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: Why the court ruling is scary for the NSA; HASC race begins; Hagel has his first VTC with Russia’s Shoygu; Popping positive? DOD adds some Spice; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Calling George Orwell: Here’s why yesterday’s court ruling is scary for the NSA. FP’s Shane Harris: "On Monday, a Federal District Court judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s collection and storage of all Americans’ phone records probably violates the Constitution and is an ‘almost Orwellian’ system that "surely…infringes on ‘that degree ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Calling George Orwell: Here’s why yesterday’s court ruling is scary for the NSA. FP’s Shane Harris: "On Monday, a Federal District Court judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s collection and storage of all Americans’ phone records probably violates the Constitution and is an ‘almost Orwellian’ system that "surely…infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.’ It’s the first successful legal challenge to NSA surveillance since June, when Edward Snowden began a cascade of NSA disclosures. It might just set up the most important legal debate about surveillance and personal privacy in decades. And it threatens to undermine one of the major legal foundations of the NSA’s vast surveillance network.

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia, a George W. Bush appointee, ordered the government to stop collecting the phone records of two plaintiffs who brought suit against the NSA’s so-called metadata program and to destroy the information it has on them now. He stayed his injunction, pending an almost certain appeal by the Obama administration. But if the case is eventually heard by an appeals court — and there are reasons to think it will be — it would be the highest-stakes and highest-profile battle to date over the NSA’s program, and a proxy argument for the broader ethical dimensions about massive government surveillance. Think of it as the NSA’s answer to the Scopes Monkey Trial — a public, and undoubtedly passionate debate about whether massive, technologically-enabled surveillance that would have been impossible a few decades ago is still compatible with core constitutional principles of privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches." More here.

Page One: WaPo’s big piece on the debate over the role the National Guard will have in the future. WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: The four diminutive cargo planes parked on the National Guard air base in this Rust Belt town last year never would have been selected for a recruiting poster. Lacking the grace of a fighter or the girth of a freighter, the newly built twin-prop aircraft were the minivans of combat aviation – unsexy, utilitarian haulers of people and gear. But that didn’t matter to pilots and ground crews here. They loved the planes, as did troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not so the Air Force. After spending almost $600 million to buy a tiny fleet of the planes over the past six years, stationing them in Mansfield and at two other National Guard bases, the Air Force flew all of them to a junkyard earlier this year. Five more planes, which the Pentagon already has paid for, will be mothballed as soon as they are built." The rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday’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.

McCain is considering sanctions for Ukraine. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "If the Ukrainian government attempts further violence against peaceful protesters, the U.S. Congress could begin a process to impose sanctions on the country, said Sen. John McCain, who just returned from a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. ‘Sanctions are something we said the Congress would consider,’ McCain said in a Monday interview with The Daily Beast following his two-day trip to Ukraine, where he was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). ‘We didn’t threaten the sanctions, but we both said that sanctions would be a consideration if there was any brutality against the protesters.’"More here.

The President of Yemen is in a corner over drones. WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari: "Yemen’s parliament has stepped up pressure on the government to immediately end American drone strikes amid furor over an attack that officials said mistakenly killed 15 people in a wedding convoy. However, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has the final say, isn’t likely to tell the U.S. to shut down the drone program because his impoverished government needs the American funding attached to it. The U.S. administration said counterterrorism cooperation would continue. Parliament voted on Sunday in support of ending the drone strikes, a reflection of growing anger among Yemenis and the unpopularity of the government’s relationship with the U.S." More here.

Is Thornberry the anointed one? Real Clear Defense’s Dustin Walker: "No one knows if there will be a race for the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) in the 114th Congress. But based on the chatter in defense circles on Capitol Hill and around Washington, the race is on. And the likely favorite says he’s ready to step up. In a wide-ranging interview with RealClearDefense, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said if there’s a vacancy for the HASC chairmanship, he will be ready to make his case. "Whenever the time comes, I’ll be ready," said the Texas Republican…. Regardless of McKeon’s endorsement of Thornberry, committee chairmanships are rarely uncontested. Besides Thornberry, two HASC Republicans have been consistently mentioned as potential candidates by congressional and industry sources: Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). Forbes is the chairman of the HASC Seapower subcommittee, known as a fierce advocate for American naval power with a strong background in Asia-Pacific security issues. He’s the (rare) kind of Member of Congress that can explain at length why AirSea Battle is an operational concept, not a strategy. His policy depth and mind for strategy have made him popular in think tanks and defense policy circles, with a number of defense experts telling RealClearDefense they would welcome Forbes’ leadership of the committee. But his views on social issues have been the cause of recent controversy, and he’s bucked House leadership on key votes in the past. Turner chairs the HASC Tactical Air & Land Forces subcommittee. He is comfortable both as a bipartisan problem solver and a fiery partisan debater." Read the rest here.

