News Roundup and Notes: November 19, 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

ICYMI, yesterday, the Obama administration released newly declassified documents related to NSA surveillance, including an 87-page order in which the FISC first approved an NSA program to systematically track email metadata during the Bush administration [New York Times’ Charlie Savage and James Risen]. [See Just Security’s Marty Lederman’s post last evening on the most significant documents released by the government.]

The Week’s Marc Ambinder reports on a cleaner copy of USSID 18, the U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive dated 2011, obtained from a FOIA officer, on how the NSA “minimizes” data collected on U.S. persons:

Every communication that passes through a channel with one terminal inside the United States must be subject to a screen for U.S. persons of some sort, unless that communication occurs on a channel used exclusively by a foreign power. This requirement can be waived by the analyst for two hours; the director of the Signal Intelligence Directorate has to give formal approval for additional collection without a screen.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal yesterday filed by Electronic Privacy Information Center challenging the NSA’s surveillance program [CNN’s Bill Mears]. And U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon heard arguments challenging NSA surveillance, and expressed that any challenge to the program would require him to review rulings from the FISC, which FISA did not authorize [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

Al Jazeera reports on the deepening diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia, following allegations of Australian spying. Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono expressed his concerns on Twitter:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded in Parliament, stating [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor]:

Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologize for the similar steps that they have taken.

And the Jakarta Globe editorial argues that “there are limits to the extent ‘friendly’ countries can go when it comes to eavesdropping” and warns that “if Australia wishes to limit the damage from the fallout of the spying scandal, it needs to apologize to the Indonesian government and the Indonesian people.”

Brazilian lawmakers continue to debate an Internet bill that would require the local storage of online data concerning Brazilian citizens, which “could force U.S. companies like Google Inc. to open costly data centers in the country amid fallout from allegations of cyberespionage by Washington” [Wall Street Journal’s Loretta Chao and Paulo Trevisani].

German opposition lawmakers continue to demand that Edward Snowden be granted a safe passage to the country to testify before an inquiry into U.S. surveillance, “in the latest sign that foreign outrage over the spying programs has yet to fade” [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski].

Meanwhile, Yahoo has announced that it will encrypt all internal network communications, following claims that the NSA had intercepted its data center traffic [Washington Post’s The Switch’s Brian Fung].

And The Guardian (Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor) covers how private firms are selling mass surveillance technologies to developing countries, with “powerful capabilities that are usually associated with government agencies such as GCHQ and…the National Security Agency,” according to Privacy International’s database, Surveillance Industry Index.

Guantanamo Bay

President Obama is aiming to ease restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, “setting the White House on a collision course with Congress” over provisions in the NDAA [AP]. CNN’s Security Clearance (Evan Perez) also covers this development, noting that “the administration is using tight budgets as part of the argument for closing the prison.”

The Pentagon will start holding review hearings this week for Guantanamo detainees who remain in indefinite detention and have not yet been cleared for release or transfer. [See Just Security’s Daphne Eviatar’s post questioning why the Periodic Review Board hearings are not being held in public.]

Iran

The New York Times (David E. Sanger and Jodi Rudoren) and CNN’s Tom Cohen cover the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel over Iran’s nuclear program. However, the White House appears to be downplaying the talk of a rift, with spokesperson Jay Carney stating that there was “no daylight between the United States and Israel” on the mutual goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet and Justin Sink]. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking yesterday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, stated:

I have great respect for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] concerns about his country. The Prime Minister should express his concerns, and he has every right in the world to publicly state his position and defend what he perceives as his interests…Nothing that we are doing here, in my judgment, will put Israel at any additional risk. In fact, let me make this clear: We believe it reduces risk.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also emphasized U.S. commitment to Israel yesterday, indicating that if Israel were to strike Iran, the U.S. would meet “some defined obligations” to Israel [CNN’s Security Clearance’s Dan Merica].

