Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan listen to the U.S. national anthem during a welcome ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters prior to their meeting in Beijing on Tuesday. Alex Wong/AP
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan offered a defiant defense of Beijing’s territorial claims …
By Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
BEIJING – Near a banner offering him a “warm welcome,” Defense Secretary ChuckHagel urged officers at China’s premier military university to work toward a new era of cooperation between the world’s top military rivals.But during his first trip to China as Pentagon chief, icy body language and barbs telegraphed a relationship utterly devoid of warmth and very much saddled by suspicion.
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan offered a defiant defense of Beijing’s territorial claims on two sets of islands contested by Japan and the Philippines, disputes that are particularly vexing for Washington because it has defense treaties with both nations.
“On this issue, we will make no compromise, no concession — not even a tiny violation is allowed,” the Chinese minister warned sternly. “We are prepared at any time to cope with any type of threats and challenges.”
Chinese officials have long viewed the Obama administration’s policy to expand military and diplomatic engagements as an effort to contain Beijing’s military rise and bolster its rivals in the region. American officials have made a concerted effort to dispel that narrative, saying they welcome a rising China, as long as it acts in a way they deem constructive. That effort has a long way to go.
After Hagel wrapped up his afternoon speech with tale of a friendly exchange over the radio between sailors aboard American and Chinese ships that crossed paths in the East China Sea, the tone once again turned confrontational.
A researcher at the school demanded to know if the United States was taking the side of Japan and the Philippines in the territorial disputes to create havoc for China and stymie its military rise.
“You are using the excuses of the islands to make trouble for China to hamper its [military] development,” said the officer. “That is what we worry about.”
“Every nation has the right to establish air defense zones, but not a right to do it unilaterally, without consultation,” Hagel told reporters, speaking alongside his Chinese counterpart.
As China has invested mightily in defense in recent years, the United States has become keenly interested in and alarmed by its capabilities, particularly in cyberspace. U.S. officials have begun urging China to be more transparent about its expanding military complex.
During his speech, Hagel said that the Pentagon recently offered Chinese officials a briefing about Washington’s evolving cyber-warfare doctrine.
“We are urging China to do the same,” Hagel said, noting that Beijing has so far refrained from divulging much about a program widely regarded as among the most aggressive and advanced in the world.
The Chinese defense minister rejected the notion that China has an offensive Internet program, which was first reported by the New York Times.
“The U.S. wants transparency in things it wants to know,” said Chu Shulong, a professor at Tsinghua University who focuses on U.S.-Chinese relations. “However, when it comes to things that the U.S. doesn’t want to disclose, it dismisses transparency.”
Pentagon officials say that China has taken modest, albeit significant, steps in recent years to broaden lines of dialogue and offer U.S. officials some insight into its new platforms and technology.
As China’s military continues to grow, Hagel said in the speech, “American and Chinese forces will be drawn into closer proximity – which increases the risk of an incident, accident or miscalculation.”
Seeking to avoid that, the two countries have agreed to establish a mechanism to warn each other about major military operations. China has also hosted several senior U.S. military officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of the Air Force, Army and Navy.
Upon Hagel’s arrival in China Monday night, he was given a tour of the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning – an overture Pentagon officials saw as a significant confidence-building step. Chinese officials balked at a request by U.S. officials to allow Hagel’s traveling press corps to see the ship as well. That meant journalists were instead were taken to tour a brewery.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan participate in a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing, China Tuesday, April 8, 2014. The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. faced off Tuesday over Beijing’s escalating territorial disputes in the region, as Hagel, wagging his finger, said China doesn’t have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation. (AP Photo/Alex Wong, Pool)
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan participate in a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing, China Tuesday, April 8, 2014. The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. faced off Tuesday over Beijing’s escalating territorial disputes in the region, as Hagel, wagging his finger, said China doesn’t have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation. (AP Photo/Alex Wong, Pool)
U.S. and China Clash Over Contested Islands — While in Beijing Hagel Also Says U.S. Wants More Transparency from China on Cyber Issues
By Helene Cooper
The New York Times
BEIJING — The United States and China clashed over Japan on Tuesday, as the Chinese defense minister asserted that Beijing had “indisputable sovereignty” over a group of islands in the East China Sea and that his country’s military stood ready to protect its interests in territorial disputes.
The minister, Gen. Chang Wanquan, affirmed that China would not be first to launch an attack over the territorial dispute. But he accused Japan of “confusing the right with the wrong” in its assertion of control over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan and as the Diaoyu in China.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands,” General Chang said. He added that on the issue of what he called “territorial sovereignty,” China would “make no compromise, no concession, no treaty.”
He continued, “The Chinese military can assemble as soon as summoned, fight any battle and win.”
General Chang made his comments at a news conference with the United States defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, after a morning of meetings at the Ministry of National Defense. It is Mr. Hagel’s first trip to China as defense secretary.
While both men sought to present their meetings as constructive, they espoused divergent views on a number of issues, particularly the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, and a similar dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
At one point, Mr. Hagel appeared impatient, wagging his finger. “The Philippines and Japan are longtime allies of the United States,” he said. “We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of those countries” he continued, adding that the United States was “fully committed to those treaty obligations.”
Mr. Hagel accused China of adding to tensions in the region by unilaterally declaring an air defense zone in the East China Sea with “no collaboration, no consultation.” Such moves, he warned, could “eventually get to dangerous conflict.”
The exchange punctuated a visit that American defense officials had sought to present as a long-awaited deepening of military relations between the two countries. On Monday, Mr. Hagel became the first foreign military dignitary allowed on board a Chinese aircraft carrier, and on Tuesday the United States and China announced a series of modest steps toward improving communications.
