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: 200 to be cut from Penty over five years; Yoda survives; U.S. appears to accept ADIZ in Asia; 5 billion records mapped a day at the NSA; What happens when an AF band does a flash mob; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The Obama administration appears to be open to accepting China’s ADIZ – sorta. FP’s Dan Lamothe and Yochi Dreazen: "Top Obama administration and Pentagon officials signaled a willingness to temporarily accept China’s new, controversial air defense identification zone on Wednesday. Those officials expressed disapproval for the way in which the Asian power has flexed its muscles, and cautioned China not to implement the zone. But they also carved out wiggle room in which the United States and China ultimately could find common ground on the issue, indicating that they may be willing to live with the zone for now — as long as China backs off its demand that all aircraft traveling through it check in first. ‘It wasn’t the declaration of the ADIZ that actually was destabilizing,’ said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, America’s highest-ranking military officer. ‘It was their assertion that they would cause all aircraft entering the ADIZ to report regardless of whether they were intending to enter into the sovereign airspace of China. And that is destabilizing.’ That’s a change from just a few days ago, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden demanded that China take back its declaration of the zone. And it’s another demonstration that China’s recent decisions have forced the United States to tread carefully. On Wednesday, Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing for more than five hours, according to a senior administration official. In brief public remarks midway through the marathon session, Biden didn’t mention the air defense zone at all." Read the rest here.

John Bolton’s answer to the question, "how should the U.S. respond to China’s muscle-flexing? His BLUF: "Japan and Israel both live in the real world of threats and dangers, not in the Obama bubble where national-security issues rarely intrude on his efforts to reshape American society. But China’s air-defense zone move has pierced the bubble, and Joe Biden’s Asia trip could tell us if President Obama now gets it." Read that bit here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Five billion records: That’s how many phone records the NSA maps every day. The WaPo’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani: The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals – and map their relationships – in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool." More here.

Afghanistan’s IG: DOD has not conducted a comprehensive "risk assessment" of the Afghan gov’s capacity to manage American funding for its military. SIGAR John Sopko: "The current process does not enable CSTC-A to determine core functional capacity across each ministry, provide trainers and decision makers with a holistic understanding of systemic shortcomings of each ministry’s overall financial management capacity, or identify risks associated with capacity weaknesses. CSTC-A does conduct financial risk assessments for some, but not all, Afghan budget requirements for direct assistance, as part of the budget process required by its standard operating procedures. However, these risk assessments are limited to financial risks associated with the procurement of a particular good or service." Read the report here.

SIGAR also announced that it would "restart" its investigation into the $36 million command and control center at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. "SIGAR is taking this action in response to a recent Army investigation that recommended U.S. taxpayers invest additional money to complete this building." Read the letter SIGAR Sopko wrote to Hagel, Dunford and Austin about the center, here.

So now Afghan militants are joining the fight in Syria, too. FP’s David Kenner: "As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gained the upper hand over an internal uprising in the past year, he received a major boost from his allies across the Middle East. The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite militias, and Iranian military advisors, have all been key in turning the tide of the battle. Now, it appears a new group has entered the fray on the side of the Assad regime: Shiite fighters from Afghanistan. After a dozen years in Afghanistan and thousands of Americans lives lost, the United States also finds itself in an awkward position by the flow of foreign fighters to Syria. While the U.S. occupation of the country was intended to pave the way for the eradication of lawless militias, fighters from Afghanistan are now engaged on both sides of the Syrian conflict. In addition to the Afghan Shiite fighters, a small number of Afghan jihadists have also joined the rebel cause. This dynamic is even clearer in Iraq, where Shiite militias and Sunni jihadists have also joined the Syrian battle – reopening old sectarian wounds and threatening the fragile stability back home."

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, the State Department is stepping up an effort to combat violent extremists’ recruiting of English speakers. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt: "…The campaign is starting at a time when intelligence officials say dozens of Americans have traveled or tried to travel to Syria since 2011 to fight with the rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen now puts English subtitles on its website propaganda. The Shabab, the Islamist extremist group in Somalia, publish an English-language online magazine. State Department officials acknowledge that the new program is a modest trial run that faces a vast array of English-language websites, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and Facebook pages that violent extremist groups have established largely uncontested in the past few years. But American and European intelligence officials warn that Al Qaeda’s efforts to recruit English-speaking fig
hters could create new terrorist threats when the battle-hardened militants return home." More here.

FP’s Micah Zenko argues that Obama’s national security strategy aims to avoid wars – but it seems like the White House can’t actually get behind its own approach. Read that bit here.

