doesn’t mean we should." Rothkopf’s piece on FP, "False Fronts," here.

The wonk he knew. Time’s Mike Crowley knew Jofi Joseph as did a lot of other people. Crowley: "On Twitter, Joseph railed against the humorless stiffs of the foreign policy establishment. About a Council on Foreign Relations event he once tweeted: ‘Is the Guiness World Record for largest density of tools in one room about to be broken?’ That was a bit like the wrench calling the hammer a tool: [italics ours]. Joseph was a deeply-rooted denizen of that CFR world, a foreign policy professional who specialized in the technical realm of nuclear nonproliferation… Over lunch or coffee he was less interested in trashing colleagues than in diving deep on Iranian centrifuge capacity or deterrence theory in a post-Soviet world."

Jofi Joseph, in an e-mail to Crowley about something he’d written: "Picking up on your last post, Ken Waltz, a noted [international relations] academic, made the exact same argument in a seminal 1981 paper – the spread of nuclear weapons can deter conventional armed conflict.  It has invited considerable controversy – surely, more nukes is a bad thing, not a good thing – but the historical record offers considerable evidence in support of his argument. The situation in South Asia and the Cold War are just the two most notable examples."

Crowley: "It’s hard to reconcile that dry academic voice with the one behind infantile, sometimes outright hateful tweets about Liz Cheney’s weight, how a former senior Bush aide is a ‘dumb blonde airhead,’ and the alleged venality of various Washingtonians-including some of his close colleagues-even if he did occasionally offer useful observations." More here.

What UP with the Early Bird? Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: "The Early Bird, the Defense Department’s widely read summary of daily news reports, has been suspended pending an internal review…The Defense Department’s public affairs directorate is ‘assessing the information products we provide to the department’s senior leadership,’ said Army Col. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman... DoD’s public affairs division is facing the same across-the-board budget cuts that are affecting all aspects of military operations. For years, news organizations have complained that the Early Bird was distributing content in violation of copyright laws and depriving publishers of potentially thousands of paid readers and website visitors." More here.

You’ve read by now that the WaPo corrected a ghastly mistake yesterday. It read: "An Oct. 14 Style article about access to the prison camp for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, incorrectly referred to Navy Capt. Robert Durand as ‘thickset.’ He should have been described as muscular." We have no idea who demanded the correction. Of course we do: it was Durand himself, who apparently sent a correction request, with photos, and copying the writer’s editors.

Here’s what a friend of Situation Report told us, speaking of Durand: "…he is genetically incapable of realizing that the change WaPo affected is actually making fun of him. It really is incredible.  I mean – really?!?  Who demands a correx over that?  Holy shit. Communicators across the National Capital Region are collectively, professionally embarrassed."


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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