News Roundup and Notes: May 15, 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

The DOJ and ODNI released declassified FISC filings and orders yesterday, which show that a phone company contested the NSA’s bulk collection program in 2009 [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) identifies the company as Sprint. The Obama administration shared the legal basis of the then-secret program with Sprint in 2010 under the threat of a legal challenge.

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s John Seigenthaler, journalist Glenn Greenwald said that the “biggest stories” about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs “are left to be reported.”

Syria

The core members of the “Friends of Syria” group, comprising 11 Western and Arab nations, are meeting in London today to discuss the ongoing crisis [BBC].

The New York Times (Rick Gladstone) covers the U.S.’s “toughened posture” on Syria following the resignation of top UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two al Qaeda supporters in Syria, while the military conducted joint exercises with neighboring Jordan.

Weapons inspectors and officials have said that the Syrian government is in danger of missing the June 30 deadline for the removal of its chemical weapons stockpile, and suspicions remain about whether the regime has fully disclosed the extent of its stockpile [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid and Maria Abi-Habib].

Air strikes across northern Syria killed more than 40 people yesterday, according to a monitoring group [Reuters]. And the Free Syrian Army is calling for support in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in order to repel attacks by the militant rebel group, ISIS [Asharq Al-Awsat].

Ukraine

Europe-backed round table talks in Kiev opened yesterday, but pro-Russian separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine were not represented [BBC]. The interim government said it was ready to negotiate with the rebels, provided they lay down their arms.

New leaders in the region of Donetsk have demanded that Ukrainian security forces withdraw from the territory by the end of today [Interfax-Ukraine].

The White House dismissed comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Ukraine was “close to a civil war,” stating instead that the country’s upcoming elections were “on track” and “consistent with preparations in other countries where recent elections have gone forward and been successful despite violence” [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. Meanwhile, the Washington Post (Fredrick Kunkle) covers the challenges facing the interim government in planning a national election while it is unable to maintain control over several cities in eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. Air Force is in need of alternatives to Russian rocket engines, as the latest announcement from Moscow ending U.S. access to its engines underscores the U.S.’s dependence on Russian space technology [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes].

Secretary of State John Kerry has warned his French counterpart Laurent Fabius that proceeding with the sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia would not be helpful, although Fabius later told reporters that Kerry did not ask him to cancel the sale [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon].

Nigeria

The Nigerian government has launched a military operation to rescue the abducted schoolgirls [The Guardian’s David Smith and Harriet Sherwood]. While it has indicated a willingness to negotiate with Boko Haram, the government has ruled out the possibility of a prisoner exchange.

Politico (Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman) reports that U.S. lawmakers are increasing pressure on the Obama administration to provide a stronger response to the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.

White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed that drones are being deployed in the search for the girls, but stressed that the drones were not armed, and that any U.S. military resources were only being used in an “advisory capacity” [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The State Department has published a fact sheet providing more information on Boko Haram as well as the U.S.’s counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria.

And in a related development, locals in Nigeria’s Borno state ambushed dozens of suspected Boko Haram gunmen, who were believed to be plotting a fresh attack [Al Jazeera].

Other developments

The National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero is set to open today [New York Times’ Holland Cotter].

Yemen has announced that it plans to build a secure rehabilitation center to house Guantánamo detainees, which may speed up the return of Yemeni citizens currently held at Guantánamo [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari].

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports on the “deep unease within the Republican leadership that the [Benghazi] select committee … could backfire, and badly.”

In an interview with Reuters (Stephen Adler and Richard Mably), Egyptian presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called for American aid to support the country’s fight against terrorism.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed the importance of expanded co-operation to boost regional security at the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial conference yesterday, hosted by Saudi Arabia. Hagel also reassured his counterparts that the Iran nuclear negotiations “will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran’s nuclear program.” The New York Times (Helene Cooper), Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous) and Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) provide more details.

Iran’s oil minister said his country is exporting 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, despite agreeing last November to a limit of one million barrels a day as part of the interim nuclear deal with the “P5+1” countries [Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Kent and Summer Said].

White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors has been assigned to oversee the review of the Veterans Affairs Department, amid allegations of severe delays in access to medical care and preventable deaths [Associated Press’ Julie Pace]. At a Senate committee hearing today, Veterans Affairs watchdog will testify that the deaths “could be avoided,” while VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is expected to agree to take “timely action” if the allegations are proven true [Fox News].

The New York Times editorial board calls for an end to the discrimination against transgender individuals serving in the military, noting that “[a]t least 12 countries, including Britain, Australia and Israel, allow transgender military service, with no apparent decline in readiness.”

Secretary of State John Kerry held a two-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, during which he stressed that “it is up to the parties to determine whether they are willing to take the steps necessary to resume negotiations” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon].

Yossi Beilin [Politico Magazine] explains why Kerry’s Middle East peace efforts failed and argues that “an interim or gradual agreement … may be the only feasible solution at the moment.”

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) covers the prosecutor’s closing arguments in the terrorism trial of British cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri.

As Yemen’s army offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues, at least 42 people have been killed in further clashes in southern Yemen [Associated Press].

The UK has passed a bill that allows the government to strip terrorism suspects of their citizenship, in cases where the Home Secretary has “reasonable grounds for believing” that a suspect would be able to gain citizenship elsewhere [New York Times’ Katrin Bennhold].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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