Terrorism theory in Malaysia Airlines crash disintegrates; Rock bottom: the relationship between the CIA and the Senate; Sinclair may now get a plea deal; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
Page One: Eastern Ukraine is in ‘chaos,’ says Russia. The WaPo’s Carol Morello and Kathy Lally: "Russia and its sympathizers seized control of more Ukrainian military bases and facilities in Crimea on Monday while Moscow issued threatening statements about eastern Ukraine that signaled Russia’s intention to play a significant role in the country’s future. At least four Ukrainian military bases, including one stocked with missiles, were overrun by armed men in uniforms who say they are members of local self-defense units, which are typically under the command of Russian military officers. The headquarters of the Ukrainian naval fleet had its electricity cut, and the director of a military hospital was ousted and a replacement installed by the pro-Russian militia that took over.
"A foreboding sense of lawlessness is spreading ahead of a Sunday referendum in Crimea on whether to align with Russia or remain with Ukraine." Read the rest here.
The crisis is having a financial impact in Russia. The NYT’s Ellen Barry: "When Vladimir V. Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012, one of the first messages he sent to his political elite, many of them heads of banks and large corporations, was that the times had changed: Owning assets outside Russia makes you too vulnerable to moves by foreign governments, he told them. It is time to bring your wealth home. Nearly two years later, those words seem almost prophetic. After a week of escalating tensions between Russia and the United States, it has become clear that the conflict over Ukraine will move to the battlefield of finance. Those same business titans are now contemplating the damage that the crisis could inflict on Russia’s economy. Twenty years into the project of integrating Russia into Western institutions, they now face the prospect that the process could slow, or even reverse." More here.
Kori Schake, writing on FP, to the WH: please zip it on Ukraine. Schake: The Obama White House cannot resist the temptation to parade its every move in the Ukraine crisis — much to the detriment of its policy succeeding. This is an indiscipline born of self-regard: The White House thinks the president is so compelling and so central to the narrative that his every utterance is advantageous. And, of course, this is an administration in which no national security issue is assessed innocent of domestic political impact. They are failing to understand that by making the crisis so personal, the United States is doing a disservice to the people of Ukraine and making it much more difficult for the Russians to walk back their reckless grab for Crimea." More here.
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Rock Bottom: The relationship between the CIA and its Senate overseers has never been worse. FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson: "Since the two congressional committees that oversee U.S. intelligence agencies were established almost four decades ago, a set of unspoken agreements, rather than hard-and-fast rules and laws, has governed how members of Congress and their staff obtain access to information about some of the nation’s most highly classified national security programs. But now, in a rare public feud between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over its interrogation of suspected terrorists, each side accuses the other of violating those agreements, and the system of checks and balances that binds the two sides together has been strained more than in any period in recent memory.
"This might well be the most acrimonious public moment between the CIA and a Senate committee since the time of the post-Watergate Church Committee investigations nearly 40 years ago," said former Justice Department lawyer Dan Metcalfe, referring to one of two congressional investigations of domestic spying and other abuses by the CIA, led by Sen. Frank Church (D-Id.), that gave birth to the committees and the modern system of intelligence oversight. In his earlier role as director of the Office of Information and Privacy, Metcalfe guided all federal agencies on sensitive and classified disclosure issues from 1981 to 2007. In that period, he said, he could not recall a time when CIA-congressional relations plunged to such caustic depths." Read the rest of the story, here.
It’s a big day for Mike Rogers, who appears for his confirmation hearing today as NSA chief. The NYT’s David Sanger: "…The man chosen by Mr. Obama to navigate this bureaucratic, political and public relations disaster is Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who on Tuesday will face members of the Senate at his confirmation hearing, an event not likely to be accompanied by the thunderous applause that greeted Mr. Snowden in Texas. Friends of Admiral Rogers in the intelligence community, who have worked with him in his current job running the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, say they wonder whether he has a sense of what he is wading into.
‘Why would anyone in his right mind be director of N.S.A. right now?’ asked John R. Schindler, a former N.S.A. officer who is now a professor at the Naval War College. ‘It’s a massive political headache.’" More here.
