News Roundup and Notes: December 11, 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. 

NDAA

Congress has now released its compromise version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that is slated to go to the floor of the House by the end of the week. [Check out Just Security’s Jennifer Daskal’s post from last night on the important Guantanamo transfer provisions.]

As noted in yesterday’s News Roundup, the bill does not include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposed reforms to take sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command. TPM (Sahil Kapur) reports however that the amendment will be brought up separately in the Senate, according to Gillibrand’s office. A spokesperson for the senator told TPM, “We have been assured by the Majority Leader that we will get a separate vote.”

Military Advantage (Terry Howell) provides an update on the NDAA provisions on military pay and TRICARE, the DoD’s health care program.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has accused Majority Leader Harry Reid of circumventing the regular order and pushing the bill through without additional amendments in order to prevent a vote on enhanced Iran sanctions [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

The Washington Post editorial board covers the measures on Guantanamo transfers and combatting sexual assault in the military, and writes that the bill is “a decent compromise that the leaders of both chambers ought to embrace and bring to a vote in the coming days.”

Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday in an appeal to Congress to hold off from introducing new Iran sanctions [CNN’s Tom Cohen]. In relation to additional sanctions, he stated:

Now, I’m not saying never. … if this doesn’t work, we’re coming back and asking you for more. I’m just saying not right now. … This is a very delicate diplomatic moment, and we have a chance to address peacefully one of the most pressing national security concerns that the world faces today with gigantic implications of the potential of conflict.

The Washington Post (Anne Gearan) covers how lawmakers on both sides criticized the deal, noting that “not one member of the influential panel pledged to try to help the administration keep new sanctions at bay.” The Hill (Julian Pecquet) and Politico (Edward-Isaac Dovere) also report on how Kerry’s arguments failed to convince members of the House. For instance, committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce expressed concern that:

… we have bargained away our fundamental position, which is enshrined in six U.N. Security Council Resolutions — that Iran should not be enriching and reprocessing — in exchange for a false confidence that we can effectively check Iran’s misuse of these key nuclear bomb-making technologies. Iran is not just another country. It simply can’t be trusted with enrichment technology because verification efforts can never be foolproof.

Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray reports that according to a Senate aide, Sens. Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez are “dotting I’s and crossing T’s” with regard to the text of Iran sanctions legislation. Another Senate aide said that most Republicans are on board, with the legislation “basically agreed to and is now just a procedural issue.”

However, the White House appeared to make some progress yesterday, with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson stating that the administration had “made a strong case for a pause in congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on committee action for now” [Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Crittenden].

Haaretz (Amos Harel) reports that according to Israeli security sources, senior White House officials have conceded in recent conversations with their Israeli counterparts that the value of the economic sanctions relief to Iran could be much higher than originally expected.

And the Commander of Iran’s elite revolutionary guards force, Mohammad Jafari, has indicated that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stay out of military affairs, following Zarif’s comments last week reportedly suggesting the West had little fear of Iran’s military defenses and could destroy them if it wished [Reuters].

Syria

Reuters reports that the U.S. has suspended all non-lethal assistance into northern Syria after fighters from the Islamic Front seized and took control of bases of the opposition’s Supreme Military Council, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Ankara.

A leading Syrian human rights lawyer, Razan Zaytouni and three colleagues have been abducted by masked gunman “in a new sign that Al-Qaeda-linked groups who have joined the fight against President Bashar al-Assad are trying to silence rivals in the opposition movement” [Al Jazeera America].

Surveillance

According to the latest documents from Edward Snowden, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are “secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using ‘cookies’ and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance” [Washington Post]. 

Afghanistan

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador James Dobbins told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that he expected the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan to be eventually concluded [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]. However, Dobbins warned that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was “playing with fire” by imposing unrealistic demands on the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal (Michael M. Phillips) reports that U.S. commanders are training special elite Afghan police and military teams “to pursue insurgents deep into their sanctuaries, in an echo of tactics that American troops considered effective during the Vietnam War.”

The New York Times (Azam Ahmed) covers how the impasse over the BSA “has not only raised concerns about the future of the Afghan security forces, but put an instant and alarming drag on the Afghan business climate, already suffering as Western forces have pulled out.”

And a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of German troops, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, near the international airport in Kabul today [Reuters’ Mirwais Harooni]. There were no immediate reports of casualties following the attack, for which the Taliban has claimed responsibility.

Other developments

An agreement struck by Budget Committee leaders yesterday seeks to give the Pentagon $22 billion in sequester relief in 2014 [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb]. Under the agreement, veterans under the age of 62 will be expected to pay more into their retirement accounts.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, have voiced concern that the life of Mr. Ameziane could be in danger, following his recent involuntary transfer by the U.S. from Guantanamo to Algeria [UN News Centre].

Reuters (Warren Strobel and Brian Grow) reports that according to interviews and documents, the Pentagon continued to work with two related helicopter companies in Lithuania and Russia despite “allegations of overcharging, blocked access to outside quality inspectors and improper advance payments” over almost four years.

Two British nationals have pleaded guilty in a U.S. district court to charges of providing material support for terrorists by running a website that promoted jihad and supported al-Qaeda [Reuters].

A recent survey by the RAND Corporation reveals that federal contractors who worked in war zones suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and depression at rates similar to military personnel.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has concluded a defense cooperation agreement with Qatar, reaffirming the partnership between Qatar and the U.S. [DoD News].

The Brennan Center for Justice has released a new report on national security and local police. The report finds that “the lack of oversight, accountability, and quality control over how police collect and share personal information about law-abiding Americans not only violates their civil liberties of Americans, but creates a mountain of data with little to no counterterrorism value.”

Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey provides an insight into the NYPD report, released yesterday, on September’s terrorist attack in Nairobi, which reports that there were only four attackers, all of whom may have escaped alive.

The latest developments in Ukraine prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a strong statement yesterday: “The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.”

Speaking from Bangui in the Central African Republic, French President Francois Hollande stated yesterday that France’s intervention in its former colony is “necessary if one wants to avoid carnage” [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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