Posts Tagged ‘Snowden’

While U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Is In Beijing, China and The U.S. Look Thousands of Miles Apart in Their Outlooks — Even Confrontational

April 8, 2014


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.”

While the bulk of Hagel’s remarks on Thursday were conciliatory and forward-looking, he wagged his finger at one point, protesting China’s surprise establishment last year of an air defense zone in an area that includes the islands that are the subject of Beijing’s dispute with Tokyo.

“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.


Gu Jinglu in Beijing contributed to this report.



Chuck Hagel and Chang Wanquan

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 “Wagging His Finger” Gets A Chilly Response From His Host Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan

April 8, 2014


Chuck Hagel and Chang Wanquan

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.

Read the rest:



Associated Press

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.

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)

Ex-CIA boss Hayden: Dangling convicted spy Pollard in peace talks looks desperate

April 7, 2014


Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden

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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

“The idea that al-Qaeda core is going away is widely held in the Obama Administration and this belief is inconsistent with the facts that we know.” — Mike Rogers

April 4, 2014


Mike Rogers.


House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., at a press conference in Washington, March 25, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The idea that al-Qaeda core is going away is widely held in the Obama Administration and this belief  is inconsistent with the facts that we know.

By Time Magazine


The retiring House Intelligence Committee chief tells TIME that Obama is leaving terrorists “on the battlefield,” and explains his charge that Edward Snowden is “under the influence” of Russia’s security service

When you think of spring break, you probably don’t envision a congressional hearing on Benghazi. But politics runs deep in the home of Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, whose college-age son is spending his time off from school in Washington, D.C., this month, and who attended the hearing his dad convened Wednesday on the 2012 tragedy in Libya that Republicans call a scandal and Democrats a dead horse. “Don’t give him any ideas,” Rogers said with a chuckle when TIME suggested to his son that spring break should be enjoyed on a Florida beach, not in a Rayburn building hearing room.

It’s actually the elder Rogers who’s about to enjoy a good time. After more than a decade in Congress, the Michigan Republican announced last week that he’s leaving the Hill at the end of this year to become a talk-radio host, with a national show syndicated by Cumulus Media. The salary is undisclosed, but presumably large enough for a few luxurious beach vacations. And for a man who loves to talk — Rogers has long been a fixture on political television — the new gig should be a breeze.

Nor does Rogers seem to be foreclosing a political future, unlike the countless members of Congress who jump to lucrative influence-peddling jobs. “I don’t think I’m done with government service,” Rogers said with a knowing smile, before unsubtly offering that his show will reach primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (Presidential intention or PR gimmick? You decide.)

For now, though, Rogers is still in the thick of it — consumed by the parade of horribles on view in his regular classified briefings, fretting about America’s myriad vulnerabilities. In a TIME Newsmaker interview, Rogers talked about which threats worry him most, his belief that President Barack Obama has gone too soft on al-Qaeda and just what he means when he says Edward Snowden is “under the influence” of Russian officials. Here’s a partial transcript:

You just held yet another hearing on Benghazi, this one featuring former deputy CIA director Michael Morell. So much has been said about that night already — did you really take away anything new?

The takeaway is that the CIA had all the relevant information. There was confusion in the day or day after the attack, but it started to gel that this was an al-Qaeda extremist event — yet the narrative of the Administration never changed.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02:  Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of

Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Isn’t one reason the Benghazi debate never ends that people disagree about whether it’s correct to call it an “al-Qaeda event”? Even if people with al-Qaeda connections were involved, that doesn’t mean it was planned and organized by core al-Qaeda leaders. Which is what the New York Times reported in December.

That all went out the window today when the deputy director of the CIA said that the reason he removed references to al-Qaeda from the talking points was because they had sources that said al-Qaeda participated in the event, and in their mind they didn’t want to disclose those sources. [See here for more on Morell’s testimony and this dispute.]

