Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Foreign jihadis in Syria pose risk to West; The seat gets hotter for Shinseki; Russian troops retreat; Terry Mitchell's last day; Peter Scoblic to leave FP post; Westboro Baptist to protest Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Foreign jihadis are fighting in Syria and they're posing an increasing threat to the West. The NYT's Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura on Page One: "... More than 70 Americans are thought by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have traveled to Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad. One of them, still publicly unidentified, carried out a suicide bombing there on Sunday, making him the first United States citizen believed to have been involved in such an attack.

"As many as 3,000 Westerners are believed to have gone to Syria to fight, prompting increasingly aggressive efforts by their home governments to keep them from leaving and to detain them on their return. In Britain, the Home Office has stripped at least 20 jihadis of their citizenship, and the police said that the number of "Syria-related arrests" totaled 40 from January to March of this year, compared with 25 for the whole of last year.

"Just last week, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, of Portsmouth, was convicted of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts after he returned to Britain from Syria in late October. He is the first Briton to be convicted of fighting alongside Islamists in Syria.

"The stories told by Abu Muhajir, 26, and other Westerners fighting in Syria provide some insight into their motivations and outlook as extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda try to identify, recruit and train men from the United States and Europe to carry out attacks when they return home, according to senior United States intelligence and counterterrorism officials." More here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  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, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling, as is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey; both are in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogues... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is presenting the MacArthur Leadership awards in the Pentagon Auditorium at 10:30 a.m... Navy Sec. Ray Mabus will be the guest of honor at the Marine Barracks Washington Evening Parade and he will formally name Amphibious ship LHA 7 as USS Tripoli during the ceremony...Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard change of command ceremony this morning... Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert concluded a visit in Japan earlier this week, with Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, in which the two discussed how to enhance the "interoperability" of their navies and strengthen their relationship; Greenert also visited U.S. sailors, civilians and family members in Yokosuka and Atsugi. Greenert then went to South Korea to meet with senior military leaders and visit service members and Navy families stationed there.

China is digging even deeper into U.S. computers than previously thought. The WSJ's Danny Yadron, James Areddy and Paul Mozur on Page One: "China's Internet espionage capabilities are deeper and more widely dispersed than the U.S. indictment of five army officers last week suggests, former top government officials say, extending to a sprawling hacking-industrial complex that shields the Chinese government but also sometimes backfires on Beijing. Some of the most sophisticated intruders observed by U.S. officials and private-sector security firms work as hackers for hire and at makeshift defense contractors, not the government, and aren't among those named in the indictment. In recent years, engineers from this crowd have broken into servers at Google Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and top cybersecurity companies, former U.S. officials and security researchers alleged." More here.

The NSA is calling BS on Snowden. FP's Shane Harris and Elias Groll: "On the heels of Edward Snowden's prime-time effort to bolster his case as a conscientious defender of civil liberties, the U.S. government is pushing back on a central aspect of the whistleblower's story: that he attempted to alert his superiors to what he viewed as excessive intelligence gathering techniques and that those efforts to blow the whistle were ignored.
"On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released what it says is the only email it has been able to find in which Snowden raises any kind of concern with NSA bosses. In the email, Snowden inquires about NSA training materials that describe the hierarchy of U.S. laws. According to the email, Snowden questioned whether that material placed federal laws and executive orders on the same level. A federal law can override an executive order but not the other way around.
"...In releasing the email, the National Intelligence Director's Office noted that the communication between Snowden and NSA higher-ups did not address allegations of surveillance overreach, a rejection of Snowden's claim that he attempted to air his concerns internally before disclosing classified information to journalists." More here.

John Bolton is playing an unexpectedly prominent role in an Iranian cyber spying campaign. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake: "...Hackers believed to be connected to the Tehran government are posing as Bolton on social media platforms in a scheme to get human rights activists and national security wonks to hand over their passwords and user names.  The fake Bolton LinkedIn account provides a window into how Iran's hackers are trying to penetrate the policy networks of their government's adversaries." More here.

