By Gordon Lubold
U.S. pushes Assad to meet a deadline. The L.A. Times' Shashank Bengali: "The U.S.-Russian plan for the removal or destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough just days ago, appeared to run into trouble Wednesday as the Obama administration backed off a deadline for the Syrian government to submit a full inventory of its toxic stockpiles and facilities to international inspectors. The State Department signaled that it does not expect Syrian President Bashar Assad to produce the list within seven days, as spelled out in the framework deal that Washington and Moscow announced last weekend in Geneva." State's Marie Harf: "our goal is to see forward momentum... We've never said it was a hard and fast deadline." The rest here.
Events of the last couple weeks have created new windows of diplomatic opportunity for Syria and Iran. The NYT's David Sanger: "Only two weeks after Washington and the nation were debating a unilateral military strike on Syria that was also intended as a forceful warning to Iran about its nuclear program, President Obama finds himself at the opening stages of two unexpected diplomatic initiatives with America's biggest adversaries in the Middle East, each fraught with opportunity and danger." The rest here.
But, according to the Israelis, there's no more time to negotiate with Iran. Reuters, this morning: "Iran is on course to develop a nuclear bomb within six months and time has run out for further negotiations, a senior Israeli minister said. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Iran still believed it had room for maneuver in dealing with world powers, and that unless it faced a credible threat of U.S. military action, it would not stop its nuclear activities. ‘There is no more time to hold negotiations,' Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily published on Friday." The rest here.
There's a chemical weapons gold rush in the Middle East. If things work out, and plans to secure and ultimately destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile go forward, Damascus could see a flood of contractors trying to get a piece of the chemical pie. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The actual work of eliminating Syria's armaments won't be done by the U.S. or Russia... It will be done by companies like Giulano Porcari's firm, Sipsa, which could make enormous amounts of money for their efforts. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with Fox News, said that destroying his stockpiles will take at least one year and cost roughly $1 billion... The size of that potential windfall could spark a global gold rush as companies from around the world flood into Damascus hoping to get some of the work." But the risks are, huge, too. Maybe even bigger than the potential profits. Pocari: "Of course I would love to get a contract in Syria -- it's the same work we did in Libya, just a lot more of it...But at the present time it's too dangerous. Do you think I want to be shot at? No thank you." Read the rest here.
Israel's Mossad's secret war against Syrian WMD. Writing on FP, Ronen Bergman says that Obama's famous chemical "red line" for Syria may have been drawn up, in part, by the Israeli intelligence services, which have waged a multi-decade clandestine campaign to strip Assad of his deadliest weapons -- and which also have emerged as the United States' primary partners in collecting information on Middle Eastern regimes. Bergman: "According to two former high-ranking military intelligence officials with whom I had spoken recently, Israeli intelligence agencies believed at the time that Assad would not use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and would keep his chemical arsenal as a bargaining chip to be traded in exchange for political asylum for himself, his loyal wife, and his close associates, if necessary. Israel was wrong." But, he writes, "the intelligence coordination between Israel and the United States has not suffered, and Israel continues to share the vast amounts of information that it has about Syria with the United States. Published reports credit Israel with giving the CIA, as the Wall Street Journal put it, ‘intelligence from inside an elite special Syrian unit that oversees Mr. Assad's chemical weapons' after the massive Aug. 21 sarin attack outside Damascus." The rest, here.
Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.
He felt him breathe. AP's Matt Apuzzo, on a Navy Yard witness's recollection of Monday morning. "The first bang sounded distant and muffled. On the fourth floor, Bertillia Lavern assumed somebody downstairs was setting up for an event and had dropped a folding table. But when the bangs kept coming, Lavern recognized the sounds. Years earlier, before taking a civilian office job at Naval Sea Systems headquarters, Lavern was a Navy medical specialist. Known as a corpsman, she'd been on training operations with the Marines. She knew the snap of gunfire." More here.
Alexis Aaron's security check, brought to you by USIS. The WaPo's Jia Lynn Yang and Matea Gold: "The Falls Church government contractor that handled the background check for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, said Thursday that it also vetted Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis for his secret-level clearance in 2007. The company, which is under criminal investigation over whether it misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, said earlier this week that it had not handled Alexis's case. USIS spokesman Ray Howell said the company got new information Thursday. ‘Today we were informed that in 2007, USIS conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis' for the Office of Personnel Management, Howell said in a statement. ‘We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for OPM and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check.'
Who is USIS? "USIS, which was spun off from the federal government in the 1990s, has become the largest private provider of government background checks. With 7,000 employees, the company handles about 45 percent of all background checks for the OPM, congressional staffers say. Despite the investigation, there was no indication that USIS did anything improper when it vetted Alexis." Read the rest here.
