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News Roundup and Notes: October 14, 2013

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

On Friday, the CIA responded to a New York Times story that concerns about Edward Snowden from when he was working as a CIA technician in 2009 “slipped through the cracks” [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]. According to the CIA statement:

The C.I.A did not file any report on Snowden indicating that it suspected he was trying to break into classified computer files to which he did not have authorized access while he was employed at the C.I.A., nor was he returned home from an overseas assignment because of such concerns.

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima and Carol Leonnig) reports that more lawmakers and officials are now calling for the declassification of the original ruling – written by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, then chief judge of the FISC –  that held that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was lawful.

In an interview, the NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander continued to firmly defend his agency’s efforts. He stated that he saw no alternative to the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata in preventing terrorist attacks [New York Times’ David Sanger and Thom Shanker]. He acknowledged, however, that “it’s important to have a public, transparent discussion on cyber so that the American people know what’s going on.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a “sensible adult conversation” about the boundaries of state surveillance [The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan et al.].

The Washington Post editorial board notes that it appears unlikely that legislation that would have facilitated cooperation between the government and the private sector on cyber security will pass, and argues that companies need to arm themselves against cyber threats.

According to a claim filed on behalf of eight Libyans before the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the U.K. spying agency, GCHQ intercepted privileged communications between lawyers and their clients [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott].  The Libyans are involved in a legal battle with the U.K. over allegations that they were kidnapped by MI6 and U.S. intelligence forces and were returned to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and tortured in 2004.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced yesterday that in response to the spying carried out by the U.S. and other countries, her government was creating a secure email system to shield official communications from foreign surveillance [AFP].

Iran

Ahead of this week’s negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1,” top Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araghchi told Iranian news media yesterday that his team will propose a three-step plan aimed at persuading his counterparts that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]. However, Araghchi dismissed claims that Iran would send its current stocks of enriched uranium abroad as part of a deal to ease the sanctions regime, stating that the “shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.”

In a speech yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the window for a diplomatic solution with Iran is “cracking open,” but that “no deal is better than a bad deal” [AP].

The Washington Post editorial board cautions that “Iran’s commitment to disarmament must be tested before sanctions are lifted.” The Financial Times editorial board argues that both Tehran and Washington “must be ambitious at nuclear talks” as there needs to be a “sustained and strategic shift…not a short-term, tactical adjustment.” The editorial writes that the U.S. should offer a “significant easing of existing sanctions” and Iran, in return, should accept “significant constraints on its programme.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz argue that contrary to recent statements from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the country does want to develop nuclear weapons capability. They call upon the administration and Congress to “hit Tehran with more sanctions immediately.”

Syria

The Chemical Weapons Convention enters into force for Syria today, reports the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW):

And ICYMI, on Friday, the UN Security Council formally approved of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s plan for a joint UN-OPCW multi-phase mission to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria [UN News Centre].

As violence on the ground continues, at least 20 people have been killed today as a car bomb exploded in the town of Darkush [AFP].

The International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson reported that six of its workers, along with one Red Crescent volunteer, were abducted by unidentified gunmen in north-west Syria yesterday [BBC].

The New York Times (Anne Barnard) reports that in a “rare cease-fire” yesterday, hundreds of people were allowed to leave rebel-held town of Moadhamiyeh. Aid workers are still unable to access the town, where six people have reportedly died of malnutrition.

The Syrian National Council’s public coordinator has told Asharq Al-Awsat that the coalition group will not be attending the Geneva peace talks scheduled for mid-November, and that the first condition of participation is “international guarantees for [Syrian President] Assad to step down.”

The Washington Post (Loveday Morris et al.) covers how al-Qaeda linked opposition forces are growing stronger in Syria with a “mix of pragmatism and militancy.”

Barnaby Phillips writes that the recent diplomacy around the Syrian crisis “hints that the world is moving on from US hegemony” [Al Jazeera].

Libya

A U.S. District Court has denied a request to immediately appoint defense counsel to Abu Anas al-Liby, the Libyan al-Qaeda suspect captured by the U.S. in Tripoli [CNN’s Bill Mears]. The judge, Lewis Kaplan held that counsel could not be appointed until al-Liby is brought to the U.S. and presented in court.

