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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:30 PM

In breaking news, Bradley Manning, 25, has been dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Here are the Wall Street Journal and New York Times on that.
But let’s turn to world affairs first.
Syrian rebels have accused the government of firing rockets carrying poison gas in areas east of Damascus, says the Times. The reported death toll ranges from “dozens” killed to 213 to “at least 640.” The allegations come only a day after UN officials arrived in the capital to investigate prior claims of chemical weapons use. Just yesterday, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that unusually large weapons caches seized by Syrian rebels over the last three weeks significantly boost their odds against better-armed government forces in contested areas of the country.
New day, new round of speculation on what’s next for Egypt. Some possibilities: a total ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, now that the supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, has been arrested—and a decade of civil war. Politico reports that President Obama convened his National Security Council and cabinet officials yesterday for a “routine” meeting on Egypt and U.S. aid.
The U.S. embassy in Yemen was the last of twenty embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa to reopen this week, writes Karen DeYoung of the Post. Eli Lake and Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast report on the capture of an al-Qaeda courier in possession of a recording of a seven-hour meeting between senior al-Qaeda leaders over the internet—information that may have prompted the mass embassy shutdown.
The BBC reports that Pakistani security forces have seized 100 tons of bomb-making materials in Quetta.
Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was indicted yesterday by a Pakistani court for the murder of then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf’s lawyer claims the charges have been “fabricated.” In an excerpt from a forthcoming book on the assassination investigation, Heraldo Muñoz, UN Assistant Secretary General, writes that although proof of culpability is lacking, Musharraf bears “political and moral responsibility” for Bhutto’s death.
Yesterday Afghan villagers offered heart-wrenching testimony at the sentencing hearing of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to killing sixteen unarmed Afghan civilians—mostly women and children—during his 2012 shooting rampage in a village in Kandahar province. A six-person military jury will decide whether Sergeant Bales, now 39, deserves life imprisonment for the one-man massacre. See the AP story here and the Times story here.
In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, General Heinz Feldman of the International Security Assistance Force was optimistic about the capabilities of Afghan security forces and noted that ISAF presence in the country has already shrunk from over 800 bases to fewer than 100.
Monday marked the beginning of another round of pretrial motions hearings for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his four 9/11 co-conspirators. Check out our ongoing coverage of the sessions in real-time, as Wells and Raffaela report almost-live from Fort Meade. See the AP for details on how two FBI agents defended their “voluntary interrogation” of a prisoner. The Miami Herald has more on the secret session held on an unnamed government motion known to the public only as AE52.
One of the 9/11 defense attorneys, James Connell III, plans to challenge the conditions of confinement in Camp 7 after recently spending 12 hours inside the secret section of Guantanamo where his client and other high-value detainees are held. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald suggests that Camp 7 prisoners are at least eating, given Ramzi bin al Shibh’s odd outburst yesterday about the camp’s failure to serve olives and honey.
Court documents unsealed on Monday detail the injuries sustained by the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, during his capture: multiple bullet wounds, including one that fractured his skull. CNN has the story and photos of Tsarnaev’s surrender following his shootout with police. Here’s the transcript of his hospital bedside hearing.
Surveillance is officially its own little universe.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA’s dragnet captures about 75 percent of U.S. Internet communications.
The government is making significant progress in developing effective face scanning surveillance technology, writes Charlie Savage in the New York Times. Check out the documents released by the Department of Homeland Security in response to a FOIA request on the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS).
The next Edward Snowden won’t have it so easy. The Pentagon is planning to push its data onto a massive, more easily secured cloud computing network. John Reed of Foreign Policy writes that the project known as the “Joint Information Environment” will be complicated and expensive. Is this reason for concern? After all, the NSA still doesn’t know what Snowden took, says the Atlantic—and can’t do basic math.
Think Snowden did us all a service? Think again, says Jeffrey Toobin, in this New Yorker piece on the “real costs” of Snowden’s disclosures. Toobin also made waves yesterday in an interview on CNN when he compared Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, to a drug mule in response to a question about whether UK authorities were justified in detaining Miranda.
The Daily Star reports that Miranda has filed a civil suit challenging the legality of his detainment at London Heathrow Airport and the confiscation of his electronics and media under the UK’s Terrorism Act. Citing grounds that sound a lot like Toobin’s the drug mule theory, the UK is defending the detention—and risking backlash, says Marc Champion at Bloomberg.
Speaking of fighting back, here’s the latest in preemptive destruction: Yesterday, editors at the Guardian explained the newspaper’s decision to physically destroy hard drives containing copies of some of the secret files leaked by Snowden to avoid being legally compelled to hand the material to British authorities. This morning, Reuters reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron issued orders aimed at preventing the Guardian from publishing information about U.S. and British surveillance programs:

Any such surrender would have represented a betrayal of the source, Edward Snowden, [editor Alan] Rusbridger believed. The files could ultimately have been used in the American whistleblower’s prosecution.

“I don’t think we had Snowden’s consent to hand the material back, and I didn’t want to help the UK authorities to know what he had given us,” the Guardian editor said.
Dana Milbank of the Post calls out President Obama for insisting that Snowden could have gone through internal channels to air his concerns about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Case in point: Gina Gray, the whistleblower who went by the book in exposing financial mismanagement and wrongdoing in the Defense Department—and paid dearly for it.
Chief Justice John Roberts has tapped Judge José A. Cabranes, a conservative-leaning Democratic appointee, to the FISA review panel. Here is the Timeshere is the Post.
Shifting the spy spotlight: Over at Threat Post, Michael Mimoso reports that three groups of hackers with ties to China are using the Poison Ivy remote access Trojan to steal data and monitor online user activity.
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