The Saudi national injured during the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon Monday has been cleared and is no longer even a person of interest, intelligence officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed members of the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors in a pre-scheduled hearing that was supposed to focus on the budget, but Clapper began with an update of the bombings. Ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) emerged from the briefing and said he was told the 22-year old Saudi student who was injured during the bombings and remains in the care of a local hospital was no longer a focus of investigators.
"He was never categorized as a suspect; he was a person of interest. My understanding is that he totally cooperated and that he is no longer a person of interest," Chambliss said.
Asked if there were any other persons of interest at this time, Chambliss said, "Not that I know of."
Details about the bombings are still scarce and the investigation hasn't yielded any firm conclusions about the perpetrator or the origin of the explosive devices yet, according to Chambliss.
"It's a very fluid investigation, the FBI is in the lead, and I personally know the special agent in charge. He is one of the best, and they are doing a very good job of moving the investigation forward," he said. "We don't know at this point whether it was a home grown terrorist, whether it was an isolated incident or part of an overall scheme, whether it was a domestic terrorist or a foreign terrorist."
Chambliss did say that security around the country would have to change for large public events, including greater involvement by the federal government.
"This was a soft target. It was not a target that was able to be totally protected," he said. "This particular incident is going to cause the administration and Congress to evaluate our overall security programs around the country, particularly for major events. We can't leave it just to the communities that host these events to provide the security."
UPDATE: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Tuesday afternoon that there had been no advance intelligence information before the attacks. Read about that here.
The Saudi national injured in the Boston Marathon bombings Monday is "not a suspect," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable Tuesday.
"As far as I know, he is not a suspect," Feinstein said Tuesday afternoon. She declined to specify how she knew but said she had been briefed Monday night by Sean Joyce, the No. 2 official at the FBI. Feinstein said her information about the Saudi national was not dispositive because the investigation was still ongoing.
"This is the problem with answering these questions, because we don't really know. We only really know one thing: this qualifies as far as I'm concerned as a terrorist attack," she said.
Feinstein said she didn't know yet if the attack was from a foreign or domestic source.
"It's hard to tell," she said. "I think the device will determine a lot of that."
Investigators have already searched the home of the 22-year old Saudi student, who was injured during the bombings and remains in the care of a local hospital. Officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. have also not been informed that the student is either a suspect or a person of interest.
Feinstein will chair a closed hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday afternoon featuring Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that was supposed to be focused on the budget. The Boston attacks are sure to be discussed. There is also a closed intelligence briefing late Tuesday afternoon for committee members that will focus more squarely on the attacks.
Asked for an update on the investigation, Feinstein said that nothing much has changed since Monday evening.
"It's sort of a forensic slog right now of doing everything that need to be done to secure what is a huge crime scene, take down hundreds of security cameras, go through the film minute by minute, hour after hour, and try to follow forensic evidence. A big task is even collecting the forensic evidence," she said. "You've got a crime scene that could be anywhere along 25 miles. Where did the individual come from, how did he get there, where did he go?"
Nevertheless, Feinstein expressed confidence that the attackers will be brought to justice.
"I have great faith that an arrest is going to be made. I don't think tis going to be the day after tomorrow, but that's OK, it's going to happen," she said. "You cannot do this in the United States."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the State Department Tuesday morning. State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the Saudi national did not come up. A photo op with the two leaders was cancelled.
"I wouldn't read too much into it one way or another other than scheduling," said Ventrell. "But they had a good and productive meeting, and the foreign minister did express his condolences killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings to Secretary Kerry this morning."
Secretary of State John Kerry has a long history with the Boston Marathon and has been on the scene several times in the past few years, but this year he was returning from his 10-day trip to the Middle East and Asia.
On Monday afternoon, Kerry was informed of the two explosions that caused at least 2 deaths and dozens of injuries near the marathon's finish line by a senior aide as his plane approached O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, a senior State Department official told The Cable. Kerry stopped in Chicago to visit the family of Anne Smedinghoff, the 25-year old Foreign Service Officer killed April 6 in a bombing in Afghanistan.
"While in Chicago the secretary contacted his youngest daughter, Vanessa, a doctor in Boston who has run the marathon in previous years, to confirm that family and friends were safe," the official said. "The secretary has a long history with the marathon, and in fact this morning noted it was one of the few years he wasn't on hand to fire the wheelchair race's starting gun."
Kerry and his staff have reached out to state and federal officials to receive briefings as the information on the attacks develops, the official added. Kerry is scheduled to return to Washington tonight and meet with Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, at the State Department Tuesday morning.
