News Roundup and Notes: June 19, 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.

Iraq

The Independent (Patrick Cockburn) reports that the U.S. has told senior Iraqi officials that it will not take military action to help counter ISIS militants unless Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki steps down. However, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Prime Minister said that Maliki will not step down as a condition of U.S. strikes, according to a report in The Guardian (Martin Chulov and Spencer Ackerman).

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that the U.S. has received a request from the Iraqi government to use its air power to counter ISIS fighters [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark et al.] Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also confirmed the request during a news conference in Saudi Arabia [Al Jazeera].

On the ground, Iraqi government forces continue to battle the insurgents to prevent the country’s largest oil refinery from falling into rebel control [Reuters’ Ghazwan Hassan].

Following President Obama’s meeting with congressional leaders yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Obama “didn’t feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take,” but added that the leaders would be kept informed [Politico’s Burgess Everett; The Hill’s Justin Sink and Alexander Bolton]. After the meeting, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she agreed with Obama’s assessment that he does not need further legislative authority “to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance [that were] discussed.”

The Hill (Mike Lillis) reports on the “deep divisions” within the Democratic party over targeted military action in Iraq, while Politico (Burgess Everett) covers the return of the “GOP hawks”—Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio—the most vocal critics of the administration’s response to the Iraq crisis.

David E. Sanger [New York Times] reports on how the Iraq crisis is adding a “new angle” to the separate nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said that 40 Indian workers have been kidnapped by militants in Mosul, and said that it was investigating the situation [Wall Street Journal’s Niharika Mandhana and Vibhuti Agarwal].

The New York Times (Tim Arango) covers the “uneasy alliance” between ISIS and the “deeply rooted network” of former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Jacob Siegel [The Daily Beast] reports on the anti-ISIS Twitter account, which is disclosing some of the group’s most intimate details, including its strategy in Iraq.

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information (Anton Geist) and The Intercept (Ryan Gallagher) report on how “third-party partners,” including Germany and Denmark, play an important role in the NSA’s global surveillance program, by providing access to fiber-optic cables and hosting U.S. equipment. According to documents obtained from Edward Snowden, 33 third-party countries participate in this top secret program known as RAMPART-A.

Der Spiegel has published 53 documents relating to the NSA’s spying operations in Germany and its cooperation with German agencies.

Matthew Aid writes that the reason Der Spiegel deleted the names of a number of U.S. military and NSA listening posts in Germany from one of its published documents is because those sites, the identify of which Aid discloses, are in operation today through the Germany’s foreign intelligence service or its military.

A group of 38 NSA reform advocacy organizations and companies have written a letter to the Hill leadership listing their concerns with the current version of the USA FREEDOM Act, and call for “substantial improvements” to the House-passed version.

The UK’s former chief surveillance inspector, Sam Lincoln has told The Guardian (Vikram Dodd) that the government’s justification for the mass surveillance of the internet is “unconvincing” and based on exploiting “loopholes” in legislation. Meanwhile, GCHQ chief Sir Iain Lobban accused “some of the media” for attempting to damage the British spy agency’s reputation [The Independent’s Alice Philipston].

Ahmed Abu Khattalah

The Libyan Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. raid that captured Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a suspected ringleader of the 2012 Benghzi attack, as a “regrettable infringement on Libya’s sovereignty” [BBC].

Meanwhile, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, explained the U.S.’s legal rationale in a letter to the Security Council [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. Power said that Khattalah has “continued to plan further armed attacks against U.S. persons” and that the measures taken to capture him in Libya “were therefore necessary to prevent such armed attacks, and were taken in accordance with the United States’ inherent right of self-defense.”

U.S. officials said that Khattalah may be brought to the U.S. on the Navy ship on which he is currently being held, which is likely to extend the amount of time for interrogation by the FBI [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Ann E. Marimow].

The Washington Post editorial board outlines the lessons to be learned from Khattalah’s capture, including the need for the administration to work with Congress to “clarify the rules for interrogating such detainees.”

Guantanamo Bay

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, presiding over the Guantanamo force-feeding case, has ordered the government to produce four additional videos showing what detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab has alleged was “extra-brutal treatment” [Al Jazeera America’s Amel Ahmed and Jason Leopold; McClatchy DC’s Michael Doyle].

Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, an Iraqi detainee held at the detention center, has been charged with war crimes over actions in Afghanistan [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Pakistan

The suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on Wednesday—covered in yesterday’s Roundup—killed at least five militants of the Haqqani network, according to intelligence officials [Wall Street Journal’s Safdar Dawar and Qasim Nauman]. However, a Pakistani security official said it was not clear whether any Haqqani fighters had been killed, reports the New York Times (Ismail Khan and Declan Walsh). It also remains unclear what cooperation, if any, exists between U.S. and Pakistani officials on the strikes.

Meanwhile, around 30,000 people fled from North Waziristan yesterday, after Pakistani authorities eased the military offensive against Taliban and other insurgents in the region in order to allow civilians to escape [Dawn].

American prisoner exchange

A senior State Department official told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Qatari government is being “very assiduous in meeting all of [the] obligations” in relation to monitoring the five freed Taliban leaders [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

Two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also scrutinized the prisoner swap with the Taliban as well as the circumstances of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance in 2009 [CNN’s Laura Koran].

Ukraine

Heavy fighting has broken out between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine this morning, after rebels rejected the peace proposals set out by President Petro Poroshenko, according to government forces [Reuters].

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued its third report on the situation in Ukraine, calling on armed groups to surrender and stressing the need for long-term solutions [UN News Centre].

Other developments

Two U.S. citizens have been arrested and charged with separate terror-related offenses, with one allegedly planning to join Somalia-based al-Shabaab and the other wanting to join the fight in Syria [ABC News’ Mike Levine].

Four Taliban militants attacked a NATO post in eastern Afghanistan earlier today, destroying dozens of trucks [Reuters]. The attack ended with a gun battle with the police, according to Afghan officials.

A U.S. appeals court has rejected the administration’s arguments that a British parliamentarian, who is attempting to obtain CIA and other intelligence agency documents, was blocked from using the FOIA [McClatchy DC’s Michael Doyle].

The UK’s House of Commons foreign affairs committee has issued a report stating that Diego Garcia, the country’s overseas territory, should not be used by the US to transfer terror suspects “or any other politically sensitive activity,” without tighter controls [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor].

BBC reports on the preliminary report from the OPCW’s fact-finding team in Syria, which finds that toxic chemicals such as chlorine are being used in a “systematic manner” in the country.

Andrew Grossman [Wall Street Journal] covers the opening arguments of the defense lawyers for the four former Blackwater security guards, who are on trial for the killing of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Steve Erlanger [New York Times] notes that the UK’s improving relations with Iran will benefit the U.S. and Israel, by enabling them to receive reports from on the ground in Iran. Meanwhile, Western and Iranian officials said that it is proving difficult to reach a compromise at the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, as Iran has refused to significantly cut the number of its uranium-enrichment centrifuges [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi].

Kenyan police said they have made “several” arrests in connection with the two attacks on the coastal town of Mpeketoni earlier this week [Al Jazeera].

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on the U.S. to drop an investigation into his organization, while also threatening to leak an important document involving international negotiations [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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