But there appeared to be no closing of the gaps on more contentious issues.
Mr. Hagel, for instance, called on China to be more open about its cyberwarfare capabilities, which American officials have said Beijing uses for commercial espionage.
Mr. Hagel portrayed the United States as transparent about its own capabilities in telecommunications security, pointing to a recent briefing that the Defense Department gave to Chinese officials on the Pentagon’s doctrine for defending against cyberattacks.
“More transparency will strengthen China-U.S. relations,” Mr. Hagel said. “Greater openness about cyber reduces the risk that misunderstanding and misperception could lead to miscalculation.”
Beijing, American defense officials said, still has not responded to Mr. Hagel’s invitation to reciprocate with a briefing of its own.
General Chang stood impassively next to Mr. Hagel during his call Tuesday for more openness on cybersecurity. When it was his turn to talk, he said that “the defense activity of the People’s Liberation Army in cyberspace abides” by Chinese law. “It will not pose a threat to others,” he added.
The disagreement with China over digital security issues puts Mr. Hagel in the difficult position of splitting hairs with Beijing over what is acceptable to spy on and what is not. American officials have maintained that a barrage of attacks that originated in China aimed to steal technology and other intellectual property from Silicon Valley and from military contractors and energy firms in the United States. Many of those attacks have been linked to cyberwarfare units of the People’s Liberation Army, acting on behalf of state-owned, or state-affiliated, Chinese companies.
But the United States has not always been transparent about cyberespionage, either. Last month The New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the United States had infiltrated the networks of Huawei, China’s networking and telecommunications giant. Additional disclosures about American spying were revealed in National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor at the agency.
After his meetings at the Defense Ministry, Mr. Hagel went to the National Defense University in Beijing to give a speech and hold a question-and-answer session with a group of about 120 Chinese military officers. Most of the questions from the audience centered on the Senkaku-Diaoyu dispute, as Chinese officers repeatedly complained that American policy in the region favored Japan.
Late last year, China set off a trans-Pacific uproar when it declared that an “air defense identification zone” gave it the right to identify and possibly take military action against aircraft near the islands. Japan refused to recognize China’s claim and the United States has since defied China by sending military planes into the zone, unannounced.
In February, Capt. James Fannell, the director of intelligence and information operations with the United States Pacific Fleet, said in San Diego that China was training its forces to be capable of carrying out a “short, sharp” war with Japan in the East China Sea.
“The United States takes no position on individual claims” in the island dispute, Mr. Hagel said. But he repeated that it had treaty obligations to defend Japan and the Philippines.
BEIJING (AP) — The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. faced off Tuesday over Beijing’s escalating territorial disputes in the region, with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and telling his Chinese counterparts they do not have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands, with no consultation.
And he said America will protect Japan, the Philippines and other allies locked in disputes with China, as laid out in U.S. treaty obligations.
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said his country will not take the initiative to stir up troubles with Japan, but warned that Beijing is ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. And he said the U.S. must “stay vigilant” against Japan’s actions and “not be permissive and supportive” of Tokyo.
Washington has criticized Beijing’s recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed remote islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. Hagel was in Japan earlier this week, reassuring its leaders of ongoing U.S. support.
In their remarks Tuesday, Hagel and Chang largely aired their countries’ well-known positions about the territorial disputes, although doing it for the first time in China, shoulder to shoulder, after nearly two hours of meetings.
“Every nation has a right to establish an air defense zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation. That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict,” said Hagel, pointing his finger toward television cameras and photographers at the back of the room, as shutters clicked.
For his part, Chang said China stands ready to resolve the disputes diplomatically. But he made it clear that China is always ready to respond militarily to threats.
Chang also complained that the Philippines illegally occupies part of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea..
He told Hagel, “We will make no compromise, no concession, no trading, not even a tiny … violation is allowed.”
On a broader scale, the meeting focused on how the U.S. and China can build stronger ties, in the wake of years of frosty relations over Beijing’s military buildup, persistent cyber-attacks against U.S. government agencies and private industry, and the aggressive Chinese territorial claims.
Washington says it takes no side on the sovereignty issue of the islands but will defend Japan and the Philippines. But it also has refused to recognize the air defense zone or follow China’s demands that its aircraft file flight plans with Beijing’s Defense Ministry and heed Chinese instructions.
The Pentagon chief also pressed China on North Korea, saying that Washington and Beijing have a shared interest “in achieving a verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea has been escalating its rhetoric lately, threatening additional missile and nuclear tests and conducting a series of ballistic missile launches.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan
Later Tuesday, at the People’s Liberation Army’s National Defense University, Hagel gave a speech to about 120 colonels and other staff officers, and was more direct, challenging China to play a more constructive role in North Korea.
Continuing to support the Pyongyang regime, he said, “will only hurt China’s international standing” and it’s position in the region.
In the defense university speech, Hagel also pointed to cybersecurity as an area where the U.S. wants the Chinese to be more transparent.
As proof that the U.S. has tried to be more open, he revealed publicly for the first time that the Pentagon gave Chinese government officials a briefing on the doctrine that governs the use of the military’s cyber capabilities. And he urged China to do the same.
It has not. And Chang, when asked about the issue, said the PLA abides by the law in its cyber operations and will not pose a threat to others. He added that China “stands ready to deepen the communication with the U.S.” on cyber.
While the disagreements between the U.S. and China were starkly evident during the day’s events, there also was an underlying current of slowly growing cooperation.
