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: Greenwald on how the NSA helps Israel attack its neighbors; Amos cleared of all charges; A VA whistleblower’s move to the basement; McRaven’s move from the shadows; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Glenn Greenwald reports this morning that the NSA has provided financial assistance, weapons and signals intel to Israel that has enabled attacks on its neighbors – like in Gaza. According to one top-secret NSA document Greenwald reports on in The Intercept blog this morning, the NSA maintains a "far-reaching ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Glenn Greenwald reports this morning that the NSA has provided financial assistance, weapons and signals intel to Israel that has enabled attacks on its neighbors – like in Gaza. According to one top-secret NSA document Greenwald reports on in The Intercept blog this morning, the NSA maintains a "far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit, sharing information on access, intercepts, targeting, language and analysis reporting." That’s probably not hugely surprising, that a powerful arm of the U.S. helps Israel. But at the same time, the U.S. and others are this morning condemning new attacks Israel has mounted on Gaza. 

Greenwald: "…the new Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling." Read Greenwald’s latest, this morning, here.

A missile strike near a U.N. school in Gaza kills 10 and the U.S. calls the attack "disgraceful." The NYT’s Steven Erlanger and Fares Akram in Jerusalem: "As Israel began to redeploy significant numbers of its troops away from populated areas of Gaza on Sunday, an Israeli Air Force missile struck near the entrance of a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killing 10 people and wounding 35 others and drawing a new round of international condemnation. The growing civilian death toll has stirred outrage in Europe and large parts of the Arab world and, combined with Sunday’s strike near the Rafah school, prompted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations to call the attack a ‘moral outrage and a criminal act’ and to demand that those responsible for the "gross violation of international humanitarian law" be held accountable.

"…The State Department also condemned in harsh terms what it called ‘today’s disgraceful shelling’ outside the school in Rafah." More here.

Meantime, Israel declared a seven-hour truce from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m today. Reuters’ Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams: "Israel said it would unilaterally hold fire in most of the Gaza Strip on Monday to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by an almost four-week-old war to go back to home. The announcement, made first to Palestinian media, met with suspicion from Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists and followed unusually strong censure from Washington at the apparent Israeli shelling on Sunday of a U.N.-run shelter that killed 10 people." More here.

More on Israel-Gaza below.

Otherwise, the focus in Washington this week is the big Africa Summit, in which about 50 leaders arrive in D.C. for a first-ever conference. The summit will feature a series of events to focus on economic and other issues. Much of downtown Washington will be affected by street closures and security protocols.

The WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin did a table-setter this weekend that you can read here.

And, writing in the WaPo this morning, ahead of the U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, former U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan offers the U.S. six recommendations for a more robust Africa policy. For #2, Annan wrote: "U.S. security assistance must be focused on those who respect democratic norms. The wars on terror and drugs should not be conflated nor used as a justification for providing military assistance to regimes that abuse or neglect their people. Such aid can backfire, as we have seen in Mali." More here.

And FP’s Lubold wrote a few weeks ago about how some see the White House, which is hosting the event, as maybe bungling the historic summit. Read that here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, and thanks muchly to Kate Brannen for filling in while we were out of town. We’re back at it now. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by 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 DOD IG has completely cleared Gen. Amos of wrongdoing in the scout sniper fiasco. Military Times’ Andrew deGrandpre and Geoffery Ingersoll: "The Pentagon’s investigative agency has cleared the Marine Corps’ top general of allegations he and other senior officials manipulated military justice to ensure several troops were punished for a making an inappropriate video three years ago in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Times has learned.

"The Defense Department Inspector General’s Office concluded its investigation July 24, a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Friday. What’s become known as the scout sniper urination scandal has dogged the service’s commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, since last May, when news first surfaced that a Marine attorney accused some of the Marine Corps’ most powerful men of interfering with the prosecution of those connected to the video."

"…Investigators focused their inquiry on accusations Amos exerted unlawful command influence, the Pentagon official said. His accuser, Maj. James Weirick, alleged that in February 2012 Amos removed a well-respected subordinate, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, from his role overseeing disposition of the legal cases tied to the video, which shows four Marine scout snipers urinating on Taliban corpses. The inspector general’s finding contradicts Waldhauder’s sworn testimony that Amos wanted those connected to the video "crushed" and discharged from the service. In fact, it suggests the cases were handled properly and that Amos’ interaction with Waldhauser did not affect their outcome." More here.

