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: Iran Nuke Accord Advances

By Gordon Lubold  Agreement advancing: Negotiators are putting the finishing touches on Iran accord. FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson: "On Sunday, Iran and six world powers finally announced an agreement on how to implement their nuclear deal struck back in November. The question now becomes: will the U.S. Congress wind up torpedoing the deal ...

By Gordon Lubold 

By Gordon Lubold 

Agreement advancing: Negotiators are putting the finishing touches on Iran accord. FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson: "On Sunday, Iran and six world powers finally announced an agreement on how to implement their nuclear deal struck back in November. The question now becomes: will the U.S. Congress wind up torpedoing the deal by piling on new economic sanctions against Tehran? First announced by Iranian officials on Sunday morning, the agreement starts the clock on a six-month period to reach a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program beginning Jan. 20. In this interim period, the U.S. will begin easing financial sanctions against Iran while the Islamic Republic grants the United Nations’ atomic agency access to its nuclear infrastructure so that it can verify compliance. Meanwhile, hawks in Congress continued to add cosponsors to sanctions legislation — legislation that President Obama has threaten to veto. A senior U.S. official warned reporters Sunday that new Congressional measures against Tehran would undercut international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program — and risk upending the painstakingly constructed sanctions regime that helped force Iran into nuclear talks in the first place. ‘Our intelligence community has assessed that new sanctions enacted during negotiations are likely to derail’ the talks, the official noted." Read the rest here.

The White House is going to war with Dems to save the peace talks with Iran. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "The White House is now openly declaring that Senate Democrats who support new sanctions against Iran are itching for war, but their campaign to pressure their own party members has been going on for months and has done little to dissuade Democrats from supporting sanctions. The White House brought their fight with Congressional Democrats out in the open Thursday evening when National Security Staff member Bernadette Meehan sent an incendiary statement lashing out at pro-sanctions Democrats to a select group of reporters, accusing them of being in favor of a strike on Iran." More here.

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Disabled military retirees will be protected from the reduced COLA. We’ve confirmed from a Hill source that the fiscal 2014 omnibus budget bill to be released tonight will indeed include language that will protect medically retired veterans and their survivors from the reduced cost of living adjustment in their military pensions. The issue has haunted veterans and other advocacy groups in recent weeks after the bipartisan budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray. That plan, announced in December, had included a reduction in the cost of living adjustments for military retirees, including medically retired ones. But there was pressure to protect disabled veterans. The broader issue of whether the reduction in COLA affecting all retirees is an open question, but officials expect that will remain in the bill. The House is expected to vote on the budget bill this week and the Senate by the end of next.

Ed Snowden was in India three years ago — taking "ethical hacking" classes.  FP’s own Shane Harris: "He spent six days taking courses in computer hacking and programming at a local professional school, according to school officials and people familiar with Snowden’s trip. Working with a private instructor, Snowden, who was then a contractor for the spy agency, took a course in "ethical hacking," where he learned advanced techniques for breaking into computer systems and exploiting flaws in software. The class’s ostensible purpose is to train students to protect computers and their contents from thieves and spies. But in order to do that, they learn how to break into computers and steal information. Snowden also inquired about methods to reverse-engineer the world’s most popular kits for committing widespread online crime." More here.

Icebreaker: The Arctic Passage opens challenges for the mil because it means it has a new ocean to patrol – for the first time since 1846. WSJ’s Julian Barnes on Page One: "The 40-year-old Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star returned to the Arctic Ocean this summer after seven years in semiretirement, charging into a thinning polar ice sheet that U.S. defense officials predict will give way to new commercial waterways and a resource-rich frontier by midcentury… As the ice surrounding the North Pole retreats, officials say, commercial shippers will be able to eventually move goods faster between Asia and Europe. More open seas will also give energy companies greater access to offshore oil and gas in regions controlled by the U.S. and estimated by military officials to be worth $1 trillion. ‘The inevitable opening of the Arctic will essentially create a new coast on America’s north,’ said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top officer. Even though the anticipated change is years away, Navy and Coast Guard officials say the U.S. needs to prepare now to patrol and defend the new waterways-designing ice-resistant ships and expanding Arctic naval exercises-when military scientists predict a new expanse of water freed of ice." Read the rest here.

Abrupt departure: Jim Marshall out at the U.S. Institute of Peace. USIP announced Saturday that USIP President Jim Marshall, installed just 16 months ago, is out. (His predecessor, Dick Solomon, served 19 years.) Marshall, the former mayor of Macon, Georgia and a four-term congressman, was installed by the USIP board in August 2012. Marshall had reorganized the internal structure of the Institute and had brought other needed changes to the organization. But the former Army Ranger had also gained a reputation for being prickly, and there were signs that he had emphasized the wrong things, like pushing to have part of Constitution Avenue in front of the grand USIP building moved away from the structure — as a security measure. Board Chairman Robin West, Vice-Chairman George Moose and Board members Eric Edelman and others had been part of the decision to hire Marshall in part because the Institute needed a kind of centrist Democrat like Marshall to appeal to Congress for its funding." We were told by an official at USIP: "The Board and Jim agreed now was a time for a change. During Jim’s time at USIP he brought on top notch staff, people like Kristin Lord who is acting president, and brought a tremendous amount of energy and focus to USIP. Now Jim is heading off to the next challenge." Full disclosure: In another life, Situation Report worked at USIP. Read our squib about Marshall’s effort to move Constitution Avenue here.

