News Roundup and Notes: April 2, 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

In a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, DNI James Clapper has confirmed that the NSA performed warrantless searches on Americans’ calls and emails [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman and James Ball]. The letter states:

“[T]here have been queries, using U.S. person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence by targeting non U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. pursuant to Section 702 of FISA. These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA Court as consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment.”

The Hill (Julian Hattem) reports that the NSA is “under fire” from lawmakers for the revelation that the agency used a “loophole” in federal law to search Americans’ communications.

Israel-Palestine

Haaretz (Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury) reports that American efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace deal “have reached a severe crisis.” Secretary of State John Kerry canceled his visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah last evening, “barely two hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international conventions the Palestinian state is interested in joining, and after earlier in the day Israel issued 700 new tenders for housing units in [a] Jerusalem neighborhood across the Green Line.”

However, Kerry sought to downplay events and stressed that it is “completely premature to draw any judgments about [developments] at this point in time.” The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren et al.), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon et al.) and Washington Post (William Booth and Anne Gearan) provide more details.

Kerry also played down reports that the U.S. had offered to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. He stated that “at this point in time, no agreement has been reached with respect to any prisoner.” White House press secretary Jay Carney also said President Obama “has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard” [Politico’s Jennifer Epstein]. Meanwhile, Pollard has waived his parole hearing, making clear that “he has no intention of serving as a pawn in the floundering diplomatic chess match,” reports the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan).

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) reports that the “Obama administration’s proposed deal for … Jonathan Pollard is facing a bipartisan backlash from Congress.” MSNBC (Dafna Linzer) covers how Pollard became Israel’s spy. And the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards criticize the administration’s plans to release Pollard as part of the peace negotiations.

In a separate development, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey has concluded talks with Israeli leaders on combating likely threats in the region [DoD News]. In particular, Dempsey said the Israelis are satisfied that the U.S. has “the capability to use a military option [against Iran] if the Iranians stray off the diplomatic path” on the nuclear issue.

Ukraine

NATO has decided to “suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the group “will make sure [it has] updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments” in response to Russia’s actions. The Alliance has already “reinforced its presence on the eastern border, including surveillance patrols over Poland and Romania and increased numbers of fighter aircraft allocated to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan) provide more details.

The Telegraph (Bruno Waterfield and Tony Paterson) reports that European foreign ministers, including NATO chief Rasmussen, have said there is no evidence of Russian troops withdrawing from Ukraine’s borders, as promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Amid growing concern, Poland has asked NATO to station 10,000 troops on its territory. And the Wall Street Journal (Patryk Wasilewski) reports that Poland’s reliance on Russian natural gas “eased significantly … after Germany completed an investment allowing Poland to meet the bulk of its consumption needs should there be disruptions to its gas imports from Russia.”

In the U.S., the House voted 378-34 yesterday to pass legislation providing economic assistance to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, sending the bill to President Obama for his signature [Politico’s Seung Min Kim].

Terrorism cases

Attorney General Eric Holder has said he still believes that Manhattan is the right place to put alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial, but that he won’t “revisit” the decision to have Mohammed tried by a military tribunal instead [AP’s Larry Neumeister]. The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) and Washington Post (Sari Horwitz) also cover Holder’s comments on how the Abu Ghaith trial has “proven beyond any doubt” that federal courts can safely handle terrorism trials.

The Pentagon has announced that the next Guantanamo military commission hearing in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others has been scheduled for April 14-17.

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the U.S. administration remains opposed to arming the Syrian opposition with anti-aircraft missiles, as reported in Russian media [Middle East Monitor].

Al Arabiya News reports that the Syrian army has recaptured a “key post” in President Bashar al-Assad’s ancestral homeland in Latakia province, according to state television.

And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has documented the death of more than 150,000 people in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 [AFP].

Other developments

John P. Carlin has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as Assistant Attorney General for National Security [DoJ News].

The suit against Arab Bank—brought by relatives of American citizens killed or injured by terrorist attacks in Israel, who are accusing it of transferring funds to those responsible for the attacks—is testing U.S. diplomacy and secrecy laws, reports the New York Times (Charlie Savage).

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. missile defense system could incur additional costs and delays, following several test failures and technical challenges in 2013 [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal].

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has said that recent scandals are “absolutely not” evidence of a cultural problem within the agency, but “isolated incidents of misconduct” [Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery].

A number of senators are urging the Obama administration to deny a visa to Iran’s new ambassador to the UN, who senators say has links to the group involved in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo].

Japan has ended “a nearly half-century ban” on the export of weapons, “a move aimed at helping Japan assume a larger regional security role to offset China’s growing military might” [New York Times’ Martin Fackler].

The Financial Times ( Kiran Stacey et al.) reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to order an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood has stirred tensions within government, with some officials concerned the investigation “could help radicalise what has historically been a moderate group.”

The Afghan government has closed a number of foreigners’ hangouts in Kabul, in order to provide protection from “a series of pre-election attacks aimed at foreigners” in the city [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

At least 15 civilians have been killed in a suicide bombing by suspected Boko Haram militants in north-east Nigeria [BBC].

Al Jazeera America reports that Kenyan police have arrested more than 650 suspects after six people were killed in bomb attacks in Nairobi.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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