News Roundup and Notes: May 12, 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.

Yemen

The Los Angeles Times’ Ken Dilanian covers how the U.S. military drone strike in Yemen last December has “fuel[ed] debate about turning over the CIA’s drone program to the military.” According to U.S. officials, the CIA and the Pentagon disagreed sharply over whether everyone in the wedding party was a lawful military target. According to a congressional aide, the departments are also in disagreement over the definition of combatants and the standards for collateral damage.

Eric Schmitt [New York Times] reports on the identity and circumstance of the two Americans, a U.S. Special Operations commando and a CIA officer, who killed two armed Yemeni civilians last month. The armed civilians were attempting to kidnap the U.S. officers, who, within a few days of the shooting, “were whisked out of the volatile Middle East nation … with the blessing of the Yemeni government,” according to American officials.

In the most recent violence in the country, suspected al-Qaeda militants killed at least 13 Yemeni soldiers in two separate attacks yesterday [CNN’s Ashley Fantz].

And in an op-ed in the New York Times, Sen. Rand Paul explains why he is opposing one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, who shaped the legal justification for the drone attack that targeted and killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

“In a major twist,” House lawmakers appear close to approving the USA Freedom Act, which “went through significant changes to win support last week in the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees,” reports The Hill (Julian Hattem).

Edward Jay Epstein [Wall Street Journal] explores whether Edward Snowden’s actions were part of a “foreign espionage operation,” and argues that “[u]ntil there is an indictment by a federal grand jury, and the state’s evidence against Mr. Snowden is unsealed, his portrait as a crusader will persist.”

The New York Times editorial board argues that while the new big data report from the White House “includes several recommendations that could help protect the personal information of individuals from warrantless searches and abusive marketing practices,” the report “does not do enough to advance the goal President Obama set two years ago for ‘clear rules of the road’ on privacy.”

Syria

Last week, the State Department confirmed that it supported a UN Security Council resolution authorizing an ICC investigation into Syria. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said:

“[T]he United States supports the referral to the ICC set forth in the draft resolution under discussion. We’ve long said that those responsible for atrocities in Syria must be held accountable, and we’ve been working with our Security Council colleagues on a draft resolution toward this end.”

Ahmed Jarba, the leader of Syria’s opposition coalition, said he will ask the Obama administration to provide a hand-picked group of specially trained rebels with anti-aircraft weapons, or alternatively, allow another country in the region to provide the rebels with these weapons [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous].

In the Washington Post, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem makes a case for transferring anti-aircraft weapons to moderate rebels, arguing that this “slight increase in the opposition’s capacity to target helicopters could have an enormous payoff” in relation to barrel bombs.

Senior Iranian officials have told The Guardian (Simon Tisdall) that Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have won the civil war in Syria, as Western strategy simply “encourage[d] radical groups and made the borders less safe.”

The Syrian government and rebels have traded blame over water shortage in the city of Aleppo, where residents have been without water for a week [Al Jazeera].

The Saudi government has alleged that members of the radical Syrian group, ISIS, as well as members of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, were planning attacks in Saudi Arabia against religious and security leaders [Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer].

Ukraine

Pro-Russian rebels in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared an overwhelming victory in yesterday’s referendum on “self-rule,” which has been dismissed as illegal by the government in Kiev as well as the West [Reuters’ Matt Robinson And Alessandra Prentice].

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov slammed the results as “propagandist farce” [CNN’s  Radina Gigova et al.]. Meanwhile, a statement from the Kremlin announced that “Moscow respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and hopes that the practical implementation of the outcome of the referendums will proceed along civilized lines, without repeat outbreaks of violence.”

EU ministers are set to “modestly expand” Russian sanctions today, as they also begin to consider how to respond should Russia move to undermine Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

And David Patrikarakos [Politico Magazine] explains that while people are waiting for the “war” in Ukraine to start, “a 21st century-style war has already begun here, and may be almost over–something that Vladimir Putin seems to understand even if the rest of us do not.”

