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: Foreign jihadis in Syria pose risk to West; The seat gets hotter for Shinseki; Russian troops retreat; Terry Mitchell’s last day; Peter Scoblic to leave FP post; Westboro Baptist to protest Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Foreign jihadis are fighting in Syria and they’re posing an increasing threat to the West. The NYT’s Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura on Page One: "… More than 70 Americans are thought by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have traveled to Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad. One ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Foreign jihadis are fighting in Syria and they’re posing an increasing threat to the West. The NYT’s Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura on Page One: "… More than 70 Americans are thought by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have traveled to Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad. One of them, still publicly unidentified, carried out a suicide bombing there on Sunday, making him the first United States citizen believed to have been involved in such an attack.

"As many as 3,000 Westerners are believed to have gone to Syria to fight, prompting increasingly aggressive efforts by their home governments to keep them from leaving and to detain them on their return. In Britain, the Home Office has stripped at least 20 jihadis of their citizenship, and the police said that the number of "Syria-related arrests" totaled 40 from January to March of this year, compared with 25 for the whole of last year.

"Just last week, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, of Portsmouth, was convicted of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts after he returned to Britain from Syria in late October. He is the first Briton to be convicted of fighting alongside Islamists in Syria.

"The stories told by Abu Muhajir, 26, and other Westerners fighting in Syria provide some insight into their motivations and outlook as extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda try to identify, recruit and train men from the United States and Europe to carry out attacks when they return home, according to senior United States intelligence and counterterrorism officials." More here.

Welcome to Friday’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.

Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling, as is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey; both are in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogues… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is presenting the MacArthur Leadership awards in the Pentagon Auditorium at 10:30 a.m… Navy Sec. Ray Mabus will be the guest of honor at the Marine Barracks Washington Evening Parade and he will formally name Amphibious ship LHA 7 as USS Tripoli during the ceremony…Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard change of command ceremony this morning… Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert concluded a visit in Japan earlier this week, with Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, in which the two discussed how to enhance the "interoperability" of their navies and strengthen their relationship; Greenert also visited U.S. sailors, civilians and family members in Yokosuka and Atsugi. Greenert then went to South Korea to meet with senior military leaders and visit service members and Navy families stationed there.

China is digging even deeper into U.S. computers than previously thought. The WSJ’s Danny Yadron, James Areddy and Paul Mozur on Page One: "China’s Internet espionage capabilities are deeper and more widely dispersed than the U.S. indictment of five army officers last week suggests, former top government officials say, extending to a sprawling hacking-industrial complex that shields the Chinese government but also sometimes backfires on Beijing. Some of the most sophisticated intruders observed by U.S. officials and private-sector security firms work as hackers for hire and at makeshift defense contractors, not the government, and aren’t among those named in the indictment. In recent years, engineers from this crowd have broken into servers at Google Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and top cybersecurity companies, former U.S. officials and security researchers alleged." More here.

The NSA is calling BS on Snowden. FP’s Shane Harris and Elias Groll: "On the heels of Edward Snowden’s prime-time effort to bolster his case as a conscientious defender of civil liberties, the U.S. government is pushing back on a central aspect of the whistleblower’s story: that he attempted to alert his superiors to what he viewed as excessive intelligence gathering techniques and that those efforts to blow the whistle were ignored.
"On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released what it says is the only email it has been able to find in which Snowden raises any kind of concern with NSA bosses. In the email, Snowden inquires about NSA training materials that describe the hierarchy of U.S. laws. According to the email, Snowden questioned whether that material placed federal laws and executive orders on the same level. A federal law can override an executive order but not the other way around.
"…In releasing the email, the National Intelligence Director’s Office noted that the communication between Snowden and NSA higher-ups did not address allegations of surveillance overreach, a rejection of Snowden’s claim that he attempted to air his concerns internally before disclosing classified information to journalists." More here.

John Bolton is playing an unexpectedly prominent role in an Iranian cyber spying campaign. The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake: "…Hackers believed to be connected to the Tehran government are posing as Bolton on social media platforms in a scheme to get human rights activists and national security wonks to hand over their passwords and user names.  The fake Bolton LinkedIn account provides a window into how Iran’s hackers are trying to penetrate the policy networks of their government’s adversaries." More here.

