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: An invasion of Ukraine increasingly likely, intel sources say

Hagel to speechify on cybersecurity today; HRC's Burma problem; Mabus: why Cruz is wrong on "algae fuels;" Why Air Force spouses will smile this weekend; and a bit more.

Intel officials have told Obama there is mounting evidence that Russia is preparing for a possibly imminent invasion of Ukraine. With FP’s Shane Hudson, Yochi Dreazen and a small assist from ourselves: "American intelligence agencies have told Obama administration officials and key congressional staffers that there is mounting evidence that Russia is putting the pieces in place for an invasion of eastern Ukraine, and that the possibility of an imminent assault cannot be ruled out, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

"The numbers of troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine have been steadily increasing since Russian forces conquered Crimea in February. And near Ukraine’s eastern border, troops are reportedly being supplied with food and medical supplies, which they would need in the event of further operations — a development that U.S. intelligence agencies have noted with alarm. On Capitol Hill, U.S. spy agencies have given Congress increasingly dire assessments of the Russian activity and indicated that the likelihood of an invasion is rapidly growing, according to a participant in the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.

"Still, the intelligence officials have been careful not to offer a definitive conclusion that Moscow will invade or to predict the precise timing of a Russian military operation in Ukraine. Assessing the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been hampered by the fact that the U.S. has alarmingly little in the way of signals intelligence, or intercepted communications, that would indicate that he had decided to invade or when a strike was scheduled to start, one official said. Despite the tens of billions of dollars given to the intelligence community each year, the United States also has no real-time video footage coming from drones in the region and is relying largely on still photos from satellites, another official said.

"However, two officials said that the intelligence warnings have taken on a more alarming tone in part because the CIA failed to predict Putin’s Crimea invasion. At the time, some in the intelligence agencies had determined that Russian forces had no intention of invading Ukraine, despite a massive buildup of troops along the border. That missed call has chastened U.S. intelligence analysts and forced them to reassess their judgments about Putin, one official said.

"…On Thursday Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said "there’s no light" between Hagel and Hammond on the issue of trusting Shoygu, saying only that the Pentagon is watching it all very closely — and hoping Shoygu keeps his word. "I’d say we don’t have a full knowledge of their intent," he said. "But regardless of the intent, it does nothing to de-escalate the tension in Ukraine, it does nothing to improve the stability in that part of the world." More here.

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Hagel to speak today on cyber for the first time at Keith Alexander’s retirement at the NSA. Hagel will speak at NSA’s Fort Meade facility in what will be the first live-televised event on that campus, we’re told. Hagel will thank Alexander for his 40 years of service and note the fact that he was the first cyber command commander. But Hagel will also address the assembly of NSA and Cyber command employees to discuss what they do and how they do it.

"It’s his first major speech on cyber security, and it won’t be his last," a defense official told Situation Report. "For him it’s an opportunity to discuss the development of the cyber force and what they will be doing and what he is prioritizing in the [budget]." We’re told the speech will focus on improving and developing the capabilities of the cyber force and what Cybercom will be doing to "ramp up those activities" as prioritized in the Pentagon’s budget. Hagel isn’t expected to delve into the controversial policy issues surrounding the NSA as much as use the time to talk to the men and women who people the two organizations. "It’s more of a people speech," we’re told. Watch it live at 3pm – the first live broadcast from the NSA ever! – here.

China’s angry. The WSJ’s Paul Mozur in Beijing: " China’s defense ministry said it would take measures to boost cybersecurity after reports this week alleging the U.S. spied on Chinese technology company Huawei Technologies Co. and several Chinese leaders. Speaking at a monthly briefing, defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said the revelations "exposed the hypocrisy and despotism of the U.S. side.’ The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reported this week that the U.S. National Security Agency ran cyberoperations monitoring former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the country’s trade and foreign ministries, as well as Huawei’s email archive, including messages from the company’s chief executive, Ren Zhengfei." More here.

Mike Rogers is stepping down, no he isn’t – actually, he is. After dueling media reports since last night, some that he is, some that he isn’t, the Michigan Republican and House Intelligence chairman said he’s leaving Congress at the end of his term to start his own conservative radio show. AP’s Todd Spangler: "The seven-term congressman – who has been a key ally of House Speaker John Boehner and frequent guest of Sunday morning political talk shows – said he will step down at the end of his term, which ends early next year. Rogers said he is stepping down to start a radio show to discuss conservative and national security issues. ‘I believe in being a conservative media you have to move the ball forward,’ Rogers said. He added, ‘that voice is missing.’ He said the show would begin in January 2015. The announcement was widely rumored Thursday evening but Rogers’ office refused to confirm. Rogers made the announcement himself this morning on WJR’s Paul W. Smith show." More here.

