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: Putin backs off a little; 140k vets hired; IAVA demanding answers; Pushing for a Boko Haram strategy; Putting the brakes on the Guard’s NASCAR recruiting effort; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel   Putin announces a pullback, but his intentions are murky. The NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar: "President Vladimir V. Putin, faced with rising violence in southeastern Ukraine that threatened to draw in the Russian Army at great cost and prompt severe new Western economic sanctions, pressed pause on Wednesday in what ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel


Putin announces a pullback, but his intentions are murky. The NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar: "President Vladimir V. Putin, faced with rising violence in southeastern Ukraine that threatened to draw in the Russian Army at great cost and prompt severe new Western economic sanctions, pressed pause on Wednesday in what had started to look like an inevitable march toward war. But it remained unclear to analysts and political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic whether he was truly reversing course on Ukraine or if this was just another of his judo-inspired feints.

"Using a far less ominous tone than in previous remarks about Ukraine, Mr. Putin told a news conference at the Kremlin that Russia had withdrawn its troops from along the border and that he had asked separatists to drop plans for a referendum on sovereignty this Sunday. Russia would even accept Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25, he said, if demands for autonomy from the country’s east were recognized.

"Mr. Putin said Russia wanted to spur mediation efforts led by the Europeans. He said he did not know whether talks between the warring sides in Ukraine were "realistic," but was determined to give them a chance, in particular a suggestion from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that the factions engage in a round-table discussion. More here.

But where exactly are those Russian troops? The WSJ’s Gregory White in Moscow: "…But Washington was dismissive and immediately questioned whether Moscow was genuinely committed to stabilizing Ukraine, where the government in Kiev is strongly pro-Western. The Pentagon said it had seen no evidence to back Mr. Putin’s claim that he had called back the tens of thousands of troops deployed to Ukraine’s border last month.
"…Senior U.S. officials said the Russian leader’s latest comments were helpful, but that Washington still believed that the Kremlin was working to undermine the May 25 elections. ‘There are still efforts under way to hinder the preparations,’ State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. ‘There is far more that President Putin and the Russians can do to de-escalate the situation and to ensure safe elections.’" More here.

Welcome to Thursday’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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The 100,000 Jobs Mission firms – now 154 in total – are announcing this morning at 8am that they have hired 140,832 veterans since 2011. After reaching its first goal of hiring 100,000 veterans, the Jobs Mission now aims to hire 200,000 veterans by 2020 and it appears well on its way. Former Vice-Chief of the Army Pete Chiarelli and now CEO of One Mind for Research, on vets and PTSD: "There is a misunderstanding that every service member with deployment history has TBI and/or PTS — which is not the case. Of the small percentage that have been affected, and seek treatment, there is no reason they cannot perform in the workplace. This is why coalitions such as the 100,000 Jobs Mission are important because they work to ensure that the invisible wounds of war do not brand a service member as damaged. These coalitions are open and willing to hiring veterans, realizing that they can be productive members of the workforce."

Maureen Casey, JPMorgan Chase’s director of Military and Veterans Affairs: "We continue to learn from experts and then refine our programs to help veterans and their spouses succeed in the civilian workplace." Deets and press release here.

Also today, with Obama in San Diego, IAVA will hold a protest in its search for answers on VA Medical Care. The header of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s press release: "Allegations of VA Mismanagement and Cover-up in Phoenix, Colorado, Texas – is San Diego Next?" IAVA: "As President Obama is in San Diego Thursday, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will demand national accountability from President Obama and his Administration at a 10:30 a.m. press event outside the War Memorial Building at Balboa Park. IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff will join local veteran leaders from across the San Diego community – the largest base of IAVA membership in the country – to call on the President to answer questions of VA accountability and address how his Administration will ensure veterans get the care and support they need. Earlier this week, the American Legion, San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter and others called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign."

IAVA’s Rieckhoff: "How far do the failures at the VA go? That is the question veterans in San Diego and across the nation need to know… If they were allegedly cooking the books in Phoenix, Fort Collins, Austin, and San Antonio, were they doing it in San Diego too? We’re in San Diego – with more vets here than anywhere else in the country – demanding accountability and calling on President Obama to ensure vets get the care they need. We deserve answers." Deets here on the event in San Diego this morning, West Coast time, here.

The American Legion is calling for Shinseki to resign, the NYT story here.

