National Security

An administration split over Geneva II for Syria; The U.S. and Pakistan’s deal on drones; Gates, looking for the adults in Congress; Lawmakers on Iran negotiations: Wendy Sherman done good so far; Do not call that Navy 0-6 ‘thickset;’ and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

There's a division within the State Department over plans for a high-profile peace conference next month on Syria. "Geneva II" would put negotiators from Syria's main opposition groups and government officials from the Assad regime in the same room for the first time. But despite Secretary of State John Kerry's insistence that the conference go ahead, there's a deep concern if anyone will show up. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Kerry is strongly committed to holding the talks and has spent the past several days prodding key Syrian opposition figures to take part in the negotiations. But according to several senior State Department officials, some of Kerry's top advisors believe that the conference should be called off because the most important of those opposition leaders are unlikely to come. ‘The only person who wants the Geneva conference to happen is the secretary," a senior U.S. official told FP. ‘Who's going to show up? Will they actually represent anyone? If not, why take the risk?'"

"...The Obama administration and its top allies believe that the fighting in Syria is largely at a stalemate, with forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad unable to fully vanquish the country's insurgents and the rebels looking to unseat Assad unable to conquer Damascus or oust him by force. Peace talks, Kerry argues, offer the only realistic chance of ending a civil war that has already claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians and forced millions of others from their homes. There's just one catch: a growing number of key Syrian opposition leaders say they won't attend the conference unless Assad promises to transfer power to a transitional government and then step aside... Top State Department officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, have told Kerry that it would be hard to cobble together a broad coalition of Syrians by mid-November, the scheduled start date for the talks, and cautioned that many prominent opposition figures were likely to sit out the negotiations altogether." A senior State Department official, to Dreazen: "It's possible we can get a delegation there... It's not impossible, but it will certainly require some work." The rest here.

Syria just released 61 female detainees in a three-way prison swap. The AP, in Beirut: "The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had freed the women over the past two days. There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials, nor details of who the women were or their current location. The SoHR said the release was part of a hostage swap brokered last week by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority (PA), in which Syrian rebels freed nine Lebanese Shia Muslims and Lebanese gunmen released two Turkish pilots as well." More here.

Could NATO play a role in the removal of Syria's chem weapons? The WSJ: "...Officials said the discussion was in an early phase and it wasn't clear whether-if military help was requested-it would be delivered under a NATO umbrella or bilaterally by those countries willing to help. At a news conference after the meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: ‘It may well be that NATO will be asked for some assistance.'" More here.

A family lost in the darkness in Jordan. The UNHCR's rep in Jordan Tweeted this pic this morning after stumbling across a Syrian refugee family on night along the border in Jordan, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

The "understanding" between U.S.-Pakistan over drones has finally been confirmed. The WaPo's Greg Miller and Bob Woodward obtained secret CIA documents that show, finally and in explicit detail, the degree to which Pakistan has endorsed the CIA's drone operations - even as it denounced it publicly. They write: "...Pakistan's tacit approval of the drone program has been one of the more poorly kept national security secrets in Washington and Islamabad. During the early years of the campaign, the CIA even used Pakistani airstrips for its Predator fleet. But the files expose the explicit nature of a secret arrangement struck between the two countries at a time when neither was willing to publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program. The documents detailed at least 65 strikes in Pakistan and were described as "talking points" for CIA briefings, which occurred with such regularity that they became a matter of diplomatic routine. The documents are marked "top ­secret" but cleared for release to Pakistan."

"...The files serve as a detailed timeline of the CIA drone program, tracing its evolution from a campaign aimed at a relatively short list of senior al-Qaeda operatives into a broader aerial assault against militant groups with no connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The records also expose the distrust and dysfunction that has afflicted U.S.-Pakistani relations even amid the undeclared collaboration on drone strikes. Some files describe tense meetings in which senior U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, confront their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence purporting to show Pakistan's ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces, a charge that Islamabad has consistently denied." Read the rest here.

And yet this: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Washington this week, after speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, is urging Obama to stop drone strikes. From the BBC:  "...Relations between Islamabad and Washington nosedived more than two years ago, when US special forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad in north-eastern Pakistan without giving the Pakistani government advance warning. Their ties were further tested by the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a US air strike along the Afghan border later in 2011. Following the meeting, Mr. Obama acknowledged that tensions and misunderstandings would persist between the two nations. ‘It's a challenge. It's not easy,' he said. ‘We are committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, it can be a source of strength.' More here.

