News Roundup and Notes: November 7, 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.

Iran

On the eve of the next round of negotiations with Iran, a National Security Council spokesperson stated last evening [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]:

The P5+1 is focused on developing a phased approach that in the first step halts Iran’s nuclear program from moving forward and potentially rolls back parts of it…In exchange for concrete, verifiable measures to address the P5+1’s concerns during the first step, the P5+1 would consider limited, targeted, and reversible relief that doesn’t affect our core sanctions architecture. That core sanctions architecture would be maintained until there is a final, comprehensive, verifiable agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns.

A U.S. official briefed reporters in Geneva last evening, similarly stating that the P5+1 are now looking for “a first step, an initial understanding” and that any relief in sanctions would be reinstated if no permanent agreement is reached within six months. The official indicated that the deal would put “additional time on the clock” and would allow the parties to negotiate a permanent settlement.

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon) and Washington Post (Joby Warrick) have more on this story.

A spokesperson for EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton has stated that the negotiations with Iran have entered “a serious phase” and warned that the negotiating parties “have to make concrete progress” [Reuters’ Justyna Pawlak and Fredrik Dahl].

However, in a move that aims to prevent the White House from easing sanctions, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told the Daily Beast yesterday he is crafting “an amendment to freeze the administration in and make it so they are unable to reduce the sanctions unless certain things occur” (Josh Rogin). The concessions Corker is seeking from Iran go beyond the “incremental deal being implemented” and if the new legislation is passed, it “could throw a wrench” into the administration’s negotiating plans.

The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee) covers how the thaw in U.S.-Iran relations “grew from years of behind-the-scenes talks,” according to current and former U.S., European and Middle Eastern officials.

And Israel continues to oppose the negotiation process.  Commenting on the latest details of the proposal from the P5+1 powers, an Israeli official told AFP yesterday, “Israel thinks this is a bad deal and will oppose it strongly.”

Surveillance

According to government officials, the CIA is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to access the company’s database, which includes Americans’ international calls, as part of overseas counterterrorism investigations (New York Times’ Charlie Savage). Conducted under a voluntary agreement, the details reveal how agencies beyond the NSA are using metadata. According to the officials, the CIA imposes privacy safeguards when one end of the international call is in the U.S., such as masking several digits of the phone number. A CIA spokesperson declined to confirm the program, but stated that all collection activities of the agency were “subject to extensive oversight.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has approved legislation that will reauthorize funding for the NSA, including its surveillance programs [The Hill’s Brendan Sasso]. Committee chairwoman stated that in the current economic climate, “Congress has a responsibility to ensure the [DNI] and other intelligence leaders have the resources and flexibility they need to protect the nation.”

Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Charles McCullough III declined a request from a bipartisan group of senators to investigate the NSA’s collection program by the end of next year [Politico’s Tony Romm]. He responded, “At present, we are not resourced to conduct the requested review within the requested timeframe,” but added that he is discussing the possibility of combining forces with other agency inspector generals.

And the Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) reports that according to officials, National Security Council officials are scheduled to meet to discuss separating the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command. Administration officials are also discussing whether a civilian should lead the NSA.

In the U.K., the heads of the three intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – are set to give public evidence for the first time before the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee later today [The Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead and Steven Swinford]. In a public speech yesterday, GCHQ head Iain Lobban said that the U.K. military is at an increasing risk from cyber-attacks, with large volumes of technological information being stolen from the defense industry [the Wall Street Journal’s Cassell Bryan-Low].

And German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich stated yesterday that the government is examining how Edward Snowden might testify before the parliamentary inquiry into NSA surveillance [New York Times’ Alison Smale].

Guantanamo trial

The Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) reports that military judge, Army Col. James Pohl has ordered the U.S. government to hand over all documents from the International Committee of the Red Cross detailing the treatment of the alleged 9/11 conspirators held at Camp 7 at Guantanamo Bay.

Israel-Palestine

Speaking after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State John Kerry stated:

Let me emphasize at this point the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate. And I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree…that they somehow condone or accept the settlements.

In remarks before his meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Kerry also stated that a settlement is “not mission impossible; [it] can happen,” warning, “There will be chaos, violence, turmoil, confrontation, in the absence of peace.”

The New York Times (Mark Landler and Jodi Rudoren), Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and William Booth) have more on these developments.

Drones

Stephen Tankel analyzes the anti-American backlash in Pakistan that followed the targeted killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians [War on the Rocks].

Syria

According to a draft document seen by Reuters, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has verified one of the two remaining sites declared by Syria using footage from sealed cameras (Anthony Deutsch).

Syrian state media reported yesterday that Syrian government officials would attend the Geneva II peace talks without preconditions [CNN].

And the office of the Russian President announced yesterday:

Other developments

Daily Beast’s Eli Lake notes that a CIA contractor’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this week could challenge the administration’s timeline on Benghazi.

A third senior U.S. Navy official has been charged “with accepting prostitutes, luxury travel and $100,000 cash from a foreign defense contractor in exchange for classified and internal U.S. Navy information” in the “widening international bribery scheme” [DoJ News].

According to the new Pentagon figures, reports of sexual assaults in the military have “increased sharply” during the last fiscal year [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer].

The Rolling Stone (Matthieu Aikins) explores the allegations that the U.S. Special Forces committed war crimes in the Afghani village of Nerkh late last year, with locals claiming that 10 civilians had been taken by the forces and had subsequently disappeared, while eight were killed during operations.

The U.K High Court has ruled that individuals detained under Schedule 7 of the country’s Terrorism Act 2000 – allowing officers to question people for up to nine hours at British airports – have the right to request the presence of a lawyer [The Guardian’s Alan Travis].

An Egyptian court has upheld the ban on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the state news agency, but the organization can file a further appeal [CNN].

BBC’s Newsnight (Mark Urban) reports that according to sources, Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons projects, with the potential ability to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan “at will.”

NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove urged Turkey to consider obtaining a missile defense system that is compatible with NATO’s systems, questioning whether the proposed deal with a Chinese firm is suitable [Reuters’ Adrian Croft].

The Associated Press reports that the al-Qaeda branch in North Africa has claimed responsibility for killing two French radio journalists who were abducted in Northern Mali last weekend.

UN peacekeepers are expected to shift focus toward rebel group F.D.L.R in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following M23’s announcement earlier this week that it will cease all hostilities [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta].

The U.K. terror suspect who escaped surveillance earlier this week has been revealed as having mounted a legal challenge alleging that the U.K. government was complicit in his detention and torture in Somaliland [Press Association].

The Columbian government and rebel group FARC have reached a political deal that will see rebel leaders laying down arms in exchange for political participation, pending a final peace agreement that seeks to end fifty years of conflict [Washington Post’s Juan Forero].

In a report published by Swiss scientists, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s body was found to have at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium, which “moderately supports” that the leader was poisoned with it [Al Jazeera America David Poort and Ken Silverstein].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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