The Westboro Baptist Church will protest at the Pentagon June 9. After completing all the necessary paperwork, the Pentagon has approved the application for about 15 members of the Westboro Baptist Church - most infamous for its protests at military funerals over homosexuality - who will hold a demonstration June 9 in the small courtyard near the building's Metro entrance, Situation Report has learned. The group has an hour there, and it's expected to be part of their "D.C. tour," which will likely include other places in Washington, Situation Report is told. There is also a report this week that they will protest at the funeral of Maya Angelou wherever it is held.

HRC, in her new book, on Benghazi: "Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country," [Hillary Clinton] writes in the gripping chapter, 'Benghazi: Under Attack,'" writes Politico's Maggie Haberman, who obtained a copy of the book. Read that here.

This is Terry Mitchell's last day at the Pentagon. Mitchell isn't just the guy who tells reporters not to bring coffee cups into the Pentagon's briefing room - nor the one who would always tell reporters to turn off "all cell phones and beepers" - long after beepers were used! - before a briefing. He's also known for just being a tremendous all around guy. His last day is today, and there is a going away for him in - where else - but the Pentagon briefing room.  Very best to him. From the Pentagon's Col. Steve Warren, on Terry: "Terry Mitchell will retire having served our nation for 45 distinguished years. In the Navy he was an award winning photographer and as a member of the [Pentagon public affairs] team he has been a tireless public servant. As the head of our audio/visual section he could always be counted on to pay attention to every detail and I could always rest easy knowing that his briefing room would be in ship-shape for any event no matter what.  We'll all miss is dry wit and his indefatigable demeanor but I will particularly miss the twinkle in his eye as he ejected the next Lieutenant from the briefing room.  Terry is a genuine patriot who has served our nation with great distinction over four and a half decades." 

More Dems call for Shinseki to resign. FP's John Hudson: "...On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the president is waiting for an internal review to pass judgment on Shinseki, a review Carney said is due this week. That could set the stage for Shinseki's ouster, a prospect that is increasingly likely given the breadth of Democratic lawmakers calling for his head.
"...In a cluster of tweets and press releases hours after the report's release on Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Calif.), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) demanded that Shinseki resign. Bleeding into Thursday, a growing number of Democrats called for his resignation, including Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.),  Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Or.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mary Landrieu (D-L.A.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee." More here.

A doctor shortage is cited in delays at V.A. hospitals. The NYT's Richard Oppel and Abby Goodnough: "Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a primary care physician, took a job at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Jackson, Miss., in 2008 expecting fulfilling work and a lighter patient load than she had had in private practice. What she found was quite different: 13-hour workdays fueled by large patient loads that kept growing as colleagues quit and were not replaced.

"Appalled by what she saw, Dr. Hollenbeck filed a whistle-blower complaint and changed jobs. A subsequent investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded last fall that indeed the Jackson hospital did not have enough primary care doctors, resulting in nurse practitioners' handling far too many complex cases and in numerous complaints from veterans about delayed care. ‘It was unethical to put us in that position,' Dr. Hollenbeck said of the overstressed primary care unit in Jackson. ‘Your heart gets broken.'" More here.

Even Hagel walked back his support for Shinseki yesterday. The AP's Lolita Baldor: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday drew back on his public support of Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki, telling reporters he will leave decisions on the VA leader's future to others. Asked if Shinseki is the right person to fix the VA's troubles, Hagel said he thinks the secretary understands the depth of the problem and what veterans deserve in terms of their health care. But he stopped short of making the kinds of supportive statements he had been offering for Shinseki in previous days.

"A senior official said the Pentagon chief, who was wounded during the Vietnam War, has tempered his thinking on the issue. The official said Hagel had grown increasingly disturbed by the inspector general's report suggesting that treatment delays and efforts to falsify records to hide the problems were broader and more systemic than initially reported. The official was not authorized to discuss private discussion by name and spoke on condition of anonymity." More here.

The WaPo's Michael Cavna assembled a group of political cartoons disparaging Shinseki here.

Under pressure, Hagel says he'll act on Guantanamo transfers. Hagel: "What I'm doing is, I am taking my time. I owe that to the American people, to ensure that any decision I make is, in my mind, responsible." The NYT's Charlie Savage and Helene Cooper, here.