Gates is looking for a few good adults in Congress. In a speech last night at AUSA, the Army's big trade show in Washington, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a pitch for the U.S. to remain a strong presence across the globe. But that's only possible if Congress figures its way out of the paper bag. Gates: "My hope - and it is a faint hope - is that the remaining adults in the two political parties will make the compromises necessary to put this country's finances back in order, end the sequestration of defense dollars, and protect military capabilities that are as necessary today as they have been through the last century.

"Because, for all of our hopes and prayers, we have not seen the end of war. If history - and religion - teach us anything, it is that there will always be evil in the world, people bent on aggression, oppression, satisfying their lust for wealth and power and territory, or determined to impose an ideology based on the subjugation of others and the denial of liberty to men and women.  I have steadfastly supported "soft" power diplomacy and development, but we must never forget the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st Century, as in the 20th, is hard power - the size, strength, and global reach of the United States Military."

And: "Since I entered government nearly a half century ago, I've shifted my views and changed my mind on a good many things as circumstances, new information or logic dictated. But I have yet to see evidence that would dissuade me from this fundamental belief: that America does have a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet."

Also, this: Gates is giving $1.5 million and his personal papers to his alma mater, William & Mary. From the school's internal publication, this morning: "...Gates '65, L.H.D. '98 will donate his personal papers to his undergraduate alma mater, the university announced today. Gates and his wife, Rebecca, have also committed from their estate a gift currently estimated at $1.5 million, which would include a $1.45 million bequest to help attract and support international relations and global studies undergraduates of outstanding academic distinction by providing them scholarships. The remaining $50,000 has been designated for the cataloging and digitization of Secretary Gates' papers." More here.

American spying, jumping the shark? Germany says the U.S. listened in on Merkel's cell phone. Germany believes that U.S. intelligence agencies may be spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone in what would be a remarkably intrusive policy to surveillance of allies overseas. The White House yesterday said it wasn't listening in on her phone - nor would it - but press declined to say if it had happened in the past. The WSJ's Anton Troianovski and Siobhan Gorman: The uproar in Berlin is the latest sign that the National Security Agency scandal has the potential to continue to inflict damage on Washington's relationships with overseas partners. Earlier this week, Mr. Obama called French President Francois Hollande, who expressed his ‘deep disapproval' over reports that the NSA was collecting data on tens of millions of French phone calls and messages. Reports of U.S. spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as well as Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto during his successful presidential campaign have already strained the U.S. relationship with Latin America.

"The German government's sharply worded statement came after it looked into an inquiry from the weekly Der Spiegel, the magazine reported. Der Spiegel said U.S. spies may have specifically targeted Ms. Merkel's cellphone-as opposed to having just intercepted her communications as part of a broader dragnet. More here.

And regarding the Europeans' overall concern about spying, the WSJ's editors write under "The French Collection," today: "...The real danger is the Greenwald-Snowden view that portrays America as the greatest threat to world freedom. Yet for all of their stolen secrets, they haven't turned up a single example of law-breaking or misuse of the collected metadata. The greatest threat to American, and for that matter French, liberty would be if their revelations lead to the end of the NSA's intelligence gathering in an increasingly dangerous world." More here.

Yesterday, the Obama administration held its first classified briefing with Congress over its high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran. FP's John Hudson: "Despite deep skepticism of White House engagement with Iran -- and despite a fresh lobbying effort by AIPAC -- exiting lawmakers appeared mollified by the State Department's chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman, who led this month's talks with Iran in Geneva. The talks between Iran and six world powers this month offer the Obama administration the chance to solve a key foreign policy goal: Preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without the use of military force. But many in Congress fear Iran's newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani could be using the talks as a stalling tactic to reach breakout nuclear capacity. Despite those concerns, lawmakers expressed a willingness to give the administration's diplomatic efforts a chance."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Dem from Maryland, to Hudson, on sanctions: "All I know is that sanctions seem to be working and that's a positive... If they weren't working, Iran would not be reaching out at this point." Read the rest here.

Yesterday in Situation Report we referred to Jofi Joseph as "Josi," which of course is wrong. We knew better but it didn't show. Rookie mistake, our apologies for the stupidity of the typo - and the confusion it caused.

