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Russia Denies It Leaked Ukraine Call, State Official Apologizes, U.S. Targets Companies Tied to Iran

By Sara Sorcher (@SaraSorcherNJ) and Jordain Carney (@jordainc)

Welcome to NJ's Early Bird, a morning assembly of the best national security, defense, and foreign policy coverage from around the Web.


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U.S. Targets Companies Linked to Iran
(Wall Street Journal: Sarah Portlock)
Treasury taking actions to disrupt financial, other support to country.

Russia Official Denies Leaking Envoy's Bugged Call
(Associated Press)
An aide to Russia's deputy prime minister says neither he nor the Russian government played a role in leaking the tape.


U.S. Diplomat Apologizes for Profane Remarks on the E.U.
(The Washington Post: Anne Gearan)
A recording with an undiplomatic review of the E.U.'s efforts to resolve Ukraine's political crisis is leaked ahead of talks.

Syria Government Will Join Next Round of Geneva Peace Talks: Syrian TV
(Reuters: Alexander Dziadosz)
Syria's deputy foreign minister said on Friday the government would take part in a second round of peace talks on Syria's civil war in the Swiss city of Geneva, state media reported.

Max Baucus Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China
(Associated Press)
The Senate handed the job to a lawmaker who is familiar with U.S. trade policy but has little expertise about military and other issues that have caused tensions in recent years with Beijing.

Senate Sexual-Assault Fight Renewed
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
The Senate renewed its fight over sexual assaults in the military Thursday, with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill holding dueling press conferences over whether such cases should be stripped from the military command.


General Disciplined Over Email About Member of Congress
(CNN: Barbara Starr)
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has privately disciplined one of his top generals, who has been investigated by the Army for sending an inappropriate email about a female member of Congress.


Pentagon Drops Plan to Mothball Carrier
(The Wall Street Journal: Julian Barnes)
The Pentagon has dropped a plan to retire the USS George Washington, one of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, after the White House intervened to head off a brewing political fight.

Pentagon Agency Tries to Stop Drug-Resistant Bacteria
(USA Today: Ray Locker)
The rise of drug-resistant bacteria and other biological threats has pushed the Pentagon to seek help developing small molecules that can stop some of the world's most dangerous pathogens.

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DOD Readying New Strategy for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction
(Inside Defense)
Pentagon leaders are close to approving a national defense strategy for countering weapons of mass destruction.

Defense Department Not Comfortable if Major Contractors Look to Merge: Official
(Reuters: Lewis Krauskopf)
The Defense Department remains skeptical of mergers involving its major contractors, a Pentagon official said on Wednesday.


'Cordial and Friendly' Session as Pakistan and Taliban Open Talks
(The New York Times: Salman Masood)
Pakistani government officials and Taliban representatives made their first formal contact on Thursday.

U.S. Military Sniffer Dog Captured in Afghanistan, Taliban Claim
(The Guardian: Emma Graham-Harrison)
Video of canine wearing complex harness, along with weapons that Taliban say they captured from U.S. forces, are posted online.

Between Boredom and Terror: One U.S. Soldier's Letters From Afghanistan
(The Daily Beast: Brian Castner)
From the front lines of America's war in Afghanistan a Yale graduate turned Army warrior reflected on his experience in letters home.


To Beat China, the Pentagon Needs More Drones, Missiles, Subs
(War is Boring: David Axe)
Top Chinese military planners are now convinced they could defeat the United States. And some American thinkers are coming to believe the same thing.

China Will Deploy Subs That Could Nuke Alaska or Hawaii This Year
(USNI News)
China is set to deploy submarines sometime this year armed with nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking Alaska or Hawaii, according to a January assessment from the Office of Naval Intelligence.


Twitter 'Considering Legal Options' Over U.S. Government Data Requests
(The Guardian: Samuel Gibbs)
The latest transparency report by the social network shows a 66 percent increase in government requests.

75 Percent of DOD Contractors Upped IT Security After Snowden
(Nextgov: Aliya Sternstein)
Leaks of national secrets by former federal contractor Edward Snowden drove 75 percent of U.S. defense company executives to adjust information security procedures.

Snowden Keeps Outwitting U.S. Spies
(The Daily Beast: Eli Lake)
A new assessment of the damage caused by Snowden's breach of classified U.S. intelligence networks on first glance looks catastrophic. But first impressions can be deceiving.

Senate Report Says Government Is Failing Badly at Cybersecurity
(The Verge: Chris Welch)
Government agencies often fail to take "the most basic steps" in securing data and protecting critical infrastructure, according to a Senate report.

