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: Hagel turns up the heat on nukes

Two warships to the Black Sea for Sochi; Locklear says Pacific is the most "militarized zone;" U.S. contractors work for the Iraqis now; Who's not pro-Israel enough for AIPAC?; and a bit more.  



By Gordon Lubold 

Hagel is turning up the heat on nukes. After a series of new lapses that have triggered new concerns about the health of the force manning the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is summoning senior defense leaders to Washington, demanding a new report on issues within the force and also preparing to launch a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced yesterday. The master of nuke coverage, AP’s Bob Burns: "It began with his brief mention last fall of ‘troubling lapses’ in the nuclear force. Weeks later Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel turned up the heat a notch by paying a rare visit to a nuclear missile base. And on Thursday he dropped his bombshell: a demand for quick answers to what ails this most sensitive of military missions. ‘Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,’ Hagel wrote in unusually pointed language to a dozen top officials. Hagel ordered immediate actions to define the depth of trouble inside the nuclear force, particularly the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security… Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to ‘raise and address’ any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an ‘action plan’ be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the nuclear summit.

"The Pentagon chief also said he would assemble a small group of outsiders with expertise in the nuclear field to conduct a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, with a focus on personnel issues, and to recommend changes "that would help ensure the continued safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear forces." More here.

Is Hagel in a firing mood? Unclear as of yet. While former Defense Secretary Bob Gates had little problem firing people, that has not as yet defined Hagel’s style. Hagel has said in the past (in the context of the sexual assault crisis facing DoD) that he has no problem firing people to demand accountability, but that rolling heads isn’t always the best way to fix a problem.

Kirby, who credited Associated Press’ coverage of the nuclear issues as one of the triggers to Hagel’s rising concerns, said Hagel’s not at the point where he thinks firing people over problems within the force will solve the problem. Kirby, at the Pentagon yesterday: "To the degree that — that leaders need to be held to account, he will hold them to account.  We’re just not there right now… we’re just trying to unpack this issue and this problem and try to get our arms around it.  That’s why he’s having a review team put together. That’s why he’s bringing the leaders into the building.  And I think we’ve got a lot of work to do to better understand the scope of the problem before we get to the point where, you know, we’re firing people. And I don’t think — Secretary Hagel doesn’t want to set that as the — as the goal.  I don’t think he wants to set that as the bar for success by how many get — you know, lose their jobs over this.  His — what he’s setting as the bar and his measure of success is making sure that we’ve addressed whatever personnel — systemic personnel problems there may be inside the nuclear force and fixing them."

Speaking of nukes, a new three-year study by the Pentagon concluded U.S. intel agencies can’t foresee when foreign powers are developing nuclear weapons. The NYT’s David Sanger and William Broad: "… The study, a 100-page report by the Defense Science Board, contends that the detection abilities needed in cases like Iran – including finding ‘undeclared facilities and/or covert operations’ – are ‘either inadequate, or more often, do not exist.’

"The report is circulating just two months before President Obama will attend his third nuclear security summit meeting, set for March in The Hague, an effort he began in order to lock down loose nuclear materials and, eventually, reduce the number of countries that could build nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama’s efforts to sweep up the materials have largely been considered a success. But the report concluded that potential new nuclear states are ’emerging in numbers not seen since the early days of the Cold War,’ and that "monitoring for proliferation should be a top national security objective – but one for which the nation is not yet organized or fully equipped to address… A former senior intelligence official familiar with the report, which was commissioned by Ashton B. Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense who resigned late last year, said the effort was to focus the government’s efforts on the global dimensions of the atomic threat.

The former senior intel official familiar with the report, to the Times: "One of the highest priorities of successive administrations is countering proliferation… But there’s little coherence on what agencies do to move that interest forward." Read the rest of this here.

Welcome to the Friday 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.

Ghosts of Baghdad: U.S. contractors didn’t go anywhere – they just work for the Iraqi government now. FP’s own Dan Lamothe: " The Pentagon says the last of its defense contractors left Iraq in December, just weeks before portions of the increasingly violent country were conquered al-Qaeda. There’s a catch, however: While the number of Iraq contractors on U.S. payrolls has plummeted, some of those same individuals are still there, working directly for the Iraqi government.

The change is part of the United States’ evolving relationship with Baghdad. The last Defense Department contract with Iraq was transferred to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration in December, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman. That leaves the Defense Department’s number of contractors in Iraq at 0, down 6,624 in October, according to a quarterly report released at the time. Of those 6,624 contractors, 1,626 were U.S. citizens, 2,807 were civilians of another country, and 2,191 were Iraqi citizens from Iraq, the report said.

