News Roundup and Notes: October 24, 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.

Drones

The Washington Post (Greg Miller and Bob Woodward) reports that top Pakistani officials have “for years secretly endorsed the [CIA’s drone] program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts.” The top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos, which detail at least 65 strikes, reveal the “explicit nature of a secret arrangement” between the two countries, while also exposing the “distrust and dysfunction that has afflicted U.S.-Pakistani relations even amid the undeclared collaboration on drone strikes.”

The Post also reports that the documents map the “evolution of CIA strategy” as the drone campaign expanded beyond “high-value” al-Qaeda targets to include low-level fighters. Importantly, the secret documents reveal that the dates and number of drone strikes generally correspond with public databases, “indicating that those organizations have reliably tracked drone attacks from media reports.”

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Obama at yesterday’s White House meeting to end U.S. drone strikes in his country [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]. President Obama acknowledged that there would “inevitably be some tensions” but vowed to move forward with economic and military cooperation.

In a joint statement made after the meeting, the two leaders stressed that their “enduring partnership is based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Wall Street Journal (Jared A. Favole and Saeed Shah) and New York Times (Mark Landler) have more details on the meeting.

In light of the reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the New York Times editorial board calls for “greater transparency and accountability from the government.” Although the President has pledged “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” there is “no way to judge whether or how well [the strikes] are being carried out” as the administration does not talk about the attacks. The editorial also warns that while drones are important in reaching extremists in “lawless areas,” they are “creating enemies for the United States.”

And Financial Times’ David Pilling argues that “a nation at war with an abstract threat has no right to mount a pre-emptive killing spree.” Irrespective of the legality of the program, Pilling writes that “drone strikes set a dangerous precedent.”

Surveillance

President Obama spoke with German Chancellor Merkel yesterday regarding allegations that the NSA intercepted communications of the German leader. According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama “assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel” [Politico’s Jennifer Epstein]. Carney did not comment on whether the NSA had monitored Merkel’s calls in the past.

According to the Chancellors’ spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, Merkel told Obama “she unmistakably disapproves of and views as completely unacceptable such practices, if the indications are authenticated” [The Guardian’s Ian Traynor et al.]. Seibert added that Merkel told Obama that she expected the Americans “to supply information over the possible scale of such eavesdropping practices against Germany and reply to questions that the federal government asked months ago.”

The German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere has told ARD television that Germany “can’t simply return to business as usual,” but maintained that relations between the two countries will remain “stable and important” [AP].

A White House spokesperson has told The Telegraph (Raf Sanchez) that the U.S. does not monitor U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications, and has never done so in the past.

The New York Times (Alison Smale) covers the growing anger among U.S. allies over NSA spying and notes that the “damage to core American relationships continues to mount.”

The Wall Street Journal (Sam Schechner and Frances Robinson) reports that the latest allegations of NSA spying have given “new momentum” to strengthening the EU’s privacy laws, ahead of a two-day summit in Brussels that will discuss data privacy and spying among other issues. According to draft summit documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the EU leaders are aiming to have the new data protection law approved by next year.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Tuesday calling for the suspension of Swift, an information-sharing pact between the EU and the U.S., amidst claims that the NSA was using the arrangement to spy into European financial dealings [The Guardian’s Ian Traynor]. The Guardian reports that any such move is “highly unlikely.”

Politico (Tony Romm) notes that tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have started a “quiet new lobbying push around government surveillance laws” and are seeking to influence NSA reform.

The Financial Times (Geoff Dyer) warns that the real wake-up call could be Mexico, “the alleged spying target that has received the least attention but where the reports have included the most compromising details.” Mexico “could limit security co-operation with the U.S.” in light of the spying allegations.

Syria

Foreign Policy’s The Cable (Yochi Dreazen) covers the split between Secretary of State John Kerry and senior State Department officials over whether to go ahead with the Geneva 2 peace talks on Syria. While Kerry is strongly backing the talks, top officials are urging that the conference be called off as the main Syrian opposition groups are unlikely to attend.