Is Obama's Drone Program Legal? CIA's Former Top Lawyer Isn't Saying
(Defense News: John Bennett)
In his memoir, "Company Man," Rizzo declares the U.S. drone program "is here to stay."


Syria Not Deliberately Stalling on Chemicals Removal: Official
(Reuters: Michelle Nichols)
The head of an international chemical-weapons mission in Syria said she does not believe the Syrian government is deliberately delaying the transfer of its chemical arsenal abroad.

U.N. Told Syria Must Accelerate Chemical Arms Shipments: Envoy
(Reuters: Louis Charbonneau)
The head of the international chemical-weapons mission in Syria told the U.N. Security Council the deadline looming for the elimination of the government's toxic arsenal with accelerated cooperation is vital.

Survivors of Chemical Attack Want Stronger U.S. Role
(Associated Press: Henry Jackson)
"My brother's family survived the chemical weapon attack the day of the attack," Syrian refugee Amineh Sawan said. "Seven days later they were killed with a mortar shell."

Syria Puts a Crude Weapon to Deadly Use
(Associated Press: Ryan Lucas)
They are known as barrel bombs—makeshift, shrapnel-packed explosive devices that Syrian forces have been dropping on rebel-held neighborhoods from helicopters.

Syria: Deal Struck to Evacuate Civilians From Homs
(Associated Press: Ryan Lucas)
State-run Syrian TV says an agreement has been reached to evacuate civilians from besieged parts of the central city of Homs.

Activists: Syrian Rebels Free Hundreds From Prison
(Associated Press: Ryan Lucas)
Syrian rebels launched a new push in the northern province of Aleppo.


Lawmaker to Hagel: Bring Back 'Unfunded Priorities' List
(Breaking Defense: John Bennett)
A hawkish GOP lawmaker wants the Pentagon to resuscitate annual wish lists of weapon systems and other items it cannot afford.

Congress Must Make 'Unimaginable' Defense Budget Choices: HASC's Adam Smith
(Breaking Defense: Sydney Freedberg)
His greatest fear is that Congress's refusal to compromise on weapons programs, force size, pay, or benefits will force the military to cut training, ammunition, and other readiness funds.

Adam Smith's Lonely Military Pension Fight
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is in an increasingly lonely position in Congress fighting against repealing the $6 billion cut to military pensions.

Senators to Obama: Get Approval Before Keeping Troops in Afghanistan
(CBS News: Marshall Cohen)
A bipartisan group of senators wants President Obama to seek approval from Congress if he wants to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after this year.

Senate Plan to Change U.S. Military Sexual Assault Rules Still Short on Votes
(Reuters: Patricia Zengerle)
The senator leading a push to overhaul how the U.S. military handles sexual-assault complaints made an urgent appeal on Thursday for more support.

McCaskill Bill Would Require Military Health Plan to Cover Breast Pumps
(The Washington Post: Josh Hicks)
The senator introduced a bill that would require the military's health insurance program to cover breastfeeding equipment and counseling, just as the Affordable Care Act mandates for most insurance plans.


Source: Sanctions Waived for Iran Broadcaster
(Associated Press: Julie Pace)
The Obama administration is temporarily waiving sanctions on Iran's state broadcaster, a senior Obama administration official said.

Bill Clinton Urges Delay on Iran Sanctions
(Politico: Manu Raju, Burgess Everett)
Clinton privately urged Senate Democrats to delay imposing new sanctions on Iran, giving the White House a key ally.

Robert Menendez Seeks Distance From GOP on Iran Sanctions
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
But the Foreign Relations chairman remains deeply skeptical of Iran.

U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Expects Cooperation at Last in Iran Inquiry
(Reuters: Fredrik Dahl)
The U.N. nuclear watchdog hopes to persuade Iran in talks on Saturday to finally start addressing long-held suspicions it has worked on designing an atomic bomb.

Iran's Rouhani Donates $170,000 to Jewish Hospital
(Associated Press)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has donated $170,000 to the country's only Jewish hospital, his second such gesture since taking office.


Egypt's Military Denies Report That Top General to Run for President
(Associated Press)
Egypt's military says the nation's top soldier will, if he decides to run for president, announce his intention in an address to the "glorious people of Egypt," not through a third party.

Threat of Jihad Grows as Egypt Turns to El-Sisi
(Bloomberg News: Mariam Fam, Caroline Alexander)
The rise of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt is pouring fuel on an Islamist militant campaign that threatens his image as the only man who can restore stability.