The two countries interests outweigh their differences, said Chang, adding that “The Pacific is huge enough to hold both China and the U.S.”
They also outlined several new agreements.
“Our vision is a future where our militaries can work closely together on a range of challenges, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. However, to reach this objective, we must be candid about issues where we disagree,” Hagel said.
He said the two countries have agreed to conduct a joint military medical exercise, although no date was set.
And Hagel said that Washington and Beijing will establish formal procedures that will allow their armies to better communicate and also set up an Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue between the assistant defense secretary for the Asia Pacific and China’s director of the Ministry of National Defense Foreign Affairs Office, so they also can more easily exchange views.
The United States’ campaign to encourage China to be more open about its military growth and intentions got a symbolic boost Monday as Hagel received a rare tour of the country’s first aircraft carrier. But efforts to get the Asian giant to be more transparent about cyber attacks and other defense operations have been less successful.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan shake hands at the end of a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing, China Tuesday, April 8, 2014. The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. faced off Tuesday over Beijing’s escalating territorial disputes in the region, as Hagel, wagging his finger, said China doesn’t have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation. (AP Photo/Alex Wong, Pool)
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested Sunday the Obama administration’s apparent offer to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a desperate effort that could open the door for criminal spies like Edward Snowden to walk away free.
Jonathan Pollard speaking during an interview in a conference room at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C., on May 15, 1998. Associated Press
“I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea to keep some people at the table,” Hayden, a Bush administration appointee and former NSA director, told “Fox News Sunday.”
“It’s almost a sign of desperation to throw this in the pot, offer a third view. If this were to take place … people in the intelligence community would not be hearing the name Pollard, they would be hearing Snowden.”
Last year, Snowden, then a National Security Agency contractor, gave news outlets classified documents that exposed the federal government’s massive, global surveillance efforts, which include data on the phone calls and Internet activities of Americans and foreign leaders worldwide.
Edward Snowden relaxing during an interview. Image by Barton Gellman, The Washington Post
Snowden is charged with espionage and is living under asylum in Russia in what is largely considered the biggest security leak in U.S. history.
“I believe this kind of behavior could be politically negotiated away,” Hayden also said.
U.S. officials have indicated that Secretary of State John Kerry offered the early release of Pollard during talks with both sides last week in Israel, in an effort to restart the U.S.-led two-party peace talks, which have stalled over the delayed release of Palestinian prisoners.
Secretary of State John Kerry
Pollard, an American Jew, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. The Israelis recruited him to pass along U.S. secrets including satellite photos and data on Soviet weaponry in the 1980s.
He was arrested by FBI agents in Washington in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to Israel and received a life sentence. President Obama and his predecessors have refused to release Pollard despite pleas from Israeli leaders.
Apart from any negotiations in the meantime, Pollard could be released from prison on Nov. 21, 2015 — 30 years after his arrest. He has been serving his sentence at a federal facility in Butner, N.C.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday: “What I can affirm to you is that the issue of Jonathan Pollard and his disposition is something that has been frequently raised by Israeli officials. And all I can tell you is that the president has not made a decision to release Mr. Pollard and that he is continuing to serve his sentence, having been convicted of espionage.”
In January 1999, a bipartisan group of senators sent a strongly worded letter to President Bill Clinton urging him not to commute the prison sentence of Jonathan Pollard, who was then in the 12th year of a life sentence for spying for Israel. Freeing Pollard, the lawmakers said, would “imply a condonation of spying against the United States by an ally,” would overlook the “enormity” of Pollard’s offenses and the damage he had caused to national security, and would undermine the United States’ ability to share secrets with foreign governments. Among the 60 signatories of the letter was John Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, Kerry is singing a very different tune.
Now, as the secretary of state, Kerry has supported using Pollard’s potential release as a bargaining chip in the Obama administration’s attempts to salvage the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The outcome of those talks was in doubt Tuesday as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority opted to press for statehood through the United Nations, a move that Israel has long said would as a deal-breaker. A planned meeting between Kerry and Abbas was canceled as a result. Abbas said he’d made the move because Israel hadn’t released a fourth round of Palestinian prisoners. The Obama administration had envisioned potentially releasing Pollard — who is seen as a national hero by many Israelis — to help persuade Jerusalem to let those Palestinian prisoners go.
Kerry wasn’t alone in opposing Pollard’s release in 1999, when the issue was similarly under consideration as a possible sweetener for Israel during its on-again, off-again talks with the Palestinians. Kerry’s allies at the time included then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, now the secretary of defense, as well as Dianne Feinstein, the current chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Mitch McConnell, the current Senate minority leader; John McCain, a former Republican nominee for president; and Patrick Leahy, now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kerry and Hagel in particular now find themselves in the awkward position of serving in an administration that is considering letting Pollard go, exactly the outcome they once railed against. A spokesperson for Hagel said, “The secretary will keep private his counsel for the president.” A spokesperson for Kerry wouldn’t discuss details of any negotiations. Neither Hagel’s nor Kerry’s spokesperson addressed the positions they’d taken in 1999. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama, who has the sole authority to commute Pollard’s sentence or grant him a pardon, “has not made a decision” on the question.
The signatories largely had strong pro-Israel voting records, but their contempt for Pollard crossed party lines and was striking in its ferocity. “Any grant of clemency would now be viewed as an acquiescence to external political pressures and a vindication of Pollard’s specious claims of unfairness and victimization…. This would send the wrong signal to employees within the Intelligence Community. It is an inviolable principle that those entrusted with America’s secrets must protect them, without exception, irrespective of their own personal views or sympathies.”