NATO officials are exploring the possibility of assisting in the weapons disarmament process in Syria, possibly in co-operation with Russia, reports the Wall Street Journal (Stephen Fidler). At a news conference following the NATO meeting in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated that NATO may be “asked for some assistance.” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he would expect members to “respond positively if the United Nations actually forwards a request. Whether that would be executed on an individual national basis or collectively, it’s really premature to make any assessment on that at this stage.”

BBC reports that large parts of Syria are experiencing blackouts after rebel artillery hit a gas pipeline that feeds a power station, according to state media.

Al Jazeera notes that a total of 62 women detainees have now been released by Syria as part of the three-way deal between Syria, Turkey and Lebanon, which was arranged by Qatar.

In the “first trial of its kind in Western Europe,” a Dutch court convicted two men of “preparing to commit murder” yesterday, on the basis that they planned to join Syrian rebel forces [Al Jazeera America’s Lisa De Bode].

And Max Fisher reports in the Washington Post that according to political science, the Syrian civil war will continue for at least another decade.

Iran and Israel

According to a statement of Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a senior member of the parliamentary national security commission, Tehran has stopped processing uranium to levels above the 5 percent required for civilian power stations because it already has all the 20-percent enriched fuel that is required for Tehran’s medical research reactor [Reuters].

The rift between American and Israeli officials over Iran’s nuclear issue appears to be growing, as Israel calls for effective disarmament while the U.S. suggests adequate safeguards could demonstrate that the nuclear program is for civilian, not military purposes [Al Jazeera]. At yesterday’s meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome that focused on Iran and the Palestine peace process, Netanyahu insisted that Iran entirely cease its nuclear development [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick].  Netanyahu warned:

No deal is better than a bad deal. I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal.

The Washington Post (Joby Warrick) and New York Times (Michael Gordon) also report on the increasing criticism of U.S. policies from key Middle Eastern allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, key Republican donor Sheldon Adelson has called for a nuclear strike on Iran to send a message to the regime that the U.S. “mean business”, according to video posted by Mondoweiss [Politico’s Lucy Mccalmont].

And two U.S. senators have called for a Pentagon investigation into a contract awarded to a Dubai company – to deliver supplies to American forces in Afghanistan – which allegedly violated U.S. sanctions by using Iran as part of the shipping route [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon].

Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers expressed optimism that the U.S.-Afghanistan deal would be concluded in time for the end of NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan next year [Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Fidler]. After the NATO meeting, Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi stated he was “very confident that the Loya Jirga is going to realize the significance” of the bilateral agreement with the U.S.

Saudi Arabia

David Ignatius writes that the U.S.-Saudi “crackup,” which has “been on the way for more than two years,” has reached a “dramatic tipping point” [Washington Post]. He notes that the administration’s “lack of communication with the Saudis and other Arab allies is mystifying at a time when the U.S. is exploring new policy initiatives” with Russia and Iran.

Mark LeVine explores the complicated “special relationship” between the U.S. and Saudi in Al Jazeera, which can be best described as a “weapondollar-petrodollar coalition of interests.”

Other developments

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Ignatius writes that recent steps taken by DNI James Clapper are “welcome signs” that the structure of the DNI post “may finally be starting to work.” The structure, which had been “a kind of bureaucratic nightmare,” appears to be finally  working as Clapper has taken steps to force greater NSA transparency and stop military agencies from “wasteful spending on duplicative satellite imagery.”

According to Pentagon officials, cuts to the DoD’s budget under sequestration could result in cutting down at least a half-dozen F-35 fighter jets in 2014 across the services [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

Fox News (Catherine Herridge) reports that according to sources close to the House Intelligence Committee investigation into last year’s Benghazi attack, at least two key suspects are associated with al-Qaeda senior leadership.

Three U.K. Marines have been accused in a court martial of carrying out the “execution” of a badly wounded suspected insurgent in Afghanistan [The Guardian’s Steven Morris].

The draft Egyptian law that aims to sharply limit street protests is likely to be delayed because of the mounting opposition from rights groups [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]. The strict draft legislation would grant authorities “the use of lethal force for vague reasons, including threats to the public order.”

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib) reports on the anti-government protests in Tunisia, following the Prime Minister’s failure to step down in accordance with an agreed-upon political roadmap to a new constitution.

Two UN peacekeepers have been killed in northern Mali, with others severely wounded [BBC]. The attack has been condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [UN News Centre].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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