The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.
The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure U.N. General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington -- which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying -- and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the U.N. negotiations.
The Brazilian and German initiative seeks to apply the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to online communications. Their proposal, first revealed by The Cable, affirms a "right to privacy that is not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence." It notes that while public safety may "justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information," nations "must ensure full compliance" with international human rights laws. A final version the text is scheduled to be presented to U.N. members on Wednesday evening and the resolution is expected to be adopted next week.
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President Bashar al-Assad's government has presented the United Nation's chemical weapons watchdog with a detailed plan for the transfer of chemical materials abroad for destruction. And according to a confidential account of the plan reviewed by Foreign Policy, it includes 120 Syrian security forces, dozens of heavy, armored trucks, and an advanced communications network linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. The extensive request for equipment with both civilian and military applications has already triggered expressions of alarm from Western diplomats. "Let's just say we will be looking at this list very skeptically, particularly items that could be diverted to a military program," said one Security Council diplomat.
The Syrian plan calls for equipping at least eight platoons of up to 35 soldiers each to secure the road between Damascus to the port city of Latakia, from which the weapons would be shipped overseas for destruction. The most likely destination: Albania, which got rid of its own chemical stockpile in 2007. The United States is nearing agreement with the Albanian government to destroy Syria's chemicals and nerve agents, according to two U.N. Security Council diplomats. According to the American proposal, which has not been made public, the United States would supply the Albanian government with mobile labs capable of destroying Syrian nerve gas through a process known as hydrolysis -- essentially bombarding it with water and caustic reagents like sodium hydroxide.
The Cable first reported last week on aspects of the Syrian destruction plan, including a proposal to convert 12 chemical weapons plants into commercial factories. But The Cable has since obtained a far more detailed account of the plan, including requests for tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment, including 40 armored transport trucks, advanced cameras, computers, radios, 13 power generators, five construction cranes, five forklifts, packing materials, and 20 Teflon-lined 2,000-liter metal crates for storing controlled chemicals, including phosphoryl chloride and phosphorus trichloride, a precursor chemical used in the production of sarin and tabun.
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North Korean officials threatened to reconsider existing agreements with the United States in a recent meeting in Singapore, two sources familiar with the discussions told The Cable.
The North Korean warning comes as analysts speculate that Pyongyang may be preparing a fresh nuclear test, a development that could raise tensions in Asia and embarrass U.S. President Barack Obama in the middle of a closely fought re-election campaign.
Top U.S. experts held a "track two" meeting in the island nation in late July, during which the North Koreans hardened their negotiating position and rejected any return to the latest deal struck between the two sides, but nevertheless left the door open to further talks with the United States and the international community.
The meeting was the first of its kind since North Korea tried and failed to launch a rocket into space in April, which precipitated a U.S. withdrawal from the Feb. 29 bilateral agreement to give North Korea food aid in exchange for concessions on the country's nuclear and missile programs.
At the secret meetings in Singapore, the North Koreans told two U.S. experts they were no longer interested in resurrecting that arrangement and said they were reconsidering their previous agreements to eventually denuclearize as well.
On the North Korean side of the table were Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and Choe Son Hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau in the DPRK foreign ministry. On the American side were six experts led by Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, and including Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the international program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Some reports said that there was a also a July meeting in New York between Han and Clifford Hart, the U.S. special envoy to the defunct Six-Party Talks.
"The agenda [in Singapore] focused on a variety of issues. One important topic was the future of U.S.-North Korean relations," said one source familiar with the meeting. "The other topics were nuclear safety, nuclear security, cooperative ways of monitoring denuclearization, and the whole raft of issues people discuss at nuclear summits."
When the conversation was on the future of bilateral relations, the North Korean side made clear it was no longer interested in the Feb. 29 agreement, which included a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, a return of international inspectors, and 240,000 tons of food aid, both sources said.
The North Koreans now want the United States to make concessions up front.
"Their position has shifted. Whereas before, under the Leap Day deal, it was simultaneous actions, as with the September 2005 joint statement, simultaneous actions were one of the key aspects. There is now emphasis on unilateral action by the U.S. and then the North Koreans may respond," one source said.
The North Koreans told their American interlocutors they were thinking internally about whether or not to scuttle the September 2005 joint statement altogether. That statement committed North Korea to eventually getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
An Aug. 9 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists written by Frank Pabian and Sigfried Hecker speculated that North Korea may be only weeks away from completing the preparations necessary to conduct a third nuclear test using either a plutonium or highly-enriched uranium (HEU) device or both. At the Singapore meeting, the North Koreans didn't broach the topic.
"They didn't make any explicit statements about their nuclear program," one source said, "but I think it's very clear that their program is moving forward. That doesn't necessarily mean nuclear tests. It's quite likely their HEU program is also moving forward."
The source noted that as part of their formal presentation, the very first point the North Korean officials made was that their new leadership is not changing the late leader Kim Jong Il's line that North Korea has no eternal enemies or eternal friends.
"That's a very clear signal that they still want to make continuing efforts to improve relations with the U.S. and are indeed are interested in that. But they are toughening their position and that's in part because they are feeling pretty good about where they are," the source said.
The North Koreans believe they have weathered the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" -- waiting for Pyongyang to make the first move while strengthening ties with U.S. allies in Asia.
"The North Koreans feel pretty confident in their position. They are still keeping the door open to improving ties with the U.S. but the price is getting higher and it's becoming more difficult," the source said. "At some point somebody will be back to the table with them. They are getting ready for that with a much tougher negotiating position. They think they're sitting pretty."
Of course, North Korea still faces a food crisis, devastating floods, and an economic crisis. Pyongyang might seek to trade nuclear concessions in exchange for aid, as it has in the past. But as long as the country continues to get assistance from China, its motivation to make concessions is low.
"They probably can continue to progress economically while avoiding making concessions on the nuclear front with the support of China and that seems to be the option that they've chosen," the source observed.
The loss of industrial information and intellectual property through cyber espionage constitutes the "greatest transfer of wealth in history," the nation's top cyber warrior Gen. Keith Alexander said Monday.
U.S. companies lose about $250 billion per year through intellectual property theft, with another $114 billion lost due to cyber crime, a number that rises to $338 billion when the costs of down time due to crime are taken into account, said Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, in remarks Monday at the American Enterprise Institute.
"That's our future disappearing in front of us," Alexander said, quoting industry numbers to estimate that $1 trillion was spent globally last year on dealing with cyber espionage and cyber crime.
But the real threat on the Internet will come when cyber attacks become militarized, a threat the U.S. must deal with now, he said.
"What we need to worry about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks, which is going to happen.... We have to be ready for that," Alexander said. "This is even more difficult to the nuclear deterrent strategies we used to think about in the past."
There are 75 million unique pieces of malware in the database of McAfee, a leading cyber security company, Alexander said. Botnets, networks of compromised computers controlled remotely, send out 89.5 billion unsolicited e-mails per day, about one third of all emails sent. Over 100 countries have network exploitation capabilities, he said.
The number of cyber attacks rose 44 percent in 2011, malware increased by 60 percent, and the number of attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure rose from 9 in 2009 to more than 160 in 2011, Alexander said.
The major companies who have suffered successful cyber attacks since 2011 include Google, Booz Allen, Mitsubishi, Sony, AT&T, Visa, Stratfor, Chamber of Commerce, Symantec, Nissan, Visa, and Mastercard, he said. For every known attack, about 100 are successful and never detected, he added.
"The theft of intellectual property is astounding and we've got to stop that, and my part of that is we need to have a viable defense," he said.
Alexander called on Congress to pass cyber legislation, although he declined to endorse any particular bill moving its way through congress. He quoted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as warning of a cyber "Pearl Harbor," and quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a new U.S.-China dialogue on cyber issues.
He said that the U.S. government and its interlocutors should move to cloud-based computing, arguing that security in the cloud is more agile and responsive to threats, although not perfect. "We know that the system we are on today is not secure."
The U.S. government also needs more situational awareness in cyberspace and a more organized and active cadre of military cyber warriors to respond to threats, according to Alexander. "We need to build a trained and ready cyber force with the right number and the right capacity," he said.
"The conflict is growing, the probably for crisis is mounting. While we have the time, we should think about and enact those things that ensure our security in this area," he said. "And do it now, before the crisis."
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Technology and information penetration in China will eventually force the Great Firewall of China to crumble and even lead to the political opening of the Chinese system, according to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Schmidt, who stepped down as Google's CEO last year, remains the head of Google's board and its chief spokesman. He roams the planet speaking to audiences and exploring countries where Google could expand its operations. He has been called Google's "Ambassador to the World," a moniker he doesn't promote but doesn't dispute. He sat down for a long interview with The Cable on the sidelines of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival last week.
"I believe that ultimately censorship fails," said Schmidt, when asked about whether the Chinese government's censorship of the Internet can be sustained. "China's the only government that's engaged in active, dynamic censorship. They're not shy about it."
When the Chinese Internet censorship regime fails, the penetration of information throughout China will also cause political and social liberalization that will fundamentally change the nature of the Chinese government's relationship to its citizenry, Schmidt believes.
"I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior, that is my opinion," he said. "I think most people at Google would agree with that. The natural next question is when [will China change], and no one knows the answer to that question. [But] in a long enough time period, do I think that this kind of regime approach will end? I think absolutely."
The push for information freedom in China goes hand in hand with the push for economic modernization, according to Schmidt, and government-sponsored censorship hampers both.
"We argue strongly that you can't build a high-end, very sophisticated economy... with this kind of active censorship. That is our view," he said.
The Chinese government is the most active state sponsor of cyber censorship and cyber espionage in the world, with startling effectiveness, Schmidt said. Google and Beijing have been at odds since 2010, when the company announced it would no longer censor search terms on Google.cn and moved the bulk of its Chinese operations to Hong Kong. That move followed a series of Gmail attacks in 2010, directed at Chinese human rights activists, which were widely suspected to be linked to the Chinese government.
More recently, Google has taken an aggressive approach to helping users combat government cyber censorship, by doing things such as warning Gmail users when Google suspects their accounts are being targeted by state-sponsored attacks and telling users when search terms they enter are likely to be rejected by Chinese government censorship filters.
