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News Roundup and Notes: October 16, 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

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chief judge of the FISC, Reggie Walton told members that more than 24% of government requests for recent warrants “ultimately involved substantive changes to the information provided by the government or to the authorities granted as a result of Court inquiry or action” [Washington Post’s  Carol D. Leonnig]. The letter was intended to rebut claims that the Court merely rubber stamps requests for warrants from the Justice Department.

The AP reports that Brazil’s Senate investigative panel and Federal Police have stated their intention to question Edward Snowden to learn about the extent of the NSA’s spying program in Brazil. The chair of the Senate committee, Ricardo Ferraco will ask the Russian government on Thursday for permission to speak with Snowden via a video conference.

Photo-sharing app Snapchat has outlined the circumstances in which it complies with search warrants and hands over users’ photos under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act [The Guardian’s Amanda Holpuch].

Tom Gjelten questions whether we are moving toward more online surveillance [NPR]. He reports that the call for greater government control over internet within domestic borders, in response to alleged NSA spying, could undermine internet freedom, according to privacy advocates. The Guardian editorial argues that “unregulated surveillance…poses a threat to the nation, along with the threat from our enemies” and urges the U.K. parliament to “urgently” find a “better balance.”

Shutdown and the debt ceiling

Politico’s Austin Wright reports that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the default could have more disastrous consequences for the Pentagon than sequestration and the government shutdown, according to industry experts. This could include delays in payments to the military, defense contractors and veterans.

The government shutdown continues to affect reserve component personnel within the Department of Defense, and officials are reportedly concerned about readiness [American Forces Press Service’s Jim Garamone].

Abu Anas al-Liby

Alleged al-Qaeda operative, Abu Anas al-Liby pleaded not guilty before a Manhattan Federal District Court yesterday [CNN’s Deborah Feyerick and Lateef Mungin].  David E. Patton, a federal public defender, issued a statement yesterday stressing that “the presumption of innocence is not a small technicality here.” Patton also stated that there is “no allegation that [his client] had any connection to al Qaeda after 1994” in the 150-page indictment, and that al-Liby “is eager to move forward with the legal process in this case.” Al-Liby is set to return to court on October 22.

Iran negotiations

The Geneva negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are continuing today [AFP]. The LobeLog (Jasmin Ramsey) reports that Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told IPS News this morning that the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is “on the table, but not for the time being, it’s a part of the final step.” The Additional Protocol allows for snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Yesterday, Araqchi told reporters that Iran no longer wanted to “walk in the dark” of international isolation, and that the “proposal we have made has the capacity to make a breakthrough” [Al Jazeera America].

BBC reports that Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, expressed “cautious optimism,” stating that “for the first time, very detailed technical discussions” took place.

A State Department spokesperson also reported yesterday that the “team on the ground had very detailed discussions.”

Following the P5+1 talks yesterday, Iran’s Aragchi met for more than an hour with U.S. top negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman in the first bilateral session between Washington and Tehran since 2009 [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon]. A senior State Department official said that the “discussion was useful, and we look forward to continuing our discussions in tomorrow’s meetings with the full P5+1 and Iran [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

Meanwhile, France 24 reports that France is “maintaining a harder line toward Iran.” According to an article published in France’s Le Monde, an Iranian diplomatic source is quoted as calling French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s position “closer to Netanyahu’s than to Obama’s.”

Syria

AFP reports that in a video statement earlier today, endorsed by nearly 70 rebel groups in southern Syria, the rebel forces rejected the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.

Syrian activist groups have reported that a bus explosion in southern Syria has killed at least 21 people, including 4 children [BBC].

Other developments

The New York Times (Rod Nordland et al.) reports that according to U.S. and Afghan officials, while the Afghan forces responded to Taliban attacks well and cut down on killings this year, they failed to make significant gains and suffered “substantial casualties.”

The Washington Post (Abigail Hauslohner) covers the growing support for Egyptian military leader, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s unofficial presidential campaign, noting that a Sissi victory next year “would mean that Egypt will have come full circle from the ouster of one military leader to the official embrace of a new one.”

A senior Pakistani official has confirmed a recent $9.1 billion deal with China under which Pakistan will acquire two large nuclear power reactors [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah]. U.S. State Department officials are concerned that the deal extends beyond what is allowed under the international rules on transferring nuclear technology.

Reuters (Peter Apps) reports that the likely missile deal between China and Turkey “shows China’s growing Mideast clout,” although militarily, the U.S. is still “by far the dominant regional power.”

A series of unexplained blasts across Myanmar have killed 2 and left an American tourist injured [New York Times’ Thomas Fuller].

The latest study into the number of deaths caused by the Iraq war, using new research methods, estimates the figure at close to 500,000 [Al Jazeera America's Joseph Brownstein].

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor arrived in the U.K. yesterday to serve the remainder of his 50-year sentence handed down by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone [New York Times’ Marlise Simons].

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