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: Bob Work: The Ax Man Cometh

How Whack-a-Mole in Pakistan could end; Is Pyongyang fielding a new "road-mobile" ICBM?; Peckerwood is the new black; What is a Skinny Puppy and why is it mad?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The Ax Man Cometh: Bob Work likes analysis, ships and bad B-movies. Can he cut the Pentagon’s budget? …Work, the chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, will be nominated by the White House as the new deputy secretary of defense by the end of the week, possibly even today, U.S. officials tell Situation Report. That will leave Work with one of the most difficult jobs imaginable: slashing the Pentagon’s bloated budget and pushing back against the powerful lawmakers and senior military officials who will do all they can to preserve the status quo.

Work will have three things on his plate, said Jim Stavridis, the retired four-star admiral who now serves as the dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School: "The budget, the budget and the budget."

Work has earned a reputation as a careful analyst and a hands-on manager who is well suited to running the day-to-day operations of the Pentagon during a time of fundamental changes to its missions and resources. He has shown a willingness to make controversial decisions like supporting the killing of an advanced vehicle cherished by his fellow Marines.

At the same time, those who know him say Work can be quick to cut off debate and resistant to hearing opposing views. At CNAS, which has long prided itself for being staffed by strong personalities who enjoy intellectual jousting, Work has been seen as ponderous and occasionally closed off from his staff. As one individual who knows Work put it: "He’s boring even as a defense nerd."

But it’s not all Work and no play: Juan Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, has seen a different side of Work. The two men agreed one of them would visit the wounded at Bethesda Naval Hospital at least once a month. Work, Garcia said, also had another passion.

"He’s also a guy with a true appreciation for bad B-movie action flicks," Garcia told Situation Report in an e-mail, citing 2011’s Battle: Los Angeles as an example. "I look forward to having him back in the building." Read our pre-nom, mini-profile here.

Work’s work is cut out for him: Four think tanks agreed, roughly, on defense spending yesterday. Defense News’ Paul McCleary: "…During a briefing held in the Dirksen Senate Office building on Wednesday, a group of well-known budgetary and strategic thinkers from the four think tanks coalesced around a roughly similar set of options for the Pentagon over the next decade: The venerable A-10 attack plane should be retired, along with the U2 spy plane and the F-18C/D models, while the Navy should lose two to four of its current aircraft carriers. Hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, the event also featured the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for a New American Strategy (CNAS), and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"The effort is the organization’s yearly attempt to game out the options being weighed by the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). While all four teams cut carriers and destroyers from the Navy’s arsenal – they only did so in order to preserve funding to add to the Navy’s submarines and also to replace the current carriers with newer models – keeping the industrial base happy-instead of giving mid-life overhauls to existing flattops. Read McCleary’s piece here. And click here for the slides from each think tank at CSBA’s event yesterday.

Apropos of nothing: In the A, B, C, D and E-Rings: Peckerwood is the new black. Ever since Clyde Vaughn, the retired three-star who served as the director of the Army National Guard, used the word "peckerwood" during a hearing in Congress this week, it’s become the word-du-jour in the Pentagon. From a dear friend of Situation Report: "Peckerwood is the new black.  After General Vaughn used the phrase in hill testimony yesterday I’ve heard it constantly in the halls."

HA! "…First everyone had to look it up (no one wants to become a statistic) but once Webster verified the word is only a run-of-the-mill ‘often disparaging’ noun defined as ‘a rural white southerner’ it displaced honey badger as the most used idiom."

Here’s the quote from Vaughn: "I told them: We got to catch the first peckerwoods to get out here and mess this thing up for everybody, and we got to prosecute them quickly." Here’s FP’s Dan Lamothe’s story from the hearing 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.

Page One: The Pakistan drone program is being curbed – and the game of Whac-a-Mole could begin to be over. The WSJ’s Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Saeed Shah: "The Obama administration will narrow its controversial drone program in Pakistan to target a short list of high-level terrorists, and aim to end it during the prime minister’s current term, senior U.S. officials have told their Pakistani counterparts.

The downsizing of the covert Central Intelligence Agency program reflects Pakistani objections to the strikes and logistical constraints on the spy agency at the end of this year, when U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of neighboring Afghanistan, according to administration, intelligence and military officials.

"Senior U.S. officials said they have discussed the revisions with Pakistani officials in a series of meetings over the past six months. U.S. officials say the goal is to make the drone campaign less of an irritant in the two countries’ troubled relations, without preventing the CIA from conducting higher-priority operations during the time the program has left. The changes fall short of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s demands for an immediate freeze in drone strikes…

Now, the list of new targets doesn’t replenish itself. The WSJ: "…Officials say the revision is meant to move the CIA away from what some critics call a ‘Whac-A-Mole’ approach and put the U.S. on a path to end the program, though not as quickly as drone critics and the Pakistani government would like. The CIA has long added new targets to a longer ‘kill list’ on a rolling basis as old targets are hit. Now, U.S. officials say, the ‘kill list’ is not self-replenishing, a change long sought by Islamabad. ‘By taking one off, we’re not automatically putting one on,’ a senior U.S. official said. As a result, the number of targets on the list are decreasing as the CIA’s drones focus on a more limited number of high-level targets that "will enable us to conclude the program," the official said." Read the rest here.
The soldier behind the SOTU: CBS’ David Martin profiles Cory Remsburg, the Army Ranger who did (count ’em) 10 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before being critically injured by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan in October 2009. He met President Obama three times – then got an invite to sit next to Michelle at the State of the Union address last week. People have been wondering about him ever since.

