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News Roundup and Notes: January 31, 2014

To help us continue to improve Just Security, we would like to invite you to take a few minutes to complete our (anonymous) reader survey, which will remain open until 5pm EST on Friday, January 31. Here’s today’s news.

Surveillance

CBC News (Greg Weston et al.) reports that Canada’s electronic spy agency, CSEC used information from free airport Wi-Fi services to track the wireless devices of thousands of passengers for days after they left the airport. According to a top secret document from Edward Snowden, the operation was “a trial run of a powerful new software program CSEC was developing with help from its U.S. counterpart, the National Security Agency.”

Danish newspaper Information (Henrik Montgomery) has obtained a document from Snowden which reveals that the NSA intercepted information about other countries’ positions before and during the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. According to some, “the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.”

As indicated earlier this week, the Department of Defense has formally announced that Navy Vice Adm. Michael Rogers is President Obama’s nominee for NSA Director and Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command. The New York Times (David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker) notes that Obama has chosen “a recognized expert in the new art of designing cyberweapons, but someone with no public track record in addressing the kinds of privacy concerns that have put the agency under a harsh spotlight.”

Syria

The U.S. has criticized Syria for failing to meet the deadline for the transfer of chemical weapons out of the country [McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Jonathan S. Landay]. The head of the U.S. delegation to the OPCW has said that Syria “has seriously languished and stalled,” and has transferred only four percent of its stockpile to the port of Latakia for shipment abroad. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called his Russian counterpart to ask him to “do what he could to influence the Syrian government to comply with the agreement that has been made.” The State Department has also voiced deep concern over this development. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said yesterday, “Syria must immediately take necessary steps to … comply with its obligations … We all know that the Syrian regime has the capability to move these weapons since they have been moved multiple times during the conflict.”

In a wide-ranging interview, chief UN weapons inspector Ake Sellstrom told CBRNe World (Gwyn Winfield) that it is “difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized chemical toxins, and that government theories on this issue are “quite poor.”

This morning’s press conference with UN lead negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi can be watched onlineBrahimi told reporters yesterday that he was “very, very disappointed” that no deal had been finalized to deliver humanitarian aid to Homs. However, he hoped for “a more structured discussion” at the next round of talks. Today’s closing session is expected to be largely ceremonial, and the second round of negotiations are expected to resume on February 10 [Reuters’ Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Stephanie Nebehay]. 

The New York Times (Anne Barnard and Mohammad Ghannam) notes that although little progress was made this week, “there [are] signs that in small ways, the conference might have achieved one of its aims: to give political cover to those who want a solution but fear angering hard-liners on either side.”

The Economist reports that the opposition delegation “may feel a tentative satisfaction,” given the performance of the regime, “who railed against terrorism and repeatedly claimed to be protecting Christians, rather than discussing a transitional government.”

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry and Maria Abi-Habib) reports that the Syrian opposition delegation will be travelling to Moscow on Monday, “in a bid to thaw relations with one of the Syrian government’s most powerful allies.”

A new Human Rights Watch report documents the deliberate demolition by the Syrian authorities of thousands of residential buildings, in some cases entire neighborhoods, in Damascus and Hama.

Iran

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano has told AFP that it is time to tackle “more difficult” nuclear issues with Iran, including “possible military dimensions.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to Obama’s comments during his State of the Union address that the sanctions regime led to the interim nuclear deal [Al Jazeera America]. A spokesperson was quoted by state media as saying, “The delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran’s motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history.”

Fareed Zakaria (Washington Post) writes that in order to reach a final deal, Tehran and the West “need to start thinking creatively about how to bridge what is clearly a wide divide and how to get around the main obstacle they will face — which is not abroad but at home.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post (Kevin Sieff) covers how the Afghan government is unable to maintain “even a fraction” of the highways and roads constructed since 2001, after billions in U.S. investment, according to Western officials.

The Taliban have reportedly attacked three Afghan police checkpoints overnight in the southern province of Helmand, leaving one officer dead [AP].

Israel-Palestine

The lead U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk has said that under the peace deal, roughly 75 percent of Jewish settlers in the West Bank would be included within redrawn Israeli borders [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan]. Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to win agreement on the framework deal within a few weeks.

An Israeli military official told reporters that militant group Hamas is in serious economic difficulties, having lost a major source of income owing to the Egyptian clampdown on hundreds of smuggling tunnels [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner].

Other developments

The Justice Department will seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. According to the statement, “The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has announced that the number of those implicated in the nuclear missile exam cheating scandal has risen to 92. James told reporters that “the need for perfection has created a climate of undue stress and fear.”

According to security experts, the biggest threat at the Sochi Winter Olympics is from suicide bombers [AP].

The Associated Press reports that militants attacked a government building in Baghdad yesterday, one of several attacks across the city that left at least 11 dead. The Washington Post (Loveday Morris) covers how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in his battle against extremist militants, is providing arms and funds to “unnatural bedfellows—Sunni tribesmen who complain of being neglected by his Shiite-dominated government.”

Reuters (Lesley Wroughton) reports that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Ukrainian opposition leaders later today on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has blamed the opposition for escalating the situation and insisted that his government is doing all it can to resolve the crisis [The Guardian’s Oksana Grytsenko and Luke Harding].

The Wall Street Journal (Nicholas Bariyo) covers how the continued presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan has raised concerns “about Kampala’s self-appointed role as a troubleshooter helping find African solutions to the continent’s conflicts.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has submitted an official response on the legality of humanitarian intervention without Security Council authorization, in response to questions posed by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. [Check out Ryan Goodman’s post from last night explaining the UK government’s position.]

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About the Author

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