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: A drone strike in Yemen didn’t follow the rules

Saudi sidelines a spychief; The crackdown is going to cost Ukraine; Petraeus on North America; Broadwell (trying to) move on; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A drone strike in December in Yemen that killed at least a dozen people didn’t follow Obama’s new rules. The WaPo’s Greg Miller: "…The report by Human Rights Watch concluded that the strike, which was carried out by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, targeted a line of vehicles that were part of a wedding procession, and that evidence indicates ‘some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians.’ The findings contradict assertions by U.S. officials that only militants were killed in the operation, although the report acknowledged that members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, may have been among the dead. Overall, Human Rights Watch "found that the operations did not comply with the targeted killing policies that President Obama outlined" in a speech in May, the report said, citing in particular Obama’s requirement of ‘near-certainty’ that no civilians would be harmed."

"The report represents the most detailed independent examination to date of a strike that has focused attention on the administration’s struggles to tighten the rules for targeted killing, provide more information about such operations to the public and gradually shift full control of the drone campaign from the CIA to the Pentagon." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Thursday’s tardy 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. 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.

Ukraine, that crackdown is going to cost you. FP’s Jamila Trindle: "After weeks of disagreement between American and European leaders over how to respond to escalating violence in Ukraine, the mounting bloodshed and chaos in the streets of Kiev seems to have finally brought about a hard-won consensus. United States and European Union officials made clear Wednesday that they would be prepared to move ahead with targeted sanctions against the government of embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych if his security forces continued using live ammunition against the protesters clogging the streets of most of the country’s major cities. Yanukovych called for a ‘truce’ Wednesday and promised to negotiate with opposition leaders, but it’s not clear if, or when, the talks will lead to a deal." More here.

Kiev in Flames: An FP Slideshow, here.

Saudi sidelines a spy chief. WSJ’s Ellen Knickmeyer and Adam Entous: "Saudi Arabia has sidelined its veteran intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as leader of the kingdom’s efforts to arm and fund Syrian rebels, replacing him with another prince well-regarded by U.S. officials for his successes fighting al-Qaeda, Saudi royal advisers said this week. The change holds promise for a return to smoother relations with the U.S., and may augur a stronger Saudi effort against militants aligned with al Qaeda who have flocked to opposition-held Syrian territory during that country’s three-year war, current and former U.S. officials said. Prince Bandar, an experienced but at times mercurial ex-diplomat and intelligence chief, presided over Saudi Arabia’s Syria operations for the past two years with little success, as a rift opened up with the U.S. over how much to back rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad." More here.

Howzthatagain?: Whistleblowers at Haliburton and KBR need to sign non-disclosure agreements. The WaPo’s Scott Higham on Page One: "One of the nation’s largest government contractors requires employees seeking to report fraud to sign internal confidentiality statements barring them from speaking to anyone about their allegations, including government investigators and prosecutors, according to a complaint filed Wednesday and corporate documents obtained by The Washington Post. Attorneys for a whistleblower suing Halliburton Co. and its former subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, said the statements violate the federal False Claims Act and other laws designed to shield whistleblowers. They filed a complaint with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, requesting an investigation and demanding that the confidentiality statements be turned over to federal authorities so allegations of fraud can be identified.

"’The apparent purpose and intent of the confidentiality agreements was to vacuum up any potential adverse factual information, conceal it in locked file cabinets and gag those with first-hand knowledge from going outside the company,’ Stephen M. Kohn, an attorney for the whistleblower, wrote in the complaint.

"Mark E. Lowes, KBR’s vice president of litigation, said the confidentially statements are designed to protect the integrity of the internal review process, not to conceal information. He said that the company often receives unfounded complaints and that the process is designed to ensure those complaints are not publicly circulated. He also said KBR employees are encouraged to report allegations of wrongdoing. If those allegations are supported by the facts, he said, they are forwarded to the proper authorities." More here.

No specific threat: Shoe bombs a concern again. NBC’s Pete Williams and Robert Windrem: "The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday told airlines about a potential new shoe-bomb threat and urged them to pay extra attention to flights from overseas into the United States. Several officials familiar with the advisory told NBC News that ‘very recent intelligence’ considered credible warns of possible attempts to attack passenger jets using explosives concealed in shoes." More here.