Pollard has long maintained that he gave Israel classified intelligence in order to help the country protect itself from surprise attacks by other countries in the Middle East. But intelligence officials have dismissed those claims and said Pollard also tried to sell classified information to at least four other governments. A former U.S. intelligence official who was involved in the government’s damage assessment of Pollard’s spying said in an interview he was motivated largely by money to pay for an alleged cocaine habit.
“It was all about money, and he put most of it up his nose. He was known in Washington as the ‘candy man’ for God’s sake,” the former official said. “He’s reinvented himself as someone else, and a large number of Israelis have fallen for it and a large number of Americans and stupid politicians have fallen for it.”
Pollard is seen very differently in Israel, where every prime minister since the time of his arrest in 1985 has called for his release. In the late 1990s, the presidents of 55 major American Jewish organizations jointly called for Pollard to be set free. And for decades, there’ve been mass protests in both Israel and the United States calling on a succession of American presidents to free Pollard, both on humanitarian grounds and, his supporters say, because he gave information to a close U.S. ally and was unjustly accused of betraying the United States. Many of those protests are organized by Pollard’s wife, whom he married while in prison and who remains one of his staunchest defenders.
The potential release of Pollard in 1999 wasn’t the first time Clinton had considered letting Israel’s most notorious spy go free. Clinton had previously denied Pollard’s request for commutation, citing “his lack of remorse” and “the continuing threat to national security that he pose[s].” The former intelligence official said that the government feared if Pollard were ever released, he would continue to spy for Israel or other governments. Clinton ultimately declined to commute Pollard’s sentence in 1999, under pressure from lawmakers and his own director of central intelligence, George Tenet, who said he’d resign if Pollard were released.
For his part, Pollard on Tuesday passed up on the opportunity to apply for parole — he would be eligible for early release in 2015 — and appears insistent on being granted commutation.
Some of the signatories to the 1999 letter have since changed their minds. Joe Lieberman, then a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said in a statement Tuesday that Pollard “has served a very long time in jail and paid a heavy price for his crimes. Based on that fact, and my understanding that Pollard’s health is apparently bad, I believe there is justification for his release from prison at this time.” McCain has likewise softened his stance; he said in 2011 that he also supports releasing Pollard.
A person familiar with Kerry, speaking on backgound, disputed the relevance of the letter that the secretary signed. “We’re not going to speculate on a 15-year-old letter signed by 60 United States senators back with Y2K was a front-page story and George Clooney was just a doctor on ‘E.R.’ … Kerry’s focus is on how we can make progress in the peace process today,” this person said.
But the heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, along with lawmakers from both parties, roundly opposed releasing Pollard in various remarks to journalists on Tuesday. Feinstein, who’d been among the 60 signatories on the 1999 letter, told reporters, “It’s hard for me to see how [freeing Pollard] would jump-start” the rocky peace talks. “It’s one thing after an agreement. It’s totally another thing before an agreement.”
Pollard was working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he was arrested in 1985. He supplied Israel with a huge cache of classified Defense Department documents, including a 10-volume manual that spelled out how the National Security Agency intercepted Soviet communications, as well as technical details of military spy satellites. Retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence and Pollard’s onetime boss, said in an interview that the amount of highly classified material the confessed spy disclosed “is exceeded only by Edward Snowden,” the former NSA contractor who gave millions of pages of classified documents about eavesdropping systems to journalists.
This article has been updated to include comments from a person familiar with Kerry.
President confirms plans to end NSA bulk telephone collection, and admits revelations have shaken faith in US intelligence
By Spencer Ackerman and Julian Borger
Barack Obama in The Hague. ‘There’s a tendency to be sceptical of government, and to be sceptical of US intelligence services,’ he said. Photograph: Sean Gallup/AP
Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that the US plans to end the National Security Agency’s systematic collection of Americans’ telephone data, admitting that trust in country’s intelligence services had been shaken and pledging to address the concerns of privacy advocates.
Under plans to be put forward by the Obama administration in the next few days, the NSA would end the so-called bulk collection of telephone records, and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.
The proposals come nine months after the practice was first disclosed by the Guardian, based on leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama conceded on Tuesday that the revelations had caused trust in the US to plunge around the world.
“We have got to win back the trust not just of governments, but, more importantly, of ordinary citizens. And that’s not going to happen overnight, because there’s a tendency to be sceptical of government and to be sceptical of the US intelligence services,” Obama said at a news conference in The Hague, where world leaders were meeting to discuss their response to the crisis in Crimea.
Legislators in the House of Representatives unveiled a separate bill on Tuesday that would significantly curtail the practice of bulk collection but lower the legal standards for the collection of such information. The House proposal would not necessarily require a judge’s prior approval to access phone or email data.
Neither the White House nor the House intelligence committee proposal would require telecommunications firms to keep such records any longer than the current 18-month maximum, a significant shift away from the five years during which they are currently held by NSA. The moves represent a significant overhaul of the secret mass collection practices of the past 13 years, as exposed by Snowden.
But under the White House proposals, the National Security Agency would still be able to gain access to the data from thousands of phone calls from a single court order. Phone companies would be required to provide phone records up to two “hops” – or degrees of separation – from a phone number suspected of wrongdoing.
Speaking in the Hague, Obama said he believed the reform proposals presented to him by the US intelligence agencies were “workable” and would “eliminate” the concerns of privacy campaigners. “I am confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal the threat of a terrorist attack but does so in a way that addresses people’s concerns,” he said.
