News Roundup and Notes: April 3, 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.

Fort Hood shooting

A soldier has killed three fellow soldiers and wounded 16 others, before killing himself, at Fort Hood, Texas [DoD News]. The New York Times (Dave Montgomery et al.), Wall Street Journal (Ana Campoy et al.) and Washington Post (Rajiv Chandrasekaran) provide more details. The shooter has been identified as an Iraq war veteran, who had some behavioral health and mental health issues and was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this morning that Russia wants answers from NATO regarding its activities in Eastern Europe, after the alliance pledged to bolster defenses for its eastern members [Reuters]. Ukraine’s security chiefs say that the killing of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February took place “under the direct leadership” of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych [Reuters]. And Ukraine has moved to grant more autonomy to its pro-Russian eastern regions, aimed at countering Moscow’s assertion that Russia is acting to protect ethnic Russians who are allegedly under threat [Al Jazeera America].

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Russia could move into Ukraine “within 12 hours” of getting an order. General Breedlove said that there are around 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, along with “all of the pieces necessary should there be a choice to make an incursion into Ukraine.”

In his first interview since fleeing to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych told the Associated Press and Russia’s state NTV television that the takeover of Crimea is “a major tragedy.” However, Yanukovych maintained that the Crimean vote in favor of joining Russia was a response to threats posed by the “radical position” of the current rulers in Ukraine. Asked about his requesting Russia to send troops to Crimea, Yanukovych responded, “I was wrong,” and he said, “I acted on my emotions.” He also denied responsibility for the sniper killings of dozens of protesters in February, for which he faces charges by Ukraine’s interim government.

The U.S. and EU have pledged support to work with Ukraine to decrease its dependence on Russian gas [Wall Street Journal’s Vanessa Mock]. In a joint statement, Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they “recognized that our energy security concerns and those of our friends and partners pose common challenges, and are considering new collaborative efforts to address these challenges.” President Obama is scheduled to brief congressional leaders today on his Europe trip and the crisis in Ukraine [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Citing Russia’s “ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” NASA has suspended all contact with Russian government representatives, with the exception of ongoing International Space Station activities [The Verge’s Arielle Duhaime-Ross].

Surveillance

Several months after requesting an investigation into DNI James Clapper for lying to Congress, Rep. James Sensenbrenner said there has been no response from the Justice Department [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]. In a letter to AG Eric Holder yesterday, Sensenbrenner requested an update, stating, “Intelligence officials cannot be permitted to lie with impunity.”

The ACLU has submitted formal comments on the White House Big Data Initiative, describing some immediate steps the Obama administration can take to improve privacy and address the expanded use of personal information and big data.

Senate torture report

Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have announced their support for declassifying parts of the panel’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, “all but assuring that the committee will approve the report and send it to President Obama for eventual release” [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti]. The vote on declassification is scheduled for this afternoon.

The defense team for alleged 9/11 conspirator Ammar al-Baluchi is attempting to obtain a copy of the Senate committee’s report, on the basis that information about the torture of al-Baluchi is critical to his trial [Miami Herald].

Israel-Palestine

Speaking in Algeria today, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “dialogue remains open” between Israel and Palestine [Reuters]. Kerry stated that some progress has been made “in narrowing some of [the] questions that have arisen as a result of the last few days but there is still a gap and that gap will have to be closed … fairly soon.”

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said yesterday that the administration was “disappointed” by the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both [Israel and Palestine] have taken in recent days” [The Hill’s Ian Swanson].

The Washington Post (William Booth and Anne Gearan) reports that Israelis and Palestinians “began to jostle Wednesday over who should be blamed for the possible collapse of peace talks, even as their representatives met with U.S. officials late into the night to try to keep the negotiations alive.” The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren et al.) and Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick et al.) also cover the latest developments.

The United Nations has confirmed it has received the Palestinian Authority’s letters for accession to 15 international conventions and treaties [UN News Centre]. However, the UN spokesperson told reporters that the Palestinian leadership has emphasized it wishes to continue with peace negotiations.

Afghanistan

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul yesterday, killing at least six officers [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov and Habib Khan Totakhil].

Secretary of State John Kerry has issued a statement expressing support for the upcoming Afghan elections, emphasizing that the U.S. is “ready to work with the next president.”

Three pro-Western frontrunners in the Afghan presidential election “have inspired hope in foreign capitals of an improvement in Afghanistan’s strained relationship with the United States and NATO,” reports the Washington Post (Kevin Sieff). The Economist also takes a look at the frontrunners in the presidential race. And the New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg and Azam Ahmed) covers how “war and unrest provide for a scarred campaign trail in Afghanistan.”

Syria

The Syrian government has told the UN it has intercepted communication between rebels, which “confirms that armed terrorist groups are preparing to use toxic gas in Jobar quarter and other areas, in order to accuse the Syrian government of having committed such an act of terrorism” [Reuters].

The Washington Post editorial notes that “on Syria, [the] U.S. and U.N. are all talk and no action.” The editorial argues that while the administration “is not lacking in options to stop the ongoing, horrific crimes against humanity in Syria,” it lacks “the will to act.”

The UN Refugee Agency reports that the number of refugees fleeing from Syria into Lebanon has now passed the one million mark.

And the Washington Post (Loveday Morris) covers how Syrian Armenians, who had been largely insulated from the conflict, have been forced to flee after the rebel offensive in the coastal province of Latakia last month.

Other developments

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell denied that the administration misled Congress about any aspect of the 2012 Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate [Politico’s Lucy McCalmont]. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Morell said, “We did not deliberately downplay the role of terrorists in the Benghazi attack in our analysis or in the talking points.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau (Marisa Taylor) reports that the Pentagon’s inspector general “is trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access” of the department’s former whistleblowing director, “triggering concerns in Congress that he’s being retaliated against for doing his job.”

The Associated Press reports on U.S. efforts to create a “Cuban Twitter,” a secret communications network to undermine the Cuban government, according to documents and interviews with those involved. The program was funded and operated by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In an op-ed in Defense One, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlines how the U.S. is “uniquely positioned to continue to help Asian nations build a vibrant regional security architecture.”

The former State Department intelligence analyst, who leaked highly classified information to Fox News on North Korea, has been sentenced to 13 months in prison [AP’s Pete Yost].

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf has said that Iran’s choice for UN ambassador is “extremely troubling,” but insisted that the nuclear negotiations would not be affected over this development. The Hill (Justin Sink) and New York Times (Somini Sengupta and Thomas Erdbrink) have more details on the outrage sparked by Tehran’s choice of UN envoy who played a role in the 1979 hostage crisis.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has “hit back” against the UK government’s investigation into the organization, stating that “any improper attempt to restrict its activity” would be challenged in court [The Guardian’s Robert Booth]. Meanwhile, in Cairo, a series of explosions have killed a police officer and wounded others [Al Jazeera]. Armed group Ajnad Misr has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

The EU’s General Court said the bloc did not provide enough evidence to justify freezing assets of the nephew of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, “delivering the latest blow to the EU’s sanctions regime” [Wall Street Journal’s Gabriele Steinhauser]. The sanctions will remain in place for now, with an opportunity for the bloc to produce additional evidence.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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