Examining the U.S. response to Iran's censorship on anniversary of revolution

By Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy
Thursday, February 18, 2010

The U.S. response to Iranian censorship

The Iranian government's blanket censorship of satellite and Internet communications last week was so effective, it led many to wonder: Why didn't the U.S. government do more to stop it?

Despite strong statements from Foggy Bottom, the White House appears to be treading carefully. Three sources tell the Cable that the National Security Council discouraged Jeff Trimble, executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- the independent agency that oversees the government's media operations, including Voice of America -- from allowing VOA to attach its name to a statement last week with Deutsche Welle and the BBC protesting Iranian signal-jamming.

According to e-mails from Trimble to several Broadcasting Board of Governors staffers, the NSC first didn't want the VOA to join the statement if it mentioned "jamming." Later, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."

"NSC is ok with our confirming that jamming continues, they ask that we not say for now that it has intensified," a Feb. 11 e-mail from Trimble to several staffers read.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dan Austin, director of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said the U.S. government should not be interfering with the broadcasting board's editorial content but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines are less clear.

"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a board official told the Cable, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

VOA eventually joined the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him. His spokeswoman sent the Cable a list of actions that the broadcasting board has taken to combat Iranian censorship and referred to two previous board statements on the issue.

Stage set for new fight over missile defense

A new gambit by Russia to link missile defense to a pending nuclear arms agreement is threatening to throw another wrench into plans to quickly sign and pass the deal in Congress.

The U.S.-Russian negotiations over the update to the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty were supposed to be separate from the fraught issue of American missile defenses in Europe. After all, that's what Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to when they met in July.

Since then, Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have explicitly linked U.S. missile defense plans to the treaty. Now, two sources who were briefed on the talks say the Russians intend to release a statement declaring their right to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement if they believe that U.S. missile defense deployments upset "strategic stability."

Nothing's final until announced, but three key senators are already warning that they can't go along with that. In a not-yet-released letter obtained by the Cable, Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, both Arizona Republicans, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) warn national security adviser James L. Jones: "Even as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty."

The State Department won't comment on the record about classified negotiations but says such statements are commonplace.

"Anybody who knows anything about treaties knows that it is customary to be able to withdraw for reasons pertaining to one's national interest, so there's nothing new or diabolical here," said Jonathan Kaplan, a spokesman for Ellen Tauscher, the department's top arms-control official.

A sudden change for 'surge' architect

David Kilcullen, the former Australian military officer who was an architect of the "surge" strategy in Iraq, is among the most respected counterinsurgency gurus in Washington, a senior adviser to generals and officials in the Bush and Obama administrations and a prolific commentator on the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.

So his announcement to a private meeting of foreign policy wonks last month left many in the room scratching their heads.

Kilcullen almost missed his appointment to speak that Saturday morning, explaining that he had just spent several hours suddenly resigning from the Crumpton Group, the consulting firm headed by former State Department and CIA official Henry Crumpton, over "a matter of principle."

Kilcullen confirmed his remarks but said he couldn't discuss his departure because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement. "What I can say is that I'm still very heavily involved in work in Afghanistan and in support of foreign assistance, humanitarian work, governance and development worldwide, and have formed my own company to work in that space."

Josh Rogin reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for Foreign Policy's The Cable.

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