News Roundup and Notes: June 4, 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.

American prisoner exchange

The White House continued to defend its prisoner swap yesterday, which secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees formerly held at Guantánamo Bay [New York Times’ Charlie Savage and David E. Sanger]. In addition to several defensive statements made by senior administration officials, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Saxby Chambliss said they had received apologies from the administration for failing to notify Congress of the prisoner exchange in advance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to be the only congressional leader notified of the prisoner deal last Friday, while House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were not informed about the exchange [Politico’s Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan].

House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers said that Congress was last briefed on the possibility of a prisoner swap with the Taliban in 2011 [Politico’s Jonathan Topaz], while Speaker John Boehner said [The Hill’s Erik Wasson]:

“There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress, as it did before, and the only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition.”

The Army announced it will conduct a “comprehensive” review of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance and subsequent capture by the Taliban in 2009 [Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper]. Top military leaders also attempted to temper the uproar over the deal, amid some soldiers’ claims that Bergdahl deserted before being abducted [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Time (Massimo Calabresi) reports that the White House overrode the existing interagency process to deliberate the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners and dismissed concerns of Pentagon and intelligence officials, who had previously prevented the release based on top secret intelligence.

However, some officials said that two secret videos showing severe deterioration in Bergdahl’s health persuaded previously reluctant military and intelligence leaders to support the deal with the Taliban [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous et al.].

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) reports that Hilary Clinton was personally involved with negotiations over Bergdahl’s release in 2011 and 2012, but had serious reservations about any potential deal and sought stricter conditions than those accepted by President Obama, accorder to former administration officials.

The Washington Post (Adam Goldman and Scott Wilson) offers details on the internal debates within the administration over the plan to secure Bergdahl’s release.

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib) notes that the DNI’s assessment earlier this year that about 29% of detainees released from Guantánamo had returned to violence serves as a warning in relation to the recently released Taliban officers.

Charlie Savage and Andrew W. Lehren [New York Times] explore whether the search for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has now been blamed for the deaths of at least six soldiers, cost the lives of American troops.

And the Taliban have released a video reportedly showing the handover of Bergdahl into American custody [NBC News].

Counterterrorism

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he will be re-establishing the task force on domestic terrorism, the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, to tackle “the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders” [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett].

Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers outlined some of the big changes in U.S. intelligence capabilities that are underway, in order to counter national security challenges ranging from al-Qaeda and its affiliates to cyber threats [American Forces Press Service’s Claudette Roulo].

The Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved a seven-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act yesterday, a government program for insuring against terrorist attacks [The Hill’s Peter Schroeder].

Annie Lowrey [New York Times] covers how the Treasury Department’s economic sanctions are playing an increasing role in responding to crises overseas—in Iran, Syria, South Sudan and North Korea—“as well as drug cartels, arms traders and terrorists.”

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

In a ruling yesterday, District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill upheld the constitutionality of the NSA’s mass surveillance program, noting that Judge Richard Leon’s conflicting ruling last December departs from current Supreme Court precedent [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers said that while it was “illegal” for Edward Snowden to have leaked thousands of classified documents, he does not believe Snowden is working for the Russian security service [NBC News’ M. Alex Johnson].

Chinese state media has accused U.S. tech companies, including Google, Apple, and Facebook, of spying on China and stealing state secrets, and called on Beijing “to punish severely the pawns” of the U.S. government [Reuters].

Ukraine

President Obama met with Ukrainian President-elect Petro O. Poroshenko today and pledged a further $5 million in non-lethal aid to Ukraine [New York Times’ Peter Baker].

The Group of Seven leaders are scheduled to meet today without Russia for the first time in 17 years, although Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold one-on-one talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande this week [Reuters’ Luke Baker]. And Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov tomorrow to discuss last week’s elections in Ukraine [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

At a meeting of NATO defence ministers yesterday, the alliance agreed to continue and further bolster its reassurance measures for Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meicherty) reports that France is preparing to train hundreds of Russians to operate a French-made warship this month, ignoring calls from the U.S. and others to halt the sale of the warship to Russia, according to those familiar with the issue.

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steven Warren said that a U.S. aircraft intercepted a Russian jet in international airspace, which flew dangerously close to the U.S. plane over the Pacific northeast [Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz].

On the ground, government and separatists are trading blame over an attack in the eastern city of Luhansk that killed eight civilians, which, according to a CNN (Diana Magnay and Tim Lister) investigation, came from the air, despite government denial. And earlier today, Ukrainian forces abandoned a key military outpost after struggling against pro-Russian fighters [Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Daniela Deane].

Syria

Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy.” Ford also suggested that the U.S. needs to provide more assistance to moderate rebels in Syria.

The FBI is investigating how Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the American bomber in Syria, became radicalized, although friends and family say they saw no indications of radicalization, reports the New York Times (Frances Robles).

The Washington Post (Liz Sly and Ahmed Ramadan) covers how the Syrian election underscores the failure of U.S. efforts aimed at making President Bashar al-Assad step down.

And CNN (Nick Paton Walsh) reports on how jihadists use Twitter to recruit foreign fighters, based on the account of a defector from radical rebel group ISIS.

Other developments

The relatives of three U.S. citizens killed in American drone strikes, including Anwar al-Awlaki, have decided not to appeal the federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Obama administration officials [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Associated Press he is “deeply troubled” but the U.S. decision to work with the Palestinian unity government involving Hamas, which Netanyahu said has killed “countless innocent civilians.” The State Department sought to counter these criticisms, stating that “[Palestinian] President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include any ministers affiliated with Hamas” and that the U.S. “will be judging this technocratic government by its actions” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

The U.S. has formally handed over control of the Manas Air Base to Kyrgyzstan, formerly used as a staging point for personnel and cargo for Afghanistan, in “another symbolic step toward the exit from Afghanistan” [New York Times’ Douglas Schorzman].

Reuters (Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi) reports that according to diplomats and analysts, it is unlikely that the “P5+1” countries and Iran will negotiate a comprehensive nuclear deal before the July 20 deadline, although a six month extension for further negotiations is likely.

The Senate voted 52-42 yesterday to confirm Keith Harper to the UN Human Rights Council [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox].

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) reports that a former Navy Blue Angels commander has been reprimanded after an investigation found he repeatedly failed to prevent sexual harassment and condoned unethical behavior in the workplace.

The U.S. will be appointing an ambassador to Somalia for the first time since closing its embassy 23 years ago [Reuters].

The White House welcomed Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as Egypt’s newly elected president, but raised concerns about the “restrictive political environment in which this election took place.” The administration also urged the new leader to adopt the reforms needed to “demonstrate a commitment to the protection of the universal rights of all Egyptians.”

Naij reports that the Australian government offered yesterday to deploy special forces to Nigeria to help in the mission to rescue the abducted schoolgirls, but said it had not received any specific acceptance.

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).