News Roundup and Notes: October 3, 2013

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.

Government shutdown

The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that the government shutdown “seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation and its citizens” [The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz]. He also said that the shutdown was a “dreamland” for foreign intelligence services looking to recruit U.S. spies.

CNN’s Security Clearance (Elise Labott) reports that the shutdown will delay security upgrades at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas as well as affect “vital missions,” including military assistance to key Middle East allies, according to a State Department press briefing.

In an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass expresses concern that the government shutdown, combined with other recent events, weakens U.S. foreign policy. It “sends a message to allies that they’re somewhat on their own” and “sends a message to adversaries…that you’ve got a more unpredictable America.”

Nikolas Gvosdev writes in the National Interest that the current political dysfunction amplifies President Obama’s problems in the Middle East as he will require a congressional mandate to “make any progress on the matters he highlighted in his UN General Assembly address.”

The New York Times’ Mark Landler comments on how the government shutdown has “produced at least one winner: China.” In forcing President Obama to cancel his trip to Malaysia and the Philippines next week, the shutdown is preventing the President from showing support for the two countries “that have long labored under the shadow of China.”

The Washington Post editorial board argues that “Republicans are putting U.S. embassies across the world at risk with their shutdown…at a time when the United States remains under threat from al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.”

Surveillance

The Department of Justice has asked the FISC to deny a request from technology firms – including Google, Facebook and Microsoft – to disclose information about the number and nature of data requests they receive from the government [Washington Post‘s [Hayley Tsukayama]. The Justice Department filing claimed that any such disclosure would be “invaluable to our adversaries.”

At yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted that the NSA collected Americans’ cellphone location data as part of a pilot program in 2010 and 2011 [The Hill’s Brendan Sasso]. He stated that the data was not used for any intelligence analysis. Addressing whether the NSA would ever collect such data, he said: “This may be something that would be a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now,” and he stated that the NSA would notify Congress before resuming the program.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein covers the “collision course” that Senate Democrats Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein appear to be on. While Leahy made clear at yesterday’s Committee hearing that he will be pressing ahead with a bill aimed at closing the NSA surveillance program altogether, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, Feinstein indicated that she “will do everything” to prevent the program from being cancelled. Politico’s Alex Byers has more details on the proposed surveillance reform bill that is being co-sponsored by Leahy.

Iran-U.S.-Israel

The Telegraph (Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat) reports that the commander of Iran’s cyber warfare program has been shot dead, triggering accusations that foreign powers are behind the targeted killings of key officials in Iran’s security services.

Earlier today, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed that the U.S. would not take anything at “face-value” with Iran and would only rely on “sufficient” actions [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]. Addressing Netanyahu’s concerns, he stated:

We are firmly determined that Israel’s security remains paramount.

In an interview with CNN, one of Iran’s Vice-Presidents, Mohammad-Ali Najafi said that “people-to-people dialogues” could “accelerate the development of diplomatic and political relations” between the U.S. and Iran.

Another Iranian Vice-President, Massoumeh Ebtekar wrote in the Guardian yesterday that Iran is “genuinely committed to peace” and welcomed last week’s “constructive dialogue” at the UN, including the historic phone call between the U.S. and Iranian leaders.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren spoke to Washington Post’s Joby Warrick in his last week in the role, stating that the “margin for error is so small” when it comes to maintaining Israel’s deterrence power against nuclear threats from Iran.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Vali Nasr cautions that the U.S. should not be “naïve to assume that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness.” Rather, Iran has come out of the Arab Spring “better positioned than any of its regional rivals.” Max Fisher in the Washington Post discusses how President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu “agree more about Iran than they let on.”

Al Jazeera’s Yermi Brenner covers the “doubts raised” by international nuclear experts and by some voices within Israeli society over “Israel’s decades-long nuclear ambiguity policy following regional developments [in Syria and Iran].” And Reuters’ (Angus McDowall) reports that Saudi Arabia cancelled its speech at the UN this week for the first time owing to UN inaction over the Palestinian issue and the Syria crisis.

Syria

In a presidential statement, the UN Security Council urged the Syrian government to provide immediate access for humanitarian aid. The statement, which was agreed to by consensus of all 15 members of the Security Council, called for aid to flow “across conflict lines” and “where appropriate, across borders” [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Lauria]. According to diplomats, the Syrian regime has blocked aid deliveries in fear that they could be used to facilitate the smuggling of arms by rebel forces.

According to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, the U.S., along with its European allies, is considering training moderate rebel forces in Syria so that a moderate security force can come into place if the Syrian President is deposed [The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz]. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller also reports on the CIA’s program to expand training to opposition fighters, but notes that it is “miniscule…expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month.”

In an interview with Today’s Savannah Guthrie, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power stated that the “credible threat of military force” against Syria had not been taken off the table.

Other developments

The Washington Post (Kevin Sieff) reports that a long-term security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan remains unresolved. According to a spokesperson for the Afghani President Hamid Karzai, the key contested issues are Afghanistan’s insistence that the U.S. does more to prevent the flow of terrorism from Pakistan, and the objection to unilateral U.S. military operations.

Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times (Opinionator) analyzes the arguments in al-Bahlul v. United States earlier this week – “the most important military commission case to come before any court in the more than seven years since [Hamdan v. Rumsfeld].”

An agreement between the U.S. and Japan will enable the U.S. to fly long-range surveillance drones from an undetermined base in Japan next year [Craig Whitlock and Anne Gearan in the Washington Post].

Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam appear to hit a “frosty patch” after a court in Vietnam sentenced a U.S. trained human rights lawyer to prison for tax-evasion, in a move that is widely viewed as politically motivated, including by the U.S. embassy in Hanoi [Wall Street Journal’s James Hookway].

As noted in last week’s News Roundup, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton is on a three-day visit in Egypt aimed at renewing negotiations between the military-backed government and the opposition [Al Jazeera].

The ICC has unsealed an arrest warrant against Côte d’Ivoire’s Charles Blé Goudé for alleged crimes against humanity.

A Russian embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli was attacked by gunmen yesterday, following the news of the arrest of a Russian woman accused of killing a senior Libyan military official [The Guardian’s Chris Stephen].

BBC reports that at least 12 people have been killed in a Taliban attack on a rival militant commander’s compound in north-west Pakistani.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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