FP's David Rothkopf on @NatSecWonk: "...The fall of @NatSecWonk should serve as a cautionary tale to others who find that logging on to their Twitter and Facebook accounts offers as reliable a source of false courage as a couple of stiff drinks did for their parents. Hopefully, it will also lead his supervisors at the NSC to ask where they went wrong in their own messaging and management to allow such a dumbass misstep to occur. But in terms of long-term impact, it doesn't hold a candle to the posturing of the other NatSecWonks out there whom I have encountered on Twitter and in real life who have become the faux-knowing, world-weary apologists for the administration's National Security Agency (NSA) fiasco."

One of the Tweets Rothkopf sent @NatSecWonk at one point in August 2012: "Just because we have the technology to express every feeling we have in real time doesn't mean we should." Rothkopf's piece on FP, "False Fronts," here.

The wonk he knew. Time's Mike Crowley knew Jofi Joseph as did a lot of other people. Crowley: "On Twitter, Joseph railed against the humorless stiffs of the foreign policy establishment. About a Council on Foreign Relations event he once tweeted: ‘Is the Guiness World Record for largest density of tools in one room about to be broken?' That was a bit like the wrench calling the hammer a tool: [italics ours]. Joseph was a deeply-rooted denizen of that CFR world, a foreign policy professional who specialized in the technical realm of nuclear nonproliferation... Over lunch or coffee he was less interested in trashing colleagues than in diving deep on Iranian centrifuge capacity or deterrence theory in a post-Soviet world."

Jofi Joseph, in an e-mail to Crowley about something he'd written: "Picking up on your last post, Ken Waltz, a noted [international relations] academic, made the exact same argument in a seminal 1981 paper - the spread of nuclear weapons can deter conventional armed conflict.  It has invited considerable controversy - surely, more nukes is a bad thing, not a good thing - but the historical record offers considerable evidence in support of his argument. The situation in South Asia and the Cold War are just the two most notable examples."

Crowley: "It's hard to reconcile that dry academic voice with the one behind infantile, sometimes outright hateful tweets about Liz Cheney's weight, how a former senior Bush aide is a ‘dumb blonde airhead,' and the alleged venality of various Washingtonians-including some of his close colleagues-even if he did occasionally offer useful observations." More here.

What UP with the Early Bird? Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "The Early Bird, the Defense Department's widely read summary of daily news reports, has been suspended pending an internal review...The Defense Department's public affairs directorate is ‘assessing the information products we provide to the department's senior leadership,' said Army Col. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman... DoD's public affairs division is facing the same across-the-board budget cuts that are affecting all aspects of military operations. For years, news organizations have complained that the Early Bird was distributing content in violation of copyright laws and depriving publishers of potentially thousands of paid readers and website visitors." More here.

You've read by now that the WaPo corrected a ghastly mistake yesterday. It read: "An Oct. 14 Style article about access to the prison camp for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, incorrectly referred to Navy Capt. Robert Durand as ‘thickset.' He should have been described as muscular." We have no idea who demanded the correction. Of course we do: it was Durand himself, who apparently sent a correction request, with photos, and copying the writer's editors.

Here's what a friend of Situation Report told us, speaking of Durand: "...he is genetically incapable of realizing that the change WaPo affected is actually making fun of him. It really is incredible.  I mean - really?!?  Who demands a correx over that?  Holy shit. Communicators across the National Capital Region are collectively, professionally embarrassed."

 

National Security

NatSecWonk, unmasked; DOJ looking at Pentagon hopeful Jofi Joseph; “navel gazing” at the White House over Syria; Afghanistan talks may work out; Why SpongeBob isn’t welcome in Cincinnati; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A White House aide was fired after being unmasked as @NatSecWonk - and potentially as another Twitter alias, @DCHobbyist. The anonymous Tweeter who went by the handle @NatSecWonk was a National Security Council staffer who had previously worked on Capitol Hill, the State Department and the Pentagon. Jofi Joseph was abruptly dismissed last week after administration officials confronted him with evidence that he was the man behind @NatSecWonk, a well-known unknown in Washington national security circles, who relished sniping at government officials, politicians, reporters and anyone else in his field of digital fire. Now he is confronting scrutiny from the Department of Justice for possibly revealing sensitive or even classified information, Situation Report is told.

