01/30/13: CNN reports two Iraqi men living in Kentucky received long prison sentences this week after being convicted of a series of charges involving a plot to help al-Qaeda. Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan were arrested last August in Bowling Green, Kentucky in a terror-related sting operation. After arriving in the United States, the men were monitored by federal authorities and told an FBI undercover agent they wanted to provide weapons and explosives to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Hammadi pleaded guilty in August to twelve counts, including four counts of aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq. Alwan pleaded guilty to twenty-three counts in December, including plotting to kill Americans overseas. Alwan, 31, was sentenced to forty years in federal prison. Hammadi, 25, got a life sentence.
01/30/13: The Miami Herald reports the UN nuclear agency is dismissing reports of a major explosion at Iran’s fortified underground nuclear facility. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman Gill Tudor said Tuesday that Iran’s denial of “an incident” at the Fordo uranium enrichment plant is “consistent with our observations.” Some news organizations had cited Israeli intelligence reports of a blast at Fordo, but a source said the IAEA’s information came directly from its own inspectors at Fordo. Iran is enriching uranium there to a level that is just a technical step away from nuclear warhead material. Tehran says it is enriching only for reactor fuel and for scientific purposes and denies accusations it wants nuclear arms.
01/30/13: The New York Times reports defense lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks asked a military judge in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday to let them stay in prison with their clients for 48-hour periods every six months. Military said the defense should be allowed only a single two-hour visit. The requested visit was one of several issues raised at a pretrial hearing that focused on information that could become a central focus if the defendants are eventually convicted and face the possibility of a death sentence. Defense lawyers urged the judge overseeing the case, Army Colonel James Pohl, to allow them to document their clients’ lives and behavior in custody. Such information could help them develop mitigating arguments against execution.
01/30/13: Reuters reports Russia abandoned a law enforcement agreement with the United States on Wednesday, further turning back the clock on a “reset” in relations since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin last year. An order to end the deal, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, was posted on the government’s website. It said the agreement, under which Washington provides financial assistance for law enforcement and drugs control programs, “does not address current realities and has exhausted its potential.” Lawmaker Alexei Pushkov, a Putin ally who heads the parliamentary committee on international affairs, welcomed the move. “Russia is reformatting its relationship with the USA: this is already the third agreement cancelled in the last half-year. We are saying farewell to our dependence on ‘Power No. 1’,” he said on Twitter.
01/30/13: BBC News reports Israel has strongly criticized Argentina for its decision to work with Iran to investigate athe 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. The “truth commission” will be made up of five independent judges, none of whom will be from the two countries. But an Israeli spokesman said the move was tantamount to “inviting a murderer to investigate his own killing.” Argentine Ambassador was Atilio Norberto Molteni was also summoned by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Argentine courts have blamed Iran for the bombing of the center run by the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed eighty-five people. Tehran has always denied any involvement, but Argentine prosecutors say the attack was planned and financed by Iran, and carried out by the Lebanese Shi’a Islamist group Hezbollah.
01/30/13: Al Jazeera reports Niger has given permission for US surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al-Qaeda-linked fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara. Bisa Williams, US ambassador to Niger, made the request at a meeting on Monday with Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, a senior government source said Wednesday. The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said. Niger will be the sixth African nation to have a US drone base, joining Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Djibouti. A spokesperson for the US African Command (AFRICOM) declined to comment.
01/30/13: The LA Times reports the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as Secretary of State, filling a crucial national security spot in President Obama’s second-term Cabinet. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, will replace Hillary Clinton, who will step down Friday. After the 94-3 vote, Kerry submitted a letter of resignation, effective Friday, to give up the Senate seat he has held since 1985. He will take the oath of office in a private ceremony. President Obama praised Kerry as “a champion of American global leadership” in a statement. “John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary secretary of State,” Obama said.
