News Roundup and Notes: April 18, 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.

Military Commissions

The Chief Prosecutor in the 9/11 case has appointed Justice Department lawyer Fernando Campoamore-Sanchez as Special Trial Counsel to investigate the alleged attempt by the FBI to recruit a defense team security officer as a secret informant [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].  Independent defense counsel has also been appointed to advise two detainees on whether the alleged actions by the FBI have compromised their defense.

Although meeting for four days this week in the 9/11 case, the military commission held barely four hours of court time in total.  Pre-trial motions hearings have been ongoing for nearly two years, and while the prosecution seeks jury selection in early 2015, that date now seems unlikely given the recent delays [Associated Press].

Meanwhile, in the al Nashiri case, Judge Pohl has ordered the CIA to provide a detailed account of the detention and interrogation of Mr. al Nashiri in the agency’s so-called secret “black sites” [The Guardian].  Also see our coverage yesterday on the development.

Relatedly, the Miami Herald has updated their interactive timeline of the hunger strikes at Guantanamo.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The Washington Post has released an e-book of their complete, Pulitzer prize-winning coverage of the NSA surveillance programs, titled NSA Secrets.  Meanwhile, The Guardian has a new interactive feature “NSA Files Decoded” on what the NSA revelations mean to you as an individual.

In what some are calling a highly questionable decision [Washington Post], Edward Snowden participated in a live Q&A session with Vladimir Putin, asking the Russian President whether Russia intercepts communications of its citizens, to which Putin replied that his country does not conduct “mass-scaled, uncontrolled” surveillance.

But yet, unsurprisingly, the world is not convinced Putin is telling the truth [Wall Street Journal; Daily Beast].  The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor fact checks Putin’s statement.

Edward Snowden, however, took to the op-ed pages of The Guardian to defend his decision to participate in the Q&A, saying he “questioned the Russia president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him.”

At an event yesterday at the National Press Club, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia discussed, among other things, NSA surveillance programs, reports Trevor Eischen of Politico.  Justice Scalia said the court is the “least qualified” to decide the questions posted by the NSA debate, while Ginsburg said an argument could be made that the programs violate the Constitution. Regardless, both agreed that ultimately the Supreme Court will likely rule on the NSA surveillance programs [Reuters].

NPR’s Scott Neuman reports that Canadian police have arrested a 19-year-old alleged hacker after he allegedly exploited the “Heartbleed” vulnerability to steal confidential information from the country’s tax collection agency.

Ukraine

The United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the EU have reached an agreement that calls for armed pro-Russian separatists to give up the government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine [New York Times, Washington Post; Wall Street Journal].

President Obama called the deal “promising” but left open the possibility of further action saying “we’re not going to know whether in fact they’ll follow through on these statements for several days” [The Hill; FoxNews]. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said the diplomatic talks should not be “used as an excuse to delay implementation of tougher sanctions” on Russia’s banking and financial sector.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The agreement calls on all sides to “refrain from violence, intimidation or provocative actions” but does not–as President Obama had insisted—require Russia to pull back its forces currently held along the Ukrainian border.  A joint statement of the four parties is available here.

With respect to the agreement, David Ignatius of The Washington Post writes that “[e]ach side can reasonably claim success” and that President Obama “appears, for now, to have averted war.”

In an announcement made prior to yesterday’s deal with Russia, the U.S. said it would send additional medical supplies, helmets, and other forms of nonlethal aid to the Ukraine military [Washington Post].

Meanwhile, the escalating tensions in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia are forcing corporations to map contingency plans to protect employees, assets, and supply chains, writes Noelle Knox and Vipal Monga of the Wall Street Journal.

In response to the continued standoff between Russia and Ukraine, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that door is open to more troop deployments to nearby Poland [Politico].

On a lighter, but reassuring, note: during his annual Q&A session, Putin said he is not planning to invade Alaska [Washington Post’s Terri Rupar]. And the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Iran

A report by the IAEA says that Iran has converted 3/4 of its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium into less volatile forms [Associated Press, BBC].

On the heels of the report, the U.S. has taken steps to release a $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds, as part of the previously agreed upon nuclear deal with the country [Reuters].

It appears that on Tuesday, a private, U.S.-flag airplane landed in Tehran’s international airport despite heavy sanctions against Iran—although no one seems to know why.  The FAA has said that it has no information about who was in the plane or who was operating it.  Under American law, any American aircraft would need prior approval from the Department of Treasury to go to Iran without violating a host of sanction regulations [New York Times].

North Korea

Michael Kirby, head of the HRC’s Commission of Inquiry focused on North Korea, met with the UN Security Council to discuss the commission’s report into human rights abuses in the country [Associated Press].  Kirby told reporters after the meeting that most council members “expressly said” the matter should be referred to the ICC.

On Twitter, the Deputy British ambassador to the UN Peter Wilson said:

While US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called it a “historic day”:

If you missed them, be sure to see Beth Van Schaack’s earlier posts on the Commission of Inquiry’s report.

Other Developments

Citing the effects of more than a decade of war, Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a conference yesterday in Tampa that suicides among special operations forces are at an all-time high [Reuters].

The criminal trial against Abu Hamza al-Masri began yesterday in federal court in Manhattan [Wall Street Journal; The Guardian]. Al-Masri is charged with material support to terrorists and conspiracy in connection with alleged efforts to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

In a confidential report of the IAEA obtained by the Associated Press, Iran has converted 3/4 of its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium into less volatile forms.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal calls the decision Tuesday by the NYPD to disband its counterterrorism surveillance unit, the Zone Assessment Unit, “a bow to political correctness that removes an important defense for a city that has stopped at least 16 terror plots since 9/11.”

Agha Jan Motasim, former finance minister and commander for the Taliban, has been detained in the UAE [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff].  Afghan officials say that the detention of Motasim, who had been involved in peace negotiations with the Afghan government, “thwarts the long-term reconciliation plans of Hamid Karzai’s government.

The French military has freed five aid workers in Mali who were kidnapped by Islamic militants in February [BBC].

With national elections two weeks away, violence in Iraq is increasing.  Thirty people were killed yesterday alone in a string of militant attacks across the country [Reuters].

Youths dressed in civilian clothes broke through the gates at a UN base in South Sudan and opened fire, killing dozens [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).