Schmidt doesn't present Google's focus on state-sponsored cyber oppression as a fight between Google and China. Google's policy is focused on helping users understand what is happening to their accounts and giving them the tools to protect themselves, he explained.
"We believe in empowering people who care about freedom of expression," he said. "The evidence today is that Chinese attacks are primarily industrial espionage.... It's primarily trade secrets that they're trying to steal, and then the human rights issues, that obviously they're trying to violate people's human rights. So those are the two things that we know about, but I'm sure that there will be others."
Google still has hundreds of engineers working inside China and maintains a rapidly growing advertising business there. But the Chinese government is likewise doing a lot to make using Google difficult inside China. There are weeks when Gmail services run slow; then mysteriously, the service will begin running smoothly again, Schmidt said. The Chinese censors sometimes issue punitive timeouts to users who enter prohibited search terms. And YouTube, which is owned by Google, is not visible in China.
"It's probably the case where the Chinese government will continue to make it difficult to use Google services," said Schmidt. "The conflict there is at some basic level: We want that information [flowing] into China, and at some basic level the government doesn't want that to happen."
Meanwhile, Schmidt has been circling the globe looking for ways to expand Google's outer frontiers. His last international trip took him to four conflict or recently post-conflict states: Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Tunisia.
"I've become particularly interested in the expansion of Google in sort of wacky countries -- you know, countries that have problems," he said. "You can't really know stuff unless you travel and see it. It helps with your impressions and your judgment."
Schmidt believes that smartphone technology can have a revolutionary effect on how people in the developing world operate and he is researching how smartphone use can help fight corruption and bad governance in poor countries. He also sees Google's expansion into the emerging markets as a timely business move.
"The evidence is that the most profitable business in most countries initially is the telecom sector. The joke is that you know the Somali pirates have to use cellphones, and so the strongest and most fastest-growing legal business in Somalia is the telecom industry," he said.
The revolutions of the Arab Spring show that open information systems can encourage and enable political change, according to Schmidt.
"I think that the countries that we're talking about all had very active censorship regimes, and they failed to censor the Internet. They wired the phone systems, the television was controlled, the newspapers were controlled; it was very hard to find genuinely new dissident voices except on the Internet. So you can think of what happened there as a failure to fully censor, and so it's obvious why we feel so strongly about openness and transparency," he said.
Unlike in China, Google has taken a more active role in other parts of the world by developing tools to spread information that could be used to foster more active democracies, such as with its project to organize and disseminate election information and political candidate data in places like Egypt.
"We're helping with the elections. So we're trying to help them with getting information to the candidates, and these are countries where Google is central to the public sphere," Schmidt said.
Google is also expanding its role in compiling data on government actors and their actions to aid people in the fight against corruption, but here Schmidt warns that only when there is a legal system to prosecute bad actors will this data be transformative.
"You need the data, and then you need somebody who's willing to prosecute the person who lies," he said. "All you have to do is have the information and then the penalty that has to be applied in a fair way, and it would change these countries dramatically."
Information is not enough to topple regimes, but in the end, regimes that fight the openness of information are doomed to fail, he said.
"The worst case scenario is the citizens have enormous information and the government is completely unresponsive. That would be Iran, for example. At some point, that's unstable," said Schmidt. "At some point, it gets worse ... but before they overthrow the current leader, they have to have the information to do that. That's why transparency matters."
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Echoing the laments of pundits like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood argued Saturday that China outpaces the United States in building major transportation infrastructure like high-speed rail because of its authoritarian system and because the Chinese don't have the Republican Party holding up progress.
"The Chinese are more successful [in building infrastructure] because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million," LaHood said in a short interview with The Cable on the sidelines of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30. "In a country where only three people make the decision, they can decide where to put their rail line, get the money, and do it. We don't do it that way in America."
LaHood said that despite this, democracy is still preferable. "We have the best system of government anywhere on the planet. It is the best. Because the people have their say," he said.
During his conference session at the festival, LaHood blamed Republicans in Congress, especially the Tea Party freshman class elected in 2010, for the relative lack of progress in moving forward with high-speed rail even though the administration has obligated more than $11 billion to the effort.
"Two years ago, between 50 to 60 Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives to come to Washington to do nothing, and that's what they've done and they've stopped any progress. Those people don't have any vision about what the government can do. That's been a real inhibitor in our ability to think outside the box and think big," he said.
"We used to be No. 1. We're not No. 1 anymore. We're No. 23," he continued. "Previous generations have always left something to the next generation. We owe it to the next generation to leave them something. We shortchange the next generation if we don't leave them high-speed rail. That's our obligation."
LaHood boldly predicted in his remarks at the conference that 80 percent of Americans will be connected with passenger rail within the next 25 years. He said that this will be accomplished through a series of commitments by the federal government, state governments, and the private sector.
"That's how they did in Europe, that's how they did it in Asia, and that's how we will do it in America," he said. "There's no turning back on this. We're not going to turn back. And you know why? Because that's what the people want. That's why... there's no stopping high speed rail."
LaHood heavily criticized the governors of Wyoming and Florida, who have rejected federal attempts to move forward with high-speed rail in their states, and he fought off a heckler from California who said that high-speed rail was not a wise investment of taxpayer money.
"Doing nothing is not acceptable. Don't be coming here and telling me it's not acceptable if you don't have an alternative. It's coming to California," LaHood exclaimed. "All the studies show, if you build it they will come."
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The congressional drive to update a 1948 law on how the U.S. government manages its public diplomacy has kicked off a heated debate over whether Congress is about to allow the State Department to propagandize Americans. But the actual impact of the change is less sinister than it might seem.
On May 18, Buzzfeed published a story by reporter Michael Hastings about the bipartisan congressional effort to change the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 (as amended by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987). The story was entitled, "Congressmen seek to lift propaganda ban," and focuses on the successful effort by Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) to add their Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 as an amendment to the House version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
The new legislation would "authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences." The Buzzfeed article outlines concerns inside the defense community that the Pentagon might now be allowed to use information operations and propaganda operations against U.S. citizens. A correction added to the story notes that Smith-Mundt doesn't apply to the Pentagon in the first place.
In fact, the Smith-Mundt act (as amended in 1987) only covers the select parts of the State Department that are engaged in public diplomacy efforts abroad, such as the public diplomacy section of the "R" bureau, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body that oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S. government-funded media organizations.
Implementation of the law over the years has been selective, haphazard, and at times confusing, because even State Department bureaus often aren't sure if they have to abide by it. The Thornberry-Smith language is meant to fix that by applying Smith-Mundt to the entire State Department and USAID.
The Defense Department, meanwhile, has its own "no propaganda" rider, enshrined in the part of U.S. code that covers the Pentagon, and that is not affected in any way by either Smith-Mundt as it stands or by the proposed update now found in the defense bill. The only reason the Smith-Mundt modernization bill was attached to the defense bill was because that bill is one that's sure to move and Congress hasn't actually passed a foreign affairs authorization bill in years.
"To me, it's a fascinating case study in how one blogger was pretty sloppy, not understanding the issue and then it got picked up by Politico's Playbook, and you had one level of sloppiness on top of another. And once something sensational gets out there, it just spreads like wildfire," Thornberry told The Cable in an interview today.
He said the update for Smith-Mundt was intended to recognize that U.S. public diplomacy needs to compete on the Internet and through satellite channels and therefore the law preventing this information from being available to U.S. citizens was simply obsolete.
"It should be completely obvious that a law first passed in 1948 might need to be updated to reflect a world of the Internet and satellite [TV]," he said. "If you want the State Department to engage on the war of ideas, it has to do it over the Internet and satellite channels, which don't have geographical borders."
Salon writer Glenn Greenwald interviewed Smith Tuesday and wrote a story questioning whether the law would allow the State Department to try to influence American public opinion though "propaganda." He noted a press release on the Thornberry-Smith legislation which complained that Smith-Mundt had prevented a Minneapolis radio station from replaying VOA broadcasts to Somali-Americans to rebut terrorist propaganda.
Thornberry's response was to say that the 21st century media environment is already so diverse and open that opening Americans' access to one more source of information, State Department-produced news and information, was not likely to propagandize American citizens.
"It makes me chuckle. This is not 1948 when everybody was tuned to a few radio stations and the fear was that the information we were sending to Eastern Bloc countries was going to affect American politics," he said. "The idea that the State Department could be so effective as to impact domestic politics is just silly. This gives Americans the chance to see what the State Department is saying to people all over the world."
In fact, advocates of the bill tout the issue of transparency and oversight of U.S. public diplomacy as one of the main benefits of the new bill. Previously, oversight of State Department public diplomacy efforts abroad was done by an advisory commission inside the State Department that was shut down last year, while Congress and the media has little to no direct access to the material.
Thornberry said that domestic dissemination of the material will actually increase the transparency and oversight of U.S. public diplomacy by laying it bare for Americans to chew over.
"If all these bloggers see the State Department trying to influence something domestically, they will be the first to raise the alarm," he said. "It is always going to be true that you have to look at the effectiveness and truthfulness of the content of the information. But it would no longer be against the law that the American people can see it."
Matt Armstrong, who was the executive director of the State Department's advisory commission on public diplomacy before it got shut down because Congress declined to reauthorize it, explained on his Mountainrunner blog that Smith-Mundt was designed by a Cold War U.S. government that simply didn't trust the State Department to talk directly to the American people.
"The Smith-Mundt Act is misunderstood and often mistaken for ‘anti-propaganda' legislation intended to censor the Government. The reality is the original prohibition on the State Department disseminating inside the U.S. its own information products designed for audiences abroad was, first, to protect the Government from the State Department and, second, to protect commercial media," he wrote.
In an interview today, Armstrong pointed out that the Thornberry-Smith bill explicitly notes that two existing provisions of Smith-Mundt, both of which would remain intact, address concerns that the State Department might overreach in trying to influence Americans. Section 1437 of the existing legislation requires the State Department to defer to private media whenever possible and Section 1462 requires State to withdraw from a government information activity whenever a private media source is found as an adequate replacement.
