News Roundup and Notes: April 4, 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. 

Senate torture report

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted yesterday to declassify portions of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation and detention programs [Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Adam Goldman].  The findings will now be sent to the White House and the CIA, “putting the agency in the awkward position of having to declassify a document that delivers a scathing verdict on one of the most controversial periods in its history.” For more coverage, check out posts from Just Security’s Meg Satterthwaite and Thomas Earnest, and a guest post from Zachary Goldman.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein welcomed the vote, stating:

“The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

And Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Committee, said:

“Despite the report’s significant errors, omissions, and assumptions—as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts—I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves. In addition, this study has been an expensive, partisan distraction that has hindered the committee’s ability to provide oversight of current national security issues, including NSA reforms, cybersecurity, Russia, Syria, and Afghanistan. I hope we can put this behind us and focus on the national security challenges at hand.”

Meanwhile, McClatchy DC (Ali Watkins et al.) is reporting that the panel’s report has concluded “CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects … to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody.”

Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Reuters (Natalia Zinets et al.) that his government will stick to austerity measures “as the price of independence,” as Russia increases pressure on Ukraine “to destabilize it, including by raising the price of gas.”

Russia has recalled its ambassador to NATO, following NATO’s decision to suspend cooperation with Russia [CNN’s Marie-Louise Gumuchian et al.]. Russian state media cited deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as accusing NATO’s Secretary General of making “confrontational statements” earlier this week. And Russia’s Federal Security Service says it has detained 25 Ukrainians, accusing them of planning terrorist attacks inside Russia around the time of last month’s Crimean referendum [BBC].

The New York Times (Andrew Roth), Wall Street Journal (James Marson) and Washington Post (Kathy Lally) provide more detail on yesterday’s announcement by Ukrainian authorities that former President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian security agents were involved in plans for elite police units to open fire on protestors in February. Both Yanukovych and Russia’s security agency denied any involvement in the shootings.

In the U.S., President Obama has signed into law a measure providing loan guarantees for Ukraine as well as the imposition of sanctions against individuals responsible for the crisis. And House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon has told reporters that the U.S. needs to continue buying Russian-made helicopters for the Afghan air force notwithstanding current tensions over Ukraine [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

Israel-Palestine

Speaking in Morocco today, Secretary of State John Kerry said it is “reality check time” and that he needs to confer with President Obama on the next steps of the Middle East peace negotiations [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]. Kerry said:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward. … Neither party has said they have called it off. But we are not going to sit there indefinitely. It is not an open-ended effort.”

Haaretz (Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury) reports that Israel has started imposing “a number of sanctions” on the Palestinian Authority (PA), in response to its UN bid to join 15 international conventions. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told the Palestinian negotiating team yesterday that the fourth prisoner release will not go ahead until the PA withdraws its request from the UN.

As the Secretary of State’s “tireless efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations hit bottom,” the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan) covers how “Kerry risks being seen as trying too hard at the expense of a range of other pressing international issues, and perhaps even his reputation,” according to senior administration officials.

The Economist notes that if this negotiating process ends “with no significant agreement, it will be strong evidence that negotiations are simply never going to succeed in producing the long-sought two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

And in a separate development, Israeli military aircraft have carried out airstrikes in the Gaza strip early this morning, following four rockets being fired into southern Israel [New York Times’ Fares Akram].

Fort Hood shooting

Army Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley has released more information on the Fort Hood shooting [DoD News]. He said there are “no indications at this time of any links to any terrorist organizations of any type, either national or international.” Milley said there is “very strong evidence” that the gunman, Army Spc. Ivan A. Lopez had an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition, and that the shootings may have been triggered by a verbal altercation.

The Wall Street Journal (Ashby Jones) reports that the shooting “has renewed calls from some lawmakers to allow soldiers broader access to guns on military bases.” Meanwhile, Politico (Rachael Bade) covers how Pentagon officials and others are agreeing “more must be done to spot ‘insider threats’ before they strike,” but notes that “almost no one” is talking about changing gun laws.

“Cuban Twitter”

The White House confirmed the existence of the “Cuban Twitter” program, covered in yesterday’s Roundup, but denied that it was a covert operation [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the program was “debated in Congress” and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, confirming that the program ended in 2012.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that the AP report had “a number of significant inaccuracies.” And a spokesperson for USAID defended the program, saying the agency was “proud” of the project, the purpose of which “was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period” [Politico’s Lucy McCalmont].

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera America covers online speculation over whether the U.S. was conducting similar operations in other countries.

Surveillance

Reuters (Mark Hosenball and Alina Selyukh) reports that the administration’s plans for overhauling the NSA’s surveillance program “could force carriers to collect and store customer data that they are not now legally obliged to keep,” according to U.S. officials.

The German parliament has started examining the NSA’s surveillance operations through an investigative committee, but “panel members have not been able to agree on the role Edward Snowden should play in the process,” reports Deutsche Welle.

The Center for National Security Studies has filed an amicus brief with the FISC, making the case that the court’s orders to phone companies to hand over customers’ telephone metadata to the NSA are not legal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati et al.) notes that according to Afghan and coalition security officials, Eastern Afghanistan “is  likely to face the worst of the [election-related] violence … with the added presence of Pakistani Taliban, who have benefited from their tentative cease-fire with Islamabad to launch operations across the border.”

The New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg) covers how Afghan President Hamid Karzai “is trying to keep his sway after [his] term ends” by shaping the presidential election.

And in the most recent violence, two female foreign journalists working for the Associated Press have been shot by a police officer in eastern Afghanistan, according to officials [BBC]. One of the reporters has died in the attack.

Other developments

President Obama has signed an executive order allowing sanctions against South Sudan as the country “nears full-scale civil war” [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. A White House statement on the order pledged the U.S. “will not stand by as those entrusted with South Sudan’s future put their own interests above those of their people.”

The Associated Press (Bassem Mroue) reports that clashes in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia have reportedly killed a foreign fighter who was a former Guantanámo Bay detainee.

The Pakistani Taliban has announced an extension of its ceasefire until April 10, following the government’s release of 19 non-combatant Taliban members as a goodwill gesture [Dawn].

Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily has called on the U.S. to “strengthen its relationship [with Iraq], in cementing what [it has] already started in democratization and development” [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

U.S. officials have told Reuters that the U.S. is not going to join a fleet review in China after Japan was not invited, but will observe the parade.

Speaking at the first U.S.-ASEAN Defense Forum, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he is “increasingly concerned about the instability arising from territorial disputes in the South China Sea.” Hagel added, “It’s important that all claimants avoid the use or threat of force or intimidation or coercion.”

South Korea has test-fired a new ballistic missile, attempting to extend its range so it can reach any site in North Korea, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry [Reuters].

Chad has decided to pull its peacekeepers from the African Union mission in the Central African Republic, in protest at allegations that they aided rebels [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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