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: Inside the fight between the WH and Eric Holder; Who brought nearly an ounce of weed into the Pentagon?; Out of cash: Kabul’s “Pentagon” needs more U.S. dollars; A budget deal today?; Hagel in Pakistan; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold  Inside the fight between the White House and Eric Holder over the nation’s top national security lawyer. FP’s Shane Harris with this exclusive last night: "In September, President Obama nominated John Carlin, a career federal prosecutor, to run the Justice Department’s National Security Division, a senior post whose occupant plays a key ...

By Gordon Lubold 

By Gordon Lubold 

Inside the fight between the White House and Eric Holder over the nation’s top national security lawyer. FP’s Shane Harris with this exclusive last night: "In September, President Obama nominated John Carlin, a career federal prosecutor, to run the Justice Department’s National Security Division, a senior post whose occupant plays a key role in authorizing secret surveillance operations and managing national security investigations. It was a controversial pick. Not only did some of Carlin’s peers think he wasn’t the most qualified candidate. Attorney General Eric Holder — the man who was supposed to be Carlin’s boss — hadn’t supported him. Several former officials told Foreign Policy that the attorney general ‘strenuously’ objected to nominating Carlin.

But Carlin had the backing of two senior officials in the White House, who had made it known that he was their preferred choice. In the end, their candidate won out, prompting several former law enforcement and national security officials to decry the nomination as an act of undue political influence over law enforcement decisions.

‘I think it is extraordinary and unusual to have someone forced upon an attorney general over his objections,’ said one former law enforcement official. ‘The independence of the Justice Department from the White House is institutionally important.’ Decisions on which cases to prosecute and how to manage criminal investigations are supposed to be made free of political considerations. Holder had his own list of candidates, which included another career prosecutor who had been his adviser on national security issues and had years more experience than Carlin working on terrorism and espionage cases, officials said. Holder didn’t know Carlin well and hadn’t worked closely with him.

Ultimately, the decision on whom to nominate for the position is the president’s alone. And Holder has since embraced Carlin — at least in public. But the rocky path to Carlin’s nomination, described in interviews with a dozen current and former Justice Department and administration officials, reveals a tense personal and political struggle over one of the most important national security positions in the government." Read the rest of this tale here.

It’s getting uglier in Kiev. WSJ’s James Marson: "Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets here for a second weekend, blockading government buildings and demanding that President Viktor Yanukovych fire his cabinet and reject plans to form a closer alliance with Russia. After speeches in the central Kiev square that pro-European protesters have occupied for the past week, crowds fanned out peacefully across downtown, crying ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ and ‘Get the gang out!’ Activists advanced in columns from the square and set up new barricades on roads leading to government buildings, saying they would prevent Mr. Yanukovych’s administration from working until he cedes to their demands. Protesters, angered by Mr. Yanukovych’s visit Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, tore down a statue of Vladimir Lenin, a potent symbol of Moscow’s historical dominance over this former Soviet republic… With protests entering a third week, the opposition is struggling to convert popular anger into political gains that could bond this country of 46 million into closer relations with Europe. Opposition leaders lack constitutional means to force the government from power before a presidential election in 2015, and face divisions among protesters, many of whom deeply distrust anyone associated with Ukraine’s corrupted political system." More here.

Chuck Hagel, after a visit to Afghanistan, is in Pakistan. Dawn: "Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel departed from Pakistan after a brief visit during which he held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s new army chief General Raheel Sharif on Monday. In the first visit by a US defence secretary in nearly four years, Hagel flew from Kabul to Islamabad as Washington seeks to defuse tensions over controversial US drone strikes and Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan. Ties between Washington and Islamabad have been seriously strained over US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt as well as Afghan Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan’s borders. After greeting Prime Minister Sharif at the start of their talks, Hagel said Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan had a ‘lot of common and mutual interests" and that he looked forward to discussing regional issues.’" More here.

Welcome to Monday’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.