He said the law as it stands is just not working and doesn't make a lot of sense. "When Cal Ripkin or Michele Kwan go to China, Americans aren't supposed to know that they went or what they did there. In addition, virtually anything that's on a U.S. embassy website is off limits," he said.
The discussion over Smith-Mundt is further distorted by a lack of understanding about what public diplomacy is and when it crosses over into "propaganda."
"Let's face it, it is impossible to communicate and not influence.. The idea here is that U.S. public diplomacy is not based on lies," said Armstrong. "There's this misconception that public diplomacy is propaganda. Propaganda is a lie, a deception, or intentional ambiguity, none of which can be lead to effective public diplomacy by any country, let alone the U.S."
Of course, the State Department's Public Affairs bureaucracy, which speaks to Americans every day in various forms, is capable of "propaganda," but is not covered by Smith-Mundt. The Cable asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at today's press briefing if State supported the Thornberry-Smith legislation.
"We have long thought that aspects of Smith-Mundt need to be modernized, that in a 24-7 Internet age it's hard to draw hard lines like the original Smith-Mundt [Act] did in the ‘40s," she said.
We then asked Nuland whether the State Department has any intent to propagandize American citizens.
"We do not and never have," she said with a smile.
The State Department now has more than 150 employees working full time on "ediplomacy," the use of the Internet to achieve policy goals, as well as at least 900 part-time ediplomats, according to a new study.
"The US State Department has become the world's leading user of ediplomacy," states the new report put out by Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, highlighting a range of initiatives that Foggy Bottom has included in its "21st Century Statecraft" Initiative.
"In some areas ediplomacy is changing the way State does business. In Public Diplomacy, State now operates what is effectively a global media empire, reaching a larger direct audience than the paid circulation of the ten largest US dailies and employing an army of diplomat-journalists to feed its 600-plus platforms," the report, entitled "Revolution @State: The Spread of Ediplomacy," states. "In other areas, like Knowledge Management, ediplomacy is finding solutions to problems that have plagued foreign ministries for centuries."
In addition to public diplomacy and knowledge management, new technology is being used by the State Department around the world for information management, consular communications, disaster response, the promotion of internet freedom, and even policy planning.
For example, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the Mexican Embassy in Washington, the Mexican Affairs Office at State, and the Mexican Foreign Ministry all collaborate on disaster management using cloud-based tools, a mechanism that has been used in the cross-border region. In another example, the Haitian-American population was mobilized to help translate Twitter messages during the Haitian earthquake.
Not all experts are thrilled about the State Department's ediplomacy. Evgeny Morozov wrote in a recent edition of FP that the State Department's internet freedom efforts and other technological gambits have not produced significant results.
"A year later, however, the Internet Freedom Agenda can boast of precious few real accomplishments; if anything... Clinton's effort has certainly generated plenty of positive headlines and gimmicky online competitions, but not much else," he wrote. "Elsewhere, the State Department's enthusiasm for technology has surpassed its understanding of it."
The Lowy Institute report credits Secretary of States Hillary Clinton's Senior Adviser for Innovation Alec Ross and Policy Advisor for Innovation Ben Scott, "who have helped embed ediplomacy at State, driven an external and internal ediplomacy promotion campaign and helped conceive of specific ediplomacy initiatives."
Read the whole thing here.
Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department Thursday, but let's hope he didn't check the State Department's website, which still has Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi listed as the head of the country.
Sure, the Arab Spring must keep the State Department web teams busy with revisions, but Qaddafi has been dead for months now. You wouldn't know that by reading the State Department's website, though, as it still shows the all-green Qaddafi flag on its Libya page and refers to Libya as the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." The Libya page was last updated in July 2011, after NATO forces had begun attacking Libya but before the Qaddafi regime fell. (And yes, the State Department gift shop still sells flag pins with the old Libyan flag juxtaposed with the stars and stripes.)
Clinton celebrated the new Libyan government in her remarks after her meeting with Keib.
"Just think, this time last year, the United States was working to build an international coalition of support for the Libyan people, and today we are proud to continue that support as the people of Libya build a new democracy that will bring about peace and prosperity and protect the rights and dignity of every citizen," she said.
"We've seen progress in each of the three key areas of democratic society -- building an accountable, effective government; promoting a strong private sector; and developing a vibrant civil society. And we will stand with the people of Libya as it continues this important work."
Clinton lauded Libya's new election law and endorsed the goal of holding constitutional assembly elections this June. She praised Libya's increasing oil production and acknowledged the country still has a ways to go in the areas of border security, integrating militias, and working toward national reconciliation.
Keib thanked the entire Obama administration "for having been a tremendous support and for their strong leadership in supporting the Libyan revolution," and asked Clinton for help in retrieving the billions that Qaddafi is thought to have stolen from Libya and returning it to the Libyan people.
"In the past year, the dynamics between the U.S. and Libya has been dramatically transformed for the better," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Keib met with President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House. He spoke at the U.N. Security Council in the afternoon and attended a dinner at the official residence of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, sharing a table with actress Angelina Jolie and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Keib said Thursday he was not aware of any training camps in Libya for Syrian rebels, as the Russian government has alleged exist, but said he supports the Syrian opposition and formal recognition of the Syrian National Council. Libya has pledged $100 million for the Syrian cause.
Clinton said the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) could be a model for the Syrian opposition.
"[The NTC] presented a unified presence that created an address as to where to go to help them, a lot of confidence in their capacities on the ground, their commitment to the kind of inclusive democracy that Libya is now building," Clinton said. "And we are working closely with the Syrian opposition to try to assist them to be able to present that kind of unified front and resolve that I know they feel in their own -- on their behalf is essential in this struggle against the brutal Assad regime."
And Clinton was quick to mention that she raised with Keib the issue of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 108 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the U.S. desire to see the convicted plotter Abdelbaset al-Megrahi returned to prison.
"You know where I stand. I believe that Megrahi should still be behind bars," she said. "We will continue to fight for justice for all the victims of Qaddafi and his regime. And in this particular case, the U.S. Department of Justice has an open case, and it will remain open while we work together on it."
A major new cybersecurity bill set to move through Congress this month would enable the secretary of state to condition foreign aid on countries' action to counter cybercrime and cyberespionage.
On Feb. 15, senators introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, a massive piece of legislation that represents the culmination of years of work in Congress to put together a new regime for public-private cooperation on combating the growing threats on the Internet. The main thrust of the bill is to identify those parts of the private sector that constitute "critical infrastructure" and to charge the Department of Homeland Security with working with the private sector to institute and enforce higher cybersecurity measures for those companies.
But one section of the bill directly links cybercrime in foreign countries to U.S. foreign assistance to those governments.
"The Secretary of State is authorized to accord priority in foreign assistance to programs designed to combat cybercrime in a region or program of significance in order to better combat cybercrime by, among other things, improving the effectiveness and capacity of the legal and judicial systems and the capabilities of law enforcement agencies with respect to cybercrime," the bill reads.
It continues: "It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of State should include programs designed to combat cybercrime in relevant bilateral or multilateral assistance programs administered or supported by the United States Government."
In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Senate staffers who worked on the bill said that in addition to trying to build foreign countries' capacity to fight cybercrime, the goal is also to empower the State Department to use foreign aid as leverage to get countries to get active on fighting cybercrime and stop cyberespionage.
"There is a concern that some countries are not taking the issue seriously enough and we ought to do more to try to push them do so," said a Senate Democratic aide. "If there are cases where we are giving foreign assistance to countries that are turning around and being complicit in cyber crimes launched against the United States, maybe we need to take that into consideration as we are working on our foreign assistance package."
The provision was written by Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and was based on a bill she had written with former Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT).
"There isn't a mandate for State. It's not telling them they have to tie foreign assistance to countries' actions on cybercrime, but it's giving them a tool both to help build capacity in countries who want to do the right thing and pressure countries who do not want to do the right thing," the aide said.
The bill also calls on the secretary of state to work with international partners to ensure lawful behavior in cyberspace, develop a strategy for promoting norms in cyber behavior, and quotes Clinton as saying, "Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society, or any other, pose a threat to our economy, our government, and our civil society. Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation. In an Internet-connected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all. And by reinforcing that message, we can create norms of behavior among states and encourage respect for the global networked commons."
Another Senate democratic aide predicted that once the bill reaches the Senate floor, probably later this month, senators will try to add language that increases protections against products coming into the United States from foreign companies that have ties to authoritarian regimes or their armies.
It's what's known as "the Huawei problem," named after the Chinese computer technology company that just happens to be run by former high-ranking members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
"What we call ‘the Huawei problem' is a really difficult one to get your hands around because it is the quintessential 21st-century problem where you have a global telecommunications conglomerate that is a commercial entity but has close connections to a very important nation state which has very sophisticated and aggressive cyber espionage capabilities and intent," another Senate Democratic aide said.
Right now the bill seeks to prevent purchases of any products that are believed to be compromised and there are provisions to protect the government acquisitions supply chain, but multiple senators are expected to try to strengthen the bill's approach to such companies through amendments, the aide said.
"That's a needle you have to thread because it implicates global trade policy and WTO requirements, but we've got to make sure that ‘the Huawei problem' is not overlooked."
Looks like the State Department hasn't solved its Internet problems yet; the Foggy Bottom headquarters is experiencing another major systems failure today.
"IRM IT teams report internet connectivity has been lost at numerous Washington D.C. metro locations and at overseas posts," read a memo sent to all State Department employees on Monday morning by Ronnie Hartwell at the Information Resource Management (IRM) bureau. "IRM's firewall management staff is aware of the outage, and is working on the issue."
This is the State Department's second massive Internet SNAFU in as many months. In early September, many diplomats and bureaucrats were left without connectivity for most of a day when several bureaus and a chunk of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's staff were cut off from their State Department e-mail accounts.
We're told that e-mail and internet outages have been a problem for a while now, but have been increasing in recent weeks.
State Department spokespeople didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment, for obvious reasons, and phone calls seeking comment have also not been returned.
UPDATE 3:30 PM: Apparently the problems have now been resolved and according to a new note to employees, "all users are able to access the internet."
