News Roundup and Notes: July 10, 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

German prosecutors have expanded their investigation of alleged U.S. spying, with a second German official, reportedly working in the Defense Ministry in Berlin, suspected of spying for the U.S. [Reuters’ Thorsten Severin and Mark Hosenball; Washington Post’s Sarah Larimer and Greg Miller]. The investigation, which comes only days after the arrest of the German intelligence agency official, is likely to worsen relations between the two countries.

The New York Times (Michael S. Schmidt et al.) is reporting that earlier this year, Chinese hackers broke into the databases of the Office of Personnel Management, which store the personal information of all federal employees, according to senior American officials. A senior Department of Homeland Security official confirmed the attack, but said that “at this time” the personnel agency and Homeland Security had not identified “any loss of personally identifiable information.” It remains unclear if the hackers were part of the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said he had a “frank exchange” with Chinese counterparts on issues of cybersecurity during talks this week in Beijing [Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley].

The Intercept’s report that the NSA and FBI spied on high-profile Muslim-Americans, covered in yesterday’s Roundup, has triggered new concerns over U.S. surveillance activities. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, issued a statement calling for a “full explanation” from the administration. Ellison said:

“An American’s faith does not give law enforcement reasonable suspicion to violate their constitutional rights. Suspicious behavior indicating criminal behavior should be the basis for attracting law enforcement surveillance—not a person’s religion.”

Sen. Ron Wyden said that the latest report “raises new questions about agencies’ internal oversight of domestic surveillance activities and the adequacy of protections for the privacy of law-abiding Americans.” A coalition of 45 civil rights and faith-based organizations have also written a letter to President Obama calling for “a full public accounting” of the reported practices.

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that the administration took the accusation of ethnic slurs in NSA memos “extremely seriously,” and that the White House has ordered an assessment of intelligence community policies [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman].

Almost two months after the report that the NSA was recording and archiving virtually all cell phone conversations in the Bahamas, residents and government officials from the island nation remain divided over the surveillance allegations, according to The Intercept (Ryan Devereaux et al.).

The UK government has announced it will introduce “emergency” surveillance legislation to strengthen the powers of intelligence services in relation to requiring companies to retain records of customers’ emails and phone calls [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour].

And former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has asked Russian authorities to extend his asylum in the country [Interfax].

Israel-Palestine

Reuters (Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan) reports that Israel’s most recent bombing raid killing 8 is the deadliest yet since its Gaza offensive began on Tuesday. Israel said the offensive is intended to halt Hamas rocket fire, reaching Israel’s interior.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to increase “the assault on Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza” [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger and Isabel Kershner].

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is convening with leaders to sign the requisite documents for joining international organizations so as to “protect the people in Gaza” by all legal and diplomatic means [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury].

The Obama administration has once again publically defended Israel’s right to self-defense, while “encouraging all sides to de-escalate the situation,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that “Gaza is on knife edge” and that the region cannot risk another “full-blown war.”

The Washington Post (William Booth and Ruth Eglash) reports on the targeted nature of Israel’s drone attacks, with the Israeli aircraft firing precision-guided missiles into specific homes.

Steve Erlanger [New York Times] discusses the growing arsenal of home-grown rockets possessed by Hamas and its allies.

In Haaretz, Barak Ravid comments on the lack of an appropriate party in Israel to help mediate a ceasefire, while Gideon Levy questions the continuation of the Gaza blockade.

The Los Angeles Times (Batsheva Sobelman) reports that an Israeli police officer is to be charged with the recently reported beating of the Palestinian-American teenager.

Be sure to check Haaretz for live updates on the conflict.

Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Kurdish leaders of allowing the city of Erbil to operate as a base for terrorist activity [Al Jazeera].

Abigail Hauslohner [Washington Post] reports that at least 50 bodies have been found blindfolded and bound in a majority Shiite area south of Baghdad, raising fears of sectarian war.

Following Iraq’s acknowledgment that Sunni militants seized nuclear materials in Mosul, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the material was “low grade” and was not a significant security threat [BBC]. US officials have also reportedly downplayed the situation.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has expressed his concern  over the threat which ISIS poses to the US, saying “[i]t’s a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it’s a threat to us” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

Saudi Arabia is encouraging allied tribes in Iraq to reject the Sunni extremist insurgency, a pivotal move following the country’s previous calls to Sunni tribes in Iraq to turn against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley and Adam Entous].

