News Roundup and Notes: July 9, 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, and technology

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain [The Intercept] are reporting on the prominent Muslim-Americans who have been covertly monitored by the NSA and FBI, using FISA procedures intended to target foreign spies and terrorists. According to documents provided by Edward Snowden, the list includes civil rights activists, lawyers and a political candidate.

In an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Robert Pittenger argues that the Massie-Lofgren amendment in the defense appropriations bill, which would limit U.S. spying of emails and phone calls of foreign based-terrorists, is “ill-timed” in light of the growing threat from terrorist organization, ISIS.

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti and Mark Landler) reports that President Obama was not informed about the German spying case ahead of his phone call with Chancellor Angela Merkel last week. Amid the growing controversy, White House officials are questioning who in the CIA was aware of the case, and why this information was not shared with Obama. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast (Christopher Dickey and Nadette De Visser) focuses on why the U.S. risked its ties with Germany “by taking files from a low-level intelligence official dumb enough to volunteer his services to Moscow over email.”

In an interview with Der Spiegel (Marc Hujer and Holger Stark), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the NSA’s surveillance of Angela Merkel’s phone “was absolutely wrong” and called for better cooperation between the U.S. and Germany.

In a 12-3 vote, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a cybersecurity bill that would allow companies to share information about cyberattacks “in real time” with the government, which privacy advocates fear will give the NSA further access to American data [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman; Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima].

Israel-Palestine

Haaretz has live updates of the escalating situation in the region. Hamas militants have fired rockets at Israeli cities after Israel carried out dozens of air strikes on Gaza early Wednesday morning [BBC; Reuters’ Mohammed Salem].

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “[w]e strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel” and “we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks” [Reuters’ Mark Felsenthal]. Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he is “extremely concerned” by the escalating violence, calling on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and “restore calm” [UN News Centre].

The Wall Street Journal draws attention to a recent classified report from the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee on the role of Iran in the current developments in Gaza.

In light of the current situation, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that “[p]eace between Israel and its neighbors remains a long shot, but it has no chance as long as Hamas is seen as a strong and quasi-legitimate political player”.

The New York Times (Steven Erlanger and Fares Akram) reports on the contentious Israeli policy of informing occupants of a building that is about to be bombed that they should evacuate, through cellphone messages and leaflets.

Iraq

The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin) reports that Iraqi lawmakers have conceded to foreign pressure and decided to reconvene Sunday in the hopes of forming of new government, reversing an earlier announcement that there would be no parliamentary session for another five weeks.

CNN (Chelsea J. Carter) reports that ISIS has claimed responsibility for a number of recent suicide bombings in Baghdad that killed almost two dozen people, according to terrorist group monitor SITE Intelligence.

According to American and Iraqi officials, Iran has sent three attack-planes to the Maliki government, deepening its involvement in the crisis, reports the New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt).

Reuters’ reports that in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Iraqi government has admitted to losing control of a former chemical weapons facility to “armed terrorist groups” and is thus unable to adhere to its international obligations to destroy the toxic substances stored in the facility.

In an interview from Turkey, exiled Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hasimi told The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) that ISIS is only one small part of a much greater Sunni revolt in Iraq, saying “[w]e shouldn’t look at this development of ISIS as apart from the uprising of the Arab Sunni provinces over two years.”

The Washington Post (Loveday Morris) reports on the first significant instance of intra-Shiite violence in Iraq since ISIS took control of Mosul last month.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed frustration at the administration for lacking a clear strategy to defeat the Sunni militancy plaguing Iraq, following a closed door briefing yesterday [The Hill’s Martin Matishak; Politico’s Jeremy Herb].

Syria

The BBC (Nick Hopkins) has learned that, according to a leaked UK Foreign Office document, Britain sold key chemicals and components to Syria which ended up being used in the manufacture of sarin.

The western-backed Syrian opposition, the National Coalition, has elected Hadi al-Bahra as its new president, following a three day meeting in Istanbul [Reuters’ Mike Theiler].

Speaking in Oslo on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder urged American allies to strengthen their counterterrorism strategy to hinder western extremists from joining the civil war in Syria [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman]. Holder suggested that the situation of foreign extremists amounted to a “global crisis.”

The Associated Press reports on the struggle of Syrian Refugee Women facing harassment and poverty, numbering some 145,000 according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

Guantánamo Bay

Jason Leopold [Al Jazeera America] reports that the Department of Justice said in court filings that a former warden of the Guantánamo detention facility should not have to testify in court, in order to “defend against our enemies’ legal challenges,” as it could lower the morale of soldiers under his command. The arguments were made as part of the ongoing legal battle brought on behalf of Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

Guantánamo is looking to buy new full-body scanners for the prison, but the military did not say whether this would replace the genital searches of detainees [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Former Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr has won his appeal in a Canadian court to be transferred from a Canadian federal medium-security prison to a provincial jail [Associated Press].

Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned countries to not be fooled by Russia’s “double game” of making conciliatory statements, while waging “hybrid warfare,” combining military action, covert operations and a campaign of disinformation [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon].

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has agreed on a plan with his military advisers to reclaim Donetsk, the remaining stronghold of the pro-Russian separatists, but said that the army will avoid battles in the streets of the populated city [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson and Lukas I. Alpert].

The International Civil Aviation Organization has announced that the Crimean airspace belongs to Ukraine, despite Russia’s annexation of the peninsula earlier this year [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff].

And Adrian Karatnycky, writing in the Wall Street Journal, warns that with pro-Russian separatists in retreat, the Kremlin is likely to “turn to using economic power against Kiev.”

Afghanistan

A Taliban bombing strike in a village north of Kabul has proved to be one of the deadliest in months, killing 10 Afghan civilians, two Afghan police officers, and four Czech soldiers [New York Times’ Azam Ahmed]. A top UN official in Afghanistan condemned the attack, which took the lives of a number of children, as “beyond horrific” [UN New Centre].

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has stopped just short of declaring his own government, claiming victory in defiance of Monday’s preliminary results favoring his rival Ashraf Ghani [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati et al]. Abdullah’s outburst comes as President Obama called on him to urge “calm and dialogue” in response to fraud allegations [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Other Developments

Federal prosecutors have stated that further charges will be filed against Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the accused ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attacks [Washington Post’s Ann E. Marimow].

The Obama administration’s handling of whistleblower complaints and the Veterans Affairs agency’s treatment of employees who shed light on poor medical care has come under serious criticism from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

The top U.S. diplomat declared persona non grata by the Bahraini government was on route back to Washington on Tuesday, according to Bahraini officials [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]. The Washington Post editorial board argues that the U.S. must take a stronger position on the situation as “[b]y allowing nominal allies to defy and insult it with impunity, the administration further weakens U.S standing in the Middle East.”

Following an attack from al-Shabaab fighters on Somalia’s presidential palace last evening, Somali troops have retaken the property [Al Jazeera].

The Guardian (Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger) reports that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that Iran would need to carry out industrial-scale uranium enrichment so as to satisfy its long-term energy requirements.

The U.S. and China said they were determined to maintain positive relations despite deep differences, including over cyber-espionage allegations and the regional maritime dispute, as high level talks between the two begin today [Washington Post’s Simon Denyer].

Houthi fighters, a Yemeni Shia rebel group, have taken control of the northwestern city of Amran during fighting which has continued for weeks with Sunnis from one of Yemen’s largest tribes, according to government and military officials [Al Jazeera].

Al Jazeera reports that North Korea has fired two more projectiles, in an apparent attempt to continue its recent demonstrations of ballistic missile abilities, according to South Korea.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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