News Roundup and Notes: December 18, 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.

CIA detention and interrogation program

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti) reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the CIA to release an internal study into the agency’s detention and interrogation program that has been withheld from congressional oversight committees. The CIA’s internal report is believed to be consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report, which is “unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program” and has not yet been declassified.

Foreign Policy’s The Cable (John Hudson) also covers how yesterday’s confirmation hearing for the CIA’s General Counsel “served as a proxy for Senate Democrats to vent frustrations for what they see as the CIA slow-walking the report’s release.”   Sen. Martin Heinrich stated, “I am outraged that the CIA continues to make misleading statements about the committee’s study of the CIA’s interrogation program.”

Politico (Josh Gerstein) similarly reports on the CIA General Counsel nominee, Caroline Krass’s confirmation hearing. Krass indicated she is opposed to providing lawmakers with access to Justice Department legal memos governing the agency’s activities, including on interrogation and drone strikes. Krass stated:

The OLC opinions represent predecisional, confidential legal advice that’s been provided. Protecting confidentiality of that legal advice preserves space for there to be a full and frank discussion among clients, policymakers and their lawyers within the executive branch and really furthers the rule of law and allows for effective functioning of the executive branch.

Senators took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction:

NSA surveillance

President Obama met with the executives of the biggest technology firms at the White House yesterday, during which they argued that that NSA spying revelations were damaging the firms’ reputations and could have a wider negative impact on the economy [Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang and Ellen Nakashima]. The companies called for greater transparency and limits on NSA surveillance.

Following Monday’s ruling issued by Judge Richard J. Leon, the New York Times (Adam Liptak) notes that it now seems “reasonably likely that the case, or a related one, will for the first time result in a definitive legal ruling on the constitutionality of one of the post-Sept. 11 government surveillance programs.” The Wall Street Journal (Jess Bravin) reports that the decision “could set up an early test for the revamped U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where a bench newly stocked with Obama appointees will hear any appeals.”

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein stated yesterday that “only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program” [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]. While noting that differences in recent rulings on the NSA program, she added:

I welcome a Supreme Court review since it has been more than 30 years since the court’s original decision of constitutionality, and I believe it is crucial to settling the issue once and for all. In the meantime, the call records program remains in effect.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that he would welcome a debate on legislation to reign in some of the NSA’s powers, following the U.S. District Court’s decision [Politico’s Seung Min Kim]. He stated, “We know that senators, both Democrats and Republicans, would like to change the law that relates to some of the collection activities. And … I think we need a good, public debate on this.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial argues that Leon’s ruling “is the stuff of political campaigns, not judging, especially from a lower federal court” and that it “can’t simply wish away [the] Supreme Court precedent” of Smith v. Maryland.

Meanwhile, Reuters (Anthony Boadle and Asher Levine) reports that Brazil’s government has no plans to investigate NSA spying and is not interested in granting Edward Snowden asylum, according to unnamed government officials cited in the country’s Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

Afghanistan

Six NATO troops were killed in an aircraft crash in southeastern Afghanistan yesterday, marking the deadliest incident of the year for the coalition forces [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff]. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stated that the “cause of the crash is under investigation, however initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.” Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed responsibility on Twitter, writing that its fighters shot down a helicopter while it was “flying at low altitude.”

Militants attacked a transit point for NATO supplies on the Afghan-Pakistani border early this morning, which has left at least four people dead and damaged more than a dozen vehicles [CNN’s Ed Payne]. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

The Washington Post (Adam Goldman and Karen DeYoung) reports that the Obama administration is considering the use of a military commission to try a Russian fighter, who was captured fighting with the Taliban some years ago and has since been held at a U.S. detention facility near the Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has advised Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. [New York Times’ Azam Ahmed]. He stated:

Don’t be under the illusion that no matter what you do the Americans are here to stay. People used to say that about the American presence in Iraq, too. But they were eager to leave, and they will be eager to leave your country as well.

