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: Syria is in free fall

24 MOHs today at the WH; The FOIA-Unfriendly Administration; Asian countries don't want to reveal security weaknesses; An Army three-star earns a black belt; and a bit more.

It's done: Putin prepares to annex Crimea.  The WaPo's Will Englund, Carol Morello and Pamela Constable: "President Vladimir Putin put the annexation of Crimea on a fast track Tuesday morning, ordering the drafting of an accession agreement between Crimea and Russia. Later in the day he will be making an unusual address to a joint session of the Russian parliament, where he will lay out his plans for the region.

It’s done: Putin prepares to annex Crimea.  The WaPo’s Will Englund, Carol Morello and Pamela Constable: "President Vladimir Putin put the annexation of Crimea on a fast track Tuesday morning, ordering the drafting of an accession agreement between Crimea and Russia. Later in the day he will be making an unusual address to a joint session of the Russian parliament, where he will lay out his plans for the region.

"The speech comes as a defiant Russia shows no sign of bending to American or European pressure over the Crimea crisis, which has turned into the sharpest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The Crimean parliament voted Monday to request "reunification" with the Russian Federation, and Putin officially recognized its independence from Ukraine a few hours later. This was a first step toward formal accession." More here.

FP’s John Hudson and Jamila Trindle, on sanctions: "Earlier in the day, President Obama warned Putin not to take such action. "We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals responsible for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity and government of Ukraine," President Obama said Monday. ‘We’re making it clear there are consequences for their actions.’

"The U.S. sanctions will block the assets of seven Russian officials and four Ukrainian leaders, among them ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and separatists in Crimea. Congress is considering legislation that would go even further.

A punishing, if double-edged, weapon to use against Russia would be to target the country’s energy powerhouses, especially Gazprom and Rosneft. The two companies dominate Russia’s energy production and exports, and are the key levers by which Putin wields energy as a geopolitical weapon. German newspaper Bild reported last week that top Russian energy officials, including the chief executives of both firms, are on the long list of possible European sanctions targets." More of Hudson and Trindle’s bit here.

Putin: Crimea has always been part of Russia. CNN’s Alla Eshchenko and Laura Smith-Spark: "Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed this weekend’s referendum in Crimea on Tuesday, saying the 96% who voted to join Russia was ‘an extremely convincing figure.’

Putin, speaking to a joint session of Parliament in Moscow, also stressed the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Crimea, and said Crimea is an inalienable part of Russia. ‘In our hearts we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia,’ he said." More here.

Tit for tat:  The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "Putin is set to respond to Obama’s sanctions of Russian officials with his own list. Several U.S. Senators and officials will be banned from visiting Russia, including Sen. Dick Durbin. U.S. senators, congressmen and top Obama administration officials are sure to be on Vladimir Putin’s sanctions list; a response to the Obama Administration’s announcement on Monday that 7 Russian officials and 4 Ukrainian officials would be barred from holding assets or traveling to the United States." More here.

NATO plans to help Ukrainian forces. The Hill’s Kristina Wong: "NATO officials don’t expect to see near-term military "stand offs" with Russia as President Vladimir Putin appears poised to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, but are planning to bolster Ukrainian forces in the long-term, a NATO official told the Hill. NATO plans to help Ukrainian forces build capacity via joint exercises, advice and other unspecified things, the official said on background. Although the official did not specify exact exercises, the U.S. Army is planning to conduct an exercise in Ukraine this July, according to the Army Times. Exercise Rapid Trident 2014 is expected to take place near L’viv, Ukraine, and will involve units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, Lt. Col. David Westover Jr. told the Army Times." More here.

Reading Rosa: How politicians mis-read a ‘city on a hill’ and butcher the real meaning of American exceptionalism. Rosa Brooks, on FP, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’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.

Count ’em: 24 individuals, three of them living, will receive the Medal of Honor today. Army Times: "… President Obama will present the awards in recognition of their actions in World War II, Vietnam and Korea. The Medal of Honor will be presented posthumously to the families of 21 soldiers who have died. Each of the soldiers previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award. That award will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor in recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty. Congress, through the Defense Authorization Act, called for a review in 2002 of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice.