Hagel says that Russia has withdrawn most of its troops from the border with Ukraine. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung from the Doomsday plane: "Russia has withdrawn thousands of its troops massed on the border with Ukraine, even as violence escalated inside that country between government troops and pro-Russian separatists, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. Hagel called the withdrawal ‘promising,' but said that thousands of troops remained of the 40,000 Russia moved to the border in recent months. ‘They are not where they need to be and won't be until all of their troops...are gone,' he said. A senior Defense official traveling with Hagel said that about seven Russian battalions remain of those that were deployed to the east and south of Ukraine." More here.

Post Obama forpol speech: the pivot to Asia is for real, Hagel says, en route to Singapore. Reuters' David Brunnstrom from the Doomsday plane: "The United States will not be deterred from plans to strengthen its military position in Asia by emerging threats elsewhere, the U.S. defense secretary said on Thursday as he prepared to meet allies in the region worried by an increasingly assertive China. President Barack Obama, in a keynote foreign policy speech on Wednesday, surprised and disappointed some in Asia when he made no specific reference to what has been a signature policy theme of his administration, the rebalancing of U.S. military, political and economic focus toward Asia."

Hagel on POTUS' West Point address: "What the president said yesterday and his explanation in addressing the emerging threats in all corners of the word will not inhibit, or shorten, or lessen our asset position here in the rebalancing to the Asia Pacific." More here.

For the New Yorker's Political Scene podcast, David Remnick and Ryan Lizza join host Amelia Lester to discuss President Obama's speech at West Point and criticisms of his foreign policy. Listen here.

Also in the wake of Obama's speech, Dempsey, in the U.A.E. earlier this week, reiterated how the U.S. is still prepared to use force when necessary. Defense News' Awad Mustafa: "The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has rejected the notion that the US is politically exhausted during his visit to the United Arab Emirates this week. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey also stated that if the diplomatic track with Iran fails, the military option remains and that the US is capable.
"...The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the coming drawdown in Afghanistan are offered as proof of this weariness, Dempsey said, and extrapolated to predict a broad US withdrawal from the region. But this is not the case, he stressed, citing what has happened to al-Qaida as an example. Al-Qaida was a centralized organization based out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and its allies - including the United Arab Emirates - put pressure on the terror organization. Central al-Qaida is a shadow of its former self, but the group has adapted, he said." More here.

From the Guardian's Rowena Mason, the UK will reveal some secret documents that will shed light on Blair's conversations with Bush about the Iraq war, here.

Why Sisi's win is good for Al Qaeda explains Mara Revkin for Foreign Affairs, here.

The future of U.S. warfare is already here, and it's all about the proxies. The NYT's Eric Schmitt: "During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military often carried out dozens of daily operations against Al Qaeda and other extremist targets with heavily armed commandos and helicopter gunships. But even before President Obama's speech on Wednesday sought to underscore a shift in counterterrorism strategy - away from the Qaeda strongholds in and near those countries - American forces had changed their tactics in combating Al Qaeda and its affiliates, relying more on allied or indigenous troops with a limited American combat role.
"Navy SEAL or Army Delta Force commandos will still carry out raids against the most prized targets, such as the seizure last fall of a Libyan militant wanted in the 1998 bombings of two United States Embassies in East Africa. But more often than not, the Pentagon is providing intelligence and logistics assistance to proxies, including African troops and French commandos fighting Islamist extremists in Somalia and Mali. And it is increasingly training foreign troops - from Niger to Yemen to Afghanistan - to battle insurgents on their own territory so that American armies will not have to.

Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who leads the military's Africa Command, said this year: "‘...Our basic premise is that it's Africans who are best able to address African challenges.'" More here.

How will NATO maintain the ability to fight side-by-side in the absence of ISAF in Afghanistan? John Deni for War on the Rocks: "It is no accident that forces from NATO member states can actually operate alongside or embedded with one another. Interoperability is, in large part, the product of a war, one that is soon ending: the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)'s campaign in Afghanistan.  Later this year, though, NATO's extensive involvement in operations in Afghanistan will come to an end, and with it, the alliance's workshop for building and maintaining an unprecedented level of interoperability... However, it will mean that NATO, and specifically the ground forces of alliance member states, will face greater difficulty in maintaining this unprecedented level of operational and tactical interoperability." More here.

The Army wants its money back from Northrop. The Army will press Northrop Grumman Corp. for refunds after the Pentagon's inspector general found the contractor charged inflated labor rates on programs to fight drug trafficking. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio's story, here.