The U.S. is seriously considering closer ties to hardliners in Syria. FP’s John Hudson: As the moderate faction of the Syrian rebellion implodes under the strain of vicious infighting and diminished resources, the United States is increasingly looking to hardline Islamists in its efforts to gain leverage in Syria’s civil war. The development has alarmed U.S. observers concerned that the radical Salafists do not share U.S. values and has dismayed supporters of the Free Syrian Army who believe the moderates were set up to fail." More here.

Self serve: Loren Thompson explains how Washington works after our piece on Hagel. After our profile ran yesterday of Chuck Hagel, The high-profile defense industry consultant Loren Thompson explained a thing or two about how Washington and journalism works. Thompson: "Past experience suggests that the appearance of Lubold’s piece in a highly prestigious outlet will lead to follow-on treatments that are far less even-handed. If you are new to River City and don’t understand how these things work, then here’s a couple of tip-offs from the piece as to what lies ahead for Secretary Hagel. When Lubold writes, ‘a number of Washington’s most prominent public defense analysts took a pass when asked to comment about Hagel’s agenda,’ what he is really saying is that he couldn’t find any pundits with a kind word to offer about the defense secretary’s performance. And when Lubold writes that, ‘In the Pentagon, the mood about Hagel is a mixture of circumspection and wait and see,’ what he really means is that Hagel’s subordinates are not happy… Author Lubold suggests that people are unhappy with Hagel because he hasn’t fired a general or killed a weapon system to demonstrate he can be decisive. That’s not much of a metric for judging excellence in office. Maybe Hagel’s just too thoughtful to make the kind of sweeping changes that get noticed by the chattering classes. Nuance and subtlety generally don’t play well in the blogosphere. However, as the coming season of discontent unfolds for Secretary Hagel, no one should doubt that this is a man of unusual character, a patriot who risked his life for America and has always tried to follow his conscience. That should count for something." The rest of his post from his "Early Warning" blog here.

In North Korea, the fallout from the execution. North Korean expert John Park, writing on Power and Policy, the Kennedy School of Government’s blog, has a good Q&A here.

Vet employers listen up: Veterans typically leave their first job after the military. But why? That’s what a group called VetAdvisor and Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families set out to find out. They launched a survey this week, the "Veterans Job Retention Survey," to help determine why veterans leave their initial job after the military.  "Because this data has not been previously captured, the survey will provide insight into how organizations can best structure their veteran-centric employee programs. All interested veterans and service members are encouraged to participate in the survey," according to the group’s release. Says James Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director and Co-Founder: "Our goal is to develop employment-focused programs in collaboration with industry, government, NGOs and the veteran community, to address the primary economic and public policy concerns of our nation’s servicemen and women such as employee retention and career development." Take the survey, which aims to have 5,000 participants, here.

A story we missed but wanted to include yesterday: The Daily Beast ran a piece marking Osama bin Laden’s infamous escape from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, twelve years ago this week, by Yaniv Barzilai, who now works at State. Barzilai: "Exactly twelve years ago, during the cold Winter days between December 10-16, in the jagged mountains of Tora Bora that separate Afghanistan from Pakistan, Osama bin Laden walked unencumbered into Pakistan and disappeared for nine and a half years. Just before, however, bin Laden had made an egregious error. After spending a couple seconds too long on his radio, the CIA pinpointed bin Laden’s location to within ten meters. One hour later, forty of America’s most elite special operations forces raced to kill the most infamous man alive. It was the only day for nearly a decade in which the United States knew exactly where Osama bin Laden was. And, it was the last time that the majority of al Qaeda’s leadership would ever be in the same place." Read the rest of this piece by Barzilai, whose book, 102 Days of War – How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001, due out next month, here.

Former-Marine-turned-filmmaker Reagan Young is telling the story of the kids he met in Afghanistan. The WaPo’s Richard Leiby: "…The former staff sergeant wrote a script set in Afghanistan that focuses on a character he calls a "lost and faithless" combat Marine whose life changes after meeting 6-year-old Marza, who peddles trinkets in Kabul’s international enclave. Young basically wrote about himself; he often walked through the military and diplomatic zone while on his final deployment in Afghanistan in 2011-12. There, a 6-year-old named Mursal Hawa, who spoke English well, gamely offered to accompany him as his ‘bodyguard,’ he says."

Young, Leiby writes, is two months behind in his rent, can’t afford to fix his laptop and is living in Los Angeles. But he hopes to screen the 20-minute film, "Marza," in Arlington (outside D.C.) soon. There’s more to this story, so read it here.

John Kirby starts as Pentagon press secretary today. Rear Adm. John Kirby begins a new chapter in his career, moving into an office on the E-Ring within the Pentagon’s massive public affairs apparatus to become the new voice and face of Hagel, as we first reported last week.

