Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 2:52 PM

Today was intended to be the deadline for an international accord on Iran’s atomic energy program, but the BBC reports that diplomats will again extend discussion on a final deal. European Union foreign policy chief and chair of the negotiations Federica Mogherini noted, “This does not mean we are extending our deadline.” Instead, negotiators are interpreting their previously announced deadline “in a flexible way.”

According to U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, the new informal deadline is Friday, but of course, this new date presents a problem: If U.S. diplomats do not share the deal with Congress by July 9, then legislators’ review period of the agreement will double from thirty days to sixty. This extension will give opponents a better opportunity to torpedo the accord. Financial Times notes, “It remains unclear what the extension of the talks until Friday, a day beyond the congressional deadline, may signal.” One explanation is that “it is aimed at undercutting the Iranians’ own hardball negotiating tactics... Extending the talks until July 10... forces the Iranians to be the side that has to decide whether it wants to hand the U.S. hawks a gift or not.”

The Washington Post reports that one continued sticking point between the two sides is an embargo on the sale of weapons to Tehran. Iran is of the opinion that lifting the embargo would be a “natural consequence” of any final agreement, but the U.S. “fact sheet” on the interim accord maintains that such sanctions would remain in place. According to the BBC, other issues for continued negotiation include “the duration of limits on Iranian nuclear research and development, guidelines for international inspections, and how sanctions will be lifted.”

In other diplomatic news: discussions continue among European leaders at a summit in Brussels. There, Greece’s new finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos was expected to present a new written bailout proposal to save his country from economic ruin, but did not. Instead, he “spoke about his country’s intentions to rein in costs and reform its creaky fiscal underpinnings.” It is unclear whether the plan put forth orally by Tsakalotos was specific and “substantive enough” to resume formal negotiations. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will appear before the European Parliament tomorrow. The Post shares more.

Yesterday, President Obama traveled to the Pentagon for the first time in almost ten months. Speaking to the press about the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, he remarked, “This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign.” But, according to the President, “effective partner[s] on the ground” are the solution. He pointed to recent successes in Syria of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). However, the Post points out that such gains actually underline the weaknesses of both the Islamic State and the U.S.-led campaign. Of course, the Islamic State is now on the defensive in its self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, “something that would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago,” but YPG is now fighting in territories far beyond those traditionally held by Kurds. “And rising tensions between Arabs in the area and their purported Kurdish liberators risk jeopardizing the gains.” Unfortunately, palatable Sunni alternatives do not yet exist, but the U.S. still needs to consider what happens to an area once the Islamic State is pushed out.

Disagreement over the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) continues, but President Obama noted yesterday that such political infighting will not hurt troops’ pay, saying “You’ll note I’ve now been president for six and a half years, and we’ve had some wrangling with Congress in the past. Our service members haven’t missed a paycheck.” Still, he affirmed, “What we’re not going to do is accept a budget which shortchanges our long-term requirements for new technologies, for readiness.” Military Times has more on the President’s statements.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London. The Post shares details on how Britain is remembering the terror attack.

Today, President Obama welcomes the head of Vietnam’s Communist party Nguyen Phu Trong to the White House. The President rarely receives foreign individuals who are not official heads of state in the Oval Office, but Trong is known as “the most powerful person in Vietnam’s one-party leadership structure, a behind-the-scenes figure who has significant influence in political decision-making.” His support could help achieve some of America’s policy priorities. The Post shares more.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has announced plans “to invest up to $10 billion in Russia over the next five years.” The money will go toward infrastructure and agriculture, and more. CNBC notes that the move points toward “a thawing in relations between the two countries.”

In an interview with Yahoo News today, former Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that there may be room for an agreement between the U.S. government and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Since leaking a massive of trove of classified U.S. data, Snowden has been residing in Russia. Holder remarked, “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.” What’s more, Holder commented that Snowden’s “actions spurred a necessary debate.” Yahoo News points out that Holder’s statements “go further than any current or former Obama administration official in suggesting that Snowden’s disclosures had a positive impact and that the administration might be open to a negotiated plea that the... whistleblower could accept.”

Facing criticism after the decision to halt the federal background check system due to security vulnerabilities, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has decided to resume the process - but on paper. Government employees will have to submit a hard copy of the 130 page clearance form for security review. These “interim procedures” will only apply to individuals seeking “secret” clearance. According to the Post, it will not apply to “Top Secret, Top Secret SCI, or ‘Q’ level information, the most sensitive clearances.”

Yesterday, the Italian company Hacking Team, which sells surveillance tools to government clients, became the victim of a massive cybertheft of internal data. According to Defense One, analysis of the leaked information yields “the going rate of cyberwar and espionage capabilities.” For instance, the FBI paid $775,000 for a product called Remote Control Service, “an eavesdropping system that pulls data from a target computer before it’s encrypted.”

For your longform piece of the day: Christian Science Monitor examines the public debate over data encryption. (Of course, that debate has actually been playing out on Lawfare, too. Check out recent posts from Susan Landau, Paul Rosenzweig, and FBI Director James Comey.)

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

FBI Director James Comey provided starting points for reframing the public debate on data encryption, focusing on the tension between personal security and public safety with regard to this topic.

Paul analyzed the underlying issues of the current encryption debate and proposed the use of biometrics to secure data.

Michael Knapp informed us that the Second Circuit has granted an en banc rehearing of United States v. Ganias with regard to both the exclusionary rule and the Fourth Amendment.

Wells discussed recent developments in Al Warafi v. Obama.

Bruce Schneier broke down the basics of XKEYSCORE, the NSA program, revealed by Edward Snowden, that monitors people’s Internet traffic.

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