Wanna know why Chinese military leaders love the F-35? Read Breaking Defense's Colin Clark's piece, here.

Danger pay ends in some areas starting next week. From Stripes: "A car payment. A couple weeks of groceries. A month of utilities. That's about how much some 44,000 servicemembers deployed around the globe will begin losing out of their paychecks starting Monday, when imminent danger pay is decertified for 22 locations. IDP is worth up to $225 a month, depending on how long troops spend in danger zones. The Defense Department periodically makes changes to IDP, and did so most recently in 2011. The new cuts to the IDP list will save $108 million, the Pentagon said when it announced the cuts in January." The list of decertified countries and more here.

A survey shows that Lackland military training instructors were ‘scared to train.' Military Times' Kristin Davis: "Two years after a rape allegation against a military training instructor launched one of the biggest sexual misconduct scandals in military history, trainers who remained at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland said their morale was low, they had little trust in leadership and they didn't feel as dedicated to their jobs anymore. Many felt minor missteps could mean the end of their Air Force careers." More here.

The Defense Department is developing a new, mood-predicting brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers. Defense One's Patrick Tucker: "...With $12 million (and the potential for $26 million more if benchmarks are met), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, wants to reach deep into your brain's soft tissue to record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind." More here.

Peter Scoblic is leaving his perch as the executive editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Scoblic is leaving FP to pursue a doctorate at Harvard Business School, though he'll continue as a contributing editor. He'll be replaced by the awesome Mindy Bricker, who FP CEO and Editor David Rothkopf noted "has the unique distinction of having been the editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and, prior to that, served as editor-at-large for the Czech edition of Marie Claire magazine-thus giving her complete domination of the fission-fashion axis of issues." Scoblic, along with then editor Susan Glasser, hired us 20 months or so ago and together we launched Situation Report. He got up early each morning to edit us and even in those bleary-eyed days, managed great edits, made smart points, and helped guide SitRep to what it is today. We'll miss him as an editor, journalistic mentor and friend.

Scoblic, in an email to friends: "My 15 years in Washington have given me an acute sense of how important individual and group psychology are to policymaking, and [Harvard Business School] provides a remarkable opportunity to rigorously examine what happens-and why-when you charge a group of humans with making pivotal decisions. (Spoiler alert: the outcome ain't always rational.) I'm looking forward to intellectually recapitalizing and, I hope, improving our understanding of how Washington might work better.

"I'm enormously grateful for my time at FP, where I've worked with dozens of talented contributors and where I've had the opportunity to help build a team of remarkable colleagues. I'm particularly proud of what we've accomplished with the print magazine this past year, and I know that FP's reporters and editors will continue to produce tremendous journalism...And, now, as a man once said to me, 'Onwards!'"

FP Executive Editor for Online Ben Pauker on Scoblic: "Peter reshaped and, with a dynamic new team, redesigned FP's print edition -- with both a deep respect for the publication's 44-year intellectual history and bravado to try new things. By bringing in bold, longform journalism and an award-winning fresh look and feel, he's helped set the course for a new era for the magazine. In finding and grooming his extremely talented successor, Mindy Kay Brinker, he's left the print magazine in good hands -- and we're thrilled Peter will stick around as a contributing editor. It's been a pleasure to be a partner with someone who's outsized brain is matched only by his outsized beard."

And FP regular contributor Rosa Brooks had this to say: "Peter's a fantastic editor. He has a light touch, but when he makes suggestions, they always improve my writing. It's been a pleasure to work with someone so smart and funny and knowledgeable. I'll miss him a lot."





Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: VA hid waiting lists, Shinseki feels the heat; No drone strikes in Pakistan since December; Obama: America's great hammer shouldn't be looking for a nail; FP wins: Nicole Duran, Kate Brannen aboard; and a bit more.


