National Security

FP's Situation Report: The mystery over Flight 370 darkens

U.S. sends rations to Ukraine, not weaponry; Fewer $$ means more drugs, less effort; What spit-shined shoes and the Pentagon briefing room have in common; and a bit more. 

New questions about foul play aboard Flight 370 emerge.  Reuters' Niluksi Koswanage and Siva Govindasamy, this morning with an exclusive: "Military radar data suggests a Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing for nearly a week was deliberately flown hundreds of miles off course, heightening suspicions of foul play among investigators, sources told Reuters on Friday. Analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the plane, with 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew west instead, using airline flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe, said sources familiar with investigations into the Boeing 777's disappearance. Two sources said an unidentified aircraft that investigators believe was Flight MH370 was following a route between navigational waypoints when it was last plotted on military radar off the country's northwest coast. This indicates that it was either being flown by the pilots or someone with knowledge of those waypoints, the sources said... A third source familiar with the investigation said inquiries were focusing increasingly on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight. 'What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," said that source, a senior Malaysian police official.'" More here.

ABC's Martha Raddatz, David Kerley and Josh Margolin: "Two U.S. officials tell ABC News the U.S. believes that the shutdown of two communication systems happened separately on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. One source said this indicates the plane did not come out of the sky because of a catastrophic failure. The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down at 1:07 a.m. The transponder -- which transmits location and altitude -- shut down at 1:21 a.m. This indicates it may well have been a deliberate act, ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said. U.S. investigators told ABC News that the two modes of communication were 'systematically shut down.' That means the U.S. team 'is convinced that there was manual intervention,' a source said, which means it was likely not an accident or catastrophic malfunction that took the plane out of the sky." More here.

Here's another question when it comes to Flight 370: who pays? FP's Dana Stuster: "The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, but it's only a matter of time before the families of the lost passengers begin to ask a pair of questions: How much money will they receive for the losses of their loved ones, and who will pay? They are questions that don't necessarily need to wait for the plane to be found to be answered. As it turns out, there's an international treaty for every occasion. In this case, it's the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, which entered into force in 2003 and standardizes the rights of passengers on international flights... In some instances the airline will not even wait until the wreckage is found to start discussing payments -- that was the case when Air France began dispersing money to the family of each passenger aboard a flight that went down off the coast of Brazil in June 2009 just days after it disappeared.

Said Mike Danko, an aviation attorney: "The question is how much." More here.

Chilling: The last words of whomever was flying Flight 370, heard before the plane went silent was: "All right, good night." More here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com 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.

Giving diplomacy a chance: Kerry in London to meet with Lavrov over Ukraine. The NYT's Michael Gordon: "Secretary of State John Kerry held talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart in an 11th-hour bid to ease the escalating crisis over the Kremlin's intervention in Crimea. Western officials say they believe there is little chance of delaying the referendum that is to be held in Crimea on Sunday to decide if the peninsula should rejoin Russia. But they say that there may yet be an opportunity to negotiate a political resolution if Russia will refrain from taking the next step of formally annexing Crimea. 'We are going to give diplomacy every chance,' a senior State Department official said, referring to Mr. Kerry's meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia. 'What we would like to see is a commitment to stop putting new facts on the ground and a commitment to engage seriously on ways to de-escalate the conflict.'" More here.

Russian troops have begun to gather at the Ukraine border. The NYT's Steven Lee Myers in Moscow and Alison Smale in Berlin on Page One: "With a referendum on secession looming in Crimea, Russia massed troops and armored vehicles in at least three regions along Ukraine's eastern border on Thursday, alarming the interim Ukraine government about a possible invasion and significantly escalating tensions in the crisis between the Kremlin and the West. The announcement of the troop buildup by Russia's Defense Ministry was met with an unusually sharp rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who warned that the Russian government must abandon what she called the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries or face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe." More here.

