The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: Detainee torture continues in Afghanistan; United States losing its tech edge; U.S. absence allows South Sudan’s civil war to rage on; ‘Jihadi John’ unmasked; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Detainee torture continues in Afghanistan. The United States is almost out of Afghanistan, but the controversial enhanced interrogation techniques it brought there remain. FP’s Justine Drennan: “[A] new United Nations report on torture in Afghan-run facilities is a reminder that Afghan security personnel can be just as brutal as ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Detainee torture continues in Afghanistan. The United States is almost out of Afghanistan, but the controversial enhanced interrogation techniques it brought there remain. FP’s Justine Drennan: “[A] new United Nations report on torture in Afghan-run facilities is a reminder that Afghan security personnel can be just as brutal as their American counterparts, and that the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan won’t disappear with the ongoing U.S. withdrawal from the country.”

More on Afghanistan below.

The United States is losing its tech edge. A top intel official suggested the playing field between the United States and its enemies is leveling, making it difficult for the U.S. to conduct covert operations. FP’s Seán D. Naylor: This “frank assessment highlight[s] the intelligence community’s ongoing struggle to keep pace with the rapid technological advances and improved hacking skills that have given countries like Iran and North Korea to ability to target American networks almost as efficiently as the U.S. targets their own.”

More on cybersecurity below.

U.S. absence contributes to South Sudan’s bloody civil war. Less than three years after gaining independence, factions in South Sudan are waging a bloody fight for control of the young nation. A disengaged Washington is part of the reason why. FP’s Ty McCormick: “[T]he United States began to distance itself from South Sudan at a time when the young nation, long supported by Washington, was arguably at its most vulnerable. Without a strong commitment at the highest levels of government, U.S. policy wavered, and relationships between American and South Sudanese officials frayed.”

More on Africa below.

Breaking Thursday morning, the Washington Post’s Souad Mekhennet and Adam Goldman unmask “Jihadi John,” the man believed to have beheaded several hostages on behalf of the Islamic State: “His real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.”

PRESS PACK: Israel and the United States trade barbs over the developing nuclear deal with Iran.

The Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee, Michael R. Crittenden, and Nicholas Casey: “At what U.S. officials say is a historic low point in relations between the longtime allies, the White House now sees Mr. Netanyahu as a serious threat to President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program.”

FP’s David Francis: “At issue is the Israeli prime minister’s upcoming address to Congress, a speech he will make at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner after violating diplomatic protocol by failing to notify the White House in advance.”

The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and Paul Kane: “The prime minister has said the unfolding deal — to which Iran has not yet agreed — could pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. Obama, however, considers a deal a potential legacy that could ease nuclear tensions, lift trade restrictions on Iran and alter the region’s strategic calculus.”

The New York Times’ Robert Mackey: “Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.”

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we wonder if there will be a run on Cheetos in Washington today.

Connect with me at and @davidcfrancis and spread the word about SitRep — your destination for global security news and Washington whatnot. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. Or holler with tips, reports, or anything else the world needs to know, and I’ll try to include it.


9:30 a.m. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vincent Stewart testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 10:00 a.m. House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on President Obama’s proposed authorization of military force against the Islamic State. 12:30 p.m. The Atlantic Council hosts a panel on “Unpacking the ISIS War Game: Preparing for Escalation.” 1:30 p.m. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, speaks at the U.S. Institute of Peace.


The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Karnitschnig and Nektaria Stamouli: “Of all the challenges Greece has faced in recent years, prodding its citizens to pay their taxes has been one of the most difficult.”

The New York Times’ Jack Ewing: “In a contentious appearance before the European Parliament on Wednesday, the president of the European Central Bank said that the future of the eurozone was at risk unless member countries gave up some independence and created more Pan-European government institutions.”

Reuters’s Paul Carsten: “China has dropped some of the world’s leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance.”

MarketWatch’s Carla Mozee: “The German government on Wednesday began selling five-year bonds with a negative yield for the first time. That means investors will pay to lend money to the country for five years.”

AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN: Is power sharing the way to save Afghanistan? Pakistan’s spy chief is on his way to the United States.

The Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Saeed Shah: “Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose administration once backed the Taliban in Afghanistan, said Kabul must share power with the extremist group and block Indian influence if it wishes to see peace.”

AFP: “Pakistan’s powerful spy chief has left on an official trip to the United States, the military said on Wednesday, with possible peace talks between Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban likely to be on the agenda.”