We have numerous people that we know participated in the Benghazi attacks affiliated with al-Qaeda that are still on the battlefield. We have the capacity to get them but there’s no planning to get them. We have other serious al-Qaeda threats that normally we would take off the battlefield, but because of this Administration’s more kinder, gentler approach we have not done that.

In the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. in Benghazi, Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens (right, above) was killed, along with State Department staffer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. No one has ever been held accountable for this attack.

What do you mean by a “kinder, gentler” approach? Is that because the pace of drone strikes seems to have slowed?

I’m not allowed to talk about specific programs. But I can tell you that there are ways that we have taken people off the battlefield that have been disruptive to their ability to plan operations, and there are cases where we are no longer doing that.

And if you have serious al-Qaeda players remaining on the battlefield because of bureaucracy created here, that’s a problem. We know from the 9/11 Commission that once nothing happened after the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in 2000, the psychology of that empowered al-Qaeda and led them to do bigger and bolder things. Which led to 9/11.

Above: Bomb dame to USS Cole

The old slogan is that Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive, and that al-Qaeda core is going away. Which is inconsistent with the facts that we know. And it concerns me that it is translated into policy. If you tell everybody that works for you that al-Qaeda’s not that big a threat, well, guess what? Their decisions will reflect that.

You get classified briefings. Apart from al-Qaeda, what worries you the most?

Oh, which one? Cyber is the biggest national-security threat I’ve ever seen, one that we’re not prepared to deal with. Disengaging the size and scope of our military has sent a pretty awful message — it has said to countries they can invade their neighbors without fear of retribution. Radiological material, black-market issues around the world. Iran’s interest in getting a nuclear weapon.

How about bioterror? Not everyone thinks it’s a serious threat.

I do worry. It’s cheap. That’s worrisome. I did a biodefense bill to stockpile prophylactics. I still worry about it, because we know it’s out there and we know that al-Qaeda has talked about trying to get their hands on it.

You have said that Edward Snowden is “under the influence” of Russian officials. What does that mean, exactly? That they house him? Pay him? Recruited him? People say you’re casting aspersions without evidence.

The NSA contractor is definitely under the influence of Russian officials. We know that he was in China, Hong Kong anyway, and in Russia today. We have seen patterns and activities that lead us to believe that some or all of that information is being worked through by those intelligence services and putting the U.S. at risk.

“The NSA contractor” — you don’t use his name?

I think people have wrongly given him some elevated status, and he has some kind of an underground rock-star status. He’s a traitor who puts our soldiers lives at risk.

So what exactly does “under the influence” of Russian officials mean?

First of all, he’s living about a mile from the FSB [Russian security service] facilities. We know he has regular conversations with the FSB. And remember we have a long history of both KGB and FSB operations, we know how they work. The FSB grabbed a guy off the street in Kiev who was involved in the street protests, cut his ear off, drilled a hole in his hand — all to make him confess that he took money from the Americans to foment problems in Kiev. This wasn’t 1950, it wasn’t 1960, wasn’t 1970. This was this year.

So we see how they get people to cooperate, the kind of tactics that they use. And it is absolutely naive to believe that this guy who we know has been in the custody of intelligence agents of the Russian Federation, who has been housed in the joint facility, who got permission to go to work — that’s just not happening without their approval.

Russian FSB

You’re saying he’s housed in a “joint facility”?

No, no, not a joint facility. He’s housed very near an FSB facility. Makes it convenient for everybody.

And remember we have other classified ways as well. That’s why no counterintelligence official does not believe that today he’s under the influence.

But that’s not the debate. The debate is, when did it start? Did it start in 2010 when he was taking classes in India, and made it known — in a place that is frequented by Russian intelligence officials — made it very clear that he was working for a U.S. intelligence agency? We don’t know, exactly. The FBI would call that a clue. In the spy business you call that a dangle.

We have other cases, you can go back and look at the history of profiles of someone who did not get along with co-workers, who had employment-history problems. This guy fits the profile to a T. I get worried when people want to think he’s something different than he is.

