Terrorism & Security
A daily roundup of global reports on security issues
Egyptian authorities arrested senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian today, adding another big name to the list of Brotherhood leaders – including deposed President Mohamed Morsi – who are expected to stand trial next week on charges of inciting violence.
The group, which had functioned semi-underground in Egypt for decades before the revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak, rode a wave of popular support into the presidency and to the top of a governing coalition in the legislature. But Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood alienated many Egyptians with their political style and lost the support of the military, which ousted them in a July coup.
Now the group is facing one of the darkest moments in its history, outright banned by an Egyptian court in September and with its leaders who haven't yet been arrested in hiding. Mr. Erian was the vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, and one of its last leaders still at large, according to Egypt's Al Ahram, a state-owned newspaper.
Many leaders have been arrested on similar "inciting violence" charges since July. At least 1,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence, as pro-Morsi protest camps were overrun by police. But the charges against Brotherhood leaders stem from an incident last December, when clashes erupted outside the presidential palace after Morsi issued a decree expanding his powers, Reuters reports.
Al Ahram reports that Erian pre-recorded several video messages that have now been broadcast on Al Jazeera.
The most notable of these messages was directed at the country’s interim government or what El-Erian described as ‘coup leaders,' demanding they recognize their "mistakes" and “confess that they’ve sided with one particular faction against another.”
With court proceedings against Erian, Morsi, and other leaders scheduled to begin next week, tensions are high. On Monday Morsi's supporters said that the former president wouldn't recognize the legitimacy of the military-backed government that replaced him and that he would not use a lawyer in court, "because to do so would imply that he accepted the legitimacy of the court and its proceedings," according to The Los Angeles Times.
On Tuesday the judges presiding over a parallel trial of Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and deputy Khairat El Shater, stepped down, forcing that trial to be abandoned. The judges cited "unease" over the proceedings, the LA Times reports.
The US has tried and failed to exert influence over the military-backed government since Morsi's July ouster. It announced a partial suspension of its $1.6 billion aid package to Egypt earlier this year – it had no choice, given a law that bars the US from providing aid to "governments that come to power through force," according to The Washington Post – but the move garnered little reaction in Cairo because a $12 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait has made US funds superfluous.
The US now appears to be seeking ways to backtrack on the aid suspension to try to halt the erosion of its influence.
The Obama administration has charged Congress with finding a "legislative work-around" to keep the money on track, insisting the money is essential to ensuring US interests in the Middle East. According to the Post, most lawmakers at a House foreign affairs committee hearing Tuesday were in favor, considering it "the best of bad options."
“While we would like a democratic partner for our many security interests in the region, we need a partner,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), the committee chairman. “We should push and pull with what influence we have.”
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (NY), the ranking Democrat on the panel, said the military’s removal of Morsi, an Islamist criticized as failing to govern inclusively, “replaced one autocratic government with another.” But he argued that a partial suspension of military aid would not encourage democratic reforms in Cairo.
“In fact, I think it’s more than likely to have the opposite effect,” he said. “That military cooperation is important. We’ve spent billions of dollars. We’ve cemented relationships. Let’s use them. Let’s not destroy them. Let’s use them.”
An unnamed congressional appropriator told the Post that the US has continued sending military equipment and funding for civilian programs using money set aside before the July coup, but when it runs out in a couple months, the US cannot continue sending money without breaking its own law – or changing it. The US also halted the scheduled delivery of F-16 fighter planes, Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters and Harpoon missiles in a bid to encourage the Egyptian government to hold promised elections soon. But as the Post notes, "there is little evidence that the strategy is bearing fruit."
A daily roundup of global reports on security issues
The investigation into the fiery crash of a sport utility vehicle in Tiananmen Square Monday – possibly a suicide attack carried out by ethnic Uighurs – has cast renewed attention on China’s fraught relationship with one of its largest minority populations.
Chinese officials have not publicly commented on whether the incident, which killed the vehicle’s three occupants and two tourists, was an accident or an attack.
But anonymous senior sources told Reuters that the event is suspected of being a suicide attack, and hotel managers in at least two Beijing hotels told foreign journalists that the Beijing police ordered hotel staff to provide information on two “suspicious guests” who are Uighurs.
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about China? Take our quiz.
“If the incident is confirmed to have been an attack by Uighur separatists, it would be their most audacious strike yet, hitting the political heart of China's capital. It would likely trigger a security clampdown in usually tense Xinjiang as well as a tightening of preventative measures around potential targets across the country,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
Although Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of the population, China is home to more than 40 ethnic minorities, including Uighers, who maintain a separate language, religion, and culture from the ethnic Han. The Chinese government accuses the Uighers, who are mostly concentrated in the western Xinjiang province, of using terrorism to bolster a separatist movement.