01/30/13: The Miami Herald reports Lebanon’s military said Wednesday that Israeli warplanes have sharply increased their activity over Lebanon in the past week, including at least twelve sorties in less than twenty-four hours in the country’s south. The flights come amid Israeli concerns about the civil war in neighboring Syria and fears that advanced weapons could reach hostile groups in Syria or the militant anti-Israel Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Among Israel’s chief concerns is that Hezbollah could get its hands on Syrian chemical arms and anti-aircraft missiles. If that happened, it would change the balance of power in the region and hinder Israel’s ability to conduct air sorties in Lebanon. A Lebanese army statement said the last of the sorties took place at 2 AM local time Wednesday. There was no immediate comment from Israel.
01/28/13: Al Jazeera reports ground forces in Mali backed by French paratroopers and helicopters have taken control of the airport and roads leading into the desert town of Timbuktu. French Colonel Thierry Burkhard said Monday that the airport was taken without firing a shot. “There was an operation on Timbuktu last night that allowed us to control access to the town,” he said. “It’s up to Malian forces to retake the town.” About 200 paratroopers landed north of Timbuktu and took control of the routes there. The advance comes after French and Malian soldiers on Saturday seized the town of Gao, east of Timbuktu, the biggest victory so far in their 17-day operation against the rebels, who have controlled the north for ten months.
01/28/13: Reuters reports Yemeni troops backed by tanks attacked an al-Qaeda stronghold on Monday after talks to free three Western hostages collapsed, leading to a retaliatory militant raid that killed three soldiers. Tackling lawlessness in the impoverished Gulf state, which flanks the world’s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is an international priority. The United States views Yemen as a frontline in its struggle against al-Qaeda. A Finnish couple and an Austrian man, who were studying Arabic in Yemen, were kidnapped last month by tribesmen in the capital Sanaa. They were later sold to members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and transferred to the southern al-Bayda province, a Yemeni official said earlier this month. A separate government official said the army began its Monday offensive after AQAP rejected demands to release the hostages.
01/28/13: The Miami Herald reports an al-Qaeda-linked group fighting alongside Syrian rebels has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing a week ago that reportedly killed dozens of President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists. Jabhat al-Nusra said in a statement Monday that one of its suicide bombers detonated a car bomb at the headquarters of a pro-government militia in the central province of Hama. Activists said at least forty-two people, mostly pro-Assad militiamen, died in the blast last Monday. Al-Nusra is fighting alongside other rebels to topple Assad; the group has previously targeted government institutions with suicide bombers. The US says it’s linked to al-Qaeda, and has declared the group a terrorist organization.
01/28/13: BBC News reports Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has urged leading opposition figures to attend a “national dialogue” meeting following four days of deadly violence. Dozens of people have died since a court sentenced twenty-one people to death over riots, and anger over Morsi’s rule has fuelled unrest elsewhere. Morsi declared a state of emergency in Port Said, Suez, and Ismalia. The opposition has yet to announce whether it will attend the talks; it says the president must address its demands over the recently adopted constitution. Violence continued on Monday morning, with one man killed by gunfire near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Morsi has invited representatives from eleven political factions – including Islamists, liberals, and leftists – to come to the presidential palace for talks, but so far it is unclear who will accept his invitation.
01/28/13: NPR reports a bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to retool the nation’s immigration laws. The deal covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country. Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation's inefficient patchwork of immigration laws. The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.); and Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn’t get enough GOP support. Comprehensive immigration reform has not been seriously attempted since.
01/28/13: Reuters reports Iran has denied reports of a major explosion at one of its most sensitive uranium enrichment sites, describing them as Western propaganda designed to influence upcoming nuclear negotiations. There have been reports since Friday of an explosion early last week at the underground Fordow bunker, near the city of Qom, that some Israeli and Western media have said caused significant damage. Saeed Shamseddin Bar Broudy, the deputy chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, called the reports “western propaganda ahead of nuclear negotiations to influence their process and outcome” on Sunday. In late 2011 the plant at Fordow began producing uranium enriched to 20 percent fissile purity, over five times the level needed for nuclear energy plants. We'll update you if there's any more information about this story.
