Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: The Pentagon's $600 Toilet Seat lives; Why Congress still likes the F-35; Abdullah toys with a new government in Afg; Greenwald on the NSA's spying on Muslim-Americans; Did Hagel and Dempsey make the case on Iraq? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The $600 Toilet Seat lives: The Pentagon paid Textron Inc. Bell Helicopter unit $8,123.50 each for gears that should have cost $445.06, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Jonathan D. Salant with this incredible scoop: "The Pentagon paid Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter unit $8,123.50 each for gears that should have cost $445.06, according to a report by the Defense Department's inspector general. The bevel gears that were marked up 18-fold were part of $9 million in excess payments by taxpayers cited by the watchdog office. This is the latest case in which the inspector general said Pentagon agencies allowed contractors to overcharge for parts.

"For decades, the Defense Department has periodically been the subject of ridicule from lawmakers, and even late night comedians, after reports of inflated prices for items such as a coffee pot and toilet seat. In the Bell case, the inspector general recommended that the Defense Logistics Agency seek to recoup the excess money and analyze prices to ensure taxpayers aren't further overcharged. Otherwise, the excess payments may increase by an additional $2.6 million under Bell's noncompetitive contract, the report found."

Jacqueline Wicecarver, assistant inspector general for acquisition, according to the July 3 report: "The contracting officer did not sufficiently determine whether prices were fair and reasonable." The report, here; Capaccio's story here. 

Speaking of which: the next-generation F-35, the most expensive plane ever built, may be too dangerous to fly - why is Congress keeping it alive? FP's Kate Brannen: "Burying bad news before a long holiday weekend, the Pentagon announced just before 9 p.m. on July 3 that the entire F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet was being grounded after a June 23 runway fire at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The grounding could not have come at a worse time, especially for the Marine Corps, which had lots of splashy events planned this month for its variant of the next-generation plane, whose costs have soared to an estimated $112 million per aircraft.

"...In the case of the F-35, the short answer is: a lot. Counting all of its suppliers and subcontractors, parts of the program are spread out across at least 45 states. That's why there's no doubt lawmakers will continue to fund the program even though this is the third time in 17 months that the entire fleet has been grounded due to engine problems. In fact, in the version of the defense appropriations bill passed by the House, lawmakers agreed to purchase 38 planes in 2015, four more than the Pentagon requested." More here.

Hagel visits the site of the F-35 fire today. The Hill's Martin Matishak: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday will visit the air base where an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter caught fire last month, grounding the entire fleet. The visit to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is designed to "send a strong message to our international partners that the U.S. remains fully committed to the F-35 program," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a briefing Tuesday. A fire erupted aboard an Air Force variant of the multimillion-dollar jet on June 23 as it attempted to take off, leading the military to launch a full investigation. Last week the armed services ordered their entire fleet of 97 fighters grounded, a signal that there could be a systemic problem with the aircraft or its engine. Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney are the primary contractors for the weapons effort." More here.

Staffers on a plane: Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, senior military assistant, Stephanie Miller, special assistant for personnel and readiness; Pentagon Pressec John Kirby; Speech writer Aaron Sherman.

Reporters on a plane: Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber, Politico's Phil Ewing, Omaha World Herald's Joe Morton, Stripes' Jon Harper, Breaking Defense's Sydney Freedberg, AP's Lita Baldor, Reuters' David Alexander and the Pentagon's Cheryl Pellerin and Jacqueline McGinnis.

Stimson's Russell Rumbaugh and John Cappel did an analysis of the Pentagon's "OCO" budget that says what folks have long suspected: that the war budget funds base operations. Check out their analysis here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Growing frustration in Israel is pushing the government to further escalation.  Ha'aretz's Amos Harel: "Hamas, despite its weak position and strategic distress, is calling the shots so far in the current round of hostilities. Israel is sliding toward a military confrontation it did not seek. The growing casualties in the Gaza Strip and the fact that three million Israelis have already experienced running to shelters to the sounds of blaring sirens are dictating an increasing escalation. Since there is as yet no blueprint for an escape route for the two sides, and Egypt's commitment to putting in the effort required to reach an agreement is unclear, it's impossible say how long the hostilities might last." More here.

