News Roundup and Notes: May 2, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

Major U.S technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, are changing their policies to give users notification when the government has seized their data, unless a judge or other legal authority specifically orders them not to do so.  [The Hill; Politico] Craig Timberg [Washington Post] writes that the DOJ says the change will threaten investigations.

Yesterday, the White House issued a report, chiefly authored by John Podesta, that recommends government limits on how private companies make use of data they collect from customers online.  The report notes that “there is a ‘profound question’ about whether the kind of metadata [that is collected] ‘should be accorded stronger privacy protections than they are currently.’” [New York Times’ David Sanger and Steve Lohr].

Shane Harris [Foreign Policy] writes that Lt. Gen. Mary Legere is poised to become the next director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). If she gets the job, she will be the first female to head the DIA.

It appears that talks between the U.S. and Germany to reach a “no spy” agreement between the two countries has collapsed, writes David Sanger [New York Times].

Ukraine

In a significant escalation of the conflict, on Friday at least two Ukrainian attack helicopters have been downed by pro-Russian rebel forces near the eastern city of Slavyansk, Ukraine’s Security Service has confirmed [Kyiv Post; Reuters]. The events occurred after it was reported on Friday morning that Ukraine has launched a large-scale assault to retake the eastern city [The Guardian].

Despite White House claims that sanctions are having a “significant impact” on the Russian economy, recently economic indicators are showing that the U.S. sanctions are having only a limited effect. As Peter Baker and Andrew Kramer [New York Times] write, the Russian ruble and Russia stock markets are slightly stronger than they were before the first U.S. sanctions were announced.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with President Obama tomorrow, she will deliver a clear message from some of German’s largest businesses: end the sanctions against Russia. [Matthew Karnitschnig, Wall Street Journal]

Meanwhile, Doug Cameron [Wall Street Journal] reports that the sanctions against Russia are barring the Pentagon from making any new deals with its main supplier of rocket engines used to send U.S. military and intelligence satellites into space because of ties with Russia.

Speaking with Chancellor Merkel on Thursday, Vladimir Putin said that the Ukraine must remove its military from the southeastern region of the country to resolve the showdown with pro-Russian militants. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar] The White House, however, called Putin’s request “preposterous” [The Hill].

As the crisis between Ukraine and Russia deepens, Ukraine’s acting President has issued a decree reinstating military conscription [BBC].

In separate op-eds in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) argue against President’s Obama’s foreign policy, specifically with respect to the Ukraine crisis. While Anne Applebaum writes that if the EU wants to seriously think strategically about countering Russian influence in eastern and western Europe, it should create an energy union.

Benghazi

Republicans in Congress are turning up the heat on President Obama on Benghazi, questioning whether the Administration violated a congressional subpoena by withholding documents which include certain emails addressed to Susan Rice containing previously unseen talking points on the Benghazi attacks [The Hill].  House Republicans accuse the administration of lying about its role in drafting talking points about the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya [Politico’s Lauren French].

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress as to why the newly revealed emails were not previously disclosed to Congress [The Hill].

But Justin Sink writes that White House press secretary Jay Carney has criticized the media and Republicans for attempting to spin conspiracy theories into a political controversy.

Testifying before the House oversight committee, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, a high ranking officer in the U.S. Africa Command on the night of the 2012 attack, said that the U.S. military could have done more to stop the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi [The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake].  However, Rep. Buck McKeon challenged the testimony saying that he thought the military had responded the best it could to the attack [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

Afghanistan

Tim Craig [Washington Post] has an inspiring story of U.S. Army Lt. Joshua Pitcher who lost his left leg after a roadside bombing in Afghanistan but who is once again serving in Afghanistan.

Syria

Noah Shachtman and Christopher Dickey [The Daily Beast] note the growing suspicion among Western Intelligence agencies that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime still has a significant stockpile of chemical weapons.

Dozens were killed in an aerial attack on a bustling outdoor market in a northeast neighborhood of Aleppo [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone and Hwaida Saad]. The attack comes only a day after a Syrian fighter jet fired a missile at a school in the city of Aleppo yesterday, killing 47 people, including children, according to activists.

David Ignatius [Washington Post] says it’s time to change the administration’s policy toward Syria, advocating that the U.S. should take steps to strengthen the opposition and negotiate with the Assad regime to determine a successor.

In graphic detail, CNN reports that the ISIS is killing and “crucifying” the bodies of their opponents in the Sryian town of Raqqa.

Other Developments

The United Kingdom’s High Court has invalidated British long-term detention practices in Afghanistan under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the court, “the mere fact that someone is reasonably believed to represent a security threat is not a justifiable ground for detention … nor is detention permitted solely for the purpose of interrogation with a view to obtaining valuable intelligence.”  Ryan Goodman has the details in a post this morning.

The Washington Post’s editorial board writes that Wednesday’s elections in Iraq will accelerate the country’s descent into civil war.

A group of thirty retired generals of the U.S. armed forces is calling upon President Obama to declassify the SSCI report on the CIA interrogation and detention programs [Military.com].

A new report shows that reports of military sexual assaults are up by more than 50% from last year.  However, the Pentagon says this is good news because it means more troops are coming forward to report sexual assaults [The Navy Times].

The U.S. has offered to help Nigeria in its search for around 200 girls abducted by Islamist militants from a school in the northeast of the country [Reuters].

With Egyptian presidential elections scheduled for later this month, Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that the U.S. should not support Egypt’s military rulers [Washington Post].

Cuba has condemned the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, which were released earlier this week, for continuing to call Cuba a state supporter of terrorism [Al Jazeera].

A recent uptick in the number of violent attacks by extremists in eastern China, including an attack on Wednesday that killed three and injured 79 others, could indicate a growing terror threat in the country [Associated Press].

Speaking from Ethiopia on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that a force of UN-African Union peacekeepers is needed to stop the violence in South Sudan  [Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Vogt].

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).