News Roundup and Notes: March 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.

CIA spying probed

McClatchy News (Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor) is reporting that the CIA may have monitored computers that the agency provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to official documents and people familiar with the issue, the computers were used by Senate aides to prepare the Committee’s report on the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The CIA Inspector General has reportedly requested the Justice Department to investigate the case as a criminal matter. 

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti) also reports on this development, noting that the monitoring may have occurred after CIA officials suspected that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the Committee’s investigation.

Ukraine

U.S. and British diplomats say they have failed to bring Russia and Ukraine together for discussions today, while Russian diplomats have refused a request to order the pro-Russian troops in the Crimea peninsula to withdraw [Agencies]. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are preparing to hold talks in Paris shortly [BBC]. The EU has announced a $15 billion aid package to Ukraine over the next two years. NATO said it will hold talks with Russia through the NATO-Russia Council later today. And the Washington Post (Anthony Faiola) covers the “signs of division” at NATO’s emergency meeting on Ukraine yesterday.

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have reportedly worked out the contours of an “off-ramp” approach, with Merkel taking a leading role in lobbying Moscow to take the deal [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere]. The proposal includes: “allowing international monitors in to verify Putin’s claims that Russians are being threatened in the Crimea, de-escalating troop presence in the region, forcing Moscow to recognize the interim government in Kiev as legitimate and accepting international mediation throughout.”

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan) reports that according to senior administration officials, the U.S. is prepared to impose unilateral sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses, “while it moves to persuade its European partners … to consider more substantive sanctions to directly affect the Russian economy.” And RIA news agency said that Russian lawmakers are drafting legislation to allow the confiscation of assets and accounts of European or U.S. companies, if sanctions are imposed on Russia over Ukraine [Reuters].

The Hill’s Julian Pecquet reports that members of Congress are “leaning on Europe” to back effective sanctions on Russia, “making personal phone calls to convince allies that the Kremlin should be punished for its incursion into Ukraine.” And the Wall Street Journal (Matthew Karnitschnig) notes the “difficult economic reality” of imposing sanctions, as “Russia’s sheer size and economic entanglement with the West make it much harder to isolate.”

Speaking in Kiev yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “act of aggression” and warned that the U.S. is “prepared to take further steps if Russia does not return its forces to the barracks and engage in a legitimate policy of de-escalation.” President Obama criticized Russia’s “fundamental breach of international law,” but expressed hope that the U.S. “may be able to de-escalate” the situation [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. And Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew provided details on economic assistance to Ukraine.

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) reports that the House Intelligence Committee is ordering a review of the intelligence analysis on Russia, after the ODNI concluded last week that Moscow would not launch an invasion of Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman) provides further details of the Pentagon and the CIA’s “differing takes on Russia’s intentions,” which have prompted the congressional review. And Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein also noted the need “to better deploy our resources… because … it should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Burgess Everett]. Feinstein said that “some changes have already been made” within the intelligence community.

AFP reports that while there may not be any fighting in Ukraine yet, young men in Kiev are “queuing to sign up for the army, ready to take up arms if it comes to a war with Russia.” The New York Times (Nicole Perloth) notes that the crisis “has spread to the Internet,” with hackers from both sides “launching large cyberattacks against opposing news organizations.”

The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon) covers how the “U.S. standoff with Russia over Ukraine has imperiled a host of the Obama administration’s most important diplomatic and security initiatives,” including in Syria, Iran and North Korea, according to U.S. and Western officials. The Daily Beast (David Freedlander) reports that Republicans “are pointing fingers” at former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for her “failed ‘reset’” in Russia.

The New York Times editorial discusses the “rational response” to be adopted by the West to ease tensions, and the Washington Post editorial questions whether Vladimir Putin “might actually believe his own Ukraine propaganda.”

Israel-Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made “an uncharacteristically enthusiastic pitch for a peace accord with the Palestinians” during his speech at AIPAC’s annual policy conference, reports the New York Times (Mark Landler and Jodi Rudoren). Noting that “[w]e all have so much to gain from peace,” Netanyahu said, “I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope.”

However, Al Jazeera notes that Netanyahu’s call for Palestinians to recognize his country as a “Jewish state” was met by one top Palestinian official as an “official announcement of a unilateral end to negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports that “[i]f anyone needs to be concerned about [Netanyahu’s AIPAC address], it’s the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria and the settlers’ caucus in the Knesset.” Ravid adds, “For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”

Netanyahu also used his speech to call for more pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung].

Syria

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has said that Syria has submitted a revised plan, which aims to complete the removal of all chemicals from the country before the end of April 2014. The mission’s Special Coordinator, Sigrid Kaag also recorded that nearly one-third of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile “has now been removed or destroyed.”

Syrian military aircraft have carried out a series of airstrikes against a pro-rebel Lebanese border town this morning, according to Lebanese officials [AP]. And Israeli troops shot two suspected Hezbollah militants, as they were reportedly planting an explosive along the Syrian border [Reuters].

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Nathan Hodge) reports that the Afghan government is moving to disband the Afghan Public Protection Force—“a crucial guard force that protects military supply convoys, international aid programs and foreign installations”—creating added security concerns as the U.S. and its allies prepare to withdraw.

The Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) notes that although far fewer U.S. troops are being killed or wounded in Afghanistan, “the war continues to churn out American casualties by the dozen each week.” According to military health-care experts, those wounded in battle are returning to the U.S. with more severe injuries than at any time since 2006.

Other developments

A military judge has set Dec. 4 as the trial date for accused USS Cole bomber, Abd al Rahm al Nashiri, according to military sources [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released alongside the Pentagon’s 2015 budget, warns that “continued sequestration requires dangerous reductions to readiness and modernization” and “would mean that [the] DoD would be unable to fulfill its defense strategy.” The Hill’s Jeremy Herb has more details.

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt) covers how the U.S. is adopting a training and advisory role in Africa as “[t]hreats continue on the continent, but budgets are tightening at home, and the appetite to send large American armies to foreign conflicts is small.”

China’s Ministry of Finance has announced a more than 12% increase in military spending “amid concerns in the U.S. and Asia that Beijing is bent on challenging America’s long-standing military dominance in the region,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Jeremy Page).

Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi moved closer to formalizing his “all-but-declared candidacy for president” yesterday, stating “I cannot turn my back when the majority wants me to run for president,” according to state media [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

South Korean military officials said that North Korea has tested a new multiple-rocket launcher with a range long enough to strike U.S. and South Korean military bases south of Seoul [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun].

A roadside bomb killed at least three Pakistani soldiers this morning, but no group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack [Reuters].

A series of car bombs in Iraq’s Baghdad have killed at least 17 people today [AP].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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