Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Yishai Schwartz
Tuesday, January 28, 2014, 2:04 PM

We’ll start with global developments:

In Egypt, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has ruled the country since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-backed (and democratically elected) Mohammad Morsi, has taken his first formal step toward running for Egypt’s presidency. Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces endorsed Sisi, and announced that he understood his “obligation” to run for president. The New York Times analyzes current developments and identifies some of the potential pitfalls in Sisi’s path.

Meanwhile, what’s left of the political opposition continues to make itself heard. BBC tells us that deposed President Morsi appeared in court today in a sound-proof glass box. But in the brief moments when his microphone was switched on, Morsi struck a defiant note and demanded that the court recognize him as Egypt’s lawful president. In a more violent show of opposition, gunmen shot and killed a senior police official outside his home in a Cairo suburb; the Washington Post has both stories.

Relations between the U.S. and Afghan governments continue to fray. Yesterday, we linked to the Times story reporting that President Hamid Karzai is now accusing the United States of complicity in a series of terror and insurgency attacks. Today, the Post follows up. Meanwhile, the Karzai government also has announced the release of dozens of prisoners who NATO regards as dangerous and culpable in the deaths of American and Afghan citizens. NATO want the men charged, but Karzai insists on their release, the Times reports.

Based on information from a member of al-Shabaab, the Wall Street Journal has identified a Somali national killed in a weekend American drone strike: He is Ahmed Abdikadir Amo Iskudhuq, a key al-Shabaab intelligence operative and recruiter, according to the Journal’s source.  The U.S. military had confirmed the killing on Monday, but did not identify the target.

The Journal also reports that Iran nuclear negotiations are set to change venue, to New York City.  The latter was reportedly chosen because of its significant United Nations presence. Talks will resume in mid-February, but as we move toward this new round, debate over how to handle the negotiations increases. Yesterday, two senate Democrats took to the pages of the New York Times to push back against a sanctions bill that already has won a significant majority in the Senate; a few days earlier, the New Republic ran a lengthy analysis questioning Iran’s foreign minister’s reputation as a pragmatist.

Political turmoil continues to engulf Ukraine as street protests forced the resignation of the Prime Minister, the repeal of anti-demonstration laws and approval of an amnesty bill for protesters. The success of the protests, and the weakening position of Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych, have together dealt a defeat to Russian President Vladamir Putin, The Post has coverage.

Serbia-related proceedings march onward at The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Today's degenerated into “farce” as Ratko Mladic, a former Bosnian Serb military commander facing war crimes charges, refused to testify at the trial of his former political ally, Radovan Karadzic.  Mladic disrupted proceedings to demand his dentures and denounced the court as “satanic."  The Times has the story.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front:

More of the gift that keeps on giving: Snowden documents released by the Times, the Guardian and Pro Publica describe NSA and British intelligence programs that can scoop up personal data and locations from cell phone users by means of “leaky apps.” The Times story notes that the program has led to some successful disruptions of terror plots, but suggests that the sheer quantity of data has become unmanageable.

Along similar lines, NBC reports that British intelligence also has succeeded in monitoring private uses of Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, perhaps by tapping internet cables directly. Spokesmen for the intelligence agencies insist they have acted within the law and are in no way focused on the communications of ordinary citizens.

The Justice Department has announced that for the first time it will allow companies to reveal, in broad terms, how much customer information they must turn over to the government. The Post reports that the relaxation of tight gag rules represents a modest victory for Google and other technology companies seeking to regain some of the credibility they lost in the aftermath of various Snowden disclosures.

Yesterday, Paul posted on Lawfare about the Supreme Court’s decision in Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper protecting those who (in good faith) report potentially dangerous passengers to TSA from civil litigation. Here is the Journal story.

The Hill has conducted a survey showing that even before announcing her intentions, Hillary Clinton has endorsements from 56 members Congress. If she does run, we can expect national security to play a significant role in the campaign. At today’s “State of the Net” policy conference, Senator Ron Paul labeled Clinton “a big proponent of the surveillance state,” also according to The Hill. And perhaps anticipating another line of attack, in a speech at the at the National Auto Dealers Association convention in New Orleans, Clinton reportedly referred to the embassy attack in Benghazi as her “greatest regret” from her time as Secretary of State.

After extensive back and forth, the White House finally has convinced Senator Bob Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, to allow a sale of Apache helicopters to the Iraqi government. Menendez and his allies were concerned that the helicopters would be used for internal political suppression rather than for counter-insurgency operations---and had demanded assurances. Foreign Policy has the story.

In Technology Review, Paul F. Roberts asks “where are all the cyberweapons?” He notes that four years after the revelation of the highly effective Stuxnet virus, we haven’t seen anything even remotely like it. Roberts considers the puzzle, and concludes that the danger is still growing stronger.

Steptoe Cyberblog has a podcast featuring Stewart Baker (formerly of DHS) and Jason Weinstein (formerly of DOJ) discussing a host of issues of interest to Lawfare readers.

The Post is also reporting that a group of congressmen, led by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, is calling for DNI Clapper’s dismissal. The White House has rejected the call and announced that is has full faith in Director Clapper.

Speaking of Director Clapper, on Monday the office of the DNI announced that it is engaged in a multi-year project to develop methods for enhancing “analysts’ capacity to reason.” The Post seems to find the program amusing; perhaps the paper's staff simply hasn’t watched enough Star Trek.