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: Thailand declares martial law; Is an evacuation necessary in Libya?; With Putin, “Where’s the beef?”; China was caught red-handed; No more vaccination ruses from CIA; Webb considers a run; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel China confronts the U.S. over cyber-spying accusations. Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee this hour: "China summoned the U.S. ambassador the United States accused five Chinese military officers of hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets, warning Washington it could take further action, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The U.S. ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

China confronts the U.S. over cyber-spying accusations. Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee this hour: "China summoned the U.S. ambassador the United States accused five Chinese military officers of hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets, warning Washington it could take further action, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, met with Zheng Zeguang, assistant foreign minister, on Monday shortly after the United States charged the five Chinese, accusing them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets.

"Zheng ‘protested’ the actions by the United States, saying the indictment had seriously harmed relations between both countries, the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website. Zheng told Baucus that depending on the development of the situation, China ‘will take further action on the so-called charges by the United States’. It was the first criminal hacking charge that the United States has filed against specific foreign officials, and follows a steady increase in public criticism and private confrontation, including at a summit last year between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping." More here.

Here’s what happened yesterday re: China’s suspected hackers. FP’s Shane Harris: "The Obama administration took the unprecedented step Monday of indicting five Chinese military officials for hacking into American companies and stealing their proprietary data, ending Washington’s years-long war of words with Beijing over Chinese cyberspying in favor of tough action. The Chinese officials will almost certainly never see the inside of a courtroom — the United States has no extradition treaty with China. But China is certain not to take the indictments lying down.

"Beijing has already canceled its participation in a U.S.-China working group on, in an ironic twist, cybersecurity. And cybersecurity experts questioned whether a legal counteroffensive is forthcoming in which Beijing indicts U.S. intelligence officials involved in Washington’s own ongoing cyberspying efforts. That could mean targeting relatively low-level American spooks, but Beijing could theoretically go after high-ranking officials like former NSA Director Keith Alexander, who also ran the military’s Cyber Command. ‘There could be some tit-for-tat legal proceedings,’ said Richard Bejtlich, the chief security strategist at computer security company FireEye and a former military intelligence officer." More here.

Meantime, NATO is still waiting for evidence of Putin’s pullback from the Ukraine border. The NYT’s David Herszenhorn in Moscow: "The Kremlin announced Monday that President Vladimir V. Putin had ordered Russian troops conducting exercises along the Ukrainian border to return to their home bases at the conclusion of the drills, apparently sending another loud signal that Russia is not planning any military action in eastern Ukraine ahead of that country’s presidential elections on Sunday. However, the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the Western allies had not seen any sign of a withdrawal of Russian forces… Mr. Rasmussen noted that it was the third such statement by Mr. Putin without any evidence of a pullback of troops or equipment from the Ukrainian border.

"The Kremlin statement said Mr. Putin had ordered the withdrawal of military units conducting drills in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions of western Russia. At the same time, it called for ‘the immediate halt of punitive operations and use of force’ by the Ukrainian government and demanded ‘resolution of the various problems through peaceful means alone.’" More here.

A defense official to SitRep this morning in looking for proof of Putin’s claims to be moving troops back: "Suddenly the line ‘where’s the beef?!’ popped into my head."

Is NATO to blame for Ukraine unrest? U.S. News &World Report’s Paul Shinkman, here.

Putin wants his own Pivot: Ukraine crisis pushes him toward China. The NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar and David Herszenhorn: "President Vladimir V. Putin said Monday that he was withdrawing Russian troops from the border with Ukraine, the second time he has said that in less than two weeks. He also praised the government in Kiev, which he had previously called an illegal, fascist junta, for its willingness to negotiate structural changes. But the intended audience for these conciliatory remarks may not have been the United States and Europe, who would distrust them in any event. No, Mr. Putin’s gaze was more likely fixed on China, where he arrives on Tuesday by all accounts determined to show that he, too, wants to pivot to Asia." More here.

Also, there’s trouble in Thailand, where the Army has declared martial law. But it’s not a coup, the Army says. The NYT’s Thomas Fuller: "The head of Thailand’s army declared what he described as nationwide martial law early Tuesday and urged protesters who have paralyzed the government and blocked elections to ‘stop their movement.’ The order also appeared to apply to pro-government demonstrators who are leading a separate protest. In a country where the army has staged more than a dozen coups in recent decades it was not immediately clear what degree of control the military planned to take in the country.

"The presence of soldiers on the streets of Bangkok was relatively sparse early Tuesday and life in the city continued normally, including morning traffic jams and puffy television talk shows. ‘The army intends to bring peace to the beloved country of all Thais as soon as possible,’ said Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the army, in a nationally televised speech broadcast at 6:30 a.m. ‘We would like to urge people from every group to stop their movement in order to quickly find a sustainable solution for the country.’" More here.

