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.

FP’s Situation Report: No apologies: Rice says U.S. not planning to apologize for mistakes; Exclusive: Stuxnet’s evil twin; Reid backs Gillibrand on sex assault; Marco Rubio, swimming upstream?; A little help here, Mr. Secretary?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Will negotiators be able to close a deal on a bilateral security agreement very soon? Unclear. Some reports show that a last-minute issue has been resolved after the U.S. agreed to put into writing assurances the Afghans demanded, including a pledge that U.S. troops will enter Afghan homes only in exceptional circumstances ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Will negotiators be able to close a deal on a bilateral security agreement very soon? Unclear. Some reports show that a last-minute issue has been resolved after the U.S. agreed to put into writing assurances the Afghans demanded, including a pledge that U.S. troops will enter Afghan homes only in exceptional circumstances to save lives, as the WaPo’s Karen DeYoung and Tim Craig report: "The assurances will include a pledge that U.S. troops will enter Afghan homes only in exceptional circumstances to save lives, as well as what has become a standard U.S. expression of regret for Afghan suffering and the loss of innocent lives in the 12-year-old war. The proposed letter is to be read to an assembly of more than 2,500 Afghan elders and officials, scheduled to start Thursday in Kabul, that will consider whether to endorse the long-term security agreement with the United States. Obama’s final decision on signing the letter will depend on wording that is still under discussion. The president ‘is not averse to signing,’ said a senior administration official, one of several who discussed the talks on the condition of anonymity. ‘One way or the other,’ the official said, ‘it’s going to be worked out in the next 24 hours.’" More of the WaPo piece here.

Susan Rice said on CNN re: Afghanistan and a letter of apology: there will be no such thing. CNN’s Chelsea Carter and Elise Labott: "Reports the United States is on the verge of a security agreement with Afghanistan that includes a formal letter of apology for past mistakes by American troops are completely false, the National Security adviser told CNN on Tuesday. The statements came amid claims by Afghan officials that the Obama administration offered to write the letter as part of an effort to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan well past the 2014 deadline to withdraw.No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan,’ National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN…" The rest here.

Here’s a potential list of who’s attending the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan that is starting tomorrow, according to a list published in Afghan media that is probably a tad inaccurate: 351 members of the Afghan Lower House and the Senate; 155 members of the Provincial Council (representing 34 provinces); 34 provincial governors; 250 religious scholars; 65 women leaders; 533 tribal elders; 80 Nomad representatives; 140 civil society representatives; 40 disabled group representatives; 120 representatives of the Afghan Refugees in Pakistan; 60 representatives of Afghan Refugees in Iran; 30 representatives of the Afghan Refugees from other countries; 64 businessmen and industrialists; 80 political scientists/lawyers and journalists; 10 approved presidential candidates and 488 members of the past Loya Jirga.

Meanwhile, did you know that Stuxnet had a secret twin? No, maybe not. But David Langner tells the exclusive story on FP of the real program to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities was way more sophisticated than anyone realized.  Langner: "Three years after it was discovered, Stuxnet, the first publicly disclosed cyberweapon, continues to baffle military strategists, computer security experts, political decision-makers, and the general public. A comfortable narrative has formed around the weapon: how it attacked the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, how it was designed to be undiscoverable, how it escaped from Natanz against its creators’ wishes. Major elements of that story are either incorrect or incomplete. That’s because Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet’s smaller and simpler attack routine — the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and "forgotten" routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy. It qualifies as a nightmare for those who understand industrial control system security. And strangely, this more sophisticated attack came first. The simpler, more familiar routine followed only years later — and was discovered in comparatively short order." Read the rest of this FP exclusive, here.