Not so fast: Ukraine wants weapons but the U.S. provides rations instead. The WSJ's Adam Entous on Page One: "Ukraine's interim government has appealed for U.S. military aid, including arms, ammunition and intelligence support, according to senior U.S. officials. But the Obama administration has agreed to send only military rations for now, wary of inflaming tensions with Russia. The U.S. decision reflects the Pentagon's reluctance to be seen as directly supporting Ukraine's beleaguered armed forces during the standoff with Russia, which has seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The risk of escalation was underscored by Russia's move on Thursday to conduct another military exercise near Ukraine. The Kremlin also confirmed it has sent six Sukhoi fighter jets and three transport planes to another former Soviet republic, Belarus, for joint patrols.

A senior U.S. official said of Ukraine's request for lethal military support to the WSJ: "It's not a forever 'no,' it's a 'no for now.'"

John McCain, critical of the administration's response and traveling to Ukraine today: "We shouldn't be imposing arms embargoes on victims of aggression." Read the rest of the WSJ story here.

How making Russia the enemy in the fight against criminal finance could be costly. FP's Jamila Trindle: "...The West has powerful tools at its disposal for use against Russia, including potentially levying sanctions against certain Russian banks and companies. That would be a huge, and dangerous, gamble. Russia has promised to retaliate for any Western sanctions, perhaps by seizing the assets of American firms operating in Russia. The bigger risk, though, is that Russia could do everything in its power to prevent the United States and its allies from using the global financial system to combat other foes." More here.

What does the crisis in Crimea mean for U.S.-Russian cooperation over cybersecurity issues? Good question. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "The turmoil in Ukraine has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the next chapter of U.S.-Russian cybersecurity talks, which last year led to the creation of a White House-Kremlin cybersecurity crisis hotline -- thus far, never used, according to U.S. officials. White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel told Inside Cybersecurity in a brief interview that the Ukrainian crisis had complicated bilateral relations on cybersecurity and other issues... "At this point in time, it is premature to tell how the crisis might affect our efforts to cooperate with the Russia Federation on cybersecurity," a State Department spokesman said." More here.

Situation Report corrects ­- Our item yesterday about the Ukrainian Prime Minister's uncanny resemblance to a White House speechwriter, as told to us by a friend of Situation Report, contained an error. We were told Yatsenyuk looks like speechwriter Andrew Krupin, but Stephen Krupin is the one he looks like. Apologies for the mistake.

The Pentagon goes really green. Those headed into the Pentagon briefing room will have a new experience: a stop beforehand in the Pentagon's new "green room" - that anteroom where briefers, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, pause before they go out before reporters and cameras. It's where briefers review their notes, sip a glass of water, pop a mint, or straighten their ties. But until recently, the green room was a green room in name only. A month or so ago, it was painted an un-ignorable shade of Kelly green. Col. Steve Warren, who heads the Pentagon's press office, decided it was time the green room lived up to its name. He had it repainted from "Scuffed-up White," had some chair rail put up, and repurposed a few pieces of Pentagon furniture to pull it all together. Some think it might be a little too green. But Warren likes it and knows no one will forget what room they're in now. He also knows there are more important things to worry about. But, as he told Situation Report, "this is the Pentagon," and things should look right. Then Warren added by e-mail: "The most important thing to me is having a soldier who can qualify expert on their assigned weapon, max the PT test and perform all combat skills at or above the established standard.  After that I want a sharp haircut and spit shined shoes.  The green room is shiny shoes."

It's official: State has a new Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. It's Puneet Talwar, who was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote yesterday. From an official at State: "We in the PM bureau are thrilled to have Assistant Secretary Talwar taking the helm, as the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs moves forward in its mission to integrate diplomacy and defense, and forge strong international partnerships to meet shared security challenges."

