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 team player accuses the CIA of eavesdropping on Congress

What a murder in Kabul says about Western security there; For real: a picture of hunger in Syria; Dunford to testify; A defense contractor trades secrets with Chinese girlfriend; and a bit more.



A team player turns on the agency. The WaPo’s Greg Miller, Ed O’Keefe and Adam Goldman on Page One: "A behind-the-scenes battle between the CIA and Congress erupted in public Tuesday as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the agency of breaking laws and breaching constitutional principles in an alleged effort to undermine the panel’s multi-year investigation of a controversial interrogation program. Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the CIA of ­secretly removing documents, searching computers used by the committee and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators by requesting an FBI inquiry of their conduct – charges that CIA Director John Brennan disputed within hours of her appearance on the Senate floor." Read the rest here.

Dianne Feinstein, on the floor, yesterday: "I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution… It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities. … I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate." Read the transcript of her remarks here.

CIA Director John Brennan, yesterday at CFR, who denied the charge: "I am confident that the authorities will review this appropriately, and I will deal with the facts as uncovered in the appropriate manner. I would just encourage members of the — of the Senate to take their time, to make sure that they don’t overstate what they claim and what they probably believe to be the truth. These are some complicated matters. We have worked with the committee over the course of many years. This review that was done by the committee was done at a facility where CIA had the responsibility to make sure that they had the computer wherewithal to — in order to carry out their responsibilities… And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go."

FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson: "…If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley. Following last year’s disclosure by Edward Snowden that the CIA’s black budget request of $14.7 billion for 2013 surged past every other spy agency, it may be in for a haircut. But whether Feinstein will use any of the tools in her toolbox is far from certain." More of FP’s piece here.

FP in reruns: ICYMI, FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson’s story yesterday, Rock Bottom, about the new low between the Senate and the CIA. Read that here.

Maureen Dowd this morning on the "J’accuse moment" in her column, "The Spies Who Didn’t Love Her": "Langley needs a come-to-Jesus moment – pronto. That was clear Tuesday morning when Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, suddenly materialized on the Senate floor to "reluctantly" out the C.I.A. It was an astonishing "J’accuse" moment because Feinstein has been the bulwark protecting the intelligence community against critics worried that we’ve become a surveillance state, "the privacy people," as she has called them." More here.

Dana Milbank: "…Feinstein is owed much more than an apology. The White House needs to cough up documents it is withholding from the public, and it should remove the CIA officials involved and subject them to an independent prosecutor’s investigation." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday’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. 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 do follow us @glubold.

How a secret court evolved and extended spies’ reach. The NYT’s Charlie Savage and Laura Poitras on Page One: "Ten months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation’s surveillance court delivered a ruling that intelligence officials consider a milestone in the secret history of American spying and privacy law. Called the "Raw Take" order – classified docket No. 02-431 – it weakened restrictions on sharing private information about Americans, according to documents and interviews. The administration of President George W. Bush, intent on not overlooking clues about Al Qaeda, had sought the July 22, 2002, order. It is one of several still-classified rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court described in documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. Previously, with narrow exceptions, an intelligence agency was permitted to disseminate information gathered from court-approved wiretaps only after deleting irrelevant private details and masking the names of innocent Americans who came into contact with a terrorism suspect. The Raw Take order significantly changed that system, documents show, allowing counterterrorism analysts at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. to share unfiltered personal information." More here.

For real: The image of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Damascus has been retweeted eight million times and a U.N. official says it’s not a fake. The NYT’s Rick Gladstone: " A United Nations photograph showing a sea of hungry Palestinians awaiting emergency food amid the detritus of their bomb-ravaged neighborhood near Damascus has been retweeted more than eight million times in the past few weeks, becoming such an arresting image of the Syrian civil war that some blogosphere skeptics have suggested that it was digitally faked. The suggestion provoked a passionate denial on Tuesday by the official responsible for distributing the photo." The image, and the story, here.

The wrong kind of pillow talk: Civilian defense contractor enters guilty plea after being accused of giving military secrets to his Chinese girlfriend. AP: "… Benjamin Bishop was expected to plead guilty to one count of transmitting national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans. Bishop was arrested last March at the headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Command, where he worked. An FBI affidavit last year alleged the then-59-year-old gave his 27-year-old girlfriend classified information about war plans, nuclear weapons, missile defenses and other topics." More here.

Yanukovych as Baghdad Bob: Ukrainian leader seems to deny reality. The WSJ’s Lukas Alpert and Olga Razumovskaya: "The ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday said elections scheduled for late May are illegal because he is the country’s only legitimate president. He also blamed Ukraine’s new government for tensions in the breakaway region of Crimea. In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Mr. Yanukovych didn’t directly address a regionwide referendum to be held Sunday on whether the territory will secede from Ukraine, which he said ‘is going through a difficult time.’ Addressing the government that replaced him, he said: ‘Your actions have led to the splitting off of Crimea, and even at gunpoint, the population in the southeast requires respect for themselves and their rights. We will survive this turmoil.’" More here.

