News Roundup and Notes: May 23, 2014

The News Roundup will be back on Tuesday morning, after Memorial Day.

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

House lawmakers passed the USA Freedom Act yesterday, which seeks to limit the NSA’s bulk surveillance program [Politico’s Alex Byers]. However, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, admitted that the bill could have done more and stated that he shared the “disappointment” of the privacy groups “who are upset about lost provisions.”

The New York Times editorial board argues that while the bill “begins to reverse the trend of reducing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism,” it “contains loopholes that dilute the strong restrictions in an earlier version, potentially allowing the spy agencies to continue much of their phone-data collection.”

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein has said she is “open to considering the legislation when the Senate returns to Washington,” which, according to Julian Hattem [The Hill], “may confirm privacy advocates’ fears that the bill had been watered down beyond recognition in recent weeks.”

A classified report of the Defense Intelligence Agency on the damage resulting from Edward Snowden’s leaks concluded in December last year that “the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering” [The Guardian’s Jason Leopold].

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) reports that the Justice Department’s decision to indict Chinese officers earlier this week is part of “a major change” in administration strategy to hold China accountable for what officials believe is an increasing campaign of commercial cyber-espionage.

Drones

The Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman) reports that senior military officials are pushing for more transparency over the U.S. drones program, as part of an effort to defend the program against increasing criticism in the U.S. and overseas.

Reuters (Matt Spetalnick) covers how U.S forces are still not fully complying with the new rules set out by President Obama for drone strikes during his speech at the National Defense University last May.

In a narrow vote yesterday, the Senate confirmed David Barron–President Obama’s judicial nominee who faced significant opposition for his role in shaping the administration’s drone policy on targeting a U.S. citizen overseas [NPR’s Alan Greenblatt].

Syria

China and Russia voted against the French-led Security Council resolution yesterday that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta].

Reuters (Oliver Holmes) reports that Syrian activists have posted a video online of what they claim is chlorine gas in the streets of the village of Kfar Zeita.

Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the OPCW, reported that Syria’s remaining chemical materials are now ready for transportation, but that the Syrian regime says it is unable to move the stockpile due to the security threat from rebel forces [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid].

A mortar attack targeted an election gathering in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in southern Syria last evening, killing a number of people [Associated Press].

Ukraine

Kyiv Post (Oksana Grytsenko) covers the growing anger among citizens as 18 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the eastern region of Donetsk yesterday. Amid fresh violence, which comes only a few days before the national election, Ukrainian officials called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council [Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle and Michael Birnbaum].

Russia’s top general said Moscow will be forced to take “retaliatory measures” against NATO and claimed that “the operational and combat readiness of the alliance’s troops is being increased near the Russian border” [Reuters].

Steve Erlanger [New York Times] considers NATO’s next steps and questions whether the alliance should view Moscow as it saw the Soviet Union—“as the main antagonist that drives alliance thinking”—or whether it should continue to press for co-operation with Russia.

Other developments

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the President’s National Defense University speech on his proposed framework for post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy. At Just Security, Harold Koh offers his analysis of competing approaches to ending the “Forever War.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Sen. Bob Corker calls upon Congress to update the AUMF, which he argues needs to be “both narrowed and broadened—to create a mechanism for regular congressional oversight and reporting … including a possible sunset date to revisit the law, and to allow for the addition of organizations that were not involved in 9/11 but nonetheless pose a direct threat to the United States.”

The House has overwhelmingly approved its version of the 2015 defense authorization bill, defying a White House veto threat over restrictions on transferring detainees from Guantánamo Bay [Politico’s Austin Wright and Jeremy Herb]. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled its version of the defense bill yesterday, which differed in a number of ways from the version approved by the House [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

The UN Security Council’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee has approved sanctions against Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram [Al Jazeera].

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has announced a nationwide audit of all major VA healthcare facilities, in addition to the ongoing investigation by the department’s inspector general into misconduct allegations at the Phoenix medical center and a number of other facilities.

The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor comments on Secretary of State John Kerry’s classification of Thailand’s military takeover as a coup, and explores why the situation in Thailand is being viewed differently as compared to Egypt’s military takeover last summer.

Former rebel commander from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germain Katanga has been sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment by the International Criminal Court.

Dawn (Zahir Shah Sherazi) reports on the intensified targeting of suspected militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region by the country’s military, where the death toll has now crossed 80.

Egyptian security officials claim that a leader of the militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, believed to be responsible for a series of recent attacks, has been killed in the Sinai Peninsula [BBC].

Islamist militias in Libya have aligned with the country’s parliament and deployed in Tripoli, raising fears of an all-out war with the forces under the leadership of former general Khalifa Hifter [Washington Post’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous].

Gunmen have attacked the Indian consulate in western Afghanistan, during which two suicide bombers were killed, according to local police [Al Jazeera].

Suicide bombings in Iraq’s Baghdad targeting Shia Muslim pilgrims killed at least 32 pilgrims yesterday [Reuters]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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