The Cable

U.S. ambassador to Haiti: "There's a great deal of frustration among people here"

Problems with food distribution and infrastructure, rather than a lack of food supplies, are responsible for rising unrest on the ground in Haiti, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten (the man looking into the camera at right) told The Cable in a phone interview from Port-au-Prince.

"The amount of food we have is sufficient; the issue is getting it out to people in a form they can most easily use and eat and getting it to certain distribution points in sufficient numbers," he said.

Merten confirmed that on Monday Brazilian personnel used tear gas on a crowd of Haitians at a food-distribution point. He said that aid groups were reevaluating the system for how much food to send where.

"People need to understand there's a great deal of frustration among people here," Merten said. "They have to wait longer. Their anger is understandable; it's unfortunate."

He also said he completely shared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's sentiment that she "deeply resented" criticisms by other countries about the military face of the U.S. relief effort.

"The fact of the matter is the military is here because they have the immediate capability to bring humanitarian aid to the area," Merten elaborated. "They're close, they have the capability, that's why they are here."

"I would suggest that other countries maybe haven't thought that through."

The number of flights landing at the Haiti airport has actually gone down recently, but that's not due to a decrease in demand, according to Merten. There has been a rise in "no shows" -- planes that asked for landing clearance but then for whatever reason missed their appointed slots. U.S. Southern Command is still running the airport, but coordinating flight priorities with USAID and the U.N., he added.

Food distribution is the top mission right now, but in a few days that will shift to increasing the amount of temporary shelter. It's been fortunate for the relief effort that not much rain has fallen since the earthquake, but that luck won't last forever, Merten said.

It will still be several weeks, however, before any plans for large-scale reconstruction will be developed. The U.S. is evacuating orphans by the hundreds and the main challenges there are linking up the orphans with the correct foster families and making sure they really are orphans in the first place.

Overall, the aid mission is hampered most by poor roads and facilities that weren't in good shape in the past, but are now also covered in rubble. It takes an hour to travel just 5 miles, Merten said, and traffic congestion is horrendous.

"The infrastructure is a huge limitation here and there's a lack of appreciation of what the infrastructure challenges here are and were even before the crisis occurred."

There are now 56 confirmed American deaths in Haiti and 36 more reported but not confirmed. One embassy official, four local hires, and three dependents of U.S. government employees have perished since the crisis began.


The Cable

Brennan pushes back on Lieberman over Fort Hood shooting

In a previously undisclosed letter, John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism advisor, pushes back on complaints on Capitol Hill that the Obama administration has not been cooperative with Congress over the Nov. 5 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.

"I do not believe this is a fair or accurate assessment," Brennan writes."Starting from the first moments after this tragedy, the President directed us to keep Congress appropriately informed."

Brennan goes on to detail the various briefings members of the administration have given to congressional leaders, committee chairs, and staffers, and promises that  more information from the Pentagon, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FBI is forthcoming.

The letter, addressed to Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, is dated Jan. 27 and was exclusively obtained by The Cable. It is ostensibly a response to a Dec. 3 request by the two senators, who cochair the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, for certain unspecified documents.

To the Army's evident discomfort, Lieberman has suggested repeatedly that the Fort Hood shooting was terrorism, not a random act by a mentally disturbed individual, and vowed to use the committee to fully investigate the incident. The shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, has been linked to Anwar al-Awlaqi -- the radical Yemeni-American cleric who has since become a top "kill or capture" target for U.S. intelligence agencies and Special Forces teams operating in Yemen -- but Hasan showed signs of deep emotional instability before his Nov. 5 attack.

In his letter, Brennan first refers to the massacre as a "tragedy," but he seems to hedge his language here:

The President has a solemn responsibility to protect  this nation from future acts of terrorism. In sharing what we have learned about what happened at Fort Hood, he is confident that we can help prevent such senseless acts of violence in the future."

So which is it? Terrorism or a senseless act of violence?