"During the review, records of several soldiers of neither Jewish nor Hispanic descent were also found to have criteria worthy of the Medal of Honor. The 2002 Act was amended to allow these soldiers to be honored with the upgrade, in addition to the Jewish and Hispanic-American soldiers." More here.

Another chapter for the Big Red One: The 1st Infantry division’s Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston will receive the medal on behalf of the family of Sgt. Candelario Garcia, who passed away more than a year ago. Garcia’s story here. Meantime, the granddaughter of a Korean War recipient will receive the medal on his behalf – and she’s an active duty sergeant in 3rd Infantry Division. More here about the story of Sgt. Ashley Randall and her grandfather here. More from the Army on all the MOH recipients here.

Free fall: Syria war enters its fourth year and 150,000 people are dead. The NYT’s Anne Barnard reporting from Beirut on Page One: "Day after day, the Syrian civil war has ground down a cultural and political center of the Middle East, turning it into a stage for disaster and cruelty on a nearly incomprehensible scale. Families are brutalized by their government and by jihadists claiming to be their saviors as nearly half of Syrians – many of them children – have been driven from their homes. At the start of the fourth year since Syrians rose up in a peaceful movement that turned to arms after violent repression, a snapshot of the country presents the harsh truth that Syria’s descent is only accelerating, with nothing to check it.

"The government bombards neighborhoods with explosive barrels, missiles, heavy artillery and, the United States says, chemical weapons, then it sends in its allies in Hezbollah and other militias to wage street warfare. It jails and tortures peaceful activists, and uses starvation as a weapon, blockading opposition areas where trapped children shrivel and die.

"The opposition is now functionally dominated by foreign-led jihadists who commit their own abuses in the name of their extremist ideology, just last week shooting a 7-year-old boy for what they claimed was apostasy. And some of those fighters, too, have targeted civilians and used siege tactics… All the while, Syria is falling apart. Last weekend, another vital center of opposition life – the city of Yabrud, near the Lebanese border – fell to pro-government forces. As each such haven has been shattered, like Homs and Qusayr, it has become a watchword for civilian suffering, and more are displaced." More here.

The new envoy for Syria promises to support anti-Assad forces but isn’t specific about how he’ll do that. The WaPo’s Anne Gearan: "… Rubinstein is expected to follow Ford’s model of frequent contact with opposition groups, despite the current impasse. Announcing Rubinstein’s appointment Monday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Rubinstein would travel to the region soon but gave no details. ‘This week is indeed a somber occasion and a sober reminder to all of us of the work still ahead – and the United States will stand with you,’ Rubinstein said in his message, also posted on the Web site for the U.S. Embassy in Damascus." More here.

Not good at sharing: A lack of radar points to security weaknesses in the search for Flight 370. The WSJ’s Tefor Moss: "A dearth of useful radar data in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines  Flight 370 has exposed both the weaknesses of regional air-defense systems and also a deep-seated reluctance to share military information.

"While Malaysia’s air force has drawn ire for its failure to track Flight 370 effectively in the early hours of March 8, military and aviation analysts say that other Asian countries have similar deficiencies. They also say that governments continue to view one another with suspicion in a part of the world characterized by historical tensions that make countries disinclined to share military data, even in a crisis. The mistrust includes nearby neighbors and China, which remains highly secretive."

"…Malaysia’s neighbors "would be as helpful as they could be without giving away anything about their own weaknesses," Mr. Huxley said. Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last week that Malaysia was divulging unprecedented national security information and invited other nations to overcome their reluctance and help find the plane. India and China, which Flight 370 would have crossed if it moved along the northern corridor plotted by investigators, have more capable air-defense networks than Malaysia and its neighbors." Read the rest here.

James Fallows’ interactive map on The Atlantic: Where Flight 370 Might Have Landed, here.

Reading Pincus: Hagel turns up the heat on excess military bases. The WaPo’s Walter Pincus: "The third time may be the charm for the Defense Department in getting Congress to start the procedure that ultimately could close more excess military bases.

