National Security

Death by firing squad in North Korea?

This morning, Leon Panetta will meet with South Korea's minister of defense and likely talk about the scary neighbor up north. The secretary will sit down with Kim Kwan Jin, and it will be hard for them to ignore a report out of South Korea this morning saying that North Korea's vice-minister of the People's Armed Forces was among senior officers executed by firing squad earlier this year. His crime? Drinking alcohol during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il. "Kim Chol was executed in January, in an apparent bid to force top military brass into submission," wrote Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper.

This story may or may not be true. An analyst tells Situation Report this morning that there were earlier reports of senior officials who were thought to be "dismissed" by firing squad who resurfaced later. Pak Nam-ki is one case in point, John Park, a Stanton junior faculty fellow at MIT, e-mailed us. "He was rumored to have been executed for the botched currency reform in 2010, only to reappear later."

Park added: "Welcome to North Korea, where being a part of the 1% is dangerous to your health."

The Army says "me-too" on the pivot. Each of the services sees big opportunity as the Pentagon looks to the East, and each wants its piece of Pivot Pie. At AUSA, the Army's annual convention yesterday, the service's senior officer in the Pacific said despite the perception that Asia is an air-and-sea AOR, it very much requires boots-on-the-ground, too. "Seven of the ten largest armies in the world are in the Pacific. Of the 28 nations that have militaries, in our area of responsibility, 27 of those nations are army-dominant. Twenty-one of the 28 chiefs of defense are army generals," Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific. And as the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes: "So begins the real fight over defense that has the military services scrambling to secure what they can for the Pacific pivot, amid limited budgets, equipment and manpower."

A reader submits a new word for the much-maligned "pivot" to describe the move to Asia: tilt. "Repositioning or rebalancing ones own foreign policy settings is like ‘tilting' What ever happened to tilting!!" Lindsay Dorman asks.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where pivoting at the last minute comes naturally. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

Today, the Post begins a three-day series on the administration's development of a sophisticated targeted killing program. In a series called "The Permanent War," the WaPo's Greg Miller unveils the new term for the targeting list, a "disposition matrix." It's just a term. But it reflects the reality that the war on terrorism will continue, not in the form of large counterinsurgencies, but in the secretive world of drone strikes and counterterrorism operations. Kill lists -- seen as emergency measures after 9/11 -- are now "fixtures of the national security apparatus," Miller writes.

Nut graf: "Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation's counterterrorism ranks: The United States' conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years," Miller writes this morning. "Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight."

Milestone: Some estimates suggest that the number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years exceeds 3,000 -- more than the number killed on 9/11.

Today's story:

Chilling Effect: Petraeus says prosecution of former CIA officer John Kiriakou should send a signal to the national security community about the need to protect secrets. Yesterday, Kiriakou, who wrote a book about his career in the agency and raised questions about waterboarding in media interviews, pled guilty to one count of violating what's called the "Intelligence Identities Protection Act" for revealing the identity of a CIA officer to a reporter. He will receive a sentence of 30 months in prison. It's the first successful prosecution of an IIPA case in 27 years.

Petraeus to CIA employees: "Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy."

The Army is studying what cyber-weapons it needs. The head of Army Cyber Command, Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, told an audience at AUSA yesterday that the Army is looking at gaps in cyber and other electronic weaponry that it must fill. Killer Apps' John Reed translates: "That means that the service will look at the specific cyber effects that it needs on the battlefield (for example, taking over an enemy's communications networks or wreaking havoc on a base's power supplies) and it will then figure out the new weapons it needs to produce those effects." They could include jamming pods strapped to aircraft or advanced software, Hernandez said.

Bob Gates' new portrait portrays him in his Pentagon office with a small MRAP on the desk behind him. On Monday, Secretary Panetta will host Gates and a private party of old friends, colleagues and officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations for the unveiling of his new, formal portrait by artist Everett Raymond Kinstler. This will be the first time Gates will be back in the building after his five years of service as secretary. Gates was proud of the life-saving MRAP vehicle, which he got into the field after pushing the Pentagon bureaucracy to move relatively quickly, and wanted a miniature MRAP given to him before he left the building to appear in the portrait.

"Of all Gates' big initiatives, MRAPs were the closest to his heart because they saved so many American lives and he clearly wants to be remembered for his role in delivering them to the troops," Gates' longtime adviser and former Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told Situation Report.

