News Roundup and Notes: May 6, 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

Leaders of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have announced plans to move ahead with their respective bills on reforming the NSA’s surveillance programs this week [The Hill’s Kate Tummarello].

Michael Price and Amos Toh argue why cell phones should be protected under the Fourth Amendment, highlighting the dangers of storing Americans’ personal data on government databases [Huffington Post].

Der Spiegel reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “has made an about face” over her commitment to investigate NSA spying in Germany, choosing trans-Atlantic unity as her “new priority.”

Syria

The State Department announced it has designated the offices of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in the U.S.  as “foreign missions,” a designation that “gives the group a symbolic boost in status but that falls well short of diplomatic recognition as a government” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]. The announcement coincides with Coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba’s visit to Washington, during which the administration will ask Congress to provide more than $27 million in new nonlethal aid.

Reuters (Yara Bayoumy and Angus Mcdowall) reports that “persistent” differences between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. over strategy in Syria “may prove calamitous for Syrian rebels.”

The Daily Beast’s Bruce Riedel covers how “the Syrian battleground is on the way to outstripping the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviets as a training ground for Islamic militants,” as foreign fighters continue to travel to Syria to join the civil war in large numbers.

Activists report that around 30 regime fighters were killed this morning by a rebel bomb at a checkpoint in Syria’s northwest [Reuters].

Ukraine

As deadly clashes continue in Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned that the country is “just a few steps away from a military confrontation” [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker and Howard Amos]. The Ukrainian government has blocked all international flights into the country’s eastern region, as the interim interior minister reported that more than 30 pro-Russian separatists and four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in yesterday’s fighting near Slovyansk [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn].

The head of U.S. air forces in the Pacific said that since the crisis in Ukraine, there has been a significant increase in Russian air and ship activity in the Asia-Pacific region [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom].

According to witnesses and experts, several dozen Russian bombers and fighter jets have been seen flying above Crimea [AFP].

White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday that the U.S. remains “extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in both eastern and southern Ukraine,” adding that the “violence and mayhem” in Odessa was “unacceptable” [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The New York Times (Peter Baker) reports that the White House has pressured the CEOs of some of America’s largest corporations into skipping an international economic forum in Russia to be hosted by President Vladimir Putin this month.

Sen. Marco Rubio [Wall Street Journal] calls for broader economic sanctions against Russia, and writes that “[a]nchoring [Ukraine’s currency] to a more stable currency would help Kiev immensely and deliver a blow to Putin.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Clemens Wergin explains why a number of former German politicians and public figures have made the case for Russia. Wergin writes that according to these figures, “NATO and the European Union were the real aggressors, because they dared to expand into territory that belonged to Moscow’s legitimate sphere of interest.”

Department of Defense

The Obama administration has signed a 20-year lease on its military base in Djibouti, which serves as the U.S.’s “staging ground for counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia” [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]. In remarks with Djibouti’s President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, President Obama emphasized the “extraordinarily important” role of Camp Lemonnier, “not only to [U.S.] work throughout the Horn of Africa but throughout the region.”

The House Armed Services Committee has released a $521 billion blueprint for the 2015 defense budget, which replaces most of the Pentagon’s requested cuts with different cost-saving measures [The Hill’s Kristina Wong and Martin Matishak].

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn) covers how Pentagon officials are “scrambling” to meet Obama’s Dec. 1 deadline to show progress in addressing sexual assault in the military. Meanwhile, the 2015 defense authorization bill released yesterday would prevent consideration of an officer’s “military character” in deciding whether to prosecute alleged sexual assaults [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

Benghazi

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House has “always cooperated with legitimate oversight,” but called the new Benghazi inquiry a “highly partisan effort to politicize” the 2012 attack [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Washington Post (Greg Sargent) reports that House Democrats are mulling whether to boycott the Benghazi committee. And Rep. Peter King has said the panel should complete its work before the 2016 election [MSNBC].

Meanwhile, the Washington Post editorial board notes that the investigation is “not likely to … hold the Obama administration accountable for its actual failings in Libya,” particularly in relation to Libya’s post-Gaddafi political landscape.

Afghanistan

The last U.S. Marines withdrew from their two remaining bases in the Sangin district in northern Helmand yesterday, handing over responsibility to Afghan national security forces [U-T San Diego’s Gretel C. Kovach].

The New York Times (Habib Zahori and Azam Ahmed) notes that the “lack of orderly means to distribute aid” is the latest problem for the Afghan village of Abi Barak, where a landslide is reported to have claimed 2,100 lives.

Other developments

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a Guantánamo detainee, who claims he served as a Taliban medic, not a combatant, “refusing for the second time in a month to spell out the limits of military detention” [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Sen. Rand Paul has warned that he will object to one of President Obama’s appellate court nominees due to his role in shaping the legal basis for Obama’s drone policy [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton].

A Navy systems administrator has been arrested on anti-government hacking charges, in a further “reminder of the dilemma the government faces as it seeks to recruit young adults with hacker-grade computer chops,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Andrew Grossman).

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the recent military offensives in South Sudan and called on both sides to “resolve their differences at the negotiating table, rather than through military action.” Meanwhile, the country’s rival parties have signed a deal to halt military actions for one month to allow civilians to evacuate [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

According to reports in Iranian media, the country’s naval commander asserted that “one of the operational goals of [Iran’s] Navy is destruction of the U.S. naval force” and claimed that U.S. vessels are a very easy target [Times of Israel].

Two gunmen shot dead a commander of Yemen’s security forces in Sanaa yesterday, in an attack that a military official blamed on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AFP].

An attack outside a railway station in China’s Guangzhou this morning injured at least six people, and is the third such assault in China since March [New York Times’ Gerry Mullany].

Egyptian presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview that the Muslim Brotherhood movement was “finished” in Egypt, in “a seemingly unequivocal rejection of any political reconciliation with the Brotherhood,” reports Al Jazeera.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).