News Roundup and Notes: March 13, 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

The FISC has reversed its previous decision and is allowing the NSA to preserve phone records relating to ongoing litigation [The Hill’s Kate Tummarello]. The Justice Department had asked the FISC for clarification after a federal judge handed down a conflicting ruling earlier this week. In reversing the FISC’s previous decision, Judge Reggie Walton clarified that agency personnel could access the preserved metadata “only for the purpose of ensuring continued compliance with the government’s preservation obligations.”

The Intercept (Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald) is reporting that the NSA “is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.” Documents provided by Edward Snowden provide new details of “groundbreaking surveillance technology,” which would allow the NSA “to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware ‘implants’ … and to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.”

The New York Times (David Jolly) reports on the “strong new set of data protection measures” passed by the EU parliament yesterday. However, the prospects for the measures to become law depend on the governments of the 28 member states giving their accord, which is “highly uncertain.”

CIA-Senate

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) reports that Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Sen. Saxby Chambliss has offered a “far more mild assessment of the matter” than the one offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday. Politico (Manu Raju and John Breshnahan) has more details on the “partisan brawl” that has “erupted behind the scenes.”

Meanwhile, President Obama sought to defend his administration yesterday, but declined to comment on the Senate Committee’s allegations. Obama told reporters [Politico’s Jennifer Epstein]:

“With respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA, [CIA Director] John Brennan has referred them to the appropriate authorities and they are looking into it, and that’s not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point.”

The Washington Post (Greg Miller and Adam Goldman) explains how the “public feud” between the CIA and the Senate panel “follows years of tension over [the CIA] interrogation report.”

According to documents obtained by Politico (Josh Gerstein), internal CIA emails “detail misgivings about an in-house review of aggressive, Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects and show how that inquiry was curtailed by a separate Justice Department probe.” The emails, which appear to discuss the same internal review at the core of the current row between the CIA and Senate, “show worries about the political atmosphere surrounding the review, concerns over the backgrounds of CIA personnel assigned conducting it and suggest the scope of the project was reined in.”

McClatchy News (Jonathan S. Landay et al.) reports that the White House has been withholding more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee for its investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, “even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege.”

Reuters (Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel) has learned that White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has attempted to “de-escalate” the tension between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And White House press secretary Jay Carney has said that the CIA gave the White House a “heads up” that it would file a report with the Justice Department, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein claimed was an effort to intimidate congressional investigators [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Ukraine

President Obama said yesterday that the U.S. “has offered to try to explore … a diplomatic solution to this crisis,” but warned that if the Russian government “continues on the path that it is on then not only us, but the international community—the European Union and others—will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of international law.” Following a bilateral meeting with Obama, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk stressed his country “will never surrender.” The New York Times (Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung) have more details.

Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to London to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine tomorrow. The State Department has issued a fact sheet outlining the “increased U.S. co-operation with Ukraine,” including the administration’s plans for immediate assistance to the country.

Deutsche Welle reports on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech to parliament today, during which she “used her strongest rhetoric since the start of the crisis to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Anton Troianovski and Bertrand Benoit) notes that according to German officials, Merkel is “changing tack” with regard to Russia. Although maintaining dialogue with Moscow, Merkel has “joined in the call for sanctions and braced herself for a lengthy confrontation that carries big risks for both Europe and Russia.” And the EU has “slammed the brakes” on two Russian pipeline projects to supply more natural gas to Europe, “as part of its efforts to turn up the heat on Moscow” [Wall Street Journal’s Vanessa Mock].

The G-7 nations have issued a statement calling on “the Russian Federation to cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea contrary to Ukrainian law and in violation of international law.” The statement reiterated the G-7’s previous decision to suspend participation in any activities related to the G-8 Sochi meeting, “until [Russia] changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion.”

The Hill (Erik Wasson) reports that Congress “will fail to approve an aid package to Ukraine” before Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. While the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation in a bipartisan vote, “differences between the House and Senate will prevent Congress from completing its work” before lawmakers break for recess on Friday, according to aides.

The Economist explains whether secession in Crimea would be legal. And CNN’s Alanna Petroff explores why Russia “will think long and hard before using energy as a weapon in its dispute with the West over Ukraine.”

Guantánamo

Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Board has decided to recommend that the military continue to detain a Yemeni prisoner on the basis that this is necessary to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States” [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, William K. Lietzau notes that “[t]he Obama administration … has misdirected its energy toward the symptom—Guantanamo” and that it  “should focus instead on the underlying cause, which is the ongoing armed conflict with al Qaeda.”

The Huffington Post’s Shadee Ashtari covers the “historic lawsuit” brought by a Yemeni detainee against Guantánamo’s force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike.

Afghanistan

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has told the Senate Armed Services Committee of the dangers of a complete U.S. pullout from the country [Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño]. Dunford said:

“A withdrawal, in my mind, means abandoning the people of Afghanistan, abandoning the endeavor that we’ve been here on for the last decade, and then providing al-Qaeda the space within which to begin again to plan and conduct operations against the West.”

Feday-e-Mahaz—a “little-known Islamist militant group”—has claimed responsibility for the killing of the Swedish journalist in Kabul, stating that the journalist was targeted because he was an intelligence agent working for British spy agency, MI6 [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg].

Other developments

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Rep. Adam B. Schiff makes a case for moving responsibility for the U.S. drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon.

The Washington Post editorial board outlines how “Beijing’s breakneck defense spending poses a challenge to the U.S.”

The New York Times (Alan Blinder and Richard A. Oppel Jr.) covers how the “most important sexual assault prosecution in the military [of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair] came apart” earlier this week.

The Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) reports that the Syrian regime is attempting to “contain the fallout from an angry backlash by supporters” over the prisoner swap that released Christian nuns held by the al Qaeda-linked rebel group, the Nusra Front.

The Israeli army struck 29 targets across the Gaza Strip last night in response to a barrage of at least 40 rockets fired from Gaza, marking “the largest flare-up” in the region since 2012 [The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon and Yaakov Lappin]. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement strongly condemning the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, for which Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility, and called for “all actors to exercise maximum restraint.”

The Washington Post (Jane Arraf) reports that Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders say the fight for Fallujah is part of “a revolution.”

Reuters (David Lewis) covers how the U.S. military “treads lightly in Africa” through trainings and partnerships, and notes that “[the] growing number of European nations taking part shows their increasing concern about security in West Africa.”

North Korea has denied it was illegally exporting oil from rebel-controlled eastern Libya, claiming instead that an Egyptian company was operating the oil tanker, which has been “in the center of an armed standoff since Saturday” [Wall Street Journal’s Jeyup S. Kwaak].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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