Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Yishai Schwartz
Thursday, May 1, 2014, 12:26 PM

Today, we'll start with developments in Ukraine: As the interim government in Kiev continues to experience setbacks in its operations against pro-Russian militias, Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukrainian forces withdraw from the Southeast of the country entirely and allow time for a “national dialogue.” The New York Times discusses this, and other developments from the ongoing conflict.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, think that President Obama’s response has been inadequate. The Associated Press reports that, in a bid to put pressure on the administration, eight Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have unveiled a package including penalties, NATO assistance and exportation of U.S. natural gas.

One of the last issues on which the US and Russia continue to cooperate is Syria's chemical weapons. However, the Assad regime is holding 8% of its chemical arsenal well past deadline and may have started using chlorine in a new round of more primitive chemical attacks. According to the Washington Post, some American officials appear resigned, arguing that the chlorine use is unavoidable and that the remaining weapons are simply being used as a bargaining chip to retain weapons facilities.

If you think the world is coming apart, you wouldn't be the only one. The newest issue of Foreign Affairs was released recently.  Readers will there find Ben's and Dan’s piece on the future of the NSA, and a debate between Walter Russell Mead and G. John Ikenberry on the state of world order.

For the first time, Iraq is holding elections to choose a premier---but without foreign troops present to maintain order. Allegations of irregularities have already begun, and both violence and sectarian divisions hang over the elections like a cloud. Reuters has the story.

There's some Snowden controversy brewing in Britain too.  Based on more Snowden-sourced material, Ryan Gallagher of The Intercept reports that British intelligence requested “unsupervised access” to NSA’s data troves collected through PRISM and other programs. Gallagher also quotes members of Parliament who now allege that British intelligence didn't fully disclose “the extent” of its access to NSA data.

Were the Danish involved in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki? The Open Society Institute seems to think so, and is now seeking documents from the Danish government on the matter. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has the story, and OSI statements can be found here and here.

Continuing the saga that never ends, the New York Times reports on a just-released email, one sent shortly after the Benghazi attack from the White House to then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice shortly before her controversial appearance on Sunday morning talk programs. The email, which encourages Rice to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video,” was released in response to FOIA requests from a conservative group and seems sure to (once more) inflame disputes over the issue.

Relatedly, Congressman Duncan Hunter intends to propose legislation amending the AUMF next week in order to make it easier to pursue those responsible for Benghazi. Foreign Policy has that story.

The top two officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency have been forced out, reports the Post. Apparently, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn and his deputy, David Shedd, were known for shaking things up in the defense establishment, but clashed with both Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers and DNI James R. Clapper Jr.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to introduce a bipartisan bill protecting the country’s cyber networks, reports The Hill. Although the Senate bill does more to assuage the fears of many in the technology industry than a related House bill, some privacy activists are not satisfied.

Efforts to encourage more sexual assault victims to come forward appear to be producing results, suggests a new study from the Pentagon. According a preview from the Associated Press, reports of sexual assault have risen by 50% since the Pentagon began its push for increased awareness of the problem.

Josh Gerstein of Politico reports that surveillance orders declined markedly in 2013; numbers of both FISC requests and National Security Letters are down significantly.

An amicus brief filed by the Center for National Security Studies with the FISC challenging the statutory basis of NSA’s 215 program was declassified yesterday. According to CNSS Director Kate Martin, this brief is the first time FISC has formally received arguments against the program.

Over at Secrecy News, Steve Aftergood addresses “classification challenges” that can be brought by individual employees and discusses whether these challenges represent an opportunity for curbing secrecy.

In the last few days CRS has released a number of reports that may be of interest to Lawfare readers. One summarizes notable court rulings on who the Executive may lawfully detain in the conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and under what standards of evidence. Another contains the assessments of the privacy and civil liberties impacts of the activities in various Executive agencies and departments. And a third examines the effects and prospects of the sanctions regime against Iran.

Relatedly, the State Department has just released its extensive Country Report on Terrorism for 2013. The overarching story is largely unsurprising: Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been significantly degraded, but both their affiliates and unrelated groups continue to pose a serious threat, feeding off of sectarian tensions and making use of social media.

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