This morning, a bomb blast in Aleppo. Reuters this hour: "Syian rebels detonated a huge bomb underneath an Aleppo hotel used by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Thursday, destroying it and damaging other buildings on the edge of the city’s medieval citadel. The rebel Islamic Front, which claimed responsibility for the explosion, published video footage which showed a huge column of debris and dust erupting into the Aleppo skyline. It said 50 soldiers were killed in the blast but did not say how it arrived at that death toll." More here.

ICYMI: Did Samantha Power rebuke Obama on Syria? Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg: "Last week, in a powerful speech that should have received more attention than it has so far, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, seemed to rebuke the administration in which she serves for its handling of the Syria catastrophe.
"Power was speaking at a Holocaust Memorial Museum dinner, at which she presented the museum’s Elie Wiesel Award to the Canadian general Romeo Dallaire — one of the few Westerners who tried to protect Rwandans as they were being slaughtered (as opposed to weeping for them after they were murdered, which was the more common Western response).
"In the course of her speech, Power condemned those who argue that the choice facing the W
est in Syria is between full-on military engagement and doing nothing. She was also particularly harsh on the subject of leaders who avoid acting until humanitarian crises spin into chaos." More here.

Boko Haram has killed hundred of civilians in northeast Nigeria this week. The NYT’s Adam Nossiter in Abuja: "Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing. The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting ‘Allahu akbar,’ firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna." More here.

House Foreign Affairs Committee head Ed Royce is pushing Hagel and Kerry to develop a more strategic approach to countering Boko Haram. In a letter to Secs Hagel and Kerry: While I welcome the Administration’s efforts in response to the kidnapping, including offering a team of military and law enforcement officials to the Nigerian government, I believe this temporary response will not sufficiently combat Boko Haram’s long-term threat to the region and U.S. interests.  The Administration should develop a strategic, multifaceted approach to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram." Full letter here.

Israelis reject reports of spying on the U.S. as Susan Rice visits. The LA Times’ Batsheva Sobelman: "Israeli officials on Wednesday rejected espionage allegations reportedly made in American intelligence circles, the latest obstacle to Israel’s inclusion in the visa waiver program that would ease its citizens’ travel to the U.S. According to a report in Newsweek, some American counterspy officials say Israel is pursuing espionage efforts against the U.S. that have ‘crossed red lines’ and far exceed those of any other close ally… Such concerns reportedly are holding up agreements that would include Israel in the U.S. visa waiver program. The waiver, which eases travel to the U.S., is reserved for nationalities that are deemed as posing little security threat and that are not major sources of immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally." More here.

Secretary Mabus will sign a statement of cooperation with Purdue on alternative energy research this afternoon. From the Navy Office of Community Outreach: "As Secretary of the Navy, [Mabus] has made energy and energy security a priority. Upon assuming office in 2009, Mabus set an aggressive goal for the Department of the Navy aimed at ensuring that, by no later than 2020, the Navy and Marine Corps would obtain at least 50 percent of their energy from alternative sources. To accomplish this goal, he has directed the Department of the Navy to change the way they use, produce and acquire energy. Purdue is home to the Energy Center in Discovery Park. The center leads interdisciplinary research efforts in advancing alternative energy sources and approaches." If you really want to wonk out on this, watch the signing ceremony live here at 1:30pm EST, here.

Into maritime strategy? Check out the convos War on the Rocks has been having on China. War on the Rocks just put two of their recurring talks online. One is with Bryan McGrath, who wrote the 2007 Maritime Strategy; Another, with Cmdr. Elton Parker, a speechwriter for Jim Stavridis when he was at NATO, is also up. Both are talking about Asia and Parker, on Chinese engagement versus estrangement, here. McGrath, on naval power and "Estranged Over a Rising China," here.

Today, The Nation publishes excerpts from exclusive remarks Edward Snowden and filmmaker Laura Poitras made recently in a cover story "Why I Did It." The Nation provided an advance excerpt of Snowden’s remarks: "…Now, what’s important about this is that I’m not the only one who felt this way. There were people throughout the NSA that I worked with that I had private conversations with-and I’ve had conversations since in other federal agencies-who had the same concerns I did, but they were afraid to take action because they knew what would happen. I can specifically remember a conversation in the wake of James Clapper’s famous lie to Senator Wyden where I asked my co-worker, ‘You know, why doesn’t anybody say anything about this?’ And he said, ‘Do you know what they do to people who do?’
"I knew what would happen.
I knew that there were no whistleblower protections that would protect me from prosecution as a private contractor, as opposed to a direct government employee. But that didn’t change my calculus of what needed to be done. And the fact that I knew there were so many others who had the same concerns, who knew that what we were doing had gone too far, had departed from the fundamental principles of what our US intelligence community is all about-serving the public good-that I was confident that I could do it knowing that even if it cost me so much, it would be giving back so much to so many others who were struggling with the same problems that it would be worth it." Read and watch here.

