Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Ritika Singh, Yishai Schwartz
Thursday, March 6, 2014, 12:00 PM

The crisis in Crimea continues: The Crimean regional parliament has voted to secede from Ukraine and join itself to Russia, but has also decided to leave a final decision up to a popular referendum that will take place on March 16, says the Wall Street Journal.

The European Union voted to freeze the assets of Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych and seventeen close associates held responsible for embezzling state funds. And President Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against “individuals and entities responsible” for undermining the stability and sovereignty of Ukraine. The LA Times and Journal have the stories.

In Foreign Policy, Keith Johnson explains why Russia is not likely to use gas exports to pressure Europe, and the Times reports on hopes in Congress and the U.S. State Department that a recent American gas boom will give America greater leverage in dealing with Vladimir Putin.

The Times also discusses Republican accusations that President Obama’s “projected weakness” has “invited” Russian aggression---and on a debate triggered by Hillary Clinton regarding Russia’s justification for its use of force by claiming that it is simply protecting Russians. The National Journal tells us that the crisis has triggered modest but growing opposition in Congress to the closure of European military bases.

In an opinion column in this morning’s Washington Post, elder statesman Henry Kissinger weighed in on the current crisis, urging restraint and outlining general principles for resolving the current standoff with Russia.

Meanwhile, an American airstrike killed five Afghan National Army soldiers and wounded eight more this morning. Spokesmen for the American military confirmed that the event was an accident and that the strike was carried out by a manned aircraft. Afghan military officials have suggested that the incident may have resulted from a “miscommunication or miscoordination” between air command and the pilot.

In other Afghan news, the Times covers developments in Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election. Apparently, President Karzai pressured a specially convened jirga (a gathering of elders) into switching its support from Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, to his former foreign minister, Zalmay Rassoul. As both candidates agreed to abide by the jirga’s decision, it now appears that Qayum Karzai will withdraw from the race.

Even as violence continues, peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban resumed, with Taliban representatives scheduled to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his house today. The Associated Press and the Times have the story. Agence France Presse and Dawn report that a committee will be formed to moderate the peace talks, which will include representatives of the Pakistani military and the ISI.

A UN Commission of inquiry released a report on human rights in Syria. The report finds evidence of extensive war crimes and directs scathing criticism at the U.N. Security Council which “bears responsibility for not addressing accountability and allowing the warring parties to violate these rules with total impunity.” Al-Jazeera has more.

Israel has intercepted a merchant ship carrying dozens of Iranian long range missiles destined for Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials claim that the shipment reveals Iran’s true intentions. The Guardian has the story.

This important announcement just in from the DNI’s office:

On Friday, the Attorney General through the Department of Justice, declassified and released 24 documents that were responsive to a portion of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. These one-page documents, titled “The Attorney General’s Report on the Use of Pen Registers and Trap and Trace Devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” are reports to the Congressional intelligence and judiciary committees that identify how many applications the U.S. Government filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) seeking authorization to use pen registers and/or trap and trace devices, and how many the FISC authorized, during specific time periods. The documents cover the time period from 2001 through 2012.

The National Journal’s Sarah Sorcher reports on the staggering sunk costs that the Obama administration has racked up as it kills expensive defense development programs. She notes that it is politically much easier to cancel proposed future plans and platforms than it is to scale back existing programs and benefits.

Sparring between the CIA and SSCI continues. McClatchy reports that staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee involved in preparing the 6,000 page review of Bush-era interrogation and detention practices snuck classified documents out of the CIA. And Senator Mark Udall has accused President Obama in a letter of knowing about the CIA’s alleged misbehavior.

Don’t miss the latest from the trial of your favorite member of the Bin Laden family: Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. The invaluable Benjamin Weiser of the Times reports that the government filed a motion asking Judge Kaplan to bar “potentially inflammatory topics” out of the trial. These include Guantanamo Bay, drones, and other related War on Terror buzzwords. Opening statements began yesterday. The Journal says prosecutors portrayed Ghaith as an active Al Qaeda propagandist, who provided material support to the terrorist organization, and Stanley Cohen, Gaith’s lawyer, saying that "words and association” weren’t enough to convict his client.

The Guardian reports that at a panel on Tuesday, NSA chief Keith Alexander suggested that “media leaks legislation” may be making headway in the coming weeks.

Edward Snowden will be speaking via teleconference at South by Southwest on Monday. The festival, held annually in Austin every year, features music, film, and apparently this year, issues of privacy and government surveillance. Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange will also be speaking at the festival.

Politico Magazine has a piece by Glenn Thrush about how robots saved the once-crumbling city of Pittsburgh from Detroit’s fate.

Rozina Ali, senior editor at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, has an op-ed in Al Jazeera America about the recent Hassan v. City of New York ruling on the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. She argues that the decision runs counter to another ruling handed down last year, which found the NYPD’s Stop & Frisk program discriminatory.

Two Congressional Research Service reports very worth checking out, in case you missed them: The first, from January 16, 2014, discusses the legal questions raised by proposed reforms to the FISC. The second, from January 27, 2014 “offers a brief background of the salient issues raised by the detainee provisions of the FY2012 NDAA, provides a section-by-section analysis, and discusses executive interpretation and implementation of the act’s mandatory military detention provision. It also addresses detainee provisions in the 2013 NDAA and 2014 NDAA."

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