News Roundup and Notes: July 11, 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

Germany has ordered the CIA’s top officer in Berlin to leave the country, in an astonishing escalation of the dispute between the countries over two suspected U.S. spies [Der Spiegel; Reuters’ Madeline Chambers].

Analysts have told Politico (Joseph Marks) that China’s hacking into the databases of the Office of Personnel Management, covered in yesterday’s Roundup, is simply “traditional national security espionage through different means,” and within the boundaries of modern cyberspying.

Senate-CIA dispute

The Justice Department has decided not to open a criminal investigation into allegations that the CIA spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee or that classified documents were removed by committee staffers from a secure CIA facility [McClatchy DC’s Ali Watkins]. The competing referrals to the Justice Department were made in the context of the public dispute over the committee’s investigation of the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation techniques.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said this was “the right decision,” which would “allow the committee to focus on the upcoming release of its report on the CIA detention and interrogation program” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

However, Sen. Mark Udall, who also serves on the intelligence committee, was critical of the decision. Calling for further answers from the CIA, Udall said:

“The Justice Department’s decision is troubling and draws a false equivalency between congressional staff fulfilling their constitutional obligations and an executive branch agency potentially breaking the law.”

Similarly, Sen. Ron Wyden, while welcoming the decision not to prosecute Senate staff “for simply doing their jobs,” said that the CIA “still has some very serious questions to answer about the unauthorized search of Senate files and whether CIA officials believe they have the authority to do this again.”

Taliban prisoner exchange

James Rosen [McClatchy DC] reports that all seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff support the controversial prisoner swap with the Taliban that secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, according to letters sent to Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin. Sen. Levin said that each of the military leaders “emphasized a simple principle—America does not leave its troops behind.” [ICYMI, check out Judge Advocate General Timothy Mathews’ guest post at Just Security, in which he highlights the Pentagon’s “high priority to recover missing soldiers.”]

Meanwhile, a photograph of what appears to be Bergdahl smiling next to a senior Taliban officer has been posted to a Twitter account associated with the Afghan Taliban [NBC News’ Mushtaq Yusufzai]. The photograph was dismissed by a Pentagon spokesperson as “100 percent propaganda.”

Israel-Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers yesterday that a ceasefire with Hamas was “not even on the agenda” [Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash]. However, President Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. remains prepared “to facilitate a cessation of hostilities” [The Hill’s Amie Parnes].

Haaretz is providing live updates of the conflict in the region, where Hamas has threatened to fire rockets at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport, and the Gaza death toll is at 95, while over 350 rockets have been fired on Israel.

Reuters (Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Ori Lewis) reports that a Palestinian rocket hit an Israeli petrol station, resulting in a huge blaze. And Al Jazeera America (Renee Lewis) notes that rocket fire also hit Israel from Lebanon for the first time in the offensive, although it is as yet unclear who carried out the attack.

Israel’s Iron Dome has intercepted some 90 percent of Palestinian rockets during this week’s surge in fighting, Israeli and U.S. officials said Thursday [Reuters’ Dan Williams].

Al Jazeera (Fares Akram) has learned that the Rafah border crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border has opened in a restricted manner, with travelling limited to medical patients and those seriously wounded by Israeli air strikes.

Amir Oren [Haaretz] argues that the “worst outcome” of the current conflict would be if Netanyahu sees this as an opportunity to “realize his ongoing dream” of attacking Iran.

The New York Times (Steven Erlanger) reports on how the killing of a Palestinian teenager last week has drawn attention to Israeli extremism. And Uri Blau [ProPublica] suggests that U.S. taxpayer money may assist in the defense of those accused of the teen’s murder, through the “controversial Israeli organization” Honenu, support of which is tax deductible in the U.S.

Iraq and Syria

The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin and Alan Cowell) reports that the Kurdish regional government has called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down.

Jonathan Foreman [Wall Street Journal] argues that the time is ripe for the U.S. and the West to support Kurdish independence and to establish U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, making it “America’s military hub in the region.”

The Associated Press reports that Sunni militants have raided an Iraqi military base in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

Alexander Dziadosz [Reuters] covers how the flailing Iraqi army has become reliant on Shiite militias and volunteers.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Nohad Machnouk, has confirmed the appearance of ISIS in Beirut, while adding that militants in Lebanon have been emboldened by the success of the militant Sunni group and are now seeking to emulate it [Reuters’ Laila Bassam and Tom Perry].

Afghanistan

The Associated Press reports on Secretary of State John Kerry’s last-minute visit to Kabul earlier today, in the hopes of brokering a deal between Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, the  United Nations’ plan to ease the political situation has received mixed responses, with presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah outright rejecting the proposal [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Carlotta Gall], while current President Hamid Karzai appearing to be on board [The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison].

Russia and Ukraine

At least four Ukrainian servicemen and five coal miners were reported killed today in the most recent violence in eastern Ukraine [Reuters’ Natalia Zinets].

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has told Vice President Biden that efforts to negotiate a ceasefire with rebels in Ukraine have had no success [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Wall Street Journal (James Marson) reports on the collateral damage caused by Kiev’s rudimentary Soviet era artillery and planes, as well as the practice of rebels shooting from residential areas, provoking the military to shoot civilian targets.

Noah Sneider [New York Times] discusses the “ultranationalist and reactionary” commander of the pro-Russian separatists, Igor Strelkov, describing him as conforming to an increasingly familiar profile in Russia of “messianic and militaristic” figures.

An Amnesty International report on abductions in eastern Ukraine finds that “[t]he bulk of abductions are being perpetrated by armed separatists, with the victims often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture.”

Other Developments

David E. Sanger [New York Times] reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is due to join the Vienna negotiations over Iran’s nuclear activities, as little progress is being made ahead of the July 20 deadline. In the U.S., 344 House lawmakers have demanded that President Obama seeks congressional approval for “[a]ny permanent sanctions relief” associated with a possible final deal with Iran [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad].

The Treasury Department has sanctioned a web of corporations in Lebanon, the UAE, and China for assisting in the procurement of military equipment for the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.

The New York Times (Ismail Khan and Declan Walsh) reports on the progress of the Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan, noting that many militant leaders fled the region before the offensive began, according to a Pakistani military commander.

The EU will apply sanctions to two South Sudanese military leaders as of today, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Matina Stevis.

Edmund Blair [Reuters] discusses the risk of “a full-blown insurgency” in Kenya, unless President Uhuru Kenyatta is able to combat the “combustible mix of ethnic rivalries, land rows and Islamist militancy.”

The New York Times editorial board discusses Bahrain’s recent expulsion of a senior U.S. diplomat, stating that “[t]hese outrageous moves call into question Bahrain’s commitment to its alliance with the United States.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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