Kerry, a former senator from Massachusetts, fired the starter's pistol in the 2002 Boston Marathon.
"I love the marathon," Kerry said that day. "I admire everyone. To run, it takes a lot of spirit and a lot of guts."
Kerry has also said that he ran the Boston Marathon in the past. "I did. I ran a marathon back in '80, something like that. Did the Boston Marathon," he told ESPN.
A White House official told reporters Monday that President Barack Obama was has received briefings from FBI Director Robert Mueller and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. A photo of the president calling Mueller showed that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, were in the Oval Office during the calls.
The Secret Service has extended the security perimeter in front of the White House as a precautionary measure, but the State Department has not yet announced any security adjustments at U.S. diplomatic facilities either inside the United States or abroad.
The Obama administration released a list of Russian human rights violators Friday, further complicating the U.S.-Russia relationship just as Obama's top foreign-policy advisor is about to visit Moscow.
The State Department heavily resisted the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 when it was going through Congress last year, but lost the argument, and was forced to compile and then release the list of Russian officials now subject to visa bans and asset freezes by an April 13 deadline. The list includes 18 names, including16 officials directly related to the case of Magnitsky, the anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after allegedly being tortured, but doesn't include most of the 240 names submitted to the State Department or any top Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will be in Moscow April 14 and 15. According to reports, he is there primarily to entice Moscow to enter discussions over missile-defense cooperation, following the Obama administration's decision to cancel development of a new missile, known as the SM-IIB, that Russia has said could threaten its own ICBM capabilities.
Congressional reaction to the Magnitsky list has been mixed, with some key sponsors of the legislation critical of the administration for creating a small list and others holding out hope that the list will be expanded in the near future.
"I am deeply disappointed by the Obama Administration's announcement today that only 18 individuals have been added to the human rights sanctions list required by the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an original sponsor, said in a statement. "At a time when citizens and civil society groups are being denied justice across Russia, the United States has a responsibility to show our Russian friends and partners that there can still be accountability and consequences when basic human rights are violated. That's why robust implementation of the Magnitsky Act is so critical and why today's announcement is so damaging."
McCain said that Congress will begin work on additional legislation to compel the Obama administration to implement the law more forcefully and said that even a separate, classified list created by the State Department of officials who are subject only to visa bans is also inadequate.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), another key sponsor of the law, said in his own statement Thursday that he was assured the list was only a first draft.
"While the list is timid and features more significant omissions than names, I was assured by Administration officials today that the investigation is ongoing, and further additions will be made to the list as new evidence comes to light," he said. "The fact that a name is not on the list does not mean that person is innocent."
William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital who employed Magnitsky, told The Cable in an interview that the fact that the list exists, even in an incomplete form, represents a victory for those who want to stand up to Russian human rights practices.
"This is an historic moment in the fight against impunity and human rights atrocities by having the U.S. government come up with the new policy of banning visas and freezing assets of violators in countries that are not considered enemies of the U.S. It means that you can still conduct diplomacy and condemn atrocities at the same time," he said. "The list is a good start but there are a lot more evidence available of other people that should be processed and those people should be added in the future. There are also a number of other gross human rights abuses in Russia unrelated to Magnitsky that need to be captured as this list gets formulated in the future."
A senior State Department official briefing reporters Friday defended the size of the Magnitsky list and said that asset freezes needed to meet a high standard determined by the Treasury Department, requiring a smaller list initially.
"Putting a name on this list is a serious undertaking. You better know what you are doing and why and you better have a demonstrable reason for doing so," the official said. "We have implemented this law in a fair spirit and diligently."
Critics accused the administration of minimizing the list in order to soften the expected retaliatory moves from Moscow, which have already included a Russian ban on American adoptions of Russian babies, the refusal of visas for U.S. congressmen, and a crackdown on international NGOs.
"Political considerations were not a factor," the State Department official said.
Nevertheless, the timing could not be worse for a White House intent on coaxing the Russians into negotiations over linking their anti-missile batteries to the ever-expanding U.S.-NATO missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. The missile-defense talks are only one item on Donilon's agenda. He is also seeking Russian cooperation on further reductions of nuclear weapons and Russian help in solving the crisis in Syria.
Even before the Magnitsky list was released, the Russians said publicly they were still opposed to U.S. missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe, despite the Obama administration's cancellation of the SM-IIB missile.
"All aspects of strategic uncertainty related to the creation of a U.S. and NATO missile defense system remain. Therefore, our objections also remain," Deputy Foreign Minister Segei Ryabkov said in March.