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande, speaking yesterday at the Israeli Parliament, reiterated that France would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear arms “as it is a threat to Israel and the region” [Al Jazeera]. The New York Times (Isabel Kershner) also covers how Israelis have embraced the French position on Iran.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that there is a “real chance” of a deal being agreed upon at Geneva this week as negotiations resume with the P5+1 [France 24].

In the U.S., Politico (Burgess Everett) reports that according to senators and aides, a Senate vote on further sanctions against Iran is unlikely to take place this week. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Bob Corker has stated, “I see no way there’s an amendment for many, many reasons.” And The Hill (Julian Pecquet) reports that Rep. Keith Ellison is “emerging as a leader in the push to get Congress to back off new sanctions on Iran.”

As media analysis continues, the Washington Post editorial notes that the U.S.-Israeli argument over Iran reflects a “profound divergence of U.S. and Israeli national interests.” The editorial cautions, “Rather than argue in public, U.S. and Israeli officials should be working to forge a consensus on the terms of an acceptable final settlement with Iran.”

In an op-ed in Al Jazeera America, Stephen Kinzer writes that “détente with Iran could unleash a cascade of benefits” and notes that those in Washington and Tehran “who seek to block it are undermining the long-term security of their two countries.” And Douglas J. Feith warns that history has shown that “democratic countries have time and again failed to get what they bargained for with their undemocratic antagonists—and then found themselves unable or unwilling to enforce the bargain” [Wall Street Journal].

In a separate development, two explosions struck near the Iranian embassy in Beirut this morning, killing at least 10 people and wounding scores [AP].

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry has remarked that the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is “on target,” even though “no nation has yet agreed to host the destruction” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung].

The New York Times (Anne Barnard et al.), Wall Street Journal (Rima Abushakra) and Washington Post (Liz Sly and Loveday Morris) cover the death of Abdul Qader Saleh, commander of the rebel group Tawheed Brigade in northern Syria, who was killed last week by a regime airstrike. Arguably the “only figure to have emerged from the chaos of the uprising who could claim a broad and genuine following,” the Post notes that his death is “a bitter blow to a rebel force struggling to hold its own, not only against a reinvigorated government army but also the growing challenge posed by al-Qaeda-linked radicals.”

The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports how “rivalry between rebels and Islamists has replaced the uprising’s lofty ideals, leaving veteran commanders despairing.”

Other developments

The Senate voted 91-0 yesterday to advance the NDAA for 2014 [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox]. And the Office of Management and Budget has released a statement outlining the administration’s policy on the NDAA.

The Associated Press (Donna Cassata) reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to give victims of sexual assault in the military an independent prosecution route outside the chain of command “appears to have stalled in the face of united opposition from the Pentagon’s top echelon and its allies in Congress.”

The Washington Post (Sari Horwitz) reports that according to senior law enforcement sources, federal prosecutors have not filed a sealed indictment against Julian Assange. While the Justice Department has unsealed an indictment against Edward Snowden, the Department “at least for now, appears to be drawing a distinction between those who were government employees or contractors and were required by law to protect classified information and those who received and published the material.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the U.S. “has decided to continue its contribution of two Patriot [missile] batteries under NATO command and control for up to one additional year” to aid Turkey’s defenses against threats from Syria’s conflict [AFP].

In a “historic milestone,” four female Marines are set to graduate this week from the Marine Corps’ enlisted infantry training [Marine Corps Times’ James K. Sanborn and Andrew deGrandpre].

Libya’s deputy chief of intelligence, who was abducted on Sunday following clashes between militia and civilians, was returned unharmed yesterday [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

Authorities in Pakistan are struggling to bring an end to three days of sectarian violence between the majority Sunni and minority Shiite Muslims in the city of Rawalpindi [Wall Street Journal’s Annabel Symington].

The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick and Stacy Meichtry) covers how “French President Francois Hollande pushed Israel for concessions on settlements and control of Jerusalem on Monday, while urging the Palestinians to compromise on a solution for refugees.”

Palestine cast its first-ever vote at the UN General Assembly yesterday, following its membership upgrade to a “non-member state” last year [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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