You took over the House Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Is the average American more or less safe today?

Oof. [Pauses.] Again, there are counterterrorism policies that I disagree with that I argue put us in a more dangerous position today. On this committee, I think the oversight is far better, I think the budgeting is far better. We chased partisanship out of the committee.

We engaged in constructive investigations — the Huawei investigation, for example, where it was darn close that the Chinese government was going to own the pipes through which all our private information traveled within the United States. And that is no longer the case, because of the work of our report. We have moved the country to a better place to be better protected on a whole host of threats.

Will you have more influence as a talk-radio host than you do as a Congressman?

The opportunity is pretty significant. It’s across the country. It’s talking to people every single day to develop a relationship. The kinds of things I was able to do at the committee never get talked about. This notion that if we just hide under our desks, the rest of the world will leave us alone and we’ll have a prosperous nation is dangerous. And that perspective is there on both the right and the left.

I think more people will tune in, and we’ll have better, more fired-up and productive conservatives at the end of the day.

And if a Republican is elected in 2016, will you return to run the CIA, FBI or Department of Homeland Security?

I never say never. I don’t think I’m done with government service. We’ll see what role it takes.

I look forward to the opportunity to talk to people in Iowa and New Hampshire too, that’d be nice. And of course New Mexico, Michigan and South Carolina. ["Ooo-kay," an aide says warily, ending the interview on schedule. Rogers laughs.]

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and readability.




Obama’s NSA Plan Wins Early Praise But Faces a Long Legislative Process

March 26, 2014


“It marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government.”

President Obama’s plan to end the sweeping collection of phone records while giving the NSA access to cellphone numbers faces a long legislative process. But many in Congress cheer the idea.

By Ken Dilanian
The Los Angeles Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama‘s new plan for the National Security Agency would significantly curb its authority, ending its vast collection of Americans’ telephone records, but at the same time give the spy agency access to millions of cellphone records it currently does not reach.

The compromise, which would require Congress‘ approval, won praise Tuesday from prominent lawmakers, including leading defenders and critics of the agency. But it faces a lengthy legislative process during which the agency will continue to collect and store the records of millions of U.S. telephone calls.

At a news conference in The Hague, where he took part in a world meeting on nuclear security, Obama said the Justice Department and intelligence agencies had given him “an option that I think is workable” and that “addresses the two core concerns that people have” about the most controversial surveillance program revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.


The first concern, Obama said, was that the government not control a vast archive of U.S. telephone call data. Currently, the NSA collects records of virtually all land-line telephone calls in the U.S. and stores them for five years.

Under the administration proposal, the government would no longer keep that archive. Instead, all telephone companies, including cellphone providers, would be required to keep call records for 18 months, the current industry standard.

The second concern, Obama said, was that the NSA be allowed to search only those phone records under a specific court order. Previously, a blanket court order required telephone companies to turn call records over to the NSA, but no judge scrutinized analysts’ decisions about which numbers to look at.

In February, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved Obama’s request to require judicial approval for each search. The new proposal would write that requirement into law, with an exception for emergencies.

U.S. intelligence agencies have to “win back the trust, not just of governments but more importantly of ordinary citizens” around the world, Obama said. Doing so is “not going to happen overnight because I think that there’s a tendency to be skeptical of government and to be skeptical, in particular, of U.S. intelligence services,” he added.

The new plan should help make Americans more comfortable with the surveillance program, he said. Obama repeated his belief that “some of the reporting here in Europe, as well as the United States, frankly, has been pretty sensationalized,” and he said that U.S. intelligence analysts had exercised their authority judiciously. But such power could be abused in the future, he said.

“The fears about our privacy in this age of the Internet and big data are justified,” he said.

The NSA does not obtain the contents of communications under the telephone program. But the ability to map a person’s communications with times, dates and the numbers called can provide a window into someone’s activities and connections.

Snowden’s disclosures to journalists made the existence of the program public in June. It was the first of a stream of stories that have revealed some of the government’s most sensitive electronic intelligence efforts.