The Westboro Baptist Church will protest at the Pentagon June 9. After completing all the necessary paperwork, the Pentagon has approved the application for about 15 members of the Westboro Baptist Church – most infamous for its protests at military funerals over homosexuality – who will hold a demonstration June 9 in the small courtyard near the building’s Metro entrance, Situation Report has learned. The group has an hour there, and it’s expected to be part of their "D.C. tour," which will likely include other places in Washington, Situation Report is told. There is also a report this week that they will protest at the funeral of Maya Angelou wherever it is held.

HRC, in her new book, on Benghazi: "Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country," [Hillary Clinton] writes in the gripping chapter, ‘Benghazi: Under Attack,’" writes Politico’s Maggie Haberman, who obtained a copy of the book. Read that here.

This is Terry Mitchell’s last day at the Pentagon. Mitchell isn’t just the guy who tells reporters not to bring
coffee cups into the Pentagon’s briefing room – nor the one who would always tell reporters to turn off "all cell phones and beepers" – long after beepers were used! – before a briefing. He’s also known for just being a tremendous all around guy. His last day is today, and there is a going away for him in – where else – but the Pentagon briefing room.  Very best to him. From the Pentagon’s Col. Steve Warren, on Terry: "Terry Mitchell will retire having served our nation for 45 distinguished years. In the Navy he was an award winning photographer and as a member of the [Pentagon public affairs] team he has been a tireless public servant. As the head of our audio/visual section he could always be counted on to pay attention to every detail and I could always rest easy knowing that his briefing room would be in ship-shape for any event no matter what.  We’ll all miss is dry wit and his indefatigable demeanor but I will particularly miss the twinkle in his eye as he ejected the next Lieutenant from the briefing room.  Terry is a genuine patriot who has served our nation with great distinction over four and a half decades." 

More Dems call for Shinseki to resign. FP’s John Hudson: "…On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the president is waiting for an internal review to pass judgment on Shinseki, a review Carney said is due this week. That could set the stage for Shinseki’s ouster, a prospect that is increasingly likely given the breadth of Democratic lawmakers calling for his head.
"…In a cluster of tweets and press releases hours after the report’s release on Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Calif.), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) demanded that Shinseki resign. Bleeding into Thursday, a growing number of Democrats called for his resignation, including Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.),  Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Or.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mary Landrieu (D-L.A.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee." More here.

A doctor shortage is cited in delays at V.A. hospitals. The NYT’s Richard Oppel and Abby Goodnough: "Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a primary care physician, took a job at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Jackson, Miss., in 2008 expecting fulfilling work and a lighter patient load than she had had in private practice. What she found was quite different: 13-hour workdays fueled by large patient loads that kept growing as colleagues quit and were not replaced.

"Appalled by what she saw, Dr. Hollenbeck filed a whistle-blower complaint and changed jobs. A subsequent investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded last fall that indeed the Jackson hospital did not have enough primary care doctors, resulting in nurse practitioners’ handling far too many complex cases and in numerous complaints from veterans about delayed care. ‘It was unethical to put us in that position,’ Dr. Hollenbeck said of the overstressed primary care unit in Jackson. ‘Your heart gets broken.’" More here.

Even Hagel walked back his support for Shinseki yesterday. The AP’s Lolita Baldor: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday drew back on his public support of Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki, telling reporters he will leave decisions on the VA leader’s future to others. Asked if Shinseki is the right person to fix the VA’s troubles, Hagel said he thinks the secretary understands the depth of the problem and what veterans deserve in terms of their health care. But he stopped short of making the kinds of supportive statements he had been offering for Shinseki in previous days.

"A senior official said the Pentagon chief, who was wounded during the Vietnam War, has tempered his thinking on the issue. The official said Hagel had grown increasingly disturbed by the inspector general’s report suggesting that treatment delays and efforts to falsify records to hide the problems were broader and more systemic than initially reported. The official was not authorized to discuss private discussion by name and spoke on condition of anonymity." More here.

The WaPo’s Michael Cavna assembled a group of political cartoons disparaging Shinseki here.