Siege Mentality: Reporting for FP, Gregg Carlstrom tells the story of how the real battleground in East Jerusalem is about to boil over. Read that here.

Hamas rockets land deep in Israel as it bombards Gaza Strip. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller this morning: "Militants in Gaza fired more rockets at Tel Aviv on Wednesday, targeting Israel's heartland after Israeli attacks in the enclave that Palestinian officials said have killed at least 27 people. No casualties were reported in the rocket barrages, on the second day of an intensified Israeli offensive in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. Missiles from Israel's Iron Dome defence system shot into the sky to intercept the projectiles." More here.

But Israel isn't ready for a ground invasion of Gaza just yet. The NYT's Steven Erlanger and Isabel Kershner on Page One: "While the government authorized the army to call up another 40,000 reservists, the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff, said that the goal of Operation Protective Edge ‘is to bring down to zero the fire and attacks out of Gaza.'... But government officials and former military officials also made it clear that Israel would prefer not to have a ground operation in Gaza, where fighting conditions are less favorable to Israel than from the air, where Israel has total supremacy." More here.

In Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah says he'll decide within a few days whether to form his own administration. But if he did so, that would appear to trigger the threat Secretary of State John Kerry put in place the other day when he said any illegal government would mean the U.S. would remove financial and security assistance from Afghanistan. At the Pentagon, Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby said there are no plans to accelerate a drawdown of troops. The WSJ's Margherita Stancati and Nathan Hodge in Kabul and Dion Nissenbaum in Washington slapped across Page One: "Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory in defiance of preliminary vote results showing he lost and considered forming his own government, despite U.S. warnings that the country risked losing financial and security aid.

Mr. Abdullah to supporters during a boisterous rally in Kabul: "There is no doubt we are the winners of this election... We will not allow a fraudulent government for a day."

"...Before the rally, President Barack Obama called Mr. Abdullah and urged him to await a probe of ballot-stuffing allegations, telling him that ‘there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional measures,' said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. ‘We've been clear that any such move would cost Afghanistan the financial and security assistance of the United States,' she added.

"Mr. Abdullah said he would decide within a few days whether to form his own administration, a statement his supporters jeered because they wanted him to say he was taking power immediately... One of Mr. Abdullah's closest allies, former warlord and Balkh province Gov. Atta Mohammad Noor, declared he would only recognize an Abdullah-led government in his northern province." More here.

Who's Where When - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is traveling domestically... Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Russia and Developments in Ukraine" at 9:45 a.m...

Apropos of nothing: These two women who should know better tried to steal some dad's beach kit in broad daylight and got busted in a viral video from earlier this week. Worth the watch, here.

More wrongdoing: Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams might have given his premium plane seat up to a fake Marine. Probably was a "faker", since no Marine would wear a cover inside a plane and wear his medals all screwy, as the WaPo's in-house Marine, summer intern Thomas Gibbons-Neff, spotted immediately. See the pic and read that bit here

Meet the Muslim-American leaders the FBI and NSA have been spying on. Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain for The Intercept report on a NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called ‘FISA recap': "The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008. Many of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners whom the government believes are linked to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Among the Americans on the list are individuals long accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

"But a three-month investigation by The Intercept-including interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials involved in the FISA process-reveals that in practice, the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens.

"The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments." More here.

U.S. officials say Obama was in the dark about the German spook who was passing intel to the CIA. The NYT's Mark Mazzetti and Mark Lander on Page One, here.
Eric Holder urges Europeans to help the U.S. stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria; The WaPo's Sari Horwitz, here. 

