News Roundup and Notes: March 11, 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.

Surveillance

A federal judge has ordered the NSA to preserve all metadata, setting up a possible clash with the FISC, which rejected the government’s request to preserve data beyond five years for the purposes of ongoing litigation on Friday [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. In yesterday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White wrote “It is undisputed that the Court would be unable to afford effective relief once the records are destroyed, and therefore the harm to Plaintiffs would be irreparable.”

Edward Snowden, appearing via video at a tech conference, said that government surveillance programs are “setting fire to the future of the Internet” and called on tech developers to “fix this” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]. The Wall Street Journal (Douglas Macmillan and Danny Yadron) and the Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) have more details.

The New York Times (David E. Sanger) covers the “complex battles” facing Obama’s nominee for NSA Director, Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who will have to “navigate [the NSA’s] bureaucratic, political and public relations disaster.”

Ukraine

The Crimean assembly has been told to call off its referendum or face dissolution by the Ukrainian Parliament [The Guardian’s Haroon Siddique]. In other latest developments, a pro-Russian force opened fire in seizing a Ukrainian military base in Crimea yesterday, while NATO announced it would start reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania today [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Natalia Zinets]. The U.S. will also begin previously planned military training exercises in the region today. And a Pentagon official said that more U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons would be deployed to Poland in the coming days and weeks.

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers) reports on how the U.S. and Russia have hit a “diplomatic roadblock” on Ukraine. Russia took “the unusual step” of televising an exchange between President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in which they complained that Secretary of State John Kerry had decided to postpone his trip to Russia for consultations on Ukraine. However, the Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Lukas I. Alpert) reports that according to Russian and U.S. officials, Putin apparently rejected a U.S. proposal to resolve the dispute that had been put forward by John Kerry this past week, which led Kerry to put off Russia’s invitation. And the Associated Press reports that Russia has said it is drafting counter-proposals to the U.S. plan for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

According to Russian state media, the country’s lower house of parliament has scheduled to discuss legislation on Crimea joining Russia on March 21 [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark].

Western officials are due to meet in London today to finalize which Russians will be subject to asset freezes and travel bans, which UK Prime Minister David Cameron indicated would be imposed within days [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Paul Lewis]. European foreign ministers are expected to make a final decision about sanctions next Monday—the day after Crimea’s referendum.

The UN Security Council held a private meeting on Ukraine yesterday, during which several members reportedly stressed that Crimea’s decision to hold a referendum on its status is contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution [UN News Centre]. And the World Bank has said that Ukraine’s new government could receive up to $3 billion in financing by the end of 2014 [Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley].

In the U.S., Politico (Seung Min Kim) reports that top senators are “crafting a package that includes both direct aid to Ukraine and targeted sanctions in an effort to rapidly provide assistance to the new, pro-Western government in Kiev.” Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have written to U.S. lawmakers “to highlight the overall importance of U.S. engagement in Central and Eastern Europe, and more specifically in the area of energy security and reliable supply of natural gas” [The Hill’s Laura Barron-Lopez].

And a new CNN/ORC national poll finds that 48 percent approve of Obama’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while 43 percent disapprove. Nine percent of those surveyed were unsure of how to judge the President’s handling of the crisis.

In an op-ed for Time, Sen. Rand Paul argues that if he were President, he would take a harder stance against Vladimir Putin for his “gross violation of [Ukraine’s] sovereignty.” Jamie Dettmer writes that “the revolutionaries who tossed out kleptocrat Viktor Yanukovych are now having trouble adapting to the new political reality of an occupied Crimea” [The Daily Beast].

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib notes that the Ukraine crisis offers “a sagging president and a discredited Congress … a chance to do something big: Start a historically significant drive to transform’s America’s energy picture.” And Eugene Robinson argues that Obama should “offer continued support” to the Ukrainian prime minister this week, but he should “also ask pointedly why several far-right ultra-nationalists have such prominent roles in Ukraine’s new government” [Washington Post].

Israel

Israel put on display yesterday what it alleged was a cache of Syrian-made artillery that was sent by Iran to militants in the Gaza strip [BBC]. At the unveiling of the weapons, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the international community of “hypocrisy” over Iran, as well as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for her “smiles and handshakes” with Iran’s leaders.

Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that during Netanyahu’s press conference, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv announced that the Obama administration was transferring $429 million to Israel for the production and procurement of more anti-missile batteries. Harel writes, “Washington once again issued a reminder of who steps up to Israel’s defense time and time again, despite the across-the-board cuts in the defense budget.”

Syria

The Washington Post editorial notes that “Washington’s seeming inability to focus on more than one international crisis at a time has been a boon to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.” The editorial calls for “decisive steps to achieve the U.S. objectives of checking al-Qaeda and reversing the regime’s military momentum.”

The New York Times (Anne Barnard) reports that the “unusual prisoner swap” involving the group of nuns “appears to confirm what Syrian officials have long denied: that the government has been holding women and children prisoner, including relatives of suspected opposition fighters.”

Other developments

Local tribesmen said a suspected al-Qaeda militant has been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen’s Maarib province [Reuters].

The New York Times (Alan Blinder and Richard A. Oppel Jr.) reports that the judge overseeing the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair has allowed the general to offer a plea agreement on lesser charges. The judge ruled that “unlawful command influence” may have occurred, suggesting that the officer with ultimate authority over the case may have rejected a previous plea offer out of concern about potential political fallout.

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s bill to reform the military’s sexual assault policies passed the Senate yesterday in a 97-0 vote [Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn].

Al Jazeera covers the ongoing trial of alleged al-Qaeda operative, Suleiman Abu Ghaith.

A Yemeni inmate at Guantánamo Bay will be launching the first court bid to challenge the force-feeding of the prison’s hunger strikers today [Al Jazeera America’s Massoud Hayoun].

Pakistan’s army has lost “roughly twice as many soldiers” as the U.S. in the battle against the Taliban, reports the Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov).

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) covers the “rare rift” between the U.S. and UAE, as the “usually discreet [UAE] has gone public over its exasperation” with an assessment made by the State Department in its annual human rights report.

Qatar has defended its foreign policy of “openness towards all,” dismissing criticism from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain in relation to its support for the Muslim Brotherhood [Al Jazeera]. Meanwhile, as Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi waits to announce his candidacy for president, “rich Gulf Arab states who share his hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood are taking a lead role in nudging him toward the campaign trail” [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley and Asa Fitch].

More than 1,000 people carried out protests against the UN in South Sudan’s capital, accusing the organization of arming rebels [BBC]. The UN denied the arms—which government troops had intercepted—were destined for rebels, but acknowledged it made a mistake transporting them by road.

UN Envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri has told the Security Council of the “dramatic increase in violence across the country” and that a solution “will require a clear strategy and giving a number of assurances to the revolutionaries who are only nominally under state authority.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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