01/28/13: The New York Times reports the Pentagon is moving toward a major expansion of its cybersecurity force to counter increasing attacks on the nation’s computer networks, as well as to expand offensive computer operations on foreign adversaries. The expansion announced by defense officials Sunday would increase DOD’s Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900. As part of the expansion, officials said the Pentagon was planning three different forces under Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that support the nation’s power grid and critical infrastructure; “combat mission forces” to plan and execute attacks on adversaries; and “cyber protection forces” to secure the Pentagon’s computer systems. In October outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in dire terms that the United States was increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
01/28/13: The Miami Herald reports a US envoy says North Korea is playing a dangerous game with the international community by threatening a nuclear test. Glyn Davies, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, urged Pyongyang on Monday to return to its international obligations and abandon its nuclear programs. Davies met with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo to discuss the anticipated nuclear test, after visiting Seoul for similar talks over the weekend. North Korea said Sunday that leader Kim Jong Un had ordered top security and foreign affairs officials to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures.” The move fueled speculation that North Korea is going ahead with a threat to explode a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations.
01/28/13: CNN reports the first of six Patriot missile batteries intended to protect Turkey from Syrian threats is operational along the countries’ shared border. NATO says the other five batteries, which NATO will be for defensive purposes only, are expected to be in place in coming days. NATO foreign ministers decided in December to deploy the batteries after Syria launched Scud missiles near the Turkish border. In October, errant Syrian artillery shells hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale. The operational missile battery is in the city of Adana. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this month that the missile batteries will stay only as long as there is a threat.
01/27/13: The New York Times today features this piece by Charlie Savage discussing Brigadier General Mark S. Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions system who is leading the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of aiding the September 11 attacks. General Martins is currently involved in a dispute with the Justice Department as to whether to defend a past conviction by those tribunals on a charge of conspiracy after that charge was invalidated by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a separate case. The dispute involves the thorny question, which has vexed national security law going back to the decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, as to whether conspiracy to commit a war crime is a standalone offense under the laws of war. On the other hand, Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare argues the dispute between General Martins and DOJ has less to do with substantive questions about the laws of war and as more about tactical legal positions. Both pieces are worth a read.
January 27, 2013 at 11:42 AM in Judiciary / Cases, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Detainees / Guantanamo, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Commentary / Opinion, Analysis | Permalink
01/27/13: The Miami Herald reports the United Arab Emirates says ninety-four people face charges for allegedly trying to overthrow the state as part of widening crackdowns on Islamist groups with suspected links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Sunday’s statement by official news agency WAM did not name the UAE suspects, but authorities have been arresting perceived dissidents for months. The crackdowns have brought complaints from rights groups and raised tensions with Egypt, which is led by Muslim Brotherhood member President Mohammed Morsi. UAE Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish siad the suspects built a secret network to plot the coup and raised money through real estate and other deals. He also claimed the suspects had links to the Muslim Brotherhood and others for expertise and financial support.
01/27/13: The blog Space War reports the United States has agreed to refuel French fighter jets waging war against Islamist militants in Mali, after weighing the decision for more than two weeks. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in a phone conversation Saturday that the Pentagon was ready to offer its vast fleet of aerial refueling tankers to back up French forces in Mali. “Secretary Panetta informed Minister Le Drian that US Africa Command will support the French military by conducting aerial refueling missions as operations in Mali continue,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The Obama Administration has endorsed France’s intervention and had previously agreed to share intelligence and to provide transport aircraft, but had hesitated on committing to refueling.
01/27/13: The Washington Times reports the Obama Administration wants $32 million to help African troops in Mali in their fight against Islamic radicals. A State Department spokeswoman confirmed Friday that a request has been made to Congress. The US considers terrorist organizations al-Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Boko Haram to be the primary threats in the region. As yet the United States is not providing any direct aid to the Malian government, whose democratically elected president was overthrown in a coup in 2012. Currently, French air power has been primarily used to strike Islamists inside Mali’s northern desert, and ultimately Paris plans to deploy roughly 2,500 troops to aid the effort. US support has been relegated to a secondary role.