Ignatius: Obama’s amenable to expanding lethal, covert assistance to Syrian opposition. The WaPo’s David Ignatius: "The Obama administration, stung by reversals in Ukraine and Syria, appears to have decided to expand its covert program of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition, deepening U.S. involvement in that brutal and stalemated civil war. This stepped-up assistance program is likely to be discussed during talks Friday between President Obama and Saudi King Abdullah. U.S. endorsement of the program would tighten America’s links with Saudi Arabia after a period of noisy disagreement about Syria policy. But it also would complicate already tense relations with Russia and Iran, the two key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad." Read the rest here.

The Saudis’ view of Obama: he’s got it all wrong. The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick: "Over seven decades, the United States and Saudi Arabia forged a strategic alliance that became a linchpin of the regional order: a liberal democracy and an ultraconservative monarchy united by shared interests in the stability of the Middle East and the continued flow of oil. But with President Obama arriving in Riyadh on Friday, the rulers of Saudi Arabia say they feel increasingly compelled to go their own way, pursuing starkly different strategies from Washington in dealing with Iran, Syria, Egypt and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region." Said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva of the Saudi view: "Their view of Mr. Obama is that his entire understanding is wrong…The trust in him is not very high, so he will not have an easy ride, and a lot of hard questions will be put on the table." Read the rest here.

Speaking of which: sworn in last night – Brad Carson, who was yesterday the Army’s general counsel is today the Undersecretary of the Army. Carson had been confirmed some time ago as the service’s new undersecretary, but until Joseph Westphal, the man who had been serving as undersecretary, could be confirmed in his new job, as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Carson was in limbo. Now both men are where they are supposed to be.

Heads are rolling at the Air Force over the nuke scandal. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The Air Force has removed nine leaders in the service’s nuclear force and watched a tenth officer resign after a broad and embarrassing cheating scandal that exposed systemic problems in the organization that handles the United States’ arsenal of nuclear missiles. The shakeup, announced Thursday by top service officials, amounts to an unprecedented overhaul of those in leadership at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where an investigation found that dozens of officers cheated on monthly proficiency tests.

"The officers who have been fired from their posts at Malmstrom include Col. Mark Schuler, who commanded the 341st Operations Group at Malmstrom that administered the test on which dozens of Air Force missileers were caught cheating. Col. Rob Stanley, Malmstrom’s top commander, was allowed to resign his post as commander of the 341st Missile Wing and will retire as a colonel. He had been selected for an advancement to brigadier general, but will not be promoted. Schuler and eight other officers were removed from their positions due to a lack of confidence in their ability to lead, effectively eliminating the bulk of Malmstrom’s senior leadership." Read the rest here.

Dempsey: dump PowerPoint slides when it comes to teaching ethics. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes, travelling with Dempsey at West Point, N.Y.: "The military needs to rethink how it teaches character and ethics, eschew staid briefing slides and avoid disciplining subordinates via email, the nation’s top uniformed officer said Thursday. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy this week, as part of a series of talks emphasizing the need to focus on ethics. In meetings with students, Gen. Dempsey made clear that he thinks the military talks about sexual harassment, sexual assault and ethics in a way that is too abstract.

"’The issue of ethics is personal and to be persuasive, it has to be relational," Gen. Dempsey said in an interview Thursday. "It can’t be an issue of abstract values; you have to bring them to life."

"Gen. Dempsey has been pressing the military to find better ways to teach leadership, ethics and character, making the issue more engaging to young leaders. At West Point, Gen. Dempsey said he had considered banning the use of the software in training programs. He said military leaders too often show some briefing slides and think they have emphasized military ethics, and that some think the words ‘dignity and respect’ on a slide suffices to teach ethics, he said. Sgt. Major David Stewart, a senior adviser at the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic at the U.S. Military Academy, said the center has been developing more interactive and person-to-person educational programs. ‘We know PowerPoint doesn’t work,’ he said. Read the rest here.

Why will so many Air Force spouses be smiling this weekend? Because on Sunday, the thousands of Air Force officers who grew mustaches will finally shave them off on March 28 and begin to look less like something out of American Hustle and more like themselves again. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh had issued a challenge in February for "Mustache March," long a tradition in the Air Force inspired by legendary ace pilot Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, for the entire Air Force to grow mustaches (he was looking mostly at the men).

"I don’t think we’ve ever had an all-in Mustache March, have we?" Welsh said during a Feb. 20 address at the Air Force Association. "I’m putting the smackdown on you guys. Air Force-wide Mustache March, MAJCOM competitions." At the time, Welsh said women in the Air Force’s job was to jeer at the men as much as possible.

"Their job is to ridicule us nonstop about the idiotic look that these mustaches will have on most of us, as we try to look like Tom Selleck and end up looking like a three-haired mole," Welsh said in February. "Fight’s on." More from the Air Force Times’ Flightlines blog here.