Blowing up: Dunford talks about disposing military vehicles in Afghanistan. Military Times' Rich Sisk: "U.S. troops are likely to spend part of their remaining time in Afghanistan blowing up thousands of their own vehicles, the top commander said Thursday. The U.S. has been looking to sell about 4,000 worn out or damaged vehicles - MRAPs, Humvees, medium trucks and others - to allies, but so far there has been little interest, said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the coalition and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Dunford posed his own question: 'What do I do' with that vehicle that has been ruled 'in excess' of the needs of the U.S. military? Dunford's solution: 'Either it's going to go to some other country or it's going to be destroyed in Afghanistan.'" Read the rest here.

What the Pentagon's budget crunch means for anti-drug efforts: more drugs, less effort. The WaPo's Ernesto Londono: "Dwindling defense budgets have been a boon to drug trafficking networks in Latin America as U.S. intelligence and interdiction assets in the Caribbean have been pared down, the top American commander responsible for the region said Thursday. 'Because of asset shortfalls, we're unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling,' Marine Gen. John F. Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing about threats and military posture in the Western Hemisphere. 'I simply sit and watch it go by.'" More here.

 

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: FP's exclusive story of a Pave Hawk crash in Japan

Dunford, on the perils of leaving Afghanistan; How the Sinclair case fell apart; The irony of the missile launch officer community; and a bit more.

Joe Dunford explained the perils of completely leaving Afghanistan. The NYT's Helene Cooper: "The top American commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that Al Qaeda would regroup and stage another attack on the West from Afghanistan if international troops completely withdrew from the country at the end of 2014.  Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said that as long as a new president of Afghanistan was in place by August, he was confident that a new security agreement would be signed to allow American and international troops to leave a residual force in the country, as military commanders would like, and as President Obama has said is his preferred option. "But General Dunford warned that if Afghanistan's coming elections did not produce a new president by August, the residual force and the long-term stability of Afghanistan would be threatened." More here.

The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman: "...With Afghan presidential elections slated to begin April 5, the US and Nato have not have much time to orchestrate a troop deal with the victor - a window that grows smaller if there is a runoff election. Dunford told lawmakers that by July and August 'manageable risk' will accrue to US military planning for either a total withdrawal or a significant drawdown. Dunford: "The risk of an orderly withdrawal begins to be high in September."

Ackerman: "But Dunford later told the Senate that if the Afghan presidential election goes into a runoff, as happened in 2009 despite widespread fraud from Karzai, he assesses that a successor president would not enter office until August, presenting the US with a small diplomatic margin of error for finalizing a deal for a residual Afghanistan force." More here.

Meanwhile, why a fight over Pentagon funds is slowing down an aid package for Ukraine. FP's John Hudson: "An effort by the Obama administration to attach additional funds for the International Monetary Fund to a Ukraine aid package is now slowing down the approval of the entire rescue package for Kiev's badly cash-strapped government. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 to support a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, $50 million for democratic governance in the country, and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation. The bill also includes reforms to the IMF that would reconfigure the amount of money the United States gives to the organization -- a provision not included in the House's Ukraine bill passed last week. Linking the Ukraine rescue bill to a broader package of IMF reforms had already angered some Republican lawmakers. Funding the IMF provisions with money previously earmarked for the Pentagon sent them over the moon." More here.

CAP releases a report on how to fix Ukraine. Read the Center for American Progress' bit here.

The Rabbit seems to be in his element. The NYT's David Herszenhorn: "For three months, throughout the uprising and upheaval in Kiev, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk was one of three political leaders who appeared regularly on stage in Independence Square, but he often seemed out of his element. A former foreign minister, economics minister, speaker of Parliament and acting central bank chief, he is more at home in boardrooms and in the corridors of power than on the barricades.

Now, two weeks after his colleagues in Parliament named him acting prime minister - a job he called "political suicide" even before Russia invaded Crimea - Mr. Yatsenyuk, 39, is in a role that suits him better than that of street revolutionary, but that has thrust him to the center of the crisis." More here.