The State Department is always touting how savvy it is with technology, but sometimes that can be a double-edged sword; a massive e-mail and Blackberry outage hit Foggy Bottom today, forcing a large part of the U.S. diplomatic apparatus to get creative with communications.
"I don't know happened, all I know is that it really messed up my day," one State Department official told The Cable about the server error, which resulted in a loss of computer and Blackberry connectivity for a host of bureaus that lasted from Friday morning until about 4:30 p.m..
The bureaus affected include Public Affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Near Eastern Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs, and many more.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Cable that there was no apparent rhyme or reason as to why State Department employees were having technological issues.
"We had rolling network outages today, it seemed just to be a glitch in the network, not related to weather or threats or anything like that," Nuland said. "But diplomacy goes on, we found a way -- and some of us still remember how to use the carbon paper."
One State Department employee told us that he took his Blackberry to the IT help center on the first floor of Foggy Bottom headquarters, known as the "Blackberry hospital," but they were swamped. Eventually, notice was sent out to all employees to stop calling the IT help line.
The SNAFU also affected some, but not all, members of the team traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York. She was there to give a speech on counterterrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
So how did the Clinton team and the rest of State's busy diplomats manage?
"Let's just say there was more text messaging today than at a high school prom," one State Department official said.
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was entangled in a computer hacking scam that targeted international affairs experts and showed evidence of originating from China.
"On August 2, 2011 a small number of people received a phishing email referencing a recent CNAS report. The email came from an AOL email account that has no association with any CNAS network," CNAS external relations director Shannon O'Reilly said in an e-mail Friday afternoon. "We wish to assure users that the phishing email did not come from CNAS nor would CNAS ever ask for password information."
CNAS is a Washington think tank founded by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. After Campbell and Flournoy entered the Obama administration, they handed over the reins to current CEO Nate Fick and President John Nagl.
The e-mail was sent to people "associated with political and international affairs," according to Mila Parkour, an Internet security expert who analyzed the hacking attempt on the blog Contagio. The e-mail asked the target to log into Gmail via an embedded link. If the target did so, their passwords were stored and their Gmail accounts began to be monitored from an unknown location.
The style of the attack is called "phishing," an attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.
Government officials and international experts have been the targets of phishing attacks for years and the threat comes from many countries, but Defense Department officials have admitted that the great majority of cyber espionage attempts against the U.S. government come from China. Some officials believe these attacks are carried out with either the explicit or implicit permission of the Chinese government.
There's no way to be sure, but Paul Roberts at the Threat Post blog reported that there are some similarities between the CNAS-related attack and other Chinese cyber espionage attempts.
"Attackers accessed the account using TOR (The Onion Router), so it's unclear where they accessed the account from," he said. "However, other aspects of the spear phishing attack bear the telltale signatures of a China-based operation, including the source IP of the phishing e-mail, which traces back to Taiwan, and the attackers use of Foxmail to create and send the phishing e-mail -- a common trait of China-based spear phishing attacks."
Last January, several U.S. government officials received an e-mail from "email@example.com," which turned out to be a fake State Department e-mail address. That email was crafted to look like an interagency communication over a U.S.-China joint statement ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.
"This is the latest version of State's joint statement. My understanding is that State put in placeholder econ language and am happy to have us fill in but in a rush to get a cleared version from the WH they sent the attached to Mike," the fake e-mail said.
If the recipient clicked on "the attached," his system would be compromised. One U.S. official told us that a similar gambit was attempted during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last June.
The latest attack had the subject line, "CNAS Report Calls Declining Satellite Capabilities National Security Concern." That refers to a recent CNAS report that is actually quite interesting and can be found here.
Meanwhile, think tankers and officials around Washington are surely changing their Gmail passwords today and CNAS is warning that this won't be the last fishy phishing e-mail to hit the Washington foreign policy community.
"This incident is illustrative of a growing trend in which users are contacted by what appears to be trusted individuals or institutions in order to acquire sensitive information," O'Reilly said.
The Obama administration and Congress are working busily but separately to update the nation's export control regime, which regulates the export of sensitive technologies abroad and hasn't seen real reform since the Export Administration Act (EAA) was last rewritten in 1979. Today, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) will unveil a comprehensive bill to update laws on how technology exports are regulated.
"The current export control statute is an out-moded relic of the Cold War that focuses on economic warfare against old adversaries and fails to account for today's threats," Berman said in a statement sent to The Cable. "Updating this law is essential to our national security and necessary to sustain our cutting edge technology sector and create new, high quality jobs. A new export control law is necessary to preserve our competitive advantage."
Berman's bill, which can be found here (PDF) would alter the list of dual-use technologies -- those export items which have both military and civilian uses -- to reflect the changes in technology and the marketplace that have taken place over the last 30 years.
"The U.S. still controls -- unilaterally -- high performance computers and machine tools that are now freely available in global commerce," Berman said. "We need to re-focus our licensing and enforcement resources on items that we can control effectively."
There a bipartisan consensus that the export control regime needs to be updated but no real consensus on exactly what to do. The EAA technically lapsed once from 1994 to 2000 and again from 2001 to the present but the White House has been able to keep the provisions in force by using what's known as emergency presidential authority to extend its provisions every year since.
But those reauthorizations haven't taken into account changes in what particular technologies should or should not be regulated, Berman argues, and restrict the competitiveness of U.S. industries in the evolving global marketplace.
A key feature of Berman's bill is that it "modernizes the definition of national security to include sustaining U.S. leadership in science, manufacturing and our high-tech workforce, and requires the president to balance traditional security goals with maintaining U.S. academic and manufacturing leadership in applying controls," according to a fact sheet (PDF) provided to The Cable.
In some ways, the bill would allow more U.S. technologies to be exported to all countries, such as industrial production machine tools, industrial lasers, high performance computers, some computer chips, and night vision and infared technology, which are now available globally.
In other ways, the bill would tighten controls by adding threats that didn't exist in 1979, such as technologies pertaining to internet crime, cyber warfare, bioengineering, and certain aspects of nanotechnology.
"Berman's bill just doesn't seek to remove things, but it also directs the president to keep the control system current with what technologies need to be restricted," a committee aide said.
Berman, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, knows his bill isn't the only game in town. Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is also said to be preparing a bill, but her legislation would be more of a reauthorization of the current law with specific tweaks, as opposed to Berman's more comprehensive overhaul.
The White House also has its own ongoing initiative, an intensive interagency process led by Mike Froman, the senior director for international economics at the National Security Council. There have been principal-level and deputy-level meetings on the issue; the technical working group includes representation from Eric Hirshorn's shop at Commerce, Ellen Tauscher's bureau at State, and Jim Miller's staff at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The White House is said by congressional aides to be considering a major government reorganization on this issue, which would potentially merge the export regimes under the EAA and Arms Control Export Act, which is not covered in Berman's bill. The White House is also working with former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who co-chaired a National Research Council study on export controls.
"The national security controls on science and technology are broken. They weaken national security and reduce [economic] competitiveness," Scowcroft testified in 2009.
Berman's staff knows their bill isn't fast tracked to become law but sees it as a way to spur the discussion.
"We're at the stage legislatively of putting ideas on the table against a backdrop of high-level interest in the Congress and in the Obama administration," the committee aide said.
Foggy Bottom is flat out denying a British news report on Sunday that said State Department money would be awarded to the BBC to combat Internet censorship around the world.
"The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China," the Guardian reported.
In fact, State has not yet made any decisions on how to spend the $30 million of congressionally appropriated money for fighting internet censorship that is sitting in its coffers. The BBC World Trust Service is just one of the 61 organizations applying for the funds, but has not gotten any approval or grants.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner called the Guardian article "inaccurate and misleading."
"The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom, as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions," Posner said in a statement.
He also said State has no intention of announcing the awarding of the funds on May 3, Press Freedom Day, as the Guardian article alleged. Our sources said that proposals are due on March 31; the following week, evaluation panels will meet to go over the proposals and make decisions.
On Capitol Hill, there's a bipartisan push to make sure most of those funds go to the U.S. government funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to immediately transfer no less than $8 million of the funds to the BBG.
Lugar is concerned that America is falling behind in the public diplomacy competition to countries that are expanding their external media operations, such as China.
"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation's public we are in another lop-sided contest," Lugar wrote in a recent report (PDF).
In Senate testimony earlier this month, Clinton agreed.
"We are in an information war, and we are losing that war," she said. "I'll be very blunt in my assessment. Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened a global English language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network."
The House's version of the temporary funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 calls for $10 million to be transferred from State to BBG toward this effort; the Senate version of the bill calls for $15 million. Aides on the Hill told The Cable that if a significant portion of the funds don't end up in BBG hands, Lugar and other lawmakers will get deeply involved in pressuring State to rethink its decision.
"Given the recent language included in both House and Senate continuing resolutions, the State Department's inability to see the Congressional handwriting on the wall on this issue is nothing short of breathtaking," a GOP Senate aide said.
Supporters of the New Start treaty staved off an attempt by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Barrasso (R-WY) to attach a "treaty killing" amendment on the Senate floor Saturday afternoon. Next up is an amendment by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) on linkage between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
The McCain-Barrasso amendment would have removed language from the treaty's preamble that acknowledged the relationship between offensive and defensive nuclear capabilities. They argued the language could constrain U.S. missile defense plans. However, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) maintained that the language stated an obvious fact and, in any case, was not legally binding. The amendment failed 37 to 59.
"The Russian government could use the treaty in its current form as a tool to place political pressure on the U.S. to limit its missile defense system," said McCain.
"All it does is to state a truism, a fact, a reality. There is a relationship between strategic offensive and defensive capabilities," said Kerry.
Kerry succeeded in characterizing the amendment as a "treaty killer," because any changes to the treaty or the preamble would require a new round of negotiations with the Russians.
"Make no mistake, this becomes a treaty killer," Kerry said. "Can we deal with this issue without it becoming a treaty killer? Yes. We've already dealt with it. It's in the resolution of ratification."
