News Roundup and Notes: April 15, 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.

Military Commissions

Yesterday’s pre-trial motions hearings for the military commissions trial of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators were abruptly stopped shortly after they began, following accusations by defense counsel that the FBI “tr[ied] to turn a defense team security officer into a secret informant” [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

On Human Rights First’s blog, Adam Jacobson writes that difficulties like the one that delayed yesterday’s proceedings “seem built into the military commission system” and that “problems are the norm, and justice is an increasingly elusive ideal.”

The pre-trial motions hearings are scheduled to resume this morning at 9:00a.m.  For full coverage of the day’s proceedings, be sure to check out Lawfare’s Wells Bennett’s play-by-play analysis.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

In response to the growing concerns surrounding the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, the NSA has released a fact sheet with suggested mitigations to address the vulnerability.  However, Julian Hattem [The Hill] writes that the new NSA policy announced in response to Heartbleed may contain “huge loopholes.”

Meanwhile, Brian Fung of the Washington Post’s technology and policy blog, The Switch, writes that Heartbleed “is about to get worse, and it will slow the Internet to a crawl.”

The Washington Post and The Guardian have each been awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their coverage and analysis of the NSA disclosures.  Politico’s Dylan Byers writes that the win is “certain to be interpreted as vindication of [Edward Snowden]’s efforts.”  In a statement, Snowden stated:

“Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance.”

Representative Pete King, however, was less than enthusiastic about the Pulitzer announcement:

Liam Fox, a British Conservative member of Parliament and former British defense secretary, writes in the Wall Street Journal that Edward Snowden is a “self-publicizing narcissist” who has exposed “nothing illegal” and done great harm.

[The Pulitzer Prizes’ website has the complete list of award winners, which includes The Boston Globe staff for their breaking news reporting of the 2013 Boston bombing.]

Ukraine

Ukrainian interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced that Ukrainian special forces have launched an anti-terrorist operation in the northern part of Donetsk, after pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east ignored his ultimatum to surrender [Kyiv Post]. Turchynov announced that the mission “will be conducted step-by-step, responsibly, deliberately.” In a call with the UN Secretary-General, Turchynov said he would welcome the option of conducting a joint anti-terrorist operation with UN peacekeeping forces. Meanwhile, Russia has declared Ukraine as being “on the brink of civil war” [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth and Thomas Grove].

In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Obama urged Putin to use his influence with pro-Russian groups to abandon the seized buildings in eastern Ukraine. Obama also warned that “the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if [its] actions persist.” According to a statement from the Kremlin, Putin said allegations of Russian involvement “are based on inaccurate information” and that the protests in Eastern Ukraine “are the result of the Kiev authorities’ unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population.”

President Obama also spoke with French President Hollande yesterday, during which both leaders “underscored that Russia will face significant additional costs if it continues this behavior.” And the White House confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan was in Kiev over the weekend [Associated Press].

The State Department provides information on the additional assistance the U.S. is providing to Ukraine, including the signing of a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

A Russian warplane has reportedly made several close-range passes by the USS Donald Cook, an American warship currently in the Black Sea [FoxNews].  While the U.S. has said the aircraft had no visible weapons and was therefore not a threat, the Pentagon has called the move “provocative.”

The White House is reportedly working on a new list of expanded sanctions against leading Russian figures as a response to the growing tensions in eastern Ukraine [New York Times’ Peter Baker]. And a senior State Department diplomat said the U.S. is “looking at [providing arms to Ukrainian forces] as an option … but at this point [he] can’t anticipate whether or not [the U.S. is] going to do that” [Reuters].

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said Russia has to “decide whether it wants diplomacy and de-escalation or a long-term deterioration in relations with much of the rest of the world, which will have a serious effect on the Russian economy” [The Guardian’s Rowena Mason et al.]. German utility company RWE has announced it will supply Ukraine with natural gas this year, “the first such deal by a European energy company” [Wall Street Journal’s Jan Hromadko].

