Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Syrian Intervention, Drone Transparency, and Surveillance Programs

by Micah Zenko
June 21, 2013

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on FBI FBI Director Robert Mueller meets with senators, including Dianne Feinstein, before the start of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing about the Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 19, 2013 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Nuclear Nonproliferation: IAEA Has Made Progress in Implementing Critical Programs but Continues to Face Challenges,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 16, 2013.

As of December 2011, IAEA reported that 1,209 nuclear facilities and other locations outside such facilities containing significant quantities of nuclear material were subject to safeguards activities.

(3PA: This is an excellent overview of the IAEA’s efforts at nuclear proliferation and security issues, including how much of its budget–and essential extra-budgetary resources–are provided by the United States. Read full report (PDF).)


State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Interview with Mike Rogers, Robert Menendez,” CNN, June 16, 2013.

Robert Menendez:…And the reality is we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them. And the president’s moving in the right direction. And to a large degree, this is about whether or not we exert American leadership with our allies abroad, both in the gulf region and in Europe. A lot of what we want to see done can be done through our allies if we direct them and tell them this is where we want to head. If Assad continues to have unlimited air power and artillery, that’s a hard battle to win against, you know, simple arms.


Josh Gerstein, “Feds won’t budge on public access to drone legal memos,” Politico, June 17, 2013.

The public has no right to examine classified Justice Department legal opinions on the so-called “targeted killing” of Americans and foreigners, even though President Barack Obama recently acknowledged that the U.S. used drones to kill alleged Al Qaeda operative Anwar Al-Awlaki, the Obama Administration argued in a legal brief filed Friday.

(3PA: Obama’s has repeatedly vowed that his administration will be “the most transparent administration in history”: http://atfp.co/10EQcIe.)


Julian R. Barnes and Geoffrey T. Smith, “Tensions Rise Over Syrian War Ahead of Summit,” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2013.

Responding, Mr. Putin repeated his characterization of Mr. Assad’s opponents as radicals who cover up their many atrocities. “You want to support these people? You want to supply arms to these people? This bears little relation to the humanitarian values that countries all across Europe have been propagating for hundreds of years,” Mr. Putin said following a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London.

He defended Russia’s supplies of arms to the country as “completely in line with international law,” inasmuch as Mr. Assad’s government is still internationally recognized as legitimate

“We need to tip the scales—not simply to nudge them,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a televised interview Sunday. “You can’t just simply send them a pea shooter against a blunderbuss.”


John Soltz and Sen. Tom Udall, “President Obama Has Three Questions to Answer on Arms to Syria,” Huffington Post, June 17, 2013.

A number of experts are warning that the options to intervene in Syria are misguided, and could prove damaging to America’s strategic interests….This rush to judgment is dangerous. We should learn from history, not repeat it.

Given this reality, President Obama must ask himself three questions: Is he absolutely convinced that arms can be reasonably accounted for and kept out of the hands of terrorist and extremist groups? Can he assure us that those arms will not become a threat to our regional allies and friends, including the government of Iraq? And if the answer to the two previous questions is no, then can he truly articulate why transferring our weapons to unorganized rebels, whose members may be affiliated with terrorist and extremist groups, is a sensible option for the American people?


Senators McCain, Levin and Menendez Send Letter to President Obama on Syria,” June 18, 2013.

The conflict in Syria is deteriorating so dramatically that providing arms to the opposition alone is unlikely to shift the military balance of power against Assad. We must also degrade Assad’s ability to use air power and ballistic missiles against civilian populations and opposition forces in Syria. Such actions could include the targeting of regime airfields, runways, and aircraft on the ground, which would also limit Assad’s ability to transport and resupply his ground forces and those of his allies by air. Finally, as part of this military effort, we encourage you to take steps to support the Syrian political and military opposition in creating and defending safe zones inside Syria where they can better organize and unify their efforts.


Lee-Anne Goodman,Peter MacKay in U.S. capital meeting with Chuck Hagel, John McCain,” The Canadian Press, June 18, 2013.

“There’s an old line about those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them,” McCain told reporters at the Canadian embassy in the U.S. capital.

“We, with air power, went in and stopped genocide from taking place in the very heart of Europe,” he said. “So everybody looks at the Afghanistan and Iraq examples, but there are other examples.”


Anita Jumar, “Secrets piling up faster than government can declassify some,” McClatchy, June 19, 2013.

In fiscal year 2011, about 2,400 employees classified documents and only hundreds declassified them, according to the most recent statistics available – which exclude the backlog – from the Information Security Oversight Office. They classified information 92 million times and declassified it only 27 million times. They spent more than $11 billion to classify documents at 41 agencies – more than double the amount a decade ago – and only $53 million on declassification.


Nour Malas, “Regime Erodes Hopes for Rebel Enclave in Syria’s North,” Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2013.

“A no-fighting zone down in the south and in the north could help, extending from the border to where many of the refugees are,” inside Syria, said a senior U.S. official who supports the idea.

We are looking for the best option with the least involvement,” the official said. “We have to be cautious about not allowing it to escalate.”


Sen. Patrick J. Leahy Holds Hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation Oversight, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, June 19, 2013.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone, and the very few regulations that are on it today and the booming industry of commercial drones. You mentioned that you use it for surveillance. What are the privacy structures on the use of drones by your agency today?

FBI Director Robert Mueller: Well, it’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability. I will have to go back and check in terms of what we keep, in terms of the images and the like. But it is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs and particularized cases. And that is the principal privacy limitations we have.

Feinstein: I would like to get that information. I think it would be helpful to us legislatively.

(3PA: Troubling that Feinstein notes Americans’ privacy concerns regarding drones, but them has never seen–or apparently requested–the FBI’s privacy limitations that exist to address those concerns.)

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    McCain: “We, with air power, went in and stopped genocide from taking place in the very heart of Europe.”

    Baloney. The break-up of Yugoslavia was done according to a US plan.

    This concocted business of “stopping massacres” has taken on a life of its own as an excuse for US imperialism.

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