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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Monday, October 28, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Syria continues its cooperative streak. On Sunday, the country filed its initial plan to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal—three days ahead of schedule, no less—according to a statement released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Here are Al Jazeera America, the BBC and the New York Times on that. OPCW will review the plan by November 15 but is in the meantime keeping mum on the contents of the Syrian submission.
Now like the rest of the West, let’s fixate on surveillance.
The details of Merkelgate remain murky. On Saturday, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the U.S. may have bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone since 2002, as suggested by a secret 2010 document. Here is Reuters on Germany’s demand for answers. And on Sunday Der Spiegel declared that President Obama has known NSA has been eavesdropping on Merkel since 2010, notes Reuters. But the Wall Street Journal writes that according to an internal report, President Obama was unaware that NSA was spying on Merkel and other world leaders—and put a halt to it when he found out.
How CNN sums up President Obama’s defensive/apologetic response to the most recent developments in the NSA spying saga: “You do it, too, and we’ll make some changes.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) thinks President Obama has nothing to apologize for—well, save apologizing—and should cut it out already. King declared on NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” “the reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives not just in the United States but in France, Germany and throughout Europe.” Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) put the point in livelier terms on CNN‘s “State of the Union”: “If the French citizens knew exactly what [the U.S. counterterrorism operation abroad] was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks.”
The Economist isn’t convinced all are as mad as they claim to be—no ultimatums have been made of the U.S., and anyway we are not the only one bugging countries overseas. The magazine observes dryly: “In the end . . . leaders issued an anodyne statement saying they would keep talking to the Americans about the affair in private, with a view to settling matters by the end of the year.”
Be that as it may, the world is going through all the expected (com)motions. As Colum Lynch, John Hudson, Shane Harris of Foreign Policy reported on Thursday and Friday, 21 countries have united to draft a UN General Assembly Resolution designed to promote privacy and curb NSA spying abroad. Spanish outlets are now reporting that NSA monitored 60 million phone calls in Spain in a single month, says BBC. Meanwhile Russia could care less about NSA surveillance, according to the FP.
Glenn Greenwald thinks NSA spying on allies reflects an “institutional obsession” with surveillance, according to this interview with Democracy Now. Speaking of Greenwald: the journalist best known as the Snowden-story-breaker will be leaving the Guardian this week to team up with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in pursuit of a new breed of media venture. Bill Keller has a Sunday conversation with Greenwald (is he “the Future of News?”) in the pages of the Times.
Continuing on with domestic updates:
Surveillance concerns appear sincere on the homefront. On Saturday, thousands took to Capitol Hill to protest NSA spying, reports Al Jazeera America. Meanwhile Democrats are split on what constitutes an appropriate response to the NSA revelations. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is planning to introduce legislation to codify the phone records program, in what SF Gate describes as a “frontal challenge” to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  The latter is drafting a bill to kill the NSA program.
Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post offers this profile of Andrew W. Marshall: head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, an internal think tank devoted to military strategy.  He is apparently “a legendary if mysterious figure in national security circles”; a prospective victim of the deep budget cuts to come; and apparently a dead ringer for Yoda.
Defense lawyers for the five defendants in the 9/11 case have written a letter to the President requesting declassification of details on the CIA’s secret interrogation program and arguing that the torture cover-up is preventing their clients from getting a fair trial. Here is the Wall Street Journalhere is CBS.
On Friday Noah Feldman published a Bloomberg column on the Second Circuit’s necessarily “tortured” ruling last week in Ghailani. Feldman’s conclusion: “The Second Circuit’s decision on speedy trials is probably right — but the policies that demanded it are very wrong.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr. of Duke Law School has a News Observer piece blasting the “muddled report” that Amnesty International published last week on U.S. drone strikes. Dunlap notes the irony in Amnesty”s insistence on concealing the identities of its sources, and argues it “unwittingly helps” the government’s own case for keeping its Pakistani-based campaign opaque. See Dunlap discussing the report on PBS.
Over at the New Yorker, Daniel Fromson makes brief mention of Matthew Power’s profile of Brandon Bryant, which made a splash last week in GQ. “Confessions of a Drone Warrior” describes the drone operator as a “21st-century American killing machine.” According to the Telegraph, a U.S. official asked to comment on the article stated:  “US counterterrorism operations are precise, lawful, and effective and the United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorists.”
Sunday marked the 38th annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, an event that featured ramped-up security in the wake of the Boston bombings as well as a slightly flatter course, reports the Post. The Post also has video on a parallel race happening half a world away: troops in Afghanistan ran the marathon, too, in honor of their fallen comrades.
Global developments over the weekend have been largely bloody.
The Associated Press reports that a wave of coordinated attacks across Iraq killed at least 66 people on Sunday, marking the worst single day of assaults since October 5. The violence is part of a deepening security crisis, largely attributable to the work of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Iraq-based al-Qaeda affiliate, writes Ben Van Heuvelen of the Post.
At least 18 people, mostly women and children, were killed on their way to a wedding when their bus struck a roadside bomb on Sunday, reports Pajhwok Aghan News. Meanwhile the Long War Journal situates the Saturday attack on two NATO soldiers and an Afghan soldier inside a Kabul military base within a pattern of recent insider attacks.  Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Scott Higham of the Washington Post report that it will be “impossible” for American officials to safely visit and inspect multi-billion-dollar, U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in certain remote areas of Afghanistan after the scheduled withdrawal of coalition forces from the country in 2014. The New York Times reports that senior NATO officials plan to scale down the postwar mission to safeguard billions of dollars in security aid.
Two men have been arrested and several others detained in connection with bomb attacks that killed six people in Patna, India where prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was scheduled to speak on Sunday, reports the BBC. Patna’s Additional Director-General (ADG) denied that there had been any intelligence on the attacks, according to First Post India, contradicting the criticisms of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Times of India has more on the political finger-pointing.
Controversy has erupted in Tehran after authorities there ordered the removal of anti-American billboards, shocking vocal conservatives who see betrayal in President Hassan Rouhani’s every overture to Washington. Here is Jason Rezaian of the Post. Yesterday Marwan Bighara had an op-ed in the Times explaining why the Arab world fears getting trampled as U.S.-Iran relations thaw.
Word came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office that the Israeli government would be releasing a second round of Palestinian prisoners as part of a U.S.-brokered deal. Al Jazeera America reports. More coming out of Israel: yesterday the AP reported that a Trojan horse attack on the security cameras in Israel’s Carmel Tunnels toll road was responsible for a 20-minute lockdown of the major road on September 8.
Bloomberg editorial endorses UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s plan to add 4,000 African Union troops to the 18,000 already on the ground in Somalia as part of a plan of action against al-Shabaab, responsible for last month’s brutal attack on Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall.
On Sunday, the Congolese army recaptured the rebel stronghold of Rutshuru, write Kenny Katombe and Chrispin Mvano of Reuters, suggesting the end could be in sight for the 20-month uprising that has displaced tens of thousands.
Some rare good news out of Colombia: According to the Cuban and Norwegian embassies in Bogota, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has freed 26-year-old American Kevin Scott Sutay, who it had kidnapped back in June. The AP has the story.
On the State Department blog, Christopher Painter has a post highlighting the 2013 Seoul Cyber Conference, which he describes as “the culmination of a long preparatory process which included pre-conference workshops that underscored the value of fostering a diverse community of stakeholders actively involved in shaping cyber policy.
Last and admittedly least: What are the five weirdest weapons used to fight pirates? Bloomberg dishes on using stinky water to do good.

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