Under pressure, Hagel says he’ll act on Guantanamo transfers. Hagel: "What I’m doing is, I am taking my time. I owe that to the American people, to ensure that any decision I make is, in my mind, responsible." The NYT’s Charlie Savage and Helene Cooper, here.

Hagel says that Russia has withdrawn most of its troops from the border with Ukraine. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung from the Doomsday plane: "Russia has withdrawn thousands of its troops massed on the border with Ukraine, even as violence escalated inside that country between government troops and pro-Russian separatists, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. Hagel called the withdrawal ‘promising,’ but said that thousands of troops remained of the 40,000 Russia moved to the border in recent months. ‘They are not where they need to be and won’t be until all of their troops…are gone,’ he said. A senior Defense official traveling with Hagel said that about seven Russian battalions remain of those that were deployed to the east and south of Ukraine." More here.

Post Obama forpol speech: the pivot to Asia is for real, Hagel says, en route to Singapore. Reuters’ David Brunnstrom from the Doomsday plane: "The United States will not be deterred from plans to strengthen its military position in Asia by emerging threats elsewhere, the U.S. defense secretary said on Thursday as he prepared to meet allies in the region worried by an increasingly assertive China. President Barack Obama, in a keynote foreign policy speech on Wednesday, surprised and disappointed some in Asia when he made no specific reference to what has been a signature policy theme of his administration, the rebalancing of U.S. military, political and economic focus toward Asia."

Hagel on POTUS’ West Point address: "What the president said yesterday and his explanation in addressing the emerging threats in all corners of the word will not inhibit, or shorten, or lessen our asset position here in the rebalancing to the Asia Pacific." More here.

For the New Yorker’s Political Scene podcast, David Remnick and Ryan Lizza join host Amelia Lester to discuss President Obama’s speech at West Point and criticisms of his foreign policy. Listen here.

Also in the wake of Obama’s speech, Dempsey, in the U.A.E. earlier this week, reiterated how the U.S. is still prepared to use force when necessary. Defense News’ Awad Mustafa: "The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has rejected the notion that the US is politically exhausted during his visit to the United Arab Emirates this week. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey also stated that if the diplomatic track with Iran fails, the military option remains and that the US is capable.
"…The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the coming drawdown in Afghanistan are offered as proof of this weariness, Dempsey said, and extrapolated to predict a broad US withdrawal from the region. But this is not the case, he stressed, citing what has happened to al-Qaida as an example. Al-Qaida was a centralized organization based out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and its allies – including the United Arab Emirates – put pressure on the terror organization. Central al-Qaida is a shadow of its former self, but the group has adapted, he said." More here.

From the Guardian’s Rowena Mason, the UK will reveal some secret documents that will shed light on Blair’s conversations with Bush about the Iraq war, here.

Why Sisi’s win is good for Al Qaeda explains Mara Revkin for Foreign Affairs, here.

The future of U.S. warfare is already here, and it’s all about the proxies. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt: "During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military often carried out dozens of daily operations against Al Qaeda and other extremist targets with heavily armed commandos and helicopter gunships. But even before President Obama’s speech on Wednesday sought to underscore a shift in counterterrorism strategy – away from the Qaeda strongholds in and near those countries – American forces had changed their tactics in combating Al Qaeda and its affiliates, relying more on allied or indigenous troops with a limited American combat role.
"Navy SEAL or Army Delta Force commandos will still carry out raids against the most prized targets, such as the seizure last fall of a Libyan militant wanted in the 1998 bombings of two United States Embassies in East Africa. But more often than not, the Pentagon is providing intelligence and logistics assistance to proxies, including African troops and French commandos fighting Islamist extremists in Somalia and Mali. And it is increasingly training foreign troops – from Niger to Yemen to Afghanistan – to battle insurgents on their own territory so that American armies will not have to.

Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who leads the military’s Africa Command, said this year: "‘…Our basic premise is that it’s Africans who are best able to address African challenges.’" More here.

