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: 60 Minutes goes deep on JSF

Iranian oil, flowing again; Weapons to Iraq: the Baghdad, Washington clocks, revisited; R U smarter than a launch officer?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Peeking: 60 Minutes this Sunday goes deep on the $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, the plane that’s $163 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the man in charge of the JSF for the Pentagon, tells 60 Minutes: "Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistake."

From the press release, out this morning, on the 60 Minutes piece, done by the longtime duo of CBS’ David Martin and producer Mary Walsh: "In the rush to stay ahead of China and Russia, the Pentagon started buying the F-35 before testing it, breaking the traditional ‘fly-before-you-buy’ rule of weapons acquisition.  Now taxpayers are paying the price for mistakes that weren’t caught before production began.  A Pentagon document obtained by 60 MINUTES catalogues the "flawed . . . assumptions" and "unrealistic . . . estimates" that led to a $163 billion cost overrun on what was already the highest priced weapons system in history.  David Martin reports on the problem-plagued program and the battles the Pentagon has fought with the plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to bring the costs under control.  He also gets a firsthand look at some of the plane’s game-changing technology…"

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, to Martin and Walsh: "We started buying airplanes a good year before we started test flights… I referred to that decision as acquisition malpractice."

The broadcast is based on a few special documents obtained by Martin and Walsh. But if the technological challenges can be met, the F-35 will give American pilots an "astounding edge in combat," the two report, and an ability to see their enemies before those enemies are aware of them. Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle on the JSF – "The range at which you can detect the enemy as opposed to when he can detect you can be as much as 10 times further."

Welcome to Friday’s icy edition of Situation Report and Happy "Valentimes" Day as two little girls we know well like to say. We’ll see you next on Tuesday, after the holiday. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please 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 do follow us @glubold.

Iranian oil is flowing again – and that might not be great news for the nuclear deal. FP’s own Keith Johnson and Jamila Trindle: "Exports of Iranian crude oil jumped in January, raising concerns that the sanctions relief included in the interim nuclear agreement between Western countries and Tehran is giving a shot in the arm to the struggling Iranian economy that could weaken prospects for a comprehensive deal to derail Iranian nuclear weapons development.

Oil is the lifeblood of the Iranian economy, and Barack Obama’s administration and its allies have spent years trying to strangle its oil industry as a way of forcing Tehran to the negotiating table. The International Energy Agency’s monthly oil report estimated that Iranian oil exports spiked by about 100,000 barrels a day in January. That brought Iranian crude exports to just over 1.3 million barrels per day, worth almost $4 billion a month given the current price of oil." Read the rest here.

The second-day take on the release of prisoners by Karzai. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai carried through on a plan long dreaded by the U.S. on Thursday, releasing 65 detainees despite fervent protestations from U.S. military commanders that the men were violent insurgents who had killed American and Afghan troops in the past — and were likely to return to the battlefield and do so again in the future. Former SACEUR Jim Stavridis, to Lamothe, saying all is not lost: "It’s a huge disappointment and yet another indication that the relationship between the U.S.A. and Hamid Karzai is permanently shattered… Hopefully after the April election, we can rebuild and reset with a new government and, above all, the vast majority of Afghans, who support a positive, robust relationship between our nations." More here.

U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman talked to former Afghanistan ambassador Omar Samad, on the prisoner release: "Nobody is disputing that some of these people may be innocent," says Omar Samad, who from 2004 to 2011 served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada and to France. "What most Afghans are concerned about is we have a precedence where individuals have been released without due process, and ended up back in the Taliban trenches killing Afghans and non-Afghans… From what we know of this history of these people: Once a committed militant [or] jihadi, it’s very difficult to change that. We know of many individuals who have in the past few years been released and returned to their previous activities," he adds. Read the rest of Shinkman’s piece here. [The initial post incorrectly referred to Samad as an ambassador to Afghanistan; he served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada and France.]

If you’re trying to play catch-up on an issue, these are always good: a Q&A on the prisoner release in Afghanistan from the WaPo’s Ernesto Londono, here.

