National Security

Terrorists in Kenya put Somalia back on the map; Fight for the future: how much military compensation is too much?; Tammy Haddad and the Pentagon Channel; Power’s issue from hell; Indulge us: Situation Report reaches 50k subscribers: BAM!; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

This weekend's stunning attack at an upscale mall in Nairobi raises the profile of the thought-to-be-vanquished Shabab and poses yet another challenge for African and Western security officials. The attack, at the hands of what appeared to be well-trained squads of terrorists from The Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, a group linked to al-Qaida, has claimed as many as 69 lives and injured 175 more. As the standoff inside the Westgate Premium Shopping Mall entered its third day, there was recognition that The Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, was signaling that it was making a comeback.

FP's Shane Harris: "The Westgate mall attack marks an audacious return for al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda linked group that, as recently as last year, U.S. officials claimed was on the run in the face of an American-backed offensive in Africa. More recently, the Obama administration has expanded a secret war against al-Shabab in Somalia, ramping up assistance to Somali intelligence agencies. The United States also runs training camps for Ugandan peacekeepers who fight al-Shabab forces, and at a base in Djibouti houses Predator drones, fighter jets, and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians. President Obama called Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta Sunday morning and "reiterated U.S. support for Kenya's efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice," according to a White House statement. Kenyatta's nephew and his fiancé are among the dead. In keeping with its established propaganda strategy, al-Shabab is tweeting updates about the attack. On Saturday, the group was sending messages from its main account, @HSMPress, describing the assaults at "retributive justice for crimes committed by [Kenya's] military." Kenyan forces began military operations in Somalia two years ago. Twitter suspended the account Sunday, but the group apparently moved on to another account, which has also since been suspended." His piece here.

Roger Carstens, a former SF officer who has spent more than a year on the ground in Somalia recently had this to say to Situation Report about the attack yesterday. Carstens sees the attack as "an attempt to push Kenya out of the [African Union Mission in Somalia].  Kenyan troops, supporting AMISOM, currently hold the southern part of Somalia, which includes the charcoal exporting town of Kismayo.  Al Shabaab once flourished in this region and it is reported that a lion's share of its revenues came from the taxation and management of the charcoal trade.  Since the Kenyan incursion, Al Shabaab has been on the run, suffering from a loss of it key financial and military base." He also sees it as "a bloody announcement that Al Shabaab is still in the game.  After being run out of Mogadishu and later Kismayo, Al Shabaab has been considered to be ‘on the ropes.'"  The recent attack showcases that Al Shabaab still has some combat power. And that: "proof that the power struggle between moderate Somali nationalists and hardline extremists (that includes foreign fighters) that are more aligned with Al Qaeda has been settled in favor of the extremists. Al Shabaab's moderates - often seen as pragmatic nationalists - have been chased out, killed, or marginalized in recent months and the results are decreased numbers but a renewed focus from those who remain."

Bottom line: "this war is not over.  AMISOM and the Somali Federal Government must strive for unity of effort, increased and steady funding from the European Union, and an increased push to train, equip and employ the Somali National Army (essentially an SNA Development Plan). The United, States, for its part, should remain in the background, assisting in enabling efforts, such as enhancing AMISOM communications, intelligence, tactical cyber, logistics, ISR, precision strike and mobility."

Check out FP's slideshow from last year, "The Pirates of Puntland": Robert Young Pelton's story of his trip through Somalia, here.

Meanwhile, welcome to Monday's Fist Pump edition of Situation Report and indulge us in a brief note of thanks. As of this morning, the number of subscribers to Situation Report has swollen to 50,010. We ran out of the gate just more than a year ago, on September 5, with some nausea and about 13,000 subscribers. That enough was pretty cool. To our happy surprise, we've seen more and more of you sign up each week and month. Last night at around 7:30 we watched as the last few people signed up to meet our own, arbitrary milestone, and at 7:38 p.m., the odometer hit 50,000. Many of you work in the Pentagon, or at bases or stations or forts or FOBs around the country and world. Others of you work at State or at embassies, or at USAID or Capitol Hill or - other agencies. Some of you are in academia. Many of you live in far away places. Or are fighting a war. Or not. Or you're retired. Or just getting started. Regardless, we really appreciate you reading Situation Report each day. As we make the donuts with Situation Report each morning, we always try to earn our inbox privileges. We're happy to hear from you when we succeed. But we want to hear from you when we fail. We know we do sometimes. If you like Situation Report, tell a friend. And again, thanks much.

Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at 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.