That would mean authorizing the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Past and proposed reductions in force numbers have created what defense officials say is more than a 25 percent surplus of military bases and facilities that are wasting billions of dollars each year. A separate Army analysis found that its excess capacity within the United States ranges between 12 and 28 percent, depending upon the facility. That figure will grow, because the Army is shrink by an additional 70,000 troops in the next five years.

"This year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Pentagon colleagues may be trying to mount their own political pressure to begin a BRAC process that could lead to approval by 2017 of a list of installations to be closed. At hearings and in news conferences, Hagel and his team have referred to a section of law that they say gives the secretary unilateral authority to take some steps. As he put it on March 6 before the House Armed Services Committee, ‘As you probably know, in Title 10, I think it’s Section 2687, the secretary does have some authorities in reorganizing different bases.’ That section of the law says in part that the secretary can act ‘if the President certifies to the Congress that such closure or realignment must be implemented for reasons of national security or a military emergency.’" More here.

The FOIA-Unfriendly administration: The WaPo’s Erik Wemple: "A new report from the Associated Press is tearing the stuffing right out of the Obama administration’s pledge to be remembered the most transparent ever. An AP investigation into the handling of Freedom of Information Act requests found administration ‘has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records.’ Headlining the categories of information subject to denial is anything related to national security." AP with the stats: "In a year of intense public interest over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the government cited national security to withhold information a record 8,496 times – a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year, when it cited that reason 3,658 times. The Defense Department, including the NSA, and the CIA accounted for nearly all those. The Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency cited national security six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did twice and the National Park Service once."  Wemple noted: "Reporters seeking documents on breaking news "fared worse than ever last year." Among the examples of such stories are the Navy Yard shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings and Benghazi." 

Wemple here. The AP report, by Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum, here.

Sinclair’s accuser stands by her testimony that he sexually assaulted her. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "The female accuser in the sex-crimes trial of an Army general is satisfied with the plea deal that was reached in the case, but she stands by her assertion that he sexually assaulted her, according to her lawyer. Jamie Barnett, a retired Navy rear admiral who serves as an unpaid lawyer for the general’s accuser, said Monday that the accuser stands by her testimony that Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair forced her to perform oral sex on two occasions and threatened to kill her and her family if she reported their three-year affair." Read the rest here.

The Sinclair case was the worst thing for defenders of the current military justice system, and the best thing for the McCaskills and the Gillibrands of the world. The NYT’s top editorial today, "A Broken Military Justice System: "On Monday, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair avoided prosecution on sexual assault charges that could have brought him a life sentence. In an agreement with the prosecutor, General Sinclair pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including mistreating his accuser, an Army captain and his former mistress. The deal followed a stunning ruling by a military judge last week suggesting that by holding out for more severe punishment, and by rejecting an earlier plea deal, the senior Army officer overseeing the prosecution might have been improperly influenced by political considerations in bringing the most severe charges against the general because of a desire to show new resolve in the military against sexual misconduct. The prosecution had also been badly shaken by revelations that the general’s accuser may have lied under oath.

"The episode offers a textbook example of justice gone awry, providing yet another reason to overhaul the existing military justice system, which gives commanding officers with built-in conflicts of interest – rather than trained and independent military prosecutors outside the chain of command – the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try. In the Sinclair matter, the commanding officer appears to have ignored his colleagues’ reservations in an effort to look tough on sexual assaults and avoid criticism at a moment when the military is under pressure to address its sexual assault crisis." More here.

So this Army three-star just became a black belt. Army Times’ Michelle Tan: "The general officer who shepherded the creation of the Army combatives program has earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he credits the service with introducing him to a discipline that grows leaders and builds confidence and competence. Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, the commanding general of Installation Management Command, said he got his first taste of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 1997, when he was a lieutenant colonel commanding a battalion in the 75th Ranger Regiment. The regimental commander, then-Col. Stanley McChrystal, called on his battalion commanders to renew their emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, and the leaders and their soldiers began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Ferriter said.

Said Ferriter: "I was a baseball player, a basketball player… I used to look at wrestlers and grapplers and think, ‘I guess they can’t catch a ball, so they just grab people.’" 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

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.