Gates speaks frequently, but he's also writing. Morrell says he is about halfway through his book, likely due out sometime next year.

Kinstler painted Rumsfeld's first portrait, as well as William Perry's. He has also painted Tony Bennett, Carol Burnett, Peter O'Toole, Tennessee Williams, and Sen. Patrick Moynihan, as well as the official White House portraits of Ford and Reagan.

Gates will write a check for the portrait, Morrell says. A Washington Post report a couple years ago suggested that the portraits of official Washington, typically awarded in no-bid contracts, were costly. Situation Report reported in another life that Rumsfeld, who reimbursed the government for personal aircraft trips, also insisted on paying for the Steven Polson painting of him out of concern that the taxpayer shouldn't foot the bill. It cost him $43,000.

Exiled Iraqi Vice President Hashimi confirms: Iran shipping arms through Iraq to Assad. Tariq al-Hashimi told The Cable's Josh Rogin that Iran is supplying arms to the Syrian regime using ground convoys through Iraq. Rogin: "Hashimi said he has evidence and reports from politicians, from officers in the Interior Ministry, and from Iraqi intelligence officials, all pointing to a growing and active ground transport route from Iran to Syria. The route crosses through the Zarbatia checkpoint on the Iran-Iraq border, west of the Iranian town of Mehran, flows through the city of Karbala, and crosses over to Syria via the al-Qaim border crossing."

Sympathies to one of the Army's best-known public affairs officers, Paul Boyce, who lost his mother, Billie Boyce, over the weekend.


Twelve Years and Counting

Horses and Bayonets

National Security

A final debate: did foreign policy win?

How to explain Iran sanctions to Iranians. No, cyber-warriors, there is no meeting on “the Hatch Act,” and more.

It was hard for Obama and Romney to stay focused on foreign policy in last night's debate on foreign policy. Much of the evening focused on domestic economic issues, and even a question on the rise of China elicited responses about jobs, not the PLA.

Overall, the debate pitted a sure-footed president against a Republican rival who was highly critical of the president's ability to be effective overseas. When Romney and Obama did talk foreign policy, they drew few contrasts. Romney accused Obama of being tentative in Iran, hesitant in Syria, and ineffective in Iraq. Obama said Romney has been inconsistent about many of the same issues, assertively ticking off accomplishments and details about his foreign policy. In the end, Romney largely agreed with Obama about Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria, without defining a different approach.

Obama, on America's role in the world: "Now Governor Romney has taken a different approach throughout this campaign. You know, both at home and abroad, he has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He's praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment. And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess are not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century."

Romney, on America's role: "We want to end those conflicts to the extent humanly possible. But in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong. America must lead.... And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home.... And our military -- we've got to strengthen our military long-term. We don't know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We -- we make decisions today in a military that -- that will confront challenges we can't imagine."

Romney, on the military: "Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the -- to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR. We -- since FDR we had the -- we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict."

Department of Zingers, Advantage Obama: "But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

Department of Retweets: Horses & Bayonettes @horsebayonette. I can run fast and stab things. Put me in, coach!

FP's Rosa Brooks asks on Twitter: "Army has a lot of bayonets, actually... 1 per rifle, yes?"

An unscientific NBC Politics poll of about 50,000 people showed that 26 percent say the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney, versus the 53 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for Obama. Twenty-one percent said it didn't make a difference.

The Republicans' counter spin, paraphrased: "Americans don't care about foreign policy, they care about the economy, it doesn't really matter who won the foreign policy debate."

Full transcript of debate:

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where, like Bob Schieffer, we love teachers, too. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

We guess it's OK to say "pivot." Many national security types, both in and out of the building and in and out of uniform, get schooled by strategic communication types about the use of the word "pivot" when it comes to talking about the strategic move (back) to Asia. "Rebalancing," of course, is the preferred way to talk about the move. We get it: the U.S. never left Asia, etc. But last night Obama said "pivot" and many rejoiced. Obama: "And when it comes to our military and Chinese security, part of the reason that we were able to pivot to the Asia-Pacific region after having ended the war in Iraq and transitioning out of Afghanistan, is precisely because this is going to be a massive growth area in the future."

