National Security

Merkel tap reveals vast spy net; Lloyd Austin speaks; Meet the MEK; Hagel to NYC; Rosa Brooks on “chipping” a kid; Who’s in nomination limbo?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Central Command's Lloyd Austin, not one to speak to reporters, gave a rare on-the-record interview to the Wall Street Journal as Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki visits Washington. The WSJ's Julian Barnes: "The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said Iraq has entered a downward spiral of violence that threatens to drive the country's leader further into the hands of Iran and heighten sectarian tensions across the region. With Iraqi security forces responding inadequately, U.S. officials are concerned that al Qaeda will develop a haven stretching from western Iraq into Syria.If left unchecked, we could find ourselves in a regional sectarian struggle that could last a decade,' Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview here. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders on Wednesday, at the start of a visit to Washington and is set to meet President Barack Obama on Friday. The Washington visit comes at a pivotal moment. Gen. Austin and other U.S. officials have blamed the violence in part on decisions by Mr. Maliki's government to exclude most Sunni Muslims from access to any real power in the Shiite Muslim-majority country." Austin: "We do worry that this has driven Maliki further into the hands of the Iranians, I think it has a bit." More here.

Want to meet the bizarre, hyper-connected group that is said to be mucking up talks with Iraq? FP's Yochi Dreazen wants to introduce you: "...The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK, is the most powerful lobby you've never heard of, and probably the most unusual. It has used a combination of political savvy and seemingly bottomless pools of money to persuade many prominent lawmakers and former officials from the Bush and Obama administrations that it has broad support within Iran and could help turn the country into a democracy. Along the way, it's gone from being as seen as a group responsible for the deaths of at least six Americans to one that is a vital partner in the effort to overthrow Iran's theocratic regime.

"The MEK has also enlisted prominent retired officials to tout its cause in public speeches and private meetings at the State Department and on Capitol Hill. Its long list of supporters includes former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Attorney General Mike Mukasey, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, retired Marine General Jim Jones, Obama's first national security advisor, and retired Army General Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. MEK advocates like Rendell receive up to $30,000 per speech, which means many have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the group. Rendell, in an interview, said he genuinely believed in the group's cause and wasn't in it for the money." More here.

The duo of John McCain and Lindsey Graham expanded on their concerns about Iraq from yesterday's letter, penning an op-ed in FP editors call "The Anti-Surge." McCain and Graham say the Obama administration blames the Bush 43 WH. They write on FP: "...Nowhere was the Obama administration's failure more pronounced than during the debate over whether to maintain a limited number of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 expiration of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) -- a debate in which we were actively involved. Here, too, the administration is quick to lay blame on others for the fact that they tried, and failed, to keep a limited presence of troops in Iraq." They conclude: "The United States fought too hard and sacrificed and invested too much to allow Iraq to descend into violence once again. We owe it to the brave Americans who fought and lost their lives to do everything we can to ensure the realization of the goals in Iraq that they fought so hard to achieve. No one wants the Obama administration's legacy in Iraq to be one of squandering our many hard-won gains there but, at present, that is the unfortunate reality it is facing." Read the rest of their argument, here.

Welcome to Thursday's Halloween edition of Situation Report and congratulations to Red Sox Nation - "Tested and Triumphant" as the Boston Globe trumpeted this morning on the Sox' 6-1 win over the Cards. An amazing, come-from-behind story and of course the first Series win for the Bosox at Fenway since 1918. 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Click bait: FP's "The World's Spookiest Places," a slide show, here.

In a last minute deal yesterday, the Senate confirmed Alan Estevez for a top procurement job at the Pentagon. Alan Estevez was confirmed yesterday to be P-DUSDY (Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense) for acquisition, technology and logistics. Also, Stephen Preston began this week as Pentagon General Counsel after being confirmed just recently. But the hold that Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, has put on Obama administration noms means that a number of other Pentagon noms are still in limbo. They include: Marcel Lettre to be principal deputy under secretary of Defense for Intelligence; Jamie Morin to be director of the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office; Jessica Wright for Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness; Deborah Lee James to be Air Force Secretary; and Michael Lumpkin to be assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

Hagel goes to the City. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel heads to NYC today to address the Anti-Defamation League centennial meeting. He will discuss the role the Defense Department has in "projecting a national defense abroad and maintaining a strong respect for civil rights at home," we're told by a defense official. Hagel has met with the ADL's Abe Foxman a number of times to talk security issues in the Middle East and at one point was asked to address the ADL. We're told he will be the first sitting defense secretary to address the ADL in almost 20 years. Also there tonight? Leon Panetta, former SecDef in from California, who will receive an award from the ADL for a lifetime of public service.

