National Security

The Early Bird is dead; Israeli warplanes strike Syria; Assad will push to keep his CW factories open; How 60 Minutes is keeping Benghazi alive; Captain Kirk is the c/o of the Zumwalt, seriously; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Early Bird is dead and Steve Warren is the one who shot it down. The Early Bird, the compendium of news stories distributed each day to DOD officials, other government officials and journalists since 1948, is gone, Situation Report has learned. The Bird, which had ceased publication due to the shutdown, never made a comeback after the government opened and Col. Steve Warren, who heads the Pentagon's press operations, had said it was under review. Insiders knew it was on life support, but it was Warren who wanted the plug pulled. The Bird, which had an audience of 1.5 million each month, had grown too big, was too dated - simply providing a daily snapshot at 5:40 a.m. each day when it arrived by e-mail, and the publication, which was also appeared online to authorized users, had amounted to a copyright infringement against media outlets who never saw the "clicks."

The Bird had also become a major headache to Pentagon officials who would in effect chase their tails each day after a story ran in it. Still, it was also a valuable and begrudgingly loved publication that in its current form had turned 50 years old. Longtime staffers Taft Phoebus and Linda Lee, who were behind the Bird for years, will remain on Warren's staff.

"This is the end of an era," Col. Steve Warren told Situation Report. "And I will probably be the first inductee into the Public Affairs Hall of Infamy. There is a lot of anger out there."

What killed the Bird more specifically? Three things: Concerns over copyright infringement, the advent of the Internet and thirdly, the fact that it had become, as Warren termed it, "The Early Beast." As the Bird's audience grew over the years, and as "clicks" reflecting interest in any one story have become of extreme importance to media outlets, Pentagon officials knew they were increasingly pilfering content. The Early Bird did not contain Internet links to news site's home pages but was an internal document containing whole stories. Media outlets had begun asking questions of the Pentagon. Also, it was also created at a time long before the Internet provided global information in real time. When Warren was a lieutenant in Korea in the 1990s, it was the only way for commanders to know what was in The New York Times that day, for example, was through the Early Bird. Not so anymore. But the Bird, once termed by The Times as the most influential government publication, had become too influential, Warren said, "driving the entire train at the Pentagon and across the force" every day. A story in the Bird was given sometimes disproportional weight simply because it appeared there. Warren: "The Early Bird would very often dictate the day's events for countless numbers of staffers and commanders. People would organize their day around what was in the Early Bird."

And while it was supposed to provide "situational awareness" to commanders and other DOD officials, Warren said, it was often seen as doing public relations  - containing only the stories top officials wanted people to see - instead of true SA. Our own story, "Two's a Crowd at the Pentagon," about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, for example, never appeared in the Bird.

Was it tough to kill the Bird? Yes, Warren said -it will be a controversial move and he's already gotten some grief. "I may have shot it out of the sky, but it shot a few rounds back at me."

More on the Bird, including what will replace it, below.

We're sorry to see the Bird go, kinda. If you miss the Bird, we'll be glad to sign you up to our morning report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll stick you on. Tell a friend.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Meantime, 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.

Pakistan's Imran Khan tells the U.S. that NATO supply routes could be threatened over drone ops. The WaPo's Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan: "The chief political leader in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province threatened Thursday to choke off key NATO supply routes if U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan continue, setting up a potential clash within the country's national government. Imran Khan, whose Movement for Justice party controls the northwestern province, said he feared that continued drone strikes would undermine efforts by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Sharif said Thursday that dialogue has begun, though Taliban officials stress that the process will quickly unravel if the U.S. drone program is not halted. The latest suspected strike occurred Wednesday night." More here.

Israeli warplanes struck an Assad base. CNN's Barbara Starr first reported it. Starr last night: "Israeli warplanes struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia this week, an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday. An explosion at a missile storage site in the area was reported in the Middle Eastern press, but an attack has not been confirmed by the Israeli government. The target, according to the Obama administration official, was missiles and related equipment the Israelis felt might be transferred to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. The official declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. There was some confusion about the timing of the attack, with some reports saying it happened Wednesday, and others saying Thursday. When asked for comment, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman told CNN: ‘We don't refer to foreign reports.'" More here.

Syria met its deadline on chemical weapons. Reuters: "Syria has destroyed or rendered inoperable all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament program, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace prize this month, said its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The remaining two were too dangerous to reach for inspection but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites that experts had visited, it said." More here.

But while Syria may have met its deadline, it's pushing to keep its CW factories. An Exclusive from FP's trio of Colum Lynch, John Hudson and Yochi Dreazen: "Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has asked international inspectors to spare a dozen of its chemical weapons factories from the wrecking ball, The Cable has learned. The Syrians say they want to convert the plants into civilian chemical facilities. But the move is fueling concern among some non-proliferation experts that Damascus may be seeking to maintain the industrial capacity to reconstitute its chemical weapons program at some later date. The Syrian request -- which was contained in a confidential letter from Muallem to Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- has also raised concern among some Western governments that Syria may seek to entangle the inspection agency in lengthy negotiations that could drag out the process of destroying Syria's chemical weapons." More here.

Big exclusive for Aviation Week: The answer to the question, "what will be the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird?" Answer, here. AvWeek's Guy Norris: "Ever since Lockheed's unsurpassed SR-71 Blackbird was retired from U.S. Air Force service almost two decades ago, the perennial question has been: Will it ever be succeeded by a new-generation, higher-speed aircraft and, if so, when? That is, until now. After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets." More here.