The head of the Air Force Academy is conducting an investigation into allegations of sexual assault there. The Gazette’s Tom Roeder from Colorado Springs: "U.S. Air Force Academy cadet athletes flouted the sacred honor code by committing sexual assaults, taking drugs, cheating and engaging in other misconduct at wild parties while the service academy focused on winning bowl games and attracting money from alumni and private sources in recent years, a Gazette investigation has found. The findings are egregious enough that academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson told The Gazette that she has called for an Inspector General’s investigation of the athletic department." More here.

Bill McRaven: from directing the raid that killed bin Laden to heading the University of Texas. Some retiring senior military officers are seen as "more hat than cattle" – meaning there’s a lot of more sizzle around their name but who may not have the heft or the management skills necessary for a new role outside the military. That might not be the case with Special Operations Command Commander Adm. Bill McRaven, who is one of the biggest names among senior military officers and is also seen as having the credibility to back up all the hype. McRaven was in the mix for a bigger job inside the Pentagon, but it now looks as if he’ll be going to the University of Texas instead, as was reported last week. The NYT’s Richard Perez-Pena has a look this morning at what it all means: "…He is about to move into a field where openness is prized, every issue is publicly argued into the ground, but as for following orders, that is emphatically not its hallmark. The regents of the University of Texas system said last week that Admiral McRaven was their sole finalist for system chancellor, and they expect to appointment him later this month.

"Taking over one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious higher education networks will also throw the admiral into the briar patch of Texas politics. Battles have raged for years, pitting allies of Gov. Rick Perry, including the regents, against administrators, alumni and state legislators over the direction of a system with nine university campuses, a network of medical schools and hospitals, more than 200,000 students, and a $14 billion budget." More here.

Meantime, Adm. C.R. Larson, who twice led the U.S. Naval Academy, has died at age 77. The NYT’s Paul Vitello, here.

Read this tale about how the VA’s Paula Pedene’s bold whistleblowing about wrongdoing at the VA led to her being moved to a new, temporary job – in the basement. The WaPo’s David Fahrenthold on a "bureaucrat’s urban legend," here.

Who’s where when – Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work attends the Bloomberg Philanthropies dinner as part of the Africa Leaders Summit…

Der Spiegel reported that Israel spied on Kerry during the most recent round of peace talks. Reuters’ Erik Kirschbaum: "German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that Israel and at least one other intelligence agency were listening in on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s unsecured phone calls last year when he was holding nearly daily negotiations for peace with various leaders in the Middle East. The magazine cited ‘several sources from intelligence circles’ as saying that although Kerry has a secure phone at his mansion in Georgetown, while he was traveling and needed to make a quick phone call, he sometimes used an ordinary telephone that the intelligence agencies listened in on." More here.

Despite all the gridlock, Congress did pass more funding for Israel’s Iron Dome before it left town on Friday. FP’s John Hudson: "…On Friday, the Senate passed a funding bill for Israel’s Iron Dome defense shield, which has been credited with intercepting Hamas rockets from Gaza aimed at its population centers. Afterwards, the House passed the measure in a 395-8 vote late Friday evening. The successful last-minute push comes as other pressing issues related to immigration, border security, ambassador nominations and assistance for wildfires fall prey to partisan squabbling ahead of Congress’ August recess.

"The passage is a victory for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobbying organization in Washington that considers U.S. funding for Jerusalem a top priority." More here.

Can Hamas’s divided leadership even enforce a ceasefire? The WSJ’s Jay Solomon in Washington and Nicholas Casey in Gaza: "Hamas, the faction that rules the Gaza Strip, has separate political and military wings. That divided structure and the group’s shifting relationships with other Islamist factions and with its regional patrons such as Iran also raise questions about the likelihood of a truce anytime soon, these officials say. Relations between Hamas and Iran, historically one of its chief benefactors, grew strained in the past few years. But the two sides have moved recently to repair the relationship, particularly in response to the nearly one-month-old Gaza conflict, according to Hamas and Iranian officials." More here.

The International Crisis Group’s Nathan Thrall analyzes Hamas’ endgame for the London Review of Books, here.

And with Gaza in flames, will the status quo hold in the smoldering West Bank? FP’s David Kenner: "…A massive protest last week seemed to momentarily challenge the conventional wisdom that the West Bank was not ready for another uprising. In the largest West Bank demonstration in decades, thousands of Palestinians marched to the Qalandiya checkpoint, where they clashed with Israeli security forces — at least two Palestinians were killed in the violence, and the shops nearby were gutted by fire." More here.

