Today's Headlines and Commentary

Ritika Singh
Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 3:24 PM

The Senate voted 67-33 to end debate on the budget this morning. Half of the sequester cuts, which were scheduled to resume in January 2014, have been reversed. The NDAA will also likely get through the Senate unscathed when the final vote takes place tonight.

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The Senate voted 67-33 to end debate on the budget this morning. Half of the sequester cuts, which were scheduled to resume in January 2014, have been reversed. The NDAA will also likely get through the Senate unscathed when the final vote takes place tonight.

Cully Stimston of the Heritage Foundation ponders whether the detainee-related provisions in the NDAA are a roadmap to closing Guantanamo Bay. With the recent transfers, 160 detainees remain at the prison. Check out Lawfare commentary on the relevant language in the bill; it’s the first paragraph of Nick’s “The Week that Was.”

While acknowledging certain limitations to Judge Richard Leon’s ruling against bulk telephony metadata collection in open, unclassified court, the New York Times editorial board called the decision “an enormous symbolic victory for opponents of the bulk-collection program.”  The Washington Post’s editorial board argues that:

The NSA’s activities will continue to be litigated in court and in the court of public opinion. If the government is to emerge from Mr. Snowden’s revelations with the authorities that officials insist are crucial, it will have to do more to demonstrate why they are essential and how Americans’ privacy is being protected.

Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic calls the ruling a “gift” to the nation for its detailed historical and constitutional analysis of surveillance law. The Times reports that Edward Snowden believes the decision is the “first of many” in dismantling the electronic surveillance programs he disclosed. The Post has more on the news. Politico tells us what lawmakers think of the ruling, and Josh Gerstein argues that the decision may not have legal significance, but that it comes at a politically significant time for the president.

Make sure to check out Ben's, Paul's, and Raffaela’s thoughts on the opinion.

Citing an anonymous source confirmed through Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, Andy Greenberg reports in Forbes that Edward Snowden was known to his co-workers as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee.” A former co-worker reportedly called Snowden a “genius among geniuses” who was given enhanced system administrator privileges because of his serious skills.

In "an open letter to the people of Brazil,” Edward Snowden has asked for “permanent political asylum” in order to more fully “debate” global NSA surveillance. NPR has the story.

Matthew Aid writes in Politico Magazine that the recently released report by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology will recommend “sweeping and far-reaching changes” to NSA operations and oversight. Aid claims that the report, which is currently classified, will further strain the already icy relationship between the NSA and the Obama administration.

David Sanger and Alison Smale report in the Times that the intelligence sharing relationship between the U.S. and Germany continues to fray. The U.S. has refused to extend a “no-spy” agreement beyond Chancellor Merkel’s personal phone, while the Germans have been hesitant to enter a closer intelligence sharing relationship over fears surrounding U.S. use of shared information.

In non-surveillance news, the Senate confirmed Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security.

This afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee is hearing from Caroline Krass, the President's nominee for General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency; and from Daniel Bennett Smith, the President's nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

After a year on the job, the head of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is stepping down. USA Today reports that Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, one of the first general officers to admit he suffered from post-traumatic stress after losing 69 soldiers under his command in Iraq, is retiring after running the beleaguered office for roughly a year.

The Hill says that the House Oversight subcommittee on National Security will hold a hearing on the details surrounding a 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The helicopter, Extortion 17, carried 30 U.S. military members, many of whom were member of SEAL Team 6, and was reportedly taken down by a “lucky shot.”

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reports on yesterday’s closed session in the 9/11 trial. Wells is live-blogging today’s proceedings from Ft. Meade.

As a reward for foregoing an EU trade deal, Russia will supply Ukraine with cheap Russian oil, according to Reuters. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was in Moscow to secure the deal in an attempt improve his country's economic struggles, and in the midst of massive protests calling for his resignation.

A car bomb ripped through a Hezbollah installation in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, notes the TimesThe attack stoked fears that spillover of the Syrian conflict might lead to greater violence and instability in Lebanon.

Yemen’s parliament has voted to end U.S. drone strikes in the country after seventeen civilians were allegedly killed. If  the U.S. government's response to protests and legislation from Pakistan’s civilian government calling for the same thing are an indicator of how this is going to play out, I'm not holding my breath.

David Kravets of Wired’s Danger Room tells us about the saga of one Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian woman who may be on a U.S. terror watchlist, and who is fighting to clear her name.

And, from the ACLU, comes this holiday video parodying the NSA---it’s Today’s Moment of Zen:
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Ritika Singh was a project coordinator at the Brookings Institution where she focused on national security law and policy. She graduated with majors in International Affairs and Government from Skidmore College in 2011, and wrote her thesis on Russia’s energy agenda in Europe and its strategic implications for America.

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