"… One example of a company staying in Iraq despite the change in who pays its bill is Triple Canopy, the behemoth defense firm based in Herndon, VA. It has made a fortune as one of Washington’s primary security providers in war zones, and is one of eight companies with a piece of the State Department’s five-year, $10.8 billion Worldwide Protective Services contract, which was signed in 2010 and lays out the terms by which contractors provide security to U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel across the world. But Triple Canopy also had a variety of smaller contracts with the Pentagon for other work in Iraq, and intends to continue working there now." More here.

Mo’ money! A little budget guidance for the Pentagon from the White House. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: " The White House this week gave the Defense Department budget guidance through 2019 that calls for more money after 2015 than congressional budget caps allow, according to U.S. officials. The Office of Management and Budget guidance, known as the ‘pass-back,’ also includes for the first time an ‘investment fund’ for programs the White House has approved to receive additional funds should they become available, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the directive hasn’t been made public.

"As part of its budget submission to Congress, the Pentagon is expected to present the OMB investment fund to lawmakers to demonstrate where more money would be added to that allocated in last year’s bipartisan budget deal, one of the officials said. The federal budget, including the Pentagon blueprint, is due to be released on about March 4, the officials said. The fiscal 2015 total for base defense spending excluding war operations is about $498 billion, or the same amount called for in last month’s agreement, and includes $9 billion in relief from the caps called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act. That’s still $44 billion less than the $542 billion the Pentagon last year said it would request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1." More here.

A blast at a security headquarters in Cairo has killed at least five. The WaPo’s Abigail Hauslohner and Erin Cunningham: "A powerful car bomb shattered the facade of a security headquarters in downtown Cairo at dawn on Friday, the highest profile attack on Egypt’s military-backed government since last summer’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. At least five people were killed, and more than 50 were injured, the health ministry said… The interior ministry said a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a barricade outside the building at 6:30 a.m., causing a thundering blast that was heard across a wide swath of the capital, and leaving a gaping crater. Cairo’s 19th-century Islamic Art museum, which is located across the street, was badly damaged. Two smaller explosions in other districts of the city on Friday had little impact." More here.

Did you hear the story about one of the most pro-Israel Congressmen who isn’t pro-Israel enough for AIPAC? We thought so. So here’s FP’s own John Hudson: " A recent letter attacking Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing an internal brouhaha at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The Cable has learned. The powerful lobbying outfit, known for its disciplined non-partisan advocacy for Israel, recently issued an action alert about the Florida congresswoman’s waffling on Iran sanctions legislation. The letter urged members to contact Wasserman Schultz and cited a disparaging article about her in a conservative website founded by a prominent Republican political operative. That AIPAC was driving hard for new Iran sanctions legislation surprised no one. But its use of a right-wing blog to target a well-connected Jewish Democrat with a long history of support for Israel raised eyebrows among some current and former AIPAC officials. It also raised concerns that AIPAC’s open revolt against the White House’s Iran diplomacy could fray its relations with liberal Democrats on the Hill.

Said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC’s former chief lobbyist: "In the 40 years I’ve been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I’ve seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship." More here.

The secret history to a secret CIA prison in Poland. The WaPo’s Adam Goldman: "…The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture. Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program…

"The story of a Polish villa that became the site of one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history began in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad with the capture of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in March 2002. The CIA needed a place to stash its first "high-value" detainee, a man who was thought to be closely tied to the al-Qaeda leadership and might know of follow-on plots. Cambodia and Thailand offered to help the CIA. Cambodia turned out to be the less desirable of the two. Agency officers told superiors that a proposed site was infested with snakes. So the agency flew Abu Zubaida to Thailand, housing him at a remote location at least an hour’s drive from Bangkok." Read the rest here.

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian at CSIS this morning in Washington at 9:30 am. He’ll be talking France’s role in NATO and the recent security challenges in Mali and the Central African Republic and anything else if you go and ask a really good question. Note CSIS’ new office is at 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW. Event runs an hour.

The Pentagon is sending two warships to the Black Sea in anticipation of Sochi. NBC News’ Erin McClam: "A catastrophic terrorist strike at the Sochi Winter Olympics would present the United States with a logistically mind-boggling and diplomatically delicate challenge: How to get more than 200 American athletes safely out of Russia. U.S. military officials have described plans to use two warships in the Black Sea and planes already on standby in Europe to evacuate Americans if the worst fears of security experts come true. But these are the Olympics of President Vladimir Putin, who is spending a reported $50 billion on the games, including a purportedly impenetrable "ring of steel" around the Olympic city, and who sees the games through a prism of national pride." Read the rest here.