In a statement, Senate judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy, co-author of the USA Freedom bill to reform the NSA, welcomed Obama’s plan to end collection of US phone records. “That is a key element of what I and others have outlined in the USA Freedom Act, and that is what the American people have been demanding,” he said.
“I look forward to having meaningful consultation with the administration on these matters and reviewing its proposal to evaluate whether it sufficiently protects Americans’ privacy. In the meantime, the president could end bulk collection once and for all on Friday by not seeking reauthorization of this program. Rather than postponing action any longer, I hope he chooses this path.”
Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat who has been a prominent critic of bulk surveillance, said he was “encouraged” by the president’s plans. “The constitution is clear … the ongoing bulk collections of Americans’ call records is an unacceptable invasion of our privacy that doesn’t make us safer and must be brought to an end,” he said.
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials.
Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
In a speech in January, President Obama said he wanted to get the N.S.A. out of the business of collecting call records in bulk while preserving the program’s abilities. He acknowledged, however, that there was no easy way to do so, and had instructed Justice Department and intelligence officials to come up with a plan by March 28 — Friday — when the current court order authorizing the program expires.
As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes.
The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said.
They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.
The N.S.A. now retains the phone data for five years. But the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require — a burden that the companies had resisted shouldering and that was seen as a major obstacle to keeping the data in their hands. A senior administration official said that intelligence agencies had concluded that the operational impact of that change would be small because older data is less important.
The N.S.A. uses the once-secret call records program — sometimes known as the 215 program, after Section 215 of the Patriot Act — to analyze links between callers in an effort to identify hidden terrorist associates, if they exist. It was part of the secret surveillance program that President George W. Bush unilaterally put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, outside of any legal framework or court oversight.
In 2006, as part of a broader Bush administration effort to put its programs on a firmer legal footing, the Justice Department persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program. It claimed that Section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain court orders for business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, could be interpreted as allowing the N.S.A. to systematically collect domestic calling records in bulk.
Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the administration’s proposal a “sensible outcome, given that the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.” While he said that he would like to see more overhauls to other surveillance authorities, he said the proposal was “significant” and addressed the major concerns with the N.S.A.’s bulk records program.
Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of call records should end.” He added, “As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”
The administration’s proposal will join a jumble of bills in Congress ranging from proposals that would authorize the current program with only minor adjustments, to proposals to end it.
In recent days, attention in Congress has shifted to legislation developed by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. That bill, according to people familiar with a draft proposal, would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the N.S.A. to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval.
The Obama administration proposal, by contrast, would retain a judicial role in determining whether the standard of suspicion was met for a particular phone number before the N.S.A. could obtain associated records.
The administration’s proposal would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.
The existence of the N.S.A. program was disclosed and then declassified last year following leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. The disclosure set off a controversy that scrambled the usual partisan lines in Congress.
The government has been unable to point to any thwarted terrorist attacks that would have been carried out if the program had not existed, but has argued that it is a useful tool.
In January, Mr. Obama narrowed how far out from suspects N.S.A. analysts could go in analyzing calling records, reducing the limit to two steps from three. He also began requiring N.S.A. analysts to obtain court approval before using a phone number to make queries of the database.
WASHINGTON — American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.
But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.
The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.
One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.
In 2012, a House of Representatives report said US firms should avoid doing business with Huawei. Photo: Shepherd Zhou/AP
“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the N.S.A. document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” it added, to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world.
The documents were disclosed by The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and are also part of a book by Der Spiegel, “The N.S.A. Complex.” The documents, as well as interviews with intelligence officials, offer new insights into the United States’ escalating digital cold war with Beijing. While President Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have begun talks about limiting the cyber conflict, it appears to be intensifying.
The N.S.A., for example, is tracking more than 20 Chinese hacking groups — more than half of them Chinese Army and Navy units — as they break into the networks of the United States government, companies including Google, and drone and nuclear-weapon part makers, according to a half-dozen current and former American officials.
If anything, they said, the pace has increased since the revelation last year that some of the most aggressive Chinese hacking originated at a People’s Liberation Army facility, Unit 61398, in Shanghai.
The Obama administration distinguishes between the hacking and corporate theft that the Chinese conduct against American companies to buttress their own state-run businesses, and the intelligence operations that the United States conducts against Chinese and other targets.
American officials have repeatedly said that the N.S.A. breaks into foreign networks only for legitimate national security purposes.
A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin M. Hayden, said: “We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line. Many countries cannot say the same.”
But that does not mean the American government does not conduct its own form of corporate espionage with a different set of goals. Those concerning Huawei were described in the 2010 document.
“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an analyst wrote, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC,” referring to the People’s Republic of China. The N.S.A. saw an additional opportunity: As Huawei invested in new technology and laid undersea cables to connect its $40 billion-a-year networking empire, the agency was interested in tunneling into key Chinese customers, including “high priority targets — Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba.”
The documents offer no answer to a central question: Is Huawei an independent company, as its leaders contend, or a front for the People’s Liberation Army, as American officials suggest but have never publicly proved?
Two years after Shotgiant became a major program, the House Intelligence Committee delivered an unclassified report on Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, that cited no evidence confirming the suspicions about Chinese government ties. Still, the October 2012 report concluded that the companies must be blocked from “acquisitions, takeover or mergers” in the United States, and “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence.”
Huawei, which has all but given up its hopes of entering the American market, complains that it is the victim of protectionism, swathed in trumped-up national security concerns. Company officials insist that it has no connection to the People’s Liberation Army.