BTW, are you smarter than a nuclear launch officer? Time’s Mark Thompson on Swampland: "Remember when you took your driver’s test and had to answer all those questions about who had the right-of-way at an intersection? If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you know that the Air Force is investigating nearly half of the 200-airman force that commands the 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missiles at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base for allegedly cheating on their monthly proficiency tests. These tests, no surprise, are tougher than driver’s ed.

"A launch officer and instructor who left the Air Force in 2011 has provided questions representative of those he says he asked his airmen about the missiles they were monitoring. To help you understand their language, you need to know that each launch-control crew is in a numbered Launch Control Center. So Foxtrot LCC is F-01. And all of the missiles the Foxtrot crew controls are numbered, 2 through 11 (F-02, F-03, etc).

Here are two of the questions from the exam:

An EMT-team [an electromechanical maintenance team consisting of enlisted missile maintainers] has penetrated L03 and L05 to clean a clogged drain in the sump system after a big spring storm. It’s been 15 minutes since your last authentication with the team and you receive a seismic alarm at L04. After referencing LF [Launch Facility] Faults, what will you do?

A) Declare Security Situation?; B) Contact FSC [flight security controller] and have him get two authentications from the security guards at L03?; C) Contact L05 and get 2 authentications from the EMT Team?; D) Contact MMOC [Missile Maintenance Operations Control]?

Second question: If an OSR [Operational Status Response] is not received from an LF within the previous _____ the LF will report LFDN [Launch Facility Down].

A) [Number of] minutes?; B) [Number of] seconds?; C) All of the above?; D) None of the above? Read the rest and weep here.

Apropos of nothing: "Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Oh I guess that’s not Alan, that’s Steve." Watch this ridiculous video and we guarantee you’ll chuckle at least once or Situation Report is on us for a week. Click here.

Tom Ricks on how Marine Corps Headquarters "got some sense" ending its "jihad" against Marine Corps Times:  "…At least publicly. It was just bad optics. And the commandant should be recognized for doing the right thing, albeit after doing the wrong thing. Meanwhile, there is a good interview with the commandant in the February issue of Leatherneck magazine, the other Marine journal, in which said General Amos laments ‘a lack of discipline, personal standards and appearance’ in the Corps.

And this is fascinating: Ricks tells us from the Leatherneck interview that Amos disclosed that there were 144 same-sex couples on active duty in the Marines, of which "less than 25" are Marine-Marine marriages. More here.

Winslow Wheeler argues that after Bob Gates wrestled the budget away from the Joint Chiefs that Chuck Hagel is handing it back. Writing on FP, Wheeler: "Before Chuck Hagel was nominated to be secretary of defense about a year ago, he made a reputation for himself as a independent Republican politician who described Pentagon spending as ‘bloated.’ In office, however, the former Nebraska senator has argued that the Pentagon should be rescued from historically minor and appropriate reductions. In doing so, he seeks to reverse one of the few real reforms that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates before him enforced on high spenders inside the Pentagon and in Congress.  Hagel and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Sylvia Mathews Burwell, say they want to revive the old ‘wish list’ process in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff used to connive with each other and Congress, behind the back of secretaries of defense and OMB, to make additions that couldn’t cut the mustard in the regular budget review process." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: A lost "gold mine:" longtime military reporter George Wilson, dead. The path of national security journalism has always been paved by the toil of those who have come before. It’d be a lie to say we knew George Wilson personally, but we’d seen him at a defense reporter’s breakfast here and there and occasionally inside the Pentagon when he’s parachute in for a particularly relevant briefing over the years. But knowing there were people who had dedicated themselves to national security journalism – and working always to get it right – helped to animate those who belong to that small band of defense reporters. Even with him gone, that’s still true. The WaPo’s Martin Weil: "George C. Wilson, an author and former Washington Post reporter who covered the military from the perspective of soldiers crawling in the mud and from the offices of decision-makers in Washington, and who played a notable role in the Pentagon Papers case, died Feb. 11 at his home in Arlington County. He was 86. The cause was leukemia, said his son, Jim Wilson. After working at Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, Mr. Wilson joined The Post in 1966 as a military affairs reporter. He became a Pentagon ‘gold mine,’ former Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee wrote in his memoir.