Jim Stavridis on FP with a piece titled "Cool War Rising" about the rising conflict between Washington and Moscow. Stavridis: Rising tensions in the relationship between the United States and Russia are beginning to cause a "Cool War" — a sort of Cold War-lite — that threatens both Washington and the entire global geopolitical system. Without a functioning relationship between Washington and Moscow, the chances of solving major challenges — from Iran to Syria, the Arctic to Afghanistan — decreases dramatically. Rather than accept the arc of a deteriorating relationship, the United States should actively seek every possible zone of cooperation we can find with Russia, despite the frustrations and setbacks." Stavridis concludes by quoting the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev: "Circumstances define us; they force us onto one road or another, and then they punish us for it." Stavridis: "We are not forced to walk either the path of endless tension or total cooperation. The trick for both the United States and Russia is to overcome the circumstances of our disagreements to find the path to better overall relations through specific zones of cooperation — recognizing there will always be areas where we will not see things in the same way." Read everything in between, here.

Speaking of which: Hagel and Russia’s Shoygu in their first ever video teleconference yesterday. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu conducted their first telec
onference after agreeing in August to do so in order to maintain a dialogue. The two talked about missile defense, Syria, cyber security and countering improvised explosive devices.  Assistant Presssec Carl Woog: "Secretary Hagel noted that the P5+1 Joint Plan of Action does not eliminate the need for U.S. and European allies to continue implementing missile defense plans in Europe… [and] stressed that U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts pose no threat to Russia and urged that both sides continue consultations on future missile plans in Europe." The two also talked about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria and Hagel gave Shoygu an update on neutralizing the chems once they’re out of the country. "Secretary Hagel encouraged Russia to stay engaged with the process and continue providing critical assistance to ensure that chemical weapons are removed on schedule." The photo of the conference, with Hagel, Pentagon Policy Chief Jim Miller and ASD Derek Chollet, here.

Will the Air Force cancel its bid to get a new high-speed search and rescue helicopter? FP’s Dan Lamothe:  "Last month, the U.S. Air Force made a curious announcement about its contract competition for a new high-speed, search-and-rescue helicopter. A bidder, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, provided ‘an acceptable technical solution’ for the program to build a helo for finding and recovering pilots and other personnel from the battlefield. But no contract would be awarded. Doing so still depended on a review of the U.S. budget, the Air Force said. The announcement occurred because the Air Force is giving serious consideration to the complete cancellation of the project, which calls for the purchase of up to 112 new helicopters to replace the aging HH-60 Pave Hawk. Top Air Force officials consider the purchase of the stealthy F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the long-range strike bomber to be bigger priorities, and appear willing to dump the search-and-rescue helicopter if necessary to protect them. That, despite Air Force leaders saying the service still considers the combat search-and-rescue mission a priority." Read the rest here.

Jeh Johnson is in at DHS – The Senate confirmed him 78-16.

Assaulting sexual assault: Gary Patton out, Jeff Snow in. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel picked Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow to become the new director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office – SAPRO in Penty parlance – starting next month. Maj. Gen. Gary Patton plans to retire next spring after 35 years in the mil. Pentagon officials say Patton’s retirement has nothing to do with an unrelated Army investigation connected to his time in Afghanistan. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn: "Patton had been the subject of an internal Army review into patient abuse and corruption at a U.S.-funded Afghan hospital and questions over whether he tried to keep staffers from talking with investigators. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed to let another Army commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, quietly retire over the same whistleblower incident. Hagel: "He has a history of tackling tough assignments and I want to thank him for the transparency, energy, persistence and strong leadership he has brought to the department’s sexual assault prevention and response program over these past 18 months.  I met with him every week and always have counted on his expertise.  Maj. Gen. Patton has made a lasting positive impact on our program and on the men and women of our military.  I look forward to working with Maj. Gen. Snow and I know he is the right choice to continue this vitally important work." More here.

Duffel Blog: A soldier responds to a first grader’s letter. Juice Box: "Dear Mackenzie, Thanks for your kind words. The support of young Americans like you makes everything we do feel at least marginally worthwhile. But let’s get a few things straight… your black-and-white characterization of this conflict grossly misunderstands the complexity of modern warfare and, indeed, the folly of declared war against any group as broadly unspecific as ‘the terrorists.’ This isn’t World War II, and the extent to which I am ‘good’ and the enemy is ‘bad’ is subject to debate – just ask anyone who’s ever woken up to a Hellfire landing in the backyard. It’s inaccurate, in any case, to suggest that we’re here fighting any sort of unified adversary. On a given day, I couldn’t tell you if I’m being shot at by Taliban, Haqqani, Hezb-e Isalmi, Taj Mir Jawad, or the Afghan National Army. At a certain point, when you’re surrounded by people who hate you, there comes a time for looking inward." 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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