Monday’s security breach, in which the SUV plowed through a crowd of tourists for about 400 yards before crashing into the Tiananmen gate, took place while top government leaders, including President Xie Jingping were meeting at the Great Hall of the People about 200 yards away.
While “there is no indication that the physical safety of the leaders, who were attending meetings inside the Great Hall of the People, was jeopardized,” the Los Angeles Times reports, “the apparent suicide attack so close to the epicenter of power rattled the Chinese government and has raised doubts about the effectiveness of its often-stifling security apparatus.”
Tensions between the central government and Uighurs are not new, but if the event was meant as a suicide attack – and one aimed at the most politically sensitive spot in China – it would represent new development, Barry Sautman, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told Reuters.
"Certainly there have been a lot of bombings carried out by Uighur groups, but none of them as far as I know have involved suicide," he said.
There were violent Uighur riots in June and April of this year, with more than 20 people killed in each. The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford, writing from Beijing, explains how the dispute simmers on both sides:
“Xinjiang, once a predominantly Muslim province in China’s far west, has seen massive settlement by ethnic Han immigrants in recent decades. Local people complain that their culture and language are being eroded and that Han now outnumber original inhabitants, who are ethnic Uighurs, with linguistic and cultural ties to central Asian peoples.”
China has often accused a shadowy group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement of being behind violence in Xinjiang, but foreign observers are dubious, with some saying that Beijing deliberately exaggerates the terrorist threat in order to justify the iron grip it keeps on Xinjiang.
The US State Department put the group on its terrorist watch list in 2002, but has since removed it amid doubts about whether the group is a real organization.
Some of the same problems were brewing more than a decade ago. The Monitor's Robert Marquand reported in 2003:
An ambitious "Go West" campaign is bringing new populations and infrastructure to one of China's least developed regions. The change is a sharp challenge to the identity – and, some say, the viability – of a desert Central Asian people that were a majority in Xinjiang until the late 1990s.
The eight million Uighurs of Turkic Muslim origin are facing new policies – such as requiring their children to learn Chinese in primary schools – and large funding cuts in majority Uighur colleges. They are confronting as well the effects of a five-year "strike hard" campaign to wipe out acts of "separatism" through round-ups, arrests, and executions. More executions take place in Xinjiang, an estimated one or two a day, than in any other part of China, according to Human Rights Watch. Since Sept. 11, moreover, the government has tried to conflate, as one expert puts it, all local separatist movements and Uighur identity struggles as part of an "Islamic terrorist" movement.”
A daily summary of global reports on security issues
Meetings today between Iranian nuclear negotiators and the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency will continue into tomorrow – the latest "first" in an ongoing push for rapprochement between Iran and the international community.
Almost two years of talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency failed to end a deadlock on an investigation into Iran's nuclear program. The most recent encounters have ended on the first day because the two sides quickly ran out of common ground on inspections.
The IAEA wants to conduct an open-ended investigation into Iran's nuclear program to address suspicions that Iran may have developed nuclear weapons at some point. Iran, however, has insisted on a number of constraints, among them what sites can be inspected and who can be questioned, according to the Associated Press. But speaking to reporters today after a meeting with IAEA head Yukiya Amano, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi promised "new approaches."
Araghchi did not give details about Iran’s position, but in remarks to reporters loaded with optimism, he spoke of a “very useful and constructive meeting” with Amano, and said he was “very hopeful” that the talks on the proposed probe will break “with a good result.”
" 'Iran presented a new proposal with practical measures as a constructive contribution to strengthen our cooperation,' head nuclear inspector Tero Varjoranta said."
Iran's softening on inspections criteria was hinted at earlier this month, during the Geneva meeting between Iran and world powers. At that meeting, Mr. Araghchi said Iran would allow more stringent inspections.
A key point of contention is the Parchin military base outside Tehran. The international community suspects Iran of conducting nuclear weapons testing there in the past, an accusation Tehran denies. Tehran has refused inspection of the site, insisting it is a conventional military base and that access would threaten national security.
The IAEA meeting comes a week before Iran and six world powers (the so-called P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) reconvene in Geneva to resume talks on curbing Iran's nuclear program. The Associated Press reports that the Vienna meeting with the IAEA could be "interpreted as a symbol of Iranian interest in resolving the impasse on the IAEA probe in parallel with six power talks."
Experts representing Iran and the P5+1 will be meeting in Vienna Wednesday and Thursday to work out "technical details."
Today's official comments, with their optimistic overtones, jibe with those of both Iran and the international community since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August. His time in office has been defined by concerted efforts to move toward rapprochement with the US and world powers – a historic phone call with President Obama, reportedly productive talks on Iran's nuclear program, and efforts to rein in hard-line spoilers.
