News Roundup and Notes: January 28, 2014

To help us continue to improve Just Security, we would like to invite you to take a few minutes to complete our (anonymous) reader survey, which will remain open until 5pm EST on Friday, January 31. Here’s today’s news.

Surveillance

ICYMI, The Guardian (James Ball) and New York Times (James Glanz et al.) reported yesterday that the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been targeting “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the Angry Birds game, for user data. According to the reports, based on secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, the spy agencies are able to stream personal data from phone apps, including “grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps.” The documents also reveal targeted tools used against individual mobile phones.

And NBC News (Richard Esposito et al.) reports that documents from Snowden reveal how British intelligence is able to monitor YouTube “in real time and collect addresses from the billions of videos watched daily, as well as some user information, for analysis.” According to the documents, the UK agency is also able to spy on Facebook and Twitter.

Attorney General Eric Holder and DNI James Clapper announced yesterday that the administration will allow Internet companies, such as Google and Microsoft, to disclose more information about the surveillance requests they receive from the government [Washington Post’s Craig Timberg and Adam Goldman]. The new deal will allow companies to report on National Security Letters and on requests from the FISC, but will be permitted to disclose the volume of requests “only in wide numerical ranges.” Politico (Tony Romm) covers how the “administration’s legal cease-fire with tech companies in the NSA snooping controversy amounts to an early, unsteady truce: The industry gets to release more information, and the White House looks like it’s being more transparent.”

Wired (Kevin Poulsen) reports how the FBI is tapping the email database of the anonymous webmail service, TorMail. Wired notes that the “FBI is adapting to the age of big-data with an NSA-style collect-everything approach, gathering information into a virtual lock box, and leaving it there until it can obtain specific authority to tap it later.”

Syria

The UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi said last evening that talks between the parties on humanitarian aid issues “have not produced much,” but noted there is “the will to continue these discussions.” Al Jazeera notes the similar deadlock over the “core issue” of power transfer.

Reuters (Mark Hosenball) reports that the U.S. is supplying “light arms” to moderate Syrian rebels, which Congress, in votes behind closed doors, has funded through the end of government fiscal year 2014.

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib and Stacy Meichtry) covers how the Syrian opposition seeks to woo Moscow, the regime’s most powerful foreign backer, “by  assuring Russia that if it backs a transitional government without President Bashar al-Assad, the military alliance would remain intact.”

The opposition has accused the regime of jailing children as young as two, while the regime has denied holding any minors, including child combatants recruited by rebel groups [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris].

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission announced that a further shipment of chemical weapons has been loaded in Syria’s Lattakia port onto Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels for transportation. And a U.S. cargo ship departed yesterday on its mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons [AP].

Afghanistan

The Afghan government has issued release orders for 37 prisoners who are regarded by the U.S. as “dangerous insurgents” [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Azam Ahmed]. The move sets the stage for “renewed confrontation” between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. The Pentagon has strongly condemned “the extrajudicial release of these detainees,” noting that the U.S. has provided extensive information and evidence to Afghanistan relating to the prisoners.

The Washington Post (Kevin Sieff) covers how Karzai is building a case against Americans “behind the scenes,” suggesting that the U.S. may have facilitated or conducted insurgent-style attacks to undermine the Afghan government, according to senior Afghan officials. Karzai’s list of attacks suspected to involve the U.S. reportedly includes this month’s Kabul bombing, which left three Americans dead.

Egypt

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the country’s top military body, has cleared the way for army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run for president, calling the move a “mandate and an obligation” requested by “broad masses” of the public [Al Jazeera].

Ousted president Mohamed Morsi is back in court today, as he stands trial on charges relating to breaking out of jail during the 2011 uprising [The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley].

Reuters (Michael Georgy) reports that two gunmen killed a senior Egyptian Interior Ministry official in Cairo earlier today, “putting pressure on the military-backed government as it struggles to contain an Islamist insurgency.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Roger Cohen comments on the “Egyptian disaster,” noting Secretary of State John Kerry’s silence on Egypt at the Davos conference last week.

And Egyptian journalist for Al Jazeera, Abdullah Elshamy, who was been detained since August, has released a statement explaining why he has embarked on a hunger strike.

Other developments

A new U.N. Security Council resolution calls on Member States to stop the payment of kidnap ransoms to extremist groups like al-Qaeda [UN News Centre]. UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters, “It is … imperative that we take steps to ensure that kidnap for ransom is no longer perceived as a lucrative business model and that we eliminate it as a source of terrorist financing.” Reuters (Michelle Nichols) has more details.

A member of al-Shabaab has said that the U.S. military strike in Somalia over the weekend killed a key intelligence operative in the militant group, who monitored aid workers and recruited foreign fighters [Wall Street Journal’s Abdalle Ahmed Mumin and Heidi Vogt].

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous) reports that Sen. Robert Menendez has lifted his objections to the transfer of attack helicopters to Iraq, according to officials. The administration will now move ahead with the sale of 24 helicopters to assist with Iraq’s fight against extremists in the Anbar province.

Rep. Frank Wolf has announced that former Attorney General Ed Meese, former Congressman and Ambassador Tim Roemer and national security expert Professor Bruce Hoffman have been appointed to serve on the commission that will conduct an independent external review of the FBI’s post-9/11 response to terrorism and radicalization.

The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman) reports that the next round of negotiations with Iran on a final nuclear deal will begin in mid-February and will take place in New York.  In an op-ed in the New York Times, Senators Carl M. Levin and Angus S. King Jr. argue against further Iran sanctions. They warn that further legislation could prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations and redouble its nuclear program, and “[w]orse still, it could alienate our international partners.”

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention that her “biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi” [Reuters].

McClatchy DC (Tom Hussain) covers the Taliban’s regeneration in Pakistan, under the new leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, who, according to the group’s insiders, is “the most powerful, most dangerous leader” the insurgents have ever had.

The Washington Post (Liz Clarke) notes the security concerns at Sochi for U.S. Olympians and their families.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has offered his resignation to President Viktor Yanukovich, expressing hope that his move would help reach a peaceful settlement to the unrest [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets]. Meanwhile, the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to annul the controversial anti-protest legislation [BBC].

The Associated Press reports that attacks in northeast Nigeria, thought to be carried out by suspected Boko Haram militants, have killed at least 99 people.

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).