Meantime, Iran's supreme leader seeks right to carry out industrial-scale enrichment. The Guardian's Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger: "Iran's supreme leader said on Tuesday that his country would need to significantly increase its capacity to enrich uranium if it was to meet its long-term energy needs, in an unusually detailed speech highlighting the obstacles to a deal on its nuclear programme. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei conceded that Iran would not need to immediately increase its capacity but made clear that his government sought the right to carry out industrial-scale enrichment in order to be self-sufficient in nuclear fuel for its research reactors and a Russian-built power station at Bushehr. Enrichment capacity is the main obstacle to a comprehensive agreement between Iran and six major powers taking part in talks in Vienna. Western negotiators want Iran to be restricted to a research-scale capability to minimise the risk it could build a nuclear weapon at short notice but by publicly stating Iran's position, Khamenei could have made it harder for his negotiators to compromise." More here.

Happy bday, WOTR! War on the Rocks celebrates its first birthday today.  It all started with a book review by Admiral James Stavridis.  See where they've been in the past year, here.

Iran delivered three planes to the Iraqi government. The NYT's Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: "Deepening its involvement in the crisis in Iraq, Iran has sent three Russian-made attack planes to the Maliki government that could be deployed against the Sunni militants who have wreaked havoc on Iraqi military forces, American and Iraqi officials said Tuesday. Delivery of the Su-25 aircraft, which American officials said had already conducted missions in western and northern Iraq, is the latest step Iran has taken to help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki battle the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and expand its influence as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a new government." More here.

Pentagon press secretary Admiral Kirby to reporters yesterday: "We have no indications that there are Iranian ground troops inside Iraq... What I've said before remains true today: that we know that there are some Iranian operatives - Quds operatives inside Iraq that are training and advising some Iraqi security forces, but more critically, Shia militia... We understand that Iraq, as a sovereign nation, has that right to reach out to a neighbor if they see fit to ask for that support. What we've said - and nothing's changed about what we've said - we're not going to coordinate our military activities with Tehran."

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a Hawaii Democrat, is warning that the Obama administration is flying blind in responding to ISIS - a line that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is also touting. Defense News' John T. Bennett: "US Sen. John McCain is echoing a House Democrat's warning that the Obama administration is flying blind in responding to a violent Islamic group's destabilizing advance in Iraq. The Arizona Republican emerged from a closed-door classified briefing with senior Pentagon leaders to declare the administration "has no strategy" to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

"...McCain is one of the most vocal critics of President Barack Obama and his administration on foreign policy and national security issues. But Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a Hawaii Democrat, is not. Before July 4 fireworks exploded in skies across America, the House Armed Services Committee member ignited some rhetorical fireworks on Twitter. ‘National Security officials are indicating that we are making this up as we go along in Iraq,' she tweeted July 3.

"Hanabusa and McCain share a view that the White House and Pentagon lack a plan in Iraq. But they diverge on whether the situation there and ISIL pose a direct threat to the United States." More here.

Iraq tells the U.N. that 'terrorist groups' have seized a former chemical weapons depot. Reuters' Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Missy Ryan in Washington: "...In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, made public on Tuesday, Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said the Muthanna facility north of Baghdad was seized on June 11. He said remnants of a former chemical weapons program are kept in two bunkers there. ‘The project management spotted at dawn on Thursday, 12 June 2014, through the camera surveillance system, the looting of some of the project equipment and appliances, before the terrorists disabled the surveillance system,' Alhakim wrote in the letter dated June 30." More here.

The NSC's Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top nuclear proliferation and defense policy official, gets Obama's nod for a big gig - deputy energy secretary. The NYT's David Sanger with a personnel story: "...If confirmed by the Senate for the No. 2 job at the Department of Energy, which has been held for five years by Daniel Poneman, Ms. Sherwood-Randall would join the department at a moment when it is remaking the nation's nuclear weapons complex and figuring out the delicate politics of the boom in oil and gas fracking. She would oversee the nuclear complex and a multibillion-dollar program to overhaul the nation's nuclear laboratories as well as its program to update a modestly shrunken arsenal of nuclear weapons." More here.