Citizens and the NSA: Breaking up is hard to do; making up is even harder. U.S. News and World Report's Paul Shinkman: The American people and the NSA have a lot of making up to do, following reports that the cloistered spy agency collects and analyzes bulk records of telephone and internet usage. The NSA has conducted an intense public relations campaign in the months since expatriate Edward Snowden's leaks, releasing formerly classified documents it says demonstrates the government's oversight of its spying practices. President Barack Obama has also ordered an internal review of these techniques. But privacy experts and many in the public say this is not enough, citing the need for fundamental change at the agency, founded in the wake of World War II and honed against Soviet intelligence during the Cold War. Two former directors of the agency recognize the growing disconnect between these cyber spies and the people they are trying to protect." The rest here.
Playing cards, and losing: Post Navy Yard shooting, problems with the Piff-Pa. Security and building access being the Concern du jour, the Pentagon's police force, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency - technically pronounced "piff-pa" - thought it would give more scrutiny yesterday to the passes people use to get into the building. Good idea in concept. But yesterday, building guards began confiscating scads of passes on the spot that weren't up to snuff - cards that were faded or otherwise difficult to read - in an apparent effort to crack down on building access. Unlucky pass holders were directed to the line for visitors and instructed to get a new pass at the Pentagon pass office. One pass holder spotted a guard holding what was described as a stack of IDs that "looked like a deck of cards," and added that "there must have been 100 angry people flooding the lobby outside the not-yet-open ID card issue office."
So great plan, poorly executed, because no one told the Pentagon pass office that they would be flooded with Pentagon employees now unexpectedly in need of a new pass. "The complaints quickly grew loud and from high levels," we're told. And the Higher-Level Pass Scrutiny Project was quickly cancelled. "I'm a big fan of PFPA but I think they learned a few hard lessons from this one," one officer quipped to Situation Report.
Give that man a medal: Behind the scenes with FP's John Reed and the enlisted man who busted al Qaeda's "Legion of Doom." The famous "conference call" between terror leaders wasn't really a conference call, but nonetheless forced the Obama administration to shutter embassies across the Middle East last month was deciphered by a low-ranking, enlisted airman, who alerted senior officers after finding clues about the communication in the course of his regular duties. Reed: "The individual analyst being credited with the key discovery that alerted officials to a possible terrorist attack is a ‘cryptologic linguist' with the rank of senior airman who leads a team of electronic data analysts in one of the Air Force's premier signals intelligence units, said [Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, the Air Force chief of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance]. A senior airman in the Air Force is equivalent in rank to a corporal in the Army. Otto: "That happened to be a day when he was in the right place at the right time, doing his job perfectly... He alerted his leadership and the alert ran its way all the way to the Secretary of State, to the President of the United States. They didn't know the name of the senior airman who put two and two together, but thank you to that senior airman." The rest of Reed's piece here.
Want to know what Marcel Lettre thinks? Here's his first Tweet. Lettre, of the Pentagon's front office who has been nom'ed to be a "Pee-Dusdee - Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday along with other nominees, including Deborah Lee James, nominated to be Secretary of the Air Force, and Jessica Wright, Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness.
Yesterday, Lettre Tweeted - his first! - @MarcelLettre: "Catch my views on priorities for defense intelligence at Senate Armed Services Committee today at minute 52." So, if you want to see what he thinks - or, for that matter, anyone else at the hearing, click the link, here. (We don't do "hat tips." But thanks to Defense One's own Kevin Baron for pointing out the Tweet.)
FNG! The national security and foreign affairs beat welcomes Time's Mike Crowley, one happy warrior. Time's Nancy Gibbs writes: "Michael Crowley becomes Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent. Since joining TIME in May 2010, Michael has focused on national politics, including the 2012 Republican primaries and presidential race. He has also covered foreign policy and national-security issues, from profiling John Brennan and examining the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing to writing stories detailing Barack Obama's challenges on drones, surveillance and closing the Guantánamo Bay prison. Most recently, Michael wrote TIME's cover story "The Unhappy Warrior," on how Syria became a defining test for Obama's foreign policy vision. In recent years, he has visited Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt, and he plans to travel more in his new role."
Truman's Rachel Kleinfeld stepping down from day-to-day leadership. From Truman's Stephanie Dreyer, to Situation Report: "After nearly ten years at the helm of the Truman National Security Project, Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld will be stepping down from the day-to-day leadership at the organization and assume the role of Founder and President Emeritus. This transition was planned for many months, and while she's no longer President, Rachel is definitely not leaving. We are very excited that Rachel will continue to spend one third of her time working with the Truman Project and CNP where she will focus on specific ‘Founder's Projects' and continue serving on the Advisory Board. The other 2/3 of her time will be spent as a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and pursuing personal goals. The Truman Project will continue to be led by Executive Director Michael Breen, who spent two and a half years working closely with Rachel and assumed the Executive Director role in Sept, 2012." Kleinfeld and Matt Spence, now at the Pentagon, founded the Truman Project in 2004.