News Roundup and Notes: March 28, 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

In a written statement on the NSA’s bulk metadata program, President Obama announced yesterday:

“I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk.  Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today.”

Obama said that “[l]egislation will be needed” to allow the  government to obtain data in individual cases from the FISC, based on national security concerns. The White House also issued a fact sheet outlining the administration’s proposal for ending the section 215 bulk telephony metadata program. The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) and Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman and Devlin Barrett) provide more details.

Meanwhile, China’s Defense Ministry has said it will take measures to increase cybersecurity after this week’s reports alleging the U.S. spied on Chinese tech firm Huawei and several Chinese leaders [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Mozur].

Ukraine

The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling on all states “to desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The resolution—which was adopted by 100 votes in favor, with 11 votes against and 58 abstentions—also characterizes the Crimean referendum as “having no validity” [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]. The Russian Foreign Ministry has responded to the vote as a “counterproductive initiative” that “only complicates efforts to resolve the domestic political crisis in Ukraine” [Reuters].

The Kyiv Post (Christopher J. Miller and Mark Rachkevych) is reporting that according to some experts, “Russia is mobilizing for war and may be poised for a springtime invasion of Ukraine’s mainland.” However, the presidential chief of staff said “no activity of Russian troop mobilization” has been seen near Ukraine’s borders for two days.

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes) reports that “Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment,” according to officials. A State Department official has told The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) that the Russian army is fully prepared and “could go [into Eastern Ukraine] at a moment’s notice if Putin gave the go ahead.” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby also said yesterday that Russia continues to reinforce units along Ukraine’s eastern and southern border.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko has announced her candidacy for the May presidential election [New York Times’ Patrick Reevell and David M. Herszenhorn].

In the U.S., the House and Senate have passed measures to provide aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, “edging Congress closer to sending a comprehensive package to the White House” [Politico’s Seung Min Kim].

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, George P. Shultz and Sam Nunn explore how to counter Russia “without reigniting a full-fledged Cold War psychology.” The New York Times editorial welcomes the economic assistance for Ukraine from the IMF and the U.S., as well as the General Assembly resolution. And in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan explains why Putin’s speech last week signals that the crisis “isn’t about Crimea,” and why it “presents a rationale for moving further.”

Other developments

The Air Force has “relieved nine officers, allowed a commander to retire and will discipline 91 others” in connection with the recently exposed cheating scandal among intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers [DoD News]. And the Associated Press details “a series of security lapses and other troubles” in the U.S.’s nuclear forces.

The Washington Post editorial argues that the “Secret Service has more cleaning up to do after [the] Netherlands drinking incident,” noting there is “no excuse for misconduct that puts the president at greater risk, even by a small margin.”

The Hill (Jeremy Herb) covers “the partisan divide over how terrorism suspects should be detained and prosecuted,” which has been fueled by Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s conviction.

President Obama will meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah later today, “as differences over Iran and Syria overshadow a decades-long Saudi-U.S. alliance,” reports Al Jazeera. The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick) also covers how Obama will seek to “calm” Saudi rulers, who “feel increasingly compelled to go their own way, pursuing starkly different strategies [on] Iran, Syria, Egypt and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.”

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius reports that the Obama administration “appears to have decided to expand its covert program of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition,” according to officials.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea yesterday for testing two midrange missiles on Wednesday [New York Times].

The UN Human Rights Council has voted to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebel group during Sri Lanka’s civil war [UN News Centre]. Check out Just Security’s Beth Van Schaack’s post from last night providing further analysis.

Charles Blé Goudé, an ally of Ivory Coast ex-President Laurent Gbagbo, made his first appearance before the ICC yesterday [BBC]. Blé Goudé has been charged with committing crimes against humanity during clashes following the country’s 2010 election.

The UN Envoy to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov has told the Security Council that the al-Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq’s Anbar province represent “the most serious threat to the security of the country” [UN News Centre].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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