Hagel talking vets issues tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, Hagel will participate in a roundtable discussion with business leaders and vets groups to talk about the way in which the private sector is working to help support veterans in transition in terms of employment, education and housing.

The Merkel tap offers a peek into a vast spying network. The NYT's Mark Mazzetti and David Sanger on Page One: It was not obvious to the National Security Agency a dozen years ago that Angela Merkel,  rising star as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, was a future chancellor of Germany. But that did not matter. The N.S.A., in a practice that dates back to the depths of the Cold War and that has never ended, was recording her conversations and those of a range of leaders in Germany and elsewhere, storing them in databases that could be searched later, if the need arose...How the N.S.A. continued to track Ms. Merkel as she ascended to the top of Germany's political apparatus illuminates previously undisclosed details about the way the secret spy agency casts a drift net to gather information from America's closest allies. The phone monitoring is hardly limited to the leaders of countries like Germany, and also includes their top aides and the heads of opposing parties. It is all part of a comprehensive effort to gain an advantage over other nations, both friend and foe." More here.

The NSA has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers across the globe. The WaPo's Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani: "By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot. According to a top-secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, the NSA's acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from internal Yahoo and Google networks to data warehouses at the agency's headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records - including "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, as well as content such as text, audio and video." Their piece, which includes the chicken scratch drawing of the "Google Cloud Exploitation," here. The cutline under the drawing in the WaPo: "In this slide from a National Security Agency presentation on "Google Cloud Exploitation," a sketch shows where the "Public Internet" meets the internal "Google Cloud" where user data resides. Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing."

Former intel officials and tech industry folks are PO'ed about the latest revelations on the NSA. FP's trio Shane Harris, Noah Shachtman and John Hudson: "Former intelligence officials and technology industry executives reacted with anger and anxiety over the latest revelations that the National Security Agency is reportedly infiltrating some of the world's biggest technology companies and making off with the private communications of millions of their customers. And if the reports are accurate, it could be very bad news for U.S. technology companies, who have been complaining for months that their government's secretive intelligence operations are threatening their business and driving customers towards their foreign competitors.

"‘I think they're in an almost impossible situation,' Rep. Adam Schiff, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, told The Cable. Speaking of Silicon Valley firms who are obligated to cooperate with the NSA, Schiff said recent leak revelations threatened to negatively impact their bottom lines. ‘It's definitely going to hurt their business and I think we ought to do everything we can to mitigate that damage. I'm very sympathetic to what they have to confront.' The Washington Post reported today that the agency ‘has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.' According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the agency is intercepting emails, documents, and other electronic communications as they move between the companies' privately controlled facilities and the public Internet, giving the NSA access to data in nearly real-time." Read the rest here.

Welcoming Dan Lamothe to FP and celebrating his inaugural piece - done in his first three days on the job - "The Most Crooked Cop in Afghanistan," a story not only about an Afghan police chief accused of sexually abusing teen boys and U.S. Marines' efforts to have him removed, but one on a host of other crimes, from extorting money form civilians, operating illegal security checkpoints and working with the Taliban - selling it weapons and police uniforms. Lamothe: "The accusations are outlined in a witness statement submitted in support of Marine Maj. Jason Brezler, who faces an administrative hearing in which Marine Corps officials could toss him out of the service for warning fellow Marines about Sarwar Jan through an email on an unclassified network. One month after Brezler sent that message to Afghanistan, Sarwar Jan's teenage servant, Aynoddin, allegedly opened fire on Marines working out in a dusty gym at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand province. Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, Cpl. Richard Rivera and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley - all members of a police adviser team attached to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- were killed in that Aug. 10, 2012 insider attack. A fourth Marine, Staff Sgt. Cody Rhode survived, but sustained five gunshot wounds." More here.

Rosa Brooks' argument on FP: If all kids don't have chips implanted in them, then the terrorists win. OK, not really, but still. Reading Rosa: "What if I told you that nine out of ten terrorist plots in the United States could be thwarted via a simple technological expedient? It will be easy. At age 12 (or at whatever age he or she enters the United States), every U.S. citizen or visitor will be required to have a tiny tracking chip painlessly implanted in his or her forehead. The chip will be microscopic and almost invisible to the naked eye (although for a small fee, chips will also be made available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and styles for those who prefer something a bit more decorative). Despite their small size, each chip will be equipped with a GPS, a camera, and an audio-recording device. The chips will be powered by the body's own heat, supplemented during the day by solar energy. They will be waterproof, tamper-proof, and non-removable, and they will relay a constant stream of real-time information to computers maintained by government law enforcement personnel." Read the rest here.

