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: Heightened security for jets; Secret troops in Somalia; How Iraq could flood; Hunter wants to put the band back together; Hagel, Dempsey to brief; What does MRFF’s Mikey Weinstein make?; and a bit more.

  DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is imposing new aviation security measures based on intel that suggests al-Qaeda is looking to get creative against Western targets. A new warning from the Department of Homeland Security’s Jeh Johnson on aviation travel didn’t make any Page Ones this morning that we saw, but the concern that al-Qaida militants ...



DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is imposing new aviation security measures based on intel that suggests al-Qaeda is looking to get creative against Western targets. A new warning from the Department of Homeland Security’s Jeh Johnson on aviation travel didn’t make any Page Ones this morning that we saw, but the concern that al-Qaida militants may be newly targeting Westerners is an animating factor for the White House as it deliberates just what to do in Iraq – and Syria. Militants with American passports have long been a concern but as the region’s stability gets shakier, that small number of U.S.-passport holding militants grows ever more concerning. While the White House can’t ignore the violence there, it’s also quietly alarmed by the number of militants who could access the U.S. legally.

Reuters’ Mark Hosenball: "The United States said on Wednesday it would increase security at overseas airports with nonstop flights to the country and U.S. officials cited concerns al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen were developing bombs that could be smuggled onto planes. The new security measures would be required at airports in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that have direct flights, the U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The Department of Homeland Security said ‘enhanced security measures’ would be implemented in the next few days at ‘certain overseas airports with direct flights into the United States.’"

"…Bombmakers from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are believed to be working together to try to develop explosives that could avoid detection by current airport screening systems, U.S. national security sources said. The main concern is that militant groups could try to blow up U.S.- or Europe-bound planes by concealing bombs on foreign fighters carrying Western passports who spent time with Islamist rebel factions in the region, the sources said.

"…A U.S. official told Reuters some of the new measures would involve additional inspections of passengers’ shoes and property."

What Johnson said in part in a statement: "… We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry. These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public. Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment."

Read how DHS awarded a contract to the security firm that vetted Ed Snowden, below.

Meantime, the violence is widening between Israelis and Palestinians. The dueling abductions of teenagers have wreaked havoc and the violence is widening there as Israeli troops and Palestinians clash in eastern Jerusalem. The WaPo’s Ruth Eglash this hour: "The abduction … [raised] the specter of wider violence two days after three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead in the occupied West Bank. Israeli police said late Wednesday that they had yet to confirm the circumstances of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder’s disappearance or the identity of a badly burned body found in a forested area of Jerusalem, but Israeli news media, citing anonymous security officials, said authorities had determined that Khieder was probably killed by Jews in a ‘nationalistic crime.’

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for restraint as he convened his security cabinet for the third straight night to discuss a response to the kidnappings and killings. Israel has blamed the slaying of the Israeli teens on the militant Islamist group Hamas, and on Wednesday, Palestinian leaders accused extremist Jewish settlers of killing Khieder." More here.

Herald Standard: Palestinians say Israeli extremists killed the teen. Read that here.

Haaretz: In teen’s death, Palestinian public opinion does not wait for the coroner; Read that here.

And from Aspen, our own Shane Harris reports that Martin Indyk, the former peace envoy to the Middle East, believes that the trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has completely dissolved. FP’s Harris says Indyk is "exceptionally pessimistic about the prospects of restoring negotiations over a lasting peace settlement between their two peoples."

"’There is a deep loathing of each leader for the other that has built up over the years,’ Martin Indyk told an audience of several hundred people at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado in his first public remarks since stepping down as the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations on June 30. The distance between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said, seems unbridgeable. ‘There is no trust between them. Neither believes that the other is serious,’ Indyk said." Read that bit right here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. We’re going dark tomorrow but Happy Fourth and see you come Monday. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by just sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The U.S. has quietly maintained a number of troops in Somalia and it’s planning to up its role. Reuters’ Phil Stewart with this exclusive scoop: "U.S. military advisors have secretly operated in Somalia since around 2007 and Washington plans to deepen its security assistance to help the country fend off threats by Islamist militant group al Shabaab, U.S. officials said. The comments are the first detailed public acknowledgement of a U.S. military presence in Somalia dating back since the U.S. administration of George W. Bush and add to other signs of a deepening U.S. commitment to Somalia’s government, which the Obama administration recognized last year.

"The deployments, consisting of up to 120 troops on the ground, go beyond the Pentagon’s January announcement that it had sent a handful of advisors in October. That was seen at the time as the first assignment of U.S. troops to Somalia since 1993 when two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 18 American troops killed in the "Black Hawk Down" disaster." More here.

