News Roundup and Notes: May 30, 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 NSA has released an email that Edward Snowden sent to lawyers at the agency in early April 2013, in which Snowden seeks clarification on a legal question but does not raise any concerns about misconduct or legal violations [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Following the release, Snowden told the Washington Post that the NSA’s disclosure is “incomplete.” Snowden added:

“If the White House is interested in the whole truth … it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities.”

Jason Leopold [The Guardian] reports how officials at the NSA sought to curb the surge in FOIA requests prompted by Snowden’s leaks last summer, according to newly released NSA emails.

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake covers how Iran-based hackers—part of the Iranian cyber-espionage campaign covered in yesterday’s Roundup—posed as former UN ambassador John Bolton on social media platforms to penetrate national security and human rights networks.

And the Wall Street Journal (Danny Yadron et al.) reports that according to former top officials, China’s internet spying capabilities are deeper than that suggested by last week’s indictment, and extend to “a sprawling hacking-industrial complex that shields the Chinese government.”

Syria

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan plan to circulate a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria through four border crossings, without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s approval [Associated Press’ Edith M. Lederer]. Australian ambassador to the UN Gary Quinlan said the countries have begun drafting the text:

The New York Times (Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura) covers the threat posed by foreign fighters in Syria to the West and offers an account of two Western fighters, including an American, who are currently fighting alongside extremist rebel groups in Syria.

Even as fighting on the ground continues, the Syrian government is preparing for next week’s elections, which most countries have dismissed as a sham [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris].

Iraq war

The UK’s Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war has reached an agreement with British officials to publish the “gist” of the correspondence between George Bush and then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, although the full exchange will remain secret [The Guardian’s Rowena Mason]. The report may now be published by the end of the year.

In an interview with Democracy Now! to be aired next week, former top U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said in relation to the Iraq invasion that he believes that “it’s clear that some of the things [the Bush administration] did were war crimes.”

Ukraine

In a “promising” development, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday that Russia has withdrawn most troops from the Ukraine border, but added that “[t]hey are not where they need to be and won’t be until all of their troops…are gone” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung].

Following yesterday’s significant loss, when pro-Russian rebels shot down a helicopter, Ukraine’s President-elect Petro Poroshenko has vowed to punish the “bandits” and “criminals” [BBC]. Meanwhile, Ukraine, Russia and the EU will begin the next round of talks on the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute today.

Rebel leaders in Donetsk said that they have asked the Russian government for assistance, including “peacekeeping troops,” as they prepared coffins for the bodies of the Russians who were killed in the clashes with Ukraine’s military [Al Jazeera’s John Wendle].

Next week, French President François Hollande will be the first European leader to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the Russian annexation of Crimea, when Hollande is likely to pursue “a more direct diplomatic role” in the Ukraine crisis [New York Times’ Scott Sayare and Suzanne Daley].

The Wall Street Journal (Lukas I. Alpert and Alexander Kolyandr) reports that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed a treaty to establish the Eurasian Economic Union, in a move aimed at creating a counterbalance to the EU.

Nigeria

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan announced he has ordered “total war” against the militant group Boko Haram, authorizing security forces to use “any means necessary” to defeat the group [Al Jazeera].

In the latest attack coordinated by Boko Haram, gunmen killed 35 people in three villages in northeast Nigeria [CNN’s Aminu Abu Bakr].

The Washington Post (Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung) reports that despite the joint U.S.-Nigerian search effort to rescue the abducted school girls, Nigeria remains skeptical about U.S. involvement.

Other developments

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg has set a June 20 deadline for the CIA to provide a timeline for its declassification review of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the agency’s interrogation and detention program [McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Michael Doyle].

Lawyers in the military commission trial of suspected USS Cole bomber al Nashiri continued their arguments in closed session yesterday over the disclosure of details of the CIA’s “black sites” [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

In a 169-230 vote, the House rejected a proposal from Rep. Jim Moran to allow the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos].

In a chapter in Hilary Clinton’s forthcoming book, “Hard Choices,” obtained by Politico (Maggie Haberman), Clinton provides details of the 2012 Benghazi attack and offers a rebuttal to her critics over the continuing controversy.

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt) covers how even before the President’s West Point address, the U.S. has increasingly used proxies in its fight against terrorism, including African and French troops fighting in Somalia and Mali, while also training foreign forces to counter their domestic security challenges.

In an op-ed in USA Today, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki defends his record, amid the growing reports of misconduct within his agency, and emphasizes that his department is doing all it can “to accelerate access to care throughout our system and in communities where veterans reside.” In the Wall Street Journal, former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi explores how the problems with veterans’ health care may be fixed, and suggests combining the health systems of the VA and the Defense Department.

Two teams of international observers have found that Egypt’s presidential election fell short of international standards of democracy [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed the prime minister of the new Fatah-Hamas unity government, in accordance with last month’s agreement between the former rival groups [Al Jazeera America].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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