Don't worry, flyboys - drones will never replace you. Writing on FP, Greg Malandrino and Jeff McLean: "...Human pilots physically located in an aircraft still represent an infinitely more adaptable platform and are irreplaceable when considering the high-threat environments of future wars. Among many futurists, the misguided conception that unmanned or remotely piloted air vehicles will inevitably replace manned aircraft has become commonplace. In truth, however, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will not replace manned fighter aircraft. They will empower them." More here.

The 60 Minutes broadcast on Benghazi is once again fueling the push to re-examine the attack from Sept. 11, 2012. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "In an explosive report on CBS's ‘60 Minutes' on Sunday, the British supervisor of local security guards protecting the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, provided a harrowing account of the extremist attack that killed four Americans. The man whom CBS called Morgan Jones, a pseudonym, described racing to the Benghazi compound while the attack was underway, scaling a 12-foot wall and downing an extremist with the butt end of a rifle as he tried in vain to rescue the besieged Americans." More here.

No joke: Captain James Kirk is now in command of the USS Zumwalt. Breaking Defense story on that, here.

Oversight of security clearances criticized, Dion Nissenbaum in the WSJ, here.

The nomination for Jo Ann Rooney for a top Navy job is on hold from Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand for her remarks on sexual assault. UPI, here.

From a Republican Congressional staffer to Situation Report on that nom: "The Gillibrand-Rooney angle is clearly what is driving headlines, but Rooney's Navy-knowledge (I cannot find any, anywhere) is really the grounds she should be opposed on. If the Under job is reserved for a Navy ‘big-thinker' who can manage the day-to-day of the organization (i.e. Bob Work), then Bob Martinage should have the job. Rooney is in no way qualified to chart the Sea Services' course into an Asia-Pacific decade."

Maybe the NSA isn't screwed after all. FP's John Hudson and Shane Harris: "It turns out Dianne Feinstein's bark is worse than her bite. On Thursday, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee ushered in a new bill for reforming the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency that retains the structure of its controversial bulk telephone metadata program while adding modest reporting and oversight requirements. The bill... comes just days after Feinstein sent shockwaves through the intelligence community with a public scolding of the NSA's surveillance of foreign leaders." The quote heard round the NSA world earlier this week from FP: "We're really screwed now," one NSA official had told the Cable after Feinstein came out swinging in the NSA crisis. "You know things are bad when the few friends you've got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address." Their piece yesterday about Feinstein's proposed legislation, here.

Edward Snowden, back to work, for a Russian Website. Reuters, here.

Casualty of the NSA world leader spying scandal: a warm rapport between Obama and Merkel. The NYT's Mark Landler, here.  

What a difference eight months makes: Hagel spoke to the ADL last night in New York. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: Less than a year after some pro-Israel groups tried to torpedo his nomination to lead the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a keynote address Thursday evening in New York to the Anti-Defamation League, an influential Jewish civil rights group. Pentagon officials said Hagel was invited to speak by Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the league. Foxman was among Hagel's toughest critics during his acrimonious confirmation process, calling his record on Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship "at best disturbing and at worst, very troubling.'"

Foxman today, to Whitlock: "I guess I changed my mind about what I think of him," Foxman said with a chuckle. "The issues that separated us are a part of history." More here.

Read our story from this summer about what Foxman said about Hagel in "The Mensch," here.

Hagel's ADL speech from last night, here.

Hagel was on Maddow last night on MSNBC, here.

This morning, Hagel sits down in a roundtable discussion with business leaders and vets. The event is being hosted this morning in New York by JPMorgan Chase to talk about the progress the private sector is making in supporting vets transition issues in terms of employment, education and housing. JPMC and 10 other companies founded the 100,000 Jobs initiative, and as Situation Report reported last week, the number of jobs vets have obtained has inched north of 92,000. More here.

Are the Marines fudging the reliability record of the Osprey? FP's Dan Lamothe: When Marines landed an MV-22B Osprey in an open field at the Dare County Bombing Range in North Carolina in June, it looked like a routine mission. But a gaffe was made: The Osprey sparked a grassfire and was left parked on it. Initially, Marine Corps officials said the damage was minor. Not quite: the fire burnt the fuselage, leaving it a $79.3 million total loss, according to data released by the Naval Safety Center. Parts were later recovered for use on other aircraft, but that Osprey never flew again, Foreign Policy has learned." More here.

The Bird, con't. What will replace the Early Bird? Something with an awful name which will probably get a nickname down the road: the "news analysis product," which has been quietly distributed to a couple hundred top officials each morning since the shutdown. It doesn't contain Internet links, either, but the audience is much smaller compared to the Bird and it's meant, as Warren says, to be a true report from the Pentagon's Public Affairs Department to top DOD officials about what's in the news. It also contains a "this day in history" bit each day.

From our bit about the Early Bird last fall: "Caspar Weinberger and the fax machine had the biggest impact on the growth of the Early Bird. "Weinberger, whose driver brought an Early Bird for his commute from northwest D.C. shortly after 0600 each morning, became known for calling DoD officials as he neared the Pentagon, in search of details about what he was reading. Demand for earlier delivery quickly spread among DoD managers, their staffs, and the Joint Chiefs," according to a history of the Early Bird Warren requested as he considers changes."

Want to know more? Read "Early Bird 101," an internal Pentagon memo we obtained last year, here.

 

 

 

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 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.

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.