Expect delays: Pro-Russian forces tighten security as Crimea heads for a vote. "Traveling to Crimea? Don’t try landing in Simferopol unless your plane originated in Moscow. Flights from Kiev and Istanbul, and several other cities, have been suspended for the rest of the week. If you come by train, expect to be searched by pro-Russian militia. If you want to rally in favor of Ukraine’s West-leaning interim government, expect to be surrounded by pushy pro-Russians. Breakneck preparations are under way for a Sunday referendum — to be held largely in secret — and the grip of security measures is tightening around Simferopol, the regional capital. When Crimeans go to vote, they will have choose between two alternatives: Remain an autonomous state within Ukraine, or join the Russian Federation." Read the rest here.

The debate over how to punish Russia: economists as peaceniks. The NYT’s Peter Baker: "…others in the administration, particularly economic officials, are wary of especially ruinous options that they argue could alienate allies as well as provoke a dangerous cycle of retaliation. The White House is under intense pressure from major American companies that do not want to lose business to competitors because of unilateral sanctions or to risk retribution from the Kremlin." Read that here.

At the heart of the matter: how the Russian fleet is central to Putin’s ambitions. Marinelink’s Andrew Osborn: "…The fleet, its base, and the sprawling military infrastructure that go with it, are vital to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military and geopolitical ambitions and one of the main reasons the Kremlin is now eyeing complete control of Crimea.??Nor will the fleet be outdated for much longer. It is soon to be restocked with billions of dollars worth of hardware. Lee Willett, editor of Jane’s Navy International, said six new submarines and six new frigates were scheduled for delivery in the next few years.??It is also expected to take delivery of other vessels such as the giant Mistral helicopter carrier, currently being built in France, as well as new attack aircraft." More here.

How U.S. Navy and Marines offer "the perfect blend." For War on the Rocks, Rob Holzer: "… Fiscal pressures though have sparked discussions about future Navy force structure, including composition and numbers. Yet the decision to retire the carrier USS George Washington decades early, if sequestration is not rescinded by 2016, rather than fund its multi-billion dollar nuclear refueling, is energizing defense pundits to question once again the future of the nuclear-powered carrier force. This is extremely short-sighted." More here. Outrage over changes to ship-counting rules. Breaking Defense’s Sydney Freedberg: "Quantity has a quality all its own. The Navy announced this afternoon that it has changed the arcane rules by which it counts ships, adding 10 coastal patrol craft, two hospital ships, and a high-speed transport to what it calls the "battle force." The new rules would also keep 11 cruisers the Navy plans to not-quite-mothball on the rolls. Those debatable additions drew an immediate denunciation from the chairman of the House seapower subcommittee, Rep. Randy Forbes. Forbes, like many Republicans, is ever watchful for what they think is administration gimmickry to hide the full impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration. Another Hill source told me the new system was just too confusing because some ships might drop in and out of the count from year to year, making congressional oversight even more difficult." More here.

Thayer Scott gets a new gig. Thayer Scott, who served on Don Rumsfeld’s speechwriting team and then became one of Bob Gates’ "six pack" of top advisers as chief speechwriter under him, is headed to Boeing. He’ll be based in Boeing’s DC-based office in Rosslyn and will be doing speechwriting for senior execs in Chicago and "providing communications support" to the company’s government affairs and defense efforts in DC. Since he left the Pentagon, Scott has been an independent consultant focused on aerospace and national security, and worked occasionally with the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation as part of its public roll-out of budget submissions and strategy reviews.

Joe Dunford testifies on Afghanistan today. Military Times’ Jeff Schogol: "… Senators are likely to ask Dunford how much longer the U.S. military can wait for a decision on whether troops can stay in Afghanistan beyond December. The general also may be questioned about how reliable Karzai is as a partner and whether the country would fall apart if all U.S. troops left… President Obama has not yet decided how many troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond this year if the security agreement is approved, according to the National Security Council. Dunford has proposed keeping 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2017. But another option being considered calls for leaving 3,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, stationed in Kabul and Bagram Airfield." More here.

AP: "… The new security agreement is likely to be addressed by U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, a top commander in Afghanistan, when he testifies Wednesday on Capitol Hill. U.S. officials privately acknowledge that there is no legal reason that would force Obama to withdraw all troops if the new security agreement is not signed by Dec. 31, when the international combat mission ends. Yet even though a full troop exodus is not the administration’s preferred option, blunt rhetoric coming from U.S. officials has continued to put the onus on Afghanistan: Sign the new bilateral security agreement or every U.S. service member will be forced to leave." More here.

The assassination-style attack on a Swedish journalist in Kabul points up the changing security vibe in Kabul for westerners. The NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg: "… Even before the funeral and the attack on Mr. Horner, growing anti-Western sentiment among Afghans had become increasingly apparent on the streets of Kabul. The hard stares directed at Westerners have grown more common, and the questioning by the police at checkpoints more aggressive. At least some of the resentment has grown from years of seeing Westerners behave in ways deeply out of sync with Afghan life. Kabul once had a thriving, albeit limited, expatriate social scene. There were a handful of restaurants and bars that catered almost exclusively to foreigners – Afghans are legally barred from drinking – and regular parties at the lightly guarded homes in which many Westerners here live. Then in January, Taliban fighters struck at a Lebanese restaurant, Taverna du Liban, that had been a mainstay of Kabul’s expatriate social scene. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, and said for the first time that they had specifically sought to kill Western civilians." 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

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.