News Roundup and Notes: May 5, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Afghanistan

In an exclusive on The Daily Beast, Kimberly Dozier reports that the C.I.A. is dismantling its irregular Afghan counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.  U.S. commanders fear that the move, which also has lawmakers alarmed, will create a security vacuum in the already unstable southern and eastern regions of the country.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

Josh Gerstein [Politico] writes that Judge John Bates, the former presiding judge of the FISC, says he does not expect Congress to pass any laws enacting changes to the Section 215 or Section 702 programs “until after the midterm elections—if then.”

Ukraine

On Sunday, 67 pro-Russian militants were freed from detention by a pro-Russian mob in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, further evidence that the government in Kiev is losing control in additional Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine.  [New York Times; Washington Post; CNN] Damian Paletta and Patrick O’Connor [Wall Street Journal] write that the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine has called for an investigation into who was responsible for triggering the violence in Odessa over the weekend. He remarked that Russia is “exercising its influence across Eastern Ukraine” and “somebody wanted this violence to explode the way it did.” He also added that “most disturbingly, there seems to be evidence in social media that some of the police in Odessa may have been complicit in allowing this violence to spiral out of control.”

President Putin is set to visit Crimea on Friday, according to Russian media [Agence France Presse].

Meanwhile, Ukraine looks poised to launch an offensive to retake the pro-Russian stronghold of Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine. [BBC]

Andrew Higgins [New York Times] writes that despite continued efforts, Ukraine is struggling to reduce its reliance on Russian oil.

Ian Talley [Wall Street Journal] discusses the relative impact on the European and U.S. economies of sanctions against Russia to explain why the West is moving slowly to implement additional sanctions.

Meanwhile, FoxNews reports that some Senators are pressing President Obama to ramp up pressure against Russia, warning of a “civil war” in Ukraine. Tim Devaney [The Hill] reports that Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) area calling for new, heightened sanctions against Russia.  And Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) dismissed concerns that sanctions were not working.  On Sunday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis) argued that the recent violence in Ukraine shows that sanctions are not enough and that the U.S. should provide Ukraine with lethal forms of military aid.

Simon Denyer [Washington Post] provides personal accounts of the violence faced by “the silent majority” of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who continue to support a united Ukraine.

While tensions in Ukraine increase, fears are beginning to grown in Latvia over whether Russia may next turn its gaze toward this Baltic state.  [Wall Street Journal]

Israeli/Palestine

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board argues that after the failed attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, it’s time for the administration to adopt a more pragmatic approach to the peace process.

Isabel Kershner [New York Times] writes that following the recent collapse of peace talks with Israel, the Palestinian leadership is turning its attention to the International Criminal Court where they could seek to label Israel as an “occupier.”

Congressional Oversight

House Republicans have decided to create a special committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks.  Politico reports that Speaker Boehner has tapped Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to head the committee.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Rep. Schiff called the latest investigatory efforts by House Republicans “a colossal waste of time.” [MSNBC] However, Sen. Ayotte said the Administration’s story on Benghazi “doesn’t pass the laugh test.” [The Hill]  Also, don’t miss Andy Wright’s post at Just Security on the latest developments.

Last month, the SSCI voted to declassify portions of the committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. Yet, since then, there has been little movement from the CIA or the administration.  Burgess Everett [Politico] reports that the silence is making SSCI Democrats antsy.

While Congress and the Administration attempt to tackle budgetary issues and sequestration, Politico reports on Defense hawks in Congress who are continuing to protect home-district defense projects.

Syria

Heavy fighting continued between rival rebel groups in eastern Syria over the weekend, killing 62 fighters and forcing thousands to flee their homes, while a cease-fire continued into its second day in the city of Homs. [Associated Press]

Police in Malaysia have detained 11 people suspected of being involved in a militant group that, among other things, planned to send guerrilla fighters to join the civil war in Syria [Wall Street Journal’s Celine Fernandez and James Hookway].

Other Developments

Mohammed al-Shimrani, a detainee who has been held at Guantanamo for twelve years, has refused to attend his parole hearing because he does not want to submit to what he says are overly intrusive body searches, which includes genital searches [Miami Herald].

In its continued offensive against AQAP in southern Yemen, the Yemen military announced it killed 37 suspected al Qaeda fighters in a series of clashes and airstrikes [Associated Press; BBC].

On Sunday, three people were killed and at least 60 injured in Nairobi when a bomb exploded on two crowded commuter buses.  As of this morning, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks [Associated Press].

Charlie Savage [New York Times] investigates references in once-classified documents and public statements to discover that Camp Stanley in Boerne, TX is the likely location of a C.I.A. weapons depot.

According to the official Iranian news agency, IAEA inspectors will visit two sites in Iran in the coming days [Associated Press]. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is facing growing criticism from rightwing activists who say that he is giving too much to the West [The Guardian; Asharq al-Awsat].

China aims to develop deeper defense ties with Iran, China’s Defense Minister told his Iranian counterpart on Monday, according to Chinese state media [Reuters].

In contrast with news reports that have focused on the profits of defense contractors from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but Scott Higham, Jessica Shulberg, and Steven Rich [Washington Post] investigate the boom in revenues to NGOs operating in the U.S. warzones.

Nahal Toosi, in Politico Magazine, writes on the many challenges she encountered while reporting on the war in Pakistan against al Qaeda.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).