News Roundup and Notes: May 27, 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 New York Times (Elena Schneider) reports that technology companies are pressing Congress on reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as the legislation’s weak privacy protections are causing customers to take their business to other countries.

In an apparent response to the administration’s effort to prosecute Chinese cyber espionage, a Chinese government report has accused the U.S. of secret surveillance and condemns U.S. practice as “a flagrant violation of international law, a serious human rights violation, [and] threat to the global network security” [Wall Street Journal’s James T. Areddy].

The New York Times editorial considers that while the decision to indict Chinese officials for cyberattacks “seems within the parameters of American law … [a]s a matter of substance, though, it is pointless and perhaps counterproductive.”

Federal prosecutors have outlined how a New York-based computer hacker assisted the U.S. government in preventing hundreds of cyberattacks on Congress and other sensitive targets, and have asked for leniency in his sentencing in relation to hacking charges [Associated Press].

Several activist groups will be filing a formal complaint today with the New York Police Department’s new office of inspector general, seeking an audit of the department’s surveillance operations, following recent reports that the department had been monitoring political activists and sending undercover officers to their meetings [New York Times’ Marc Santora].

Ukraine

Petro Poroshenko, who easily won Sunday’s presidential elections in Ukraine, vowed yesterday to step-up the anti-terrorism operation against separatists in the country’s east [Kyiv Post’s Daryna Shevchenko]. Poroshenko also stated he would pursue dialogue with Moscow starting next month, acknowledging that “[s]topping war and bringing peace to all Ukraine … will be impossible without the participation of Russia” [Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle]. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov similarly said Moscow was ready for genuine dialogue with Ukraine, but called for an end to the armed operation in the east [Reuters’ Steve Gutterman].

Following a day of violent clashes in the eastern city of Donetsk, Ukraine’s interior ministry said the military is in full control of the airport after pro-Russian separatists attempted a takeover yesterday [BBC]. Insurgents say at least 30 pro-Russian rebels have been killed in the operation, which involved air strikes and an assault by armed troops.

According to the preliminary conclusion of international observers, Sunday’s election “was characterized by high voter turnout and the clear resolve of the authorities to hold what was a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country.” President Obama also welcomed the election as an “important step forward,” which successfully went ahead even as “Russian-backed separatist groups sought to disenfranchise entire regions.”

Russian military officials have said that the promised withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s border will take up to 20 days [RFE/RL].

Syria

In a documentary to be aired tonight—produced by PBS’ “Frontline”—moderate Syrian rebels reveal that the U.S. is arranging for their training in the use of sophisticated weapons in Qatar [McClatchy DC’s Nancy A. Youssef]. Both the Pentagon and the CIA declined to comment on Frontline’s findings, which provide the latest evidence that the U.S. “has stepped up the provision of lethal aid to the rebels.”

A team of experts from the OPCW/UN joint mission in Syria came under attack while investigating allegations of chlorine attacks today, but the OPCW said all team members had returned safely to their base [Reuters’ Anthony et al.].

In a separate development, Jordan has expelled the Syrian ambassador to Amman for “repeatedly insult[ing] Jordan” [Al Jazeera’s Areej Abuqudairi].

Afghanistan

Greg Miller [Washington Post] reports that the identity of the CIA’s top officer in Afghanistan was mistakenly exposed by the White House at the weekend, when his name was accidentally included on a list of senior officials that was provided to news organizations. The White House subsequently issued a revised list, excluding the name of the CIA official.

President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday to mark Memorial Day with U.S. troops, where he vowed a “responsible end” to the war in Afghanistan [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]. Meanwhile, Afghans commended President Hamid Karzai for refusing to meet Obama during his brief visit, with some accusing the U.S. of failing to respect diplomatic protocol [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge].

Other developments

The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reports on how U.S. Special Operations forces are training elite counterterrorism units in four North and West African countries to deal with homegrown threats, although officials have acknowledged the problems of working with weak regional partners.

An American soldier blinded in Afghanistan and the widow of another soldier have filed a wrongful death and injury lawsuit against former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, who signed a plea deal in 2010 that he committed five war crimes when he was 15 years old [Associated Press’ Michelle L. Price].

An American doctor was killed in eastern Pakistan yesterday, in what appears to be growing violence targeting Ahmadi Muslims and other minorities in the country [Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Shaiq Hussain].

The Hill (Keith Lang) covers the discussion of the veterans’ affairs scandal on Sunday’s political talk shows, including the views of House VA Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Meanwhile, President Obama acknowledged the need to do more for veterans’ care and benefits, as part of his Memorial Day address [New York Times’ Mark Landler].

Nigeria’s chief of defense has said the country’s military has located the abducted school girls, but said that using force to secure their release from Boko Haram militants could result in the girls being killed [Associated Press].

Al-Shabaab militants launched a suicide attack against Somalia’s parliament building over the weekend, two days after the group pledged to increase attacks in Mogadishu [The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio].

The Washington Post editorial board calls upon the Obama administration and its allies to assist Libya, which the board argues is “sliding from political chaos toward a full-blown civil war.”

A Turkish court has ordered the arrest of four former Israeli military leaders over the deadly 2010 Gaza flotilla raid by the Israeli military [Al Jazeera].

Reuters reports on the renewed tension between Vietnam and China, as the countries exchange accusations over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in the disputed South China Sea.

Former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is expected to win the country’s presidential elections, with the final day of voting taking place today [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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