David Martin: "Which is the tougher fight, against the enemy or the fight you’re fighting now against your wounds?"

Cory Remsburg, slurring, because it took almost eight months before he could speak after the attack: "Hands down now."

Martin: "Hands down now."

The segment’s kicker –

Martin: "And what does Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg think of the extraordinary service he gave his country?"

Remsburg: "In a perfect world, I’d do it all again. I’d go back if they let me [thumbs up]."

Martin: "We all know it’s not a perfect world. But Cory Remsburg just might be a perfect soldier. David Martin, CBS News, Phoenix, Arizona."  Watch the whole report here and cry.

Eek: North Korea has taken the initial steps toward fielding a "road-mobile" intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting parts of the U.S. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "…The KN-08 has been been displayed twice in parades, and ‘we assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps towards fielding this system, although it remains untested,’ Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said in his latest annual unclassified Worldwide Threat assessment.

North Korea’s missile development, along with concern about Iranian weapons programs, is the principle rationale for the $34 billion U.S. ground based-missile defense program managed by Boeing Co., which hasn’t had a successful interception test since December 2008." Read the rest here.

Adm. John Kirby’s readout of Chuck Hagel’s phoner with South Korea’s Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan Jin: They discussed "the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, the United States’ unwavering commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance, and the importance of regional cooperation to reinforce deterrence against North Korean threats," reaffirmed the "strength of the alliance" and agreed that "close consultation and coordination are pivotal in promoting alliance unity and readiness in all areas."

"Skinny Puppy" sends a bill to the Pentagon, but where’s the invoice? The BBC: "A Canadian rock band has sent a bill to the US military after being told its music was used to torment suspected terrorists at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, a member has said.

"Skinny Puppy keyboardist Cevin Key told CTV News the band sought $666,000 (£409,000) for use of its music. Key said a fan who had served as a guard there informed the group its music had been used. A US military spokesman told the BBC it had not received an invoice. Lt Col Todd Breasseale said the defense department would not comment on procedures at Guantanamo Bay."

Keyboardist Cevin Key: "I am not only against the fact they’re using our music to inflict damage on somebody else but they are doing it without anybody’s permission." Read the rest here.

Scandal Update:  Hagel worried about an "ethical breakdown" in the U.S. military:  Most of Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing dealt with the problem that is becoming a bigger and bigger thorn in the Pentagon’s side.  AP’s Lita Baldor and Bob Burns: "Concerned that ethical problems inside the military might run deeper than he realized, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered service leaders Wednesday to add urgency to their drive to ensure ‘‘moral character and moral courage” in a force emerging from more than a decade of war. Almost a year into his tenure as Pentagon chief, Hagel had been worried by a string of ethics scandals that produced a wave of unwelcome publicity for the military. But in light of new disclosures this week, including the announcement of alleged cheating among senior sailors in the nuclear Navy, Hagel decided to push for a fuller accounting.

"… The steady drumbeat of one military ethics scandal after another has caused many to conclude that the misbehavior reflects more than routine lapses."

Pentagon pressec Kirby: ‘‘He definitely sees this as a growing problem…‘And he’s concerned about the depth of it… ‘I don’t think he could stand here and tell you that he has – that anybody has – the full grasp here, and that’s what worries (Hagel) is that maybe he doesn’t have the full grasp of the depth of the issue, and he wants to better understand it." Read the rest of the AP report here.

Debbie James Love: Kori Schake, writing on FP, says that finally, the Air Force gets the leader it deserves. Read her bit here.

On Syria, Kerry says Assad’s position has "improved a little bit" but he’s not winning, it’s a stalemate:  Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, the Secretary of State also said "Iran is not open for business" contrary to recent assertions by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and "Nobody should doubt for an instant that the United States is prepared to enforce the sanctions that exist. And all of our allies are in agreement that those sanctions are staying in place until or unless there is a deal." In response to critical comments from some Israeli officials about remarks Kerry made at the Munich Security Conference ("For Israel, there’s an increasing de-legitimation campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it, there’s talk of boycotts, and other kinds of things.") Kerry pushed back "I’ve been … attacked before by people using real bullets not words, and I’m not going to be intimidated."   He also made clear he won’t run for President in 2016. For the invu, click here.

Pentagon says to industry – stem that urge to mergeReuters’ Andrea Shalal-Esa: "…Elana Broitman, whose office at the Defense Department reviews deals that involve national security issues, told an investor conference that ‘there are far fewer of the large firms, so we’re in a more constrained environment.  Even though we’re seeing a budget downturn which has corresponded to consolidation in the past, we’d be less comfortable now because of that smaller number." Read the rest here.

Cool Code Name News:  "Taranis" and "Colossus" are the British code names for the UK’s no-longer-quite-so-top secret unmanned drone and a World War II code breaking early computer. Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, was unveiled in 2010 but had its first test flight only recently.  The builder, BAE systems, calls it "the pinnacle of British engineering."  Read more from the BBC here.  And as for "Colossus," a happy 70th birthday wish is in order; it was first used by the brainy gang at Bletchley Park on February 5, 1944 to crack messages sent by Hitler and his generals.  It stayed secret for decades, continuing its service against the then Soviet Union, as noted, also by the BBC, here (check out all the tubes in the photo.)

Check out FP’s cartoonist Matt Bors’ bit today: Sugarfree ScarJo to the Rescue: If only Middle East peace were this easy, 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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