Experts now see Russian retaliation and intransigence increasing and the prospects of Donilon bringing home some agreement from Moscow on missile defense dwindling.
"Mr. Donilon will get an earful on a whole lot of things that stem from the Magnitsky issue. It will be another reason why Mr. Putin will continue to do the things he's doing," said Thomas Moore, senior fellow and deputy director of the CSIS proliferation prevention program. "The Russian position has not changed; they are opposed to any missile defenses existing or planned. I think this visit is a waste of Donilon's time in a lot of ways but I guess there's always a need to try."
The National Security Staff declined requests for comment on Donilon's trip.
Be sure to read FP's Elias Groll's run down of the 18 Russian officials on the Magnitsky list.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry isn't calling for direct talks with North Korea today, but that's what he advocated when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Standing beside South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul Friday, Kerry emphasized the resoluteness of the United States and its East Asian allies in refusing to accept North Korea's status as a nuclear-weapons state and urged the North Korean leadership to step back from its increasingly provocative and bellicose rhetoric. Kerry also said that if North Korea were to change its attitude, the United States and its allies would welcome a diplomatic path to peace.
"The rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standard, and I am here to make it clear today, on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves," Kerry said Friday. "We want to emphasize that the real goal should not be reinforcing the fact that we will defend our allies, which we will, but it should be emphasizing for everybody the possibilities of peace, the possibilities of reunification, the possibilities of a very different future for the people of the Republic of Korea and ultimately for the DPRK."
In 2011, during a previous round of North Korean brinksmanship, Kerry was sitting in a different chair as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged with overseeing the Obama administration's North Korea policy. In that role, he called for an end to the status-quo policy of "strategic patience," which amounts to waiting for Pyongyang to change its behavior, and advocated direct U.S.-North Korea bilateral talks
"Let me be clear: We must get beyond the political talking point that engaging North Korea is somehow ‘rewarding bad behavior.' It is not. We will set the time and place and we will negotiate in good faith. Talks will be based on our national security interests and those of our allies," Kerry said at the opening of a March 1, 2011, hearing that featured testimony by then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and then Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Bosworth. "We don't know what renewed diplomatic engagement can accomplish. We do know this: Our silence invites a dangerous situation to get worse."."
There are no good options when dealing with North Korea, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government should use that as an excuse to do nothing or very little, Kerry argued. In fact, he said, not talking to North Korea contributed to its "dangerous and destabilizing conduct." He said the United States needed to "seize the initiative" and propose direct talks immediately.
"The risks of maintaining the status quo are grave. North Korea would likely build more nuclear weapons and missiles. It may well export nuclear technology or even fissile material. And the next violation of the armistice could escalate into wider hostilities that threaten U.S. allies and interests," he said. "Given these very real risks, the best option is to consult closely with South Korea and launch bilateral talks with North Korea when we decide the time is appropriate. Fruitful talks between the U.S. and North Korea can lay the groundwork for resumption of the Six Party Talks. Right now, we simply cannot afford to cede the initiative to North Korea and China because neither country's interests fully coincide with ours."
At the time, North Korea had recently sunk a South Korea vessel, killing 46 South Korean sailors, and shelled a South Korean island near disputed waters. Kerry said the current policy wasn't working.
"Last year was the most dangerous on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953. We must do everything within our power to avoid further deterioration and put the peninsula back on a path to peace and stability," he said. "So far, international initiatives have not stabilized the situation, much less brought about a change of course in the North."
The Obama administration did engage North Korea in a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012, eventually working out a deal that would have sent North Korea hundreds of thousands of pounds of food in conjunction with North Korean promises related to its missile and nuclear programs. That deal fell apart when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died the day before the deal was to be announced.
Little is known about the motivations of the new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and there have been some meetings between U.S. and North Korean diplomats, mostly in New York, but those meetings are largely perfunctory and are used to communicate existing positions. The State Department is reticent even to acknowledge the existence of its rare instances of engagement with Pyongyang
"We need to find a way to break North Korea's cycle of provocation and nuclear expansion. We need to find the right American policy, in concert with South Korea and Japan, to persuade the North to abandon its reckless behavior," Kerry said.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry may not have scored a diplomatic coup during his recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, but America's top diplomat is just beginning what will but a long push to restart the peace process, according to sources and experts.
Kerry traveled to the region for the third time in two months this week and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. After Kerry left town, Israeli newspapers published a series of anonymous quotes from senior Israeli officials stating that Israeli had rejected Kerry's proposals for using confidence-building measures as a pathway to a resumption of direct talks.