The VA scandal worsened yesterday with the release of an IG report and now there's a new wave of lawmakers calling on Shinseki to resign. FP's John Hudson: "An array of lawmakers from both parties called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Wednesday following the publication of a new report describing the ‘systemic' practice of mishandling medical appointments at a Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix that may have led to the deaths of 23 veterans. The criticism of Shinseki from the lawmakers, which include a pair of Democratic senators facing difficult re-election bids, is certain to lead others on Capitol Hill to call for the secretary's resignation, putting new pressure on the White House to oust the embattled former general.
"The report,
an internal assessment by the VA's Inspector General, confirmed a number of allegations plaguing the Phoenix hospital in recent months. It said 1,700 veterans waiting to see a doctor hadn't actually been scheduled for an appointment or placed on a waiting list, raising questions about how many more remained ‘forgotten or lost' in the system. It also said that the inspector general has expanded his review to 42 VA facilities, beyond the 26 initially designated. Earlier reports found that the VA manipulated record-keeping that covered up lengthy waiting periods for veterans, some of whom ended up dying in the process. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman McKeon, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Miller and Sen. John McCain "...demanded that Shinseki resign."

"Sens. Udall and Walsh joined the chorus, making them the first Democratic senators to call for Shinseki's head.  ‘In light of IG report & systemic issues at @DeptVetAffairs, Sec. Shinseki must step down,' tweeted Udall." More here.

The NYT's Richard Oppel and Michael Shear: "... Mr. Shinseki, a soft-spoken former four-star Army general and chief of staff, has had support on Capitol Hill from some lawmakers partly because of his long military career. But the release of the inspector general's report increased the pressure on him to step down, especially after some Senate Democrats broke with others in the party late in the day to demand his removal. Mr. Walsh, the Montana senator, said that the report 'confirms the worst of the allegations against the V.A.,' and that 'it's time to put the partisanship aside and focus on what's right for our veterans.'" More here.

Meantime, an Iraq vet killed by police in a gunfight had been turned away from a VA hospital. Time's David Von Drehl: "...Tortured by symptoms of PTSD, turned away by an overbooked hospital run by the Department of Veterans Affairs-his mother says she pleaded with doctors to let him sleep on the hospital floor-Sims was shot by Kansas City police on Sunday after they answered a neighbor's 911 call. Police say Sims was firing a gun from inside his parents' home and was killed when he moved to the garage and leveled the weapon at the SWAT team. Family members don't believe that the 23-year-old veteran was a threat to police. 'With his sniper training, if he was shooting at them he would've hit them,' his sister Shawnda Anderson told TIME.

"But everyone could agree that the root cause of the confrontation was that Staff Sergeant Sims was falling to pieces, and felt like he had nowhere to turn." Read this story here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  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, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When today - Gen. Ray Odierno will participate in a summit hosted by President Obama on Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion at the White House at 11:05 a.m... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will host a ceremony naming Tom Hicks and Jodi Greene as Deputy Under-Secretaries of the Navy.

At CSIS this morning, "Citizen-Soldiers in a Time of Transition: The Future of the U.S. Army National Guard" with a keynote by Rep. Tim Walz. Deets here.

We know Jim Mattis isn't a retired three-star. Thank you for your cards and letters. An item about the VA that we picked up yesterday from Time magazine's excellent Mark Thompson included a reference to the former CENTCOM commander (a four-star job!) as being a retired three star. Time fixed the error and we're passing it along here. We're sure Thompson would apologize to Mattis for the temporary demotion. That story again, here.

Yesterday, Secretary Hagel left on his fourteenth international trip, a 12-day around the world odyssey focused on Asia and Europe. He's headed to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, but he made a stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, where he received briefings on missile and homeland defense. From the May 23 briefing with Rear Adm. John Kirby:

In Singapore, Secretary Hagel will deliver remarks at the annual Shangri-La dialogue and hold a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings with other ministers of defense...

From Singapore, the secretary will travel to Brussels to participate in his fourth NATO defense ministers meeting...

The secretary will next travel through Romania, a valued NATO ally. This visit gives him the opportunity to visit sailors aboard a U.S. Navy ship which will be in port there, and to consult bilaterally with Romania's minister of defense on ways to strengthen NATO's deterrence...

And then finally, from Romania, the secretary will travel to France to participate in the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day, with President Obama, other cabinet officials, and leaders really from around the world."

