Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Jane Chong
Monday, October 21, 2013, 10:58 AM
Let's start with a brief tour of world developments over the weekend:
France: NSA's been misbehaving, and the time's ripe for a parental trip to the principal's office. At least, that seems to be the vibe coming from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has "summoned" U.S. Ambassador France Charles in the wake of claims by the newspaper group Le Monde that NSA's top-secret US-985D program intercepted data on over 70 million calls made in France over a 30-day period. Check out the Wall Street JournalReuters; and USA Today.
Russia: The wife of an Islamist militant is suspected as the suicide bomber responsible for killing five people on a bus in Volgograd on Monday. Here is Reuters, via the Guardian.
Afghanistan: An Afghan army special forces commander has defected to a Taliban-allied insurgent group--- and taken a truckload of guns and high-tech equipment with him, reports Mohammad Anwar of Reuters. Yesterday the New York Times Editorial Board had words for Afghan president Hamid Karzai in this piece on the problems plaguing negotiations over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and concerns about the corruptibility of the coming April presidential election.
Syria: Yesterday a huge car bomb killed at least 37 people and injured dozens of others outside the city of Hama. The attack is being attributed to the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front rebel faction, says the LA Times. In a bizarre development on the diplomacy side of things, on Sunday Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby announced that international talks on ending Syria's civil war will take place next month in Geneva.  He was then contradicted by a U.N. envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who denied that any date for negotiations had been set. Here is the story from Ryan Lucas of the Associated Press.
Iraq: Another explosives-packed car driven by a suicide bomber killed 45 people in a busy Baghdad cafe yesterday, reports Sameer Yacoub of the AP. And a coordinated attack involving two suicide bombers and a number of gunmen killed five and wounded nine policemen in Fallujah. Here is Sinan Salaheddin, also for the AP.
Pakistan: On Monday, a bomb on a railroad track derailed a train in Balochistan province, killing at least seven and injuring at least 16, reports the BBC. Over at Reuters, Katherine Houreid explains the challenges---and victories---that women have experienced as part of Pakistan's police force. And in diplomacy, this week Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in Washington for a four-day visit, which Karen De Young and Tim Craig of the Washington Post couch in terms of optimism on both sides. Buttressing that optimism: cash. Writes Thom Shanker in the Times:
The United States plans to give more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for programs that had been blocked because of tension between the two nations over events including the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, American officials said Saturday.
Iran: Joel Rubin has a piece in Politico congratulating the Obama administration and Congress on improving U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations and urging lawmakers to test Iran's nuclear intentions with some "strategic decisions on sanctions policy." Israel has a blunter approach in mind. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," a concerned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged against decreasing the pressure on Iran for anything less than “the full dismantling of Iran's military nuclear program.”
Africa, writ large: Shahank Bengali of the LA Times reports on the Pentagon dollars flooding into the continent as the U.S. military deals with the rising threat posed by Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa's impoverished Sahel region.
China: A little known Chinese defense company has clinched a deal to provide Turkey with a multi-billion-dollar, long-range missile-defense system, thus "stunn[ing] the military-industrial establishment in Washington and Brussels." Edward Wong and Nicola Clark of the New York Times suggest this is only the beginning as the Chinese arms industry establishes itself as a major player in the global weapons market.

In the past, Chinese companies have been known mainly as suppliers of small arms, but that is changing quickly. From drones to frigates to fighter jets, the companies are aggressively pushing foreign sales of high-tech hardware, mostly in the developing world.

Japan: The U.S. military and Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are working to bolster their cyberdefense capabilities as part of a joint Oct. 3 agreement to team up against the "invisible enemy." The AP reports.
United Nations: On Friday, the Guardian published this story on the 22-page UN report that identifies 33 drone strikes that may have violated international law. Also on Friday, the UN unanimously adopted Resolution 2122, which declares the importance of women's role in conflict prevention, calls for member states to work to fund women's leadership and emphasized the need for humanitarian aid to include health services for women who become pregnant through rape in conflict. See more from the Guardian.
Some developments state-side:
France isn't the only one in a tizzy about NSA's stealth moves. Chris Francescani of Reuters cites a top law enforcement official who says that the concern triggered by the Snowden disclosures has made it hard for police to deploy technologies such as drones and mobile license plate readers for domestic use.
Craig Whitlock of the Post reports on the dramatic Glenn Defense Marine contracting scandal rocking the U.S. Navy. Among those arrested on corruption charges: Michael Misiewicz, a senior agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a Navy commander, and John B. Beliveau II, a supervisory agent in charge of the Quantico NCIS office.
Reuters is reporting that back in July, bank executives participated in a staged simulation called Quantum Dawn 2, designed to train them in detecting and dealing with a massive cyber attack. More in potentially imminent attacks: researchers have discovered that a tracking system used by shipping vessels the world over is easily hacked--causing fake vessels to materialize and real ones to disappear. Here is Tom Simonite in the MIT Technology Review.
The confirmation of Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson as the next head of the Department of Homeland Security is expected to go off without much trouble, notes Ellen Nakashima of the Post.
Leigh Munsil of Politico reports on the budget challenges facing the Pentagon as it struggles with sequestration cuts, which remain in place even as the government slowly whirs back into action.
Amanda Marques Gonzalez of the Miami Herald explains to readers why the paper insists on providing regular coverage of developments at the prison.
Last but certainly not least, RoboBusiness 2013 is set to start this week in Santa Clara, California: that's "the leading business development event for the global robotics industry, where executives come together to accelerate the commercial advancement of robotics." Students, get pumped: we're talking getting your textbooks delivered by drone.
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