"I believe that if we can get on a track where people are working in good faith to address the bottom-line concerns, it is possible to be able to make progress and make peace," Kerry told staff at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
The range of reported confidence-building measures that Kerry is seeking from the Israelis is long, and could include concessions related to economic development in the West Bank, the transfer of control over parts of what's known as Area C near the Dead Sea to the Palestinians, or the release of some Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. The Israeli media has also reported that Kerry is trying to restart talks on the issues of borders and security first, leaving issues like the right of return for later.
"Kerry believes that he can bring about the solution, the treaty and the salvation," a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. "He thinks that the conflict is primarily over territory ... and that is wrong."
But multiple sources told The Cable that Kerry's discussions with both parties were not so specific as to seek commitment to any particular confidence-building measures; Kerry at this stage is simply seeking Israeli buy-in to the concept of confidence-building measures as a step toward talks. But the anonymous Israeli official seemed to reject this construct as well.
"If negotiations are renewed, we will be willing to perform many gestures and steps, but they will take place as part of a process that is already underway," the official said.
Former Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told The Cable that the Israeli officials bashing Kerry on background are simply posturing ahead of what will be a protracted process that will play out over several months, if not years.
"I don't think that Secretary Kerry or the administration was rebuked. I think the Israelis are reacting to what they think is a recalcitrant Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians are reacting to what they think is a recalcitrant Israeli leadership and Secretary Kerry is in the middle," he said. "Invariably both sides will take exception to what Secretary Kerry is trying to promote and achieve. That's normal. That might be a necessary first step, what occurred this week. Not a pleasant one but a necessary one to allow Kerry to get to step two with both parties and achieve a more positive result."
Kerry and his inner circle, which includes the heavy influence of senior Middle East advisor Frank Lowenstein, are not naïve about the difficulty of the new peace process initiative they are proposing, Wexler said. They are taking a long view and are planning several more visits by Kerry to the region -- the kind of shuttle diplomacy that was taken on by special envoys in past situations.
"The way I see it, you have a secretary of state who earnestly and for all of the right reasons is trying to make sense out of a very messy situation and he is trying to infuse rationality and a degree of trust into a dynamic which is poisoned with too much irrationality and distrust," Wexler said. "It's a monumental task that Secretary Kerry is taking on... there will be continuous setbacks and he knows that."
The advantages of having the secretary of state handle the diplomacy personally outweigh the disadvantages, Wexler argued, which include distracting Kerry from other matters around the world and placing the new secretary's credibility on the line very early on in the process.
The Obama administration needs to prove to both sides that it is committed to this new peace push in order to pressure both sides to dislodge themselves from their positions of inertia, Wexler said.
"Both parties are now seeking to ascertain is how persistent is the administration going to be? How much skin is Kerry and Obama prepared to put in the game?" Wexler said. "If both sides perceive that both Kerry and Obama are willing to bleed some, then the parties will become more accommodating."
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians can be expected to resist Kerry's initiative in the press because they are both posturing ahead of a possible direct negotiation, according to Wexler.
"For the time being, their strategy will be not to agree with what Secretary Kerry is promoting," he said. "Kerry's team is developing a 2, 3, 4 year strategy, because they understand all the obstacles that will be presented. This is the only reasonable course that has any likelihood of success and that's a reflection of the dire situation that we're in."
Matty Ster/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images
The Treasury Department released Friday the names of 18 Russian officials who will be subject to visa bans and asset freezes under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2013, which requires the U.S. government to identify Russian human rights violators.
16 of the officials named were directly involved in the case of Magnistky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died in Russian prison, allegedly after being tortured by his captors.
We'll have more on this later today, but for now, here's the list in its entirety:
Let no one say Secretary of State John Kerry hasn't scored any diplomatic victories in his short time in office - today in London Kerry won a case of beer from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
The case of Molson Canadian was Baird's way of settling a bet with Kerry over the world women's hockey championship game April 9, in which the U.S. narrowly defeated Canada by a score of 3-2. Kerry and Baird exchanged the beer during a break in the G8 ministerial meetings in London.
This is the second time Baird has lost a hockey bet to the U.S. secretary of state. He was forced to don a New York Rangers' jersey after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team defeated the Ottawa Senators in the NHL championships last year.
The State Department put out the photos of the beer exchange on its own Tumblr, which is subtitled "Diplomacy in action." Commenters felt the choice of beer could have been better.
"Molson Canadian? Who really won and who really lost here?" read one comment.
"They could have at least given him a decent beer. A Boreale at the least," read another.
There was also another bet on the game betwee White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Canadian Prime Minister Spokesman Andrew MacDougall that played out on Twitter.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.