The Washington Post reports that hardliners received a "rare public rebuke" in the past week when they were ordered to take down anti-US billboards put up only days before.
The billboards, carrying the English-language slogan “The US Government Styles Honesty,” depict a goateed Iranian official (presumably meant to resemble [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif) sitting across from a US counterpart who, under the table, conceals symbols of perceived American aggression.
In one, the American is accompanied by an attack dog; in another, he is wearing military fatigues under the table and a coat and tie above it.
There’s nothing particularly unusual about the messages, considering that US flags and effigies of American presidents have been regularly burned in the streets of Tehran during the past 34 years.
But with the anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran just a week away, the decision by Tehran’s municipal government to order the removal of the billboards is shocking to some vocal supporters of the nation’s long and proud history of public displays of anti-Americanism. City officials said only that the organization that put up the billboards hadn’t sought permission.
Iran is not the only negotiating party struggling with internal dissent as talks progress. Congress is pushing for another round of sanctions on Iran, despite the Obama administration's request that the House and Senate give an American diplomatic push time to play out, TIME reports.
In July, 130 members of Congress sent President Obama a letter urging him to give diplomacy with Iran a chance. But the following month, the House passed a new round of sanctions against Iran by a vote of 400 to 20, with more than 100 of the members who’d signed the letter encouraging diplomacy voting for the new sanctions.
US negotiator Wendy Sherman made a rare public statement last week urging congressional patience. “Congress has its prerogatives,” she told Voice of America on Friday. “We don’t get to control Congress, but we are having very serious discussions. We work as partners with Congress. They’ve been very effective partners as we’ve tried to approach this negotiation. We need them to continue to be effective partners to reach a successful conclusion, and I have trust that they will be.”
Those in favor of ramping up sanctions on Iran again – most vocal among them the pro-Israel lobby – are pushing for the Senate banking committee to pick up the issue next week when the Senate reconvenes.
If a bill with new sanctions is passed, the Obama administration may be put in the "awkward position" of vetoing sanctions against Iran, TIME reports. It could also opt to "drag its feet" implementing the sanctions.
A daily summary of global reports on security issues
As news of the National Security Agency's spying on world leaders, allies, and citizens continues to leak to the public, the White House said this week that there is a need for “additional constraints” on US spying, a statement that some observers fear may do little to calm the diplomatic uproar spreading globally.
“We recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman.
The New York Times reports that Obama may be “poised to order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on the leaders of American allies,” in response to the “deepening diplomatic crisis” with Germany over allegations the US spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone communications for years.
The most recent revelation came of US spying in Spain, where the US allegedly collected 60 million communications over the course of a month, ending in early January. The US ambassador to Spain met with Spanish officials on Monday, but Germany and France have come out even more aggressively against allegations of spying.
The effect of the far-reaching allegations may be more than just political. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the majority of Germans (58 percent) support breaking off a long-anticipated transatlantic trade deal between the US and European Union. As Sara Miller Llana in France explained after the news of US spying in Europe first broke this summer:
If the extent of US surveillance in the world is not surprising to some, it’s still controversial in Europe, especially in countries like Germany that place a high priority on data privacy. But the timing of the revelations, as negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are set to begin July 8, has created a firestorm, says Johannes Thimm, an expert on US foreign policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
“There are economic interests involved on both sides, and while the [TTIP] is generally in the spirit of cooperation, there are some trade-offs and really hard negotiations ahead,” Dr. Thimm says. American ability to access that communication as it is playing out, he says, gives the US “a huge strategic advantage."
The Times notes that even if the US agrees to end spying on all allies, it could very well “prompt a fierce debate on what constitutes an American ally. Prohibiting eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel’s phone is an easier judgment than, for example, collecting intelligence on the military-backed leaders in Egypt.”
The US has had an agreement with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – collectively known as the "Five Eyes" – since the end of World War II that bans spying on each other, an arrangement the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi writes isn’t something that will be easily replicated for other allies like France or Germany:
[D]espite how contrite the US may seem in light of spying allegations that extended to millions of Europeans’ communications and as high as the German chancellor’s cell phone, the Obama administration is unlikely to extend the terms of the post-World-War-II Five Eyes agreement to allies as close as Germany and France.
The reasons, intelligence and national security experts say, range from reluctance to set a precedent – especially as the uproar over National Security Agency (NSA) spying and information gathering continues to reach new countries – to recognition that US intelligence needs are far different from what they were in the postwar era.
“We have a responsibility to provide genuine contrition and reassurance but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are not the enemy, and they do have enemies,” says Jonathan Laurence, an associate political science professor at Boston College specializing in US-German relations. “We should not lose sight of the fact these [European countries] are not vassal states but are, to some degree, under our protection,” he adds. “We provide a security umbrella world-wide and our interests overlap greatly with their interests.”
