National Security

FP's Situation Report: Chaos in Ukraine

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.  

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.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

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.



National Security

FP's Situation Report: The mystery of the Malaysia Airlines jet

Ukraine leader to meet Obama; Gates: Russia won't loosen its grip on Crimea; Forbidden love in Afghanistan; McCaskill's meaty sexual assault bill; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Out of thin air: Three days later, it's still extremely unclear if the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is an international security issue or a horrible tragedy. The NYT's Thomas Fuller on Page One: "More than 48 hours after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished, the mysteries over its fate have only multiplied. The Beijing-bound plane made no distress call, officials said, and the Malaysian authorities suggested it might have even begun to turn back to Kuala Lumpur midflight before it disappeared. Despite an intensive international search in the waters along its scheduled route, there were no confirmed sightings of the plane's wreckage. And electronic booking records showed that the two passengers who were traveling on stolen passports bought their tickets from the same Thai travel agency.

"The seeming security lapse, which Interpol publicly criticized, might have had nothing to do with what happened to the jet and its 239 passengers and crew. Investigators said they were ruling nothing out, including a catastrophic mechanical failure, pilot error, or both. But by late Sunday, the lack of answers - or even many clues - to the plane's disappearance added to the misery of family members left behind." Read the rest here.

From the WaPo this morning: Debris may be from missing jet. The WaPo's Simon Denyer and Chico Harlan: " The two-day, multi­nation search for a vanished Malaysia Airlines passenger jet has turned up unconfirmed debris but delivered few other clues about one of the most confounding aviation disasters in recent memory. Searchers via low-flying planes had spotted a rectangular, door-like object on Sunday and something that looked like a tail portion, but by Monday morning, authorities said their ships were unable to relocate both objects, Malaysian officials said at a Monday press conference." More here.

Rethinking black boxes: Why the plane can't tell anyone where it is. The Guardian's Stephen Trimble: "... In one of the most galling anachronisms of modern aviation technology, the "black box" that carries most if not all of the answers seems to have vanished, too. Depending on the location of the wreckage, it could be days, months or even years before anyone turns up the black box - which is usually orange - and there remains a remote possibility that the device and its precious recordings of audio and flight sensor data will never be found at all. The ongoing mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is the fault of a bizarre quirk in our networked society. Even cars have broadband connectivity now, but the modern jet airliner - perhaps our most technologically evolved mode of transport - still exists in the age of radio." More here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we're back in the saddle. And we thank in the extreme FP's Dan Lamothe for sitting in for us for a few days. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

Expect big changes in the Pentagon's five year spending priorities. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "Just before Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, the US Air Force budget director, walked into the Pentagon briefing room on March 4, an aide slipped him a note. The paper said that if a reporter asked about the future of the service's Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) program, say that Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James just made the decision to keep the program alive. Thirty-four minutes into his briefing on the 2015 budget proposal, in which CRH wasn't mentioned, the question came. Martin responded: 'Breaking news, we have made a decision to fund the CRH.'

"... It was an unprecedented break from the time-tested and thoroughly regimented briefings of the past. Decisions about funding or not funding multibillion-dollar procurement programs are typically finalized well in advance of such an important briefing. That's not to mention that in a briefing by Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale earlier that afternoon, it was revealed that the CRH program would be delayed."

The bizarre moment summed up an odd two weeks in which the Defense Department struggled to explain its complicated 2015 budget proposal, sent to Congress on March 4.Reporters, budget analysts and lawmakers and their staffs were all left scratching their heads. It became clear as the week progressed that there would still be revisions to the Pentagon's plans.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: "I think there's a disconnect between the public comments and the budget documents, and I'll leave it at that." Read the rest here.

Also read Defense News' editorial, "A Budget Without Clarity," here.

Meantime, the new head of Ukraine's pro-Western government will meet with President Obama this week amid Russian defiance over Crimea. The WaPo's Anthony Faiola and Carol Morello with a Kiev dateline: "... The announcement of Wednesday's meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk came as pro-Russian forces extended their reach in Crimea, surrounding a border post in the far west and blocking Ukrainian TV broadcasts to the heavily Russian-speaking region, which lies more than 400 miles southeast of the Ukrainian capital. There were reports of more troop movements into Crimea, with officials in Kiev estimating that 18,000 pro-Russian forces had fanned out across the region, which is about the size of Massachusetts." Read the rest here. ICYMI, Bob Gates was on Fox on Sunday talking Ukraine. FP's Dana Stuster: "The Obama administration is struggling to find a way of forcing Moscow to remove its troops from Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, but former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said [Sunday] it is already too late to prevent the contested region from being absorbed into Russia.

Gates, to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday: "I do not think that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hand."

Wallace, who pressed Gates to clarify: "You think Crimea is gone?"

Gates: "I do."

Read the rest of what Stuster wrote based on the Sunday shows here.