"Over the decades, Mr. Wilson examined how decisions were made about who would fight and when, where and with what equipment. He also was a Post correspondent in Vietnam in 1968 and 1972 and was the author of several books about military matters. Mr. Wilson left The Post in 1990 and later wrote for National Journal, serving as an embedded correspondent in a mobile Marine artillery unit after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

A telling anecdote on Wilson. Weil: "In 1990, Mr. Wilson wrote in The Post about a visit he made to Vietnam with a group of soldiers who had fought there. One former soldier, he said, found the tomb of a Vietnamese soldier born the same year he was. On the grave of the dead Vietnamese, the American placed his Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Mr. Wilson wrote. ‘Why did you do that?’ he asked the soldier, who ‘got through his year in Vietnam unscathed.’

‘He probably deserved it more than I do,’ the soldier said. ‘Does that make sense?’

‘I did not answer,’ Mr. Wilson wrote. ‘As with so much else about the Vietnam War, I did not know whether it made sense or not.’"

Read the rest of the obit here.

The WaPo’s Greg Jaffe posted this on Facebook on Wilson (reprinted with permission): "George was a great reporter and wonderful writer. Supercarrier was one of the first books I read when I started covering the military beat. He also was a huge help to me during my early days on the Pentagon beat. He knew so much and was always willing to share with the young, confused reporters, who could barely navigate the Pentagon parking lot. He really cared about military coverage and understood that we owed the troops and the country smart writing and reporting."

Weapons for Iraq: The Washington clock and the Baghdad clock – revisited. Our piece here: When it comes to fighting the exploding violence in Iraq, there are two different "clocks" — one in Baghdad and one in Washington – but this time, it’s Washington’s clock that is slower.

The Iraqis are hungry for as much U.S. weaponry as the U.S. will provide, eagerly awaiting the shipment of Apache attach helicopters, small arms, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and thousands of small arms. The Iraqis will take them as fast as they can get them. But Washington, eager to see the Maliki government reconcile with warring Sunnis, is in no particular rush.

The Obama administration "has been very careful about the weapons it’s selling them – and careful about delivery times," the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Tony Cordesman, referring to the sale of weaponry to Baghdad, told Situation Report. "Washington in some ways is trying to make weapons conditional and it isn’t saying it."

The pipeline for U.S. weaponry has begun to flow: By the end of the year, the Iraqis will get six leased Apache attack helicopters and within 18 months another 24 helos. More American F-16 fighters are on the way. And in addition to the sale of 75 air-to-ground Hellfire missiles agreed to late last year, the Iraqis have asked for 500 more. The U.S. has also sold the Iraqis 140 Abrams tanks, a dozen patrol boats for the fledgling Iraqi navy. And the U.S. left more than 1,000 armored personnel carriers, or APCs and 120 Howitzer artillery guns. At the same time, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government wants thousands of small arms, from .50 caliber weapons to pistols to M-16 rifles to help tame the violence there.

"As a government, we are obliged to provide our military personnel with the right capabilities," Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily in an interview with Situation Report. But, he said, "the key issue we have is the urgency."

To the U.S., the worry is that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is as much to blame for the violence as the Sunni jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda splinter group. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has grown more and more authoritarian, pushing Sunnis out of high-level government positions and its security forces are thought to be infused with Shiite-extremists exploiting the unofficial backing of the government to carry out some of worst violence.

That violence has skyrocketed in recent months with as many as 1,000 Iraqis killed this year alone – up dramatically from just a year or so ago and the highest it’s been since 2008, according to Agence France-Presse. Even as the U.S. has quietly agreed to provide the Iraqis the equipment it’s been asking for months, the U.S. has pointedly urged Maliki to reconcile.  "Security operations only work in the long term if used with political initiatives," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said last week. "We’ve emphasized, of course, the importance of pursuing political initiatives and addressing the legitimate grievances of all communities."

The Iraqis see the violence across the country as stemming from not only internal, sectarian differences but spillover violence from Syria’s civil war. The Iraqi government has not had the time to develop its institutions to establish strong security across the country, Faily said.

"As a government, we have not been given the bandwidth, the breathing space for us to develop our institutions in a peaceful manner because of the security threat," he said. Faily believes elections this spring will help blunt many of the sharp divisions within the young country still struggling in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We are trying to define a new formula for us to work together coming in the aftermath of a dictatorship," he said.


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

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.