"The plans to further expand U.S. military assistance coincide with increasing efforts by the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers to counter a bloody seven-year insurgent campaign by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab to impose strict Islamic law inside Somalia.

Irony alert? Peacekeepers in Africa like drones, too. The NYT’s Somini Sengupta: "…In an age of ubiquitous surveillance, even rebels in the bush can expect to be tracked, as United Nations troops cautiously deploy a tool familiar to most modern militaries around the world: the drone. The United Nations insists on calling the aircraft unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles, the term drone having acquired a bad reputation because of the armed versions that American forces use against targets in Pakistan and elsewhere.

"United Nations officials insist that they do not plan to use drones to kill anyone, only to get a picture of trouble and grief on the ground, to protect civilians and their own troops. More and more, drones are flying over some of the toughest peacekeeping missions in the world, improving the United Nations’ intelligence-gathering capability, but also raising new issues about what to do with so much important data." More here.

Nigeria launched a "safe schools initiative." More on that below.

Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome Latvian Minister of Defense Raimonds Vejonis at 1 p.m. at the Pentagon… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is back in town after a first-ever "tri-CHOD" meeting with the chiefs of defense of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. in Honolulu.

Also today: For the first time since F-b-r-u-a-r-y, and amid the flow of troops into Iraq, a decision on Afghanistan post 2014, Ukraine, the VA and a host of other issues, Hagel and Dempsey are expected to appear together in the briefing room for a presser sometime this morning It’s a peculiar time – just as everyone rushes to get out of town, including reporters – but it is what it is. Watch it here.

How two dams in Iraq threaten security big time. FP’s Keith Johnson on their vulnerabilities: " The turmoil in Iraq already has the world worried about the safety of the country’s mammoth oil fields. Now Iraqis must imagine massive waves of water crashing downriver from the country’s shaky dams, which are smack in the terrorists’ crosshairs. On Monday, Islamist insurgents in the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, renewed their offensive in Iraq’s Anbar province, moving toward the key hydroelectric dam of Haditha.

"The dam’s security has concerned U.S. officials for years and protecting the country’s second-biggest dam was a priority objective during the 2003 invasion. Meanwhile, Iraq’s biggest dam, the Mosul dam, is right next to a hotbed of Islamic State activity and poses catastrophic risk even if the terrorists don’t open the floodgates or blow it up. If the dam fails, scientists say Mosul could be completely flooded within hours and a 15-foot wall of water could crash into Baghdad." More here.

John Brennan is neither a Republican nor a Democrat – he’s what he calls himself an equal opportunity offender. The WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman, in her profile-ish piece on CIA Director Brennan on Page One today: "… Partly as a result, relations between the CIA and Congress are more fraught than at any point in the past decade. The source of the tension is the Senate intelligence committee’s classified report on the CIA’s controversial post-9/11 interrogation program-and the agency’s response to it. The bad blood could get worse in coming weeks, when portions of the report and CIA response are expected to be declassified. Mr. Brennan made it clear he had no plans to back down in the face of congressional criticism." More here.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby on the completion of the transfer of Syrian chems to the ship the Cape Ray: "…Cape Ray departed the Italian port of Gioia Tauro this afternoon for international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, where neutralization operations will soon begin…"

Hagel talked to U.S. Men’s National Team Keeper Howard, you know, the guy who could be Defense Secretary. Politico’s Phil Ewing: "…Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel phoned Howard on Wednesday, the Pentagon said, to congratulate him and the rest of the U.S. men’s soccer team on their run in the World Cup, which ended with a 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time.

"…Howard’s performance in Tuesday’s game prompted users of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit his entry to describe him as "Secretary of Defense," and Hagel acknowledged Howard has shown he has what it takes to become a potential successor.

"He told Howard that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of Defense," Kirby said. More here.

Hagel talking to Howard, soccer ball in hand, here.

Howard made the most saves by any keeper in a World Cup since 1966. The NYT does a little image reconstruction overlay of his handy work, here.

DHS just issued a lucrative contract to USIS, the security firm that vetted Edward Snowden.  In Washington you can be up, you can be down, you can be really down – then you can be up again, all Phoenix-like. Such is the case apparently with U.S. Investigations Services, or USIS, the vetting firm that helped bring you Snowden, and who just got a lucrative contract – worth $190 million – from the Department of Homeland Security. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum on Page One: "…USIS was able to win the contract because regulations require agencies to follow strict procurement procedures unless a bidder has been suspended or barred by the government from contracts. Despite questions about its work on background checks, USIS was never blocked from federal work.

