News Roundup and Notes: January 29, 2014

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State of the Union

There has been much coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union address last night.

The Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes provides a summary of the national security and foreign policy issues in Obama’s speech, during which he reiterated his promise to veto any further sanctions legislation against Iran. On Afghanistan, Obama said he “could” keep some troops in the country after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the bilateral security agreement. He restated his policies on reigning in the U.S. drone program and called for the closure of Guantánamo within the year.

Politico (Philip Ewing and Juana Summers) also covers the national security issues, including Obama’s comments on opposing terrorist networks in Syria and the need to “disrupt and disable” al-Qaeda’s growing networks in different parts of the world, including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali.

On NSA surveillance, Obama offered only one sentence on his proposed reforms, stating [Politico’s Tony Romm]:

“[W]orking with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs—because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.”

Daily Beast’s Eli Lake argues that Obama’s address “sent mixed messages on the threat presented by al-Qaeda.” William Roberts, writing in Al Jazeera, notes that Obama “devoted a surprising amount of his State of the Union speech to a less interventionist foreign policy.” The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman argues that Obama “missed a big chance to make a case to a hostile Congress that a diplomatic settlement with Iran is overwhelmingly in the US national interest, preferring a cautious defense of an interim Iran nuclear deal.”

And the editorial boards of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post offer their take on Obama’s address.

Surveillance

Rovio Entertainment, the developer of the popular Angry Birds games franchise, has responded to the most recent Snowden leaks, stating it has never collaborated with any government agencies [Wall Street Journal’s Sven Grundberg]. It added, “If advertising networks are indeed targeted, it would appear that no internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled websites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance.”

The NSA has named Rebecca Richards, currently at the DHS, as its first civil liberties and privacy protection officer [Washington Post’s Al Kamen].

The Washington Post (Andrea Peterson) writes that the move to allow tech companies to disclose more details about government requests is “good PR,” but that the transparency reports “don’t represent a meaningful way to measure the true scope of governments’ access to private data.”

Sen. Rand Paul hopes to file his class-action lawsuit against the NSA “within the next week,” reports The Hill (Julian Hattem).

In the UK, a leading lawyer has submitted a legal opinion to members of parliament outlining why the GCHQ’s mass surveillance programs are likely illegal and have been signed off in breach of human rights and surveillance laws [The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins]. And the UK Foreign Office has confirmed that the head of GCHQ is to stand down, but emphasized this was a long-planned move rather than linked to the Edward Snowden leaks [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill].

Syria

Failing to break a deadlock at the negotiating table yesterday, UN-Arab League chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi cancelled the afternoon discussions, while expressing hope for a “better session” on Wednesday morning [Al Jazeera]. The talks were also disrupted by reports of U.S. approval of aid, with delegates from the regime presenting a statement that condemned Washington for “arming terrorist groups in Syria.” A State Department spokesperson dismissed the claims as “ludicrous,” and added, “We support the moderate political and military opposition who are fighting for the freedom and dignity of all the Syrian people.”

According to U.S. officials, extremist rebels have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources and “are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad” [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard et al.].

The Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib) covers how the opposition delegation “has gone to pains over the past week to overcome its image as a fractious organization mired in infighting, trying to present a strong and united front to the media, Western backers and Syrians back home.”

And Reuters (Dominic Evans and Khaled Yacoub Oweis) provides an insight into the peace negotiations thus far.

Israel-Palestine

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said in a recorded interview that he could accept an Israeli military presence in the West Bank for a three-year transition period, but noted that “whoever proposes 10 or 15 years for a transition” was not serious about the peace deal [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren].

Meanwhile, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett “is ratcheting up the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resist concessions that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick).

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman covers how Secretary of State John Kerry “will either be Israel’s diplomatic salvation or the most dangerous diplomatic fanatic Israel has ever encountered.”

Other developments

At yesterday’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing, a Yemeni Guantánamo detainee who has been held for 12 years without trial asked to be returned to Yemen [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. [Check out Just Security’s Daphne Eviatar’s post on the “first so-called ‘public’” PRB hearing.]

The UN Security Council has unanimously authorized the deployment of an EU force to the Central African Republic,  “to take all necessary measures” to address the continuing deterioration in the country [UN News Centre]. The resolution also provides for an initial one-year travel embargo and a freeze of financial assets, but does not specify names or group affiliations to be sanctioned.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s annual report covers the developments made in 2013, including the “important milestone” in Afghanistan, “when Afghan forces assumed lead responsibility for security across the country.”

The Hill (Kristina Wong) notes that top senators are “fed up” with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and have suggested that the administration wait for the next Afghan president to finalize the bilateral security agreement.

Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that there is a need to slow “the last decade’s rate of military compensation growth” if Pentagon “is going to maintain a future force that is properly sized, modern and ready” [DoD News].

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) reports that Pentagon investigations reveal “a [military] system that promotes and tolerates too many lousy leaders.”

Al Jazeera America covers the widening Air Force nuclear cheating scandal, with around 70 officers now accused of cheating, or being aware of cheating, on tests.

An Iranian nuclear spokesperson told the IRNA news agency that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will be visiting a key uranium mine today, under the agreement allowing for expanded monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities [AP].

The Washington Post’s Max Fisher provides “[a] worrying map of the countries most likely to have a coup in 2014” based on data provided by political scientist Jay Ulfelder.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen criticized Russia this morning for pressuring the Ukraine government not to sign the free trade pact with the EU, which led to the mass protests in Ukraine [Reuters].

The chief of protocol for the Somali embassy in Kenya has reportedly been arrested by Kenya’s anti-terrorism police unit over suspicion of terrorism [Mareeg Media].

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh) covers Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi’s trial yesterday. Holding Morsi in a soundproof glass cage, the trial “underscored the extent of the effort by the new government to silence the former president and his fellow [Muslim Brotherhood] defendants.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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