Not happening: DHS abruptly cancels plans to establish a national license-plate recognition database over privacy concerns.  "…The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the agency recently issued a solicitation notice seeking bids for the database project, which would collect data from license-plate readers that rapidly scan the tags of passing vehicles, to help track down and arrest fugitive illegal immigrants. Civil liberties groups were concerned that the proposal, which did not specify what privacy safeguards would be implemented, would have allowed government agencies to scrutinize the travel habits of ordinary citizens who are not suspected of wrongdoing, The Post reported." More here. Original WaPo story here.

A new CNA study says slashing number of troops in Afghanistan would jeopardize stability. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: "An independent assessment of U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan concludes that plans to slash the size of Afghan security forces would jeopardize American hopes of stabilizing the country when most international forces leave later this year… Under current plans of the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghanistan’s domestic security forces would be cut from a peak of 352,000 to about 228,500 after 2015. The new analysis warns that such a reduction, which has been under review for more than a year, would undercut U.S. plans in Afghanistan… Jonathan Schroden, who oversaw the research for the CNA’s Center for Naval Analyses, the Virginia-based nonprofit hired by the Pentagon and his research team concluded that the Taliban-led insurgency ‘will become a greater threat to Afghanistan’s stability’ as it rebuilds its strength and expands its control across the country."

CNA’s Schroden to Nissenbaum,: "If the U.S. policy goal is to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents, drawing down the Afghan security forces to 228,500 puts that goal at risk." WSJ story here.

Summary of CNA report here; CNA’s full report here.

David Petraeus and Robert Zoellick pen a piece in Foreign Affairs: North America is where it’s at. Petraeus and Zoellick on the "Three Amigos" summit in Mexico: "…The summit points to a great strategic opportunity: 20 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement entered into force, all three countries have the chance to forge a new forward-looking agenda for North American competitiveness and integration and thereby increase the economic growth and global influence of each. As crises in the Middle East and rising tensions in Asia have consumed U.S. policymakers’ attention over the past decade, Washington has devoted comparatively little thought to North America. Yet it is precisely the broader global challenges of the 21st century that make an ambitious strategy to strengthen North America so important. By adopting policies that foster a more competitive and integrated region, the three nations can lay the foundation for greater prosperity at home while bolstering their power and positions worldwide.

"Such a strategy can draw strength from several tailwinds that are already blowing in North America’s favor. With three democracies, almost 500 million people, and economies totaling $19 trillion, North America possesses the economic and demographic heft to put China and a rising East Asia in perspective.

Their BL: "The best news for North America is that, regardless of what its governments do, market forces will continue to drive the development of an integrated, competitive regional economic power. Nonetheless, public policy choices will play a critical role in either accelerating or undermining that progress. This week’s summit gives the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico an opportunity to advance the shared future North America needs." More here.

Read Obama’s trip to Mexico in the NYT here.

"Saved Not Cured": Page One: Pete Bunce didn’t recognize his own son when he walked into a military hospital in Germany in 2004. The WSJ’s Michael Phillips: "Pete Bunce walked into a room at a U.S. military hospital in Germany in March 2004, and stared hard at the unconscious young Marine on the bed. His head, gouged by shrapnel from an insurgent bomb in Iraq, was grotesquely swollen. His face was distorted and his right eye was near blind.

"Mr. Bunce spoke his first thought: ‘This is not my son.’ The Bunce family and their doctors have spent the decade since trying to restore Justin Bunce to the man they knew, with limited success. Cpl. Bunce remains intelligent and funny. But his brain no longer sends the messages that allow him to walk smoothly, or to warn him when his behavior might offend or frighten people. "I can’t dream anymore," he said. ‘I would even be happy with nightmares, but I don’t even have those.’ The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left a generation of brain-injured veterans who, like Cpl. Bunce, may get better, but never well.

"Between Jan. 1, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2013, more than 265,000 U.S. troops suffered traumatic brain injuries, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Most were mild concussions. Some 26,250 troops, however, suffered penetrating head wounds or brain injuries classified as moderate or severe, which caused unconsciousness from 30 minutes to more than a day. The Bunces, their doctors and the Department of Veterans Affairs have embarked on an experiment that could help determine whether some of these veterans can ever resume something close to regular lives." Read the rest of this story here.

The new U.S. framework of cybersecurity standards could be a model for other NATO countries. Inside Cybersecurity’s Chris Castelli: "The new U.S. framework of cybersecurity standards could provide a positive example for other NATO countries seeking to improve cybersecurity by boosting cooperation between the public and private sectors, according to a spokeswoman for the alliance’s cybersecurity center.