Judge: Army command interfered in the Sinclair case and Sinclair may now get a plea deal. The LATimes’ David Zucchino in Fort Bragg: "A military judge ruled Monday that the U.S. Army improperly interfered with a decision to reject an offer by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair to plead guilty to lesser charges in his sexual assault case.
The judge, Col. James C. Pohl, ruled that Army officials exerted ‘unlawful command influence’ when a three-star general turned down Sinclair’s offer before the trial. He gave defense attorneys the option of renewing Sinclair’s original plea offer or a different plea offer; in any case, the judge said, the case must be overseen by a new command authority. Evidence of command decisions in the case did not come to light until after Sinclair’s accuser, a fellow Army officer, testified Friday that Sinclair sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her and her family if she disclosed their three-year sexual affair." Read the rest here.
The NYT’s Alan Blinder and Richard Oppel on Page One: "…In ruling that ‘unlawful command influence’ may have occurred, Colonel Pohl suggested that the officer with ultimate authority over the case, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, might have rejected a previous plea offer from General Sinclair because he was worried about potential fallout from not prosecuting General Sinclair to the fullest. Members of Congress have criticized the Pentagon for not doing enough to crack down on a rising tide of sexual assault, debating bills that would drastically change the way sexual assault prosecutions are handled in the military." Read the rest here.
Claire McCaskill’s legislation on sexual assault passes a hurdle. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn: "Sen. Claire McCaskill’s legislation to force changes in the military’s sexual assault policies passed the Senate on Monday without dissent, capping her latest bid to get the Pentagon to clean up its ranks. The 97-0 vote on the Missouri Democrat’s measure establishing new rules for how victims and defendants should be treated came as no surprise, particularly since it had already cleared a procedural vote to final passage, 100-0. Even Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and backers of a more controversial approach to overhaul the World War II-era military justice system – removing the chain of command from prosecutions – supported McCaskill’s legislation as another key step to give victims greater power in the legal process… McCaskill’s measure now heads to the House, where Republican and Democratic aides say they expect to see her proposals surface during debate later this year on the new defense authorization bill." More here.
Meanwhile, Stimson’s Russell Rumbaugh posts an analysis of the new defense budget, arguing that it does in fact "prioritize readiness" despite fears of a hollow force and that, despite what everyone thinks, the Army does just fine in this budget. Read that here.
A senior defense official responds to a Defense News story that ran yesterday and was critical of the Pentagon’s new budget. The official, to Situation Report, in response to yesterday’s Defense News story – "The plan reflects reality. For 2015 – the only year Congress is voting on mind you – the Department funds higher force levels. The long term plan takes into account sequestration since that remains the law for 2016 and out. This approach is not only responsible for military planners it presents Congress with evidence for why they should end sequestration once and for all." Read the DN story here by Marcus Weisgerber, to which the defense official is referring.
Meantime, wanna take a visual look inside the Pentagon’s new budget? Defense News partnered with a firm called VisualDoD to produce a series of charts and graphs on each of the service’s procurement budgets and other great stuff for the budget wonk. Look for all that coverage here.
Malaysia airliner mystery: the theory that the plane’s fate was determined by terrorists ebbs. The WaPo’s Chico Harlan, William Wan and Simon Denyer: "As an international hunt for the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet stretched into Tuesday, investigators said an Iranian on the flight traveling on a stolen passport was trying to seek asylum in Germany. When the 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, did not arrive in Germany as planned, his mother contacted Malaysian authorities and helped them identify him. While early speculation focused on two passengers on the plane using stolen passports, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference Tuesday, ‘We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group.’" Read the rest here.
Did the plane simply disintegrate? The New Zealand Herald’s Harriet Alexander: "Investigators in Malaysia say the lack of debris from the vanished Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight could indicate it "disintegrated" in midair. ‘The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,’ said a source who is involved in the investigations in Malaysia…But David Learmount, operations and safety editor for Flight International, said he would be very surprised if the authorities knew for sure that the plane ‘disintegrated’ in midair. Learmount, who said it was not unusual not to find debris immediately after a crash and pointed out that the Air France crash in 2009 took two days to find: "We just have to accept that, for the moment, we do not know what has happened." More here.
A company called DigitalGlobe launched a crowdsourcing platform to help find the vanished airliner. Click here for more information if you’d like to volunteer your time to support the rescue mission and help comb through satellite imagery for clues.
