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.

The Early Bird is dead; Israeli warplanes strike Syria; Assad will push to keep his CW factories open; How 60 Minutes is keeping Benghazi alive; Captain Kirk is the c/o of the Zumwalt, seriously; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold The Early Bird is dead and Steve Warren is the one who shot it down. The Early Bird, the compendium of news stories distributed each day to DOD officials, other government officials and journalists since 1948, is gone, Situation Report has learned. The Bird, which had ceased publication due to the shutdown, ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The Early Bird is dead and Steve Warren is the one who shot it down. The Early Bird, the compendium of news stories distributed each day to DOD officials, other government officials and journalists since 1948, is gone, Situation Report has learned. The Bird, which had ceased publication due to the shutdown, never made a comeback after the government opened and Col. Steve Warren, who heads the Pentagon’s press operations, had said it was under review. Insiders knew it was on life support, but it was Warren who wanted the plug pulled. The Bird, which had an audience of 1.5 million each month, had grown too big, was too dated – simply providing a daily snapshot at 5:40 a.m. each day when it arrived by e-mail, and the publication, which was also appeared online to authorized users, had amounted to a copyright infringement against media outlets who never saw the "clicks."

The Bird had also become a major headache to Pentagon officials who would in effect chase their tails each day after a story ran in it. Still, it was also a valuable and begrudgingly loved publication that in its current form had turned 50 years old. Longtime staffers Taft Phoebus and Linda Lee, who were behind the Bird for years, will remain on Warren’s staff.

"This is the end of an era," Col. Steve Warren told Situation Report. "And I will probably be the first inductee into the Public Affairs Hall of Infamy. There is a lot of anger out there."

What killed the Bird more specifically? Three things: Concerns over copyright infringement, the advent of the Internet and thirdly, the fact that it had become, as Warren termed it, "The Early Beast." As the Bird’s audience grew over the years, and as "clicks" reflecting interest in any one story have become of extreme importance to media outlets, Pentagon officials knew they were increasingly pilfering content. The Early Bird did not contain Internet links to news site’s home pages but was an internal document containing whole stories. Media outlets had begun asking questions of the Pentagon. Also, it was also created at a time long before the Internet provided global information in real time. When Warren was a lieutenant in Korea in the 1990s, it was the only way for commanders to know what was in The New York Times that day, for example, was through the Early Bird. Not so anymore. But the Bird, once termed by The Times as the most influential government publication, had become too influential, Warren said, "driving the entire train at the Pentagon and across the force" every day. A story in the Bird was given sometimes disproportional weight simply because it appeared there. Warren: "The Early Bird would very often dictate the day’s events for countless numbers of staffers and commanders. People would organize their day around what was in the Early Bird."

And while it was supposed to provide "situational awareness" to commanders and other DOD officials, Warren said, it was often seen as doing public relations  – containing only the stories top officials wanted people to see – instead of true SA. Our own story, "Two’s a Crowd at the Pentagon," about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, for example, never appeared in the Bird.

Was it tough to kill the Bird? Yes, Warren said -it will be a controversial move and he’s already gotten some grief. "I may have shot it out of the sky, but it shot a few rounds back at me."

More on the Bird, including what will replace it, below.

We’re sorry to see the Bird go, kinda. If you miss the Bird, we’ll be glad to sign you up to our morning report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at and we’ll stick you on. Tell a friend.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. Meantime, 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.

Pakistan’s Imran Khan tells the U.S. that NATO supply routes could be threatened over drone ops. The WaPo’s Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan: "The chief political leader in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province threatened Thursday to choke off key NATO supply routes if U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan continue, setting up a potential clash within the country’s national government. Imran Khan, whose Movement for Justice party controls the northwestern province, said he feared that continued drone strikes would undermine efforts by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Sharif said Thursday that dialogue has begun, though Taliban officials stress that the process will quickly unravel if the U.S. drone program is not halted. The latest suspected strike occurred Wednesday night." More here.

Israeli warplanes struck an Assad base. CNN’s Barbara Starr first reported it. Starr last night: "Israeli warplanes struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia this week, an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday. An explosion at a missile storage site in the area was reported in the Middle Eastern press, but an attack has not been confirmed by the Israeli government. The target, according to the Obama administration official, was missiles and related equipment the Israelis felt might be transferred to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. The official declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. There was some confusion about the timing of the attack, with some reports saying it happened Wednesday, and others saying Thursday. When asked for comment, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman told CNN: ‘We don’t refer to foreign reports.’" More here.

Syria met its deadline on chemical weapons. Reuters: "Syria has destroyed or rendered inoperable all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament program, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace prize this month, said its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The remaining two were too dangerous to reach for inspection but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites that experts had visited, it said." More here.

But while Syria may have met its deadline, it’s pushing to keep its CW factories. An Exclusive from FP’s trio of Colum Lynch, John Hudson and Yochi Dreazen: "Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has asked international inspectors to spare a dozen of its chemical weapons factories from the wrecking ball, The Cable has learned. The Syrians say they want to convert the plants into civilian chemical facilities. But the move is fueling concern among some non-proliferation experts that Damascus may be seeking to maintain the industrial capacity to reconstitute its chemical weapons program at some later date. The Syrian request — which was contained in a confidential letter from Muallem to Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — has also raised concern among some Western governments that Syria may seek to entangle the inspection agency in lengthy negotiations that could drag out the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons." More here.