Former SecDef and CIA chief Schlesinger dies. The WaPo’s Timothy Smith: "James R. Schlesinger, a Republican economist who advanced rapidly to some of the highest positions of government power in the 1970s but whose abrasive leadership style led to conflicts with presidents, bureaucrats and the American public, died March 27 at a hospital in Baltimore. He was 85… He gained a reputation as someone willing to cut jobs and implement unpopular policies with little regard for what other people thought of him.

"[President Gerald Ford] and Mr. Schlesinger never connected, and those around the president described Mr. Schlesinger as prone to lecturing Ford in a condescending way about military strategy. Everything about Mr. Schlesinger seemed to annoy Ford, including Mr. Schlesinger’s disheveled attire. Ford took offense that he neither tightened his tie nor buttoned his collar before meeting with the president and often slung a leg over armchairs in the Oval Office. ‘His aloof, frequently arrogant manner put me off,’ Ford later told historian Walter Isaacson. ‘I could never be sure he was leveling with me.’ According to military historian Charles A. Stevenson’s 2006 history of the secretaries of defense, ‘SecDef,’ Mr. Schlesinger ‘ultimately failed to keep his job because he never developed enough rapport, confidence, or support with people who could defend him when controversy arose.’" More here.

Hagel’s statement on Schlesinger read in part ­­- "Secretary Schlesinger was a brilliant economist, and had a keen understanding of defense budgeting, our country’s nuclear enterprise, and our most advanced weapons programs. I relied on his counsel when I was a United States senator and as secretary of defense have benefitted enormously from his experience, his guidance, and his strategic thinking as a member of the Defense Policy Board."

Cruz has a hot one: WHY does the Pentagon study algae? Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, is wondering loudly why the Defense Department is spending money on a study of algae when it’s considering eliminating Marine battalions. He questioned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Cruz, in a statement released by his office from the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday: "Is it your view that the Department of Defense is going to somehow revolutionize the study of algae or alternative energy, is that really the core function of the Navy, at a time when the Navy is proposing, for example, cutting 5,000 Marines, eliminating two Marine infantry battalions? Obviously, your job is to prioritize, and my question is which is a higher priority, preserving those two Marine infantry battalions or continuing to research algae fuel in the hopes that somehow the world energy market can be transformed by the Navy’s research?"

Mabus, on why now it’s critical to do so: "Senator, now is exactly the time that we have to, have to diversify our energy sources. We are facing in the Navy, in FY ’11 and FY ’12, we had an unbudgeted, one billion dollar increase in fuel costs, for each year; $2 billion that we had not budgeted for because of the spikes in the prices of oil. If we don’t get an American made, more stably-based source of fuel, if we don’t get some competition into the fuel, we’re looking at fewer soldiers, fewer sailors, fewer platforms. That’s exactly why we’re doing this. The $170 million you mentioned is not for algae fuel, it is for alternative fuels. You’ll be happy to know that we are now working with four companies that are obligated to provide us with $163 million gallons of bio-fuel by 2016 at less than $3.50 a gallon." Watch the video that Cruz’ office provided here.

So HRC has a bit of a Burma problem. It was a crowning achievement of her Foggy Bottom tenure, but now it’s coming apart. FP’s Catherine Traywick and John Hudson: "…Today, the promise of a free and democratic Myanmar is rapidly receding as sectarian violence escalates and the government backslides on a number of past reforms. That’s causing genuine alarm on Capitol Hill among lawmakers from both parties. The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution this week calling on Myanmar’s government to respect the human rights of all minority groups in the country and end the persecution of the Rohingya people, an essentially stateless and largely Muslim ethnic group that has been singled out by both Rakhine Buddhists and the government of Myanmar.

"As the government of Burma transitions from decades-long military rule to a civilian government, it is important to hold them accountable for persistent human rights abuses," New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House panel, said Tuesday.

"What happens in Myanmar has implications for Clinton as she prepares for a potential presidential bid for the White House in 2016. Until now, the Myanmar portfolio has been widely viewed as the "one clear-cut triumph" of her tenure as secretary of state — a tenure in danger of being viewed as underwhelming and overly cautious when compared to that of her successor, John Kerry, who has taken on the Gordian knot of the Mideast peace process." Read the rest here.

A muppet app for brats. DOD announced a new app, developed with the Sesame Workshop, to help kids "create a muppet friend to help them through the moving process." The average brat moves between six and nine times between kindergarten and high school, according to the Pentagon. "Moving can be stressful, and kids need to express feelings and say goodbye to people and things," said Dr. Kelly Blasko, psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. "The muppet characters in this app help make the move a fun experience." Deets for "The Big Moving Adventure app" 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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