In a statement through his lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, called Obama’s proposal a “turning point.”

“It marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government,” his statement said.

The NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander, also embraced the proposal. “I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think it addresses our counter-terrorism operational mission requirements,” he said in an interview.

Alexander, who is retiring Friday, has been lobbying members of Congress to adopt the plan. NSA officials consider the compromise the best outcome the agency could hope for, particularly since its authority to collect phone records will expire in 18 months unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Congressional critics of the spy agency praised some aspects of the proposal, but urged the NSA to immediately halt further collection of telephone records until Congress acts.

“This is the start of the end of dragnet surveillance in America,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Joined by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in an unusual bipartisan alliance, Wyden has pressured the White House over the NSA’s activities.

“They can stop immediately,” Paul said. “There’s nothing forcing them to keep collecting the data.”

Administration officials, however, say they plan to continue the collection for at least three more months while Congress debates. They have not ruled out continuing longer if Congress does not act.

Two leading NSA supporters, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, unveiled their own proposal Tuesday that tracks the White House plan in most respects, with a major exception: It would not require court approval each time phone records are searched.

The parts of the administration proposal dealing with cellphone companies would provide significant benefits for the NSA, Alexander acknowledged in the interview. Although the agency’s archive includes hundreds of millions of telephone records, U.S. officials disclosed last month that it did not reach a large segment of cellphone calls. As a result, the NSA may collect only about 30% of call data in the country.

The administration’s new plan would require cellphone providers to keep records much as land-line companies do, significantly expanding the NSA’s access to information.

“This could actually make the program more efficient and more effective [and] at the same time more protective of civil liberties,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who proposed legislation in January similar to the White House plan.

White House officials have been laying the groundwork with phone service providers, which would be required to standardize their records and make them available on a continuously updated basis. The NSA would be allowed to search up to two “hops” of phone numbers connected to a number linked to a terrorist, meaning all the numbers connected to the suspect number and all the numbers connected to that first set of connections.

The once-secret program, authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, is used by the NSA to analyze links between callers in an effort to identify hidden terrorist plots in the United States. Intelligence officials have said it played a role in thwarting at least a dozen terrorist plots. Critics say only one case was discovered as a direct result of a phone record search — an Anaheim cab driver who was sentenced last month to six years in prison for sending money to Somalia’s Al Qaeda affiliate.

Lisa Mascaro in the Washington bureau and Times staff writer Kathleen Hennessey in The Hague contributed to this report.,0,6343193.story#ixzz2x3WDgxcc

Obama: US must ‘win back the trust of ordinary citizens’ over data collection

March 25, 2014


President confirms plans to end NSA bulk telephone collection, and admits revelations have shaken faith in US intelligence

By Spencer Ackerman and Julian Borger
The Guardian

Barack Obama in The Hague..


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.

Obama May End NSA Bulk Phone Records Collection

March 25, 2014

By Charlie Savage
The New York Times

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 proposal would not, however, affect other forms of bulk collection under the same provision. The C.I.A., for example, has obtained orders for bulk collection of records about international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union.

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.

A review group appointed by Mr. Obama and an independent federal privacy watchdog both called for major changes to the program; the latter also concluded that the bulk collection is illegal, rejecting the government’s Patriot Act interpretation.

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.


CIA ‘illegally searched Senate computers’ in power struggle over torture report

March 11, 2014

Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee Photo: Pete Marovich/ Bloomberg
Raf Sanchez

By , Washington

The CIA illegally searched Senate computers as part of a shadowy campaign to   conceal details of its “un-American, brutal” torture programme, a   senior senator claimed today.

Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee, made the   accusations in a dramatic speech that shed light on the behind-the-scenes   power struggle between the US   Congress and America’s lead spy agency

Mrs Feinstein said she had “grave concerns” that CIA agents had   violated the US constitution and were trying to “intimidate” the   Senate committee meant to ensure their operations remained within the law.