High times: What was this Army civilian thinking? The person must have been high. The Pentagon’s police force conducted a dragnet last month for employees entering the building. They found a number of unauthorized items and at least one illegal one, allegedly: close to an ounce of marijuana on an Army civilian just trying to enter the building to get to work. The Pentagon Force Protection Agency on Nov. 19 conducted what it called an "enhanced screening" of all the Pentagon’s employees at three of the building’s major entrances as part of a routine security check. Pentagon police found four "prohibited" knives, pepper spray and what was only described as "drug paraphernalia." In other such screenings, they have found employees with "expandable batons," a defense official said.

But police also found an unnamed individual who allegedly was holding at least 25 grams of marijuana, just shy of an ounce. Despite the fact that possession of an illegal substance like marijuana is prohibited at the Pentagon and there were no clear national security issues at play, officials declined to provide any further details of the case. A Pentagon official cited the Privacy Act of 1974 which defense officials interpret as preventing the Defense Department from having to disclose the age or name of the person charged. Nor would defense officials comment on the amount of marijuana allegedly found. But a source familiar with the matter indicated that the amount was 25 grams or more. Read the rest of our little story here.

Sens. Levin and Inhofe and Rep. Buck McKeon are scheduled to speak late this afternoon on a budget deal. Situation Report was told last night that Levin, Inhofe and McKeon will hold a presser to announce details of a comprehensive FY 14 [National Defense Authorization Act] and "propose a way forward to passage." The legislation will not be a slimmed down bill as some have reported, "but a full NDAA" we’re told.

There appears to be a budget deal in the House and in the Senate but it’s unclear if it will pass. Defense News’ John Bennett: "…Defense and congressional sources seemed confident a budget conference
committee led by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would reach an accord by Dec. 6. But as one day faded into the next, it became clear that striking even a "small" two-year spending deal that both parties could support would prove as difficult as every other attempt to fashion a spending and deficit measure since President Barack Obama took office and conservative tea party Republicans joined the House. ‘They might have a deal," said Gordon Adams, who ran national defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, ‘but whether or not it can pass is a very different question – and a very interesting one.’

"One defense industry lobbyist with knowledge of the Ryan-Murray talks laid out a scenario under which Democratic and Republican leaders could force the 2014 budget resolution and accompanying two-year spending plan through both chambers. ‘In the House, it would need Democratic support. The conservative Republicans aren’t going to vote for it. But it can pass,’ the lobbyist said. ‘In the Senate, I think you get the defense folks: McCain, Graham, Ayotte and some others,’ the lobbyist added, referring to GOP Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Analysts agreed the road is smoother in the Senate. But the House is the wild card." More here.

On Syria, Foreign Policy and the U.S. Institute of Peace team up today. From an FP press release: "Six weeks before representatives of Syria’s warring factions are set to meet in Geneva, leading foreign policy thinkers will convene in Washington to game out ‘the best possible peace for Syria.’ Today, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and The FP Group (FP) announced the participants in their inaugural PeaceGame, set for [today and tomorrow] at USIP headquarters. The event is "fully on the record" open to credentialed press. FP’s David Rothkopf and USIP’s Kristin Lord: "What if we approached the achievement of peace with the same kind of time, energy, resources, and realism with which we approach preparing for wars?… What if we viewed peace not as the cessation of hostilities, a coda to the serious work of projecting force, but rather as the achievement of the political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, and other factors that lead to stability, organic growth, and conflict resolution — within rather than apart from a system of laws?"

PeaceGame participants: Peter Ackerman, Henri Barkey, Hans Binnendijk, Esther Brimmer, Daniel Brumberg, Ambassador Maura Connelly, PJ Crowley, Paula Dobriansky, Andrew Exum, Nelson Ford, Ambassador Edward "Skip" Gnehm, Karen House, Lise Howard, Steven Heydemann, Ambassador James Jeffrey, Murhaf Jouejati, Ambassador Ted Kattouf, Mark Katz, Steven Koltai, Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, George Lopez, Kristin Lord, Colum Lynch, Firas Maksad, Robert Malley, Sharon Morris, Robert Mosbacher, Jr., Ambassador George Moose, Mouaz Moustafa, Manal Omar, Carina Perelli, Kenneth Pollack, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, David Rothkopf, Paul Saunders, Mark Schneider, Jeremy Shapiro, Randa Slim, Julianne Smith, Andrew Tabler, Ambassador William B. Taylor, James Traub, Mona Yacoubian, Judith Yaphe, Casimir Yost.

