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
Jason Leopold [Al Jazeera America] reports that two sets of email communications between former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google’s executives “suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.”
According to congressional officials, the competing NSA reform bills that are gaining momentum in the House this week are “likely to put pressure on the Senate to act” [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman].
According to the resolution posted to the House Rules Committee website last evening, the select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack will have seven Republicans and five Democrats [Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan; The Hill’s Russell Berman]. The House is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.
Syrian rebels and civilians are being evacuated from the city of Homs, once considered to be the “capital of the revolution” [AFP]. Under the UN and Iran-brokered deal between the rival sides, opposition forces will now allow aid into two Shia-majority towns that are under rebel siege.
In a separate development, Saudi Arabia has arrested 62 suspected al-Qaeda members believed to be linked to “extremist elements in Syria and Yemen,” according to state media reports [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran].
NATO’s top military commander, General Philip Breedlove said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have created a “new paradigm,” which may require NATO to permanently position troops in eastern Europe [Bloomberg’s Theophilos Argitis].
Politico (Burgess Everett) reports on the deep divisions within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over how to respond to the growing crisis in Ukraine, “exposing a rift on a panel that has become one of Congress’ last bastions of bipartisanship.” Meanwhile, the administration’s top Europe diplomat, Victoria Nuland told the Senate committee that a separatist referendum in eastern Ukraine could trigger new sanctions if Moscow recognizes the results and Russian peacekeepers move into the region [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung].
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has ruled out a further international meeting to address the crisis in Ukraine, while stressing it would be “unusual” for Ukraine to hold a presidential election when the army is being used against the population [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark et al.].
On the ground, Ukrainian forces have taken control of the city hall in the southeastern port of Mariupol from pro-Russia separatists, while clashes continue in other parts of the country [BBC].
The New York Times (David M. Herszenhorn) covers how the Western powers and Russia are “campaign[ing] for influence” ahead of Ukraine’s planned presidential election on May 25.
The Wall Street Journal (Bertrand Benoit) reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing opposition on Russia sanctions from within her own party. And the Latvian government has announced fast-track measures to boost the country’s defense budget amid escalating tension in Ukraine [Wall Street Journal’s Juris Kaža].
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman writes that “the serious way to weaken Putin, whose economy and government budget is hugely dependent on $100-plus-a-barrel-oil, is with an American domestic grand bargain on energy that unleashes forces that, over time, begin to impact the global price and availability of oil and gas.”
And in the Wall Street Journal, William A. Galston suggests what Obama should be saying and doing in relation to Ukraine, including providing Kiev with “a package of economic, political and, yes, military assistance for Ukraine.”
In an attempt to remove obstacles to the confirmation of one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the White House is offering senators to review the legal memo written by the nominee that provided the legal basis for the drone strike against U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen [Politico’s Josh Gerstein; The Hill’s Justin Sink].
The Navy has named Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, who has served as a pilot and at the White House, as the next commanding officer of the Guantánamo detention center [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].
The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) reports on the latest developments in the terrorism trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri, including the testimony of a witness who recalls being taken hostage in Yemen in 1998.
An FBI agent has been arrested on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan after he tried to board a plane while in possession of ammunition [Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Adam Goldman].
The Treasury Department has imposed its first sanctions against two individuals for their role in the South Sudan conflict–a rebel forces commander and a government army general. The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) and Wall Street Journal (Heidi Vogt) have more details.
The Hill (Kristina Wong) covers the pressure building on Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, over charges that his agency tried to cover up lengthy wait times for appointments that resulted in deaths. However, Shinseki told the Wall Street Journal (Ben Kesling) that he won’t resign, but will make changes to rebuild confidence in his agency.
The U.S. embassy in Uganda’s capital, Kampala has received intelligence of a “specific terrorist threat” against churches and other places of worship [Reuters].
Yemen’s Defense Ministry said yesterday that troops have taken control of two al-Qaeda strongholds in the country’s south after a military offensive which killed dozens of suspected militants and government forces [Associated Press].
The Obama administration is preparing to send a team of specialist law enforcement and military experts to Nigeria, to help the Nigerian government find the hundreds of girls abducted by Islamist militants last month [Washington Post’s Pamela Constable].
Reuters (Manuel Mogato and Michael Martina) reports on the rising tensions in the South China Sea, after the Philippines apprehended a Chinese fishing boat in the waters, while China warned Vietnam not to interfere with activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands.
Egyptian presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in an interview that he had been asked by then U.S. ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, to hold off “for a day or two” before ousting the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi last July, but had chosen to reject this request [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].
Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister, Seyed Abbas Araqchi, has said Iran remains hopeful that a final nuclear agreement could be reached by the July 20 deadline, but warned of opposition from Israel and hardliners within Iran [The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall].
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