Demanding an apology from the CIA’s director, Mrs Feinstein warned that this   was “a defining moment” for the relationship between the   democratically-elected Congress and the US’s intelligence agencies.

The CIA denied hacking into the Senate’s computers or that it was trying to   thwart the investigation into the torture programme, saying that “nothing   could be further from the truth”.

The confrontation stems from Mrs Feinstein’s effort to compile a comprehensive   and public account of the CIA torture programme carried out at Guantanamo   Bay and “black site” prisons around the world in wake of the   September 11 attacks.

The programme – which included simulated drowning and the sub-contracting out   of torture to foreign spy agencies – was ordered by the Bush administration   but halted when President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Although the CIA has fought to keep details of the programme secret, it agreed   to hand over 6.2 million documents to the staff of the Senate intelligence   committee and create a secure network for the documents to be searched.

Mrs Feinstein said that among those files was an “especially significant”   internal CIA review document on the torture programme.

The review, which was never intended to be seen outside the CIA, contradicted   claims that the agency was making in official submissions to the Senate.

“That’s what makes [it] so significant and important to protect,”   Mrs Feinstein said.

The CIA claims it never handed over the internal review and that Senate   investigators must have obtained it by illicit means. In an effort to figure   out where it had come from they broke into the Senate’s secure network and   began deleting files, Mrs Feinstein claimed.

“The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had   access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it,” Mrs Feinsten   said. “Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s   computers.”

In an extraordinary step, the CIA even approached the Department of Justice   and accused the Senate staff of breaking the law.

“There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that   Senate staff may have committed a crime,” Mrs Feinstein said, calling   the move “a potential effort to intimidate this staff – and I am not   taking it lightly.”

John Brennan, the director of the CIA, denied the allegations today saying: “Nothing   could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that.”

He added that “appropriate authorities” would investigate whether   the law had been broken by either the CIA or staff on the Senate   intelligence committee.

The California senator’s accusations are given added weight by the fact that   she has been “a defender” of US intelligence agencies in the wake   of Edward Snowden’s disclosures of mass surveillance by the NSA, said   Stephen Rickard, executive director of the Open Society Policy Centre.

Mrs Feinstein said she came to the Senate floor to make the allegations “reluctantly”   and only after exhausting private channels for resolving the conflict.

Mrs Feinstein is now pushing to declassify portions of her committee’s 6,200   report into the CIA torture programme. The White House supports   declassification but it must first pass a vote of the Senate’s 15-member   intelligence committee.

“If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that   an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never   again be considered or permitted,” she said.

Mr Obama ended the programme in 2009 but also ruled out prosecuting CIA agents   or senior officials involved. No American has ever faced criminal charges   over the programme.

“The American people and the world need to have confidence that someone   is truly conducting independent oversight of the intelligence community,”   said Mr Rickard.

When Putin wins, the U.S. and its allies lose

February 21, 2014

The Olympics can’t disguise his quest for dominion

Russian President Putin

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.



Viktor Yanukovych (left) with Russian president Vladimir Putin

Ukraine: Obama administration learning that Putin, Russia views the world in terms of “us or them”

February 20, 2014

Obama Learning Moscow Will Go to Great Lengths to Protect Interests in World Hot Spots

By Julian E. Barnes and Carol E. Lee
The Wall Street Journal
For the Obama administration, the fires burning in Ukraine represent a new international crisis, but one resulting from an all-too-familiar source of consternation: Vladimir Putin.In hot spots around the world, President Barack Obama repeatedly has encountered the sharp elbows of Mr. Putin: He has buttressed Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad,  offered a lifeline to Iran and embraced a controversial Egyptian commander as the country’s future leader.Mr. Putin gave asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has been leaking American surveillance secrets, and test-launched a new missile.

Similarly now in Ukraine, Washington is struggling to come to terms with the fact that Moscow under Mr. Putin is willing to spend a great deal to protect its interests and oppose U.S. goals. Mr. Putin pressured the Ukrainian government to abandon a free-trade deal with the European Union and forced President Viktor Yanukovych to choose aid from Russia over closer ties to the West.

