News Roundup and Notes: February 25, 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

First Look Media’s The Intercept (Glenn Greenwald) reported last evening on how western intelligence agencies “are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.” The report covers two tactics of UK spy agency GCHQ’s secret unit: “(1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (Danny Yadron), House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers said that a proposal to give private companies custody of the government’s phone records database “would have a hard time passing.”

Military budget

As covered in yesterday’s Roundup, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has unveiled his recommendations for the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget. Announcing his proposals for a reduced military force, Hagel said that “the development and proliferation of more advanced military technologies by other nations … means that we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.” NPR (Mark Memmott), the Wall Street Journal (Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes) and Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) have more details.

Iraq-Iran

Reuters (Ahmed Rasheed) reports that Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, in a move that would violate a U.N. embargo. According to documents seen by Reuters, the agreement was reached last November. A spokesperson for the Iraqi Prime Minister said:

“We are launching a war against terrorism and we want to win this war. Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party and it’s only ammunition helping us to fight terrorists.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded to the report, stating:

“Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747. We are seeking clarification on this matter from the Government of Iraq, and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.”

In a separate development, a senior Iranian military official has reportedly said that Iran has analyzed Israel’s strikes during the 2006 war in Lebanon, to boost its own defense capabilities against the U.S. and Israel [AP].

Syria

The New York Times (David E. Sanger) reports that the Obama administration “has been engaged in a largely secret debate” about the use of cyberarms, particularly in the Syrian context. According to officials, President Obama hesitated over the Pentagon and NSA’s plans for a sophisticated cyberattack on the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad’s command structure in 2011. While Syria is unlikely to manage a significant response, officials and experts said the precedent “could embolden the Russians and the Iranians into taking a greater part in a new and escalating form of warfare.”

Former Guantánamo detainee, Moazzam Begg is among four arrested in UK terror raids, and is being held on suspicion of Syria-related offences [The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd].

Pakistan

Pakistan’s army launched new air strikes targeting militant hideouts in the country’s North Waziristan region this morning, killing at least 30 people, according to military officials and local residents [Reuters’ Jibran Ahmed]. Residents in the region have been fleeing the area in recent days, “anticipating a full-scale military offensive” since peace talks between the government and the Taliban broke down earlier this month.

A senior Pakistani Taliban commander, Asmatullah Shaheen has been shot dead near the Afghan border, according to security sources and relatives, and it is unclear who is responsible for the shooting [BBC]. Shaheen was interim leader of the militant group after its chief, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed last year.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament has delayed plans to vote on the formation of a national unity government until Thursday to allow consultations to continue [Al Jazeera]. The country’s interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned of the dangers of separatism, particularly in Crimea and other pro-Russian areas in the east that have seen protests against the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych [BBC].

The Wall Street Journal (Matthew Dalton et al.) reports that the EU and U.S. are grappling “with how to pull together billions of dollars in financing for Ukraine to fend off its economic collapse.” Western officials, including Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, have said the IMF is best placed to provide aid to Ukraine.

The Hill (Justin Sink) notes that White House press secretary Jay Carney “sidestepped” questions about whom the U.S. recognized as the leader of Ukraine. Carney said, however, that Yanukovych’s actions had “undermined his legitimacy.” Meanwhile, Russian leaders have expressed distrust of Ukraine’s new leaders, accusing them of coming to power through “armed mutiny” [Washington Post’s William Booth and Will Englund].

The New York Times (Peter Baker) explores how President Obama’s “wary stance” on Ukraine “reflects a broader ‘policy of restraint.’” And The Economist, the New York Times editorial board and the Washington Post editorial board provide their take on the latest developments.

Other developments

The Associated Press reports that Italy’s highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation, reversed the convictions on Monday of five Italian military intelligence personnel for their role in a CIA rendition that took place in Milan in 2003. Check out Just Security’s Meg Satterthwaite’s post on the case.

Defense lawyers for USS Cole bombing suspect, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri have asked the Guantánamo military commission to prevent the trial jury from passing a death sentence, on the basis that al Nashiri cannot challenge the secret evidence in his case [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn) covers the latest obstacle to the vote on sexual assaults in the military. In exchange for allowing a Senate vote on the military sexual assault issue, Sen. Jerry Moran demanded a separate debate on a new Iran sanctions bill. According to a Democratic aide, Majority Leader Harry Reid will now be forced to file a motion to end debate to get votes on the two sexual assault bills.

NPR (Carrie Johnson) notes that the leader of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Virginia Seitz “quietly stepped down” last December. The office is now being led by a deputy, Caroline Krass, who is awaiting confirmation to be CIA’s General Counsel.

Israeli airstrikes have reportedly targeted a Hezbollah “missile base” near the Lebanon-Syrian border, killing several Hezbollah members, according to security sources and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [Al Arabiya News].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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