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Al-Qaida take credit for bombing in Beirut and Iran blames the Zionists. FP’s David Kenner in Beirut: "…Increasingly, Iran and its allies publicly portray Israel and their Sunni rivals as two sides of the same coin — describing them as sharing the same goals and even acting in concert against Tehran. This trend, which gained momentum with Iran’s involvement in the Syrian war, has become a dominant aspect of pro-Iranian groups’ rhetoric in recent weeks. In his speech to commemorate the Shiite holy period of Ashura, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that it was ‘regrettable’ that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had emerged as "the spokesman for some Arab countries.’" The rest of his report here.   Has the Pentagon grown relatively silent on Iran during negotiations? FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "With American and Iranian negotiators streaming into Geneva for the next round of nuclear talks, there’s been no shortage of official rhetoric coming from Washington. The Obama administration argues that the deal wrests real concessions from the Iranians in exchange for only modest sanctions relief. The State Department says an agreement would freeze Iran’s nuclear program while buying time to hash out a permanent deal. And the Pentagon — well, the Pentagon has stayed relatively silent. Which is kind of odd, since the man in charge of the Defense Department is one of Washington’s better-known advocates for talks with Tehran.

"Secretary of State John Kerry has been the administration’s point person on Iran, as he was during September’s Syria crisis. He dominated recent joint appearances on Capitol Hill with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, answering questions more forcefully, and with more specificity, than his colleague. Hagel, like his predecessors, has said that all options are on the table when it comes to Iran. But during a recent round of public appearances, Hagel has largely deferred to Kerry when the subject of Iran has come up. ‘The president has said, Secretary Kerry has said, a bad deal is worse than no deal,’ Hagel told the Reagan Defense Forum over the weekend. ‘As we all know, this
is Secretary Kerry’s area of responsibility,’ he said during an October joint appearance with the Secretary of State in Tokyo." More here.

An historic selfie: the first female Marines to complete infantry training, taken by Pfc. Harlee "Rambo" Bradford, here.

The Army’s PR push for "average looking women." From Politico’s own Kate Brannen, who wrote yesterday that her jaw dropped when she received an internal Army e-mail: "The Army should use photos of "average-looking women" when it needs to illustrate stories about female soldiers, a specialist recommends – images of women who are too pretty undermine the communications strategy about introducing them into combat roles. That’s the gist of an internal Army e-mail an Army source shared with POLITICO. ‘In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead,’ wrote Col. Lynette Arnhart, who is leading a team of analysts studying how best to integrate women into combat roles that have previously been closed off to them. She sent her message to give guidance to Army spokesmen and spokeswomen about how they should tell the press and public about the Army’s integration of women." Read the rest here.

Gillibrand now has 50 public supporters for her plan to fundamentally change the military’s UCMJ. Politico’s Darren Samuehlsohn: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s endorsement of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s military sexual assault proposal gives the New York Democrat a 50th public supporter on her controversial change to Pentagon policy. But she still remains well shy of the 60 votes she needs to secure a win on the Senate floor for her amendment that would remove the chain of command from prosecuting sexual assaults and other major military crimes. With the debate just days, or hours away, two closely watched players – Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House – declined to weigh in on the Gillibrand proposal. Reid detailed his decision to reporters on Tuesday following the Senate Democrats’ weekly closed-door luncheon, saying he wasn’t satisfied with the sexual assault provisions produced in Sen. Carl Levin’s Armed Services Committee. The Nevada Democrat had met in recent days with Pentagon officials and also military members who are victims of sexual assault." Read the rest here.

As the list of options for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons shrinks, the U.S. is looking out at sea. Reuters’ Anthony Deutch and Michelle Nichols: "Syria’s chemical weapons could be processed and destroyed out at sea, say sources familiar with discussions at the international body in charge of eliminating the toxic arsenal. Four days after Albania rejected a U.S. request that it host a weapons decommissioning plant, Western diplomats and an official of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at The Hague told Reuters the OPCW was studying whether it might carry out the work at sea, on a ship or offshore rig. Confirming the discussion, the OPCW official stressed there had been no decision: ‘The only thing known at this time is that this is technically feasible,’ the official said on Tuesday." Read the rest here.

Attackers from the Shabab militant group assaulted a police station north of Mogadishu, leaving 28 dead; the NYT, here.

Meet the rebel commander that Assad, Russia and the U.S. all fear, by the WSJ’s Alan Cullison, here.