Julian E. Barnes @julianbarnes. Obama says we can use the word pivot. so stop correcting me @PentagonPresSec

No, Stephen Strasburg was not suspended from the Nationals for failing a drug test -- nor is there a meeting today on the Hatch Act for Pentagon employees. It's a cyber-war, stupid -- and this is Cyber Security Month. Two e-mails circulating through the Pentagon in recent days suggest some strange things are happening around town. One e-mail an officer forwarded to Situation Report suggests that Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg had tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, used by body builders. "Strasburg and the Nationals organization official public statement is available by clicking here," the e-mail, from "CNN Sports News," says. But when you click on it, it takes you to, surprise! a message about Cyber Security Month. "Don't be Phished!" the Web site says. Another e-mail announced a meeting for Pentagon employees on "the Hatch Act."

It's all part of a "phishing" exercise DoD is conducting to determine how effective the Pentagon's annual "information assurance training" is at highlighting cyber threats for Pentagon employees, explains Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the Pentagon's public affairs man on cyber-security. "The week long exercise is being conducted during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and consists of a series of emails calibrated to match current, real-world events or topics - that are sent at random to OSD staff personnel," he told Situation Report in a not-so-suspicious e-mail. Department officials will collect statistical information about the choices made by DoD personnel throughout the exercise to see where training needs to be emphasized in the future. But Pickart provided this assurance in this age of cyber angst: "No findings or information from the exercise will be shared outside DoD and individual responses will not be divulged."

Want to get Phished? Just click here:

Pentagon Seen: Spotted in the Pentagon with his George Costanza electric wheelchair: a recovering John McHugh, secretary of the Army, still on the mend from a nasty bike accident in Alexandria a few weeks ago.

How does the U.S. explain its sanctions to ordinary Iranians? Iran led to some of the more heated moments between Romney and Obama last night, even if, in the end, there were few substantive contrasts drawn. Sanctions are of course key to U.S. policy toward Iran, crippling its economy and forcing the regime to reckon with its policy decisions regarding its nuclear program. But what are those sanctions making Iranians believe about the U.S.?

Khosrow Semnani, an Iranian-American engineer, worries the U.S. is making a strategic misstep by failing to explain to Iranians just why those sanctions are in place -- and who is to blame. Semnani, who recently published a report on the "human toll" of military strikes on Iran's nuclear sites, told Situation Report he believes the sanctions are working but fears they are also alienating the Iranian population against the U.S. in a way that will be hard to correct.

"People have to know what sanctions are about," Semnani told Situation Report. "We have to be out there articulating our position, and we're not."

American officials and analysts agree the U.S. has not done a good job communicating its position to the Iranian people, though it's unclear exactly what can be done. The U.S. must make a distinction to the Iranian people -- to the extent that it can communicate with them at all -- that the U.S. doesn't necessarily oppose Iranian nuclear power, but that it does oppose an Iranian nuclear weapon.

"That is the fundamental message that is constantly muddied," said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser under Bush 43 and now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Zarate says the U.S. must walk a fine line between trying to take credit for the pressure on the Iranian economy but ensuring the U.S. doesn't take the blame for the regime's policy decisions. The issue is even more critical as the sanctions program has broadened from precise sanctions affecting certain sectors to an "economic strangulation campaign" that impacts a much larger swatch of the population, Zarate says. "I'm somewhat sympathetic to the U.S. government because it is very hard to do high-level messaging inside Iran to the Iranian people. At the end of the day, it's difficult with a regime that has done a very good job of closing off channels of communication."

Some analysts' knee-jerk response is to say that Iranians blame the regime first-and-foremost. But Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said it's problematic to make assumptions about what the Iranian people do or do not think and what role messaging has in all of it. The Iranian people, he says, are smart enough to make a distinction between the U.S. and the regime - and can blame both for their problems.

"It's absolutely true that the Iranian people have a tremendous amount of anger... but I think it is a dangerous and naïve assumption to believe that the Iranian people are only capable of blaming one party," he told Situation Report.

Communicating effectively with Iranians is key. It's just that the U.S. has forgotten how to do it. Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says the U.S. needs to begin channeling Cold War-era communication experts to better articulate its policy towards Iran - in Iran.

"So we really need to go to nursing homes, take out American cold warriors who have experience with cultural warfare, and seek their consult," he told Situation Report. "They know what it means to communicate messages to the population in a state in which the U.S. is engaged in silent warfare."


Twelve Years and Counting

A Nuclear-Armed Iran

Your Opinion Counts