News Roundup and Notes: March 12, 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

As reported on Just Security yesterday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of conducting illegal searches of her committee’s computer network [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb et al.]. Feinstein said she had “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution” and “may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

CIA Director John Brennan told NBC News (Andrea Mitchell) that the agency did not spy on the Committee’s computers or interfere with its investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. In a subsequent discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brennan said [The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson]:

“when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”

Brennan also defended his agency’s actions in a message to CIA personnel on Tuesday [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

Politico (Burgess Everett and Manu Raja) covers the responses of lawmakers, “with Democrats and Republicans ignoring the usual party lines in response to [Feinstein’s] claim that the agency improperly interfered in a congressional investigation.”

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman), Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman et al.) and Washington Post (Greg Miller et al.) have more details of this public fallout.

The New York Times editorial board hopes that President Obama “knows that when he has lost Dianne Feinstein, he has no choice but to act in favor of disclosure and accountability” in relation to the Senate’s CIA torture report. The Guardian editorial board comments on Feinstein’s “contradictory nature.” The editorial argues “[i]t is about time Ms Feinstein used her powers as the democratically elected head of the intelligence committee to question the NSA with the same vigour–or even a small part of it–that she is displaying towards the CIA.” And The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) explores the significance of Brennan’s comment that the President “can ask me to stay or to go.”

Surveillance

The New York Times (Charlie Savage and Laura Poitras) reports on leaked documents that help explain how the FISC “evolved from its original task—approving wiretap requests—to engaging in complex analysis of the law to justify activities like the bulk collection of data about Americans’ emails and phone calls.”

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn) and The Hill (Julian Hattem) cover Vice Adm. Michael Rogers’ appearance before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. Rogers pledged he would be “an active partner in implementing the changes directed by the president with respect to aspects of the NSA mission” and that his “intent is to be as transparent as possible in doing so.” He also told the Committee that Edward Snowden’s leaks threatened Americans’ lives and posed “significant risk, damage and consequence.”

The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman) notes that Rogers “stopped short of providing details about how he would change NSA practices,” and the New York Times (David E. Sanger) covers Rogers’ plans for cyberwar units.

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov told AFP that Ukraine “cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border and Ukraine would not be protected.” Turchynov has also said that Russian leaders are refusing all negotiations with Ukrainian counterparts [BBC]. And Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told parliament he wanted the U.S. and UK, as guarantors of the 1994 treaty that saw Ukraine give up its Soviet nuclear weapons, to intervene both diplomatically and militarily to counter Russian “aggression” [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Alastair Macdonald].

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement noting “that the plans of the U.S. administration to provide $1 billion to the current authorities in Kiev are out of line with the existing American laws” as under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 “assistance may not be provided ‘to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree’” [Itar-Tass].

Current and former U.S. officials say the U.S. and Europe are readying sanctions that “stand to drive a wedge into more than a decade of efforts to integrate Russia into the West’s financial system” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon et al.]. The G-7 countries have also readied a statement criticizing Russia and resolving to adopt sanctions. And The Guardian (Nicholas Watt) reports that the EU is “on course” to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and military officers by next Monday if Moscow fails to consent to the formation of a “contact group” to facilitate dialogue with Ukraine.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Ukrainian President Oleksandr V. Turchynov criticizes Russia’s “brazen and unjustified aggression, thinly veiled as ‘protecting Russian speakers,’” but states that Ukraine is “open to any constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation that is rooted in partnership.” Meanwhile, ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych blamed the new government in Kiev for provoking Crimea to secede by spreading “lawlessness,” and criticized the U.S. and the West for backing the “fascists”  [Washington Post’s Kathy Lally].

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the U.S. military drills in Eastern Europe “speak in a clear voice” to Russia, but that the administration still hopes for a diplomatic solution [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. The New York Times (Peter Baker) reports that President Obama’s team “finds itself torn over just how far to go using the economic weapons in America’s arsenal [against Russia].”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Ed Royce welcomed House passage of the resolution on Ukraine yesterday, which condemns the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russian forces and calls for financial and other sanctions. And Politico (Seung Min Kim) reports that the Senate’s aid package for Ukraine is “being held up” because it also includes changes to the IMF, opposed by some congressional Republicans.

The New York Times (Andrew Jacobs and Somini Sengupta) notes that China’s “two imperatives”—opposition to foreign interference in a country’s internal affairs and “a strategic partnership with Russia to counteract the diplomatic and economic might of the West”—have placed the country in an “awkward bind” over Ukraine.

Sen. Robert Menendez, writing in the Washington Post, argues that “Russia’s aggressive behavior can’t go unchecked by the U.S.” and provides details of his proposed bill on Ukraine. And the New York Times editorial board notes that “the sooner American and European leaders can demonstrate that they are prepared to impose serious penalties—and to accept the resulting sacrifices [from Russian counter-sanctions]—the better the chance that those sanctions will not prove necessary.” 

Syria

UK police have arrested four further individuals on suspicion of traveling to Syria or supporting the fighting in the country [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark].

U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees chief, Antonio Guterres has warned that “a total disaster” could occur if the international community diverted attention away from the Syrian crisis [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton].

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib) covers how Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime “risks eroding [its] support base in Lebanon.”

Other developments

Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) covers Guantánamo’s new forced-feeding policy, which “rhetorically recasts the year-long hunger strike in the remote prison camps as ‘long term non-religious fasting.’” The Pentagon’s new document is called “Medical Management of Detainees with Weight Loss,” and replaces a previous guide from March 2013.

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) reports on the testimony of UK shoe bomber, Saajid Badat at the trial of the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and alleged al-Qaeda operative, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.

Top U.S. defense officials are “bracing for a brutal season of budget negotiations,” warning lawmakers that the military will become unable to respond to emerging crises if Congress does not reverse mandatory budget cuts that are due to resume in fiscal 2016 [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal].

Libya’s parliamentarians voted to oust Prime Minister Ali Zeidan yesterday, as anger grew with the government’s inability to prevent eastern rebels from independently exporting oil [Al Jazeera].

The Washington Post (Kevin Sieff) covers the “growing danger for foreigners in Afghanistan’s capital,” following yesterday’s killing of a Swedish journalist in Kabul.

An Al Jazeera investigation has uncovered evidence that “casts doubt over the entire investigation and trial” of the Lockerbie bombing. According to the documents obtained, and verified by security and legal experts, Iran’s secret service, Hezbollah and an armed Palestinian group were behind the bombing of the Pan Am flight.

A senior UN official has voiced concern at reports that three Palestinians died in separate incidents in the West Bank within a 24-hour period, and called for investigations and accountability [UN News Centre]. And Palestinians have warned that the “latest Israeli escalation [of violence]” constituted “a dangerous provocation that will torpedo what’s left of the peace process” [Al Jazeera America].

A UN report finds that North Korea “is experienced in actions it takes to evade sanctions”, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs [CNN’s Paula Hancocks].

In an opinion piece in The National, Farea Al Muslimi discuses how Yemen’s transitional roadmap “merely defers [the country’s] real problems.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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