News Roundup and Notes: December 17, 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

ICYMI, in a ruling issued yesterday, Judge Richard Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia has held that Larry Klayman and Charles Strange have standing to challenge the bulk telephony metadata program under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and that they have a sufficiently substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim to justify an injunction of the program. However, Judge Leon stayed his injunction “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues,” allowing the government time to appeal the decision. The New York Times (Charlie Savage), Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett) and Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima and Ann E. Marimow) have more details.

The ruling has been welcomed by lawmakers on Twitter:

Politico (Burgess Everett) also covers how the court ruling has “brought vindication for several senators who have long warned against the agency’s sweeping surveillance powers.”

In related news, President Obama will be meeting with executives from leading tech companies, including Apple, Google and Facebook, later today to discuss their concerns over NSA surveillance [Wall Street Journal’s Jared A. Favole]. The New York Times (David E. Sanger and Alison Smale) covers how the U.S.’s “broader effort to build a new intelligence relationship with Germany is floundering, with each side increasingly reluctant to make major changes in how it deals with the other.” White House spokesperson Jay Carney has confirmed that the administration’s position on granting Edward Snowden amnesty has not changed and stated that Richard Ledgett was merely expressing “his personal opinion” in CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Edward Snowden has written an open letter to the “Brazilian people” indicating he is willing to assist with Brazil’s investigation into U.S. spying, but notes that without political asylum, the U.S. will interfere with his ability to speak [AP]. And Reuters (Jonathan Stempel) reports that IBM Corp. has been sued by a shareholder on the basis that the company’s lobbying ties in favor of the NSA reduced business in China and caused its market value to drop more than $12 billion.

There has been considerable analysis of the latest developments in the media. The New York Times editorial welcomes Judge Leon’s decision as an “enormous symbolic victory for opponents of the bulk-collection program, and a reminder of the importance of the adversarial process.” It notes that the “cloak of secrecy” under which these constitutional issues have been adjudicated for seven years “has finally been lifted in a true court of law.” The Washington Post editorial warns that the “NSA’s activities will continue to be litigated in court and in the court of public opinion” and that the government “will have to do more to demonstrate why [the surveillance program is] essential and how Americans’ privacy is being protected.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial covers the recommendations of the Obama-appointed five-member NSA review panel, which has sent a draft report to the White House, with a public version expected next month. It warns against implementing the reported recommendations of the panel, which would “introduce more obstacles to the surveillance that is America’s main remaining advantage over terror networks.” Matthew M. Aid covers why the “the intelligence community will likely be unhappiest of all” with the report of the NSA review panel, as it recommends “sweeping and far-reaching changes in the way the NSA conducts its electronic surveillance operations” [Politico].

Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that the White House’s delay in announcing reforms to the NSA program “gives Leon’s decision time to resonate and gives surveillance skeptics more time to pressure Obama to endorse significant reforms.” Foreign Policy’s Daniel Drezner writes about his visit to the NSA headquarters, where officials “continue to talk about the threat environment as if they’ve been frozen in amber since 2002.” Drezner notes that “until the NSA appreciates the shifts in the political terrain, its officials will continue to be trapped in a reactive posture with respect to the outside world.”

Guantánamo

ICYMI, check out Just Security’s Thomas Earnest’s post on the military commission orders lifting the classifying of the “observations and experiences” of defendants formerly held by the CIA. The ruling is still secret. Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg has more on this development.

And Sudan News Agency reports that the last two Sudanese detainees held at Guantánamo are expected to arrive in Khartoum tomorrow.

Drones

AFP reports that despite Yemen’s parliament’s vote on Sunday in favor of halting drone attacks, experts have stated that this is “unlikely to impact Washington’s bid to crush al-Qaeda militants.” Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “which Washington views as the deadliest franchise of the global jihadist network.”

Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif by telephone recently, amid the recent tensions over the administration’s decision to add to the list of entities blacklisted under the current sanctions regime [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. A senior State Department official confirmed that they “discussed the importance of moving forward on implementation of the [interim deal] and of maintaining a constructive atmosphere as the negotiations continue.”

The Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman) reports that the U.S. and U.K. do not intend to relax enforcement of current Iran sanctions, and EU foreign ministers stated yesterday that they were not yet ready to ease the bloc’s sanctions regime following the interim deal reached last month.

Syria

UNICEF has voiced horror that the aerial bombing raid in Aleppo, reported in yesterday’s News Roundup, has killed at least 28 children [UN News Centre]. The Washington Post (Joby Warrick) reports on the recruitment of young boys by extremist rebel factions. And the Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib and Rima Abushakra) covers the “growing sectarian violence spilling over from the civil war in neighboring Syria” into Lebanon.

Other developments

The Senate confirmed former top Pentagon attorney Jeh Johnson to head the Homeland Security Department yesterday [CNN’s Security Clearance’s Ted Barrett]. Meanwhile, an acting inspector general for the Department stepped down last night, following an investigation into allegations of misconduct and abuse of power [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig].

The Defense Department has sought to downplay the recent near-collision of a U.S. Navy ship with a Chinese warship [Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper]. Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren stated yesterday, “I don’t think it was a crisis-level incident by any stretch.” However, Foreign Policy (Liz Carter) covers a report of a Chinese newspaper that quotes Chinese Admiral Yin Zhuo as stating that the U.S. ship was “carelessly sailing.” Zhuo added, “The instant you interfere with our sailing, sorry, but we will block you.”

The State Department has communicated concerns to Russia that its deployment of nuclear-capable missiles to its Baltic Sea enclave could have a destabilizing effect in the region [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]. NATO countries, Lithuania and Poland have also expressed concern as the missiles have been moved to territory bordering the two countries [Al Jazeera America]. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held a video teleconference with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, during which he stressed that “U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts pose no threat to Russia.”

The Defense Department announced yesterday that Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton will be retiring next year, while Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow will become the new director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. NBC News (Michael Isikoff) notes that the announcement is silent on the recent allegations that Gen. Patton interfered with an internal investigation into patient abuses at a U.S.-funded hospital in Afghanistan.

The EU has announced that it will provide “an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support to [Israel and Palestine] in the context of a final status agreement” [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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