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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 12:19 PM

The New York Times is reporting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been engaged in secret contacts with the Taliban, which might help to explain Karzai’s continued refusal to sign a long-term security agreement with Washington.
On Monday the Syrian government killed at least 18 people in airstrikes on the city of Aleppo, reports the Associated Press. The conflict has killed over 130,000 people to date and displaced 23 million. The Assad regime stands accused of detaining and possibly torturing tens of thousands. And a suicide bomber killed six in Beirut yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal, in a blast apparently linked to the Syrian civil war.
In a New York Times op-ed, Huma Yusuf describes the Pakistani Taliban as an “increasingly P.R.-savvy organization,” one that has successfully outwitted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when it comes to messaging and confused the public as to its role in threatening the country’s security. Meanwhile Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 25-year-old son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto, blasted Sharif and opposition politician Imran Khan for “making excuses” for Taliban violence. The Guardian has the story.
Four companies—Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft—released transparency reports yesterday revealing that altogether they had received classified national security orders for the contents of at least 59,000 user accounts between January and June last year. Wired‘s “Threat Level” has detailsReuters offers a quick breakdown of the number of requests issued to each company.
The LA Times cites a number of experts who say that the Snowden leaks have put the brakes on some cybersecurity initiatives.
Amitai Etzioni has a piece in the Atlantic blasting Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s November arguments justifying his decision to publish Snowden documents. Etzioni writes:
We do need to further debate some basic questions: Are there materials that should not be published? Who decides what these are? And what is to be done with those whose agendas lead them to publish material that is harmful to the safety of the people? And what is to be done about those who stamp classified on material they find damaging to their reputation or political fortunes—but are otherwise harmless?
Unfortunately, Alan Rusbridger has not moved us an inch closer to answer these questions. But he has helped to undermine our security and that of many others, and he is not done.

Yesterday the Washington Post published this glowing profile of Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who was nominated by President Obama last Thursday to serve as the next head of NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.  The Post piece notes some of the challenges Rogers will face, thanks to the surveillance controversy.

Walter Pincus worries in the Post that 550 Air Force officers who serve day-long shifts underground, waiting for nuclear attack, have been left unbearably bored and professionally disadvantaged.
The Senate’s Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight is holding a hearing today on what is being called “one of the biggest fraud investigations in Army history.” About 800 soldiers stand accused of embezzling millions from an Army recruiting program, writes Foreign Policy. The Washington Post says more than 1200 individuals are being investigated of payouts totaling over $29 million. USA Today has hearing updates.
In a Friday filing, the DOJ refused to disclose the one document it says is relevant to a 2009 FOIA request submitted by Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg.  The latter had sought figures on how much it cost to build Camp 7 at Guantanamo Bay; the DOJ explained its reasons for the denial in a second filingHere‘s the Miami Herald story.
UCLA computer science professor Amit Sahai has just made the first major inroads into finding a universal obfuscator—and thus taken an important step towards unbreakable software. So says Wired.
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