As we reported yesterday, NatSecWonk kept the national security community in Washington guessing as to who he was - an individual with information about the workings of the government that only someone on the inside would seem to have. But his nasty jabs at public officials inside the administration for which he worked -- some of which were personal, others which were characterized as homophobic or racist -- had caught the attention of senior officials for the last two years that the Twitter handle was active. Concerns grew that the anonymous Tweeter was not only a nuisance but was potentially revealing sensitive information. Late last week, the Twitter handle disappeared, prompting questions by Situation Report and others as to what happened. It became clear that the anonymous Twitter-er was not only gone, but was facing severe disciplinary action.

Joseph told Politico's Glenn Thrush: "It has been a privilege to serve in this Administration and I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me...What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments.  I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted."

Meanwhile, Joseph was poised to get a top job at the Pentagon. Joseph, who had helped to conduct high-level White House discussions on Iran, was also in the final stages of vetting for a senior-level position at the Pentagon working as an adviser to Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Joseph was expected to be announced for that position in the next week or two. That job, of course, is no longer a possibility. Instead, Joseph faces scrutiny from the Department of Justice, Situation Report is told, for his Tweets as NatSecWonk and for another Twitter alias, @DCHobbyist, that we're told also belongs to Joseph. DCHobbyist, whose interests include bike commuting, the Nationals and a "tsunami of gorgeous and sensual escorts," may have crossed an ethical, moral or legal line.

One individual briefed on the matter told Situation Report that based on the two Twitter handles, Joseph's case was referred to Justice to determine if any of the information leaked by NatSecWonk or the "behavior" of DCHobbyist amounted to criminal acts that would put in jeopardy Joseph's security clearance. There is also a concern that there could be more possible wrongdoing. Joseph is married to Carolyn Leddy, who works for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Committee officials, Situation Report was told, are trying to determine if anything Joseph posted had represented classified information and provided to him by Leddy. Joseph could also find himself in even more hot water based on findings from the investigation of his postings as DCHobbyist if it is determined, for example, that he purchased the services of prostitutes. Read our whole story here.

Read NatSecWonk's Tweets here. Joseph's bio here. Our original story, "The Mysterious Disappearance of @NatSecWonk and Why We'll Remember Him or Her," here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report where we note that 30 years ago today in Beirut, 241 Marines were killed in the barracks bombing - the deadliest terrorist attack before 9/11, and blamed on Hezbollah. Marine Commandant Gen. Amos appears at a memorial near Camp Lejeune, N.C. today to remember.

Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

The NYT story today reveals the turmoil inside the White House over Syria. NYT's Mark Mazzetti, Robert Worth and Michael Gordon: "A deeply ambivalent president...presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama's own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East. And, as the debate dragged on, the toll of civilian deaths steadily rose, Syria's government was emboldened to use chemical weapons on a larger scale, and America's relations with some of its closest allies were strained.

"Some of Mr. Obama's defenders argue that, while the past two years of American policy on Syria have been messy, the events of the past six weeks have been a successful case of coercive diplomacy. Only under the threat of force, they said, has Mr. Assad pledged to give up his chemical weapons program. They argue that this might be the best outcome from a stew of bad alternatives... But others are far more critical, saying that the administration's paralysis left it unprepared for foreseeable events like the Aug. 21 gas attack. Decisive action by Washington, they argue, could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad's troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons."

The quote that may say it all, from a former senior White House official: "We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that's the tragedy of it." Read the rest of this Page Oner here.

The planned peace talks for Syria are at risk. The WSJ's Cassell Bryan-Low, Nicholas Winning and Sam Dagher: "The Saudi-supported leader of the main Syrian opposition coalition set out demands for participation in peace talks proposed for Geneva in November, potentially scuttling the chance to convene the conference. The remarks by Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, in London came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried publicly to play down rising tensions with Saudi Arabia over Syria and Washington's outreach to Iran. Mr. Jarba said it would be more difficult for him and members of his group to attend talks in Geneva unless the Syrian regime releases imprisoned women and children and lifts its crippling siege of rebel enclaves around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs." More here.