Administration officials have defended their dealings with Mr. Putin, arguing that in some cases—such as international talks over the Syrian civil war and Iran’s nuclear program—Russia’s core interests have coincided at least partly with U.S. aims.

“American presidents, understandably for strategic reasons, want to forge a relationship with Russia that goes beyond Cold War paradigms,” said Damon Wilson, a former Bush administration official now at the Atlantic Council, a think tank.

During a day trip to Mexico, US President Barack Obama said “We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible in making sure it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way,” Obama told reporters before a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at a North American leaders summit in Toluca, Mexico. “That includes making sure the Ukrainian military does not step in to resolve issues that could be resolved by civilians.” Photo taken in Toluca, Mexico, on February 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

“But inevitably, they are dragged back to the reality that they are dealing with an interlocutor that isn’t prepared to be a partner in that effort,” Mr. Wilson said.

The realization that Moscow views the world in terms of “us or them” has been slow to dawn on the Obama administration, but is becoming more apparent to White House and national security officials, foreign-policy experts say.

The administration gave Moscow “every favorable interpretation, every benefit of the doubt” in its first years, said Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But Mr. Obama has begun to change.

“Even in the administration, they are beginning to understand this is not a question of Putin’s mood,” Mr. Aron said. “This is the geostrategic framework that Putin operates. This is how he understands re-establishing Russian greatness.”

Rebuilding Russia’s position on the world stage and its dominance in countries formerly part of the Soviet Union have been a key part of Mr. Putin’s agenda. Despite U.S. insistence that geopolitics isn’t a “them-or-us,” zero-sum game, Mr. Putin has made it clear he doesn’t agree.

“If you look at Russian foreign policy it is a negative agenda,” said Mr. Wilson of the Atlantic Council.

“The issue is restoring Russian influence by checking American power,” Mr. Wilson said.

Asked to comment on the relationship between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama, Russian officials pointed to an interview Mr. Putin gave to Russian media and the Associated Press in September.

“President Obama was not elected by the American people to be pleasant to Russia, neither was your humble servant elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone,” Mr. Putin said in the interview.

“We work, we argue, we are humans, and sometimes someone can get irritated. But I would like to repeat myself: I believe that global common interests are a good foundation for finding solutions together,” Mr. Putin said.

Obama administration officials reject the idea that Mr. Putin is gaining the upper hand, noting the problems faced by the governments of Syria and Ukraine—both allies of Moscow.

“Neither of those situations advance Russia’s interests in any way,” a senior administration official said. “If anything, these and other events demonstrate that people want democracy, they reject corruption, and they want individual opportunity and integration into the global economy.”

Still, U.S. officials expressed dismay Wednesday that Moscow has operated in secret in Ukraine while accusing the U.S. of meddling there. “They have not been transparent about what they’ve been doing in the Ukraine,” a senior State Department official said. “And we would completely reject that it is we who have been interfering.”

The U.S. took its first concrete steps against 20 Ukrainian officials Wednesday by imposing visa bans.

However, U.S. options beyond diplomatic pressure are seen as strictly limited and some government officials caution against courses of action that may not resolve the crisis.

“All that does is make you look impotent,” said another U.S. official. “What can you do that will really make a difference in what is going on there? I am not sure anyone has identified anything.”

Since Mr. Putin resumed the Russian presidency in 2012, relations between the two nations have been tense.

That culminated in the summer with Mr. Obama’s decision to back out of a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Putin during a trip to Russia. The two instead met on the sidelines of an international summit, a meeting that came at the height of the dispute over Mr. Snowden and as Mr. Obama prepared for possible military strikes on Syria.

Still, some experts believe Mr. Obama must get more directly involved.

“The president has to be willing to get involved, get his hands dirty and be willing to engage with Vladimir Putin,” said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at and Carol E. Lee at




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