James Marson (Wall Street Journal) writes that protesters in eastern Ukraine feel closer to Russia than Kiev, but only a fifth of the people in the region want full independence from Ukraine. Rather, they aim for more local control.

Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post, argues that “unless and until the administration acts robustly . . . don’t expect Putin to stop in eastern Ukraine.” In a FoxNews opinion piece, Jonathan Adelman argues that “Putin’s tough realist policy remains more popular in many parts of the world than Obama’s soft idealist approach.” And The Guardian editorial notes that the U.S., EU and Russia “should be conscious of strong common interests, as well as divergent ones, when they meet this week.”

Be sure to check out the Wall Street Journal and BBC’s livestream for the latest developments in the crisis.

Israel-Palestine

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the New York Times editorial board argues that “[i]t is time for the [Obama administration] to lay down the principles it believes must undergird a two-state solution” and then it “should move on and devote [its] attention to other major international challenges like Ukraine.”

An Israeli police officer was shot and killed yesterday on the way to a Passover seder in the West Bank city of Hebron [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]. Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the shooting but did not accept responsibility.

Syria

The chief UN human rights official has released a new report condemning the use of torture by government forces and some armed opposition groups in the civil war in Syria [UN News Centre].

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed that the Syrian government has removed 65% of its total chemical weapons. However, the OPCW said that removal has fallen behind the revised schedule and that “there is no margin for any further delays.”

Al Jazeera America reports that the UN Security Council is scheduled to meet privately today to view photographs of those killed in the Syrian conflict. The presentation, hosted by France, is part of an effort to refer a complaint to the International Criminal Court.

On the ground, regime troops have captured the rebel-held town of Maaloula, near the Lebanon border [Al Jazeera].

Other Developments

The Guardian (Chris Woods) reports that according to a new documentary to be released later today, a conventional U.S. Air Force unit in Nevada, rather than civilian contractors, is responsible for operating the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan.

Reuters (Anna Yukhananov and Warren Strobel) covers how following its success on Iran, the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions team “faces new challenges,” particularly in Russia.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Danny Gold and Samuel Oakfold write that despite last week’s UN Security Council resolution authorizing a peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic, the crisis in the country “grows more ominous by the day.”

DNI James Clapper has said that intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan is “of late … on the upswing” [ABC News’ Lee Ferran].

Speaker John Boehner and a group of senior House members made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday [The Hill’s Russell Berman]. The Speaker met with U.S. troops, Ambassador James Cunningham, and General Joseph Dunford, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Data released on Monday by the U.S. military shows that violence in Afghanistan on April 5, the day of the Afghan presidential election, was higher than normal [Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow]. And Afghan deputy minister of public works Ahmad Shah Wahid was abducted in Kabul earlier today, according to Afghan officials [BBC].

According to documents seen by Al Jazeera (Kaelyn Forde), the “Cuban Twitter” program “was managed by a section of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) tasked with helping manage regime change in countries where U.S. interests are at stake.” The documents also show that the private firm contracted by the government to work on the project was told the operation could involve classified work.

A new report issued Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Institute showed that U.S. military spending decreased by 7.8% in 2013, compared to an increase by 1.8% by the rest of the world.  The drop in U.S. military spending is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011.

Clive Stafford-Smith of Reprieve writes an op-ed in the New York Times on the recent British practice of stripping citizenship of people who are considered possible terrorism suspects to make it easier for American authorities to apprehend them.

BBC reports that Jordan’s ambassador to Libya has been kidnapped by a group of hooded men in Tripoli, in an attack that left his driver wounded.

A 55-year-old Palestinian-American who lives in Bahrain for most of the year has allegedly had his passport confiscated by the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain without explanation [Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann].

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s former military chief, has taken the final formal step required to run in next month’s presidential election, submitting 200,000 signatures (over eight times the required number) to the country’s election commission [Associated Press].

The U.S. Army announced that a request for clemency by Chelsea Manning has been rejected, and Manning’s 35-year sentence has been approved [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Under the Army’s rules, an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is automatic.

Yesterday’s bombings in Nigeria, covered in the last News Roundup, have been attributed to the Islamist group Boko Haram by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).