How will NATO maintain the ability to fight side-by-side in the absence of ISAF in Afghanistan? John Deni for War on the Rocks: "It is no accident that forces from NATO member states can actually operate alongside or embedded with one another. Interoperability is, in large part, the product of a war, one that is soon ending: the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s campaign in Afghanistan.  Later this year, though, NATO’s extensive involvement in operations in Afghanistan will come to an end, and with it, the alliance’s workshop for building and maintaining an unprecedented level of interoperability… However, it will mean that NATO, and specifically the ground forces of alliance member states, will face greater difficulty in maintaining this unprecedented level of operational and tactical interoperability." More here.

The Army wants its money back from Northrop. The Army will press Northrop Grumman Corp. for refunds after the Pentagon’s inspector general found the contractor charged inflated labor rates on programs to fight drug trafficking. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio’s story, here.

Wanna know why Chinese military leaders love the F-35? Read Breaking Defense’s Colin Clark’s piece, here.

Danger pay ends in some areas starting next week. From Stripes: "A car payment. A couple weeks of groceries. A month of utilities. That’s about how much some 44,000 servicemembers deployed around the globe will begin losing out of their paychecks starting Monday, when imminent danger pay is decertified for 22 locations. IDP is worth up to $225 a month, depending on how long troops spend in danger zones. The Defense Department periodically makes changes to IDP, and did so most recently in 2011. The new cuts to the IDP list will save $108 million, the Pentagon said when it announced the cuts in January." The list of decertified countries and more here.

A survey shows that Lackland military training instructors were ‘scared to train.’ Military Times’ Kristin Davis: "Two years after a rape allegation against a military training instructor launched one of the biggest sexual misconduct scandals in military history, trainers who remained at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland said their morale was low, they had little trust in leadership and they didn’t feel as dedicated to their jobs anymore. Many felt minor missteps could mean the end of their Air Force careers." More here.

The Defense Department is developing a new, mood-predicting brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: "…With $12 million (and the potential for $26 million more if benchmarks are met), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, wants to reach deep into your brain’s soft tissue to record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind." More here.

Peter Scoblic is leaving his perch as the executive editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Scoblic is leaving FP to pursue a doctorate at Harvard Business School, though he’ll continue as a contributing editor. He’ll be replaced by the awesome Mindy Bricker, who FP CEO and Editor David Rothkopf noted "has the unique distinction of having been the editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and, prior to that, served as editor-at-large for the Czech edition of Marie Claire magazine-thus giving her complete domination of the fission-fashion axis of issues." Scoblic, along with then editor Susan Glasser, hired us 20 months or so ago and together we launched Situation Report. He got up early each morning to edit us and even in those bleary-eyed days, managed
great edits, made smart points, and helped guide SitRep to what it is today. We’ll miss him as an editor, journalistic mentor and friend.

Scoblic, in an email to friends: "My 15 years in Washington have given me an acute sense of how important individual and group psychology are to policymaking, and [Harvard Business School] provides a remarkable opportunity to rigorously examine what happens-and why-when you charge a group of humans with making pivotal decisions. (Spoiler alert: the outcome ain’t always rational.) I’m looking forward to intellectually recapitalizing and, I hope, improving our understanding of how Washington might work better.

"I’m enormously grateful for my time at FP, where I’ve worked with dozens of talented contributors and where I’ve had the opportunity to help build a team of remarkable colleagues. I’m particularly proud of what we’ve accomplished with the print magazine this past year, and I know that FP’s reporters and editors will continue to produce tremendous journalism…And, now, as a man once said to me, ‘Onwards!’"

FP Executive Editor for Online Ben Pauker on Scoblic: "Peter reshaped and, with a dynamic new team, redesigned FP’s print edition — with both a deep respect for the publication’s 44-year intellectual history and bravado to try new things. By bringing in bold, longform journalism and an award-winning fresh look and feel, he’s helped set the course for a new era for the magazine. In finding and grooming his extremely talented successor, Mindy Kay Brinker, he’s left the print magazine in good hands — and we’re thrilled Peter will stick around as a contributing editor. It’s been a pleasure to be a partner with someone who’s outsized brain is matched only by his outsized beard."

And FP regular contributor Rosa Brooks had this to say: "Peter’s a fantastic editor. He has a light touch, but when he makes suggestions, they always improve my writing. It’s been a pleasure to work with someone so smart and funny and knowledgeable. I’ll miss him a lot."





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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