"Unless a company is suspended or barred, ‘by law and policy, we have to go with the lowest bidder,’ said an official with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Department of Homeland Security said it takes ‘allegations of wrongdoing against its workforce and contractors extremely seriously,’ but ‘at this time there is no conduct that has resulted in suspension or debarment of USIS.’" Read the rest here.

The NYT editorial board on Japan’s military muscle-flexing: "…It is difficult to overstate the significance of what Mr. Abe has done. Since 1947, Japan’s Constitution, written and imposed by the American Army, has permitted the military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to engage only in self-defense. That meant the large and technologically advanced armed forces was barred from ‘collective self-defense’ – aiding friendly countries under attack – and thus was far more constrained than those of other nations.

"With the reinterpretation, Japan’s military would still face restrictions on what it could do, but it would be allowed for the first time, for example, to help defend an American ship under attack, destroy a North Korean missile heading toward the United States or play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping operations. More here.

A suicide bomber killed eight members of the Afghan air force. The Globe and Mail’s pickup of AP: "…The Defence Ministry confirmed the number of casualties in a statement updating a previous toll. Army Gen. Kadamshah Shahim said the bomber was stopped before he could enter the bus, likely limiting the number of casualties. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with a spokesman for the insurgents, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirming that the air force bus was the target." More here.

Pakistan passes sweeping anti-terrorism bill, raising concerns among human rights groups; the NYT’s Salman Masood and Saba Imtiaz, here.

Pakistan’s Dawn: "We’re dying from apathy, not terrorism." Read that bit here.  

Another official steps down from the VA; The NYT’s Richard Oppel on the medical investigator who’s out, here.

Duncan Hunter wants to put the band back together. We missed this earlier but it’s notable so we’re picking it up today. California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter wants Chuck Hagel to assemble a bunch of the usual suspects – David Petraeus, H.R. McMaster, Sean MacFarland, Jim Mattis and others, like Dale Alford, William Jurney to begin advising on the crisis in Iraq. The WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, earlier this week: "…Hunter says Petraeus should serve as a liaison to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But he also focuses on lower levels of command, highlighting individuals who aren’t nearly as famous as Petraeus or Marine Gen. James Mattis, who retired last year as perhaps the most popular general of his generation." More here.

Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein made $273,355 in 2012 – that’s nearly half the amount of money the non-profit brought in that year, according to an Air Force Times investigation. AFT’s Stephen Losey: "Over the last decade, Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and president Mikey Weinstein has become one of the most persistent and vocal activists in the military community, ferociously arguing for the separation of church and state in the military.

"…Weinstein founded MRFF out of his own pocket in 2005, around the same time other prominent military-related nonprofits such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project began. But as the size and bank accounts of all those charities grew, Weinstein, an attorney, quickly became one of the best-compensated nonprofit executives in the country – taking a percentage of his group’s receipts that is unheard of in the military community."

"…Weinstein’s compensation is well more than double the typical compensation for nonprofit CEOs, according to the most recent study by the watchdog group Charity Navigator, released in October. Charity Navigator found the typical charity CEO nationwide received a median $125,942 in compensation in 2011.

By comparison, Losey wrote: "[Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America]… paid its founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff $145,000 in 2012, or a little more than 2 percent of the $6.1 million IAVA raised that year. Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi received $311,538 in 2012, or 0.2 percent of the nearly $155 million that charity raised that year. Nardizzi was paid more than Weinstein in actual dollars, but Wounded Warrior Project’s revenues far exceed the $584,351 MRFF brought in during 2012." More here.

Voice of America’s journalists are concerned the VOA will become a mouthpiece of the government – and they’re fighting their own union on it. The NYT’s Ron Nixon, here.

Yesterday, Nigeria’s Finance Minister addressed the U.K. Parliament and announced enhanced counter-terrorism efforts. From a press release sent us before Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed U.K.’s Parliament yesterday, on the recently launched Safe Schools Initiative: "The Safe Schools Initiative aims to prevent future attacks on schools by installing modern alarm systems and proper fencing, facilitating community participation in protecting the schools, and training security guards. The Initiative will also fund the reconstruction of schools that have been damaged or destroyed by terror attacks. Lighting for renovated schools is planned to include the introduction of modern and environmentally friendly sustainable systems such as solar power. To ensure program success, the Federal Government of Nigeria will work closely with state governments, local communities and the international community — led by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.

"Funding for the Safe Schools Initiative is provided by the Government of Nigeria’s contribution of $10 million, with a matching contribution of $10 million from the Nigerian private sector. Additional financial support is expected from the African Development Bank, the Government of Norway, the World Bank and UK Department for International Development…" 


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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