The weirdest thing: The White House and State Department hosted Yatsenyuk to Washington yesterday amid the crisis in Ukraine. But officials around D.C. couldn't help shake the feeling that they had met the prime minister before. That's because he has an uncanny resemblance to former Obama speechwriter Andrew Krupin - now a scribe for Secretary of State John Kerry. See for yourself by clicking here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com 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.

When an Air Force helicopter rescue crew plummeted into a Japanese forest, it killed an airman and sparked an inferno - it also stirred up a diplomatic hornet's nest for the U.S. FP's Dan Lamothe tells the story in this exclusive from FP: "Two U.S. Air Force helicopters looped over a simulated car crash scene in Japan last summer, pulling figure 8's less than 150 feet above a heavily wooded forest. The air crews had just dropped off a team of four elite pararescue jumpers to the scene for a training exercise, and were roaring overhead in tandem at more than 90 mph. The maneuver was common for such missions, where the 'PJs' and the air crews that transport them practice how to evacuate wounded troops from a battlefield while under fire.

"While both MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters circled over the car wreck, one of the helicopters suddenly swerved out of position. When the second helicopter shifted course in response, the pilot of the first Pave Hawk tried to veer away to avoid a possible collision. It was a fatal overreaction: the aircraft, carrying three other personnel, had descended enough to collide with the 50-foot high trees below. The $38 million Pave Hawk - call sign 'Jolly 12' - careened downward, smashed into the forest's floor, and rolled onto its right side before coming to rest. The downed aircraft burst into flames, cooking off rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition.

The co-pilot of the second Pave Hawk told investigators: "Once they were in the turn I saw that ... basically they lost trim, their tail sunk down in a very low position, they were at a high angle of bank with their nose pointing up in the air... The next I heard was my flight lead saying ‘What the f---? What the f---?' ... at which point I could see the smoke and the crash site just on the other side of the ridge."

"FP obtained not only the investigation summary, but more than 300 pages of witness statements, inspection reports, and photographs related to the crash. Combined, they provide a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the pressure-cooker world of pararescue. The "PJ" forces involved are the most elite emergency medical responders in the military, trained to parachute, dive, or rappel into chaotic situations to save lives, both during the day and at night. They have been credited with saving hundreds of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.

Falling off the radar: The Malaysia Airlines jet may have flown for hours after its last confirmed location, but investigators remain Lost. The WSJ's Andy Pasztor: "U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky. Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program. That raises a host of new questions and possibilities about what happened aboard the widebody jet carrying 239 people, which vanished from civilian air-traffic control radar over the weekend, about one hour into a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur." More here.

The Marine Corps plans an experimental force with women. USA Today's Jim Michaels: "The Marine Corps plans to establish an experimental force consisting of at least 25% women in the most far-reaching effort yet to determine how females will perform in ground combat jobs that remain closed to them. It is the first effort to place women directly into such jobs, though the unit will not deployed overseas and will be used exclusively to gather data. The unit will, however, undergo extensive training that mirrors what a typical Marine task force would undergo before being deployed overseas." More here.

Irony alert: For missile launch officers, the pressure for perfection leads to a culture of cheating. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel: "Edward Warren was shocked when he learned that the airmen in charge of the nation's nuclear-tipped missiles regularly cheated on tests. In 2009, Warren was fresh out of the Air Force's Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He had just finished training to become a missile launch officer when he was pulled aside... But while serving at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming from 2009-2013, Warren saw lots of cheating. The cause, according to Warren and other former missile launch officers reached by NPR, was a culture driven by constant demand for perfection."

Warren: "One of my instructors said, 'Hey, just so you know, there is cheating that goes on at the missile bases,' ... I was repulsed. I thought, 'This can't be, this is terrible.'" More here.

Obama calls for releasing the controversial Senate torture report. FP's Shane Harris: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he supports publicly releasing a Senate report on the CIA's controversial interrogation program that has been at the center of a feud between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and that has brought relations between the two sides to a historic low.