Why do nukes keep causing trouble? Because they're really old. The AP's Robert Burns from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota: "The Air Force asserts with pride that the nation's nuclear missile system, more than 40 years old and designed during the Cold War to counter the now-defunct Soviet Union, is safe and secure. None has ever been used in combat or launched accidentally. But it also admits to fraying at the edges: time-worn command posts, corroded launch silos, failing support equipment and an emergency-response helicopter fleet so antiquated that a replacement was deemed ‘critical' years ago." More here.


Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Afghanistan in an electoral crisis; U.S. gives up on anti-Castro "prop" plane; China targeted U.S. think tanks on Mideast; Jordan a sitting duck; Israel weighs a ground invasion; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Afghanistan is now confronting a full-blown electoral crisis. The election earlier this year had brought high hopes that after years of sacrifice of blood and treasure the country could perhaps get on solid political footing. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two front-runners and well-known to Washington, seemed poised to win. But in runoff results released yesterday it was his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who appears to have won the second round. Now Abdullah is claiming widespread fraud, fanning the flames of protests in his favor, and the U.S. is warning it would withdraw financial and security support if either takes office illegally. Reuters this hour: "...Underscoring the magnitude of the crisis, Abdullah said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would visit Kabul on Friday. Kerry arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The U.S.-China talks finish on Thursday. Thousands of Abdullah supporters gathered in the capital on Tuesday, demanding their leader form a parallel cabinet and unilaterally assert his own rule - a dangerous move that would further fracture the fragile country. More here.

Reuters' Mirwais Harooni and Maria Golovinna reported last night that the Independent Election Commission on Monday announced that Ghani won the June 14 second round with 56.44 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. The tally might change when the final official numbers come out on July 22. ...Officials warned this was not the final result, however. ‘The announcement of preliminary results does not mean that the leading candidate is the winner and there is possibly the outcome might change after we inspect complaints,' IEC chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters." More here.

John Kerry, in a statement released late last night, who noted reports of a "parallel government" with "gravest concern": "... The apolitical role of the security forces must be respected by all parties. We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people.  Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community."

On Thursday, the man nom'ed to become the next ISAF commander, Gen. J.C. Campbell, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain how ISAF will transition in the coming months, how he can lead a command that is itself in transition, and how his experience as a regional commander in the East can help. But for an administration that had hoped to check another box and begin to depart Afghanistan amid so much upheaval in Iraq after the U.S. withdrew there, Campbell's job Thursday defending the administration's drawdown plans for Afghanistan won't be an easy one.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The U.S. finally gives up on its anti-Castro propaganda plane. FP's John Hudson, who wrote the piece a year ago that raised questions on the program: "The United States officially ended one of the most ineffective and widely criticized programs of the last decade aimed at undermining the Cuban government, the State Department revealed Monday. Foggy Bottom's inspector general released a report showing that AeroMarti, a multimillion dollar boondoggle that involved flying an airplane around Cuba and beaming American-sponsored content to the island's inhabitants, ended in April. Since launching in 2006, the program was plagued by a simple problem: Every day the plane flew, Havana jammed its broadcast signal, meaning fewer than 1 percent of Cubans could listen to its TV and radio shows." More here.

Sen. Robert Mendendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seeking an inquiry into the source of claims that led to what is thought to be a Cuban plot to smear him. The WaPo's Carol Leonnig and Manuel Roig-Franzia, on Page One: "Sen. Robert Menendez is asking the Justice Department to pursue evidence obtained by U.S. investigators that the Cuban government concocted an elaborate plot to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"...According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media." More here.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear before a closed door meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee today to talk Iraq and Afghanistan... Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby will brief reporters at the Pentagon at 2pm today.

The U.S. Navy can't meet its funding needs for surface warships and a new class of nuclear attack submarines from 2025 to 2034, according to the service's latest 30-year shipbuilding plan. By Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio, here.

Situation Report corrects - In our item yesterday on Shin Shoji of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, we made a typo. It's NHK, not whatever we wrote. Sorry for the confusion.