But doing something – anything – may send a stronger message than the response some foreign leaders have received up to this point. A post on the Foreign Policy blog “The Cable” describes outrage at the US inability to explain spying to representatives from 35 countries at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting yesterday. “U.S. diplomats were scheduled to explain NSA practices at the hearing for the first time on the international stage,” but instead showed up empty handed, blaming the government shutdown:
"With the government closed and most of its employees furloughed, we lost the time essential for us to engage our inter-agency colleagues and prepare for this hearing," said [Deputy US Permanent Representative to the OAS ] Gumbiner. The inability to respond to any of the complaints cited about mass surveillance of individuals living outside the United States, a complaint of the hearing's petitioners, clearly frustrated Rodrigo Escobar Gil, rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty of the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
"The arguments of the state have been taken into account but there's no causes beyond the control of the state like an earthquake or natural disaster or something like that, that would have made it impossible to respond," Gil said. "The fact of the matter is that the domestic matters of the state are not justification for not providing a response to international bodies. This is an important opportunity."
Foreign Policy notes the importance of responding to NSA reports given that allegations of US spying on foreign leaders have been piling up, and now include the communications of upwards of “35 world leaders, as well as large-scale public surveillance directed at Brazil, France, Italy,” and Spain.
A number of intelligence directors, including NSA general director Keith Alexander, will testify in an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee this afternoon. The hearings will touch on NSA programming as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, reports Reuters.
New tensions arose in Britain this week as news outlets reported “veiled threats” from Prime Minister David Cameron on further reporting on NSA leaks. The Guardian writes that, “In a statement to MPs on Monday about last week's European summit in Brussels, where [Mr. Cameron] warned of the dangers of a 'lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view' about the dangers of leaks, the prime minister said his preference was to talk to newspapers rather than resort to the courts. But he said it would be difficult to avoid acting if newspapers declined to heed government advice.”
Mr. Cameron said it could be necessary to use high court injunctions to block certain information from being published, The Guardian reports.
A daily summary of global reports on security issues
Washington went on the defensive over the weekend as new reports citing unnamed US intelligence sources gave embarrassing details of the National Security Agency's surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama's knowledge thereof.
German media on Sunday aired new details and accusations of the depth of the NSA's spying in Germany, ramping up the tensions between Berlin and Washington.
Bild am Sontag quotes an unnamed NSA official saying that NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander had briefed Obama in 2010 on the agency's surveillance of Mrs. Merkel, reports Agence France-Presse. "Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue," the source added. And Der Spiegel reports that according to documents it obtained, Merkel was first put under surveillance by the NSA in 2002.
But US officials, on the record and anonymously, deny that Obama knew the particulars of the NSA spying on world leaders, including that Merkel was specifically targeted.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to an unnamed US official, the decision to spy on Merkel would have been made within the NSA, and Obama would not have been consulted. "These decisions are made at NSA," the official said. "The president doesn't sign off on this stuff."
The Journal notes further that if Der Spiegel's report that the spying dates back to 2002 is true, "it is less likely NSA would have had a reason to brief the Obama White House without a specific reason to do so, because it would have been seen as one of many continuing surveillance programs at the agency."
And the NSA denied the Bild report outright, with a spokesperson saying that General Alexander "did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel," according to AFP.
Still, the episode adds to shakier German-American relations. Der Spiegel indicates that regardless of Obama's personal knowledge, the US spying has been long and systemic.
Der Spiegel reports that the NSA's "Special Collection Service" unit has been operating out of the Berlin embassy, apparently from an office located on the roof of the embassy building in the heart of Berlin's government district.
A "top secret" classified NSA document from the year 2010 shows that a unit known as the "Special Collection Service" (SCS) is operational in Berlin, among other locations. It is an elite corps run in concert by the US intelligence agencies NSA and CIA.
The secret list reveals that its agents are active worldwide in around 80 locations, 19 of which are in Europe -- cities such as Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague and Geneva. The SCS maintains two bases in Germany, one in Berlin and another in Frankfurt. That alone is unusual. But in addition, both German bases are equipped at the highest level and staffed with active personnel. ...
[British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, analyzing the American embassy in Berlin,] refers to window-like indentations on the roof of the US Embassy. They are not glazed but rather veneered with "dielectric" material and are painted to blend into the surrounding masonry. This material is permeable even by weak radio signals. The interception technology is located behind these radio-transparent screens, says Campbell. The offices of SCS agents would most likely be located in the same windowless attic.
Der Spiegel adds that the scandal is fueling opposition to the proposed US-EU free-trade agreement. Some 58 percent of Germans support breaking off negotiations with the US due to the NSA spying, and Bavarian Economy Minister Ilse Aigner, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, called for putting talks "on ice until the accusations against the NSA have been clarified."