Kerry was referring to the Senate's resolution of ratification, which will be the subject of another debate after the treaty itself is considered. The resolution of ratification, which was primarily authored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), expresses the Senate's opinion on the meaning of the treaty, and can be amended without stopping the treaty from going into effect right away. It is legally binding but does not require the treaty to be renegotiated with Russia because it simply gives the Senate's views on the pact.
As part of the debate, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) read quotes on the Senate floor from two separate articles that appeared on the Foreign Policy website, including one by FP Passport editor Joshua Keating and another by your humble Cable guy, and entered them into the Congressional Record. (Thanks Sen. Kyl!)
Before the Senate gives an up or down vote on New START, treaty supporters will have to deal with at least one more "treaty killer" amendment. The next one deals with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons and is being brought to the floor by Risch.
Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations committee, has been active on New START and almost derailed the committee consideration of the treaty over an undisclosed intelligence issue. His amendment would insert the following paragraph into the treaty's preamble:
Acknowledging there is an interrelationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms, that as the number of strategic offensive arms is reduced this relationship becomes more pronounced and requires an even greater need for transparency and accountability, and that the disparity between the Parties' arsenals could undermine predictability and stability.
Risch's office circulated a fact sheet about the amendment that was also endorsed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), and George Lemieux (R-FL), which explains the senators' concern that tactical nuclear weapons are not covered by the treaty, only strategic nuclear weapons.
"This amendment seeks to correct this flaw in the treaty, by acknowledging the interrelationship between offensive non-strategic (tactical nuclear) weapons and strategic range weapons," the fact sheet reads. "It also calls for increased transparency and accountability of these weapons and recognizes that these weapons can undermine stability."
The GOP senators also feel that the administration is misrepresenting the findings of the Perry-Schlesinger Congressional Strategic Posture Commission by saying that the commission recommended deferring negotiations on tactical nukes. Here's what former Defense Secretary William Perry said about the issue in his Senate testimony in April.
"The focus of this treaty is on deployed warheads and it does not attempt to count or control non-deployed warheads. This continues in the tradition of prior arms control treaties. I would hope to see non-deployed and tactical systems included in future negotiations, but the absence of these systems should not detract from the merits of this treaty and the further advances in arms control which it represents."
Many Senators believe that as the Perry-Schlesinger report points out in multiple places that there is an interrelationship between tactical and strategic weapons. Other senators feel Obama removed tactical nukes from the negotiating table so quickly in the summer of 2009 that he removed a point of leverage over the Russians.
The Obama administration has said that it would like to pursue reductions in tactical weapons with Russia in a future arms control treaty, what some insiders call the "follow on to the follow on." But considering how difficult it has been finishing New START, there's no telling when that might happen.
The Risch amendment is expected to receive a vote on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon. As for the final vote on the treaty? Nobody knows when that might occur. It depends on how many of the rumored 50 to 70 amendments the GOP has been preparing will actually reach the floor.
Kerry has said he will cut off debate and call for the final vote when he believes the Republicans are just attempting to stall the treaty's progress. McCain told him he can't say how long it will take to air all the GOP concerns.
"We will not have a time agreement on this side until all members have had a chance to express their views on this issue," McCain said on the floor, adding, "I promise I'm not trying to just drag this out."
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is recovering after she underwent a successful cancer surgery earlier this month and hopes to return home by Christmas, according to a State Department official in her office.
"Undersecretary Tauscher underwent surgery to treat esophageal cancer earlier this month and her doctors consider the surgery a success," the official told The Cable. "She and her family appreciate everyone's support and prayers."
If the Senate is able to ratify New START by Christmas, as Vice President Joseph Biden is promising, that would be a nice coming home present for Tauscher, who has been a key member of the Obama administration team involved in the negotiation and ratification of the treaty. Tauscher was diagnosed with an early stage of cancer of the esophagus in July. Since then, she underwent full courses of radiation and chemotherapy before having surgery to remove the tumor in early December.
A former Congresswoman from California, Tauscher influenced the arms control debate and led efforts to revamp ballistic missile defense plans at the State Department and as chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
A close friend of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Tauscher received credit for restaffing, reorganizing, and revamping State's arms control bureau which Obama administration officials say was neglected during the George W. Bush administration.
Meanwhile, her chief of staff Simon Limage has been promoted to deputy assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation programs in the bureau of international security and nonproliferation (ISN). There he will report up to the acting assistant secretary Vann Van Diepen. Limage has worked for Tauscher for 10 years, the last two as her chief of staff in her Congressional office and at State.
Tauscher's new chief of staff will be Wade Boese, who was already working in the arms control bureau as a special assistant. Boese joined the staff in September 2009. He previously spent years at the Arms Control Association and worked for Lee Hamilton on the Strategic Posture Commission.
Best wishes to Tauscher for a full and speedy recovery from all of us here at The Cable.
As senators lined up Thursday to give speeches about the New START treaty on the Senate floor and the debate kicked into high gear, the White House formally abandoned its drive to work with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on ratifying the treaty.
Following Kyl's press conference Wednesday afternoon, during which he and 11 other GOP senators pledged to oppose the move to finish the treaty this year, the administration decided to make good on its promise to force a vote during the lame duck session and attempt to peel off the nine GOP votes that it will need to pass the treaty.
"Senator Kyl is opposed to the treaty. He's flat out opposed to the treaty," Vice President Joseph Biden told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview taped Wednesday evening.
Biden also criticized Kyl and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who said that debating the New START treaty this month was "disrespectful" and "sacrilegious" to Christians, respectively. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called their tactic the "war against Christmas vacation."
"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas. I was a senator for a long time and I've been there many years where we go right up to Christmas," Biden said. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. This is the national security at stake. Act."
And so ends what at times had been a torturous attempt by the administration to cajole, entice, and even bribe Kyl to sign off on the treaty. The process began last year, when the administration flew Kyl to Geneva to witness the negotiations surrounding the treaty, and ended with the administration flying a team of officials to Arizona last month to present details of an $84 billion package for nuclear modernization they hoped would be enough to gain Kyl's support.
Kyl, who the Senate GOP anointed as their leader on New START, has been very coy about whether he would ultimately support the pact, even until yesterday. "If I announce for or against the treaty at this point, nobody would listen to me," he said at his press conference.
Only days after the administration flew a team to his home state, he declared there was no time to complete the treaty this year. Shortly after that announcement, Biden and top White House officials hosted a small roundtable with foreign affairs columnists, which included your humble Cable guy, where they promised to move forward with or without Kyl.
Looks like it's going to be without him. Biden's new boldness stems comes after a vote to move to debate on the treaty Wednesday passed 66 to 32, indicating that there is not enough Republican opposition to stop the process from moving forward. Democrat Evan Bayh (D-IN) missed the vote but is expected to support the treaty.
Nine Republicans voted to begin the debate: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Bob Bennett (R-UT).
The vote has given treaty supporters confidence in the chances of ratification, but there will be many more twists and turns before that can happen. There are already signs that the procedural vote does not necessarily reflect how some senators will vote on the treaty. For example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) issued a statement that he may support the treaty even though he voted against moving to debate.
"I voted against proceeding to consideration of the New START treaty because I don't agree with the decision to debate a nuclear arms treaty at the end of a lame duck session in the midst of considering an omnibus appropriations bill," said Corker. "But now that we are on the bill... if there is a full and open debate on the treaty and if the resolution of ratification isn't weakened in the process, it is still my plan to support the treaty."
The administration is also still working to increase the number of treaty supporters. Now that they feel there's a reasonable chance of passage, they are hoping fence-sitters can be encouraged to move to the winning side. Their targets are figures like Corker and Sen. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), who voted for the treaty in committee, and other "moderate" GOPers, like new Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
They seem prepared to write off GOP senators who have said they might vote for the treaty but not if it's pushed through this month.
The GOP senators complaining about the schedule Wednesday were Sens. Kyl, Kirk, Pat Roberts (R-KS), Kit Bond (R-MO), James Risch (R-ID), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-GA), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), George LeMieux (R-FL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Alexander, Lemieux and others have said they could perhaps support the treaty next year but will vote no during the lame duck session. Of course, that's what Kyl has said as well, and that's exactly the line that the White House is now openly rejecting.
Meanwhile, the Thursday debate focused the GOP senators's numerous concerns about the treaty, including missile defense, nuclear modernization, tactical nuclear weapons, and verification. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) spoke about the need to avoid amendments to the treaty's preamble, which were ruled in order by the Senate parliamentarian this week.
"The fact is, if you change that preamble now, you are effectively killing the treaty, because it requires the president to go back to the Russians and renegotiate the treaty," he said.
One amendment, which Kerry and supporters is calling a "treaty killer," would strip the preamble of language that acknowledges a relationship between offensive and defensive missile capabilities. Some Republicans think that may constrain U.S. missile defense plans, but the administration and Lugar disagree.
"This does not mean that Russia will not complain regarding U.S. missile defense deployment, as it has complained about U.S. missile defense plans for the past four decades," Lugar said. "But under the New START Treaty, we will continue to control our own missile defense destiny, not Russia."
In a one line tweet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) came out in support of the New START Treaty with Russia Friday.
"Senator Collins announces support for new START treaty," her twitter feed read Friday morning.
In a statement set to released Friday, Collins said the administration had sufficiently addressed her concerns about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons, which are not part of the New START treaty.
"The New START represents a continued effort to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons," Collins said. "As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I support the President's commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse - and those are tactical nuclear weapons."
That brings the total number of Republican senators who have clearly stated their support for the treaty to two. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has been working hard to get the treaty ratified for months.
But there are other signs Friday that more and more Republicans are getting ready to vote in favor of the treaty. Sen. John McCain, in a speech at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Friday morning, said he hoped New START could be debated "next week."
"My colleague Senator Jon Kyl is doing a tremendous job working with the administration to resolve the issues associated with nuclear modernization. I've been focusing my efforts on addressing the key concerns relating to missile defense. And I think we are very close," McCain said.
That matches what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told The Cable last week -- but it does not match Kyl's most recent statements. Kyl continues to say that there isn't enough time to debate and ratify the treaty this month, given that the tax issue remains unresolved.