NSA reform is moving quickly through Congress. FP’s John Hudson: "The long-delayed legislative effort to rein in the National Security Agency overcame a significant hurdle on Wednesday with the passage of a bill that ends the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata, one of the most controversial of the classified programs revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden." More here.

Udall and Wyden welcomed the House’s step toward reining in the NSA, in National Journal, here.

The $1.2B deal the Pentagon signed for the White House helo is just the start of spending on it. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The Pentagon awarded a $1.24 billion contract to helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. on Wednesday to begin building the next fleet of White House helicopters, five years after a similar effort turned into such a high-profile example of cost overruns and government mismanagement that it was publicly terminated by then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Budget hawks shouldn’t pop open the champagne just yet, however. The new contract only covers the purchase of six test helicopters, two flight simulators, and other associated equipment, meaning the government will still ha
ve to spend many billions more if the White House is to get the 21 helicopters it wants." More here.

The National Guard spent nearly $27 million on a NASCAR racing recruiting effort – but didn’t enlist one soldier. USAToday’s Tom Vanden Brook: The National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR racing in 2012 to bolster its marketing and recruitment but failed to sign up a single new soldier to its ranks, according to data provided to USA TODAY. Even though the Guard spent $88 million as a NASCAR sponsor from 2011 to 2013, it is unclear how many new recruits, if any, signed up because of it, according to documents. The Guard on Wednesday would not confirm the figures on prospects and recruits developed through its NASCAR sponsorship.

"Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who will hold a hearing on the recruitment program Thursday, assailed the Guard for ‘wasting a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship.’ The Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012, documents show. In those cases, potential recruits indicated the NASCAR affiliation prompted them to seek more information about joining. Of that group, only 20 met the Guard’s qualifications for entry into the service, and not one of them joined." More here.

Meantime, senators look to stop National Guard cuts. The Hill’s Kristina Wong: "A bipartisan group of senators is planning to block the Army’s plan to cut the National Guard force from 350,000 to 335,000 by 2017. The group also wants to prevent the transfer of the reserve force’s Apache attack helicopters to the active duty side. Led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), co-chairs of the National Guard Caucus, the group calls for an independent commission to look into these proposals, which could effectively delay any decision for years. Army officials say they have few other options to reduce costs in the face of automatic spending cuts, but National Guard supporters say it’s questionable how much would be saved by reducing the force’s size. They argue the Air National Guard would lose critical combat capability from the transfer of the Apache helicopters." More here.

Obama bid adieu to Christine Fox as the highest ranking woman ever to serve at the Pentagon. The White House issued a statement in President Obama’s name yesterday after Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox "concluded her tenure" at the Department of Defense. Bob Work, now installed as the new permanent DepSecDef, was sworn in Monday. "Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time.  She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.  I am grateful to Christine for her willingness to step in and serve her nation once again — as the highest ranking woman ever to serve at the Department of Defense — and wish her the very best in her future endeavors."

Here’s why one soldier thinks the Army needs a commission on the structure of the Army. Second Lieutenant Adam Maisel for CFR’s Defense in Depth blog: "As markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 gets underway, senior leaders in the Army and Army National Guard are sharpening their knives. Stemming from a contentious aviation restructuring plan in the proposed budget in which the Army Guard would lose all of its attack aviation (as well as cuts to tens of thousands of soldiers, should sequestration return in FY16), both sides are girding for an Active-Guard war. Congress has responded in kind by advocating for an independent commission to study the force structure of the Army, similar in scope to the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force formed in 2013. Senior leadership in the Army and Pentagon have already expressed their opposition to such a commission, citing added costs with deferring planned cuts. Such opposition is disappointing, since an independent study might not only find opportunities for long-term cost savings and efficiencies, but could help implement a Total Force policy that provides Americans with the most decisive landpower force for protection at home and abroad." More here.

HASC votes 34-28 to keep the authority to prosecute sexual assault within the military chain of command. AP’s Donna Cassata: "The Pentagon posted a narrow win Wednesday as a House panel endorsed leaving the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders. In an emotionally charged debate, the House Armed Services Committee rejected a measure that would have stripped the long-standing authority to decide whether to pursue a case, especially those related to sexual assault, and hand the job to seasoned military lawyers. The vote was 34-28."  More here.


Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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