Jordan, one of Washington's staunchest allies in the Middle East and one on which it relies heavily, is a sitting duck for ISIS. The NYT's Ben Hubbard reporting from Maan, Jordan on Page One: "...Across the Arab world, the drive for democratic change has stalled, for the moment at least, and in its place has been a resurgence of strongmen and Islamic militants, both selling the promise of stability and order as counterpoints to the tumult that followed the Arab Spring. For many here, the radical Sunni jihadis of ISIS are seen as a force battling oppression, an unsettling prospect for Sunni rulers, like the king of Jordan, as much as for Shiites, like the prime minister of Iraq. As other Arab nations have fallen prey to protests, wars and Islamist insurgencies, Jordan has maintained its reputation as a pro-American bastion of stability better known for hosting reefugees than for civil unrest.

"But Maan has long challenged that image with a mixture of poverty, Islamism, criminality and neglect that has fueled recurrent clashes between the government and the town's heavily armed populace."

Maan's mayor, Majid Sharari: "There is no ISIS here, but there could be because there is oppression, frustration, high prices and unemployment... All that could lead to chaos." More here.

Robin Wright on the new way of war: killing kids.  Read it on the New Yorker blog, here.

Meantime, the Iraqi Parliament wobbles over forming a government. The NYT's Alissa Rubin and Suadad Al-Salhy: "...Even a senior leader in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party that now opposes Mr. Maliki, said that ‘replacing Maliki now could be seen as a victory for the terrorists, and it also could adversely reflect the security leadership's morale because if Maliki is not there anymore, they could be dismissed or accused of corruption.'

"The Sunnis are demanding an amnesty for the tens of thousands of Sunni imprisoned - unjustly, they say, in most cases - by the Maliki government and a bigger say in how the country is run, including its security services. While some Shiites might be willing to give that to them, others are adamantly opposed.

"The Kurds believe they have an absolute right to include Kirkuk and some surrounding disputed villages in the autonomous Kurdish region, but neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites want to cede that ground, especially since the Kurds have made it plain that their ultimate goal is independence." More here.

Is Baghdadi the new UBL? If the Middle East and the West have a new boogie man, they may have found it in the leader of ISIS. Abdulrahman Al-Rashed for Al-Awsat: "The emergence of the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has rekindled fears that a new figure has emerged capable of uniting Al-Qaeda's different branches under a single commander. The emergence of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has ended a dry spell for Al-Qaeda that has lasted for three years, following the death of Osama Bin Laden. The time and place of Baghdadi's emergence raises questions about what this group is, who controls it and who was able to break into it. ISIS emerged suddenly in Syria, at a time when the collapse of President Bashar Al-Assad's regime seemed inevitable. The emergence of ISIS saved the Syrian regime by frightening the rest of the world with the specter of a terrorist regime replacing Assad, and by fighting against his other opponents." More here.

Israel weighs a ground invasion. Michele Chabin for USA Today this morning: "Israel's military launched fresh airstrikes against targets in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a bid to halt a barrage of rocket fire that has pummeled southern Israel in recent weeks. But it is not yet clear whether a full ground invasion of the Palestinian coastal enclave by troops will take place. Israel is seeking to "retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas' capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians," its military said in a statement." More here.

Israel calls up 1,500 reservists after rocket attacks from Gaza. LA Times' Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem: "Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on Monday evening, officials said, as the Israeli military sent more forces to the border and called up army reservists in the escalating crisis... Capping a day of attacks, Palestinian militants fired 40 rockets in one hour late Monday, setting off air raid sirens in communities as far as 50 miles from the Gaza Strip, Israeli military officials said. A dozen rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and about 30 struck open areas, officials said." More here.

Bahrain orders a senior U.S. diplomat to leave. The WaPo's Ernesto Londono: "The Bahraini government declared a visiting senior U.S. diplomat persona non grata Monday after he met with representatives of a Shiite opposition party, and it took the highly unusual step of demanding his immediate departure from the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom. Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, had ‘intervened flagrantly in Bahrain's internal affairs' by meeting with a political party ‘to the detriment of other interlocutors.'