One scenario that would push consideration of New START until next year is that the treaty could be brought up for a cloture vote, and then fail to win enough votes to close off debate. This could occur if many GOP senators are unhappy with their ability to bring up amendments, for example, leading them to vote against cloture even though they support ratification of the treaty.
This possibility would allow the administration to say they tried and were stifled by intransigent Senate Republicans. However, it would be a pyrrhic victory - wasting floor time during the lame duck session, and leaving the treaty to an uncertain fate during the next session of Congress.
So all eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the same guy who reluctantly brought the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal to the Senate floor Thursday knowing full well the cloture vote would fail, and Kyl, who the treaty supporters are hoping will finally show his cards.
If Kyl is ultimately determined to not strike an agreement this month, the question is whether the administration's intensive effort to find 8 or 9 GOP votes willing to buck their Senate leadership has paid off. As of right now, they've only got Lugar and Collins for sure.
UPDATE: The other Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, also came out in support of the treaty Friday, kind of. She said her support for moving the treaty this year was was contingent on allowing "sufficient debate and amendments."
Collins' full statement after the jump:
The State Department denied a report today that it contacted the online money transfer service PayPal and asked them to cut ties with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, who remains behind bars in the United Kingdom.
"It is not true," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable. "We have not been in touch with PayPal."
Osama Bedier, vice president at PayPal, told an audience Wednesday at Paris' tech conference Le Web'10 that PayPal had shut down its business with WikiLeaks, which used the electronic money transfer service to collect donations, at the request of the State Department.
"The State Department told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward. We first comply with regulations around the world making sure that we protect our brand," Bedier reportedly said..
Crowley said that PayPal made the decision based on a publicly available letter sent last week to Assange and his lawyer from State Department counselor Harold Koh, which called the disclosure of 250,000 diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks an "illegal dissemination" of classified documents and said the leaks "place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals -- from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security."
A reporter from the TechCrunch blog confirmed with Bedier after his speech that he was in fact working from the Koh letter that State had sent to WikiLeaks.
Crowley also responded to the remarks of Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who seemed to alter his country's position on Assange, who is an Australian citizen, "Mr. Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network," said Rudd Tuesday. "The Americans are responsible for that."
"He's correct in that the primary responsibility for the leak existed within the United States government," Crowley said, being careful not to criticize Rudd and create yet one more diplomatic problem.
As for whether the United States will seek to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 or some other U.S. laws, Crowley said that decision would be made by the Justice Department and the Defense Department. But he was clear about the State Department's position on the matter.
"Certainly, we believe that what Mr. Assange has done in the aftermath of that leak has put the interests of our country and others at risk, and put the lives of people who are reflected in these documents at risk," Crowley said. We haven't changed our view."
AFP / Getty Images
Score one for Warsaw. President Barack Obama promised Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on Wednesday that Poland would be admitted to the State Department's visa waiver program, a concession to Poland that also fulfills a key GOP senator's demand for his vote to ratify the New START treaty.
Poland, which is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance, has been petitioning the administration to let it in the program for a long time. After neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia entered the program, the Poles finally got a promise from the Obama administration that they would work with Congress to make it happen.
"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."
So did Obama just promise to get it done before 2012 or 2016? That's unclear. But it is the strongest statement from this administration yet about the issue.
"I am well aware that this is a source of irritation between two great friends and allies, and we should resolve it," Obama said. "The challenge I have right now is that there is a congressional law that prevents my administration from taking unilateral executive action. So we're going to have to work with Congress to make some modifications potentially on the law."
"I take these declarations with good faith," Komorowski responded. "I feel simply committed to say that Polish public opinion completely does not understand why all the neighbors of Poland, the neighborhood of Poland, can use the Visa Waiver Program, and we can't."
The Obama administration has overseen a rough patch in U.S.-Poland relations. After being hailed as a leader of "new Europe" by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and being promised missile defense installations by President George W. Bush's administration, the Poles watched with alarm as the United States shifted its focus toward Russia after Obama was elected.
The Poles publicly support the U.S. "reset" policy with Russia, reasoning that improved U.S.-Russia relations increase stability for the entire continent. But privately, they have felt neglected and still smart from what they see as the Obama administration's poor handling of the decision to scuttle missile defense installations planned for Poland and replace them with other types of military cooperation.
But Obama has an ulterior motive in moving the visa waiver program forward unrelated to improving U.S.-Polish relations. As The Cable reported, Sen. George Voinvovich (R-OH) offered to trade his vote on the New START treaty in exchange for this concession to Poland.
Voinovich argued that the Poles had increasing doubts about their relationship with the United States, due to the Russian "reset" policy and New START, and therefore needed to be reassured with the visa action. But Polish Foreign Minister Radislow Sikorski said last month, and Komorowski affirmed today, that Poland supports the ratification of New START. They think the visa issue should be addressed on its own merits.
"Poland supports and fully accepts the aspiration for the ratification of the new START because we believe that this is the investment in the better and safer future, and this is also the investment in the real control over the current situation," Komorowski said.
"You have to have the confidence but you also have to verify, because then, perhaps at the end of the process, we will also push the reset button [with Russia], after 1,000 years of our history," he said.
Entry into the visa waiver program is an issue of national pride and international respect for Poland. The technical reason Poland couldn't enter the program was because the rate of refusal of its citizens who apply for visas to the United States was over 10 percent. In other words, too many Poles were judged by American consular officials as a risk for overstaying their visas and becoming illegal immigrants.
Poland is now under the 10 percent threshold -- but the standard was dropped to 3 percent last year after the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet its own deadlines for an unrelated biometric security program.
So exactly how did Komorowski approach Obama on the visas? "I want all Poles and Polish-Americans to know that President Komorowski raised this issue very robustly with me," Obama said.
We're told by a source who was inside the room that Komorowski didn't make a specific demand, but simply told Obama that this was a very important issue to him and the Polish people, and that all items of cooperation were on the table between the two allies. .
Obama was joined by Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein, who has been dealing with the issue in Warsaw. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also attended.
U.S. diplomats collecting personal information on foreign officials is neither new nor unusual, multiple State Department officials told The Cable, in response to the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic messages by the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
One of the most discussed of the more than 200 diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has released from its reported cache of over 250,000 is a July 31, 2009 cable sent from Washington to several diplomatic missions entitled, "Reporting and collection needs: The United Nations." Classified as SECRET by Michael Owens, the State Department's acting director for operations at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the cable outlines a long list of personal information the U.S. intelligence community wanted U.S. diplomats to collect about U.N. and foreign officials, including cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, internet "handles," passwords, credit card account numbers, and frequent flyer account numbers.
The new National HUMINT Collection Directive was only one of several that asked U.S. diplomats to collect human intelligence around the world, has been roundly portrayed in domestic and foreign media as directing diplomats to act as intelligence assets. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper's article was entitled, "US diplomats spied on UN leadership." The New York Times said that the cables "appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies."
But in an interview with The Cable on Sunday evening, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that these activities did not mean that U.S. diplomats were being asked to act as intelligence assets.
"Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," Crowley said. "They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."
Another State Department senior official objected to the contention that these directives came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that they are marked as being from "SECSTATE." Germany's Der Spiegel, in their write up of the State Department cables, called them "Orders from Clinton."
"The long-standing practice at the State Department is to include the secretary's name at the end of every cable sent from Washington," Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told The Cable. "This practice has not included that the secretary review or approve the hundreds of thousands of cables sent each year."
But the leaked directives to U.S. diplomats to report about foreign officials are causing considerable angst inside the State Department, where many officials believe that the nature of the communiqués are being misreported and misinterpreted.
"What this cable represents is an annual wish list from intelligence managers that just highlights for the U.S. government issues of particular interest and just asks if they come across any of these areas in the course of their normal duties that they report it through appropriate channels," one State Department official told The Cable on background basis.
"Overseas, it's being misconstrued that the Secretary of State is tasking diplomats to do intelligence duties, and that's not the case," the official said.
At their Foggy Bottom headquarters, State has set up an internal working group that is working in shifts around the clock, "monitoring the situation and supporting our senior staff and embassies around the world," the official said. "We follow the same process whenever a major event occurs."
Specifically, the cables show that U.S. diplomats in New York were asked to collect Biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats. Separate cables disclosed on Sunday show that U.S. diplomats overseas were asked for specific reporting on officials from the Palestinian territories, Paraguay, Bulgaria, and Africa's Great Lakes region.
The State Department officials emphasized to The Cable the distinction between diplomats who collect information as part of a wide range of duties and intelligence personnel, who have a singular and specific mission. The official also argued that other countries do the same thing and that the intelligence gathered by U.S. diplomats also benefits Washington's allies.
"Information collection is something that diplomats of every country do every day. These areas of particular interest, they're not just ours," the official said. "This is information that's of use to us, and to our allies and friends with whom we're trying to solve regional and global challenges."
"We're not asking our diplomats to do anything substantially different from what they've been doing for eons," the official continued. "Every diplomat and mission around the world is doing the same thing."
Even if the ratification vote on the New START treaty happens this year (as the White House wants) as opposed to next year (as GOP leadership is pushing for) there are some senior senators who are flat out opposed to the agreement, including Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-MO).
"I rise today to express my strong opposition to the administration's New START Treaty," Bond said in a statement submitted to the Congressional Record on Nov. 18. "I do so after great deliberation and after initial disposition to support the treaty because of the generic importance of these types of treaties for our Nation. But with what I have learned from classified intelligence information, I cannot in good conscience support this treaty."
Calling the treaty "oversold and overhyped," Bond argued that while the U.S. would have to reduce deployed arsenals under the treaty, the Russian would be allowed to increase arsenals because they are currently below the treaty's maximum allowances. He also railed against Russia's unilateral declaration that it would withdraw from the treaty if they view U.S. missile defense plans as upseting strategic stability, calling the Russian statement "pure and simple manipulation."
Most significantly, Bond claims that based on classified intelligence reports that he's seen, the treaty does not permit adequate verification activities needed to make sure the Russians aren't cheating. All verification activities have stopped since the old treaty expired Dec. 5, but the new proposed verification measures are somewhat different from the ones that lapsed.