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki late last night in a statement: "…We remain very concerned about the deepening political crisis in Thailand and urge all parties to respect democratic principles, including respect for freedom of speech. We understand the Royal Thai Army announced that this martial law declaration is not a coup.   We expect the Army to honor its commitment to make this a tem
porary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions…This development underscores the need for elections to determine the will of the Thai people."

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where there are a lot of really shiny objects in the forpol world today. 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.

Who’s Where When today – Under Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning delivers remarks at the 30th Space Symposium Corporate Partnership Dinner at 7:30 p.m. in Colorado Springs… Commandant Gen. Jim Amos returns from visits to the West Coast.

Hagel will join Poland’s ambassador to the United States Ryszard Schnepf, members of Congress and other distinguished guests on May 21 for Freedom Night, a celebration of Poland’s 223rd Constitution Day and 25th anniversary of transition to freedom and democracy. Secretary Hagel will give remarks about the importance of the U.S. – Poland relationship. Deets here.

Activists say a chlorine attack killed a teenager in Syria. Reuters this hour: "Syrian opposition activists said on Tuesday forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had dropped a chlorine bomb on a rebel-held village, killing a teenager, the sixth alleged poison gas attack there in two months. The village of Kfar Zeita, in the central province of Hama 125 miles north of Damascus, has been the epicenter of what activists and medics say is a chemical weapons campaign in which chlorine gas canisters are dropped out of helicopters." More here.

The Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin reviews Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s ‘Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace’ for Al-Monitor, here.

China ‘uses channels’ to warn North Korea against conducting another nuclear test. Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan: "China has used diplomatic channels to warn North Korea against conducting a fourth nuclear test, multiple China-based diplomatic sources told Reuters, after the reclusive state renewed its threat of ‘counter-measures’ against perceived U.S. hostility. North Korea, which regularly threatens the South and the United States with destruction, is already under heavy sanctions imposed by several U.N. resolutions beginning in 2006 but has defied pressure to abandon its missile and nuclear programs.

"It last conducted a nuclear test in February 2013. ‘China has told North Korea that there is no justification for a new nuclear test and that they should not do it,’ said a Western diplomat who was briefed by Chinese officials." More here.

Kim Jong Un’s  ‘executed’ ex-girlfriend shows up alive on TV. The LA Times’ Barbara Demick: "Yet another urban legend about North Korea bites the dust. The ex-girlfriend of leader Kim Jong Un, reportedly executed by firing squad last year, turned up apparently alive and well on a state television broadcast Friday night. Hyon Song Wol, a singer with an all-female band, was reported to be one of 10 to 12 people executed in August by firing squad, as the story claimed, for performing in pornographic videos sold in China. But there she was Friday shown speaking at a national meeting of artists in Pyongyang, where she thanked Kim for his support of the arts and promised to ‘stoke up the flame for art and creative work.’ Her execution had first been reported by Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper known for its staunchly anti-Communist views and its criticism of North Korea." More here.

Get ready to rumble, in North Korea. FP’s Catherine Traywick reports on Pyongyang’s upcoming pro-wrestling event.  Read more here.

Will the U.S. evacuate the embassy in Tripoli? CNN’s Barbara Starr: "The U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, CNN has learned. A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is ‘minute by minute, hour by hour,’ a defense official told CNN on Monday. Fierce fighting swept across the city Sunday after armed men stormed the country’s interim Parliament. Sporadic bursts of gunfire and blasts could still be heard on the outskirts of the capital Monday evening.
"…In a move that could further inflame an already tense situation, the speaker of the interim parliament, Nuri Abu Sahmain, who is backed by Islamist forces, ordered troops known as the ‘Central Libya Shield Forces’ to deploy to the capital Monday, the Libyan state news agency LANA reported.

"…Four additional U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft ‘arrived overnight’ at the naval base in Sigonella, Italy, to join four V-22s and 200 Marines that had been moved there last week, a U.S. defense source said…The aircraft and Marines are part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team, stationed in Moron, Spain. The force was formed after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 to provide closer standby military capability in a crisis." More here.

Libya is seeking help in finding a former Gadhafi official. The WSJ’s David Enrich and Benoit Faucon: "Libyan authorities are seeking international help in apprehending a former senior official in Moammar Gadhafi’s government who has been under investigation for alleged crimes including embezzlement and abuse of office. Interpol last week published a so-called Red Notice seeking Ali Dabaiba, who ran Libya’s main government-contracting office for decades during the Gadhafi era." More here.

Eight questions you want answered about the crisis in Libya by the WaPo’s Ishaan Tharoor, here.

