News Roundup and Notes: October 21, 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.

Surveillance

On Friday, the FISC released a new legal opinion of Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, signed on October 11, in which she approves the extension of the NSA’s call log metadata program, which must be approved every 90 days [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. The ruling endorses a lengthy opinion of Judge Claire V. Eagan, who previously approved extending the NSA program. Unlike the previous ruling, Judge McLaughlin refers to the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in United States v. Jones, but distinguishes the NSA program from the aggregated location tracking, which was in issue before the Supreme Court.

According to a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, the NSA spied on the email of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. A Mexican Foreign Ministry statement declared the hacking “unacceptable, illegitimate and against Mexican and international law” [CNN’s Dana Ford].

And earlier this morning, France’s Le Monde reported that the NSA taped over 70 million phone conversations in France over a 30-day period from December last year [AFP]. Interior Minister Manuel Valls described the revelations as “shocking.” The Guardian (Sam Jones) reports that the French government has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Paris, calling for an explanation about the allegations.

Reuters (Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel) reports that according to officials, the NSA failed to install the latest anti-leak software at the base where Edward Snowden then went to work due to bandwidth issues.

The Hill’s Brendan Sasso notes that the upcoming retirement of NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander “will give President Obama an opportunity to transform the agency.” Obama does not require Senate approval for the appointment, though legislation proposed by Senator Feinstein could change that fact in the future.

The Washington Post’s editorial board writes that now that the Justice Department is “fixing its disclosure rules,” at least one case “is likely to result in an actionable constitutional claim against the government’s warrantless wiretapping authority.” As reported in the New York Times last Thursday, the Justice Department is set to inform a defendant that the evidence against him was obtained from the warrantless wiretapping program.

Department of Defense

A new DoD directive requires the Pentagon to notify Congress whenever a department official discloses intelligence that “is currently classified or if it is declassified for the purpose of the disclosure” [FAS’s Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood]. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, this is to “ensure that the intelligence committees are made aware of authorized disclosures of national intelligence… so that, among other things, these authorized disclosures may be distinguished from unauthorized ‘leaks’.”

The Los Angeles Times (Shashank Bengali) covers the Pentagon’s increased military investment in Africa, especially Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which “reflects Africa’s growing importance to counter-terrorism efforts.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Romania’s Minister of Defense Mircea Dusa at the Pentagon on Friday where the leaders agreed that Romania would support logistics in and out of Afghanistan, including both personnel and cargo movement [American Forces Press Service].

The DoD has “begun the process of relocating from the Transit Center at Manas International Airport (TCM) and plans to complete the transfer of areas and facilities to the Government of Kyrgyzstan by July 2014” [American Forces Press Service]. The Department thanked the Kyrgyz government for the support provided “to U.S. forces and coalition efforts to counter the threat of terrorism and to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan and the region and respects the decision of the Government of Kyrgyzstan to end hosting the TCM after more than 12 years.”

Syria

The Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby announced yesterday that Syrian peace talks would take place on November 23 in Geneva [Washington Post’s  Abigail Hauslohner]. In the same conference, UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi stated that an official date had not been set. And members of the Syrian opposition continued to dismiss the Geneva II peace talks.

A suicide bomber blew up a truck at an army checkpoint in the Syrian city of Hama yesterday, leaving at least 43 people dead [Al Jazeera]. The state news agency blamed the attack on “terrorists.”

Asharq Al-Awsat covers the escalating tension between Syria’s Islamist rebels and Hamas. In recent statements, Hamas leader Khaled Mishal has called on his group to stop interfering in Syria’s domestic affairs and has announced his “support of a peaceful solution in Syria.”

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib and Margaret Coker) reports how a “rare” three-way deal brought “warring sides to table.” Owing to a diplomatic intervention from Qatar, Syrian rebels released nine Lebanese hostages in exchange for the release of two Turkish Airlines pilots and about 100 female prisoners, according to regional officials.

The Washington Post editorial board argues that the Syrian crisis has not yet been averted and that the “Geneva meeting is looking doubtful, in part because U.S. diplomats are unable to explain how it could lead to Mr. Assad’s departure.” Max Fisher in the Washington Post notes that while the chemical weapons deal appears to be “so far achievable” and makes it less likely that the regime will use chemical weapons again, “the deal probably helps Assad stay in power.”

Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against “any partial deal” with Iran that could “end up in dissolving the sanctions” on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday (Tom Curry). He stated:

I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program, that is, dismantles it.

The Financial Times (Katerina Dalacoura) notes that Iran’s diplomacy effort with the West “shows a recognition of its decline.” Politico’s Joel Rubin writes that the “diplomatic thaw between Iran and the West” is advancing at a fast pace. He argues that a “verifiable deal” with Iran would require sanctions relief from Congress, but “that’s an opportunity to claim victory, not a burden.”

Egypt

The state news agency reported that the retrial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resumed on Saturday [CNN].

Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded outside a military intelligence headquarters in Ismailia on Saturday, wounding at least six military personnel and “highlighting the rise in militant attacks on security forces here,” reports the Washington Post (Erin Cunningham).

Egyptian security forces clashed with supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi yesterday to prevent the protestors from marching on to the site of a protest camp, where hundreds of protestors were killed two months ago [Reuters’ Michael Georgy].

And last night, gunmen attacked a church in Cairo, killing at least three people, including a woman and a girl [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim].

In the U.S., Politico (Josh Gerstein and Jonathan Allen) reports that the Obama administration “is treating Egypt’s summer revolution as a coup – even if the White House won’t call it that.” The report notes that there are “deep concerns” in Congress that Obama is “sidestepping the law and setting a new precedent for denying aid to other countries in similar situations without making the critical determination that a coup occurred.”

Pakistan

State department officials confirmed on Saturday that the U.S. plans to give more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan, ahead of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit, reports the New York Times’ Thom Shanker. U.S. programs had been blocked because of tension between the countries over events including the Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Tim Craig) covers the “optimism” in Islamabad and Washington as Sharif visits Obama this week, with the agenda likely to cover the administration’s use of drone strikes, U.S. aid programs and Pakistan’s growing nuclear weapons arsenal.

Other developments

On Friday, President Obama officially announced plans to nominate former Pentagon lawyer, Jeh Johnson as “the right person” to replace Janet Napolitano as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security [Politico’s Jennifer Epstein].

A bipartisan group of 50 senators have indicated their opposition to ratifying the UN Arms Trade Treaty because, among other reasons, “the State Department has acknowledged that the treaty includes language that could hinder the United States from fulfilling its strategic, legal and moral commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel” [Times of Israel’s Rebecca Shimoni Stoil].

Two high-ranking U.S. Navy officers are under arrest on corruption charges in what is “shaping up as the biggest fraud case in years for the Navy” [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

The AP reports that according to officials, the construction of the largest U.S. navy destroyer built so far is on time and on budget.

The Washington Post (Sayed Salahuddin) reports that Afghanistan’s traditional assembly, the loya jirga is scheduled to meet on November 19 to deliberate the U.S.-Afghanistan deal. The deliberations could last up to a week. And as the U.S. prepares to withdraw from the country, 12 million to 14 million pounds of its equipment is being sold every week on the Afghan market [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff]. The equipment is however being destroyed before sale to ensure that components in appliances are not used to make explosives.

On Friday, the ICC issued a decision conditionally granting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s request to be excused from continuous presence at his trial, scheduled to start on 12 November [ICC press release].

The New York Times (Edward Wong and Nicola Clark) covers how China’s arms industry has been making “global inroads,” with Chinese foreign arms exports having “nearly doubled over the past five years to $2.2 billion, surpassing Canada and Sweden, and making China the world’s eighth-largest exporter by value.”

Hamas’ military wing has claimed responsibility for a tunnel running under the Israel-Gaza border, discovered last week [Reuters’ Nidal al-Mughrabi]. A spokesperson for the group said that the tunnel had been dug in an attempt to force Israel to release some of the thousands of prisoners it holds.

A suicide bomber in Somali city, Beledweyne killed at least 12 people on Saturday [AP]. No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack.

At least 54 people were killed in two successive suicide attacks in a crowded café in Baghdad yesterday [New York Times’ Yasir Ghazi]. Explosions also struck other areas in Baghdad, claiming more lives.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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