News Roundup and Notes: March 14, 2014

Surveillance

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn) reports that the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee have said they are “very close” to a deal that would allow phone companies to hold the telephone records currently collected by the NSA.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has revealed he has called President Obama over government surveillance “to express [his] frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future.”

CIA-Senate fallout

The Washington Post (Adam Goldman and Greg Miller) reports that the CIA “realized it might have a problem” after it provided documents to Senate staffers investigating the agency’s detention and investigation program. Some documents were withdrawn when CIA employees feared that details in the documents could lead to the exposure of the agency’s sources, including “top assets who had been recruited while being held at a secret CIA facility on Guantanamo Bay called ‘Penny Lane,’” according to intelligence officials.

The Hill (Alexander Bolton) covers how CIA Director John Brennan “is waging an aggressive counterattack against … Dianne Feinstein and her explosive allegations,” but that “he faces long odds of winning the battle.”

The Economist notes that even if Brennan’s account of the matter is proved right, “by crossing Mrs Feinstein the CIA has lost its most influential ally in Congress.”

The UN Human Rights Committee called on the U.S. to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Bush-era interrogation program yesterday [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay].

And, in a related development, the Senate voted 95-4 to confirm Caroline Krass as new General Counsel for the CIA [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Manu Raju].

Ukraine

Secretary of State John Kerry is holding “key” talks on Ukraine with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in London this morning [BBC]. Meanwhile, Russia has shipped more troops into Crimea today, “and repeated its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine, showing no sign of listening to Western pleas to back off from the worst confrontation since the Cold War” [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Lina Kushch].

Al Jazeera reports that the U.S. has circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would declare Sunday’s planned referendum illegal, but Russia has vowed to veto it, according to UN diplomats. The New York Times (Somini Sengupta) provides details of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk’s appearance before the UN, where he emphasized his country was open to talks, and did not want “any type of military aggression.”

Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers yesterday that the U.S. and Europe are ready to take “a very serious series of steps” if a diplomatic solution, including on the Crimea referendum, is not reached [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]. And Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to discuss “the Ukrainian government’s economic reform plans, the U.S. assistance package for Ukraine, and Ukraine’s discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about a potential loan program.”

According to senior officials, Ukraine’s government has appealed for U.S. military aid, including arms, ammunition and intelligence support, reports the Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous). However, the Obama administration “has agreed to send only military rations for now, wary of inflaming tensions with Russia.”

The Washington Post (Ed O’Keefe) reports on the stalled Ukrainian aid package “amid Republican infighting and partisan bickering.” And Politico (David Rogers) covers how supporters of the IMF “are putting fresh energy into a campaign to enact long-delayed IMF reforms” as part of the Ukrainian aid package.

The Wall Street Journal editorial comments on Russia’s tightening grip on Crimea “while Obama and [German Chancellor] Merkel do little.” The New York Times editorial warns that international efforts to provide financial assistance to Ukraine will only help “if the country’s new leaders are willing to end bad policies like wasteful energy subsidies and take steps to increase exports.” And in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria explains why Obama must take the lead in the Ukraine crisis, noting it is “the most significant geopolitical problem since the Cold War.”

Afghanistan

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said that Allied and Afghan forces “have energized … efforts” to respond to the Haqqani militant network, which has threatened to disrupt the Afghan presidential elections next month [AP’s Lolita C. Baldor].

Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan came to a formal close this week following more than 12 years in the country.

Syria

UN chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters yesterday that an election in Syria would not aid the peace process [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]. Brahimi said, “If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition … will probably not be interested in talking to the government.”

A group of 19 U.S. senators have introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to develop and send to Congress “a strategy for U.S. engagement in addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis” [NBC News’ Jeff Black].

A Russian Foreign Ministry official has reportedly said that the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons could take place by April 13 [Al Jazeera].

A video obtained by Al Jazeera shows rebels saying they have kidnapped 94 women and children who belong to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius makes a case for a new Syrian opposition leader, Jamal Maarouf, who “appears to be the kind of commander the United States and its allies will need to trust—and provide with enough firepower to protect Syrian civilians and fight extremists” as part of an alternate strategy.

Other developments

The U.S. has sent Ahmed Belbacha, a Guantánamo detainee who was held for 12 years, home to Algeria, bringing the prison population down to 154. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The Obama administration maintained before the UN Human Rights Committee yesterday that the ICCPR imposes no obligations on U.S. military and intelligence forces when they operate abroad [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) and Wall Street Journal (Charles Levinson) provide details of the testimony of an FBI special agent at the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and alleged al-Qaeda operative.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that a return to sequester would put at risk “America’s traditional role as a guarantor of global security, and ultimately our own security.”

Hamas leaders have denied reports from the militant group, Islamic Jihad of a truce in the region [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]. Further rockets were launched from Gaza last evening, and Israel responded by bombing several more sites in Gaza.

Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik has pulled out of the country’s upcoming presidential election saying it “is going to be a farce” and will be fixed in favor of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi [Al Jazeera].

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).