Chinese spy games in the Philippines? The Christian Science Monitor’s Anna Mulrine, in Manila: "As residents of a hard-hit Philippine town were being guided onto a cargo plane during the height of the post-typhoon aid effort, one individual refused to be ushered in. He was wearing tattered clothes but, suspiciously, had a brand-new camera. And he was using it to snap photos not of the evacuees he was with, but of the U.S. military aircraft on the runway. US and allied officials concluded that he was a spy for China. Military officers on the ground took the reported spy games in stride… But the episode offers a fascinating window into the high-stakes US-China chess match taking place in the region. As the Pentagon forges ahead with its strategic shift toward Asia, the Philippines is likely to be a ‘key link’ in US national security efforts in the region, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report." More here.

Check out this vid of the Air Force band "flash mob" at the Air and Space museum, worth the look, here.

Today on Spouse-buzz: "Save me from my military bitterness!"

"…When I look at Army couples a few years older than we are, I see two kinds of wives:  the bitter and the oh-so-sweet. The bitter ones say things like "The Army doesn’t give a damn about families. I am his mistress – he is married to the military." More here.

Chuck Hagel and Marty Dempsey outlined ways to streamline the Pentagon, cut it, and reorganize it. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put a little more meat on the bone of a plan he had announced earlier this year requiring cuts and reorganization across the Department. Hagel’s own staff within the Office of the Secretary of Defense will only be cut by about 200 people – over five years – from 2,400 currently to 2,200 personnel by 2019. Other highlights include: restructuring, "strengthening" or otherwise realigning offices across the Department by Jan. 1, 2015. Read the transcript from Hagel and Dempsey’s presser here.

Asst. Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke appeared on Federal News Radio talking about the reorganization at the Pentagon with Francis Rose. Burke: "The Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment will be folded under my office…that is a statutory change.  Congress has directed us to eliminate the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense positions which are not Senate-confirmed… Some of [the changes] will be implemented immediately.  We will begin implementing them immediately, and…they should be completed no later than January 2015.  So we have some time to figure out the details, and we will do that." More here.

Yoda is still standing: Andy Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment will survive. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "Yoda has won a new lease on life at the Pentagon, although his independence will be curtailed. Yoda is the nom de guerre for Andrew W. Marshall, the 92-year-old futurist who directs the Pentagon’s obliquely named internal think tank, the Office of Net Assessment. A fixture in national-security circles since the dawn of the Cold War, Marshall contemplates military strategy and apocalyptic scenarios that could emerge in the decades to come."

Temporary Fox: Why Christine Fox was selected for DepSecDef – and who may have ran from a fight.  Breaking Defense’s Colin Clark: "…Fox was not the slam-dunk choice. Several likely candidates – former policy undersecretary Michele Flournoy and former BAE CEO Linda Hudson chief among them  – are understood to have declined either because of the demands of the job (you have no life outside work) or because of the horrors of the confirmation process. My personal favorite of the rumored candidates was Dave Oliver, former CEO of EADS North America, and former principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition and logistics. But Dave is male and is not widely known for his diplomatic skills, though he possesses considerable charm and, most importantly, knows how to manage effectively and to force policy decisions. Oliver would be an intelligent choice to manage the Pentagon during times that will only grow tougher and require decisions few will want to make." More here.

At the Veterans Court Conference yesterday, Dempsey suggests that the military give a second chance to social media misfits. Washington Times’ Kristina Wong: "Young people, beware: That drunken selfie on your Facebook page or obscene rant on your Twitter feed could come back to haunt you – by killing your job prospects. So says the country’s top military officer. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, said Wednesday that young people need to take care about what they post in social media because today’s bad behavior can cause tomorrow’s job rejection, even in the military. ‘I worry about the next generation of young men and women who are now in their teens, early teens, who probably underestimate the impact of their persona in social media and what impact that could have later in life on things like security clearances and promotions,’ Gen. Dempsey said during a veterans conference in Washington. The general said Pentagon officials have long considered giving overexposed would-be recruits a second chance to distance themselves from their youthful indiscretions documented online."

Read the rest, plus see the picture of a woman who was fired for posting a picture of herself flipping off a "silence and respect" sign at Arlington Cemetery, here.

Dempsey praised the concept of veterans courts yesterday. American Forces Press Service’s Jim Garamone: "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today praised the members the Veterans Treatment Court Convention for their work in developing the innovative program designed to help veterans
get their lives back on track. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the program, which grew out of a grass-roots effort in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, is especially needed for a generation of service members that has lived through 12 years of repeated deployments into intense combat." 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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