Oddly, despite all the outrage, at least one historian suggests that the US spying in Germany may actually be legal. Historian Josef Foschepoth told Deutsche Welle that in the aftermath of World War II, the West German government granted the Allies, including the US, special surveillance rights in the country that still apply today.
In other words, as the historian points out, it's possible that even the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone had some sort of legal basis. Although the treaty documents do not explicitly allow the US secret service to spy on the German government, they do not explicitly forbid it, either.
In the treaty, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer granted the Allies certain rights that prevailed over the confidentiality laws pertaining to mail and telecommunications as stipulated in the German Basic Law. "This is how the big German-Allied intelligence service complex came into being," said Foschepoth.
But Nikolaos Gazeas, an expert on international law at the University of Cologne, told Deutsche Welle that it is unlikely that spying on the West German government itself would be allowed. "Even if one assumes that the Allies were granted these kinds of rights back then, the intentions of the parties involved in the contract still need to be taken into account – and even back then it would not have been considered acceptable to spy on the German government," he said.
A daily summary of global reports on security issues
Germany and France want a new set of spy rules in place by the end of the year, leaders said early Friday morning at a European Union summit, where allegations of American surveillance have dominated the agenda.
If not, they say, it could hurt the fight against terrorism.
The “joint initiative” by Germany and France, which have been at the center of new allegations of US spying this week, called for renegotiating intelligence service cooperation with the US by year's end, and was signed by all 28 members of the EU.
According to The New York Times, the statement read that all members “took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks” and “noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative.”
The push followed reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had listened to the telephone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a shock to a leader who is one of the most media-shy in office, as The Christian Science Monitor detailed in a profile of the German leader.
“I think the services need to come to agreement between each other on yardsticks and other norms and standards,” Ms. Merkel said at a press conference after the first day of the two-day EU summit, which continues today in Brussels. “Words are not sufficient. True change is necessary.”
“This partnership . . . is a partnership that has stood the test of time,” Merkel also said of the German-American relationship. “But for the future, things have to change and they have to change radically.”
Germany and France did not elaborate on what new spying protocols would look like. But some officials, according to the Financial Times, said it could resemble the “five eyes” deal between the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, “in which the English-speaking allies work almost seamlessly on signals intelligence.”
France joined the push with Germany after new revelations this week published in Le Monde showed massive spying on the part of the NSA on French telephone data, including that of French politicians, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
But anger was not limited to the two major powers within the eurozone. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt shared his indignation with BBC Radio 4's Today program: "There is no reason to spy on Angela Merkel. It's a real scandal," he said, as quoted in the Guardian. "A new agreement is needed between the EU and the US; this cannot continue.”
Dismay in the EU is likely to mount further with allegations that the NSA was listening in on the conversations of 35 world leaders, according to a report in the Guardian detailing a 2006 NSA memo provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The statement Friday from EU leaders read: "A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering."
The spying allegations could influence a host of issues between the US and Europe that go beyond actual spying.
Michel Barnier, the EU's internal market commissioner, told the BBC that he wanted to develop a European data cloud, independent of American oversight.
The European Parliament, meanwhile, has pushed for stronger data privacy rules that are controversial among member states as they increase the cost of business. But it could gain more proponents as European anger over American spying mounts.
Such rules could indirectly impact a key deal between the US and EU right now: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is because the US might balk atthe high costs of potential new privacy data laws in Europe. The Christian Science Monitor explained how such rules could impact American companies like Google and Facebook.
Yet while the NSA scandal has also led to direct calls by some European politicians to call TTIP talks off, it seems that for now both the US and EU are attempting to control the damage and keep the negotiations moving forward.
“I always take the view that when you leave the room, you have to always contemplate how to get back in again,” said Merkel, according to The New York Times. “In such a tense situation, such talks may be even more important than usual.”
A daily summary of global reports on security issues
US-Saudi relations, a bedrock of the American relationship with the Middle East since World War II, forged on the back of oil wealth and defense partnerships, have been put under unprecedented public strain over the past week.
In the past week, Saudi Arabia rejected a seat on the United Nations Security Council (which it said was intended as a message to the US) and its intelligence chief announced he would be scaling back US-Saudi cooperation on war-torn Syria.
The general consensus seems to be, "You should have seen this coming," as the two countries have been moving at cross-purposes on important regional issues for months.
The US has launched an unprecedented push to reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia's chief rival, Iran, while Saudi Arabia has undermined US efforts to punish Egypt's military for a July coup by filling Egyptian coffers with promises of more money than the US has yanked back. The US abruptly retreated from a full march toward a military strike on Syria – a move Riyadh strongly backed.
As a senior US official told The Wall Street Journal, "Our interests increasingly don't align."