William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive in the United States, said the company had no idea it was an N.S.A. target, adding that in his personal opinion, “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”
“If such espionage has been truly conducted,” Mr. Plummer added, “then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government, and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.”
Blocked at Every Turn
Washington’s concerns about Huawei date back nearly a decade, since the RAND Corporation, the research organization, evaluated the potential threat of China for the American military. RAND concluded that “private Chinese companies such as Huawei” were part of a new “digital triangle” of companies, institutes and government agencies that worked together secretly.
Huawei is a global giant: it manufactures equipment that makes up the backbone of the Internet, lays submarine cables from Asia to Africa and has become the world’s third largest smartphone maker after Samsung and Apple.
The man behind its strategy is Ren Zhengfei, the company’s elusive founder, who was a P.L.A. engineer in the 1970s. To the Chinese, he is something akin to Steve Jobs — an entrepreneur who started a digital empire with little more than $3,000 in the mid-1980s, and took on both state-owned companies and foreign competitors. But to American officials, he is a link to the People’s Liberation Army.
They have blocked his company at every turn: pressing Sprint to kill a $3 billion deal to buy Huawei’s fourth generation, or 4G, network technology; scuttling a planned purchase of 3Com for fear that Huawei would alter computer code sold to the United States military; and pushing allies, like Australia, to back off from major projects.
As long ago as 2007, the N.S.A. began a covert program against Huawei, the documents show. By 2010, the agency’s Tailored Access Operations unit — which breaks into hard-to-access networks — found a way into Huawei’s headquarters. The agency collected Mr. Ren’s communications, one document noted, though analysts feared they might be missing many of them.
N.S.A. analysts made clear that they were looking for more than just “signals intelligence” about the company and its connections to Chinese leaders; they wanted to learn how to pierce its systems so that when adversaries and allies bought Huawei equipment, the United States would be plugged into those networks. (The Times withheld technical details of the operation at the request of the Obama administration, which cited national security concerns.)
The N.S.A.’s operations against China do not stop at Huawei. Last year, the agency cracked two of China’s biggest cellphone networks, allowing it to track strategically important Chinese military units, according to an April 2013 document leaked by Mr. Snowden. Other major targets, the document said, are the locations where the Chinese leadership works. The country’s leaders, like everyone else, are constantly upgrading to better, faster Wi-Fi — and the N.S.A. is constantly finding new ways in.
Hack Attacks Accelerate
Chinese state attacks have only accelerated in recent years, according to the current and former intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity about classified information.
A dozen P.L.A. military units — aside from Unit 61398 — do their hacking from eavesdropping posts around China, and though their targets were initially government agencies and foreign ministries around the world, they have since expanded into the private sector. For example, officials point to the First Bureau of the army’s Third Department, which the N.S.A. began tracking in 2004 after it hacked into the Pentagon’s networks. The unit’s targets have grown to include telecom and technology companies that specialize in networking and encryption equipment — including some Huawei competitors.
For some of its most audacious attacks, China relies on hackers at state-funded universities and privately owned Chinese technology companies, apparently as much for their skills as for the plausible deniability it offers the state if it gets caught. The N.S.A. is tracking more than half a dozen such groups suspected of operating at the behest of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, China’s civilian spy agency, the officials said.
Their targets, they noted, closely align with China’s stated economic and strategic directives. As China strove to develop drones and next-generation ballistic and submarine-launched missiles in recent years, the N.S.A. and its partners watched as one group of privately employed engineers based in Guangzhou in southern China pilfered the blueprints to missile, satellite, space, and nuclear propulsion technology from businesses in the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and Africa.
And as China strove to make its own inroads on the web, officials said another group of private hackers infiltrated Google, Adobe and dozens of other global technology companies in 2010. Lately, the officials said, that group and its counterparts are also going after security firms, banks, chemical companies, automakers and even nongovernment organizations.
“China does more in terms of cyberespionage than all other countries put together,” said James A. Lewis, a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The question is no longer which industries China is hacking into,” he added. “It’s which industries they aren’t hacking into.”
A parking ticket, traffic citation or involvement in a minor fender-bender are enough to get a person’s name and other personal information logged into a massive, obscure federal database run by the U.S. military.
LinX is a national information-sharing hub for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It is run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, raising concerns among some military law experts that putting such detailed data about ordinary citizens in the hands of military officials crosses the line that generally prohibits the armed forces from conducting civilian law enforcement operations.
“It gives me the willies,” said Fidell, a member of the Defense Department’s Legal Policy Board and a board member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War.
The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred. (Thinkstock)
Fidell reviewed the Navy’s LinX website at the request of the Washington Examiner to assess the propriety of putting such a powerful database under the control of a military police entity.
“Clearly, it cannot be right that any part of the Navy is collecting traffic citation information,” Fidell said. “This sounds like something from a third-world country, where you have powerful military intelligence watching everybody.”
The military has a history of spying on Americans. The Army did it during the Vietnam War and the Air Force did it after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Among the groups subjected to military spying in the name of protecting military facilities from terrorism was a band of Quakers organizing a peace rally in Florida.
LinX administrators say it is nothing more than an information-sharing network that connects records from participating police departments across the country.
LinX was created in 2003 and put under NCIS, which has counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering missions in addition to responsibility for criminal investigations. LinX was originally supposed to help NCIS protect naval bases from terrorism.
The number of records in the system has mushroomed from about 50 million in 2007 to more than 10 times that number today.
Background checks for gun sales and applications for concealed weapons permits are not included in the system, according to NCIS officials and representatives of major state and local agencies contacted by the Examiner.