Alissa J. Rubin for the New York Times describes glimpses of “Iraq’s new fractured reality”. Douglas A. Ollivant [Politico Magazine] argues why Iraq is more stable than one might assume. And Jamie Dettmer [The Daily Beast] engages with the theological debate behind the caliphate.

Syria

Veteren Italian-Swedish diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, is said to have been chosen as the third UN envoy to the Syrian conflict [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta].

The French government has expressed its intention to propose legislation authorizing it to block suspected Islamist extremists from leaving France, amid international concern over Western jihadis going to join the combat in Syria [New York Times’ Scott Sayre].

Benghazi

The Associated Press (Donna Cassata and Bradley Klapper) reports that new testimony from military commanders involved in the aftermath of the 2012 Benghazi attacks suggests that the perpetrators of a second attack on the CIA complex were likely different from those who committed the first attack on the US diplomatic mission, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and another American.

Members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi have received a classified briefing on Libya militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, accused of masterminding the 2012 attacks [Politico’s Lauren French].

Pakistan

The Express Tribune reports that a drone strike in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan has killed seven people and injured a further three. According to sources, four of the deceased were foreigners.

The Pakistani army has taken control of 80 percent of Miransha, the capital of North Waziristan, where the military launched an operation on June 15 against Islamist militants [Reuters’ Mehreen Zahra-Malik].

The Washington Post (Haw Nawaz Khan and Tim Craig) reports that the Pakistani military operation in the region has displaced more than 700,000 people, according to the UN refugee agency.

Russia and Ukraine

Three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 27 wounded in the latest clashes with pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country [Reuters].

The EU has agreed to add 11 names to the list of those sanctioned in relation to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, according to a source [Associated Press]. Meanwhile, President Obama has been criticized by some lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for failing to follow through on his threat of further Russian sanctions [Bloomberg News’ Nicole Gaouette].

Gregory L. White [Wall Street Journal] reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is appearing to avoid further sanctions from the West by adopting “mixed signals,” involving public silence on the defeat of pro-Russia militants, while still allowing weapons and fighters to cross the border into Ukraine.

The New York Times (Sabrina Tavernise and David M. Herszenhorn) covers the “patchwork” of rebels fighting in Ukraine’s east, which is making the task of a negotiated settlement through peace talks more difficult.

In the wake of Moscow’s actions in eastern Ukraine, a Pew Research Center report on Russia’s global image finds that the country is increasingly disliked in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.

Reuters reports that Russia has launched the Angara rocket, the first new design to come out of Russia since the Soviet era.

Other Developments

Ken Dilanian [Associated Press] covers how army leaders have sought to defend the military’s flawed intelligence technology system, although a number of independent government reports have highlighted the weaknesses in the system.

The White House has announced that Matt Olsen, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will resign later this year.

The Guardian (Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor) reports that files dealing with the UK’s role in the CIA’s extraordinary renditions, and the use of British Territory Diego Garcia, have been accidentally destroyed, according to claims made by the UK Foreign Office.

Andrew Siddons [New York Times] reports that the White House has announced it will expand sanctions on groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the hopes of deterring violence in the country.

UK Foreign Minister William Hague has told Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung that fundamental differences remain between Iran and the P5+1 countries over Iran’s nuclear program, as negotiations continue in Vienna [Reuters’ Ahmed Saad].

UN report released yesterday indicates that ground engagements in civilian-populated areas of Afghanistan have contributed to the recent surge in casualties, saying that the death toll for this year was particularly high for women and children [New York Times’ Azam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg].

North Korea has hinted that the recent spike in rocket launches is linked to an awareness of the current high-level meetings in the region [Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng].

Bloomberg News (Ilya Gridneff) has learned that the Chinese government is selling South Sudan $38 million worth of arms as it pledges to assist in ending the country’s civil war.

Alex Perry [Newsweek] discusses his experiences with Boko Haram, “terror’s insidious new face,” in Nigeria.

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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