News Roundup and Notes: February 6, 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. 

Syria

Russia has announced that it opposes the new UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian aid in Syria [AP]. Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin told reporters that “hard, pragmatic and purposeful work is necessary” to resolve the issues, not a resolution that will “politicize the problem.”

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s position “has improved … a little bit” since the chemical weapons deal. However, Kerry added that Assad is “still not winning” and that “there is no military solution” to the crisis.

The Guardian (Martin Chulov) notes that another deadline has been missed in Syria. Under the chemical weapons agreement, all “category two” chemicals were to have been moved to the Syrian port Latakia by yesterday.

The Washington Post editorial board urges President Obama to use his options on Syria, including taking action to end the aid blockades or the practice of barrel bombing, and the accelerated arming and training of moderate opposition forces.

The “sharp increase” in airstrikes launched by the regime in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo has prompted civilians to flee from the Syrian city [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Ahmed Ramadan].

Surveillance

NBC News (Mark Schone et al.) reports that a division of the UK spy agency GCHQ has targeted the hacktivists of Anonymous and LulzSec, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden. The spy unit shut down communications among Anonymous hacktivists by launching a “denial of service” (DDOS) attack–the same technique used by the hackers to take down bank, retail and government websites.

The chairman and vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee told reporters that the “majority” of Edward Snowden’s information had “nothing to do with the NSA” [NPR’s Eyder Peralta]. Vice chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry said that instead, Snowden’s leaks worked “to compromise the military capability and defense of the country” and would “certainly cost billions to repair.”

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius covers how, according to several senior European and U.S. experts, the Internet “may be closing, post-Snowden, rather than opening.”

Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, and Saeed Shah) reports that the Obama administration “will narrow its controversial drone program in Pakistan to target a short list of high-level terrorists, and aim to end it during the prime minister’s current term.” According to U.S. officials, the CIA’s “kill list” is no longer self-replenishing and, as a result, the number of targets are decreasing, which allows for the program to be slowly concluded.

Pakistani officials say that the delayed peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban have begun today, reports the AP.

Egypt

Egypt’s army chief Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has said he will run for president, according to Kuwaiti newspaper al-Seyassah [BBC]. However, a military spokesperson said this morning that the report had been a misrepresentation of Sisi’s words.

Egyptian authorities have officially revealed the list of 20 journalists being pursued on “terrorism” charges, including nine Al Jazeera employees [Al Jazeera America].

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Scmitt) covers the “new campaign of terrorism” facing Egypt’s military-backed government, from Egyptians returning home from jihad abroad.

Iran

In his interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Secretary of State Kerry reiterated that “Iran is not open for business” under the interim nuclear deal. Kerry also said that “we have made it clear to every other country that the sanctions regime remains in place.”

The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin covers how Senate Republicans are “planning to use every parliamentary trick in the book to push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a floor vote on a new Iran sanctions bill.”

Other developments

A U.S. official has told AFP that American and foreign airlines have been warned of the threat of explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes on Russia-bound flights. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said that “this routine communication is an important part of our commitment” to security.

The Pentagon has announced it is going forward with a case against Saudi national Ahmed Darbi, accused of planning the suicide bombing of an oil tanker near Yemen, which took place two months after he was imprisoned at Guantánamo [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The Treasury Department announced that it has targeted the financial and support networks of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network leadership by designating three senior members of the group as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Reuters (Missy Ryan) has more details.

Politico (Reid J. Epstein) notes that the Obama administration is easing asylum and refugee limits for those with “insignificant” or “limited” material support for terror groups, who will no longer be automatically denied eligibility.

The Washington Post (Craig Timberg) reports on new surveillance technology that can track everyone in an area for several hours at a stretch. Military contractors are reportedly developing similar technology for the military.

DoD press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said yesterday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel believes that department leaders “must take a step back and put renewed emphasis on developing moral character and moral courage in our force.” The Associated Press notes that the “ethics push” comes amid a “string of ethics scandals that produced a wave of unwelcome publicity for the military.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel has voiced growing concern over China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea [Reuters]. Russel said that China has “created uncertainty, insecurity and instability” among its neighbors.

The State Department’s top Iraqi official, Brett McGurk has told lawmakers that the Iraqi army’s plans in Fallujah involve Sunni tribes taking the lead in securing the city [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Duraid Adnan].

House Speaker John Boehner has launched a website detailing the GOP’s Benghazi investigation “amid mounting pressure from conservatives that he’s not doing enough” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet].

Brazilian officials have told Reuters (Brian Winter) that the country’s security forces are using undercover agents, intercepting e-mails, and monitoring social media to preempt violent anti-government protests at the soccer World Cup later this year.

Israel’s Jerusalem municipality has granted permits for the building of more than 550 new homes in three neighborhoods in East Jerusalem [Al Jazeera].

Visiting Ukraine yesterday, EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton said that that the EU was working on a package of economic assistance, “but dampened hopes of a sudden infusion of cash” [New York Times’ Andrew Higgins]. And Ukraine’s parliament agreed this morning to draft a joint bill on constitutional amendments, with a vote as early as next week [Reuters].

Reuters (Media Coulibaly) reports that a group of Central African Republic soldiers lynched a man suspected of being an ex-rebel, only minutes after the new president’s address promising to restore security in the country.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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