The Israeli withdrawal will leave Hamas empty-handed. Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor: "…After every armed conflict with Israel, Hamas has the habit of painting reality in convenient colors to justify the steep cost of its decisions and the even steeper cost in human lives that the people of Gaza were forced to pay. But after more than 1,500 Palestinian were killed, tens of thousands more injured, enormous destruction to neighborhoods and infrastructures and zero achievements, Hamas will not be able to paint the new reality in its standard green, as it is otherwise prone to do. Red and black are more appropriate colors to describe the current state of Hamas and the state of Gaza under its rule." More here.

The Pentagon may send medical personnel to Africa to address the Ebola outbreak. Military Times’ Patricia Kime, here.

Iraqi extremists seize a northern town from the Kurds. The WaPo’s Loveday Morris: "The ancient northern Iraqi town of Sinjar emptied Sunday, with thousands of people fleeing on foot as Sunni extremist militants made their first significant punches through the defenses of overstretched Kurdish forces… Until Sunday, Sinjar had been protected by Kurdish fighters known as pesh merga, but officials from the semi-autonomous northern region have been warning for weeks that they are poorly equipped to sustain the defense of the nearly 650-mile border they now share with the militants." More here.

Despite the narrative to the contrary, Wafiq Al-Samarrai, an Iraqi police official and security expert, has confidence in his country’s capacity to defeat ISIS. Samarrai, writing for Al-Awsat: "…During my service in the Iraqi armed forces, the country witnessed flurries of successes and failures. Despite all this, I never felt that the fate of the country was under threat. Despite the complex circumstances that followed the fall of Mosul into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), my confidence in Iraq’s ability to overcome one of the most serious crises in our history has not been shaken. Those hoping to fragment Iraq into several different states will ultimately have their hopes dashed and their erroneous and backward mentalities exposed. Such hopes have brought nothing but disaster and chaos to the demographic these people claim to be defending." More here.

The Daily Beast’s Jacob Siegel on the brewing battle for Baghdad, here.

Disputes continue over the Afghan vote audit. The NYT’s Carlotta Gall in Kabul: "…Three weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal to impose an internationally monitored audit of the July 7 vote, the process came close to collapse over the weekend. The audit had been suspended for a week during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, and the campaign teams of Mr. Abdullah and his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, argued through the weekend over the technicalities of how to invalidate fraudulent ballots.

"…Also on Sunday, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign manager released an audiotape on which he said Vice President Karim Khalili could be heard directing his followers to support Mr. Ghani in the runoff. An aide to Mr. Khalili has denounced the tape as fake, according to the independent television news channel Tolo TV." More here.

Continued fighting in eastern Ukraine is creeping into urban areas. The WSJ’s Anton Troianovski and Philip Shishkin: "Military fire killed several civilians and injured dozens of others in eastern Ukrainian cities over the weekend, as urban residents are increasingly getting caught in the battle to regain control of rebel strongholds in the region.

"…As Ukrainian government forces continue to advance on the separatists, the military gains also come with risks. The warfare that has moved into rebel-controlled cities threatens to harm and alienate residents caught in the fighting. A number of cities are struggling to maintain basic services because of the fighting. Kiev’s military successes also raise the prospect that Russian President Vladimir Putin could move more aggressively to assist separatists to prevent them from losing more ground." More here.

Back to the future: to evade two Russian fighter jets, a U.S. reconnaissance plane crossed into Sweden last month in a move reminiscent of the Cold War. The NYT’s Michael Gordon, here.
Fighting in Syria continues to spill into Lebanon. The LA Times’ Patrick McDonnell and Nabih Bulos: "Clashes raging between Syrian Islamist rebels and Lebanese security forces in a town close to the Syrian border killed 10 soldiers, the Lebanese army said Sunday… Fighting began Saturday in the town of Arsal after Lebanese authorities detained a member of Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria. Rebels were demanding his release.

"…The Arsal area is home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and has long been a transit point for rebels and arms headed for Syria. Many residents in the largely Sunni Muslim town sympathize with the Sunni-led rebellion against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"But Arsal is also adjacent to areas of Lebanon where the population supports Hezbollah, the Shiite movement that is a major military and political force in Lebanon. Hezbollah has dispatched thousands of militiamen into Syria to fight on behalf of Assad’s government. Hezbollah leaders view Al Nusra Front and all Al Qaeda-style Sunni militants as mortal enemies." More here.

Drones are getting more and more popular in New York and their popularity is outpacing the rules. The NYT’s James Barron with more, here.




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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