Big exclusive for Aviation Week: The answer to the question, "what will be the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird?" Answer, here. AvWeek’s Guy Norris: "Ever since Lockheed’s unsurpassed SR-71 Blackbird was retired from U.S. Air Force service almost two decades ago, the perennial question has been: Will it ever be succeeded by a new-generation, higher-speed aircraft and, if so, when? That is, until now. After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets." More here.

Don’t worry, flyboys – drones will never replace you. Writing on FP, Greg Malandrino and Jeff McLean: "…Human pilots physically located in an aircraft still represent an infinitely more adaptable platform and are irreplaceable when considering the high-threat environments of future wars. Among many futurists, the misguided conception that unmanned or remotely piloted air vehicles will inevitably replace manned aircraft has become commonplace. In truth, however, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will not replace manned fighter aircraft. They will empower them." More here.

The 60 Minutes broadcast on Benghazi is once again fueling the push to re-examine the attack from Sept. 11, 2012. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung: "In an explosive report on CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ on Sunday, the British supervisor of local security guards protecting the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, provided a harrowing account of the extremist attack that killed four Americans. The man whom CBS called Morgan Jones, a pseudonym, described racing to the Benghazi compound while the attack was underway, scaling a 12-foot wall and downing an extremist with the butt end of a rifle as he tried in vain to rescue the besieged Americans." More here.

No joke: Captain James Kirk is now in command of the USS Zumwalt. Breaking Defense story on that, here.

Oversight of security clearances criticized, Dion Nissenbaum in the WSJ, here.

The nomination for Jo Ann Rooney for a top Navy job is on hold from Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand for her remarks on sexual assault. UPI, here.

From a Republican Congressional staffer to Situation Report on that nom: "The Gillibrand-Rooney angle is clearly what is driving headlines, but Rooney’s Navy-knowledge (I cannot find any, anywhere) is really the grounds she should be opposed on. If the Under job is reserved for a Navy ‘big-thinker’ who can manage the day-to-day of the organization (i.e. Bob Work), then Bob Martinage should have the job. Rooney is in no way qualified to chart the Sea Services’ course into an Asia-Pacific decade."

Maybe the NSA isn’t screwed after all. FP’s John Hudson and Shane Harris: "It turns out Dianne Feinstein’s bark is worse than her bite. On Thursday, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee ushered in a new bill for reforming the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency that retains the structure of its controversial bulk telephone metadata program while adding modest reporting and oversight requirements. The bill… comes just days after Feinstein sent shockwaves through the intelligence community with a public scolding of the NSA’s surveillance of foreign leaders." The quote heard round the NSA world earlier this week from FP: "We’re really screwed now," one NSA official had told the Cable after Feinstein came out swinging in the NSA crisis. "You know things are bad when the few friends you’ve got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address." Their piece yesterday about Feinstein’s proposed legislation, here.

Edward Snowden, back to work, for a Russian Website. Reuters, here.

Casualty of the NSA world leader spying scandal: a warm rapport between Obama and Merkel. The NYT’s Mark Landler, here.  

What a difference eight months makes: Hagel spoke to the ADL last night in New York. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: Less than a year after some pro-Israel groups tried to torpedo his nomination to lead the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a keynote address Thursday evening in New York to the Anti-Defamation League, an influential Jewish civil rights group. Pentagon officials said Hagel was invited to speak by Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the league. Foxman was among Hagel’s toughest critics during his acrimonious confirmation process, calling his record on Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship "at best disturbing and at worst, very troubling.’"

Foxman today, to Whitlock: "I guess I changed my mind about what I think of him," Foxman said with a chuckle. "The issues that separated us are a part of history." More here.

Read our story from this summer about what Foxman said about Hagel in "The Mensch," here.

Hagel’s ADL speech from last night, here.

Hagel was on Maddow last night on MSNBC, here.

This morning, Hagel sits down in a roundtable discussion with business leaders and vets. The event is being hosted this morning in New York by JPMorgan Chase to talk about the progress the private sector is making in supporting vets transition issues in terms of employment, education and housing. JPMC and 10 other companies founded the 100,000 Jobs initiative, and as Situation Report reported last week, the number of jobs vets have obtained has inched north of 92,000. More here.

Are the Marines fudging the reliability record of the Osprey? FP’s Dan Lamothe: When Marines landed an MV-22B Osprey in an open field at the Dare County Bombing Range in North Carolina in June, it looked like a routine mission. But a gaffe was made: The Osprey sparked a grassfire and was left parked on it. Initially, Marine Corps officials said the damage was minor. Not quite: the fire burnt the fuselage, leaving it a $79.3 million total loss, according to data released by the Naval Safety Center. Parts were later recovered for use on other aircraft, but that Osprey never flew again, Foreign Policy has learned." More here.

The Bird, con’t. What will replace the Early Bird? Something with an awful name which will probably get a nickname down the road: the "news analysis product," which has been quietly distributed to a couple hundred top officials each morning since the shutdown. It doesn’t contain Internet links, either, but the audience is much smaller compared to the Bird and it’s meant, as Warren says, to be a true report from the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Department to top DOD officials about what’s in the news. It also contains a "this day in history" bit each day.

From our bit about the Early Bird last fall: "Caspar Weinberger and the fax machine had the biggest impact on the growth of the Early Bird. "Weinberger, whose driver brought an Early Bird for his commute from northwest D.C. shortly after 0600 each morning, became known for calling DoD officials as he neared the Pentagon, in search of details about what he was reading. Demand for earlier delivery quickly spread among DoD managers, their staffs, and the Joint Chiefs," according to a history of the Early Bird Warren requested as he considers changes."

Want to know more? Read "Early Bird 101," an internal Pentagon memo we obtained last year, 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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