The U.S. Navy gives an assist. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The Malaysia Airlines flight that mysteriously disappeared 35,000 feet over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8 has prompted a massive maritime search involving dozens of aircraft and ships from 10 countries, including both the United States and China. But it has also underscored the lingering technological shortcomings and fragile communications networks bedeviling many of the nations in a region where territorial and political disputes continue to simmer, analysts said.
"The U.S. Navy has dispatched two guided-missile destroyers, the USS Kidd and the USS Pinckney, to assist in a search now spanning waters from Malaysia to Vietnam. The ships each carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters that are designed for search-and-rescue missions and equipped with infrared cameras. The U.S. ships are working in tandem with vessels from China, Singapore and Malaysia, Pentagon officials said Monday, but it wasn’t immediately clear how much they are in communication. The Pinckney investigated floating debris Sunday, but didn’t find any pieces of the missing airplane." Read the rest here.
The tautological quote of a Malaysia government official, as quoted by the WaPo today, sums up just how baffled everyone is: "This unprecedented missing aircraft mystery – as you can put it – it is mystifying," Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur." More here.
Situation Report corrects – In yesterday’s edition we referred to the air carrier as both "Malaysia Airlines" and "Malaysian Airlines." Please excuse the typo – it is of course Malaysia Airlines.
The Pakistani army’s fight with the Taliban means it has suffered twice as many losses than the U.S. despite perceptions to the contrary. The WSJ’s Yaroslov Trofimov on Page One: "…The Pakistani army has lost roughly twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the U.S. It is a toll that keeps rising as American forces prepare to withdraw from next-door Afghanistan by December amid an intensifying war on both sides of the border. In Washington and Kabul, officials often accuse Pakistan of being a duplicitous and insincere ally, charges fueled by alleged covert aid to the Afghan Taliban from some elements of the Pakistani security establishment. In 2011, the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, described the Haqqani network, a group of insurgents operating from bases in North Waziristan who are affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Pakistan’s government denied the accusation.
"Murky as this war is, one fact is clear: The price ordinary Pakistani soldiers pay in the struggle against Taliban fighters is real and high. Since Pakistan’s army began moving into the tribal areas along the Afghan border to confront the Pakistani Taliban in 2004, more than 4,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed and more than 13,000 injured, according to military statistics." Read the rest here.
The Taliban has threatened to attack Afghan voters. The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison, in Kabul: "The Taliban have threatened to attack Afghanistan’s crucial presidential election next month, warning that anyone who goes near ‘electoral offices, voting booths, rallies and campaigns’ is putting their life in danger. More here.
A British-Swedish journalist is shot in Kabul. Also from the Guardian’s Graham-Harrison, just this morning: "Gunmen have shot dead a British-Swedish journalist in the embassy quarter of Kabul in an unusual attack using a pistol with a silencer. Police said the man, who had been in the country only a few days, had been killed when travelling from his hotel to the ruins of a restaurant bombed by the Taliban in January. He had been planning to meet a survivor there for a report. A senior source at the city’s criminal investigation department said: ‘He was on his way to the Lebanese restaurant to interview the cook when he was shot. He was taken to hospital but died there from his injuries.’ The gunmen fled the scene but two suspects were arrested. ‘The weapon used was a pistol with silencer,’ the source added. The translator working with the reporter had also been detained for questioning." The rest here.
In Libya, it’s government forces vs. militias over oil tankers. The WSJ’s Nour Malas: "Gunbattles erupted late Monday when Libyan government forces attempted to seize back an oil tanker that rebellious militiamen were trying to use to independently sell crude, a Libyan official said. Culture Minister Habib al-Amin said government forces had taken control of the tanker after the clashes. However, the militia controlling the As Sidra oil port denied it had lost control of the vessel. The clashes were the most serious confrontation yet between militias that have paralyzed the country’s oil industry by blocking major ports and a government too weak to confront them. The minister said at a late-night news conference that the Libyan forces took over the North Korean-flagged Morning Glory at around 9 p.m. local time after two skirmishes-one in the morning and one in the evening-with militiamen on speedboats around the tanker." More here.