Today’s News Roundup and Notes will be our last for the remainder of this week, as we are off Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday. From the entire Just Security Team, we wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving. The News Roundup will be back on Monday morning. Here’s today’s news.
Glenn Greenwald et al. report that the NSA has been collecting records of online sexual activity, such as visits to pornographic sites, in an effort aimed toward discrediting “radicalizers” [Huffington Post]. According to a top-secret document provided by Edward Snowden, the agency identifies six Muslim targets whose “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance.
The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution yesterday protecting the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance [AP]. The resolution, sponsored by Brazil and Germany, is likely to be unanimously passed at the General Assembly next month.
The Washington Post (Craig Timberg et al.) reports that Microsoft is “moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic,” amidst concern that the NSA spied on its global communication links. The company’s general counsel Brad Smith stated yesterday:
These allegations are very disturbing. If they are true these actions amount to hacking and seizure of private data and in our view are a breach of the protection guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Post also provides a series of slides that “suggest, without offering definitive proof,” that the NSA programs targeting Google and Yahoo “also had Microsoft in their sights.”
Reuters (Mark Hosenball) reports that U.S. and U.K. officials are worried about a “doomsday” cache of highly classified material that they believe is stored by Edward Snowden on a data cloud. A former U.S. official has also warned that “the worst is yet to come” as Snowden is believed to have downloaded enough material to generate two more years of stories.
The EU’s justice and rights commissioner, Viviane Reding has warned that the U.S. needs to adjust its surveillance programs or risk freezing its data sharing arrangements with the EU [The Guardian’s Ian Traynor].
Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris covers how Fran Fleisch, the NSA’s executive director, is the “woman who’s really running the NSA.”
The sentencing of a Somali-American convicted of an attempted bombing has been delayed indefinitely, following the Justice Department’s disclosure that part of the case against him had been “derived from” NSA surveillance [NPR’s Carrie Johnson].
Politico (Josh Gerstein) covers yesterday’s hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit “that spotlights the Justice Department’s claim of near-complete discretion over which formal legal opinions it makes public and which remain hidden from public view.” The lawsuit, brought by Electronic Frontier Foundation, seeks an Office of Legal Counsel opinion outlining the circumstances in which federal officials could ignore a surveillance law, the Stored Communications Act.
And Julian Sanchez decodes the “Summer of Snowden,” providing an explanation of the most significant surveillance programs leaked to date [Cato Institute].
In a video message, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to provide greater clarity on the interim deal reached with Iran. Kerry asserted, “We drove a very hard bargain to achieve what we needed to in terms of our verification and certainty … and I think we did it in the most effective way. We did it through diplomacy.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that Americans support the Iran deal by a 2-1 margin. And a statement from former U.S. military leaders welcomes the first-step agreement with Iran, noting that resolving the crisis “through diplomacy is far better than the alternative” [American Security Project]. They urge for the deal to be given “a chance to succeed while the international community closely monitors Iranian compliance, and works to achieve a resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.”
Politico’s Josh Gerstein covers how despite the domestic backlash against the deal with Iran, Obama and his party “appear to face little in the way of immediate political fallout from the agreement.” While The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports on the “new strains on President Obama’s relationship with Jewish donors, a pillar of Democratic fundraising.”
Senior Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman spoke out yesterday against a little-noticed provision in the nuclear deal that makes it easier for U.S. companies to repair Iran’s civilian aircraft [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]. He warned that any such assistance at this stage would amount to “a permanent irreversible concession in a ‘temporary’ agreement.’”
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the interim nuclear deal as a victory for Iran through his Twitter account:
In regards to nuclear issue, I promise our people that first lock has been opened. We have shook the foundations of the sanctions regime.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 26, 2013
The important thing abt the agreement in Geneva is not what happens during the coming 6 months, but the principles on which we have agreed
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 26, 2013
i.e. we'll have enrichment on our soil & will end sanctions in a comprehensive accord; Iran will be treated as any other member of the NPT.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 26, 2013
Al-Monitor’s Iran Pulse (Arash Karami) covers the mixed response to the Geneva deal from Iran’s hard-line media, with one op-ed arguing “America was not trustworthy.”