Kerry Is Reluctant 'Star' of Israeli Settlers' Spoof
(Reuters: Maayan Lubell)
Trying humor over hectoring, Israeli ultranationalists have lampooned Secretary of State John Kerry in a video campaign against his troubled quest for peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

Why Is a Major U.S. Counterterrorism Partner Harboring Terrorists?
(National Journal: Matt Vasilogambros)
Turkey is arguably America's most important ally on issues in the Middle East.


TSA Bans Liquids From Carry-On Bags for All Direct Flights Between U.S. and Russia
(The Verge: Dante D'Orazio)
The news comes on the heels of a report from the Department of Homeland Security that warned airlines to be on the lookout for explosives in toothpaste containers.

Terrorists Could Already Be Inside Sochi
(The Daily Beast: Jacob Siegel)
Russia hired thousands of workers before the "ring of steel" was closed around the site of the Olympics. Security experts believe it's more than likely militants infiltrated the workforce and are waiting to strike.

Navy Warships Ready for Olympics Security
(Politico Philip Ewing)
Col. Steve Warren told reporters the ships—the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney and the frigate USS Taylor—have orders to conduct "routine security operations and patrols" and be on hand just in case of a problem in Sochi.

Russia Says It Knows Journalists Are Overhyping Sochi Hotel Problems Because It's Spying on Them
(The Huffington Post: Jack Mirkinson)
Journalists may have been tweeting about their hotel nightmares in Sochi, but the Russian government says it has proof the whole thing is overblown—because it's been spying on people in their hotel rooms.

A Brief History of Toothpaste Bombs
(Daily Beast: Brian Ries)
U.S. authorities announced they have warned Russia-bound airlines to be on the lookout for toothpaste-tube bombs. What the heck are those?


VA Accused of Changing Rules to Reach Goals
( Bryant Jordan)
Longtime allies of the Veterans Affairs Department directed some tough love at the agency on Wednesday.

Alleged Scheme Targets Military Students' Free-Tuition Assistance
(CBS News)
For those serving in the U.S. military, one benefit is free-tuition assistance for college courses, but that money may have made them targets of scam artists.

Groups: Billions Needed to Address Vets' Issues
( Matthew Burke)
The federal government will fall well short of meeting veterans' health care and benefits needs in the coming years, several leading veterans service organizations said this week.


Obama: Religious Freedom a U.S. Diplomatic Priority
(Associated Press)
President Obama told a nondenominational gathering of political leaders that freedom of religion across the world is important to national security and is a central tenet of U.S. diplomacy.


Judge Extends Delay of 9/11 Case at Guantanamo
(Associated Press)
The latest delay in the Sept. 11 war crimes case at Guantanamo is getting longer.


Administration Eases Restrictions on Asylum Seekers With Loose Terror Ties
(Fox News: Judson Berger)
The Obama administration has unilaterally eased restrictions on asylum seekers with loose or incidental ties to terror and insurgent groups.


Defense Influence: Tracking the Money
(Politico: Austin Wright, Leigh Munsil)
Neither Reps. Moran or McKeon will seek reelection, but they are the top two recipients of contributions from the defense industry this election cycle. Where's the money going?

DOD Taps Raytheon to Help Develop Cyberattack Weapon
(Inside Defense)
The Defense Department has awarded Raytheon a $9.8 million contract to continue working on a growing program to develop a prototype cyberattack weapon with the potential to deliver "kinetic effects."

DARPA Hires Raytheon to Work on Plan X Cyberwarfare Platform
(Defense Sytems)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a $9.8 million contract to Raytheon as a part of its Plan X program.


Minot Air Force Base to Announce Economic Impact
(Associated Press)
The military is slated to release a study that shows Minot Air Force Base's impact on the local economy.

Air Force Will Convene Early Retirement Board for Some Officers in June
(Stars and Stripes: Jon Harper)
The Air Force will convene an Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board on June 16 to consider early retirement for eligible officers, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.


Navy Aviators Brace for Budget Turbulence
(National Defense: Sandra Erwin)
The Navy's aviation programs are still very much under the gun. "Anything that has a big number is a target," said Rear Adm. Michael C. Manazir, director of air warfare.

Navy SEAL Admits Selling Stolen Grenades, Gas Masks
(The Virginian-Pilot: Tim McGlone)
Norfolk man admitted Thursday that he sold stolen military smoke grenades, gas masks and 200 rounds of ammunition while he was an active-duty Navy SEAL.


Coast Guard Academy Investigating Sex Abuse
A cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut has been charged with breaking into a dorm room and sexually abusing a fellow cadet.


Tech's Biggest Players Hire First NSA Lobbyist
(Politico: Tony Romm)
Apple, Google, Facebook, and five other technology giants that have banded together in their calls for surveillance reform officially registered a Washington lobbyist on Thursday.


