News Roundup and Notes: February 12, 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.

Surveillance

At a press conference with French President François Hollande, President Obama denied that the U.S. has a “no-spy” agreement with foreign countries. Obama said:

“[T]here’s no country where we have a no-spy agreement.  We have, like every other country, an intelligence capability, and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries. … we are committed to making sure that we are protecting and concerned about the privacy rights not just of Americans, … but of people around the world as well.”

The Washington Post (Zachary A. Goldfarb and David Nakamura) has more on this development.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, DNI James Clapper said that Edward Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt]. Clapper stated that the intelligence agencies “are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection.”

Sen. Rand Paul is due to file his class action lawsuit against the NSA, President Obama, and others today [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]. Paul said he is filing the lawsuit against Obama “because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment.”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, plans to “reduce U.S. influence over the Internet’s architecture,” according to a draft policy paper seen by the Wall Street Journal (Frances Robinson and Sam Schechner). The document notes how “[l]arge-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have…led to a loss of confidence in the Internet and its present governance arrangements.”

Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk admitted this week that he wrongly told parliament that 1.8 million telecommunications intercepts had been collected by the NSA, which had actually been collected by the Dutch intelligence service [Reuters].

The UK’s Interception of Communications Commissioner, responsible for GCHQ oversight, told a parliamentary committee that GCHQ receives around 570,000 requests a year from the intelligence services, law enforcement and the Defence Ministry to intercept personal communications [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor].

Drones

DNI James Clapper publicly acknowledged for the first time that the CIA has a drone program at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman).

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to produce the anti-drone activist, Kareem Khan on February 20 or provide reasons for his arrest in writing to the court [BBC].

Syria

At yesterday’s press conference with French President François Hollande, President Obama reiterated his position that “right now we don’t think that there is a military solution, per se, to the [Syrian] problem.” Politico (Edward-Isaac Dovere) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan) provide more detail on Obama and Hollande’s comments on the Syrian crisis.

Little progress has been made at the second round of talks, with UN chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi stating yesterday that this week’s talks are “as laborious” as the first round. The two sides traded accusations after a face-to-face meeting yesterday, as the regime remains fixed on discussing terrorism while the opposition is focused on planning a transitional government [Al Jazeera].

Aid agencies are hoping to resume the evacuation of civilians from Homs, which was suspended yesterday reportedly due to logistical reasons [BBC]. However, hundreds of men were detained by the regime as soon as they were evacuated [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher]. UN top official in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo said that the UN had no control over the fate of the detainees.

Iran

President Obama warned yesterday that the U.S. will come down “like a ton of bricks” on companies that sought to evade the current Iran sanctions. French President Hollande also said he had warned companies not to sign commercial agreements with Iran, but noted that he was not the “President of the Employers Union in France.” The New York Times (Mark Landler) and Wall Street Journal (Colleen McCain Nelson) have more details.

At celebrations marking the 35th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, President Hassan Rouhani stated that Iran “will maintain a permanent nuclear program” [Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian]. Rouhani added that the nuclear talks “are a historical test for Europe and the United States, and if they respect the interests of our nation and cooperate in a lawful way, they will hear a positive response from our nation.”

Afghanistan

The Los Angeles Times (Shashank Bengali and Hashmat Baktash) reports that the U.S. military has criticized the Afghan government’s decision to release 65 of the 88 detainees that the U.S. believes are a threat to security. According to the military statement:

“The release of these detainees is a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan. Some previously released individuals have already returned to the fight, and this subsequent release will allow dangerous insurgents back into Afghan cities and villages.”

However, Afghan officials issued a rebuttal, stating, “According to Afghan laws there is no information gathered about these detainees to prove them guilty, so they were ordered released.”

And DNI James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he does not believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

Other developments

The Bureau of Counterterrorism has published its annual report on U.S. assistance related to international terrorism for the fiscal year 2013.

A federal appeals court rejected a challenge to the practice of force-feeding Guantánamo detainees, but ruled that judges had the power to oversee complaints about the conditions of detention as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2014 notes that the ranking of some countries has “been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed.” The U.S. fell 13 places in the most recent rankings, and is now ranked 46th.

Defense lawyers for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith have argued that the government’s conditions under which they are allowed to interview Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “could be a deal-breaker” [AP’s Larry Neumeister]. One of the nine conditions requires DoJ and DoD attorneys to attend the interview.

According to leaked reports of Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework agreement for Israel-Palestine, the plan will include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state [Al Jazeera America]. The report in Israeli newspaper Maariv suggests that the plan will rule out the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948.

Ambassador Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for near eastern affairs, told lawmakers that the administration is “planning to step up training” for Iraqi forces and that the U.S. has an “enormous foreign military sales and foreign military financing program with Iraq” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

The House passed a “clean” debt-ceiling bill yesterday, without linking the increase to a repeal of the military pensions cuts as was expected [Washington Post’s Paul Kane et al.]. The House approved separate legislation to reverse the cuts to military pensions [The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz].

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda has warned of a possible terror attack “inside Kampala in February or March” [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

Reuters (Warren Strobel and Matt Spetalnick) covers the “echoes of U.S.-Russia Cold War tensions” evident in the current standoff over Ukraine. Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to hold discussions tomorrow with the IMF on Ukraine, “as the EU explores options for providing assistance to Kiev” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Ian Talley].

Spanish members of parliament voted yesterday to push forward a bill that seeks to limit the power of Spanish judges to exercise universal jurisdiction over criminal and human rights cases [The Guardian’s Ashifa Kassam].

As peace talks in Pakistan with the Pakistani Taliban continue, Reuters (Syed Raza Hassan) reports that gunmen tossed grenades into the house of a police officer who was killed last week, killing at least nine men. The Associated Press also reports on a grenade attack on a movie theater in northwestern Pakistan, which killed at least 13 people.

South Sudan’s peace talks have faltered as the opposition rebels boycotted meetings, accusing the government of failing to respect the terms of the cease-fire deal [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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