Saudi officials have been quite blunt. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence, said in Washington that President Obama's Syria policy was "lamentable" and scoffed at the US-Russia agreement on Syria's chemical weapons deal, Reuters reports.
"The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people," said Prince Turki.
Foreign Policy's Colum Lynch explains the very public, abrupt shift:
For decades, Riyadh and Washington have been bound by a basic tradeoff: America guarantees protection from potential predators in the region, while Saudi Arabia supplies the lifeblood – relatively inexpensive oil – to run the world economy and pumps billions each year into the US arms industry. But America's failure to back Saudi Arabia on matters it considers vital to its security is raising questions in Riyadh about the value of that exchange.
"This is not how a protection racket is supposed to work," said Christopher Davidson, a scholar and author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies. "Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a relationship it thought it had in the bag, despite having handed over several percent of their GDP to Western arms companies." As a result, he said, "Saudi Arabia is retreating into its shell of countries that surround it and who rely on its aid and good will."
Saudi Arabia has been quite clear about its opposition to US-Iran rapprochement, Bloomberg reports.
Saudi King Abdullah has urged the US to attack Iran, “cut off the head of the snake” and halt its nuclear program, U.S. diplomats reported in cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010. After last month’s accord on chemical weapons, Prince Saud said Assad’s government would probably use the deal as an opportunity “to impose more killing and to torture its people.”
“We don’t know what the Americans are trying to do with Syria,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh. “They seem to be using Syria as a bargaining chip with Iran. They handed Iraq to the Iranians, and the Saudis won’t let them do the same thing to Syria.”
And on backing the Syrian rebels, an issue on which Washington and Riyadh were initially aligned, the divide is growing. An anonymous Saudi official told Bloomberg yesterday that Riyadh's support for Syrian rebels would not be "constrained" by US efforts to keep the money from Islamist groups.
The anonymous comments come on the heels of a London meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from countries backing the Syrian rebels. At the meeting, they agreed to send aid exclusively through the moderate Syrian National Coalition's armed wing to "curtail the influence of extremists."
"Syrian opposition factions backed by the US are disorganized and largely ineffective, so directing assistance only to them would be handicapping the fight against President Bashar al-Assad," the anonymous Saudi official said.
In a piece extensively detailing the decline in relations, the WSJ reports that the US was keeping Saudi Arabia in the dark on issues about which Riyadh was usually informed.
In the run-up to the expected U.S. strikes, Saudi leaders asked for detailed U.S. plans for posting Navy ships to guard the Saudi oil center, the Eastern Province, during any strike on Syria, an official familiar with that discussion said. The Saudis were surprised when the Americans told them U.S. ships wouldn't be able to fully protect the oil region, the official said.
Disappointed, the Saudis told the U.S. that they were open to alternatives to their long-standing defense partnership, emphasizing that they would look for good weapons at good prices, whatever the source, the official said.
In the second episode, one Western diplomat described Saudi Arabia as eager to be a military partner in what was to have been the U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. As part of that, the Saudis asked to be given the list of military targets for the proposed strikes. The Saudis indicated they never got the information, the diplomat said.
"The Saudis are very upset. They don't know where the Americans want to go," said a senior European diplomat not in Riyadh.
Yet the anonymous Saudi official quoted by Bloomberg said that reports of a "major split are overblown," citing common interests in oil price stability and combating terrorism. Just last week, the US Department of Defense announced it would sell $10.8 billion in "advanced weaponry" to Saudi Arabia and ally United Arab Emirates.
A Western diplomat told the WSJ that Saudi Arabia's top priority is a more effective US or UN plan for helping the Syrian rebels.
A daily summary of global reports on security issues.
US drone attacks in Pakistan have killed at least 29 noncombatants since 2012 – deaths that could be categorized as war crimes, Amnesty International said today in a report released just a day before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is set to meet with President Obama.
The report, “‘Will I be Next?’ US Drone Strikes in Pakistan” was released by Amnesty International in conjunction with a separate report by New York-based Human Rights Watch on US drone attacks in Yemen. The Amnesty report analyzed 45 publicly known drone attacks in the most commonly targeted region of Pakistan where the Taliban has been particularly active, North Waziristan, between January 2012 and August 2013.
The timing of the report's release puts perhaps the most sensitive issue in US-Pakistan relations in the spotlight as the two leaders meet.
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.
President Obama publicly acknowledged a drone program in Pakistan in January 2012, and promised greater transparency in May 2013. “There must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” Obama said, noting that civilian deaths from drone strikes would haunt him and others involved in the administration’s hierarchy “as long as we live.”
Amnesty wrote in its report release that despite this, the US “still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information” on its drone program, which means little opportunity for victims’ families to press for compensation or take legal action.