01/27/13: The Miami Herald reports India has reportedly conducted a successful test of a medium-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile fired from an underwater platform in the Bay of Bengal. An Indian news agency says the missile would soon be ready for deployment on platforms, including a nuclear submarine. India’s Defense Ministry was unavailable for comment. A defense expert said Sunday’s test off the east coast was fourteenth in the series with a range of 435 miles. It would complete India’s nuclear triad: the capability to launch missiles from land, air, and below the sea. India and its nuclear-armed rival Pakistan routinely test different versions of their missiles. The countries have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.
01/27/13: The blog Space War reports hacker group Anonymous said it disabled the US Sentencing Commission’s website Saturday and vowed to release government data in revenge for the death of Internet freedom advocate Aaron Swartz. The Commission’s website was apparently hacked early Saturday. Anonymous threatened to make public the encryption keys to files that could potentially embarrass judges and other federal employees, saying it acted in protest at how the Justice Department handled Swartz’s case. Swartz was facing thirty-five years in prison and a $1 million fine for breaking into a closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to plug into the computer network. He downloaded millions of scholarly articles he allegedly planned to distribute for free.
01/27/13: The New York Times reports outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview published Friday that the Pentagon had prepared sophisticated blueprints for a surgical operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program should the United States decide to attack, possibly indicating that Israel might have shelved any plans for a unilateral strike, at least for now. Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pushing hard for the Obama Administration to set clear “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear progress that would prompt the United States to undertake a military strike, infuriating the administration. The Pentagon declined to comment, but a senior defense official said, “The US military constantly plans for a range of contingencies we might face around the world, and our planning is often quite detailed.”
01/26/13: The New York Times reports a federal judge in Dallas has ruled that a group of federal immigration agents can proceed with a lawsuit that seeks to halt an Obama administration program granting reprieves from deportation to young illegal immigrants. In a suit filed in August, several Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents argued that the administration had exceeded its constitutional authority in granting the reprieves, and said they were being forced to violate the law by obeying instructions to refrain from deporting the young immigrants. Judge Reed O’Connor rejected a Justice Department request to dismiss the case.
01/26/13: Wired's Threat Level reports a Virginia man who wrote an abbreviated version of the Fourth Amendment on his body and stripped to his shorts at an airport security screening area won a trial Friday in his lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages for being detained on a disorderly conduct charge. Aaron Tobey claimed in a civil rights lawsuit (.pdf) that in 2010 he was handcuffed and held for about 90 minutes by the Transportation Security Administration at the Richmond International Airport after he began removing his clothing to display on his chest a magic-marker protest of airport security measures.
01/26/13: The BBC reports the UN wants to set up an intervention force to fight rebels fuelling conflict in DR Congo, says a UN official. Meanwhile, eight African presidents are set to sign a UN-brokered accord aimed at bringing stability to the region. As many as 800,000 people have been displaced since the M23 rebel group took up arms against the Kinshasa government last May. The M23 rebels say they want to improve living conditions for the people of eastern DR Congo, but the UN says they are supported by Rwanda, which has been heavily involved in its eastern neighbour since those responsible for the country's genocide fled there en masse in 1994.
01/25/13: Due to the number of items on this week's tech updates, we are posting some of the updates today. Join us tomorrow for the rest of the updates with our normal posting tomorrow.
• Denis McDonough – White House Chief of Staff
• Rob Nabors – Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy
• Antony Blinken – Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
• Danielle Gray – Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
• Katy Kale – Assistant to the President for Management and Administration
• Lisa Monaco – Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor
• Jennifer Palmieri – Assistant to the President and Communications Director
• Dan Pfeiffer – Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor
• Miguel Rodriguez –Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs
• David Simas – Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy