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: What is the Obama administration’s plan for Iraq?; New sanctions leave big loopholes for Russia; Singapore’s big data experiment; Bob Woodward visits the Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel Pressure is building on the Obama administration to respond to the crisis in Iraq. On the ground, the Islamic State is still making gains, closing in on Baghdad. In Washington, the Pentagon is facing increasing questions about what comes next now that its assessment of the Iraqi security forces ...

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

Pressure is building on the Obama administration to respond to the crisis in Iraq. On the ground, the Islamic State is still making gains, closing in on Baghdad. In Washington, the Pentagon is facing increasing questions about what comes next now that its assessment of the Iraqi security forces is complete. While everyone waits for the White House’s next move, thousands of Hellfire missiles are making their way to Iraq.

Iraq is struggling to halt the Islamic State’s march on Baghdad. The WSJ’s Ali Nabhan and Nour Malas: "The fight for Jurf al-Sakhar within what U.S. forces in Iraq once called the ‘Triangle of Death’-a major combat zone during the American occupation-shows how Iraqi forces are struggling to stave off the insurgents encroaching on the capital. While in the north the government has blunted the Islamic State’s drive toward the capital beyond Tikrit, the militants are pushing the frontline toward Baghdad from the south." More here.

At the Pentagon, the Iraq assessment remains under review. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby fended off criticism yesterday that the military isn’t taking the problem seriously.

"I think everybody shares the proper sense of urgency here about the situation in Iraq," he told reporters at a briefing. "This notion that we’ve done nothing is just false. We have 715 American troops on the ground in Iraq defending our property and our people, and also providing security assistance and some advice through those joint operations centers, the one up in Erbil and the one in Baghdad … I take deep issue with this notion that the United States, and the United States military, in particular is not moving fast enough or doing enough."

Part of that security assistance is thousands of Hellfire missiles. Kirby described the weapon as the "most in demand by the Iraqi security forces." A total of 466 Hellfire missiles were delivered in July. Since January, the U.S. has provided 780 of them, and there are another 366 that are going to be delivered in August, according to Kirby.

And yesterday the U.S. approved a plan to send 5,000 more. The WSJ’s Doug Cameron and Dion Nissenbaum: "The $700 million deal for the missiles, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., comes amid other signs that Washington is tackling a backlog of approvals for weapons sales to one of the largest defense-export markets for U.S. contractors." More here.

Setting the record straight on Iraq …  Jessica T. Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing for the August 14 issue of The New York Review of Books: "The story, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice. True, one side is Sunni and the other Shia, but this is not a theological conflict rooted in the seventh century. ISIS and its allies have triumphed because the Sunni populations of Mosul and Tikrit and Fallujah have welcomed and supported them-not because of ISIS’s disgusting behavior, but in spite of it. The Sunnis in these towns are more afraid of what their government may do to them than of what the Sunni militia might." More here.

If you need a refresher on the last 11 years in Iraq, and missed last night’s Frontline on PBS, you can watch it here.

9 things to avoid when founding your own caliphate. FP’s Christian Caryl, here.

And here’s a look at how kidnapping Europeans is bankrolling Al Qaeda from the NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi.

There was tough talk from the Europeans and the Americans yesterday, but on paper, the new Russian sanctions they agreed to still provide a lot of wiggle room. Europe’s hesitancy to hit Russia too hard, especially its gas industry, is all about protecting their own economies from taking a blow as well. FP’s Jamila Trindle and Keith Johnson: "The coordinated moves by Washington and Brussels began Tuesday, when European leaders took their broadest swipe yet at key sectors of the Russian economy and announced measures designed to block Russian banks from using the continent’s capital markets, curtail the export of oil industry equipment, and ban member countries from signing new defense contracts with Russia. But the EU left some loopholes large enough to send a couple of giant warships through, as the French government still plans to do. Also left largely untouched was Russia’s all-powerful gas industry." More here.

The FT’s editorial page says it’s over with Russia: "By ramping up sanctions on Moscow in response to its persistent destabilisation of Ukraine, the US and its European allies are closing a chapter in their relationship with post-communist Russia. They are recognising the breakdown of a 25-year effort to forge constructive ties with a state whose behaviour, it was once hoped, would depart from the suspicious self-isolation of the communist era.

"For the foreseeable future, this hope is dead. Barring a wholly unlikely change in the strategic calculations of President Vladimir Putin, relations between the west and Russia will be difficult and even dangerous for years to come." More here.

Israelis support Netanyahu and the Gaza war, despite rising death tolls on both sides. The WaPo’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash: "… Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is riding a massive wave of popularity. Domestic support for the Israeli leader’s prosecution of the war in Gaza, which has left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead, has only grown over the past three weeks, as the Israeli public and political class rally behind an aggressive, definitive campaign against Hamas and its rockets and tunnels." More here.

Israeli artillery fire has hit a United Nations-run school serving as a shelter in northern Gaza. The NYT’s Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren: "Witnesses said at least two shells landed at Abu Hussein school, located in the middle of the Jabaliya refugee camp, around 4:30 a.m., hitting the stairway and a classroom." More here.

For TIME, Michael Crowley profiles Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, here.

A video of a Hamas attack on an Israeli military installation via a tunnel went viral yesterday. See it on FP, here.

Chinese hackers stole documents from the makers of Israel’s Iron Dome system: Reuters’ Eric Auchard: "Comment Crew, as the hacking group is known, stole designs for Israeli rocket systems in a spree of attacks during 2011 and 2012, Joseph Drissel, chief executive of Cyber Engineering Services (CyberESI), said in a phone interview." More here.

A mystery Syrian defector named "Caesar" will show his grisly photos to Congress at a televised briefing tomorrow. The event could raise questions about the Obama administration’s Syria policy, but most of those questions have already been raised. FP’s John Hudson: "The Syrian defector known as ‘Caesar’ who smuggled out thousands of graphic photographs documenting President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on his own people will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, Foreign Policy has learned. The briefing will be televised and open to the press, but due to security concerns related to Caesar’s safety, the Syrian defector’s face will be covered.

"…The Syrian military photographer fled his country last year and handed thousands of photos to the United Nations and FBI investigators that shocked human rights organizations around the world. His photographs, which U.S. officials say are authentic, show some 11,000 mutilated and mangled bodies, which suggest widespread torture and mass killings by the Assad regime. The Syrian government says the photos are fakes." More here.

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Who’s Where When: National Security Adviser Susan Rice is giving a speech at 10:15 a.m. at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she’ll set the scene for next week’s Africa Leaders Summit and discuss "the administration’s goals and expectations for this historic event."

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is meeting with South Korea’s Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Hwang Ki-Chul at the Pentagon… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is at West Point for a two-day symposium on the Army profession… Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh are hosting a press briefing on the "State of the Air Force" at 1 p.m. at the Pentagon… Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in Singapore for meetings with government and Navy officials.  He’s also holding an All-Hands Call with Sailors as part of a multi-nation visit to the Pacific region.

The House Armed Service Committee has a hearing on the "Risks to Stability in Afghanistan: Politics, Security, and International Commitment" at 10:00 a.m.

The UK’s First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Sir George Zambellas is giving a talk about "credible maritime partners in the 21st century" at CSIS at 10:30 a.m. More on the event here.

Singapore is testing whether mass surveillance and big data can not only protect national security, but actually engineer a more harmonious society. FP’s Shane Harris reports on Singapore’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) program: "… Many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they’d build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren’t standing in the way … many American spooks have traveled to Singapore to study the program firsthand. They are drawn not just to Singapore’s embrace of mass surveillance but also to the country’s curious mix of democracy and authoritarianism, in which a paternalistic government ensures people’s basic needs — housing, education, security — in return for almost reverential deference. It is a law-and-order society, and the definition of ‘order’ is all-encompassing." More here.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the Senate has another go at NSA surveillance reform. The WaPo’s Andrea Peterson: "Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a new compromise version of the USA Freedom Act in the Senate on Tuesday, aimed at curtailing the government surveillance and data collection practices revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden." More here.

FP’s Shane Harris broke the story yesterday of retired Gen. Keith Alexander’s post-NSA career plans: make millions off of technology for which he’s won patents. In a new story, Harris takes a look at the "technologies for which the secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has been granted patents by the U.S. government." They include a new-and-improved child car seat. No joke. Read more here.