Read Leon Aron's argument on FP about why Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. (he didn't do it just because he could, he did it because he had to, Aron argues). Read that piece here.

From this morning's White House readout of Obama's talk with President Xi over Ukraine: "...The two leaders agreed on the fundamental importance of focusing on common interests and deepening practical cooperation to address regional and global challenges for the development of bilateral relations. In that context, they affirmed their shared interest in reducing tensions and identifying a peaceful resolution to the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.  The two leaders agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, both in the context of Ukraine and also for the broader functioning of the international system.  The President noted his overriding objective of restoring Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring the Ukrainian people are able to determine their own future without foreign interference."  

Meanwhile, Chinese military spending continues to be a mystery. FP's Issac Stone Fish:  "The People's Liberation Army does not have a website. There is China Military Online, which boasts that it's "approved by the Central Military Commission," (CMC) the 11-member body chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which oversees the PLA, and is the military's "only news portal website." There are other Chinese news sites, like Chinamil, which hosts Liberation Daily, a newspaper put out by the PLA's general political department, the shadowy department tasked with running the army's political activities. And there's a website for China's Ministry of National Defense, an organ which is subordinate to the CMC, and which is nominally the public face of the PLA. But the world's largest standing army, and the CMC which oversees it, has decided not to bother.

"On March 5, during an annual meeting of its legislature, Beijing announced that it is increasing its military budget by 12.2 percent, to a total of $131.6 billion in 2014. While still less than a third of the $496 billion that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed in February for the U.S. military in 2015, it still represents a significant expansion, even after two decades of double-digit growth in the PLA's official budget. But few doubt that the grand total allocated to China's military is yet higher, and many in the U.S. government wish they had more insight into the method to the darkness surrounding the PLA." More here.

Page One: Two Afghans share forbidden love. The NYT's Rod Nordland in Bamian, Afghanistan:  "She is his Juliet and he is her Romeo, and her family has threatened to kill them both. Zakia is 18 and Mohammad Ali is 21, both the children of farmers in this remote mountain province. If they could manage to get together, they would make a striking couple. She dresses colorfully, a pink head scarf with her orange sweater, and collapses into giggles talking about him. He is a bit of a dandy, with a mop of upswept black hair, a white silk scarf and a hole in the side of his saddle-toned leather shoes. Both have eyes nearly the same shade, a startling amber.

"They have never been alone in a room together, but they have publicly declared their love for each other and their intention to marry despite their different ethnicities and sects. That was enough to make them outcasts, they said, marked for death for dishonoring their families - especially hers. Zakia has taken refuge in a women's shelter here. Even though she is legally an adult under Afghan law, the local court has ordered her returned to her family. 'If they get hold of me,' she said matter-of-factly, 'they would kill me even before they get me home.'" Read the rest here.

Here's the beef: Turns out, Claire McCaskill's sexual assault bill is "meatier than advertised." The WaPo's Melinda Henneberger: Sen. Claire McCaskill's bill to overhaul - yes, overhaul - the way sexual-assault cases are handled in the military has routinely been described as more modest, conservative, watered-down and incremental than her Senate colleague Kirsten Gillibrand's measure. The legislation pushed by Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which would have taken the prosecution of sex crimes in the military out of the chain of command and put it in the hands of military prosecutors, was narrowly defeated Friday.

"McCaskill's bill is expected to pass Monday, a result widely seen as an affront to victims by a Congress that is still too male and overawed by military commanders to meaningfully challenge them. But occasionally the first draft of history is written by the losers, and that's certainly the case for Gillibrand..." McCaskill, meanwhile, has just as clearly lost by winning, with far less attention paid to either her bill or her view.

"The supposed nothing-burger of the bill put forth by McCaskill (D-Mo.) would get rid of the "good soldier" defense that takes irrelevant factors such as the service record of the accused into account. In cases where there is a dual jurisdiction because the crime occurred off of a military base, the victim would get a say in whether the case would be handled in a civilian or military court. It would extend protections to students in service academies. And it would require that in every decision on every promotion in the military, that commander's record on the handling of sexual-assault cases would have to be taken into account." Read the rest here.

Sinclair's accuser was herself ambitious. The AP's Jeffrey Collins and Michael Biesecker: "The Army captain who has accused Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair of sexually assaulting her during their three-year relationship was an ambitious soldier with plans to make the military her career, much like the boss she loved and admired. Stirred by the 9/11 attacks to leave college and join the military, she signed up with the Army, learned the in-demand language of Arabic and showed a laser focus in trying to carve out a reputation as a soldier who could be counted on in the toughest of situations...

"Her credibility is central to the case. Is she a woman whose affair with a charismatic and approachable superior ended with him forcing her to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her and her family? Or is she, as Sinclair's lawyers have portrayed, a jilted lover who fabricated allegations of sexual assault when Sinclair refused to leave his wife?" Read the rest here.