At a time when the package of military benefits are under review, Marco Rubio is proposing a bigger pay raise for the troops. Military Times’ Rick Maze: "Senate debate on the $625.6 billion defense budget for 2014 could include a discussion about whether there is enough money for a slightly bigger military raise. The basic bill includes the 1 percent raise proposed by the Obama administration and supported by defense and service leaders. But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has filed an amendment that would bump the raise to 1.8 percent. That is the same amount included in the House version of the defense bill and would match average private-sector wage growth last year, following a long-standing federal pay formula… Administration and military leaders have defended a smaller military raise as a necessity in a time of tight budgets. In its statement of administration policy, the White House praises the Senate for supporting the 1 percent raise. Rubio, however, doesn’t buy it. Rubio in a statement: "The men and women of our military make huge sacrifices for our nation and have earned the chance to be compensated accordingly… passing this amendment will have a direct positive impact on our military volunteers and their families." Read Maze’s bit here.

A little help here, Mr. Secretary? A Marine officer under fire in the infamous Marine urination saga is asking Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to review the case. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: A Marine officer facing the end of his military career over an inappropriate war-zone video has asked Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to review the decision, saying it was unfairly influenced by a top general’s alleged desire to see him punished. Following an administrative hearing in October, a panel of senior Marine officers recommended Capt. James Clement should be separated from the service with an honorable discharge for allegedly failing to supervise a group of scout snipers who in 2011 made a video that showed them urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Clement’s defense counsel, John Dowd, wants Mabus and attorneys from outside the Marine Corps to review the case, which was overshadowed by claims that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and others close to him sought to influence its outcome." More here.

Want to know how the FBI keeps tabs on foreign diplomats? Former spook Matthew Aid tells us how, and it has everything to do with spy copters, lasers and "break-in teams." Writing on FP, Aid:  "Between 2006 and 2009, surveillance helicopters conducted daily flights over northwest Washington, D.C., taking high-resolution photographs of the new Chinese Embassy being constructed on Van Ness Street. The aircraft belonged to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which wanted to determine where the embassy’s communications center was being located. But the Chinese construction crews hid their work on this part of the building by pulling tarpaulins over the site as it was being constructed. The FBI also monitored the movements and activities o
f the Chinese construction workers building the embassy, who were staying at a Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue just north of the construction site, in the hopes of possibly recruiting one or two of them. According to one Chinese diplomat, his fellow officials detected individuals who they assumed to be FBI agents covertly monitoring the construction materials and equipment being used to build the embassy, which were stored on the University of the District of Columbia’s soccer field across the street from where the Chinese Embassy currently stands. The diplomat added that Chinese security officials assumed that the FBI agents were trying to determine whether it was possible to plant eavesdropping devices inside the construction materials stored at the site."

"…All told, there are almost 600 foreign government embassies, consulates, missions, or representative offices in the United States, all of which are watched to one degree or another by the counterintelligence officers of the FBI. Only eight countries do not maintain any diplomatic presence in the United States whatsoever, the most important of which is nuclear-armed North Korea. Every one of these embassies and consulates is watched by the FBI’s legion of counterintelligence officers to one degree or another. But some countries’ receive the vast majority of the FBI’s attention, such as Russia, China, Libya, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Venezuela. The Cuban and Iranian interests section in Washington — and their missions to the United Nations in New York — of course receive special attention as well." Read the rest here.

The Reserve Officers Association publishes the ROA’s SmartBrief each day that includes stories "tailored to provide all the information needed to balance Reserve life in and out of uniform" for "essential news which affects them, their families and their military careers." It’s free and you can sign up here.

The Air Force is trying to figure out a successor to the A-10 Warthog attack plane. War is Boring’s Dave Majumdar: "Short on cash and determined to prioritize new stealth warplanes, the U.S. Air Force is busily trying to rid itself of all 350 of its slow- and low-flying A-10 Warthog attack planes-this despite the heavily-armed twin-engine jet’s impressive combat record stretching back to the 1991 Gulf War. But the flying branch still needs to support American troops on the ground-the Warthog’s raison d’etre. With that in mind, around 20 highly experienced A-10 pilots and engineers are working on unofficial specifications for a successor to the Warthog. The group started off with using the original A-X program requirements that resulted in the Warthog starting nearly 50 years ago. Even though technology has advanced since the 1960s, the fundamentals of what is required for the close air support mission have not changed." Read 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

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