"The State Department said Malinowski remained in Bahrain on Monday evening while U.S. diplomats in the capital, Manama, sought clarification from Bahraini officials about the request." More here.

Germans are in another uproar over U.S. spying - but they shouldn't be surprised. FP's Shane Harris: "Revelations that a 31-year-old German intelligence service employee has allegedly been passing hundreds of classified government files to the United States for the past several years has prompted cries of shock and outrage from some of the Obama administration's closest allies in Berlin. But the Germans shouldn't have been surprised. Washington has been spying on Germany for decades, and that work will almost certainly continue well into the future." More here.

HRC in Spiegel Online: Surveillance on Merkel's phone was "absolutely wrong." Read that interview with Spiegel Online reporters and Hillary Rodham Clinton, here.

Social media producers alert: There's this from FP's Elias Groll: "@CIA Go home, you're drunk." A look at the CIA's new Twitter feed, here.

Chinese cyber spies targeted U.S. experts on the Middle East. The WaPo's Andrea Peterson: "Middle East experts at major U.S. think tanks were hacked by Chinese cyber spies in recent weeks as events in Iraq began to escalate, according to a cybersecurity firm that works with the institutions. The group behind the breaches, called "DEEP PANDA" by security researchers, appears to be affiliated with the Chinese government, says Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of the firm CrowdStrike. The company, which works with a number of think tanks on a pro bono basis, declined to name which ones have been breached." More on that here.

For Inside Cybersecurity, Christopher J. Castelli looks at a State Department study that doesn't break much new ground: "A yearlong State Department study effort to craft a 'framework for international cyber stability' has produced a draft report endorsing ongoing work on international norms of behavior for cyberspace and urging industry involvement, though the document fails to break much new ground." Read that here.

ICYMI, FP's Shane Harris' exclusive last week on how a solar panel manufacturer wants the Commerce Department to go after China for cyberattack, here.

What will Putin do in Ukraine? The WSJ's James Marson in Kiev and Julian Barnes in Washington: "As Ukraine laid plans for a siege of pro-Russia separatists' remaining bastions Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a critical decision on whether to answer rebel pleas for military help-a move that could determine what he gains or loses following a monthslong conflict that has roiled global powers... Mr. Putin has publicly ignored increasingly desperate appeals by militants to send in thousands of regular troops he has massed on the border-a force that would likely brush aside Ukraine's growing but relatively inexperienced forces.

"His choice boils down to coming to the aid of the separatists, keeping Ukraine off-balance and bolstering his nationalist credentials at home, or consolidating his gains so far-chiefly Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in March-and averting the threat of tougher Western sanctions that could do major damage to the Russian economy, as well the risk of further international isolation. U.S. officials said it was unclear why Mr. Putin hadn't responded more forcefully to Ukraine's advance, and said that the option to send in troops may remain on the table." More here.

Russian and American ships sail in competing Black Sea exercises. Military Times' David Larter: "It's the tale of the two maritime exercises: In the Black Sea, the U.S. and its allies are starting up multinational training while Russian warships separately maneuver in a large-scale war game. The cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea on Monday and is meeting up with Bulgarian, Italian, Greek and Turkish forces there for the Bulgarian-led annual exercise dubbed Breeze. A 6th Fleet news release said the cruiser was participating to reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to stability in the area." More here.

Where do America's remaining sources of power lie? Elbridge Colby and Paul Lettow: "...Within the United States, there is an ongoing debate about the appropriate uses of American power abroad. But whatever one's views on how U.S. power should be used, there is little reason to support its erosion. If one favors extensive American engagement, a resilient America will be better able to lead and intervene effectively. If one favors retrenchment and restraint, a more powerful America will be better insulated from outside threats. If one favors measured engagement, strength provides options and the firmest basis for sustained success. And, irrespective of foreign policy, an economically dynamic, growing America will benefit all its citizens, particularly the generations to come." More here.