News Roundup and Notes: January 3, 2014

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

ICYMI, yesterday, the Washington Post (Steven Rich and Barton Gellman) reported that the NSA “is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.” According to documents provided by Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” is part of the agency’s “Penetrating Hard Targets” program.

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports on the response of federal officials to the New York Times editorial calling for clemency for Edward Snowden. Gerstein notes that officials are angry “not so much over its call for clemency or a plea deal for leaker Edward Snowden, but for accusing intelligence agencies of intentionally violating the law.” And check out Just Security‘s Thomas Earnest’s post last night providing a sample of the commentary in traditional media outlets and social media on the calls for clemency for Snowden.

The ACLU has filed an appeal challenging Judge William Pauley’s ruling in ACLU v. Clapper last week that the government’s telephony metadata program is lawful under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and under the Fourth Amendment.

And in an op-ed in the Washington Post, former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin argues that the NSA’s intelligence-gathering program “is the very foundation of U.S. intelligence” and that “[n]ow is not the time to give up any tool in the counterterrorism arsenal.”

Afghanistan

Three U.S. senators visiting Kabul have warned the Afghan government that proposals to release over 85 detainees would, if pursued, “do irreparable damage to the [U.S.-Afghanistan] relationship” and face “backlash in the U.S. Congress” [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]. Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and John Barrasso also intensified pressure on the Afghan government to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal (Michael M. Phillips and Nathan Hodge) reports that Afghan security forces have gained control of the Helmand province after months of fighting–“a result that U.S. and Afghan commanders say should inject optimism into the often-gloomy debate over the country’s future.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Michael O’Hanlon argues that the recent intelligence assessment of Afghanistan’s future is too pessimistic. Among other signs, he points toward how the Afghan army and police have taken the lead in most operations last year and the fact that the country’s presidential race is “shaping up reasonably well.”

The Washington Post editorial calls for special visas for Afghan interpreters who aided U.S. forces in Afghanistan, including for those who face prospective threats as a consequence of their employment.

Israel-Palestine

Speaking before his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “not mission impossible.” He restated his commitment to working with both sides on a framework agreement “that will provide the agreed guidelines for permanent status negotiations.” Meanwhile, Netanyahu adopted a critical tone, stating “there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Isabel Kershner), Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan and William Booth) have more details.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid also reports on Kerry’s tenth visit to Israel. He notes, “John Kerry has used charm rather than coercion to keep Netanyahu and Abbas at the negotiating table. Now the ball is firmly in their court.”

And in op-ed in the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl writes that Kerry’s peace bid in the region “may yet bear some fruit,” but a successful outcome is contingent on “bold and courageous decisions from [Abbas and Netanyahu] who have built their political lives on caution and procrastination.”

Syria

The Norwegian and Danish ships are due to embark on a fresh attempt to collect Syria’s chemical weapons, after the first attempt had to be aborted due to delays in transferring the stockpile to the Syrian port of Latakia [BBC]. The New York Times (Jennifer Steinhauer) reports that while the U.S. military ship is “ready for its historic mission,” it is still unclear on which body of water the U.S. ship will carry out the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Other developments

State Department Special Envoy for Guantánamo, Cliff Sloan has told PBS NewsHour (Judy Woodruff) that while he cannot provide a time frame, he is “absolutely convinced” that the Guantánamo detention facility will be closed down.

House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa is the latest lawmaker to introduce legislation aimed at overturning the cuts to military pensions included in last month’s budget deal [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb and Bernie Becker].

Deputy Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay, Charles P. Trumbull explores the interplay between international humanitarian law and international human rights law from a U.S. perspective in a post at the ICRC’s Intercross.

The Associated Press (Pauline Jelinek) reports that the Marine Corps is delaying its minimum standard of three pull-ups, scheduled to take effect in the new year, as more than half the female Marines in training were unable to meet the target. The decision is “part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.”

The Economist comments on the latest developments in South Sudan, noting that “[l]ess than three years after independence, South Sudan remains in dire danger of being destroyed from within.” The State Department ordered a further drawdown of U.S. Embassy personnel from Juba this morning “because of the deteriorating security situation.”

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have made significant gains in two cities in Iraq’s Anbar province, amid increasing sectarianism in the country. [AFP]. The militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also operates in neighboring Syria.

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous et al.) reports that according to U.S. officials, Lebanon-based Hezbollah “are smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon from Syria piece by piece to evade a secretive Israeli air campaign designed to stop them.” According to intelligence reports, some components of an antiship missile system have already been brought into Lebanon. Al Jazeera America covers yesterday’s car bomb in Beirut targeting “the heart of the Hezbollah stronghold” that has left at least 6 people dead. And Reuters (Mark Hosenball) notes that the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked group arrested in Lebanon earlier this week, Muhammad al-Majid was a “key fundraiser in the Gulf for militants fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” according to experts.

The Washington Post (Erin Cunningham) covers how the Egyptian government’s terrorism investigation into a puppet character on Egyptian television is “an extreme sign of a climate of fear and paranoia in Egypt that has intensified in recent weeks.”

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook.  To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org.  Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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