The Israeli Intelligence Minister tells FP it would be a mistake for the White House to relax sanctions on Iran. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview that it would be a mistake for the Obama administration to relax its sanctions on Iran or free up tens of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian funds, highlighting Jerusalem's growing concern that the Obama administration may be willing to make too many concessions to Iran during the current nuclear talks between the two longtime adversaries. Steinitz, a close political ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Cable that the punishing Western sanctions that have been imposed on Iran are the only reason that government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is willing to engage in direct talks with the Obama administration. With the Iranian economy in free fall, Steinitz said the sanctions should be kept in place, or even strengthened, until Iran agreed to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program. ‘Iran is now coming to the negotiating table solely because of the pressure,' Steinitz said in the interview. ‘They are really on the verge of the collapse and that's the reason they're coming to the negotiating table with some willingness to negotiate.'" Read the rest here.

NATO optimistic about the security agreement with Afghanistan. The WaPo's Ernesto Londono, travelling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Brussels: "NATO troops in Afghanistan are bracing for a bloody winter ahead of the country's presidential election, a senior U.S. military official said Tuesday, warning of an anticipated spike in high-profile attacks and political assassinations during a season that typically brings a lull in fighting. Despite the ominous outlook for a period that will coincide with the U.S. military drawdown, NATO officials said Tuesday that they are "confident" that Afghan politicians and elders will sign off on a proposed deal to keep an American military force in the country after 2014." More here.

This winter, the Taliban will fight, an American officer says. NYT's Thom Shanker, also travelling with Hagel: "A senior American military officer warned Tuesday that insurgent groups are expected to carry out an unusually aggressive campaign of violence in Afghanistan this winter, angling to create maximal disruption ahead of next year's presidential elections and as Western forces continue to withdraw." More here.

American inspectors are also on the trail of an Afghan businessmen who they believe has channeled millions of dollars in aid to the Haqqani network, Reuters reports. The businessman still has donor-funded reconstruction contracts around the country, the organization reported. Reuters' Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni: "The investigation, detailed in a trove of documents obtained by Reuters, comes at a crucial time for Afghanistan and its foreign allies, who have poured billions of dollars into leaving behind a stable, viable state when most NATO-led combat troops pull out next year. Development aid to Afghanistan - approaching $100 billion (62 billion pounds) after 12 years of war - and the contractors who receive it are being scrutinized by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), with one case in particular involving businessman Haji Khalil Zadran linked to the Haqqanis.

SIGAR John Sopko: "It makes absolutely no sense that individuals and entities designated as supporting the insurgency could receive U.S. contracts... If they get a contract not only do they get U.S. taxpayer money, but they could gain access to U.S. personnel and facilities, putting our troops at risk." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: That Nevada teacher who jumped in between a gun-wielding kid and another 12-year-old student was a Marine. Earlier in the week there was the tragic story of a young Nevada school student opening fire on the campus of his school near Reno after obtaining the gun from home. The shooting wounded two boys and left dead the shooter. But it also killed was the 8th grade teacher, Michael Landsberry, a former Marine, who had reportedly jumped in between the shooter and other students, literally taking the bullet for them.  Said Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson of Landsberry: "In my estimation, he is a hero ... We do know he was trying to intervene." More here.

When the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing at an historic cemetery in Cincinnati, you have this. Stripes: "An Iraq war veteran's towering SpongeBob SquarePants headstone has been removed from her final resting place because officials at the historic Cincinnati cemetery deemed it inappropriate for their traditional grounds... ‘We've decided that they aren't appropriate for our historic cemetery and they can't be displayed here,' [Cemetery President Gary Freytag] said, adding that the employee who approved the headstones made an inexplicable error in judgment, given the cemetery's traditional, stately appearance." More here.

Want to know why one Malaysian University made Kim Jong un a doctor? FP's Issac Stone Fish: "A KCNA report crowing that a Malaysian institution of higher learning, known as Help University, had awarded North Korean leader Kim Jong Un an honorary doctorate in economics -- in recognition of his ‘untiring efforts for the education of the country and the well-being of its people.' Help, it turns out, is a real university. Founded in 1986 to "provide affordable quality educational opportunities for Malaysians,' the private, Kuala Lumpur-based college brands itself as the ‘university of achievers.' (Help's website brims with happy reports, noting, for instance, that the "lower foyer of HELP University was the scene of jubilation today" because of a ‘dramatic increase in Straight A's' and that its Team Legacy ‘emerged Champion in the prestigious Cheerleading Association and Register of Malaysia (CHARM) Cheerleading Championship.')" More here.