Iran

Talks on implementing last month’s interim nuclear deal with Iran are set to resume this week, after the talks in Vienna were put on hold last week when Iran reacted angrily to the U.S. decision to expand its list of targets under the current sanctions regime [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Stuart Platt writes that the “nonpartisan consensus” on the Iran deal “is the product of years of negotiations by America’s top diplomats and squarely within the security interests of America, our NATO allies, and Israel” [The Hill].

In a separate development, Foreign Policy’s The Cable (Yochi Dreazen) reports that according to U.S. intelligence officials, Iranian commandos planned a deadly attack on a compound of dissidents inside Iraq in September, “highlighting Tehran’s increasingly free hand inside Iraq in the wake of the U.S withdrawal from the country.”

Syria

The UN has confirmed that the peace conference on Syria is set to begin on January 22, 2014 with a one-day meeting in the Swiss town of Montreux [UN News Centre].

The Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) covers how rebels have intensified attacks against Alawite and Christian enclaves that support the Syrian regime, “creating fear among some that the government can no longer defend them.” BBC reports that the casualties resulting from the wave of air strikes over Aleppo have overwhelmed hospitals in the city.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.K., Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud has criticized the West’s policies on Syria and Iran, claiming that “for all their talk of ‘red lines,’ when it counted, our partners have seemed all too ready to concede our safety and risk our region’s stability.” He asserts that the Syrian regime “itself remains the greatest weapon of mass destruction,” while the presence of Iranian forces in Syria have served to bolster the Assad regime. He warns that Saudi Arabia will act to fulfill its responsibilities in the region, “with or without the support of our Western partners.”

The Washington Post editorial argues that “as misery spreads and anti-American radicals plant roots, the Obama administration, or its successor, may find that the costs of non-involvement far exceed those that would have come with timely and measured intervention” in Syria.

Other developments

ICYMI, the Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) covers yesterday’s pre-trial hearing at the Guantánamo military commission, where the judge “twice expelled one of the accused 9/11 plotters from [the hearing] … for lodging a noisy protest about prison camp conditions.”

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) reports that “more than a dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a last major piece of litigation against the airline industry and other defendants moved toward an end on Tuesday” as the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald announced it would settle its lawsuit for $135 million. The firm had accused American Airlines of negligence in allowing the terrorists to board the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower.

China officially confirmed the near-collision with the U.S. ship in the South China Sea today, with the Defense Ministry stating, “During the encounter, the Chinese naval vessel properly handled it in accordance with strict protocol” [Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee].

The Hill (Jeremy Herb) covers the efforts in the Senate to block the cuts to military pensions provided for in the congressional budget deal.

Reuters (John Shiffman and Duff Wilson) reports that according to American officials, “Beijing is penetrating the U.S. defense industry in ways that not only compromise weapons systems but also enable it to secure some of the best and most dangerous technology.”

A District Court judge has ordered the disclosure of a foreign-aid directive that President Obama signed in 2010, “rejecting one of the Obama White House’s most aggressive attempts to preserve executive branch secrecy” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

In an Al Jazeera investigation, leaders of the anti-Gaddafi resistance group state that they were subjected to torture by Libyan interrogators and foreign agents, included U.K.’s MI6 agents, which led them to provide false information on innocent Libyans in the U.K.

The arrest, detention and strip-search of an Indian consular official in New York has created a “diplomatic uproar,” with “punitive steps taken against State Department officials” in India, including removing security barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi [CNN’s Elise Labott and Jethro Mullen].

In Politico Magazine, Susan B. Glasser covers Russia’s proposed $15 billion loan to Ukraine and considers why the U.S. has been so silent if the “Kyiv uprising is all about Russia and its resurgent big-footing.”

The United Nations has received reports from local sources in South Sudan stating that  between 400 and 500 people have been killed in the latest violence in the country in connection with the “foiled coup” [Reuters’ Andrew Green and Louis Charbonneau]. The State Department has announced that it is suspending normal operations at the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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