On Friday, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described his brief kidnapping as a “coup against the legitimacy [of the government]”, reports CNN’s Nic Robertson et al. And Asharq Al-Awsat’s Khalid Mahmoud covers the continuing confusion over Zeidan’s kidnapping.

ICC

At the African Union summit in Ethiopia this weekend, the AU agreed to a resolution that calls for immunity from prosecution before the ICC for “any serving head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity during his or her term of office [Reuters’ Aaron Maasho and Edmund Blair]. The resolution fell short of a complete withdrawal from the ICC, as had previously been advocated by some leaders [Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Vogt].

In a strong sign of support for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the AU also called upon the UN Security Council to defer Kenyatta’s trial under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which allows for an initial delay of a year [Reuters’ Aaron Maasho and Edmund Blair]. If the request is not granted, the AU decided that Kenyatta should not appear before the Court.

The Telegraph (Damien McElroy and Mike Pflanz) notes that according to sources, Western diplomats are preparing a Security Council resolution to suspend Kenyatta’s trial in order to prevent a “breakdown in relations with Kenyatta or the court’s authority.” A senior European diplomat stated that “[Kenyatta] is working closely with the West in a region in chaos that needs to tackle a very worrying terrorist situation.”

Egypt

The Hill’s Kevin Bogardus reports that following the U.S. military aid cuts, Egypt has hired the U.S. lobby and communications firm, Glover Park Group to “provide public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel and government relations services” for the country’s government.

Josh Gerstein writes that President Obama’s decision on military aid to Egypt is “the latest sign of a course correction shifting the U.S. foreign and national security policies back to the idealistic themes central to his 2008 campaign” [Politico]. The U.S. raids in Somalia and Libya last weekend, aimed at “capturing suspects rather than killing them with drones,” are in line with this policy shift.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl highlights Obama’s “bad choices on Egypt.” He notes that Obama views the conflict as one “between an autocratic military and its secular supporters and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which won democratic elections but is intolerant and anti-Western.” Diehl argues that this approach ignores the nuances in the conflict, including how the current military regime “is targeting the same liberal and secular activists who waged a lonely battle against the Mubarak regime.”

The AP reports that a U.S. citizen that had been detained in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was found dead in an apparent suicide in his jail cell yesterday.

Afghanistan

The U.S. and Afghanistan are closer to a security deal following lengthy negotiations this weekend, but according to U.S. officials, the deal requires legal scrutiny as well as approval by Afghanistan’s traditional assembly of local representatives [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]. With some issues still to be finalized, a senior U.S. official said that the “bilateral security agreement is clearly something that stopped short of a mutual defense pact.”

NPR (Bill Chappell) covers the main challenges to the deal, including assurances that U.S. troops would defend Afghanistan if it comes under attack. Under the deal, up to 10,000 U.S. troops could be deployed in Afghanistan after the NATO mandate expires at the end of 2014.

CNN (Michael Martinez and Elise Labott) reports that the Pakistani Taliban’s deputy leader was captured by U.S. forces in a military operation in Afghanistan.

And the New York Times (Azam Ahmed) reports that a U.S. soldier was killed in eastern Afghanistan yesterday by a man wearing an Afghani security force uniform.

Other developments

Reuters reports that the Yemen-based al-Qaeda branch said today that last month’s attack on a Yemeni army base targeted a joint Yemeni-U.S. drone base.

In a counter-terrorism operation in London, four men have been arrested and held under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism [BBC].

France has filed preliminary charges against the French-Algerian Naamen Meziche, deported from Pakistan last week and suspected of al-Qaeda links [France 24]. France has placed him under formal investigation for “associating with wrongdoers with a view to committing terrorist acts.”

The U.K. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a 2007 decision of the Home Secretary to deprive Hilal al-Jedda of his citizenship would be illegal as it would render al-Jedda stateless [The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Alice Ross].

The Israeli Defense Forces announced the discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel yesterday, which could have been used for an attack against Israel [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated that the terrorist activities in recent weeks have come at the end of the “quietest year in over a decade” [The Jerusalem Post's Tovah Lazaroff]

In a wave of bombings across Iraq yesterday, at least 44 people were killed with more than 140 wounded [CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq]. According to AFP statistics, over 5000 people have now been killed in Iraq this year.

Three Senegalese officers in the UN peacekeeping force in Sudan were killed yesterday following an attack on a convoy in Darfur [CNN’s David Simpson].

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