Staffers on a plane - In addition to Hagel and his wife, Lilibet; Chief of Staff Mark Lippert; Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Honorable Puneet Talwar; Director of Travel James Eby; Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs Honorable Derek Chollet; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Dr. Amy Searight; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, APC  Michael Dumont; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Europe/NATO Jim Townsend; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas; Country Director, Southeast Asia Lieutenant Col. Scott Dewett; Director, Northeast Asia Chris Johnstone; Special Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs Brent Colburn; Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Reporters on a plane - Bloomberg's Gopal Ratnam; AP's Lita Baldor and Pablo Martinez (photographer); the WSJ's Julian Barnes; CBS Radio's Cami McCormick; the WaPo's Karen DeYoung; Reuters' David Brunnstron; ABC News' Ali Weinberg, Gary Rosenberg and Hank Disselkamp; the NYT's Helene Cooper; Defense One's Kevin Baron.

Major Score: Foreign Policy hires two. The FP news team is growing with the addition of a pair of great journalists with deep experience in the trenches: Nicole Duran, most recently the executive editor of National Journal Daily, began at FP this week as the deputy managing editor for news and Kate Brannen, who writes Politico's Morning Defense - the other morning newsletter - will start in June as a senior reporter covering the defense industry and its many players. Pumped to have them both on board.

There hasn't been an American drone strike in Pakistan since Christmas. The AP's Ken Dilanian: "...The secret targeted killing program that once was the mainstay of President Barack Obama's counterterrorism effort appears to be winding down. In a major foreign policy speech at the U.S. Military Academy on Wednesday, Obama said the U.S. would continue to carry out occasional drone strikes, but he cited Yemen and Somalia, not Pakistan, where drone missiles once rained down at a rate of two per week.

"Armed U.S. drones are still flying regularly over Pakistan's tribal areas, and CIA targeting officers are still nominating militants to a kill list, according to U.S. officials regularly briefed on the covert program who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss covert programs publicly. But over the past five months, no missiles have been fired. And while the CIA won't say the program has ended, Obama announced this week a plan to pull nearly all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016. The targeted killing program in Pakistan relies on drones flown from, and intelligence gathered in, U.S. bases in Afghanistan that would then be closed.

The New America Foundation's Peter Bergen: "The program (in Pakistan) appears to have ended." More here.

Obama says just because the U.S. has a great hammer, that doesn't mean everything has to be a nail. FP's Lubold: "President Obama told a crowd of cheering cadets at West Point that the U.S. remains an ‘indispensable nation' that will face down terrorism threats around the world and work to bolster key allies while avoiding costly, open-ended wars. But amid Republican criticism that Obama has diminished America's standing globally, the high-profile address likely handed his opponents new support for their claim that he's more interested in a domestic agenda than one in which he'd be willing to intervene in a place like Syria, now in the third year of a bloody civil war.

"Obama, speaking at the U.S. Military Academy's commencement ceremony, said terrorism remains ‘the most direct threat to America at home and abroad' and stressed that the U.S. won't refrain from taking direct action against militants if it has actionable intelligence. He also announced a new $5 billion counter-terrorism fund designed to help the U.S. train allies in the Middle East and North Africa so they could battle their own home-grown extremists with little to no U.S. help. Administration officials pointed to Africa, where the military has ramped up its efforts to help the militaries of countries like Mali, Chad and Niger.

On Syria: "...Although there has been speculation for weeks that the White House would expand its program to train and arm the Syrian opposition, and perhaps Obama would use Wednesday's speech to outline it, Obama was decidedly non-committal. The administration has long stressed that the U.S. military wouldn't intervene in the conflict and that it was committed to a diplomatic solution to the brutal civil war. Those efforts have collapsed in recent weeks, but Obama didn't acknowledge that diplomacy was no longer making any progress and offered only broad brushstrokes about what the U.S. would do to help.

 "...A senior administration official briefing reporters after the speech had few other details, putting the responsibility for authorizing such assistance on Congress' doorstep and hinting that it could be several more months before Syrian rebels see any new assistance. Asked if the White House had settled on a plan to assist Syrian rebels, the official hinted that it had not." More here.

For the New Yorker, John Cassidy on Obama's reluctant realism, here.

Are those Republicans throwing stones at Obama's forpol speech living in glass houses? For the National Interest, Rick Russell writes that while Republicans may be right to criticize Obama's West Point speech yesterday, they should take a good look at themselves. The GOP has forgotten what a real conservative foreign policy looks like, he argues. Read that bit here.

