Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Ritika Singh
Wednesday, December 18, 2013, 2:00 PM

Let's begin with news of that well-dressed albatross around President Obama's neck: you know, Hamid Karzai. He met with Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, who told him to, in a phrase, knock it off and sign the bilateral security agreement.

During Caroline Krass's confirmation hearing to head the General Counsel's office at Langley, Senator Mark Udall revealed the existence of a CIA report on the agency’s role in detention and interrogation. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which conducted its own still-classified review, has requested that the CIA report be given to it for review, according to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times.

Also at the hearing, Krass refused to say outright whether the Justice Department's legal opinions regarding CIA operations should be made available to members of Congress. Josh Gerstein reports in Politico that her answer “sounded pretty much like a ‘no.’” Jack flags some of Krass's answers to pre-hearing questions here.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Senator Dianne Feinstein called the telephony metadata program a “major tool in ferreting out a potential terrorist attack.” However, she admitted that the program was not “indispensable,” but part of a larger set of tools that together keep the nation safe. Sen. Feinstein suggested that the Supreme Court could rule with finality on the constitutionality of the program. Here’s the MSNBC coverage.

NDAA Watch: We're still waiting for its passage. After much anger at Harry Reid’s decision to advance the NDAA without amendments, the Senate will likely pass an amendment-free NDAA. The Hill has the latest.

Mazel Tov! The Long War Journal tells us that a senior Al Qaeda operative (and former courier for Osama bin Laden) Mohamed Bahaiah has been awarded the dubious honor of Ayman Zawahiri’s “chief representative” in Syria to settle the leadership disputes between the two warring Al Qaeda branches in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reports that ISIS has formed its youth brigade---Zarqawi's Cubs. The training camps are full of young boys, some as young at 10.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has announced it will miss its original December 31 deadline for destroying Syria's chemical weapons. The organization cites increasing security concerns in its delay in destroying more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapon material, according to The Hill.

Nice Try, Though. Reutersquoting Folha de S.Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, claims that the Brazilian government has no interest in offering Edward Snowden political asylum.

Tom Gjelten and Melissa Block of NPR take a year-end look at the scope and scale of the Snowden-leaks.

Emily Bazelon at Slate argues that we should embrace and accept Judge Richard Leon's ruling that the NSA's metadata program is illegal:

Thank you, Judge Leon, for the wake-up call. And also for giving me reason to question, once again, the Obama administration’s insistence on treating Edward Snowden, as a criminal. Yes, he leaked everything on the farm. But without him, we’d never have this lawsuit or the alarm bells it joined in sounding. “If someone discloses a secret govt program that a Federal Court rules violates the Constitution, that person’s a whistleblower, right?” Greenwald tweeted Monday. Yes—that should be about right.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker parses Judge Leon's opinion as well. By contrast, the Wall Street Journal's editorial board says, scathingly, that the ruling was "the stuff of political campaigns, not judging, especially from a lower federal court. Less excitable appellate judges will have to provide a Constitutional reeducation."

Adam Liptak at the Times notes that the ruling will almost surely be appealed, and will therefore lead to a definitive ruling on the constitutionality of the metadata program. Jess Bravin of the Journal reports that the case offers a test for the D.C. Circuit, full of fresh Obama appointees.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has a recap of yesterday's 9/11 pretrial hearing.

Daniel Byman, who has been curating the "Foreign Policy Essay" for Lawfare as of late, has written this must-read article entitled "Intelligence and National Security." The abstract reads:

What is the role of intelligence for counterterrorism? Most studies of counterterrorism ignore the vital role of intelligence, focus only on its most controversial aspects, or fail to recognize how counterterrorism intelligence differs from traditional intelligence issues. This article argues that many of the common criticisms of the CIA and other agencies misunderstand counterterrorism intelligence and what is realistic for gaining information on terrorist groups. In particular, the important role of signals intelligence, liaison relationships, document exploitation, and interrogation are overlooked. In addition, intelligence analysis and the relationship with the policymaker differ fundamentally for counterterrorism. This article emphasizes the need to recognize these differences when evaluating counterterrorism and calls for being cautious with intelligence reform. In addition, it argues for changing US detention policy and making the public more aware of the inevitable gaps related to counterterrorism intelligence.

President Obama met with top executives of major technology firms yesterday. Guess what they wanted to talk to him about?

Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street firm that lost 658 employees in the World Trade Center’s north tower on September 11, 2001, has reached a $135 million settlement in its negligence suit against American Airlines. The Times has the story.

A U.S. helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing six U.S. service members. Initial reports indicate that the crash was due to a mechanical malfunction, not insurgent activity. The Times has more.

The Post tells us that a former Russian soldier who fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan may be tried by a military commission in the United States. The man who goes by the nom de guerre Irek Hamidullan, and is suspected of being involved in attacks against U.S. forces, is detained in Kabul after his capture during an attack on a U.S. outpost.

The Pentagon will be supporting a French peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic with equipment and aircraft. Carlo Munoz of the Hill has more.

In response to the alleged rough treatment of a female Indian diplomat arrested in New York on fraud charges, India has undertaken “reciprocal measures” including revoking ID of U.S. consular personnel, cancelling airport passes, and a variety of other antagonistic measures, reports the Post.

Following an attempted coup against South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, violence has broken out between rival groups within the country’s military. The BBC cites UN officials who place the death toll at “400-500.” The Times reports that Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking yesterday during a trip to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, called for the conflict to be resolved politically.

The BBC reports that independent clearing houses in China for Bitcoin have been forbidden by the central government from making deposits using the yuan, sending prices of the digital currency tumbling.

China has confirmed that one of its naval vessels nearly collided with a U.S. Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser in a December 5 incident considered to be the “most serious Sino-US confrontation in the South China Sea since 2009.” Here’s the BBC.

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