Carney Suggests Moscow Behind Leaked Ukraine Call
(The Hill: Julian Pecquet, Justin Sink)
The White House is suggesting that Moscow is behind a leaked phone call in which a top U.S. official can be heard saying "f--k the EU."

In Purported Recording of U.S. Diplomat, Blunt Talk on Ukraine
(The Washington Post Anne Gearan)
When diplomats are overheard being undiplomatic, the result can be awkward.

Ukraine Protest Leader Says He Was Tortured Into Saying He Was a U.S. Spy
Antigovernment activist Dmytro Bulatov calls for guarantee he will not be prosecuted after fleeing to Lithuania.

Putin Aide Warns U.S. on Ukraine, Says Russia Could Act
(Reuters: Matt Spetalnick)
A senior Kremlin aide accused the United States on Thursday of arming Ukrainian "rebels" and, urging the Kiev government to put down what he called an attempted coup.

Aid to Russia Leader Vladimir Putin Claims U.S. Giving Ukraine Opposition '$20 Million a Week'
A senior Kremlin aide accused the United States on Thursday of arming Ukrainian "rebels."

Samantha Power Offers to Join Pussy Riot
(Politico: Tal Kopan)
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is making it clear that she stands with Russian punk group Pussy Riot even if it means joining the band.

Poland May Seek Access to Guantanamo Suspects
(Associated Press: Monika Scislowska)
Polish prosecutors may seek access to terror suspects detained by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay for direct questioning as part of an investigation into whether a secret CIA prison operated here in 2002-03, an official said Thursday.


Cuban's Asylum Bid Challenges Brazil, U.S.
(The Wall Street Journal: John Lyons, Matt Cowley)
Application at the U.S. Embassy in Brasília raises risk of political headaches for President Rousseff, further strain to relations with Washington.


2014 Looks Like a Year for Big Mergers in Defense Services
(Forbes: Loren Thompson)
Five years into the Obama era, it's clear that technology outlays are taking a bigger hit than other types of military spending, so industry will have to rationalize.

Defense Spending After 2015: It's Anyone's Guess
(National Defense: Sandra Erwin)
The powers that be must soon make a decision on how to cut military spending before sequestration returns in 2016.

Insiders: The Value of Snowden's Disclosures Was Not Worth National Security Damage
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
Experts' views appear to contrast with those of American public.

Rings of Fire
(Foreign Policy: Michael Rubin)
Why the Olympics actually don't bring the world together.

Bringing a Hard Edge to Soft Power
(Huffington Post: Philip Seib)
Politics and the scarcity of common sense have led to soft power being pushed out of the policy mainstream, consigned to the backwaters of wishful thinking. Correcting this, in the United States at least, will require structural change.

Obama Suggested Change Was Coming to U.S.-Cuba Relations, but Little Has Happened Since
(Reuters: David Adams, Daniel Trotta)
U.S. relations with Cuba are at their best in almost two decades, but President Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress.

The New GI Bill's Strangest Provisions: From Surveillance to Diseases
(The Guardian: Jana Kasperkevic)
Citing covert smoke-detector cameras and banning bonuses from the boss, the new GI Bill covers much more than college tuition.

Explained: How Big Is Sochi's Terrorism Problem?
(Mother Jones: Dana Liebelson)
"It would be safer if we had the Olympics in North Korea. At least they don't have an active terrorist group blowing things up."

'I Don't Bluff'
(Mosaic Magazine: Michael Doran)
Suppose the president never intended to roll back Iran's nuclear program. How then would he proceed?

Salt and Terror in Afghanistan
(Huffington Post: Kathy Kelly)
The sums of money required to fund delivery of iodine and fortified foods to malnourished Afghan children should be compared, I believe, to the sums of money that the Pentagon's insatiable appetite for war-making has required of U.S. people.

Kerry's Israel Boycott Talk Will Backfire
(Bloomberg: Jeff Goldberg)
I think that Kerry has been making one mistake in his approach to these negotiations: His need to publicly invoke—repeatedly—the specter of an international campaign to boycott Israel is not helping advance his cause.

A Syria Hawk's Failure to Learn the Lessons of Iraq
(The Atlantic: Conor Friedersdorf)
What gives Richard Cohen confidence that his sweeping foreign policy pronouncements are correct?

Victoria Nuland's Plan for Ukraine
(The National Interest: Jacob Heilbrunn)
It is good to know that Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, is not shy about venting her frustrations with the European Union.

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Keeps me informed about national leadership concerns."

Senior Military Officer

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Mark, Compensation Analyst

Timely and informative."

Dave, HR specialist

I can browse over breakfast or while on the metro."

AJ, US Army Officer

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