“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law,” said Mustafa Qadri, author of the report.
“The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the USA over Pakistan now instill the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that was once associated only with Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Mr. Qadri.
According to Reuters, the Pakistani Taliban largely controls North Waziristan, in northwestern Pakistan, offering “safe havens to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban who are fighting NATO troops across the border.”
The United States has carried out 376 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, the [London based] Bureau of Investigative Journalism says, with the death toll put at between 2,525 and 3,613. Local media reported that up to 926 of the dead were civilians.
Most of the time, the dead are militants although their rank is often unclear, residents, militants and Pakistani security sources have told Reuters. Government officials frequently say militant groups have killed 40,000 Pakistanis since 2001.
In the first publicized drone attack since Obama’s May speech, the Pakistani Taliban’s second in command, Wali-ur-Rehman, was killed in a strike along with at least five others.
"This is a huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents," one security official told Reuters at the time.
The Pakistani government has long condemned drone strikes, often citing civilian casualties, as well as territorial integrity and Pakistani sovereignty. Obama is set to meet Sharif at the White House tomorrow, and on Friday the United Nations is set to debate drones and transparency.
In its report, Amnesty found that US drones killed a grandmother, Mamana Bibi, in October 2012 while she was picking vegetables near her grandchildren. Another strike in July that same year killed 18 laborers near the Afghan border as they sat down to eat dinner. A subsequent missile strike killed many of those who came to the rescue of the first victims.
A big challenge in tallying civilian deaths is the difficulty of saying with certainty whether or not a military-aged victim of a strike is part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or another extremist group, the report authors acknowledge. However, family and friends often insist their loved ones “had no connection to extremists,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
“American intelligence officials and their congressional overseers argue that in almost all cases the strikes have hit legitimate targets. Sorting out the truth in individual cases is often impossible,” the LA Times reports.
According to The New York Times, in communities often targeted by drones – for example, the northwest Pakistani town of Miram Shah, which has been hit 13 times since 2008 – the psychological stress has been palpable.
While the strike rate has dropped drastically in recent months, the constant presence of circling drones — and accompanying tension over when, or whom, they will strike — is a crushing psychological burden for many residents [of Miram Shah].
Sales of sleeping tablets, antidepressants and medicine to treat anxiety have soared, said Hajji Gulab Jan Dawar, a pharmacist in the town bazaar. Women were particularly troubled, he said, but men also experienced problems…. ...
In the aftermath of drone strikes, things get worse. Many civilians hide at home, fearing masked vigilantes with the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen Khorasan, a militant enforcement unit that hunts for American spies. The unit casts a wide net, and the suspects it hauls in are usually tortured and summarily executed.
A daily summary of global reports on security issues.
Both the French and Mexican governments are demanding answers from the US regarding new reports that the National Security Agency has been conducting large-scale interceptions of French telecommunications and hacked the email of the last president of Mexico.
The French government summoned the US ambassador today to answer questions about a report in Le Monde that detailed the volume of NSA spying on French telecommunications in December 2012 and early January 2013 – which the French newspaper totaled at 70.3 million phone calls and text messages.
"I have immediately summoned the US ambassador and he will be received this morning at the Quai d'Orsay (the French Foreign Ministry)," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on the sidelines of [a European Union] meeting in Luxembourg.
Earlier, France's interior minister, Manuel Valls, said Le Monde's revelations that 70.3 million pieces of French telephone data were recorded by the NSA between Dec. 10, 2012 and Jan. 8, 2013 were "shocking."
"If an allied country spies on France or spies on other European countries, that's totally unacceptable," Valls told Europe 1 radio.
The US ambassador, Charles Rifkin, declined to comment on being summoned to the French ministry, Reuters adds, though he noted that French-US relations on military and intelligence issues were "the best [they've] been in a generation."
According to an English version of the report published on Le Monde's website, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show a pattern of high-volume, though apparently targeted, spying on French telecommunications. Le Monde writes:
Amongst the thousands of documents extracted from the NSA by its ex-employee, there is a graph which describes the extent of telephone monitoring and tapping (DNR – Dial Number Recognition) carried out in France. It can be seen that over a period of 30 days – from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013, 70.3 million recordings of French citizens' telephone data were made by the NSA. This agency has several methods of data collection. According to the elements obtained by Le Monde, when a telephone number is used in France, it activates a signal which automatically triggers the recording of the call. Apparently this surveillance system also picks up SMS messages and their content using key words. Finally, the NSA apparently stores the history of the connections of each target – or the meta-data.
Although the exact subjects of the intercepted messages are unknown, Le Monde writes that what information is available "leads us to think that the NSA targets concerned both people suspected of association with terrorist activities as well as people targeted simply because they belong to the worlds of business, politics or French state administration."
