News Roundup and Notes: November 22, 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.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai triggered uncertainty about the future of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. yesterday, telling the loya jirga that the BSA should not be signed until after the country’s presidential election next April [Reuters’ Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati]. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest has said that President Obama hopes the pact will be signed by the end of this year. Earnest stated that a decision on the presence of American troops in Afghanistan post-2014 will only be taken after the Afghan government approves the BSA.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki also stated:

[We] need a timely conclusion of this in order to plan for…any potential post-2014 presence, which means signing it by the end of the year…It’s neither practical nor possible for us to further delay because of the uncertainty it would create and because it would make it impossible for the United States and allies to plan for a post-2014 presence.

The New York Times (Azam Ahmed), Wall Street Journal (Nathan Hodge et al.) and Washington Post (Tim Craig and Karen DeYoung) also report on this latest setback in U.S.-Afghanistan relations.

The Economist explores why it has proved “so difficult to reach a deal,” noting that “a security agreement entered into by both sides with some enthusiasm and a sense of shared destiny would have been stronger and potentially more enduring than one demeaned by haggling.”

Iran

The Geneva talks are set to continue today and are likely to extend over the weekend, with several issues still remaining for resolution [Al-Monitor’s Back Channel’s Laura Rozen]. A key issue still to be determined is the language in the text on enrichment. A diplomat has told Reuters that there is a “very high probability” of foreign ministers joining the talk this weekend, but there were no signs that ministers were making definite travel plans (John Irish et al.). Iran state media, IRNA reported this morning that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton will be continuing discussions this morning.

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman) and Washington Post (Joby Warrick) cover the latest developments.

In the U.S., a bipartisan group of 14 senators have promised to impose a new set of sanctions against Iran [Politico’s Burgess Everett]. In a joint statement, they said:

A nuclear weapons capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability.

Sen. Bob Corker introduced legislation yesterday that seeks “to tie President Obama’s hands in negotiations with Iran” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet].

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that he is committed to pressing ahead with new Iran sanctions after the Thanksgiving recess, while emphasizing that he strongly supports the administration’s diplomatic efforts [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox].

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor (Joshua Mitnick) covers how the Israeli military “puts a more positive spin on how a deal could bolster regional stability,” even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains firmly opposed to any deal.

And the Wall Street Journal (Benoit Faucon) reports that Iran is “courting international energy giants…eager to attract Western investment back to the oil industry if it wins sanctions relief in its troubled nuclear talks with Western countries.”

Drones

The Washington Post (Haq Nawaz Khan and Greg Miller) covers the disagreement between American and Pakistani officials over the “unusual” drone strike in Pakistan’s Khyber ­Pakhtunkhwa province yesterday. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, denied the Pakistani account that the strike was aimed at an Islamic seminary. Rather, according to the official, the attack targeted a compound associated with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.

Surveillance

A draft UN resolution on “the right to privacy in a digital age” has been approved, with some concessions being made to appease the U.S., U.K. and Australia, but the text of the draft “shows the extent to which the three countries have been left isolated on the issue” [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and James Ball]. The UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the resolution next Tuesday, but only if a member state calls for a vote; if not, it will pass automatically.

Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris exposes the “obscure FBI unit” that helps the NSA spy on American citizens. The Data Intercept Technology Unit is the “primary liaison” between the NSA and America’s biggest technology companies, and also carries out its own signals intelligence operations.

The House Intelligence Committee approved legislation yesterday re-authorizing the programs of the NSA and other intelligence agencies [The Hill’s Brendan Sasso].

Senators Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich have written a letter to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, urging answers regarding statements made to the Supreme Court in Clapper v. Amnesty International, which inaccurately described how the government collects Americans’ private communications. The senators have called for a “formal notification” as an “important step…in the interests of the public as well as of the Administration and the Supreme Court.”

In the U.K., the chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee has demanded an urgent report from the GCHQ, the country’s spy agency, about recent revelations that the NSA has collected phone and internet data of British citizens [The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor].

NDAA

The Hill (Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb) and Politico (Juana Summers and Austin Wright) report that the Senate failed to end debate on the NDAA yesterday, pushing the bill to December and “threatening its passage this year”, following yesterday’s historic change to filibuster rules. This delay also puts the amendment on reforming the handling of sexual assaults in the military “in jeopardy” [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

Syria

The Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) reports that at least 150 Syrian troops were killed this week in a rebel attack against a regime base outside Damascus, in “one of the single highest death tolls of government troops since the start of the armed uprising.” And The Economist covers how “the more extreme rebels seem to be inexorably on the rise,” causing the mainstream rebels in the civil war to struggle.

Other developments

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports that the White House has ordered a government-wide review of how almost five million Americans have been granted security clearances to access classified information. DNI James Clapper has recently expressed concern “about threats to national security resulting from the increasing number of people with eligibility for access to classified national security information, particularly Top Secret (TS) and Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information (TS/SCI).”

Another high-ranking Navy official has been suspended in connection with the multi-million dollar bribery controversy related to Navy ships in Asia-Pacific ports [Los Angeles Times’ Tony Perry].

The New York Times (Chris Buckley) reports that China’s highest court has issued an opinion demanding that evidence obtained through torture and “other illegal collection methods” be excluded. According to experts, the ruling was unlikely to end such abuses on its own, but “reflected a growing official recognition of the need to stop gross injustices.”

Following almost a week of public outrage over the presence of armed groups in Tripoli, Libyan militant groups have surrendered their bases in the capital to the military [CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh].

Kenyan human rights group, Muslims for Human Rights has called on the U.S. and U.K. to suspend financial and training support for Kenya’s anti-terrorism police unit, which has been accused of disappearances and extra-judicial killings in the country [The Guardian’s Daniel Howden].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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