Who knew? A shortage of Catholic chaplains in the military poses a problem. U.S. News' Paul Shinkman reports, here.

Merging the Air Force Reserve with the Air National Guard = bad idea, according to Air Force Reserve leaders. That bit on CNAS' Web site, here.

A Florida Marine opens his home to the Afghan who saved him, by the Tampa Tribune's Howard Altman, here.




National Security

The spying data came from the Europeans; A dereliction of duty?; Petraeus on FP: how not to lose Iraq; Did the Army spend $93 million it shouldn’t have?; Gates on Skelton: a “great oak has fallen.”

By Gordon Lubold

This is how we won in Iraq (and how we might lose): David Petraeus, writing on FP:  As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visits Washington this week and President Barack Obama is getting a bunch of advice, including from this former general. Petraeus' BLUF: "The ideas that enabled progress during the surge are, in many respects, the very ideas that could help Iraq's leaders reverse the tragic downward spiral that we have seen in recent months. As we discovered in the run-up to the surge of 2007, a singular focus on counterterrorist operations will most likely fail to stem the violence gripping Iraq... It is heartening, thus, to know that some of the veterans of the surge, American as well as Iraqi, are engaged in the effort to help Iraq determine and then pursue the initiatives needed to address the terrible increase in violence in that country. This is a time for them to work together to help Iraqi leaders take the initiative, especially in terms of reaching across the sectarian and ethnic divides that have widened in such a worrisome manner.  It is not too late for such action, but time is running short." Read the rest here.

The Blame Game Begins: McCain, Levin, Inhofe, Menendez, Corker and Graham to Obama: Maliki is mismanaging Iraqi politics and Iraq is descending into crisis. The bi-partisan group of senators told President Barack Obama they are "deeply concerned" about the security situation in Iraq as Maliki arrives later this week and want Obama to lean on Maliki to come up with a plan. The group of senators, on Maliki: "By too often pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda, Prime Minister Maliki and his allies are disenfranchising Sunni Iraqis, marginalizing Kurdish Iraqis, and alienating the many Shia Iraqis who have a democratic, inclusive, and pluralistic vision for their country. This failure of governance is driving many Sunni Iraqis into the arms of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and fueling the rise of violence, which in turn is radicalizing Shia Iraqi communities and leading many Shia militant groups to remobilize."

On the growing violence in Iraq, they cite the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which found: "In 2010, the low point for the al-Qaeda effort in Iraq, car bombings declined to an average of 10 a month and multiple location attacks occurred only two or three times a year. In 2013, so far there has been an average of 68 car bombings a month and a multiple-location strike every 10 days." Read the letter and the rest of their advice to Obama here.

Check here on FP later today for a piece on Iraq by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. 

What we can learn from Iraq in Afghanistan: a cautionary tale. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "...Maliki is desperately trying to turn back the clock and get Washington to increase its security cooperation with his government. Afghanistan is not Iraq, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai is facing a similar dilemma when it comes to the future U.S. military presence in his country. Washington is demanding that Afghanistan give its troops the kind of immunity it wanted in Iraq, and Karzai -- like Maliki -- is publicly opposed to providing it. The impasse has led the Obama administration to consider something that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago: a complete withdrawal of all American combat troops from Afghanistan, the original battlefield of the war on terror." Read the rest of that piece here.

AP's Big Story: Sunni Attacks Spark Shiite Call to Arms in Iraq. Read it here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Think again: On spying, "U.S. behavior didn't fall outside the norm, it is the norm." It turns out millions of phone records at the center of the controversy across Europe about the National Security Agency spying were actually provided by European intelligence services - not the NSA, according to U.S. officials. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman: "...The revelations suggest a greater level of European involvement in global surveillance, in conjunction at times with the NSA. The disclosures also put European leaders who loudly protested reports of the NSA's spying in a difficult spot, showing how their spy agencies aided the Americans. The phone records collected by the Europeans-in war zones and other areas outside their borders-were shared with the NSA as part of efforts to help protect American and allied troops and civilians, U.S. officials said. European leaders remain chagrined over revelations that the U.S. was spying on dozens of world leaders, including close allies in Europe. The new disclosures were separate from those programs."