"President Obama said last week the framework ‘highlights best practices and globally recognized standards so that companies across our economy can better manage cyber risk to our critical infrastructure.’ He called it ‘a great example of how the private sector and government can, and should, work together to meet this shared challenge.’ Kristiina Pennar, a spokeswoman for the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, told Inside Cybersecurity it is ‘highly positive that the government and private sector are reaching out to each other and, as the [White House’s] statement said, working together to meet the challenge.’" More here.

Families of Gitmo detainees may get to visit – but no overnights. The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg: " With the prison camps now in their 13th year, the U.S. military is willing to allow some war-on-terror captives to have family visits – if the International Red Cross can find a Caribbean country to host the prisoners’ relatives between day trips to this remote U.S. Navy base. It is not yet known which captives would be allowed to meet wives, children or other relatives at this base. Of the 155 detainees, federal review boards have approved 77 for release, with security arrangements. A key obstacle to the visits is the U.S. Southern Command’s insistence that family members would be forbidden from sleeping at this 45-square-mile outpost of more than 5,000 residents with hotels, a tent city and suburban-style neighborhoods." More here.

Former Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper to retire from SAIC. The WaPo’s Marjorie Censer: "The chief executive who shepherded McLean-based Science Applications International Corp. through the most significant restructuring in its nearly 45-year history plans to announce his retirement today. John P. Jumper became chief executive of SAIC in early 2012, taking over a storied contractor that was facing a host of problems, from declining sales to a scandal surrounding a New York City contract that resulted in the removal of three company executives." More here.

JIEDDO chief sees a mission despite downsizing. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "The head of the US military’s counter-IED organization sees the group’s mission possibly expanding despite the physical size of the organization declining in the coming year. In the coming months, Lt. Gen. John Johnson, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), must present his case for institutionalizing the organization, which was borne over the past decade of counterinsurgency-oriented wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While he does this, Johnson must reduce his staff from about 3,000 – when he entered the job six months ago – to 1,000 by the end of September." More here.

Techies are pumped up: today, the Pentagon unveils its new electromagnetic spectrum strategy. Teri Takai, the DoD’s chief information officer, and Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler, DoD Deputy CIO for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Infrastructure and Fred Moorefield, DoD CIO Director of Spectrum Policy and Programs, will brief the press at 11 a.m. on the new plan.

Here’s Wired magazine’s piece from two days ago, "How America’s Soldiers Fight For the Spectrum on the Battlefield." Wired’s Brendan Koerner: "An electromagnetic mystery in northern Iraq changed the course of Jesse Potter’s life. A chemical-weapons specialist with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Potter was deployed to Kirkuk in late 2007, right as the oil-rich city was experiencing a grievous spike in violence. He was already weary upon his arrival, having recently completed an arduous tour in Afghanistan, which left him suffering from multiple injuries that would eventually require surgery. In the rare moments of peace he could find in Kirkuk, Potter began to contemplate whether it was time to trade in his uniform for a more tranquil existence back home-perhaps as a schoolteacher. Of more immediate concern, though, was a technical glitch that was jeopardizing his platoon: The jammers on the unit’s armored vehicles were on the fritz. Jammers clog specific radio frequencies by flooding them with signals, rendering cell phones, radios, and remote control devices useless. They were now a crucial weapon in the American arsenal; in Kirkuk, as in the rest of Iraq, insurgents frequently used cell phones and other wireless devices to detonate IEDs. But Potter’s jammers weren’t working. "In the marketplaces, when we would drive through, there’d still be people able to talk on their cell phones," he says. "If the jamming systems had been effective, they shouldn’t have been able to do that." Read the rest here.

Paula Broadwell, ready to move on. Tampa Tribune’s Howard Altman: " Paula Broadwell, in Tampa on Wednesday for the first time since news that her affair with former CIA Director David Petraeus had local connections, says she wants to "move on" from the ensuing scandal that brought down two national security leaders and turned a Bayshore Boulevard woman into an international icon. Broadwell, a major in the Army Reserves, moderated a panel at the University of South Florida’s Citizenship Initiative conference on Modern Warfare. It’s only her second visit to Tampa, which became a focus of an unfurling story two years ago when Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus, reported to the FBI receiving threatening emails from Broadwell.

"Broadwell, who co-authored a book about Petraeus and served with the U.S. intelligence community, U.S. Special Operations Command and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, according to her biography, says her reintegration into the public spotlight ‘is going well.’" More 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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