For press, RSVP for the PeaceGame here at or by calling 202.429.3869; The agenda for today and tomorrow, here.

Watch the livestream  here.

The U.S.-funded "Pentagon" in Kabul – a symbol of American generosity – has cost $107 million spent and counting and it’s not complete. The WaPo’s Tim Craig in Kabul: "…The American government has already spent about $107 million – double the initial estimate – on the five-story Defense Ministry headquarters, which will include state-of-the-art bunkers and the second-largest auditorium in Kabul. But now, four years after the groundbreaking, construction crews have had to effectively halt their work. The reason: The U.S. government has run out of money for the project. For years, audits and inspector general’s reports have documented waste and mismanagement in American aid projects in Afghanistan. But the Defense Ministry building is a dramatic example of how poor oversight continues to plague the massive U.S. investment here. ‘Nobody was watching it like they should, and it’s just been an open checkbook,’ said an American official involved in the management of the project, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media. ‘We failed, big time.’… The American-led military coalition is appealing to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to authorize an additional $24 million for the Afghan defense headquarters, already one of the costliest U.S-financed buildings in the country." Read the rest here.

This U.S. Marine Colonel was pretty sure he was getting involved in Syria’s civil war. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "When a U.S. Marine Corps task force sent nearly all of its 2,400 personnel ashore in Jordan in June, Marine officials said it had nothing to do with the horrific civil war in neighboring Syria. Turns out, that’s half right: While the Marines were in Jordan for long-planned training exercise with the Jordanian military, their commander on the ground expected to be call on to intervene in the crisis by assisting the tens of thousands of refugees who had flooded across the border into Jordan. Col. Matthew St. Clair, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, acknowledged that point during an appearance Thursday at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Arlington, Va. The colonel admitted it was a surprise his Marines were not called on to assist the refugees — just one more sign of how close the United States was earlier this year to intervening in the Syrian civil war."

Marine Col. Matthew St. Clair: "I thought that exercise would turn into something else, but it did not." The rest of the story, here.

Speaking of Marines, Amos will visit Carnegie tomorrow. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos will talk future of the Marine Corps and how the nation and its military "might best prioritize its missions and capacities" at Carnegie tomorrow with moderator Sarah Chayes. "General Amos will outline his vision of the post-2014 security environment, consider how to extract, preserve, and apply what has been learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, and discuss the renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region." Event deets here.

Also: the former Marine-turned-gay waitress in New Jersey lost her job after creating an anti-gay hoax. CNN: "A New Jersey waitress was out of a job on Saturday, weeks after her story of being denied a tip because of her sexual orientation brought an outpouring of sympathy and donations. Dayna Morales’ employment was terminated after an internal investigation into allegations that she made up t
he story, Gallop Asian Bistro manager Bobby Vanderhoof told CNN… Morales, 22, a former Marine, first complained about the alleged incident on a "Have a Gay Day" Facebook page, posting a photo of a receipt that read, "I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle and how you live your life." More here.

Ante up in the Asia Pacific: South Korea says I see your ADIZ and now I’ll raise you one. The NYT’s Choe Sang-Hun reporting from Seoul: "Defying both China and Japan, South Korea announced on Sunday that it was expanding its air patrol zone for the first time in 62 years to include airspace over the East China Sea that is also claimed by Beijing and Tokyo. South Korea’s expanded ‘air defense identification zone’ was the latest sign of a broadening discord among the Northeast Asian neighbors, who are already locked in territorial and historical disputes. With South Korea’s newly expanded zone, the air defense zones of all three countries now overlap over a submerged reef called Ieodo in South Korea and Suyan Rock in China. The reef is controlled by South Korea, which maintains a maritime research station there, but China also claims it. The seabed around the reef is believed to be rich in natural gas and minerals deposits." 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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