The president's much-anticipated foreign policy speech at West Point will set off another round of debate on his ‘doctrine' - but for Obama, it's about giving the public what they want by TIME's Michael Crowley, here.

‘America must always lead,' Obama tells West Point graduates. The NYT's Mark Lander: "...Mr. Obama has been deeply frustrated by the criticism of his foreign policy, which during his first term was generally perceived as his strong suit. He has lashed out at critics, whom he accuses of reflexively calling for military action as the remedy for every crisis." More here.

Tara Sonenshine in Defense One's BLUF on the speech: "For the graduating class of Army cadets, and for ordinary Americans looking for leadership-the president hit the mark-unless, of course, you are an isolationist or someone who wants U.S. troops everywhere. The West Point speech is unlikely to fit neatly on a bumper sticker like 'containment' or 'American exceptionalism,' but it offers lodestars at a difficult time in the foreign policy galaxy." More here.

The NYT's Editorial this morning, "President Obama misses a chance on foreign affairs:" "...Mr. Obama's talk of the need for more transparency about drone strikes and intelligence gathering, including abusive surveillance practices, was ludicrous. His administration had to be dragged into even minimal disclosures on both topics. Just Tuesday, the administration said it wanted to make further deletions from a legal memo on drone strikes that a court ordered it to make public.

"Mr. Obama's comments on China and Russia barely touched on how he plans to manage two major countries that have turned increasingly aggressive. Pledging anew to close the jail at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which Congress has blocked, was, at this point, little more than a reassuring gesture.

"This was far from Mr. Obama's big moment. But since he has no office left to run for, what matters ultimately is his record in the next two and a half years." More here.

The U.S. is already supporting Syrian rebels, of course. Last night, Frontline aired an exclusive report on how the administration is already secretly supporting rebel groups in Syria with training and weapons. Watch it here.

The WH estimates $20 billion for keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, but the Pentagon budget request will be even bigger. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "The Obama administration estimates that keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2015 would cost about $20 billion, but the Pentagon is still expected to request tens of billions of dollars more for additional security operations in the region, according to sources and experts. The White House said Wednesday that it was finalizing its 2015 overseas contingency operations (OCO) spending plan, one day after a senior administration official revealed a troop-cost estimate." More here.

A new report from Stimson on global trafficking says the U.S. government and the private sector must work more together. The U.S. government and the private sector must increase cooperation to close existing gaps in efforts to detect, reduce, and prevent incidents of illicit global trafficking finds a new report from the Stimson Center. After eighteen months, a task force of national security experts and industry leaders has proposed seven recommendations to close security gaps in global trade by better leveraging market incentives.  One idea is a proposed "trusted exporter" regime, which would leverage several Obama administration initiatives to provide benefits to exporters of dual-use goods and technologies that voluntarily adopted more rigorous due diligence processes. Retired Rear Admiral Jay Cohen (USN) and Stimson Center co-founder Barry Blechman served as the group's chair and vice chair, respectively. Cohen and Blechman write in the foreword to the task force report that public-private partnerships not only will have increasing relevance to narrow security goals, but also "will go far in shaping the future of US global influence and leadership." Read the full report here.

At a 9 a.m. event this morning, Stimson will launch the report with a keynote from Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Rand Beers. Deets here.

Al-Sisi wins in Egypt. Reuters this hour: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who toppled Egypt's first freely elected leader, took more than 90 percent of the vote in a presidential election, provisional results showed on Thursday, joining a long line of leaders drawn from the military. But a lower-than-expected turnout figure raised questions about the credibility of a man idolized by his supporters as a hero who can deliver political and economic stability. Sisi won 93.3 percent of votes cast, judicial sources said, with most ballots counted after three days of voting. His only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, gained 3 percent while 3.7 percent of votes were declared void." More here.

A private firm reveals that Iran-based cyberspies are targeting U.S. officials. The WSJ's Siobhan Gorman: "Hackers apparently based in Iran have mounted a three-year campaign of cyberespionage against high-ranking U.S. and international officials, including a four-star admiral, to gather intelligence on economic sanctions, antinuclear proliferation efforts and other issues, according to cybersecurity investigators. Using an elaborate ruse involving more than a dozen personas working for a fake U.S. news organization, the hackers developed connections to their targets through websites like Facebook FB +0.05% and LinkedIn to trick them into giving up personal data and logon information, the investigators say.