"I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past. And that can help guide us as we move forward," Obama told reporters, referring to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who have completed but not released a 6,300-page report on the CIA program. The report is said to find that the CIA's brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists amounted to torture and didn't yield useful intelligence about potential future terrorist attacks.

"White House officials have said publicly on several occasions that the administration supports releasing the report so that Americans can read it and make up their own minds about one of the darkest, and most controversial, chapters in the CIA's history. But the president's remarks, coming in the midst of dueling accusations between powerful lawmakers and the CIA about the conduct of the Senate investigation, is likely to add new momentum to the effort to declassify the report. Obama's remarks came amid continued uncertainty about what role the White House played in a May 2010 CIA decision to prevent Senate committee staffers from accessing certain classified documents. The documents had earlier been provided to the staff as part of their inquiry, but then disappeared from the computers they were using in a classified CIA facility, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said on Tuesday."

New FBI report details interactions between Osama bin Laden and his son-in-law. The NYT's Benjamin Weiser: "Osama bin Laden was nothing if not strategic. He recruited a Kuwaiti cleric to become a close associate and to speak to his trainees because he wanted more recruits from the Gulf region. And for that cleric's fiery speeches after Sept. 11, the Qaeda leader provided the 'bullet points.'" More here.

The case against Jeffrey Sinclair, which had seemed so solid and so damning, so central to the Pentagon's overall prosecution of sexual assault crisis, is now in pieces. How did that happen? The NYT's Alan Blinder and Richard Oppel on Page One: "... The breakdown of the prosecution's case was unquestionably a black eye for the Army at a time when it has been trying to fend off criticism on Capitol Hill that it is unable to clamp down on sexual assault, which statistics show has risen steadily in recent years. General Sinclair's court-martial took on special significance because he is possibly the first general to face sexual assault charges, and because his accuser was herself a promising junior officer.

"But a review of the past three months suggests that the prosecution had doubts about whether a jury would believe the witness, an intelligence officer and Arab linguist who had worked with General Sinclair in both Iraq and Afghanistan, even before the January pretrial hearing. Though she told a compelling story of being bullied into sex, threatened and even physically abused by General Sinclair, the details of her story had shifted on some points, and, the defense said, she had claimed sexual assault only after it appeared she faced legal problems herself." Read the rest here.

No Bounds: The Office of Net Assessment has wide interest - and reach. Politico's Phil Ewing: "From Vladimir Putin's body language to the histories of religious warfare, from the development of new technologies to accounts of ancient empires, there isn't much the Pentagon's internal think tank won't pursue. The Office of Net Assessment, which is headed by a seldom-seen, 92-year-old Nixon-era defense analyst named Andrew Marshall, is just a tiny compartment in the labyrinthine Defense Department, but its interests are vast. In a recent solicitation, the ONA said it's seeking research about nuclear proliferation, future naval warfare and the use of space, among other topics.

"Usually this kind of work, which costs around $10 million per year, flies well under the radar in a defense budget of roughly half a trillion dollars. Every once in a while, however, the public catches a glimpse of something Marshall and his office are pursuing - most recently, when the Pentagon confirmed it has been spending $300,000 per year to study the body language of Putin and other world leaders." More here.

Randy Forbes criticizes the "paper Navy." From a statement from the Virginia Republican's office - "America began the month of March with 283 ships in her fleet. Overnight, this administration declared we had a 293-ship fleet - yet no ship was built, no ship was commissioned, not one additional need of a combatant commander was met. This administration is creating a paper ship Navy. This dangerous deception continues in regards to the most powerful and versatile instrument of American power: the aircraft carrier. By refusing to execute planning funds or to procure supplies critical to protecting our carrier fleet, this administration has undeniably made a decision that they will advocate to reduce our carrier fleet; they just lack the courage to admit it."

Forbes, along with Heritage Foundation's Steven Bucci, CSBA's Todd Harrison and AEI's Mackenzie Eaglen appear for a Foreign Policy Initiative-hosted discussion about the Quadrennial Defense Review Thursday on Capitol Hill. Deets here.