In Europe, the EU is set to re-list 16 of the 18 Iranian companies that won legal challenges before the EU court with regard to the body’s sanctions regime [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]. According to Michael Mann, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy, the companies will be relisted under new sanctions designations, although “technical changes have been made” that are aimed at responding to the “legal requirements” set out by the courts.
In the media, Chuck Freilich argues that while Israel has a number of legitimate concerns over the nuclear deal, the Obama administration needs to treat them appropriately in order for the interim agreement to be a “historic success” [National Interest]. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Albright covers the “rocky path to a long-term settlement with Iran,” including agreeing upon the fate of Iran’s Arak reactor and the exact limits on Iran’s centrifuge program. And in the Wall Street Journal, Sohrab Ahmari reports on the “insider’s view” of the Geneva deal, covering the mixed “triumphalism and hard-nosed skepticism” expressed by some hard-liners.
In a related development, a firm charged with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and other countries has agreed to a settlement worth $91 million with the Treasury Department [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].
The New York Times (Rod Nordland and Alissa J Rubin) and Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov) cover the latest developments on the U.S.-Afghanistan security pact, noting concerns that Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have pushed too far in his latest demands.
The Washington Post editorial warns that both Obama and Karzai are “playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, one that could lead to a strategic reverse for the United States and a catastrophe for Afghanistan.” The editorial cautions that the countries need to work together as “the stakes are much too high for a pointless game of political chicken.”
The U.S. sent two B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea yesterday, only days after China unilaterally announced it was establishing an “air defense identification zone” over the airspace [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Jeremy Page]. In a direct challenge to the country’s announcement, the U.S. deliberately violated the rules set out by China. China’s Ministry of National Defense responded this morning, stating, “the Chinese military was monitoring from beginning to end, and immediately identified and ascertained the category of the U.S. aircraft.”
The Washington Post editorial notes that China’s unilateral announcement is “worrisome and reckless” and argues that a suitable alternative would be to “join with Japan and neighboring states to create a joint zone in which they share aviation data and agree to work out claims on the waters and islands below.
The Geneva II peace conference faces tough challenges, as Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the opposition group Free Syrian Army stated yesterday, “We will not stop fighting at all, either during the Geneva conference or after the Geneva conference” [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]. He noted that it had not yet been made clear to the opposition whether the conference would result in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power.
BBC reports that ten members of the country’s constitution panel walked out following the dozens of arrests of activists who were protesting yesterday against Egypt’s new restrictive protest laws.
The New York Times (Kareem Fahim), Wall Street Journal (Tamer El-Ghobashy and Leila Elmergawi) and Washington Post (Erin Cunningham) provide more detail on yesterday’s violent crackdown against protestors.
The ICC Trial Chamber has reconsidered its previous decision excusing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta from continuous presence at trial. In light of the ruling from the Appeals Chamber, the Trial Chamber has held that as a general rule, Kenyatta must be present, and any request to be excused from parts of the trial would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
CBS News’ “60 Minutes’” correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan are taking a leave of absence from the network over the misreporting on last year’s Benghazi attack [Politico’s Hadas Gold].
The Marine Corps Times (Hope Hodge Seck) covers the oral arguments before the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which is deciding whether comments made by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos last year – including that 80% of sexual assault accusations are “legitimate” – constituted undue command influence.
Politico (Kate Brannen) reports that while the Marine Corps are enhancing their embassy security teams – as ordered after the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi – budget cuts are forcing the department to reduce its size.
A federal judge in Manhattan rejected arguments made on behalf of bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to supress statements made by him on the basis that he was not adequately advised of his rights during an FBI interrogation [New York Times].
The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) reports that the four-month disagreement between Israel and the EU over Israeli settlements was resolved yesterday. A deal between the two paves the way for Israeli research universities and technology companies to apply for an EU scientific-grant program.
The Washington Post covers the “complete chaos” in the Central African Republic, as France pledges to send 1,000 troops to the country after declaring that the situation was “on the verge of genocide.”
Civil liberties organization, Statewatch has issued a report that analyzes how EU counter-terrorism measures adopted since 9/11 are implemented at the national level.
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