The nomination failed to go forward in the Senate both times, largely because of what the NRA described as Traver’s advocacy for stricter gun laws.
He became NCIS director in October.
NCIS officials could not say how much has been spent on LinX since it was created 2003. They provided figures since the 2008 fiscal year totaling $42.3 million. Older records are not available from NCIS.
Incomplete data from USAspending.gov shows at least $7.2 million more was spent between 2003 and 2008. The actual figure is probably much higher, since the spending listed on the disclosure site only totals $23 million since 2003.
Other law enforcement databases have limited information on things like criminal histories, said Kris Peterson, LinX division chief at NCIS.
More detailed narratives and things like radio dispatch logs and pawn shop records don’t show up in those databases, but are available in LinX, he said.
Participating agencies must feed their information into the federal data warehouse and electronically update it daily in return for access.
Why LinX wound up in the NCIS, a military law enforcement agency, is not clear. Current NCIS officials could not explain the reasoning, other than to say it grew out of the department’s need for access to law enforcement records relevant to criminal investigations.
A 2008 investigation into the removal of nine U.S. attorneys during the George W. Bush administration found that an overly aggressive push for DOJ to embrace LinX led to the firing of John McKay, then the U.S. attorney for western Washington state.
Neither McKay nor David Brant, head of NCIS at the time, could be reached for comment.
The FBI, a DOJ entity, has since built its own system similar to LinX, called the National Data Exchange or N-Dex.
The systems are connected, and much of the information in N-Dex comes from LinX, said Christopher Cote, assistant director for information technology at NCIS.
Putting the military in control of so much information about civilians is what makes people like Fidell nervous.
Americans have distrusted the use of the military for civilian law enforcement since before the Revolutionary War, he said.
Since the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, it has been illegal for the military to engage in domestic law enforcement except in limited circumstances, such as quelling insurrections.
The limits in the law were largely undefined for almost a century. In 1973, the Army provided logistical support for FBI agents trying to break the standoff with American Indian Movement militants at Wounded Knee, S.D.
Several criminal defendants later argued the use of the military was illegal under Posse Comitatus.
Ensuing court decisions decreed that using the military for direct policing, such as making arrests or conducting searches, was illegal and should be left to civilian departments. Providing logistical support, equipment and information are allowed.
Since then, the law has been loosened to allow limited military participation in certain large-scale anti-drug investigations.
“The history of these programs is that they tend to metastasize and that there is mission creep that involves gathering far more information than is needed,” said Healy.
“In general, what you see in these programs is they start out very narrow and they expand beyond the limits of their original logic. Repeatedly throughout American history, what starts small becomes larger, more intrusive, more troubling,” he said.
LinX can only be used for law enforcement purposes, though intelligence and counter-terror officers at NCIS do have access to the system, Cote said. TALON was primarily an intelligence-gathering network.
The rules governing LinX are almost identical to those controlling other federal databases run by the FBI, he said.
While NCIS is a military police unit, its agents are civilian employees equivalent to those at the FBI and other federal agencies, said NCIS spokesman Ed Buice.
While there are limits on military enforcement of civilian laws, it is allowed if it is done “primarily for a military purpose,” which is how NCIS uses the system, Buice said.
Before LinX was launched, NCIS briefed representatives of the ACLU, “who didn’t even blink,” he added.
Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU, said he doesn’t know who, if anyone, in the organization would have told the Navy that LinX raised no concerns.
Calabrese was not particularly troubled about LinX being run by the military, though he did question why it is necessary since most of the same information is available in the FBI’s N-Dex database.
Generally, the ACLU recognizes the need for police to collect and share information about criminal activity — things like felony histories and outstanding warrants.
Civil libertariansget more concerned as more trivial information on average citizens is collected under the guise of protecting the public, especially absent some reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, he said.
Pawn shop records and parking tickets are that kind of questionable information.
“To me, that may be where you are starting to cross the line on mass collection of information on innocent people just because you can,” Calabrese said.
“We live now in a world of records where everything we do is generating a record. So the standard can’t be, ‘We have to keep it all because it might be useful for something some day.’ The rationale has to be more finely tuned than that,” he said.
Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers speaks at the Center for Information Dominance, Unit Monterey, Calif., on Jan. 31, 2012. Photo by Mc1 Nate Guimont/AFP/Getty Images
By David E. Sanger
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, President Obama’s nominee to run the National Security Agency, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he had seen evidence of broad cyberattacks on the new Ukraine government, but he declined to say whether the Russian government was the source, or how much damage the attacks had done.
“We see it today in Ukraine,” Admiral Rogers, who heads the Navy’s Fleet cyber command, said of the cyberattacks. Asked if he expected the government of President Vladimir V. Putin to increase attacks on the Ukrainian government, he said that “clearly cyber will be an element of every crisis we see in the future,” citing past Russian attacks on Georgia and Estonia.
Admiral Rogers was cautious in what he said in the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which reviews his nomination because Admiral Rogers would also be heading United States Cyber Command, responsible for both cyberoffensive and defensive operations. He promised that the N.S.A.’s programs, including its domestic surveillance activities, would become “more transparent,” and said he would “assure a sense of accountability” for the agency’s activities.
But he declined to be specific about how he might change the collection of telephone metadata or other information about the communications of Americans, other than to say that he had concerns that if the United States did not keep the data itself, it could slow the agency’s ability to search for links to suspected terrorists.
At another point in the hearing, Admiral Rogers said he believed that both the United States and Defense Department systems were both still vulnerable to major attacks, and would be until “a new architecture” was in place to defend them. “It’s only a matter of time, I believe, before we start to see more destructive activity,” he said.