ICYMI on Friday: The U.S. has deployed about two dozen troops to Somalia for advising. They are the first uniforms to be there since 1993. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "A cell of U.S. military personnel has been in the Somali capital of Mogadishu to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia, an Islamist group whose leaders have professed loyalty to al-Qaeda, according to three U.S. military officials. The previously undisclosed deployment — of fewer than two dozen troops — reverses two decades of U.S. policy that effectively prohibited military ‘boots on the ground’ in Somalia. Even as Somali pirates and terrorists emerged as the top security threat in the region, successive presidential administrations and the Pentagon shied away from sending troops there for fear of a repeat of the Black Hawk Down debacle. In recent years, the Obama administration has slowly and cautiously become more directly involved in Somalia." More here.

Fallujah Free Fall: Arms sales at the heart of the matter. Defense News’ Paul McLeary and John Bennett: "Weapon sales to Iraq have become entangled in sharply escalated political debate after al-Qaida affiliated forces regained partial control of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi… Often lost in the heated debate over aid and recent US policy is the fact that the United States has already sold or donated billions worth of equipment to the Iraqi security forces. In July 2013 alone, the US announced more than $4 billion in arms sales to Iraq, including 50 Stryker infantry vehicles, helicopters, missiles, communications equipment and a proposed $750 million logistics and maintenance contract that would ensure the health of all of the equipment into the future." More here.

Read FP’s Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson’s piece on why the U.S. won’t ship weapons to Iraq, from Jan. 6, here.

Clashes between militants and the Army continue in Iraq, the NYT’s here.

Idea Lab: Send P4 back to Iraq. John McCain, on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, said the U.S. should send David Petraeus back to Iraq to fix the mess there. McCain: "I would suggest perhaps sending David Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker back over there… (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri) Al-Maliki trusts them." More here.

NYT’s Ed Board’s bottom line on non-lethal aid to Syria: "…There is a danger that American aid could backfire, as it did in the 1980s when support for Mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets helped to create fertile ground for terrorist movements years later. But the risk may be worth it. Syrian extremists are already trying to recruit and train Americans and other Westerners to carry out attacks in the United States, senior American officials say." More here.

He’s not acting: Larry Sampler = new Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at USAID. Sampler, a longtime Afghan hand, was officially sworn in as Assistant Administrator to the Af-Pak Affairs office Friday. Sampler has been in an Acting role in the same job since June 2013 when Alex Thier went to a new job. He’s traveled to the region more than 60 times since 2001 and used to live in Kabul for several years. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah: "Larry is the perfect fit to lead our work in the region at this important time. With a military background and substantial experience in conflict environments, Larry appreciates better than anyone the intricate and indispensable link between national security and human security. And he knows better than anyone that long-term stability and peace require not only the reassurance of security, but also the promise of a good education and the hope of a steady job."

Slippery Slope: Pentagon leaders issued internal guidance to put the Army on a glidepath to go to 420K soldiers by 2019. Inside Defense’s Sebastian Sprenger: "…The guidance, signed at the beginning of [last] week, also sets in motion an Army plan to reduce the service’s National Guard from 354,000 to 315,000 soldiers and the Army Reserve from 205,000 to 185,000, these sources say. Those reductions are in line with what Army leaders had recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as part of various FY-15/19 program objective memorandum proposals crafted since the fall of last year. Reserve component leaders had proposed a different course for achieving budget cuts mandated by sequestration, arguing the Guard need only be cut to 345,000… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has previously argued that 450,000 soldiers is the absolute minimum number of active-duty troops needed to ‘fully’ implement the Obama administration’s defense strategic guidance. But while publicly arguing against the steeper cut to 420,000, service officials had resigned themselves to that figure if it was accompanied by requisite cuts in the Army Guard and Reserve." More behind the paywall here.

The National Guard: preparing to maintain readiness amid budget cuts. The News Journal (Delaware)’s Bill McMichael: "The National Guard must find a way to maintain a ready posture despite the inevitability of federal budget cuts over most of the next decade, the Guard’s director told senior leaders of the Delaware National Guard Saturday. Gen. Frank Grass told state Guard leaders gathered at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino that December’s federal budget agreement provided some relief over the next two years from the automatic ‘sequestration’ budget reductions that went into effect last March. But the Guard will have to take its share of future spending cuts. ‘We’re gonna be OK this year,’ Grass said following his remarks. ‘But for the long term, and as long as the Budget Control Act is law, the Guard has to take reductions in our appropriations. So we’re trying our best … to manage that inside the services. And we’ve got some more work to do.’" 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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