"As the vice chairman of this committee, I have reviewed the key intelligence on our ability to monitor this treaty and heard from our intelligence professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty's 1,550 limit on deployed warheads," he said.
He accused the Russians of cheating on previous arms control treaties, including the original START, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and Open Skies. "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," he said.
Other senior Republicans, such as Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have said repeatedly that they are not against the treaty but have concerns that they want to work out before they can offer support. Bond, however, made it clear: As far as he's concerned, the treaty is beyond repair.
"Unfortunately, New START suffers from fundamental flaws that no amount of tinkering around the edges can fix. I believe the better course for our nation, and for global stability, is to put this treaty aside and replace it with a better one."
As tensions spiral upwards on the Korean peninsula, North Korea's construction of a light water nuclear reactor in addition to its new, sophisticated uranium enrichment facility, allows the regime to claim that its enrichment program is for domestic civilian power needs -- as the same argument that Iran makes -- according the first Western scientist allowed to visit the facility.
Sig Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, toured the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea on Nov. 12 and gave an extended briefing on his trip Tuesday at the Korea Economic Institute. He was joined by two other experts who traveled to North Korea this month, former Special Envoys Jack Pritchard and Robert Carlin. Hecker said that he saw 2,000 centrifuges set up in the facility, as well as construction on a 25 megawatt light water nuclear reactor. He could not confirm whether the centrifuges were operational, but emphasized that what he saw represents a huge leap forward for North Korea's nuclear program -- one that carries grave risks and severe implications for regional and international diplomacy.
"My jaw just dropped, I was stunned," Hecker said of the moment he saw the centrifuges. "To see what looked like hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges lined up... it was just stunning. In a clean, modern facility, looking down I said ‘Oh my god, they actually did what they said there were going to do.'"
"We must take this seriously, but not overhype it," Hecker continued, noting that by setting up a reactor to make low enriched uranium, the North Koreans have the ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bombs while also claiming the enrichment is for civilian purposes, exactly like Iran.
"The same technology, the same equipment can be used to make HEU. And then what you have is called the Iran problem," he said. "It's a way of admitting the uranium enrichment program with a cover story... it's the same cover story that Iran has."
But are the North Koreans getting help from Iran in constructing their facility, especially since it happens to look like the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz?
"What we saw, 2,000 centrifuges... that's about twice what Iran has done so far. So I'm not sure I would go to Iran if I were North Korea, it might in the future be the other way around," Hecker said. "But I worry about cooperation with Iran."
He said that while the design of the facility was not new, the North Koreans have a new, younger team of scientists working on the design and construction of the new facility, different from older ones he saw in previous trips there. But Hecker's chief concern is the safety of the facility, the security of the nuclear material, and having weaponized material in the hands of the North Korean military.
"Maybe we should have North Korea as part of WANO (the World Association of Nuclear Operators) to make sure they construct that reactor safely," he said.
Carlin said that it was "ironic" that Pyonyang had constructed a light water reactor, given that the international community had been working for years to build such a plant in North Korea under the auspices of the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Under that program, the international community would have had control over the nuclear fuel going in and coming out of the reactors, but the effort was shuttered in 2006.
"We've been here before, we were going to build a light water reactor, and we were going to have complete control of the fuel," said Carlin. "For various reasons that remain unclear, we scrapped that program.... And it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we had a bite at this apple once upon a time."
Carlin also said the message from North Korea was clear: They are open to negotiation but are going to keep nuclear weapons for a long time and "we better get used to it" -- unless the United States satisfy all of their security concerns and stop what North Korea calls American "hostile" policies. He also warned that Chinese leverage over North Korea was unlikely to affect a positive outcome.
"The Chinese have never said that the North Koreans can't have a nuclear program to produce electricity. And since the North Koreans say that's the purpose of their program, I suspect that's going to be where the bulk of [the Chinese] position is," said Carlin.
Hecker agreed with Carlin and Stanford's John Lewis, who argued in the Washington Post op-ed section on Monday that "U.S. policymakers need to go back to square one."
"A realistic place to start fresh may be quite simple: accepting the existence of North Korea as it is, a sovereign state with its own interests," Carlin and Lewis wrote.
"For now, the most important thing is don't let the threat grow," added Hecker, arguing for a containment strategy that would set new red lines for North Korea, namely no new bombs, no bigger bombs, and no exporting of nuclear material.
Hecker said the 5 megawatt plutonium reactor that that operated previously at Yongbyon for years is now shut down, as is the reprocessing facility for plutonium. He estimated that there are 24 to 48 kilograms of plutonium in North Korea that were produced from that reactor, enough to make 4 to 8 bombs.
The North Koreans told Hecker that they wanted to complete construction on the light water reactor by 2012, but Hecker said that was unrealistic: Most projects in North Korea are scheduled to be completed in 2012 because that's the 100-year anniversary of former dictator Kim Il Sung's birthday.
So why did the North Koreans decide to reveal their nuclear reactor now? Hecker didn't know for sure, but speculated that the construction would have been detected soon enough, so Pyongyang wanted to break the news on its own terms.
Pritchard speculated that the exchange of artillery fire with South Korea last night was not related to the revelation of the new reactor and the new uranium enrichment efforts.
"I do not think there is any connection at all" between North Korea's revelations regarding its nuclear program and the flare up Monday night, said Pritchard. But he warned that either way, there won't be an appetite to bring up the issue before the U.N. Security Council, as was done after North Korea sank the South Korean ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
"I don't think we will find it going to the UNSC or additional sanctions for this," he said. "The Cheonan was a dastardly event. And the difficulty the international community had coming out with an unambiguous statement, it suggest to me that's not the route we're going to repeat here now."
Hecker's report on his trip can be found here.
Photo of Robert Carlin taken by Sig Hecker
The U.S.-Russian "reset," meant to repair relations between the two former rivals, has been led by U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The White House sees the reset, along with its key deliverable, the New START nuclear reductions treaty, as part of its effort to strengthen Medvedev's credibility within the Russian system, as opposed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joseph Biden spoke of how New START fits into the administration's drive to empower Medvedev at a small roundtable on Nov. 20 with a group of foreign affairs columnists, including your humble Cable guy.
"I do believe that there is a play here," he said. "Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe."
Russia experts aren't so sure that passing New START would strengthen Medvedev's position vis a vis Putin. Most of them believe that Putin was, is, and will likely remain the more powerful of the two Russian leaders.
Biden acknowledged that nobody in Washington, including himself, really knows what's going on inside the Kremlin between Medvedev and Putin, but he truly believes that a stronger "reset" policy, which includes ratifying New START, is good for Medvedev -- and a stronger Medvedev is good for U.S.-Russia relations.
"The centerpiece of where Medvedev is, is this reset. And [START] is the crown jewel inside that reset, because it wasn't Putin pushing this, it was Medvedev," Biden explained. "I'm not suggesting that if START fails, all of the sudden we're back in a Cold War with Russia. But I am saying that the things in the margins that make a big difference right now might be different."
Biden pointed to what he characterized as "unprecedented" Russian cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran as areas where the reset policy has advanced U.S. interests, and which could be jeopardized if New START fails.
But Russia experts from the left and right agreed that the idea of a rift on foreign policy between Medvedev and Putin is often exaggerated in Washington, and that Medvedev isn't likely to have pursued the reset without Putin's agreement. But they also agreed that Putin's likely return to the presidency in 2012 spells trouble for the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We have a tendency in Washington to see a mortal struggle over the strategic direction of Russia between Medvedev and Putin that simply doesn't exist in reality," said Samuel Charap, fellow at the Center for American Progress. "However, the implications of a return to the presidency for Putin are serious and significant in a negative way for the U.S."
As president, Putin did engage in arms control agreements with the Bush administration, including signing the 2003 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), known as the Moscow Treaty, which would be nullified by New START. But Putin also left office with a bad taste in his mouth regarding arms control deals with Washington, after the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty..
Charap said it's wise to have a "healthy skepticism" about Biden's notion that there are real differences on strategic questions between Medvedev and Putin. "I cannot imagine that major strategic decisions of national import are taken by Medvedev without the consultation of Putin," he said.
Whether or not Putin would be more or less amenable to New START, the Obama administration shouldn't be trying to play the murky game of internal Russian politics, other experts said.
"It's a dangerous path to go down to try to split Medvedev and Putin," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Although focusing on Medvedev seems to have produced some dividends, we should not be under the illusion that we can elevate Medvedev to be the principal decision maker, because he will never be as long as Putin is around."
"I don't see any evidence to show that there's a split between Medvedev and Putin on this issue," Petersen said. "They actually agree on this issue, which is that they are willing to cooperate now but they will take any opportunity to get out of their responsibilities while holding the U.S. to their side of the agreement."
In an interview with Foreign Policy, Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thinks Putin will run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
10 incoming GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today to demand the right to vote on the New START treaty with Russia. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) didn't sign that letter, but his staff told The Cable that he hasn't decided how he will vote yet and won't decide until he receives several specific things from the Obama administration.
Kirk is a key vote, and not just because he is a moderate GOP lawmaker with decades of military and foreign policy experience. Kirk will fill the seat being vacated by appointee Roland Burris, which means he will be seated this year, probably shortly after the Thanksgiving break. So if somehow the administration is able to secure a vote on New START this year, Kirk will be one of three brand-new senators who will vote on the pact, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Among them, Kirk is the only Republican taking over for a departing Democrat.
"The Senator-elect wants to carefully review all available information before making a decision on this matter," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover told The Cable Thursday.
An aide to Kirk explained to The Cable that Kirk is asking for multiple pieces of information before he makes up his mind: copies of the complete negotiating record of the treaty; documents related to a parallel discussion on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation conducted by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov; classified briefings on the reliability of America's nuclear warheads from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; U.S. Strategic Command's written analysis prepared to support the treaty negotiations; planning documents showing the administration' commitment to modernize the three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and formal briefings from the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy.
That's a lot of data for the administration to pull together for Kirk before the end of the year. The administration has so far refused to provide senators with the full negotiating record or the inside details of the Tauscher-Rybakov discussions, so that could also be a stumbling block in the effort to win Kirk's vote.
