Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Ritika Singh, Yishai Schwartz
Thursday, March 13, 2014, 10:28 AM

What precisely is the deal with the so-called “Panetta Review” that lies at the heart of the CIA-SSCI battle? Over at Politico, Josh Gerstein reports on CIA concerns over the backgrounds of these internal reviewers, and indications that the review was curtailed early because of a separate Justice Department inquiry. The story is based on internal CIA emails he was able to collect through a FOIA request and an interview with former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Gerstein also tells us that Director John Brennan defended his agency in an internal message to CIA staff today. And Reuters reports on White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s attempt to defuse the dispute.

The plot thickens: McClatchy continues to take the lead on the story, reporting that the White House has been less than supportive of the Senate review, even withholding thousands of documents. At a press conference yesterday, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House was informed by CIA about its referral of charges against SSCI staffers.

The Associated Press analyzes some of the thorny legal questions the Justice Department will need to address, and the Washington Post gives us some of the backstory on the simmering tensions between CIA and SSCI over the review. Politico discusses the partisan divide that has emerged within the usually-united Senate Intelligence Committee as Republican assail Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall for their public comments on the dispute with CIA.

Maureen Dowd has a particularly scathing column about the CIA-SSCI mess, with the New York Times editorial board following closely behind.

Don’t let the CIA-SSCI stuff distract you from the NSA. Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post informs us that Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, wants to end the metadata program.

David Sanger of the Times has coverage of Adm. Rogers’ Cyber Command nomination hearing, at which the latter said that the all the major commands in the U.S. military will soon have the capability to launch cyberattacks. Gopal Ratnam of Bloomberg has more on the nominee’s cyber comments. CNN’s Laura Koran says that Adm. Rogers stopped short of calling Edward Snowden a traitor, but wasn’t exactly gushing about him either. Ellen Nakashima says Adm. Rogers agrees with President Obama that bulk metadata should be held by a third party. And Reuters reports on his remarks about NSA transparency and accountability.

In the latest from Snowden, NSA is hacking into millions of computers worldwide by infecting them with malware implants, report Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald over at First Look media.

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

Dustin Volz of National Journal has more.

Continuing its strong reaction to Snowden and NSA programs, the European Parliament has just passed a whole new set of privacy rules. Although they will only become law when governments sign off, the New York Times reports that the data protections are among the most stringent that lawmakers anywhere have pursued.

Remember the DC Circuit opinion in Aamer v. Obama asserting habeas jurisdiction over conditions of confinement in Guantanamo? Well, detainee Emad Abdullah Hassan and attorney Clive Stafford Smith have just filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the government from force-feeding Hassan. Al-Jazeera and the Huffington Post are covering the story.

In the Times, Charlie Savage reports on the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board’s recommendation that a Yemeni detainee, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, remain in custody to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” He is the second detainee to be reviewed by the Board, and the first to be recommended for continuing detention.

Also in the Times, Katrin Bennhold discusses the capture of Moazzam Begg, the Briton once held at Guantanamo Bay who was nabbed hanging around Syria last month. He has been charged with “providing training and funding for terrorism.” 

President Obama welcomed interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to the White House yesterday and struck a defiant tone against Russian actions in Crimea, denouncing the upcoming Crimean referendum as a “slapdash election.” The US also joined together with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan, calling the vote illegal and promising unspecified “further action” if Russia annexes the peninsula. Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Germany in particular, Russia’s closest economic partner, is prepared to implement punishing sanctions. The Times, the Journal and all other major publications continue to cover the story.

Legislation approving sanctions on Russia and loans to Ukraine just sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14-3. According to the Hill, the most controversial parts of the Senate bill are cost-offsetting cuts to defense spending  and unrelated provisions that would increase IMF voting rights for Brazil, India and China. GOP senators are up in arms and House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon called the bill “looney.” Harsh!

In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the top American commander in Afghanistan strongly warned against a complete withdrawal from the country at the end of 2014. According the commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr, Al Qaeda will regroup and stage another attack on the West from Afghanistan if international troops withdraw completely. Military Times has the story.

Meanwhile, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial continues. As we noted on Tuesday, an accomplice to shoebomber Richard Reid named Saajid Badat testified via video. Ben Weiser of the Times describes the testimony---the shoe bomb plot was revisited, as were Badat’s experiences training at an Al Qaeda guesthouse and hanging out with Osama Bin Laden and KSM---because the government is arguing that Abu Ghaith knew about it all. Weiser followed this Abu Ghaith story with another, this one analyzing the just-released full FBI summary of Ghaith’s interrogation while on the flight from Jordan to New York. According to the summary, the defendant has admitted giving speeches off of bullet points given to him directly by Osama Bin Laden.

A U.S. drone strike has killed an AQAP commander. Four other AQAP commanders were also targeted by a drone earlier this week, according to the Long War Journal. Both strikes took place in the Al Jawf province of Yemen.

But drones aren’t just killing terrorists; they are also being used to smuggle drugs into prisons! USA Today reports on stories of drug-smuggling drones in Australia, Russia and Brazil.

They are also going where no man could---into an active volcano.

And over the objections of the state’s police chiefs, the New Hampshire House passed legislation to restrict government and public use of drones. According to the AP, New Hampshire is the 43rd state to introduce such legislation.

We noted the release of UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s report on drones. An interactive website comes along with the report, which guides people through every section and reconstructs some of the strikes. Relatedly, Emmerson’s report notes that not a single Pakistani civilian was killed by a US drone in 2013. Agence France Presse has that story.

Nevertheless, Congressman Adam Schiff has had enough. In an opinion column in this morning’s Times, he called on Congress to move the drone program from CIA to DOD in order to to increase its “transparency, accountability and legitimacy.”

Finally someone’s listening! Michael Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict, said at a Senate hearing that it was time to reconsider the AUMF.

And, all this drone-speak made us want to share this story with you from the always-reliable Onion---it’s Today’s Moment of Zen.

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