Show sidebar

News Roundup and Notes: October 15, 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.

NSA Surveillance

In an exclusive story, the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report that the NSA has been collecting hundreds of millions of address books and contacts from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, including those of American citizens, according to senior intelligence officials and top secret documents provided by Edward Snowden.

This collection program does not target individual users, but gathers data on a large scale, with figures indicating that more than 250 million address books are collected each year. The data collected “would enable the NSA, if permitted, to draw detailed maps of a person’s life, as told by personal, professional, political and religious connections,” although the “picture can also be misleading, creating false ‘associations.’” While the collection takes place overseas, and is dependent on “secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services,” two senior U.S. intelligence officials admitted that contacts of Americans are also included.

The Washington Post also published a presentation on problems with the NSA’s over-collection of address books and buddy lists, and an excerpt from NSA’s “Intellipedia” that similarly describes the problem of “high-volume, low-value” data collection.

In an interview with the Washington Post’s Brian Fung, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Bob Goodlatte discusses the NSA surveillance program. Goodlatte believes there has been “an abuse of the classified documents system by people who too readily classify things.”

Iran

Teams from the P5+1 and Iran have arrived in Geneva and are set for two days of negotiation on Iran’s nuclear program [Al Jazeera]. The Guardian reports on this morning’s developments, as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif presented a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons” that lasted for around an hour.

Ahead of the negotiations, officials, lawmakers, and diplomats were divided on their views on the likelihood of its success.

In a statement yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif acknowledged the “rather difficult and time consuming process” that is due to begin today [CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Shirzad Bozorgmehr]. However, he expressed hope that “by Wednesday we can agree on a roadmap to reach a solution.” He also stated that he would like an additional meeting on Wednesday with ministers from the P5+1 to agree on the details.

A senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. is “quite ready to move” and that any sanctions relief will be “targeted proportional to what Iran puts on the table.”  The official also stated:

I think that the core sanctions architecture that not only the United States but the entire international community has put in place … all can be addressed if Iran addresses all of our concerns and all of their obligations and responsibilities under the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and UN Security Council resolutions.

The Hill’s Julian Pecquet has more on this story.

A bipartisan group of ten senators sent a letter to President Obama yesterday, which stated that (as reproduced in The Hill):

If the Iranian government takes [the necessary] steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress.

The group advise that Iran should fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfill its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and implement all UN Security Council resolutions.

Reuters (Yeganeh Torbati and Fredrik Dahl) reports that a U.S. State Department official has said that in a possible sign that Iran intends to engage meaningfully, the Geneva negotiations are to be held in English for the first time.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressed cautious optimism, stating that there “are reasons to expect movement on both sides” and said “[w]e are encouraged by what we have heard from the Iranians—of course not without problems” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon].

Meanwhile, in a speech to the Israeli parliament yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that it would be “a historic mistake to relax the pressure on Iran now, a moment before the sanctions achieve their goal” [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]. On a more optimistic note, a senior Israeli minister told foreign media representatives yesterday that “[w]e want the Geneva talks to succeed” and that a diplomatic solution was welcome “on the condition that there will be a sufficient and satisfactory solution.”

Analysis in the media continues. The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink) reports that according to experts, Iran’s nuclear capabilities have advanced so greatly in the last year that the West will need greater assurances from Tehran that it is not set to develop nuclear weapons.

Max Fisher writes in the Washington Post that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister’s dismissal of shipping enriched uranium out of the country is a “bad sign.” In using the “categorical” rhetoric of “red line,” Fisher believes that this is a sign that Iran’s position is “hardening, not softening.” Ray Takeyh calls on the West for a “maximalist approach to diplomacy with Iran” and argues that “half-steps and half-measures” from Iran should not be enough [Washington Post].

Abu Anas al-Liby

The al-Qaeda suspect captured in the U.S. raid in Tripoli has been brought to the U.S. and is expected to appear before a federal judge in New York today [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser et al.]. According to officials, the decision to move him was motivated by al-Liby’s health problems, which worsened after he stopped eating and drinking while being held on the U.S. Navy vessel in the Mediterranean.

The New York Times story covers the mixed reaction of lawmakers. Representative Peter T. King of the House Intelligence Committee stated that the decision was “very unfortunate,” given that al-Liby has been “an integral part of the al-Qaeda operation” and his capture offered an opportunity to obtain valuable intelligence. On the other hand, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, welcomed the decision, stating that the “indefinite detention of al-Libi at Guantánamo would have been unnecessary and unwise.”

Syria

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu has told the BBC that Syrian officials are cooperating with the experts, but that access to some opposition-held areas is difficult. He stated that areas controlled by rebels “change hands from one day to another, which is why we appeal to all sides in Syria to support this mission, to be co-operative and not render this mission more difficult.”

The New York Times (Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard) also reports that there is intensified pressure on Syrian rebels to allow access to chemical weapons experts to areas under their control. A diplomat stated that while the Syrian government was responsible for disarmament, the “international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition.”

Three Red Cross workers and the Red Crescent volunteer have been released following their kidnapping in opposition-held territory on Sunday [Washington Post’s Diaa Hadid]. The International Committee of the Red Cross did not have more information on the remaining three Red Cross workers.

Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write that the civil war’s “brutality isn’t going away,” with many of the players having committed war crimes against civilians [CNN].

Afghanistan

The Washington Post editorial board welcomes U.S. negotiations on the security deal with Afghanistan, but warns that “[b]etween Mr. Karzai’s erratic behavior and Mr. Obama’s lukewarm commitment to his own strategy, the deal could still crumble.” The editorial argues that if the deal does fall through, the “best U.S. response would be patience” as Afghanistan has made “enormous progress since 2001” and it would be “foolish for either government to sabotage the alliance.”

The Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati and Rachel Pannett) reports that UN officials are worried that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year could lead to increasing internal displacement as well as migration abroad.

The governor of Afghanistan’s Logar province was killed earlier this morning in a bomb blast in a mosque [BBC].

Egypt

In a telephone conversation, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Egyptian Minister of Defense Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi expressed “commitment to advance and strengthen the bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt [DoD News].

Politico’s Rachael Bade notes that the decision to halt most military aid to Egypt will have domestic impact as defense firms will begin to close some production lines.

Al Jazeera analyses whether Egypt is set for another era of military rule and discusses the extent to which the country’s military regime will go to stay in power.

Other developments

The BBC reports that the four men arrested in London yesterday over a suspected “serious” terrorist plot are continuing to being questioned, while further searches continue at other addresses.

According to Somali officials, two Somali men died while making a bomb in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa [Al Jazeera].

A bomb blast outside a Sunni mosque in northern Iraq earlier this morning has killed 12 people, reports the BBC.

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook.  To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org.  Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security.

Filed Under:


About the Author

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