News Roundup and Notes: November 15, 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

The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman et al.) and New York Times (Charlie Savage and Mark Mazzetti) report that according to current and former officials, the CIA is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers, allegedly authorized under section 215 of the Patriot Act and overseen by the FISC. The data collected includes millions of Americans’ personal financial data, although one official has suggested that FISC requires a tie to a terrorist organization before the identity of an American can be investigated. CIA spokesperson Dean Boyd declined to confirm the agency’s program, but stated that all its “intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws.”

According to a transcript obtained by Reuters (Mark Hosenball), NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander told a foreign affairs group last month that Edward Snowden had leaked up to 200,000 classified U.S. documents to the media.

Google’s bi-annual transparency report released yesterday reveals that the U.S. has made the most number of requests for user information in the first half of this year than any prior period [CNN’s Heather Kelly].

Italian lawmakers told reporters following a closed-door briefing in Parliament that Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta stated that as far as he knows, Italian leaders and citizens have not been targeted by the NSA [AP].

Iran

In a further appeal to U.S. lawmakers, President Obama urged Congress yesterday to “test how willing [Iran is] to actually resolve this diplomatically and peacefully” [New York Times’ Mark Landler and David E. Sanger]. He added that the U.S. “will have lost nothing” by attempting a peaceful resolution.

However, domestic opposition to the Iran peace talks continues. A group of 63 bipartisan House Members sent a letter yesterday to Senate leaders, calling them to “act swiftly” on sanctions legislation and warning that “it is important to keep the pressure on Iran to maximize U.S. leverage” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]. And Senator John McCain has called Secretary of State John Kerry “a human wrecking ball” on Iran negotiations [CNN’s Bryan Koenig].

Meanwhile, a report of the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed yesterday that Iran had virtually halted the expansion of its nuclear program since August, when President Hassan Rouhani took office. The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee) and Washington Post (Joby Warrick) report on this development.

The Economist covers why “despite the obstacles,” it is “in everyone’s interest to keep on trying” to reach a deal with Iran. And in an opinion in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens argues that “wrangling between the U.S. and France on the terms of an acceptable deal” should not detract from a possible deal with Iran. Stephens also notes that while Israel and Saudi Arabia’s efforts are geared toward Iran being kept “in a permanent state of isolated enfeeblement,” the interests of “almost everyone else are otherwise… to open a well-policed pathway that would allow it eventually to rejoin the community of nations.”

Syria

Reuters’ Samia Nakhoul covers how the U.S. and Russia’s recent push toward the Geneva II peace conference appears to be on terms “that mark a shift in favour of Bashar al-Assad against the increasingly fragmented rebels seeking to oust him.”

On the ground, activists report that a rebel commander was killed in Aleppo yesterday in an air strike by the regime’s forces [Reuters].

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, speaking in Beirut yesterday, pledged that his armed forces would remain in Syria as long as necessary to support Assad’s troops [New York Times’ Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard].

And North Korea’s state-run news agency has denied news reports that the regime is supplying war equipment to Syria or that the country’s troops are involved in air-raids in Syria [Al Jazeera].

ICC

The UN Security Council is set to consider a resolution later today calling for the trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to be deferred for one year [AFP]. The resolution brought by Rwanda with the backing of the AU is likely to fail due to lack of support, but risks increasing tensions between the ICC and the AU, according to diplomats and experts.

Meanwhile, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Security Council yesterday that Libya should be encouraged to “make public a comprehensive strategy to address serious crimes” and to close the “immunity gap” in the country [UN News Centre].

Other developments

A former FBI agent was sentenced yesterday to more than three years in prison for possessing and disclosing classified information, which included intelligence he provided to the Associated Press last year about a U.S. operation in Yemen [AP].

President Obama has nominated Debo Adegbile to replace Tom Perez as the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division [Main Justice’s Jennifer Koons].

FBI Director James B. Comey testified yesterday that the increasing risk of cyber-attacks is likely to be the dominant concern for U.S. intelligence services [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]. National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew G. Olsen also testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, stating that the risk of terrorism “has become more significant from a geographic perspective and more complicated from an intelligence perspective.”

Testifying before a House subcommittee on transportation security yesterday, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head John S. Pistole was questioned over whether the TSA’s screening program, which has cost almost $900 million since 2007, works to deter terrorism [Washington Post’s Ashley Halsey III]. House members also stated that areas in airports before the TSA checkpoints should be made more secure and were potential “soft targets” [The Hill’s Keith Laing].

The Washington Post (Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamaura) reports that whistleblowers have told the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that Secret Service agents have engaged in sexual misconduct in seventeen countries in recent years.

The U.K.’s Gibson inquiry into alleged complicity of U.K. intelligence agencies in the torture and rendition of terror suspects will be publishing a report next week, which, according to The Times (Francis Elliot), concludes that there is evidence demonstrating that U.K. agents were aware of the U.S.-run program.

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected Poland’s request to hear next month’s arguments in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri in private [Reuters’ Christian Lowe]. The Court will be hearing allegations that Poland allowed the U.S. to operate a secret center on its territory used to detain and interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. And in an opinion in Al Jazeera America, Crofton Black argues that while Abu Zubaydah’s “diaries reveal his self-described ‘jihadi’ past, he has yet to receive due process.”

According to a Russian official, Russia is offering to sell Egypt modern air defense systems as part of a deal that is reportedly worth $2 billion [AFP].

The Economist covers that the “news of an assassination plot highlights the risks to the peace negotiations” between the Columbian government and the rebel group FARC.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has announced that his government is considering providing Libya more aid in counter-terrorism, including training for police [France 24].

Yesterday’s attacks against Shiite Muslims in Iraq have killed at least 47 people with dozens wounded [New York Times’ Yasir Ghazi].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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