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News Roundup and Notes: October 23, 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.

Drones

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to yesterday’s reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, stating that the administration was “reviewing these reports carefully” [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb]. While declining to speak about specific operations, Carney stated:

To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree…U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective, and the United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorists…We take mindful of the absolute need to limit civilian casualties and to, in this case, reach a standard of near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, which is the highest standard we or any country could set.

Surveillance

French newspaper Le Monde published another article yesterday alleging that the NSA wiretapped the offices of the French mission to the UN and the French embassy in Washington [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin].

DNI James Clapper responded to the recent articles, stating that they “contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding U.S. foreign intelligence activities” [BBC]. He claimed that “the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.” While Clapper did not refer to the most recent allegations, the BBC notes that the spying on the French embassy was used to help the U.S. win a Security Council vote on imposing new sanctions on Iran on 9 June 2010. The released document also quotes former UN envoy Susan Rice stating that the information helped the U.S. “keep one step ahead in the negotiations.”

The Wall Street Journal (Ruth Bender and Sam Schechner) reports that in an effort to cool the “spying row,” French President François Hollande said that his intelligence services would work with their American counterparts to ensure that the collection of intelligence is limited to counter-terrorism efforts.

Meanwhile, Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said yesterday that he will be summoning the U.S. ambassador following allegations published in Germany’s Der Spiegel that the NSA “systematically” spied on the Mexican government [CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet]. He claimed that “Mexico is convinced that the practice of espionage committed constitute a violation of norms, an abuse of the trust built between partnering countries and does not honor the historic friendship between our nations.”

The AP reports that Foreign Minister Meade also stated that Obama “gave his word that there was going to be an investigation around this issue” and that “he had not authorized any spying on Mexico.” A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said that matters related to Mexico would form part of the “ongoing review” into how the U.S. gathers intelligence.

The Washington Post editorial board argues that the U.S. “needs to adjust its policy toward spying on allies” with “better political controls” as there is a danger of damaging important diplomatic relationships. 

U.S.-Saudi Arabia

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held “urgent talks” in Paris with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in light of the growing rift between the two countries [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts]. In a press briefing yesterday, Kerry stated:

We know that the Saudis were obviously disappointed that the [Syrian] strike didn’t take place and have questions about some of the other things that may be happening in the region. It’s our obligation to work closely with them, as I am doing…And I am convinced we are on the same page as we are proceeding forward, and I look forward to working very closely with our Saudi friends and allies.

Max Fisher at the Washington Post covers the possible explanations for why the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are moving apart, including declining cooperation on Iran, Afghanistan and oil.

Syria

At the London 11 meeting yesterday, the core members of the Friends of Syria group announced:

We agree that when the [transitional governing body] is established, Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague also made an announcement through Twitter:

At a news conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the opposition “have to make up their mind” about Geneva 2 “and none of us are going to prejudge or precondition what they will choose to do in that process.

Ahmed Jarba, president of the opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) stated that the SNC would not take part if Geneva 2 “allows Assad to gain more time to spill the blood of our people while the world looks on” [The Guardian's Ian Black]. The SNC is due to make its decision to attend the conference in early November. Other key opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, have already stated they will not be attending.

The New York Times (Michael Gordon and Alan Cowell), Wall Street Journal (Cassell Bryan-Low et al.) and Washington Post (Karla Adam and Anne Gearan) have more on the story.

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti et al.) maps President Obama’s “uncertain path” on Syria, reflected in the “contentious debate among [his] advisers, with some pushing for stronger action against the Syian government, and others warning of the risks of a messy entanglement.”

Al-Liby

A federal prosecutor told the Manhattan Federal District Court yesterday that Libyan suspect Abu Anas al-Liby had made an incriminating statement to the authorities after being advised of his Miranda rights [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser].

The Wall Street Journal (Christopher Matthews) reports that the Department of Justice has asked for al-Liby to be tried along with two other alleged al-Qaeda agents already detained in New York, both of whom are also charged with planning the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Israel

The Haaretz (Barak Ravid) reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a partly private, seven hour meeting today, which will focus on “Israeli concessions for reaching [a] deal with Palestinians.” 

Afghanistan

A senior U.S. military officer has warned that insurgent groups in Afghanistan are expected to continue with violent attacks this winter, including “attempts at high-profile attacks, attempts at targeted killings of political officials, election officials and candidates” [New York Times’ Thom Shanker].

The Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) reports that NATO officials remain “confident” that Afghanistan’s traditional council will sign off on the proposed deal with the U.S. On the other hand, a senior Afghan spokesperson, Aimal Faizi told Reuters that there are “some key issues still remaining” (Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati).

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission has disqualified more than half the presidential hopefuls for next year’s election, narrowing the list down to 10 eligible candidates [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]. According to the Election Commission, the major candidates remain in the race.

Other developments

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has released its Preliminary Cybersecurity Framework “to help critical infrastructure owners and operators reduce cybersecurity risks in industries such as power generation, transportation and telecommunications.”

Defense attorneys for five detainees in the September 11 conspiracy case have asked the Guantanamo military tribunal to lift restrictions that prevent detainees from publicly discussing their alleged mistreatment [Al Jazeera America].

Fox News covers concerns expressed by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno this week that budget cuts, including the recent partial government shutdown, had hampered the military’s ability to train.

A senior White House official, Jofi Joseph has been fired after being identified as the voice behind the Twitter account, @NatSecWonk that has been responsible for leaking information and posting insulting comments about staff since 2011 [Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin].

Air Force officials have told the AP that twice this year alone, officers responsible for the launch keys to nuclear-tipped missiles were caught leaving open a blast door that is intended to prevent damage by an intruder, including compromising security.

A Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia has ruled that the government must obtain a warrant to track a car using a GPS unit [Washington Post’s Andrea Peterson]. The decision extends the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that that installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

According to a filing made by prosecutors in the case against the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his slain brother and co-suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was named as a participant in an earlier triple homicide in Waltham in 2011 [AP].

President Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are set to meet today in an effort to improve relations with a likely focus on U.S. drone strikes and Pakistan’s alleged support for the Afghan Taliban [AP].

The Economist analyzes the latest ICC ruling granting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s request to be excused from continuous presence at his trial. The concession “will add to the impression that political pressure orchestrated by the Kenyan government is affecting the court.”

The Washington Post (Annie Gowen) reports that India and China signed a defense cooperation agreement earlier today in an effort to resolve border disputes, but notes that little progress was made on “deeper issues dogging the two Asian powers, such as the trade deficit, concerns about Pakistan and regional security.”

Suicide bombers in Iraq’s Anbar province have killed at least 25 members of the security force, among others, in a series of coordinated attacks overnight, reports Al Jazeera.

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About the Author

is Assistant Editor at Just Security. Follow her on Twitter @RParekh88.