News Roundup and Notes: December 6, 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.

NSA Surveillance

Documents obtained from Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has considered the possibility of “unilaterally” targeting citizens and communications systems of Australia, New Zealand and Canada [The Guardian’s James Ball and Paul Farrell]. All three countries are part of the “5-Eyes’ agreement, and are referred to in the document as “second party” countries.

Sweden’s Sveriges Television reveals that according to a new Snowden document dated April of this year, Sweden has been assisting the NSA in spying on Russia [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad].

President Obama told MSNBC’s “Hardball” (Chris Matthews) yesterday that he plans on “proposing some self-restraint on the NSA” and will “initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. He also noted:

The NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people’s emails, not listening to the contents of their phone calls. Outside of our borders, the NSA’s more aggressive. It’s not constrained by laws.

The Washington Post’s The Switch (Brian Fung) covers Microsoft’s efforts to curtail NSA spying. The firm is labeling government surveillance as “evidence of an ‘advanced persistent threat,’ a term that’s so far been reserved to describe foreign espionage units such as the one allegedly operated by the Chinese military.” 

Central African Republic (CAR)

ICYMI, yesterday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing an African-led and French-backed peacekeeping troop to control the deteriorating situation in the CAR [UN News Centre]. [Check out Just Security’s Beth Van Schaack’s post from yesterday on the CAR resolution.]

The Economist examines how much has changed in the military relations between France and Africa in the last few years. It notes, “the great difficulty, both in the short run and beyond, is as always building up a credible regional alternative.”

And France 24 (Leela Jacinto) reports that nearly 40 African leaders are attending a two-day summit in Paris on peace and security, hosted by French President François Hollande, and likely to be dominated by the military intervention in the CAR. 

Israel-Palestine

Speaking at a joint conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the negotiations between Israel and Palestine “are making some progress.” Netanyahu reiterated his position, stating:

I want to say that Israel is ready for historic peace, and it’s a peace based on two states for two peoples.

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Isabel Kershner) and Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) cover U.S. efforts toward advancing the peace negotiations.  

Yemen

An al-Qaeda-linked militant group has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack on Yemen’s defense ministry, the country’s “worst militant assault in 18 months” that has left at least 52 people dead [Reuters]. The group, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility on Twitter, stating, “Such joint military locations which participate with the Americans in their war against this Muslim nation are a legitimate target for our operations.”

The UN Security Council issued a press statement condemning the attack “in the strongest terms” and reiterating their support to the Yemeni leadership in combatting terrorism. And the U.S. military has also condemned the deadly attack, while increasing its regional alert status [DoD News]. 

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Dion Nissenbaum) covers concerns of U.S. officials that the standoff over the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan could drag into next year, “as both countries hold fast to demands.” 

Biden’s East Asia tour

The Wall Street Journal (Peter Nicholas et al.) reports that the U.S. and China appear to be backing away from a confrontation over China’s new air-defense zone, “with both nations moving toward an understanding that the zone won’t be policed in ways that threaten the region or endanger the lives of pilots and passengers.”

And Reuters covers the final leg of Vice President Joe Biden’s East Asia tour in South Korea, which focused on the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms.

Iran

Politico (Burgess Everett) reports that the Obama administration’s “closed-door push to hold off new congressional sanctions on Iran will go public next week.” Top administration officials are set to testify before the Senate Banking Committee next Thursday.

House Intelligence Committee chair, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) criticized Secretary of State John Kerry’s back-channel talks with Iran yesterday as an “awful idea” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]. He argued, “Even if you like the deal — and I don’t — you’ve created a level of suspicion now on the deal that makes our allies wary and empowers our adversary.”

And Secretary of State John Kerry sought to reassure Israel’s concerns over the interim agreement with Iran, stating yesterday:

I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation is at the top of our agenda.

The Washington Post (Anne Gearan and William Booth) and CNN (Michael Pearson and Ben Brumfield) cover these developments.

Syria

Pentagon officials have stated that the U.S. is preparing to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons at sea in a process that is “environmentally sound” [Washington Post’s Joby Warrick].

And Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet has told reporters that the number of Europeans who have traveled to join Syria’s civil war “is estimated at between, more or less, 1,500 and 2,000 people, based on what we’ve heard from our colleagues” [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]. At an EU ministerial meeting yesterday, many expressed concerns over the threat of terrorism posed by returning fighters.

Other developments

According to a Justice Department letter obtained by Al Jazeera America (Jason Leopold), Guantanamo officials revised their protocols for dealing with the hunger strike and force-feeding methods on Nov. 14 to “better focus on the adverse health effects of clinically significant weight loss on each individual detainee.” Guantanamo spokesperson declined to comment on what these changes entail.

The U.S. Navy has successfully launched a drone from a submerged submarine, offering “a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy’s submarine force” [NBC News’ James Eng].

The efforts to capture those charged in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi have stalled, according to U.S. officials [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Sari Horwitz].

CNN’s Security Clearance (Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson) reports that the shooting of an American teacher in Benghazi this morning is likely the work of a group linked or sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

A senior American official has urged all sides in the Ukrainian crisis to find a solution to “meet the aspirations of its people” through peaceful and lawful means [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn and Steven Erlanger]. And The Economist warns that “the latest stand-off is far more volatile—and much too dangerous for the West to watch blithely as it develops.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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