Today's Headlines and Commentary

Clara Spera
Thursday, October 31, 2013, 11:35 AM
Pakistan surprised the international community by releasing an updated version of the Pakistani government’s official estimate of civilian casualties caused by American drone strikes. The number is significantly lower than the figure that the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights released in his report earlier this year.

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Pakistan surprised the international community by releasing an updated version of the Pakistani government’s official estimate of civilian casualties caused by American drone strikes. The number is significantly lower than the figure that the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights released in his report earlier this year. Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense said that 67 civilians were among the 2,227 people killed by drone strikes since 2008---a civilian casualty rate of about 3%. The United Nations report had found at least 400 civilian casualties since the drone campaign began in 2004. As Ritika told you yesterday, the Washington Post revealed, via Snowden-leaked documents, that the National Security Agency hacked into Google and Yahoo’s data centers. As predicted, the companies are not happy about this. Google is “outraged”, while a Yahoo spokesperson took time to dispel any speculation that Yahoo might have been complicit in turning over its users’ data. Speaking of the NSA, former agency contractor Edward Snowden has a new job at a big-time Russian internet company.  The New York Times has the scoop.   Weird: the United States Coast Guard visited a mysterious “Google barge,” which is floating in the San Francisco bay. The project has yet to be explained---or fully acknowledged---by Google. Reuters has the story. Congress has been gearing up for an overhaul of the NSA---something that we haven’t seen since Senator Frank Church spearheaded the investigation of intelligence abuses almost four decades ago. As we all know, it can take a long time for Congress to get anything done. Perhaps this is why more than ten states have already passed their own privacy laws dealing with issues of personal data collection. Over at the Times, Mark Mazzetti and David Sanger add greater detail to the whoa-the-U.S-tapped-Angela-Merkel's phone story. It turns out that the surveillance commenced before Merkel's assumption of the German chancellorship. The European Union isn't too pleased with the U.S. government's slow response to the NSA scandal. E.U. Parliament Member Claude Moraes complained that it has taken the U.S. too long to comment and respond to the allegations of the NSA's activities in foreign countries, namely the alleged spying on key foreign leaders. At the same time, the United States has brought France and Spain into the swelling blame circle, accusing the two EU countries of handing over spy data to Americans.  The Wall Street Journal reports. Other EU officials have entered the debate. According to Politico, an EU parliament member, Germany's Elmar Brok, said that NSA chief General Keith Alexander had acknowledged in a meeting on Tuesday that the NSA has vast and unilateral activities ongoing in Europe. The NSA declined to comment on the conversation, and did not confirm that the meeting even took place. China and other South Asian countries want answers too. The Chinese government and its neighbors are demanding that the United States formally address allegations that it is spying on the leaders of as many as thirty-five foreign countries, including some U.S. allies. An Italian newspaper says the NSA listened in on Vatican phone-calls in the run-up to the conclave to the elect the new Pope. Al Jazeera has the story. The NSA denies these allegations. Al Jazeera's Jason Leopold has obtained an internal NSA document through a FIOA request. It outlines talking points drafted for use by NSA officials, in answering questions about controversial surveillance programs. Al Jazeera notes the document's reference to 9/11 "as a sound bite that resonates". As for the sound bite's use, the talking point proposes NSA officials says something like, "I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.” Some attention might have turned from the United States, for a brief moment, thanks to accusations that Russia might also be spying on world leaders. As the Huffington Post explains, the Russian intelligence agency spied on hundreds of delegates at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in September. The Kremlin denies this. The BBC has a report on the ongoing security crisis in Iraq. The country and civilians there are confronted by two “streams” of violence: mass-attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda, and smaller incidents perpetrated by local-level Shia and Sunni militant cells. Al Jazeera reports that Iraq will ask the United States for more military aid to help prevent more large-scale Al-Qaeda attacks. The Daily Telegraph reports that new foreign Al-Qaeda recruits have been reaching Syria by crossing the Syrian-Turkish border. The new recruits are kept safe in “safe-houses” in Southern Turkey before being smuggled into Syria. The foreign jihadists have largely overshadowed the more moderate contingent of the Free Syrian Army. Saudi Arabia has drafted a United Nations resolution that would condemn human rights abuses in Syria, those committed both by the government and by its opponents. The resolution is expected to be presented to the United Nations General Assembly by the end of the week and discussed and voted on in the coming month. And what of Syria’s chemical weapons capacity? The country apparently has destroyed its own chemical weapons production sites, according to the Times.  And, after Norway's refusal, last week, to receive and destroy the existing weapons stockpile, Albania has become the next most likely destination.  United States officials are leading the effort to find a country---or multiple countries---willing to take on this burden. The New York Times Editorial Board denounces countries that have done little to help quell violence in Syria. The Editorial points to the United Nations campaign in the civil war torn country that seeks to provide food, shelter and schooling to Syria's most vulnerable populations. The Times strongly denounces powerhouses like China and Russia for not providing more financial support to the campaign. The Pakistani Prime Minister has agreed to allow Afghani peace negotiators to meet with a Taliban leader. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been held in a Pakistani prison since 2010, and his arrest has been a great source of tension between Pakistan and its neighbor ever since. The trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was slated to started next month, but it seemingly will be delayed until next year. President Kenyatta is being charged with crimes against humanity. The trial will be held at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Times takes a look at one of the most powerful men in Egypt. General Mohamed Fard el-Tohamy was fired by President Mohamed Morsi, but now he has returned to power since Morsi’s ousting four months ago. Since then, General Tohamy has been in charge of Egypt’s intelligence service. Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Clara Spera is a 3L at Harvard Law School. She previously worked as a national security research intern at the Brookings Institution. She graduated with an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge in 2014, and with a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 2012.

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