The U.S. and Nigeria agree to share intel to find girls. FP’s Lubold: "Washington is sharing more intelligence with the Nigerian government as American manned and unmanned aircraft circle the skies there in search of the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. The Pentagon said that it would provide intelligence analysis to the Nigerian government but would not provide the ‘raw data’ it collects from the manned MC-12 Liberty planes and the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk drones the United States has provided to conduct missions to find the girls. 

"In an effort to give the Nigerians ‘useful intelligence’ they can act upon quickly, the United States decided to provide the data in this way rather than just hand over larger volumes of information, said Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the Pentagon. Such raw data could come in the form of unfiltered satellite imagery, for example. Instead, the United States might feed the Nigerian government information based on an image it collected, say, of the girls being hidden in a rural area rather than share the image with the Nigerians directly. The agreement is designed to give the Nigerians the information they need as fast as possible, but also to protect sensitive intelligence-gathering methods used by the United States, defense officials have said." More here.

Northrop is accused of overcharging on a terror contract. The Defense Inspector General finds more than $100 million in ‘questionable costs.’ More, from the WaPo’s Christian Davenport, here.

Former Marine, SecNav and U.S. Senator Jim Webb considers a presidential run over forpol concerns. The WaPo’s Rosalind Helderman: "… Appearing on the ‘Diane Rehm Show’ on WAMU to discuss a newly published memoir, Webb, a prolific author, Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy, said he is concerned about the direction of U.S. foreign policy and is looking for a way to reengage in the national debate. Webb, to substitute host Susan Page on a possible 2016 run: "My wife and I are just thinking about what to do next. I care a lot about where the country is, and we’ll be sorting that out… [Noting that he did not decide to challenge then-incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen (Va.) in 2006 until nine months before the November election] It takes me a while to decide things. I’m not going to say one way or the other." More here.

The U.S. won’t use the vaccination ruse again. The NYT’s Mark Mazzetti:  "Three years after the Central intelligence Agency set up a phony hepatitis vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration told a group of American health educators last week that the agency no longer uses immunization programs as a cover for spying operations. In a letter to leaders at a dozen schools of public health, President Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser said the C.I.A. had banned the practice of making ‘operational use’ of vaccination programs, adding that the agency would not seek to ‘obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.’

"The letter from the adviser, Lisa O. Monaco, comes more than a year after public health officials wrote to Mr. Obama expressing anger that the United States had used immunization programs as a front for espionage. The educators were protesting the C.I.A.’s employment of a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to set up a hepatitis B vaccination program in Abbottabad to gain access to a compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding. ‘While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as a society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those damages,’ the educators’ letter said." More here.

The terror suspect Abu Hamza al-Masri was found guilty in a U.S. trial. The WSJ’s Charles Levinson and Christopher Matthews: "Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born British cleric, was convicted of 11 terrorism charges on Monday by a federal jury in Manhattan, a verdict likely to strengthen the hand of those who want terror suspects tried in civilian courts, rather than military commissions. The monthlong trial marked the second time this year that federal prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office secured a swift conviction in a high-profile terrorism case. ‘When there are additional terrorism cases to pursue and to prosecute and to bring swift justice to the people who deserve it … our office is up to the task,’ U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said during a news conference." Read the rest here.

Former FP reporter Dan Lamothe with his first story in the WaPo, about an Afghan war veteran to be awarded the MoH: Lamothe: "Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter doesn’t remember much about the day he and a fellow Marine were caught in the blast of a hand grenade in southern Afghanistan while manning a rooftop security post. There was almost no time to react before the explosion tore into him in a searing, angry ball of white light. Carpenter recalls that he ‘got right with God’ as he was enveloped by the sensation of warm water pouring all over him. It was his own blood." More here.

Noting: The WaPo had a front page teaser to Carpenter, a "winner" of the MoH. No, no, no! One can "receive" an award, but any mil type will tell you, you cannot "win" one.  

War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans did a Google hangout with Brookings’ Will McCants, FPRI’s Clint Watts, International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Poltiical Violence’s Shiraz Maher, New America Foundation’s Brian Fishman and IntelWire’s J.M. Berger on The Jihad Splits: Al-Qaeda and ISIS, here.

The Littoral Combat Ship Independence will break way from tests off Southern California to take part in Hawaii-based exercises this summer. Defense News’ Christopher Cavas: "Turns out a littoral combat ship will be headed to Hawaii this summer after all. Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, told an audience in Washington Monday that the Independence will operate off Hawaii as part of the huge Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises to take place in June and July. The move reverses an earlier decision that kept the Independence, along with the other three littoral combat ships in service, in southern California, carrying out tests and various exercises. The recently commissioned Coronado, sister ship of the Independence, is participating in RIMPAC, but only in the waters off San Diego. A spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor confirmed the Independence will take part in the seagoing phase of the exercises, scheduled to run July 6 through July 25." 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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