Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Jane Chong
Monday, January 13, 2014, 4:36 PM
Let's start with nuclear news: Iran and six world powers---United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany---have completed an interim deal under which Tehran will temporarily slow its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions, starting Jan. 20. The New York Times has the story. Another round of negotiations is expected to begin in February, says Reuters. Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Moscow on Tuesday to "probably" sign a nuclear cooperation deal that would allow Russia's state-owned Rosatom to expand Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant. Here's Reuters.
On to Syria. Infighting among the Syrian rebels left hundreds dead last week, reports the Times: "a broad array of factions have turned against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, in a showdown over tactics, power and ideology within a Sunni jihadist movement that has drawn fighters from across the world." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a joint news conference in Paris that they are pressing for a cease-fire in Syria, and that the two sides in the conflict have "agreed to consider" opening humanitarian access in the days leading up to the scheduled Jan. 22 peace conference. The Associated Press reports.

The New York Times editorial board published an editorial yesterday suggesting it might be time for the United States to send aid to the Syrian moderates in light of the gains made by the better-equipped Islamist and Qaeda-linked rebel groups: "There is a danger that American aid could backfire, as it did in the 1980s when support for Mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets helped to create fertile ground for terrorist movements years later. But the risk may be worth it. Syrian extremists are already trying to recruit and train Americans and other Westerners to carry out attacks in the United States, senior American officials say."

Time for surveillance news: The New America Foundation is scheduled to release a study of 225 terrorism cases in the U.S. post-9/11 that concludes that bulk NSA metadata collection “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.” Here's the weekend story from the Washington PostPolitico summarizes some problems with the surveillance reforms that President Obama is expected to endorse on Friday. Yesterday the Washington Post ran a piece on DNI GC Robert Litt's "unusually high-profile role in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, serving as the point person in defending the massive surveillance programs to Congress and the public." Senator John McCain told CNN over the weekend that NSA's surveillance is "broken" and called for a congressional investigation into the agency's activities. Here's the video:
Over at Foreign Policy, Shane Harris examines Edward Snowden's visit to New Delhi three years ago to study "ethical hacking" in his capacity as an NSA contractor:
Nearly three years before he revealed himself as the source of leaked documents about NSA surveillance, Edward Snowden traveled to New Delhi, India. There, he spent six days taking courses in computer hacking and programming at a local professional school, according to school officials and people familiar with Snowden's trip. Working with a private instructor, Snowden, who was then a contractor for the spy agency, took a course in "ethical hacking," where he learned advanced techniques for breaking into computer systems and exploiting flaws in software. The class's ostensible purpose is to train students to protect computers and their contents from thieves and spies. But in order to do that, they learn how to break into computers and steal information. Snowden also inquired about methods to reverse-engineer the world's most popular kits for committing widespread online crime. Snowden didn't disclose his India trip to investigators when renewing his top-secret security clearance the following year. It was that clearance, NSA officials say, that gave Snowden access to the 1.7 million classified files he later stole from the agency's computer networks and databases. U.S. intelligence officials have faulted the company that conducted Snowden's background check for not more thoroughly questioning him about overseas travel and what foreign nationals he may have met with, which is standard procedure for detecting whether someone is spying for a foreign power. They have characterized the background check as flawed and incomplete.
Other developments:
Sunday clashes between the Iraqi army and insurgents left at least 14 people dead in Baghdad Province. Two car bombs killed at least 14 civilians in the capital and in Anbar Province, insurgents executed four members of an elite military unit. Here is the Times.
At least eight people were killed in two different attacks targeting Pakistani politicians in the country's northwest this weekend; no one has yet claimed responsibility. Radio Free Europe has details.
The Washington Post cites senior Obama administration officials who say that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now seems ready to accept more U.S. counterterrorism assistance in light of worsening conflict between Maliki's Shiite-led government and al-Qaeda-linked Sunni extremists.
Libya's deputy minister of industry, Hassan al-Droui, was gunned down on Saturday, making it the first assassination of a senior government official since Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi's killing more than two years ago. The Times has the story.
Over the weekend U.S. Africa Command spokesman Colonel Tom Davis confirmed that the U.S. sent a group of military advisers to Somalia to help bolster the African Union Mission there, reports Al Jazeera.
The Thai government has deployed some 18,000 security personnel to maintain order in the streets as protesters seeking to replace the government with an unelected "People's Council" block off areas of Bangkok. The BBC reports.
What to think about Japan's "first-ever national security strategy"? Foreign Affairs puts the newly issued document into political context and suggests it's wrong to interpret the strategy as purely a reaction to recent Chinese aggression.
Vice President Joe Biden and other international dignitaries attended a memorial ceremony for the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today, reports the AP. The Guardian has live updates on the service and funeral.
Rod Nordland has a fascinating piece in the Times on the newly rebuilt National Museum of Afghanistan, filled with recovered and restored artifacts that "send a message of defiance and resilience . . . to the Taliban, who in 2001 smashed every museum artifact that they could find that bore a human or animal likeness . . . to the warlords who looted the museum, some of whom are still in positions of power in Afghanistan; to corrupt custodians of the past who stood by while some 70,000 objects walked out the door."
Saturday marked the 12th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Human Rights First released a statement that included comments from Major General Michael Lehnert, who described the detention facility as a liability. Here is the Guardian.
On the subject of his controversial visit to North Korea, former NBA star Dennis Rodman just wants 24 hours of peace, reports Reuters: "I'm not the president, I'm not an ambassador, I'm Dennis Rodman, just an individual, just showing the world a fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day." Unclear whether Rodman's conception of the world includes North Koreans, who seem to keep disappearing.
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