Situation Report: NSA front and center; debate over Afghan fight; Marines to Spain; musical chairs in Washington; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Calling Capitol Hill. Only two years after Edward Snowden fled the United States to spill the National Security Agency’s spy secrets to the world, his old employer has lost the authority to collect data on the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans — at least for now ...
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
Calling Capitol Hill. Only two years after Edward Snowden fled the United States to spill the National Security Agency’s spy secrets to the world, his old employer has lost the authority to collect data on the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans — at least for now — FP’s David Francis writes.
The expiration of the government’s ability to gather information about the phone habits of private citizens comes on the heels of a May 7 federal court ruling that found the program illegal.
Libertarian-leaning 2016 GOP presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), led the charge to block a vote on a version of a House bill passed in May. In doing so, the NSA’s authority under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which the agency uses to sweep up the phone records of tens of millions of Americans — expired at midnight. Two other programs that allow the FBI to track so-called “lone wolf” terrorists and listen in on subjects who continually discard cell phones also expired.
But the fight is hardly over. Later this week, the Senate plans to take up legislation shifting the storage of phone records from the government to the phone companies, as allowed in the House bill. Paul admitted Sunday night that “the bill will ultimately pass” the Senate. But his point has been made, and the government’s data collection program has again been thrust into international headlines.
Spring offensives, conflicting assessments. Reports have been circling over the past week that the Taliban has been making a real push in southern and eastern Afghanistan, capturing 50 Afghan army posts in Uruzgan province alone. We’ve also seen government troops in southern Helmand province abandon the type of “counterinsurgency patrols” they were taught by their American trainers.
But in a Sunday email to FP from Kabul, Operation Resolute Support spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said while “a few districts in Uruzgan province are being heavily contested by the Taliban,” U.S. military officials believe that reports of Afghan checkpoints and bases being overrun are “exaggerated.” The Afghan army and police “have the personnel, equipment, and leadership necessary to gain control of the situation in Uruzgan,” Tribus wrote, and top Afghan military officials are there monitoring operations and leading a counteroffensive.
Afghan forces have taken a beating in the first months of 2015, with the number killed or wounded increasing 70 percent compared to the same time period last year. The casualties have averaged about 330 a week.
More Marines to Europe. While the Spanish Parliament still has to approve the deal, Washington and Madrid have reached an agreement that would allow the U.S. to station up to 2,200 Marines and 26 aircraft at the southern Moron air base — along with 500 civilian staff — solidifying and expanding the Corps’ 850-troop rapid reaction force currently stationed there.
The Marines at Moron are tasked with quickly responding to crises in Africa and Europe. Their unit stood up after the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The new agreement also allows the 2,200 troops to be augmented by another 800 on a temporary basis. The Spanish government isn’t completely giving the facility over to the Americans, however: The base remains Spanish and the U.S. would need Madrid’s permission to launch any unilateral missions from Spanish soil. Washington has pledged to invest about $29 million in infrastructure work at the base, an infusion of cash that’ll likely be good news to the struggling Spanish economy. What will also be good for the local economy are 2,200 young Marines with big holes in their pockets let loose on weekend furloughs.
This is your daily Situation Report ask, reaching out to our friends and allies looking for scoops, rumors of scoops, news, personnel announcements, and the like. Please give, won’t you? As ever, we’re standing by at email@example.com and on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
On Sunday afternoon, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan emailed the Washington national security crowd to say she’s returning to the State Department after three years at the White House.
The move adds to what has become a high level game of musical chairs in Washington in recent weeks, as spokespeople and communications advisors bounce around among the White House, State Department, and the Defense Department.
John Kirby, the newly-arrived spokesperson for the Department of State (@statedeptspox) and recently retired U.S. Navy rear admiral was forced out of the Defense Department spokesperson job by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in February. Carter is said to have been uneasy with an active duty member of the military explaining civilian-led policy to the press. Kirby is now flaking for another former Navy man — Secretary of State John Kerry, who took a spill off his bike Sunday in France and broke his femur.
Kirby replaces Jen Psaki, (@psaki44) who left at the end of March to become the White House Communications Director, replacing Jennifer Palmieri, who is now director of communications for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run.
General Atomics has delivered a third MQ-9 Reaper drone to the French Ministry of Defense, the company said in a release. The armed drone joins the previous two — very busy — Reapers purchased by the French, which together have accumulated over 4,000 flight hours since January 2014. The birds are the first installments in what is expected to be a total of 12 Reaper buys planned by Paris through 2019. The drone can hit altitudes of 50,000 feet while staying aloft for up to 27 hours, providing French troops in places like Mali some much-needed lethal eyes in the sky.
India has decided to buy only 36 Rafale fighter jets instead of the original 126 because they are “way too expensive,” Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Sunday.
On Saturday, Russian fighters intercepted the USS Ross near the Black Sea, according to Russian news reports over the weekend, though no U.S. Navy officials have yet to comment on the story, including how jet fighters can “intercept” a guided missile destroyer.
On Sunday, the annual Asian security summit in Singapore wrapped up, and Adm. Sun Jianguo, the head of the Chinese Navy, said that despite that whole island-building unpleasantness, “we hope relevant countries will work together in the same direction to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and co-operation,” Reuters reports.
Other notable events at the conference include the first one-on-one meeting of the Japanese and South Korean defense ministers since 2011. The Japan Times reports “the two ministers also agreed to resume exchanges between [the Japanese military] and South Korean military forces.” Also suggested were joint search and rescue exercises and fleet reviews.
Many South Koreans still see Japan as a military threat however — even more so than China. According to a joint survey conducted by a South Korean think tank and a Japanese civic group, the Japan Times reports, “about 58.1 percent of South Koreans view Japan as a military threat, up from 46.3 percent the previous year, now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving to beef up postwar security policy.”
Iran in Iraq
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) military commander was killed fighting the Islamic State in Iraq’s Anbar province, according to the Long War Journal. Jassem Nouri was apparently killed on May 28 near Ramadi, making him the latest in a line of Iranian officers killed in Iraq and Syria. Previously, the IRGC announced the deaths of Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi in the Iraqi city of Samarra, and in January, “a Qods Force general was killed alongside five other Iranian officers and six Hezbollah fighters in an Israeli airstrike in southern Syria,” the site reports.
In other news, the Islamic State captured 2,300 U.S.-made Humvees when the Iraqi Army abandoned Mosul last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi admitted over the weekend.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are trying to downplay increased tensions over Syria. “Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is visiting Cairo for the first time since assuming his post, denied any reports of tension. ‘There is no disagreement,’ he told reporters,” according to ABC News.
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