The Pentagon Channel may get a little smaller. Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner was in his element. Standing in a supermarket, with a military band nearby, the man otherwise known as "The Grill Sergeant" was demonstrating how to make a tasty jambalaya. "There's no magical formula," he bellowed in his Southern twang, playing to the camera during an episode of his eponymous show. "If you don't have any good taste, then this is not going to work for you." The Grill Sergeants was the cheeky cooking show with a clever name that was for years produced by the Pentagon. It brought cheers and jeers. But none of that mattered since the show was produced when times were good and defense money, like Turner's jambalaya, poured forth.

The Grill Sergeants, like many other TV programs produced by the U.S. Defense Department, is no more. And soon, the Defense Department's broadcast network -- the one that showed the Pentagon-approved cooking show -- may itself be part of military history. Budget cuts and fewer blank checks mean the Pentagon needs to rethink nice-to-have services that were once a given. And the Pentagon Channel, as the network is known, is likely on the brink of a major downsizing, Defense Department sources say. No final decision has been made, however. "The Pentagon Channel is one of the few if not the only one where you can communicate directly to service members and their families," said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon. "That doesn't mean we can't find better ways of doing business." A while back, there had been high hopes for the Pentagon Channel. Fancy, pearl-draped hopes.

Tammy Haddad got $92,000 a couple years ago to recommend improvements to the Pentagon Channel, but it's unlikely most will see the light of day. Washington society mavens know Tammy Haddad as the bubbly party-thrower and socialite whose prominence peaks each spring for the celebrity-politico-and-journalist-laden brunch she holds before the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Haddad was recently highlighted in Mark Leibovich's This Town -- a book about the intersection of politics, power, and the media -- and was portrayed as part of the incestuous, schmooze-and-use culture of Washington. But at the Defense Department, she's also known for her work for the Pentagon's public affairs office, which contracted with Haddad, a former television producer, a couple of years back to consult on its media operations, including on the Pentagon Channel. According to defense officials, Haddad, a fundraiser, events organizer, and media consultant, was paid about $92,000 for an 11-month advisory project in which she acted as a "programming consultant" for the Channel, whose shows were regularly evoking ridicule from Congress members and even some military folks. Haddad, a former television producer, was hired by the Pentagon's top public affairs office at the time, Doug Wilson, "to provide expert advice and recommendations" on how to modernize and expand the Pentagon Channel's programming, according to a Defense Department spokesman. She worked as a consultant for the Pentagon officially between October 2010 and September 2011. Haddad had grand plans for the channel, making recommendations to infuse it with more sophistication and cool in an attempt to appeal to young and older audiences alike -- a mix of VH1 and the History Channel.

But now the Pentagon's Public Affairs office is weighing whether the Channel in its current form, which costs about $5 million per year to run, could be streamlined, its format standardized, and put online to save millions in satellite fees. A final decision is still weeks or months away. 

After the story ran, Doug Wilson wrote Situation Report, saying he hired Haddad because of her credentials as a TV producer and that "we could see the handwriting on the wall" when it came to shrinking budgets: "Tammy Haddad was not hired because of the events she organizes or who she does or doesn't invite to them.  To state or allege otherwise is simply wrong. We hired her because of her proven experience and expertise in television management and production in broadcast, network and cable," Wilson wrote us, listing her work as the Vice President of MSNBC's Washington bureau, her work at Fox News, NBC's Today show and brining Larry King Live to CNN in 1985. "Tammy did what we asked her to do.   She looked at the Pentagon Channel overall and at all of the various programs - how they were developed, what the purpose was for each program.   She focused on whether the Pentagon Channel could continue to be a vehicle to reach military audiences most effectively at a time of media and Internet proliferation and competition - and, if so, how." Read the rest of our story here.
This week, the United Nations General Assembly and Iran and Syria. 
FP's Colum Lynch: "Samantha Power, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, once posed an uncomfortable question about America's repeated reluctance to confront genocide during the 20th century: "Why does the United States stand so idly by" in the face of mass atrocities? The answer, she wrote more than a decade ago in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, is "simply put, American leaders did not act because they did not want to." She meant it as an accusation. But it's become a kind of premonition. Since her arrival in New York last month, Power has become the public face of an administration that has proven reluctant to exercise the full weight of American diplomatic and military might to halt President Bashar al-Assad's slaughter of more than 100,000 people in Syria. President Barack Obama, who was voted into office pledging to get America out of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has resisted pressure to take military action, even after Syria introduced chemical weapons into the battlefield, crossing a "red line" Obama had drawn more than a year ago. But as one of the country's most influential advocates of humanitarian intervention, Power now finds herself burdened with the challenge of practicing what she has long preached: wielding America's power on behalf of the world's human rights victims, in this case Syrians." The rest of Colum's piece here.

