Situation Report

Hagel and China today; Mubarak to be released?; It was us the whole time! CIA admits to Iranian coup; Meet the Marine major taking on Corps leadership; Why there is so much fog over sarin in Syria; and a bit more.

Hagel and China today; Mubarak to be released?; It was us the whole time! CIA admits to Iranian coup; Meet the Marine major taking on Corps leadership; Why there is so much fog over sarin in Syria; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Germany’s Bild: al-Qaida plotting attacks on Europe’s high-speed rail network. AFP:"The extremist group could plant explosives on trains and tunnels or sabotage tracks and electrical cabling, said Bild, Europe’s most widely read daily. Bild said the information came from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States, which had listened in to a conference call involving top Al-Qaeda operatives.

The attacks on Europe’s rail network was a "central topic" of this call, Bild said. Authorities in Germany have responded to the threat with discrete measures such as deploying plain-clothed police officers at key stations and on main routes, according to the daily."

 

Hagel hosts the Chinese defense minister today. Gen. Chang Wanquan’s visit to the Pentagon this morning is the first such visit between he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. While it might be overshawdowned slightly by the deepening crisis in Egypt, there will be a number of high-profile issues discussed, including missile defense and cyber security, and Hagel will have to articulate the intentions behind the administration’s pivot to Asia. The defense minister was expected to arrive at the Pentagon’s River Entrance this morning at 9 a.m.; there will be a joint presser at 10:45. Watch it live here.

The AP’s Bob Burns: "Among the positive signs cited by U.S. officials are U.S.-China naval cooperation in anti-piracy exercises and China’s acceptance of a U.S. invitation to participate in next year’s Rim of the Pacific military exercise, the region’s largest naval exercise. Hagel has accepted China’s invitation to visit Beijing next year. Defense officials attribute the current upswing in U.S.-China military relations in part to the U.S. and Chinese presidents’ summit in California in June, which was an attempt to set a positive tone despite Washington’s growing anxiety about Chinese cybertheft. Chinese officials have dubbed the summit a new starting point for relations." Read the rest of the AP story here.

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Will Mubarak be released? The NYT: "The judicial authorities in Egypt have ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, who has been detained on a variety of charges since his ouster in 2011, according to state media and security officials on Monday. It remained possible, however, that the authorities would find other ways to keep him in detention and his release did not appear imminent."

Egypt and the U.S. are on a "collision course." WSJ: Egypt’s military-led government said it was "reviewing" its strategic relationships with the U.S. and other Western governments critical of its crackdown on Islamists, deepening the divide between the Obama administration and Cairo.Amid expectations of more violence in coming days, the death toll rose on Sunday as dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed in Cairo in what the government described as a prison-break attempt. The Islamist movement’s leaders called for continued defiance against Egypt’s generals, despite signs that their supporters were becoming limited in their ability to take to the streets."Full story here.

John McCain on American influence in the Arab world, on CNN yesterday: "We have no credibility. We do have influence, but when you don’t use that influence, then you do not have that influence."

Congress split on aid to Egypt. "Democratic leaders have generally supported the president’s approach. But on Sunday, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. ‘I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before,’ Ellison said. ‘In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.’" AP, here.

Rosa Brooks on all the ways in which the U.S. has "lost the moral high ground" when it comes to Egypt. Brooks writing on FP: "There was our initial namby-pamby response to the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak in early 2011: We made vague noises about the virtues of democracy, but we dithered over calling for Mubarak to step down, because we’re Dictators R Us — Mubarak might have been a bastard, but he was our bastard. After Mubarak’s ouster, we continued to sit on our hands as Egypt’s interim military government grew ever more repressive in the run-up to elections. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy won the presidency in the summer of 2012 and began rapidly consolidating power, we remained dithery, coupling the occasional pious call for increased political freedom with expressions of faint support for the entirely unlovable Morsy and faint distaste for the burgeoning secular protest movement."

Everyone knows chemical weapons are being used in Syria. But "as long as they keep body count low, we won’t do anything." That’s an American intelligence officer tells FP’s Noah Shachtman and Colum Lynch. One possible reason why: the Syrian regime has been clever at disguising its chemical attacks. "U.S. analysts speculate that Assad’s military has been using an atypical mix of chemical arms, so-called ‘riot control agents,’ and conventional munitions on the battlefield. In December, one former chemist for the Syrian regime told Al Jazeera that this blending of weapons was done, in part, to create a confusing blend of symptoms — and mask their source. "Traditionally, militaries launch chemical attacks separately from ordinary ones. Not so in Syria. In a single bombing run near Aleppo last May, for instance, U.S. intelligence believes that a single Syrian warplane dropped bombs loaded with tear gas, sarin, and conventional explosives. "’When we first started hearing about this, we didn’t understand. Why one sarin bomb in the middle of a major bombardment?’ asks one U.S. intelligence official. ‘We think it’s strange, but whatever the Syrians have been doing, it’s been very effective,’ the official adds. After all, the government appears, for now, to be winning the war." Read it here.

Sixty years ago today, the U.S. and U.K. backed a coup in Iran — a move that has "haunted its orchestrators" for years. Now, finally, the CIA admits its role, writes Malcolm Byrne, on FP. "Published here today… is a brief excerpt from The Battle for Iran, an internal report prepared in the mid-1970s by an in-house CIA historian…. this new version formally make[s] public, for the first time that we know of, the fact of the agency’s participation: ‘[T]he military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy,’ the history reads. "Why the CIA finally chose to own up to its role is as unclear as some of the reasons it has held onto this information for so long… But U.S. government classifiers, especially in the intelligence community, often have a different view on these matters. They worry that disclosing ‘sources and methods’ — even for operations decades in the past and involving age-old methods like propaganda — might help an adversary. They insist there is a world of difference between what becomes publicly known unofficially (through leaks, for example) and what the government formally acknowledges. (Somehow those presidential admissions of American involvement seem not to have counted.)." Read the rest here.

Meet the Marine major who is standing up to the Corps’ top generals. Marine Corps Times is out with a 4,000-word cover story today on the man who is taking the Corps leadership to task. Maj. James Weirick raised concerns with the Pentagon’s Inspector General over the case of the Marines accused of urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in July 2011. The story helps to provide a better understanding of the concerns the Marine major has with against top officers over their handling of the Marine scout sniper case, even if Marine officials dispute some of the conclusions drawn from Marine Corps Times reporting of the story. MCT’s Dan Lamothe: "[Weirick] had seen enough. In March, after months of observing how the Marine Corps was prosecuting eight Marines implicated in war-zone controversy, he sent a six-page complaint to the Pentagon’s investigative agency alleging a variety of malfeasance by the service’s top general and his senior advisers. The major, a staff judge advocate in Quantico, Va., assigned to the cases, urged the Defense Department inspector general to investigate how the Corps was handling its cases stemming from a video showing four scout snipers urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. He alleges Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, or others working on his behalf, sought to ensure harsh punishment for the Marines facing charges and suppress evidence. Weircik, in a statement, about the Marines accused of urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters:  "I can say that Marines are expected to act in a manner befitting the title we have earned, which includes acting in an ethical manner at all times… These Marines, despite what they were accused of, fought and nearly died in defense of the Constitution. I could not allow these Marines to be deprived of rights they are guaranteed by the document they swore to defend." Read the rest here.