James Lewis, a former State Department official, now a technology-policy specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to the WSJ: "That the evil NSA and the wicked U.S. were the only ones engaged in this gross violation of international norms-that was the fairy tale... It was never true. The U.S's behavior wasn't outside the norm. It is the norm." More here.

Clapper defends his turf against the White House. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told a House panel yesterday that the NSA had kept senior officials at the National Security Council informed of surveillance that it conducted in foreign countries. Clapper didn't say whether President Barack Obama was specifically told about it, but, as the NYT's Mark Landler and Michael Schmidt write, "he appeared to challenge assertions in recent days that the White House had been in the dark about some of the agency's practices. Mr. Clapper and the agency's director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, vigorously rejected suggestions that the agency was a rogue institution, trawling for information on ordinary citizens and leaders of America's closest allies, without the knowledge of its Washington overseers." Their story here.

"It's almost a dereliction not to tell him." As the cleanup continues after revelations that the U.S. was spying on world leaders that are its allies, and questions remain about what the President knew or didn't know, a former administration official tells FP that it would be impossible for the President not to know that the intelligence he would routinely receive on world leaders wasn't from signals intelligence. And if someone did not inform him, that's a firing offense. A former official to FP: "If you saw it, you'd know that it came out of somebody's mouth... I cannot believe that [Obama's national security staff] didn't brief the president on foreign leaders when he was going in to visit with them... It's almost a dereliction not to tell him." Read the rest of that piece here.

Did the Army spend $94 million it wasn't supposed to? The Army has apparently discovered that it spent as much as $93.5 million on its controversial Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS-A by spending out of the wrong pot of money, potentially constituting an illegal use of those funds. In effect, the Army discovered, that it spent money meant for operations and maintenance instead of using new money it wasn't allowed to spend. Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who has pointedly criticized the service on the intel platform, discovered the Army's own investigation and sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh yesterday. It reads, in part: "...Since Congress has received communication indicating that funds may have been used inappropriately as it relates to this program of record, it is my understanding that the Army is looking into this matter... With the current strain on the budget environment, it is vitally important that the services be able to account for all of their expenditures to ensure the funding Congress has appropriated is being executed appropriately and transparently."

Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper to Situation Report this morning: "In developing the DCGS cloud, which is still not functional, the Army appears to have used money it shouldn't have to recreate technology that already exists. The problem too is that the Army is no closer today than it was years ago, and there are companies out there that have done laps around the Army and its attempt at development.  More time and money wasted." Read the letter Hunter sent to HcHugh here.

The Syrian regime fired an official who was its most outspoken voice on peace. The NYT's Anne Barnard in Beirut: "...The official, Qadri Jamil, was dismissed for spending too much time outside Syria, neglecting his duties and holding meetings "without coordinating with the government," state television said. Mr. Jamil was fired shortly after he told the Russian news media that he had met with United States officials. Meetings between Syrian and American officials have been rare since the Syrian uprising began in 2011." More here.

The Walayatti Medical Clinic in Afghanistan wasn't built properly - and it was never used, according to SIGAR in a new report this morning. As a result, says SIGAR, $200,000 worth of taxpayer funds spent on the facility built that "appears to have been wasted." There is a laundry list of issues SIGAR found with the facility, built in Kabul Province. Read SIGAR's new report, out this morning at 9am, here.

The U.S. can no longer afford to be an actor and a director, Gordon Adams argues on FP. "There's a well-known movement exercise for actors in the theater designed to allow actors to "feel" the balance among the players on the stage. Imagine a platform poised and level on top of a single pointed pyramid. At a signal from the director, each actor on stage moves on his or her own to a new position and it is the duty of each to react to the movement of the others by moving in such a way that the platform remains level, overall. The surface "rebalances" in the mind of each actor as they move in response to the movements of the others. None of them know what the others will do, so they must adjust as the movement takes place. A new ensemble emerges." Read the rest here.

Bob Gates on Ike Skelton's passing: "...He always put our national security before politics and was a patriot before all else. I respected Ike, treasured his friendship and mourn his passing. A great oak of the Congress has fallen."

Marine Corps Times' Gina Harkins does a Q&A with one of the scout snipers in the urination video, who fires back at critics, here.

China is pivoting to Asia - is the U.S. paying attention? Alexandros Petersen, in The Atlantic, here.

Wanna see a B-2 with it's "Massive Ordnance Penetrator?" Read the article by David Cenciotti on The Aviationist, here.

ICYMI: CNAS' study on How to Build a Better General, worth the read. Click for that here.

"War is hell, brah." Doctrine Man on a VA claim for a desk jockey, here.