"The alleged campaign, which dates back at least to 2011 and is still under way, principally has focused on U.S. and Israeli targets in public and private sectors, but also has included similar officials in countries such as the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, according to the investigators. The campaign was uncovered by the cybersecurity firm iSight Partners, which has been tracking it for six months. The iSight report provides the first detailed public look inside what the investigators say is an extensive cyberespionage campaign against the U.S. by Iranian hackers, and shows to an extent not previously understood their ability to conduct extensive and lengthy targeting of key individuals, much in the mold of Chinese cyberspies." More here.

Meantime, White House officials and Dempsey seem to disagree over whether the U.S. has a coherent cyber strategy. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "...The rift surfaced when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently voiced concerns at the Atlantic Council about the nation's lack of preparedness for a cyber attack, cited strategic shortcomings and assigned blame to Congress. ‘We have sectors within our nation that are more ready than others, but we don't have a coherent cyber strategy as a nation,' Dempsey said. ‘And I understand why. . . . There are some big issues involved with achieving that kind of coherence -- issues related to privacy and cost, information sharing and all of the liabilities that come in the absence of legislation to incentivize information sharing.' Dempsey has previously defined strategy not merely as the issuance of high-profile guidance but as the process of balancing ends, ways and means.

"Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, disputed Dempsey's critique. ‘Current U.S. cyber strategy is coherent and consistent with U.S. values that support an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet,' she told Inside Cybersecurity. ‘Given that cyberspace permeates every aspect of the economy and national security, no single document can meaningfully capture our strategic direction. Instead, our efforts are informed by specific strategy and policy documents.'" More here.

At the Atlantic Council yesterday, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an overview of U.S. missile- defense strategy.  He outlined the fundamental principles behind the U.S. approach: "...If we consider that at the top of our list of national security interests is probably the survival of our nation, then at the top of the list of threats to that interest is a massive nuclear attack from Russia. Because we prefer to use the deterrent of missile defense in situations where it has the highest possibility of being most productive. We've told Russia and the world that we will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence, because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try. Even though Russians have a hard time believing us on this, it has the very great virtue of actually being true.
"Rather, we rely for deterrence of Russia on our ability to respond massively to an attack, and that has worked for a very long time.?But we do have other interests, where what we call ‘limited missile defense' quickly comes sharply into focus as being very relevant, beginning with our determination to prevent catastrophic attacks on our nation. This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime." Watch his remarks here.

Meantime, China's not big on a proposed new missile defense system in South Korea. The WSJ's Te-Ping Chen and Alastair Gale: "China warned against the deployment of a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in South Korea, saying such a move would unnecessarily raise regional tensions. The U.S. is weighing a plan to deploy an advanced missile-defense system in South Korea as a counterweight to North Korea, according to defense officials. The $950 million Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery is designed to intercept short, medium and intermediate missiles... China, North Korea's main ally in the region, was less supportive of the prospect of such a system. 'We believe that the deployment of antimissile systems in this region will not help maintain stability and strategic balance in this region,' said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang." More here.

Thailand's military rulers make policy moves. The WSJ's Warangkana Chomchuen and Newley Purnell: "Thailand's military stepped up its propaganda effort and tightened its control over the country by appointing hawkish generals to key advisory roles, while recruiting finance officials in a bid to steer the economy away from the brink of recession. Meanwhile, about 90 minutes of Facebook outage to most Thai users on Wednesday sparked fear of a clampdown on the Internet by the junta to stifle dissent, though military officials said the social-networking behemoth was down because of ‘a technical problem.' ... At a news conference, the army showed a video of detainees in army custody, appearing in good spirits in a bid to counter criticism of the coup and subsequent detentions. The military has summoned some 250 people since it seized control May 22, including ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her successor, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan." More here.

General Dynamics pulls out of the AMPV program, for now. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "On the day that final bids were due for the US Army's Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) program, one of the two expected bidders - General Dynamics Land Systems - pulled out of the competition, leaving BAE Systems and its Bradley variant as the sole contender. For now. In a statement, GD didn't completely close the door on the program." More here.