On a conference call Thursday afternoon, The Cable asked Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Staff, if the administration would entertain the idea of handing over the full negotiating record for New START.
Chang wouldn't say. But he reiterated that " there is time on the Senate calendar to get the treaty ratified this year and we are committed to do so."
So what about the other two new senators who will be seated during the lame duck? We haven't been able to get a response from Coons on his position, but Manchin spokesperson Lara Ramsburg told The Cable that "Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations." We're still trying to figure out just what that means, considering that every military leader from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has voiced strong support.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to pledge to push for a treaty vote this year and has tasked Vice President Joseph Biden to work on it "day and night."
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said Thursday. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
President Obama is personally committed to pushing for a Senate vote on the New START treaty during this lame duck session of Congress. But he's going to Europe tonight, so he's ordering Vice President Joseph Biden to make it happen.
"As Senator [Harry] Reid said yesterday, there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year. So I've asked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue day and night until it gets done," Obama said just before he met with top Cabinet officials and pro-treaty senators at the White House Thursday.
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year, he said. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
The president also appealed to the spirit of bipartisanship that has led to unity in support for many, but not all, past international arms treaties.
"As Ronald Reagan said, ‘we have to trust, but we also have to verify.' In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty," he said. "And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened."
What Obama didn't explain was how the administration intends to convince the Senate GOP leadership to agree to a vote this year. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said he doesn't think there's enough time this year to finish work on the treaty, and 10 incoming Republican senators wrote on Thursday that they deserved the opportunity to weigh in after they are seated next year.
When asked whether he thought the treaty would pass this year, Obama simply stated, "I'm confident that we should be able to get the votes."
The meeting included Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger, former Secretaries of Defense William Cohen and William Perry, former National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and former Sen. Sam Nunn.
Obama's full remarks after the jump:
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Wednesday that he still believes the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia can be ratified during the lame duck session of Congress, despite calls from several Republican senators for more time to consider the agreement.
"I'm very hopeful. My expectation is that we're going to try to move to the START treaty and get the START treaty done, because it's a matter of national security," Kerry said on a conference call. "I would think [December] is likely, just given the overall schedule and the Thanksgiving break."
Kerry was calling from Israel, the last leg of his overseas trip that included stops in Sudan, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. He said he spoke Wednesday to the committee's ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), Vice President Joseph Biden, and that he put in a call to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key GOP leader on New START.
In remarks last week, Lugar wondered aloud whether there would be enough time to complete work on the treaty during the lame duck session and stated that some GOP senators would be opposed to taking up the treaty this year. Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treay in the committee, told The Cable he would prefer if the debate and vote were delayed until the next session of Congress.
But Kerry said Lugar's only concern was about whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would set aside enough floor time to properly vet the treaty. "[Lugar] is committed to doing it provided that Harry Reid is committed to putting it on the floor and giving it the time," Kerry said. Kerry and President Obama both have spoken to Reid about this. "[Reid] wants to get this done," Kerry said.
Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."
Manley is referring to the package of incentives Biden is putting together for Kyl in addition to the $80 billion the administration already pledged for nuclear modernization and nuclear stockpile maintenance. Biden has been working the phones with GOP senators and spoke with Kyl very recently, Kerry said.
Meanwhile, GOP fence-sitters John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week at the Halifax National Security Forum that they want to see the New START treaty issue resolved, but they just don't know if it will happen.
"I'd like for us to resolve the START treaty issue, whether we will or not is just not clear to me," McCain said, without indicating whether he wanted to resolve it by passing it or voting it down.
Graham seemed to indicate he was for the treaty.
"I certainly am leaning towards, I definitely want a treaty because if you can reduce the number of launch vehicles and the number of warheads and still have a nuclear deterrent, that's a good move because it reduces your cost," he said. "So the trade I'm looking for is with the administration, that we'll negotiate a treaty with good numbers as long as you modernize the force that's left... I don't know if there's momentum for that in the lame duck or not."
Whether it's Chinese hackers breaking into the Gmail accounts of leading dissidents, or Russian hackers sniffing around the Pentagon, the cyber wars are heating up. Barack Obama entered office vowing to wage them more effectively than ever before.
"From now on, our digital infrastructure -- the networks and computers we depend on every day -- will be treated as they should be: as a strategic national asset," Obama said in May, "Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority."
So, is the United States finally getting its act together?
The short answer is yes, but there's much more to be done, and the Obama administration's first-year efforts have been undermined with infighting, sudden resignations, and some confusion about who is doing what. The administration has vastly increased the resources dedicated to cyber security, completed a full internal review, and moved to reform the bureaucracy. But there are still large gaps between the level of the threat and the government capability to meet it, as the actors inside the system jostle for positioning and power.
"This administration has paid more attention to the problem than any proceeding administration, but they're just at the starting point so we'll have to see how it all fits together," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Any discussion of Obama era cyber policy has to begin with the Defense Department, the part of government with the most resources, the most vulnerable assets, and the most power and influence over the issue. Leading that effort politically is Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn, who is not well known as a "cyber guy" but has taken a personal interest in the issue and is extremely active. As the most senior government person with direct involvement, he gives DoD top cover and profile, and is also heavily involved in the creation of DOD's new Cyber Command, which will be based at Fort Meade, the home of the National Security Agency, expected to open soon.
Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, will lead the Cyber Command, assuming he gets confirmed by the Senate. When that happens, almost all of DoD's cyber resources will fall under his purview, greatly increasing the already hefty cyber portfolio he had at NSA, which houses the government's most secret cyber warriors, the guys who go on offense against international threats.
Also crucial to mention is Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of Strategic Command, where many cyber attacks are defended. Cartwright has been talking about what he calls the "dysfunctional" U.S. approach to cyber security for years and he's regarded as a smart, independent, and important voice inside the Pentagon.
The non-military networks, which DoD doesn't control, fall to the Homeland Security Department, which has had a rough time on cyber policy in its first years. When DHS's cyber czar Rod Beckstrom resigned last March after only a year, he blamed the NSA in his resignation letter for not cooperating with him and seeking to hoard the issue inside DOD.
DHS is also supposed to be forging the relationships between the the government and private corporations to share info on cyber attacks. That initiative is led by Deputy Under Secretary Phil Reitenger, who works under Rand Beers and is aided by former Office of Management and Budget official Bruce McConnell and Rear Adm. Mike Brown.
Outsiders lament that Reitenger, a former Microsoft executive, has announced no real policy on the issue and few public-private partnership exist. Google is working on cooperation with the NSA, but some observers believe companies are wary of linking with DHS because that department is so dependent on contractors, which might be sharing intel with their competitors.
McConnell provides DHS with a valuable link back to OMB, a link the DHS folks will need if they plan to fund their expansion of cyber efforts, which could include 1,000 new cyber personnel. Brown, who is expected to move at some point over to the new Cyber Command, is credited with greatly improving the management of the effort at DHS but is not really a policy guy, per se.
Over at the White House, the president finally named Howard Schmidt as the new cyber coordinator in December after reportedly offering the position to over two dozen people who turned it down. Schmidt, the holder of two degrees from the University of Phoenix,is said to have lobbied hard for the job. Bush holdover Melissa Hathaway, who led the Obama administration's review, had been expected for the role, but quit the administration shortly after the review came out.
Insiders said that Hathaway had personality clashes both with her staff and with the administration, leading them to tell her she would not be appointed, which prompted her resignation. "She talked herself out of the job by fighting with everyone," one insider said.
One Bush era holdover who is still on the job is Schmidt's deputy Chris Painter, who was acting coordinator after Hathaway left. A former Los Angeles criminal prosecutor, Painter became famous when he brought down notorious cyber hacker turned consultant Kevin Mitnick. Painter also worked at the Justice Department, giving him a great sense of the legal issues involved in cyber security.
Painter's other claim to fame is his work with a cyber official everyone praises, the FBI's Sean Henry. The pair took the initiative to build bilateral agreements with a host of countries to allow cooperation on investigating and prosecuting cyber crimes. Henry is also said to have brought the FBI's cyber operation into the 21st century and was recently promoted to head up the FBI's Washington field office.
Other notable Obama-era cyber officials Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information officer, Robert "Bear" Bryant, the cyber counterintelligence guru who runs the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who leads a nation-wide cyber recruiting effort, and the State Department's Chief Information and Security Officer John Streufert, who is credited with reducing cyber risk by moving State towards a paperless cyber system so that files could be updated in real time.
The Iranian regime's blanket censorship of satellite and Internet communications last week was so effective, it led many to wonder, why didn't the U.S. government do more to stop it?
But despite strong statements from the podium in Foggy Bottom, the Obama White House appears to be treading carefully. Three sources tell The Cable that the National Security Council at first tried to prevent Jeff Trimble, executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency that oversees the U.S. government's media operations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, from allowing VOA to attach its name to a statement last week with Deutsche Welle and the British Broadcasting Corporation protesting Iranian signal jamming.
Two sources close to the issue say the NSC first didn't want the VOA to join the statement if it mentioned "jamming." Later in the email chain, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."
According to Trimble, "The BBG wasn't asked not to participate in the statement."
"NSC is ok with our confirming that jamming continues, they ask that we not say for now that it has intensified," one Feb. 11 email from Trimble to several BBG staffers read.
Dan Austin, the president of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement, but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said that the U.S. government should not be interfering with the BBG's editorial content, but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines were less clear.
"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a BBG official told The Cable on background basis.
VOA did finally join the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him. His spokeswoman sent The Cable a list of actions BBG has taken to combat Iranian censorship and referred to two previous BBG statements on the issue.
Meanwhile, the State Department says it is working furiously to increase its capabilities to confront the kind of censorship promulgated by Iran last week, bringing major Silicon Valley companies and top tech executives into the fold, and rushing to develop technologies that can overcome even the most draconian measures.
"We have gone from zero to 100 on this issue in the last 30 days, after inheriting an incredibly empty policy from the last administration," a State Department official told The Cable. "Does that mean that as of right now we are as far along as we intend to be in the not-distant future? Absolutely not."
The White House and NSC did not respond to queries by the time of publication.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.