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.
The Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett and Siobhan Gorman) reports that the government is “considering enlarging” the NSA’s bulk collection program, “an unintended consequence of lawsuits seeking to stop the surveillance program,” according to officials. Several government lawyers believe that federal-court rules on preserving evidence related to lawsuits would require the NSA to refrain from destroying older phone records, at least while the lawsuits are active.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler and David Cicilline have sent a letter to AG Eric Holder over the use of National Security Letters (NSL), stating that the practice “is deeply troubling and, therefore, addressing the proper use of NSLs must be part of any meaningful reform of government surveillance authorities” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].
A Human Rights Watch investigation into the U.S. drone strike on a wedding procession in Yemen last December finds that the missiles killed 12 men, and wounded at least 15 other people. U.S. and Yemeni officials said the targets were members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but witnesses and relatives say the casualties were civilians. Meanwhile, the U.S. has not released details of the two U.S. investigations into the incident [AP’s Kimberly Dozier].
Stars and Stripes (Toshio Suzuki) reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing multi-use cargo drones to assist ground troops, who might be able to use their smartphones to fly the drones in the future.
Military prosecutors appear to have reached a plea deal with Guantánamo detainee, Ahmed Haza al Darbi, who is expected to receive a lighter sentence in exchange for testifying against alleged al-Qaeda leader, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].
Meanwhile, al-Nashiri, the accused architect of the USS Cole bombing, has decided to keep his defense team, reports Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg.
A draft UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian aid in Syria has been finalized:
— UK at the UN ?? (@UKUN_NewYork) February 20, 2014
The Security Council is expected to vote on the proposed resolution on Friday, but it is still unclear whether Russia will support the measure [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta].
Al Jazeera covers the split between members of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council. In a video statement, General Salim Idriss rejected his dismissal as military chief of the Free Syrian Army, and several leaders criticized his removal, branding it an undemocratic “coup.”
Saudi Arabia has replaced its veteran intelligence chief, responsible for arming and funding Syrian rebels, with another prince “well-regarded by U.S. officials for his successes fighting al-Qaeda” [Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer and Adam Entous]. The move “holds promise for a return to smoother relations with the U.S.”
Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi has reportedly told the IRNA that the P5+1 countries and Iran have reached an agreement on the “plan of action and framework” for a comprehensive nuclear agreement [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark]. The next round of talks will be held on March 17 [Khabar Online].
The Christian Science Monitor (Scott Peterson) reports that according to a senior Iranian official, comments portraying the ongoing negotiations as more of a victory for the U.S. than Iran “have not been helpful.”
At least 17 protesters have been killed in renewed clashes in Kiev this morning, after a truce agreed yesterday broke down [BBC]. The meeting between EU foreign ministers and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is now under way, according to officials. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has criticized the EU’s threat of sanctions as “blackmail” and “double standards” [RT].
President Barack Obama warned yesterday that “there will be consequences if people step over the line,” and said he holds the Ukrainian government “primarily responsible” for showing restraint in dealing with the opposition [Tribune Washington Bureau’s Christi Parsons]. Obama also added that it was “worth noting” Russian influence in Ukraine (and Syria), but that the U.S. did not see the situation as “some Cold War chessboard” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet and Justin Sink].
The administration announced yesterday that it had placed 20 top Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist, as it considered further sanctions [New York Times’ Stephen Castle and Michael R. Gordon]. And Sens. John McCain and Chris Murphy have criticized Ukraine’s president and current government, and called for targeted sanctions [Politico’s Lucy McCalmont].
At least 35 militants have been killed today as Pakistani fighter jets targeted suspected militant hideouts in the country’s North Waziristan tribal region [Dawn’s Zahir Shah Sherazi]. The strikes come a day after the Pakistani Taliban said a ceasefire could be negotiated with the government if the army stopped targeting its members.
In a “rare admission of mass casualties,” the Pakistani Army has said that 114 soldiers had been killed by Taliban militants in the last five months, since the start of government efforts to engage in peace talks [Reuters].
An independent assessment of U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan has concluded that plans to reduce the size of Afghan security forces would jeopardize hopes for stability when international forces withdraw this year, as the Taliban-led insurgency “will become a greater threat to Afghanistan’s stability” [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum].
A suicide bomber killed a security guard and wounded four civilians outside a hospital in Kabul this morning, while roadside bombs killed five Afghan soldiers elsewhere in the country [AP].
The Department of Homeland Security warned airlines yesterday about a potential shoe-bomb threat, based on “very recent intelligence” [NBC News’ Pete Williams and Robert Windrem].
Reuters (Andrea Shalal-Esa) reports that the U.S. Army has unveiled new technology that will allow AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots to see targeting and surveillance data in full, high-resolution color. An official said the new sensors could help avoid mistakes such as the 2007 mistaken attack that killed 12 people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.
One of the largest government military contractors, KBR requires employees seeking to report fraud to sign internal confidentiality agreements, preventing them from disclosing their allegations, including to government investigators and prosecutors, according to a complaint filed yesterday and corporate documents obtained by the Washington Post (Scott Higham).
The Wall Street Journal (Trefor Moss and Rob Taylor) reports on a three-week patrol by a Chinese naval flotilla in the South China Sea, “which has drawn conflicting responses from regional governments, exposing confusion over how to react to China’s rising maritime power.”
The capital of South Sudan’s main oil-producing state is divided between government forces and opposition rebels, “after an escalation in fighting that has added to jitters in global oil markets” [Reuters’ Carl Odera].
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