News Roundup and Notes: July 2, 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 Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB)—an independent executive-branch body—has released a “pre-release copy” of its report on the NSA’s surveillance program under section 702 of the FISA. The report finds that the NSA program targeting foreigners overseas is lawful and has “proven valuable in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism,” but notes certain elements that come “close to the line” of being unconstitutional [The Hill’s Julian Hattem; Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]. Josh Gerstein [Politico] covers the split between panel members on some of the proposals for changes to the Section 702 program.

In a related development, India summoned a senior U.S. diplomat today to demand a response to reports that the NSA had been authorized to spy on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party in 2011 [Reuters].

Ahmed Abu Khattalah

According to court documents filed by government prosecutors, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the suspected ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, has provided interrogators with “voluntary statements” that verify “key facts” about the attacks [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]. Prosecutors said Khattalah was motivated by his anti-Western ideology, and that he “voiced concern and opposition to the presence of an American facility in Benghazi” in the days before the attack [Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz].

Iraq

Following the collapse of the Iraqi parliament’s first session yesterday [CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter and Holly Yan; Reuters’ Raheem Salman And Oliver Holmes], White House spokesperson Josh Earnest urged Iraqi lawmakers to move quickly to appoint a new government [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley].

Meanwhile, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has issued an audio message, calling on Muslims around the world to take up arms and join the “caliphate,” which the group has announced on Iraqi and Syrian soil [Al Jazeera].

Sen. John Walsh, the only Iraq War veteran in the Senate, has issued a statement questioning the President’s strategy of deploying further troops to Iraq, noting that Obama had “promised to prevent ‘mission creep’” [Politico’s Adam Sneed].

Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, said that his country “desperately need[s] U.S. assistance to turn the tide” and warned that the Iraqi government will be forced to turn to Moscow and Tehran for military assistance “if the United States cannot fill the void” [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

However, diplomatic sources have told The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) that Moscow is already sending Russian pilots to fly the fighter jets it has delivered to Iraq, owing to a lack of Iraqi pilots with the necessary training.

Iraqi soldiers say they were eager to fight against ISIS, but were forced to retreat, not out of cowardice, but because their commanding officers failed to provide the border forces with water and food [New York Times’ C. J. Chivers].

The Economist reports on how the advance of ISIS is making Jordan’s rulers “edgier than ever,” as the extremist group’s ambition spans all of the Levant, including Jordan. Moreover, Jordanian leaders fear that another wave of refugees will follow the hundreds of thousands who have already come from Syria.

Saudi Arabia has contributed $500 million to the UN humanitarian relief effort in Iraq, reports the New York Times’ Rick Gladstone.

And the UN announced that the violence in the country has killed more than 2,400 people this month, making June the deadliest month in Iraq since 2007 [UN News Centre].

Ukraine

Fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine after President Petro Poroshenko’s announcement that he would not renew the ceasefire with the pro-Russian separatists [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets]. The decision quickly sparked a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that Poroshenko would now have to shoulder full responsibility for diverging from the road to peace.

The Financial Times (Olearchyk Roman and Kathrin Hille) reports that Ukraine has urged the EU to act more decisively in standing up to Russia. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry voiced his “strong concern” on the faltering peace talks in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Washington Post editorial board writes that the “West can’t afford to make empty threats on Russia sanctions” as a failure to act “would be a craven surrender that would provoke only more Russian aggression.” Echoing this, Thomas L. Friedman [New York Times] notes that “Putin is clearly afraid of more sanctions” and argues why the fate of Ukraine is important.

Afghanistan

Security officials have said that a suicide bomber attacked an air force bus in Kabul earlier today, killing eight military personnel and injuring 13 [Associated Press]. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A UN report finds that a growing number of children are being pulled into the conflict in Afghanistan, with at least 97 children recruited to fight in 2013 alone [The Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]. The UN described the Afghan police and Taliban as “persistent perpetrators” of underage recruitment.

The Washington Post (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt) reports that James F. Dobbins, who has served as the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is set to leave government this month, to be succeeded by his deputy, Daniel F. Feldman. 

Other developments 

Michael Kugelman [The Diplomat] notes the perplexities surrounding Pakistan’s recent declaration of war on the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network, raising questions as to the reliability of the statement. 

The last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have arrived on a Danish ship into the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, to be transferred to a U.S. cargo vessel that will destroy the toxic material [Associated Press].

As talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries on a comprehensive nuclear deal enter their final stages in Vienna, Jay Solomon at the Wall Street Journal reports on the steps being taken by global companies in preparation for the possibility of an end to the sanctions regime. 

The Associated Press reports that an African Union summit vote in Equatorial Guinea will give African leaders and “senior officials” immunity from prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide at a new African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

A Palestinian teenager has been found dead in what is suspected to be a “revenge attack” for the murder of three Israeli youths who were kidnapped last month [AFP]. Haaretz has live updates on the tense situation in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a swift investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, Eli Lake at The Daily Beast has learned that the Hamas commander considered responsible by Israel for the ramped up kidnapping attempts in the West Bank is actually residing in Turkey.

A bomb blast is reported to have killed at least 17 people in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, a focal point of the mounting struggle against Islamist group Boko Haram [Wall Street Journal’s Patrick McGroarty and Gbenga Seun Ijagba].

The South Korean Defense Ministry said that North Korea has launched two short-range projectiles off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, flying about 110 miles before falling in the sea [CNN’s K.J. Kwon and Jethro Mullen].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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