Five things to look for at the UNGA, according to CNN: "The Syria Conundrum," "The Iran overture," "The Mideast Dilemma," "The LatAm Tension,: the No-show and the Not Wanted." That piece, here.

Marine Corps Times' Dan Lamothe, reporting an exclusive interview with one of the Marine urinators, in a story that may explain why it all happened. Lamothe, from Jacksonville, N.C.: "At long last, they got him. After weeks of observation, Sgt. Rob Richards and his fellow Marine scout snipers had taken out the insurgent leader in Afghanistan responsible for the improvised explosive devices that had killed two of their fellow Marines. One of the Marines' bodies had been desecrated by the Taliban, his leg hung in a tree to send a defiant message, Marines said. It was with this history that Richards and his fellow scout snipers bagged the remains of the leader and two other insurgents in Helmand province's Musa Qala district and brought them back to their nearby forward operating base on July 27, 2011, to collect intelligence, he said. Before they did so, however, Richards and three other Marines made a decision that would erupt into an international controversy five months later: They urinated on the enemy they had just killed, laughing as they did so." Read the rest here.

Speaking of Afghanistan and Dan Lamothe: the command structure will change in Afghanistan next year. Lamothe: "Senior coalition military commanders in Afghanistan will shake up their command structure as part of the ongoing drawdown in forces, eliminating regional commands in favor of smaller headquarters units, U.S. military officials said. The shift will come next year as the International Security Assistance Force overseeing the war shifts from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support, the new name for the mission as coalition combat operations end and Afghan forces begin to fully manage the war themselves. The personnel at each of the coalition's two-star headquarters across the country will thin and become known as Tactical Advise and Assist Commands, or TAACs, said Marine Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, deputy commander for ISAF Joint Command in Kabul." Read the rest here.

The Air Force doesn't know how vulnerable its networks are to cyber attack. FP's John Reed: "The U.S. Air Force's Space Command is about a quarter of the way through an effort to figure out just how vulnerable its networks are to cyber attack, according to the service's top officer in charge of network defense.We're doing reviews of vulnerabilities on every network and this is a significant undertaking so it's going to take some time,' said Gen. William Shelton, chief of Air Force Space Command during the Air Force Association's annual conference just outside Washington. ‘We're probably 25 percent done, somewhere around there.' But, rather than focusing on fixing every vulnerability it finds, the service must figure out what data is of vital important and figure out a way of defending that from likely threats. ‘As a commander... I'm gonna have way more vulnerabilities than I can address, so I need to go to the intel community and say, ‘is there adversary that has both the capability and the intent to affect this system that I care about that is my key cyber terrain, that is my most important set of systems right now,'" Williams told Killer Apps." Read more here.

With so many shiny objects out there at the moment, there's little talk of troop benefits and compensation; but it's going to get interesting. Military Times' Rick Maze: "The Defense Department has won an important congressional convert in its push to cut military and retiree benefits to save money. In what could mark a turning point in the efforts of Pentagon officials to sell Congress on cutting benefits, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who oversees about two-fifths of the defense budget in his role as chairman of the House Armed Service Committee's readiness panel, said he is ready to consider cutting the compensation package for future troops in order to secure funding for other programs. In an interview that aired Sept. 15 on C-SPAN's Newsmakers program, Wittman said he does not support compensation or benefits reductions for currently serving members but would consider changes in pay, health care and retirement for people who have not yet started military service.

"'I think that is a place we can go," he said. ‘I am very much in favor of this discussion.' He would not touch the system for current troops because "we have a moral commitment' to people who entered with the promise of certain benefits. Asked if he considered current benefits overly generous, Wittman replied: ‘I think it is generous. I think it is fair for what our men and women have been asked to do.' Wittman said he did not think future troops would be any less dedicated, but that he believed it was fair to provide fewer benefits as long as the future members understood the compensation package they were getting."

But expect some pushback from the likes of Norb Ryan and others. Maze: "Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan Jr. of the Military Officers Association of America said his organization appreciates Wittman's support for protecting benefits for current service members. ‘However, when it comes to cutting career benefits for future entrants, the current retirement and health care benefit are the key pillars in order to sustain a dedicated and top quality career force,' he said." Read all of Maze's piece, here.

National Security

A chemical weapons gold rush; The senior airman behind the embassy shutdown; Marcel Lettre’s first Tweet; A deck of cards outside the Penty? Kleinfeld, turning it down at Truman; And a bit more. [Presented today by Lockheed Martin.]

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.