So now the U.S. is investigating Dennis Rodman for whether he violated U.S. sanctions after bringing thousands of dollars of luxury gifts to his BFF, Kim Jong Un. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "Dennis Rodman was already having a rotten month, between the trip to rehab and the global condemnation for cozying up to a dictator. Now things may be about to get much worse. The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether he violated the law that prohibits the importing of luxury goods into North Korea. On his third and most recent trip to Pyongyang this month, Rodman reportedly brought several gifts for the young Kim’s 31st birthday. They allegedly included hundreds of dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey, European crystal, an Italian suit, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag for Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju. But these gifts, reportedly worth more than $10,000, may not have been all. Michael Spavor, a Beijing-based consultant who facilitated and joined Rodman’s trip, tweeted a photo of Rodman apparently displaying several bottles of his own brand "Bad Ass Vodka" for Kim Jong Un and his wife." Read the rest here.

Sam Locklear: the Asia-Pacific is becoming "the most militarized region in the world." Carlo Munoz, writing for USNI News: "American allies and potential adversaries in the Pacific are busily amassing formidable stockpiles of advanced military hardware, just as American commanders are doubling down on U.S. presence in the region. Aside from China’s aggressive efforts to buildup its military arsenal, countries like Japan, Australia and Singapore are quickly following suit, Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear said Thursday. As a result, the seas and skies of the Asia-Pacific is rapidly evolving into "the most militarized region in the world," the four-star admiral told reporters at the Pentagon. The ongoing weapons buildup in the Pacific could, at some point, lead to several regional powers superseding the United States as the dominant military force in Asia, Locklear warned." More here.

Locklear II: Kim Jong Un is a problem. U.S. News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "Last year was scarred by instability and threats in the Pacific region, particularly from North Korea and China, at a time when the U.S. is ramping up its presence and rhetoric there in President Barack Obama’s notorious "rebalance." At the top of the worst offenders list sits North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The young dynastic ruler thrust the hermetic kingdom into top headline space in 2013 following a string of visits by professional eccentric and one-time NBA superstar Dennis Rodman, and continued saber rattling over its nuclear and military programs. America’s top officer in the region expressed grave concerns Thursday about how the U.S. charts a path toward the untested and reclusive despot. ‘The young leader, for me…is unpredictable,’ said Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command. ‘His behavior, at least in the way it’s reported and the way we see it in sense, would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision making mode or not. And this is a problem.’" Read the rest here.

Read the full transcript of what Locklear said at the Pentagon yesterday here.

No Nonanka Takashi, we just don’t believe that you are the head of the Internal Audit Group, Deputy President, Executive Officer and Director of the Mizuho Trust & Banking Co., Ltd., or at least we have our doubts. But it is an impressive-sounding title. Furthermore, we’re dubious about the "lucrative business proposal of mutual interest" that you mention in your e-mail this morning. Color us skeptical.

Yesterday, Mark Milley, the head of the operational command in Afghanistan, held a briefing for reporters in the Pentagon from Kabul. Here’s what he said in part about the Afghan National Security Forces: Lt. Gen. Mark Milley: "Well, yeah, let me — as I said, they did very well tactically.  So we are transitioning right now from combat advising to functional advising.  And what does that mean?  So it’s — it’s our assessment that the Afghan combat units, kandaks, battalions, companies, really do not need, with very few exceptions, tactical advisers with them on combat operations on a day in and day out basis. 

"We know that the Afghan battalions and companies can fight.  We know they can shoot, move, communicate.  They can conduct combined arms operations. We know that all of the maneuver brigades and — all 24 of them — are either partially capable, capable, or fully capable.  We know that the corps can conduct, plan, coordinate, synchronize, and execute combined arms operation.  That’s important.

"But tactics an army does not make.  They have to be more than that.  They have to be more than tactics.  You have to have — in order to sustain yourself over time, you have to have institutional systems that are in place where they can, in fact, replenish their forces, they can do personnel management, they can budgeting, they can do intelligence operations, infuse all types of intelligence, where they can train pilots and conduct rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations. 

"They’ve got to be able to sustain themselves logistically.  They’ve got to be able to get spare parts and run entire distribution systems, so vehicles and weapons systems and other pieces of equipment don’t break down.  We’ve got to get their special operations capabilities, which are very good, but get them up to a very high level.  You’ve got to develop a ministerial-level capability in order to do budgeting and planning and programming and those sorts of things. 

"…We want to improve their fires.  We anticipate that it will be some years before they have a full-fledged capability for counterinsurgency fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, so we want them to have the capability to retain tactical overmatch through the use of indirect fires, through the use of mortars and artillery, and they made a lot of progress on that this past year. 

"…So right now, they’re doing very well at like — things like basic training and some small unit tactics.  But we’ve got to also work with them to support and build a training management system that works over time without foreign help. 

"So the big ones — aviation, ministerial development, special ops, intelligence, medical, C-IED [counter-improvised explosive device], fires — those piece parts, those systems, those functions we want to shore up here in the next year or so.  Some of them may take longer than a year. I think most of them — medical, counter-IED, fires — we’ll be able to get that progressed pretty well during this year." Full transcript 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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