Reuters’s Jessica Donati reports a suicide bomb targeted a NATO convoy overnight, killing at least two.

ISLAMIC STATE: The United States arrests three Brooklyn men for conspiring with the Islamic State as the White House condemns the abduction of Christians in Syria.

FP’s David Francis: “In the last year, U.S. law enforcement personnel have arrested more than 20 people for trying to travel to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.”

Reuters’s Oliver Holmes: “Islamic State militants have abducted at least 220 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria during a three-day offensive.”

AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Nigerian police search for American missionary Phyllis Sortor. Meanwhile, Democrats can’t decide whether to attend Netanyahu’s speech as Arab diplomats plan to sit it out.

The Wall Street Journal’s Tamara Audi and Gbenga Akingbule: “It was unclear who may have abducted Ms. Sortor, who has worked in the region since 2005.”

Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake: “Caught between their party loyalty to President Barack Obama and the popularity of Israel in Congress, most Senate Democrats refuse to say whether they will attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress next week.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: Israel’s “ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, has tried, without success, to recruit Arab ambassadors to come to his boss’s speech, e-mailing them personally to plead for their attendance.”

UKRAINE: Russian had plans to annex Crimea well before it invaded. Europe tries to wean itself off Russian gas while NATO’s commander stops short of saying Ukraine needs guns from the West.

The New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar on a memo explaining Russia’s premeditation: “The memo laid out what it called the inevitable disintegration of Ukraine and suggested a series of logistical steps through which Russia could exploit the situation for its own good — steps not far from what actually occurred, though Russia has not annexed any territory in eastern Ukraine.”

The Guardian’s Ian Traynor and Arthur Neslen: “The far-reaching scheme would also strengthen the power of Brussels against national energy regulators; boost consumer choice transnationally when buying electricity services; generate a bonanza in energy infrastructure investment; and integrate supply systems regionally and on an EU-wide scale.”

Reuters’s David Alexander: “Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander, said the U.S. military had a deep relationship with Ukraine even before the current conflict and had a good sense of what military assets it needed, including intelligence, communications and jamming and counter-battery.”

YEMEN: A special forces base falls; Yemen’s former president amassed a large fortune.

Reuters’s Mohammed Ghobari: “Fighters from the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi militia took over a special forces base in the capital and a coast guard station on the Red Sea on Wednesday, military sources said, in a sign the group was consolidating its dominant position.”

The BBC: “Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is suspected of amassing $30 to $62 billion of assets during and after his time in power, U.N. experts have said.”

EUROPE: Al Qaeda wants to target ships in the Mediterranean.

The Guardian’s Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill: “According to the Russians, North African al Qaida … has established a 60-strong team of suicide bombers to plant mines under the hull of ships and to use small, fast craft for kamikaze attacks.”

IRAN: Iran’s navy is apparently really good at blowing up fake aircraft carriers.

The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink: “The replica, which seemed to have been built on top of a barge, took some nasty hits, just as a real carrier would in a real war situation, Iranian commanders boasted.”

CYBERSECURITY: A regulator in New York wants banks to prepare for a cyber “armageddon.”

USA Today’s Kaja Whitehouse: “Ben Lawsky, head of New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), said he fears a large enough hack on Wall Street firms could ‘spill over into the broader economy’ — not unlike the mortgage meltdown of 2008.”

NORTH KOREA: The U.N. is alarmed at North Korea’s creative ways to avoid sanctions. South Korea is looking for a way to revive the six-party talks.

Reuters’s Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols: “A U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company has renamed most of its vessels in a bid to disguise their origin and continues its illicit shipments in violation of United Nations sanctions, according to a U.N. experts report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.”

Voice of America’s Kim Hwan Yong: “Hwang Joon-kook, Seoul’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, told reporters in Moscow that the exploratory talks would test Pyongyang’s will to denuclearize.”

HOMELAND SECURITY STANDOFF: Republicans search for a way to avoid a shutdown.

The Associated Press’s David Espo and Erica Werner: “Three days before a partial Homeland Security shutdown, lawmakers cleared the way Wednesday for Senate passage of legislation to fund the agency without immigration-related provisions opposed by President Barack Obama.”


The Washington Business Journal’s Jill R. Aitoro: “Sam Malhotra, CEO of Arlington-based Subsystem Technologies Inc., will take a leave of absence from the company he founded during his tenure as the human resources chief for the state of Maryland.”

AND FINALLY, China’s nationalistic Global Times debates whether or not buying Japanese toilet seats is unpatriotic.

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