What are the costs of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs? A new 60-page report released yesterday by New America’s Open Technology Institute examines the impact of NSA programs on the U.S. economy, American foreign policy, and the security of the Internet as a whole. Danielle Kehl, a policy analyst at New America, told Situation Report: "A lot of people are going to be looking for a big dollar figure: what is NSA surveillance going to cost us overall? But there’s a really interesting story beyond the significant impact on U.S. companies’ bottom lines. The NSA is undermining our foreign policy objectives — and particularly the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda — and weakening Internet security in order to make intelligence gathering easier. We need to start looking at the whole picture when we talk about the impact of these programs and what needs to be done to address the situation." Full report here.

The Army will question Bowe Bergdahl next week about his 2009 disappearance and capture by the Taliban. Reuters’ Laura Zuckerman: "Bergdahl, an Army sergeant, was introduced to the investigating officer, Major General Kenneth R. Dahl, and is expected to be questioned by him next week in Texas in an informal setting, said the soldier’s lawyer, Eugene Fidell." More here.

Stavridis: Why this is the right time to cooperate with Iran. Retired Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, writes for HuffPo: "With the world seemingly exploding around us, it may be time to consider our relationship with Iran. As Henry Kissinger said once, to solve the biggest problems, sometimes it is necessary to expand them. We should seriously explore ways in which our deeply problematic relationship with Iran can be improved through finding small zones of cooperation — including perhaps in Iraq today, which presents an opening of somewhat aligned interest in defeating the emerging danger of the ultra-violent extremist organization the Islamic State." More here.

The strange, sad story of the stowaway boy in the wheel well. AP’s Lolita C. Baldor: The body of a young stowaway was found inside a compartment near the wheel well of an Air Force cargo plane that had landed in Germany, U.S. military officials said Tuesday, triggering questions about the security of an aircraft that had made several stops in Africa." More here.

Don’t grow numb to North Korea’s missile tests, Locklear warns. The AP’s Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor: "Amid concerns about its development and testing of nuclear weapons, North Korea may be lulling the world into largely accepting its advances in missile technology, the admiral in charge of American forces in Asia and the Pacific said Tuesday. Adm. Samuel Locklear told a Pentagon news conference that he is concerned by North Korea’s frequent testing of ballistic missiles." More here.

McDonald sails through confirmation and is now headed to the VA: The Senate voted yesterday 97-0 to approve Robert McDonald’s nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Some more bad news for the F-35 Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: Software for Lockheed Martin‘s F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, may be as much as 14 months late for required flight testing, according to a Pentagon review." More here.

Why managing talent is important to national security. The Navy’s Chief of Personnel, Vice Adm. Bill Moran, in an op-ed for The Hill: "We are clearly behind our civilian corporate counterparts in fashioning productive pipelines to develop and differentiate talent, despite our closed-loop system. In 1973, we took a pretty big risk of our own when we created the All-Volunteer Force, betting that market forces combined with love of service would steer us away from a reliance upon conscription for our defense." More here.

Suzy George is named chief of staff for the National Security Council staff. Her official title: "Deputy Assistant to the President, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council staff." George is taking over for Brian McKeon, who’s leaving the White House to become the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.

Previously, George worked as a principal at the Albright Stonebridge Group, an international strategic consulting firm.  From 1997 to 2001, George served as the deputy chief of staff in the State Department, under Secretary Madeleine Albright.

All the Pentagon’s Men … At the invitation of Kirby, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward visited the Pentagon yesterday to sit down with press officers and discuss their craft.

"Mr. Woodward told some war stories from the ’60s and 70’s, shared his thoughts on the state of journalism today and gave the assembled [public affairs officers] some sage advice," Col. Steve Warren, director of Pentagon Press Operations, told Situation Report.

Hook ’em! Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, is the lone finalist selected to become the chancellor of the University of Texas. More from AP here.

Today’s babies can thank the shutdown. The WaPo’s Jessica Contrera reports that Washington is experiencing a baby boom thanks to the most recent government shutdown. And it includes the Pentagon press shop’s Carl Woog!

"Carl Woog, a Pentagon employee whose wife recently gave birth to a baby boy, said they tracked her conception date back to just after the shutdown ended. Although Woog wasn’t furloughed, he and his wife ‘may have been celebrating congressional action,’ he joked."

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