It started with Edward J. Snowden’s leaks of stolen N.S.A. documents and ended with a holiday letter to families of agency employees declaring that despite what everyone was hearing on television and reading in the papers, their relatives were heroes, not violators of privacy rights.
In recent weeks it has gotten tougher. Mr. Obama has moved from lukewarm defenses of the agency’s programs to embracing recommendations to take the bulk collection of telephone call records out of the N.S.A.’s hands.
Google and Yahoo say they are equipping themselves with new technologies designed to defeat N.S.A. interception, and the general counsel of Microsoft blogged not long ago that “government snooping potentially now constitutes an ‘advanced persistent threat,’ ” a phrase normally used to describe China’s most sophisticated hackers.
And to stop leakers, the agency plans to step up its monitoring of calls, emails and financial transactions of agency employees, a move the N.S.A.’s privacy critics find particularly rich in irony.
Friends of Admiral Rogers in the intelligence community, who have worked with him in his current job running the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, say they wonder whether he has a sense of what he is wading into.
“Why would anyone in his right mind be director of N.S.A. right now?” asked John R. Schindler, a former N.S.A. officer who is now a professor at the Naval War College. “It’s a massive political headache.”
Mr. Schindler, echoing intelligence officials who know Admiral Rogers, said he is “superbly qualified” to guide the agency’s cyber and surveillance programs. But he added that “no director in the agency’s history has ever walked into this big a challenge.”
“Rogers is taking over what they call in the Navy an ‘unhappy ship,’ ” he said.
The question resonating inside the N.S.A. recently is whether Admiral Rogers is prepared to become the public face — and public defender — of such an embattled agency, a job his predecessor, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, took on with gusto. Just last week, General Alexander was at Georgetown University, defending the agency’s programs, arguing that the Snowden disclosures had weakened American cyberdefenses, and gently mocking how much oversight the agency receives. “We’re reviewed by the general counsel and the inspector general” of the Departments of Defense, the director of national intelligence, the White House, Congress and many others, he said, giving a taste of how many minders Admiral Rogers will have to face.
The Olympics can’t disguise his quest for dominion
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the cross country skiing men’s relay during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 16. (Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin )
With the Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped to rivet the world’s attention on the New and Improved Russia, a rising-again world power to be reckoned with, a country on the road to global glory.
And why not? Things have been going Putin’s way. His brinkmanship forestalled a U.S. strike on Russia’s man in Damascus, President Bashar Assad. National Security Agency leaker in chief Edward Snowden is safely ensconced in Moscow, thumbing his nose at Washington. And long-downtrodden Russia now hosts … an Olympiad!
Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead recently summed up Putin’s political prowess in The Wall Street Journal:
The most daring and acrobatic figure in Sochi this week isn’t a snowboarder; it is Vladimir Putin, whose death-defying geopolitical gamble is the hottest game in town. … Russian diplomacy is a dazzling spectacle these days — and despite his considerable handicaps, Mr. Putin is skating rings around his clumsy and clueless opponents in Washington and Brussels.
But Sochi isn’t a Russian triumph, and we’re not just talking about the Russian hockey team’s loss to the U.S.
The spectacle of Sochi’s ice dancers, skiers and snowboarders — the free world gathered in peaceful competition — now competes for headlines with increasingly bloody, fiery protests in Ukraine that Putin helped ignite.
In brief: Late last year, Ukraine was on the brink of signing a trade and integration deal with the European Union, and many Ukrainians hoped that westward tilt would boost the country’s economy and bring genuine democracy.
But such a deal also would have deep-sixed Putin’s hope to rebuild a Soviet-like sphere of power over neighboring countries. So Putin persuaded (ahem) Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to snub the EU with a last-minute offer to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian debt and to slash the price of Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine.
Protests erupted. The government cracked down. On Thursday, fighting between police and protesters intensified, triggering fears that Yanukovych would declare a state of emergency and call in the military. The death toll is mounting.
The Olympic spotlight dims Sunday when the Games close. And with that, no more distractions from the status quo ante: The corrosive reality of Vladimir Putin’s Russia will again take center stage.
Despite its oil and gas resources, Russia’s economy is wobbly, its growth rate last year an anemic 1.3 percent, down from 3.4 percent in 2012. Putin has failed to build a robust, free-market economy or anything close to a full-fledged democracy where dissent is tolerated if not somewhat encouraged. The Kremlin’s heavy-handed political, diplomatic and economic tactics spook many investors.
These days, Russians also are enduring the “most severe crackdown against human rights since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says the pro-democracy organization Freedom House. Putin has harassed advocacy organizations under the pretense of shielding Russia from “foreign agents.” Many organizations have been subjected to “aggressive and intrusive” inspections, Human Rights Watch says.
One image from this week captures perfectly how Putin’s thin-skinned Russia handles criticism: Cossack militias apparently attacked the punk activist group Pussy Riot — young women in neon-colored balaclavas — with pepper spray and whips as they prepared to play a new song, “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland.”
They were whipped for trying to sing a song.
Putin’s Iron Curtain has a zero-sum relationship with the West. If Russia reasserts dominance over parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the U.S. and its allies lose. If Ukrainian protesters force a rapprochement between their country and the EU, it is Putin who loses.
Ukraine is on the brink now. It could again become a loyal client state of Russia, firmly under Putin’s iron thumb. Or … it could move closer to the West, spoiling Putin’s dream of greater regional and world influence.
That’s a competition the U.S. and its European allies must win.