Le Monde adds that American authorities declined to comment on the report, but pointed the paper towards a June 8, 2013, document offered by US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that said foreign citizens could not be spied upon "without a valid foreign intelligence purpose."
In a separate article, Le Monde notes that almost all of the NSA's focus in France seems to be on two communications websites: wanadoo.fr and alcatel-lucent.fr. Orange and Alcatel-Lucent, the respective owners of the two sites, declined to comment on Le Monde's report.
Le Monde's revelations about the scope of NSA spying in France come on the heels of a report in Der Spiegel, published Sunday, that the US agency had also successfully hacked the email of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon while he was in office.
A report classified as "top secret" said: "[NSA division Tailored Access Operations] successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon's public email account."
According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained "diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability." The president's office, the NSA reported, was now "a lucrative source."
American journalist Glenn Greenwald and Brazilian broadcaster O Globo reported last month that both Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had also been spied upon by the NSA.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Mexican government has demanded that the US investigate the spying, which Mexico calls "unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to Mexican law and international law." The Times also notes that:
Some Mexicans will consider it particularly galling that the US targeted Calderon. The conservative president, who served from 2006 to 2012, allowed US security agencies an unprecedented amount of access to Mexico in an effort to fight off the powerful drug cartels. Some here viewed the increased US presence as a breach of Mexican sovereignty.
The tangled trail of last month's terrorist attack on a Kenyan shopping mall has led investigators more than 4,000 miles to the north in Norway, according to local police.
The New York Times reports that Norwegian police are investigating whether Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a Norwegian citizen born in Somalia, was one of at least four militants involved in the September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left more than 60 people dead. The police have been questioning friends and family of Mr. Dhuhulow.
His sister, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that officers from the Norwegian security police had asked her whether her brother had placed calls from Nairobi, including from the Westgate shopping mall, during the siege. She said that he had not and that the family was unaware of any role he might have played in the attack.
“My mother and father and me, we don’t even know if he is dead or alive,” she said. “We are waiting for the whole issue to become clearer.”
A spokesman for the Norwegian Police Security Service, Martin Bernsen, said investigators were also unsure whether Mr. Dhuhulow was still alive. Several explosions and a fire at the mall have made it difficult to distinguish between the remains of the victims and attackers. The authorities have been unable thus far to identify any of the militants among the bodies pulled from the rubble.
According to his sister, Dhuhulow has been taking "long vacations" to Somalia – home of Al Shabab, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attack – since 2009. The Times adds that a man with the same name as Dhuhulow was arrested in Somalia in March in connection with the murder of a radio journalist, but was later released for lack of evidence.
RECOMMENDED: Quiz: How much do you know about terrorism?
Review of surveillance footage is helping to fill in some of the blanks surrounding the attack, which increasingly appears to have been committed by attackers who were chillingly calm at the time, reports CNN.
As they strolled through Westgate Mall, guns strapped to their torsos, the attackers chatted on their cell phones while they sprayed bullets at terrified shoppers.
Ruthless and nonchalant, they randomly gunned down shoppers at the upscale mall in the Kenyan capital.
At one point, they took turns to pray, removing shoes to perform the ritual washing in a room stacked with boxes. They bowed down in Islamic prayer, taking a break from incessant gunfire.
In addition to video evidence, authorities are sifting through physical evidence from the scene, including weapons and remains presumed to belong to attackers, writes the Associated Press.
But despite – or because of – the wealth of witnesses, physical evidence, and video documentation, many aspects of the massive mall attack remain mysterious to investigators. Agence France-Presse presents some of the remaining questions, including the final official death toll, the precise names of the attackers, and the possible involvement of British Muslim convert Samantha Lewthwaite, sometimes referred to as "the White Widow."
A recent Monitor story looked at Ms. Lewthwaite's involvement in a high-profile terror cell in Kenya and her links to a man that US Navy SEALs tried to capture in a raid in Somalia.
US officials Monday named Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir “Ikrima” as the “high value target” Seal Team Six was hunting. He escaped unharmed as the commandos retreated under heavy fire to avoid civilian casualties.
Reports by Kenya’s National Intelligence Service, seen by The Christian Science Monitor, say Ikrima, who is Kenyan, was “coordinator” of a cell including Ms. Lewthwaite and another Briton, Jermaine Grant, that planned “multiple attacks” on targets in Nairobi in late 2011 and early 2012.
The impact of the Kenyan mall attack is resonating internationally in a variety of additional ways. Security in Uganda has been stepped up after the US warned of a terror threat similar to the mall attack, the BBC reported this week. A judge in California ruled in favor of a man that his ex-wife may not take their 19-month-old daughter to Kenya, the mother's home country, out of concerns of future terrorism. And the city of London has reviewed its security plan in the wake of the Kenya attack, reports the Evening Standard.