Iraq

The New York Times (Matt Apuzzo) reports on how the Blackwater case—involving the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater contractors in 2007—“that once seemed so clear-cut has been repeatedly undermined by the government’s own mistakes” over the years.

The Iraqi government is allegedly using barrel bombs on the city of Fallujah, in an attempt to drive out rebel fighters from the city [Al Jazeera].

Militants in Iraq attacked military barracks in the country’s north over the weekend, killing 20 Iraqi troops—the “latest blow to the government’s efforts to achieve stability in restive Sunni-dominated areas” [Associated Press].

Afghanistan

Earlier today, as part of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, fighters killed two police guards at a government building in eastern Afghanistan, attacked a police checkpoint in Helmand province killing nine policemen, and launched rockets at the Kabul international airport and the NATO base at Bagram [Associated Press].

According to a report of the International Crisis Group, violence levels across Afghanistan are increasing as U.S.-led NATO troops withdraw from the country [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati].

The front-runner in Afghanistan’s presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah, has won the endorsement of the third-place candidate, possibly securing enough support ahead of next month’s run-off vote [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin; Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Mohammad Sharif].

Nigeria

The leader of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has offered a deal to release the kidnapped schoolgirls in exchange for prisoners [Agencies].

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake explores Boko Haram’s “Bin Laden connection,” with some intelligence analysts believing that “Osama bin Laden provided everything from seed money to strategic direction to the now-infamous Nigerian terror group.”

The former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria under George W. Bush, John Campbell, said it was unfair to criticize former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for failing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization [Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace]. Campbell said “we all opposed designation” due to the “highly diffuse” nature of the Boko Haram movement.

The Hill (Peter Sullivan) notes that while U.S. lawmakers want to help find the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, they are “mostly urging indirect steps such as sanctions, intelligence sharing and assistance to the Nigerian military, rather than the deployment of U.S. troops to get the girls back themselves.”

The Associated Press (Michelle Faul) reports that the Nigerian government refused international help to search for the abducted school girls for almost a month, which has contributed to the increasing international outrage against the government.

And the Washington Post (Anne Gearan) covers how the Nigerian abduction, among other crises, highlights the “limits of U.S. power in Africa.”

Other developments

The Pentagon’s Guantánamo prosecutor is asking the military commission’s judge to amend or rescind his previous order, which requires the government to provide al Nashiri’s defense lawyers with details of the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation and detention program [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Joseph Goldstein [New York Times] reports on the NYPD’s Citywide Debriefing Team, which has “combed the city’s jails for immigrants—predominantly Muslims—who might be persuaded to become police informants.” The continuing efforts of the debriefing team highlight that the department has not completely backed away from its post-9/11 initiatives, despite disbanding the surveillance unit that sent plainclothes officers to spy on Muslin communities.

The Washington Post (Jaime Fuller) covers the “tense rhetoric” on the Sunday shows over the new House select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Carol D. Leonnig [Washington Post] reports that top Secret Service officials sent members of a special unit, responsible for patrolling the White House, to protect a friend of the agency’s then director for over two months in 2011, according to three sources familiar with the operation.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told George Stephanopoulos [ABC’s “This Week”] that he considers that the ban prohibiting transgender individuals from serving in the military should be reviewed continually. Hagel added,“I’m open to those assessments, because—again, I go back to the bottom line—every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

The lawyer for the Pakistani doctor who assisted the U.S. in locating Osama bin Laden has said he is no longer able to represent him, after receiving a “final” warning from militants [Associated Press’ Riaz Khan].

CNN (Zoe Li and Euan McKirdy) covers the “escalated tensions” over the weekend in relation to the territorial dispute between Vietnam and China.

New fighting broke out in South Sudan yesterday, less than 48 hours after the regime and rebel leaders signed a cease-fire agreement [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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