Today's Headlines and Commentary

Clara Spera
Thursday, September 26, 2013, 1:00 PM
The United States Department of State has renewed its global terror alert, urging all Americans to “maintain a high level of vigilance.” The renewal comes right after the terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which began on Saturday and ended yesterday. That attack claimed the lives of over 60 people and injured over a hundred more, including American citizens.

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The United States Department of State has renewed its global terror alert, urging all Americans to “maintain a high level of vigilance.” The renewal comes right after the terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which began on Saturday and ended yesterday. That attack claimed the lives of over 60 people and injured over a hundred more, including American citizens. NPR reminds us that this is the third such alert from the State Department this calendar year; it renews a global terror alert issued in February.  Relatedly, in August, State had issued a worldwide travel alert and closed 19 US embassies and consulates across Africa and the Middle East. State’s renewal may come with good cause. The Daily Beast reports that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud issued a warning that Al Shabab, the group responsible for the attacks in Nairobi, could attack the United States next. Mohamud was in Washington this past week and strongly denounced Al Shabab and declared the group an “enemy of Somalia.” Representative Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disputed the claims that Al Shabab currently has the capability of carrying out an attack in the United States. As Congress stumbles to avert a US government shutdown, Josh Hicks of the Washington Post has a short explanation of how a potential shutdown would directly affect national security. Although almost all “military personnel would remain at work in the event of a shutdown,” the Department of Homeland Security would most likely be hit hard. The DHS issued a contingency plan in December 2011 in the event of a “funding hiatus” – and looking at this 2011 plan might give us clues as to how the department would deal with the current, looming shutdown. According to the 2011 plan, the Coast Guard, Customs and Immigration Services, TSA and the Secret Service would all retain over 80% of those agencies’ workforces, while smaller agencies, like the Science and Technology Directorate and the Domestic Nuclear Detention Office would retain less than 10%. The Post has a good summary of “everything you need to know about how a government shutdown works.” Yesterday, General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, delivered the opening speech at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit. He defended the agency’s collection of telephony metadata. In his defense, he pointed to occasions when such collection has helped with important investigations, such as in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings, and he stated that the data has helped to derail suspected terrorist plots against the United States. He urged Congress not to act rashly in curbing the NSA’s data collection activities. The Post and the Times have the story. General Alexander’s remarks don’t seem to resonate with Congress. In rare form, abipartisan group of Senators has drafted a comprehensive surveillance reform bill – The Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act – that would halt the NSA’s bulk collection of US phone records and allow private companies to disclose more information about what they are forced to hand over to the government.  Reuters has more on the bill introduced by Democrats Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Richard Blumenthal, and Republican Rand Paul. Full text of the bill is not available yet, but Senator Wyden’s office released this ‘Bill Description’. The Hill reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is working on her own, separate and potentially less drastic bill. Her bill would insist on more NSA transparency and regulations, but it would not explicitly end the agency’s collection of telephony metadata. Here is an Op-Ed that Feinstein penned in July for the Post that gives us a good sense of what her bill might look like. Of course, today, Feinstein and the rest of the Intelligence Committee will hold the first open hearing on FISA. The hearing kicks off today at 2PM EST—with testimony from Ben, among others. The Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on FISA next Wednesday. Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year sentence on counts of espionage and other offenses related to the material she leaked to WikiLeaks, is in the last steps of a process that would allow her to undergo hormone therapy associated with gender dysphoria. The Guardian reports that Manning has to be assessed at a military prison before a final decision can be made in regards to treatment and ultimately switching to a different facility. Though Manning has previously been diagnosed with gender dysphoria twice by army behavioral specialists, army policy requires that prisoners be re-evaluated when they are moved to a new facility. More from Snowden in the Guardian. Files reveal the NSA spied on the Indian embassy in Washington and its mission at the UN. This was done in the effort “to mine electronic data” held by the South Asian power. As of July, Indian authorities have been aware that the NSA targeted its embassy in Washington, but the information released yesterday details the nature and strength of the NSA bugging. According to the Hindu, the Indian government had no idea that the UN mission in New York was also a target. Coincidentally, President Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet President Obama in Washington tomorrow. Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker argues that Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleiman is perhaps the most important military commander in Syria’s civil war. You may not have heard of Suleiman, but Filkins quotes a CIA officer who describes him as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.” NPR has an interview with Filkins. The FBI has released video footage of Aaron Alexis, the shooter that left 13 people dead at Navy Yard on Monday September 16. The Atlantic also has the disturbing video and some analysis. As we mentioned yesterday, the DoD rejected a proposed renovation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Not all is lost for the island, though: a Jacksonville firm has been awarded a $10.3 million contract to “repair public waterfront areas at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.” Once the repairs are completed, the marina, beaches and recreational dive park will be fully functional. In a new report released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 15% of American adults claim not to use the internet or email. Only 3% of individuals who don’t surf the net say that the choice is due to concerns over privacy issues. Benny Avni has penned a funny but chilling Op-Ed in the New York Post on the parallels between President Obama and The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” to understand the President’s stance on Syria. For more interesting law and security-related articles, follow us on Twitter, visit the Georgetown Center on National Security and the Law’s Security Law Brief, Syracuse’s Institute for National Security & Counterterrorism’s newsroll and blog, and Fordham Law’s Center on National Security’s Morning Brief and Cyber Brief. Email the Roundup Team noteworthy articles to include, visit the Lawfare Events Calendar for upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings at the Lawfare 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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