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Early Bird

Judge Rules Against NSA Phone Data Program, Jeh Johnson Confirmed, Obama Meets Tech Giants

December 17, 2013

By Sara Sorcher (@SaraSorcherNJ), Jordain Carney (@jordainc), and Stacy Kaper (@KaperSLK)

Welcome to NJ's Early Bird, a morning assembly of the best national security, defense, and foreign policy coverage from around the Web. Get this by forward? Click here to sign up directly. To contact us, send email to

Federal Judge Rules Against NSA Phone Data Program
(The New York Times: Charlie Savage)
"Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many," former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said.


Report: Snowden Would Help Brazil if Given Asylum
(Associated Press: Bradley Brooks)
National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wrote in "an open letter to the Brazilian people" that he would be willing to help Brazil's government investigate U.S. spying on its soil.

Senate Confirms Jeh Johnson as DHS Secretary
(ABC News: Arlette Saenz)
The Senate voted 78 to 16 to confirm Johnson, a former Pentagon lawyer, to the top post at the Department of Homeland Security.

Obama to Meet With Tech Giants Over Surveillance, Obamacare
(The Wall Street Journal: Jared Favole)
President Obama, facing growing pressure from Silicon Valley, will meet today with executives from Google, Facebook, and other technology and telecommunications giants to discuss their concerns about America's surveillance operations.

U.S. Officials 'Might' Meet Syria's Islamist Fighters
U.S. officials may meet commanders from Syria's Islamic Front this week, the State Department said.

Kerry Downplays Dispute With China in East China Sea
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday the United States would speak out when countries "raised the temperature" through unilateral actions in territorial disputes


Judge's Word on NSA Program Won't Be the Last
(Associated Press: Frederic Frommer)
A federal judge made headlines Monday by declaring that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records is likely unconstitutional.

White House Rejects Amnesty for Edward Snowden
The White House has ruled out the idea of an amnesty for fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Q&A: What Does Monday's NSA Ruling Mean?
(The Wall Street Journal: Peter Landers)
Here are answers to key questions on the ruling.

An NSA Coworker Remembers the Real Edward Snowden: 'A Genius Among Geniuses'
(Forbes: Andy Greenberg)
Perhaps Snowden's hoodie should have raised suspicions.

Darpa Cracks Radio Incompatibility Problem Once and for All
(Wired: Allen McDuffee)
After more than 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon's research group has announced a new system that could help U.S. troops and multinational forces communicate.


U.N.: Syria Peace Talks to Begin Jan. 22 in Montreux
(Associated Press)
The United Nations says the opening of a Syria peace conference planned for next month has been moved from Geneva to the Swiss city of Montreux.

Russian Navy Ready to Escort Syrian Chemical Weapons: Lavrov
Russia said Monday its navy was ready to escort ships removing Syria's deadly chemical stockpile, which is due to be destroyed at sea under an international deal.

Chemical Weapons Watchdog Meets to OK Syria Plan
(Associated Press)
The global chemical weapons watchdog is meeting to approve a definitive plan for ridding Syria of its declared stockpile of toxic chemicals in just over six months.

Cease-Fire Needed for Political Talks on Syria to Begin: U.N.
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition fighting to oust him are scheduled to meet with peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Switzerland on Jan. 22.

Russia: Aug. 21 Syria Chemical Attack Was 'Staged'
(Associated Press)
Russia is lashing out at the U.S. and its allies on the United Nations Security Council.

U.N. Launches Record $6.5-Billion Aid Appeal for Syria
(Associated Press: Barbara Surk, John Heilprin)
Aid agencies are seeking donations from governments, private organizations, and individuals.

Syria's Saudi Jihadist Problem
(The Daily Beast: Jamie Dettmer)
Saudi Arabia is playing a dangerous double game—turning a blind eye to the jihadists flocking from Riyadh to Syria while assuring the West of its commitment to fighting terror.


Israel and Lebanon Try to Defuse Tensions After Cross-Border Shooting
(The New York Times: Isabel Kershner)
A cross-border shooting that killed an Israeli soldier and subsequent fire from Israeli forces may have hit a soldier on the Lebanese side.

Morsi Supporters to Boycott Egypt Constitution Vote
(The Lebanon Daily Star: Samer al-Atrush)
The Anti-Coup Alliance led by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement had initially considered calling on its supporters to vote against the constitution.


Inhofe, McCain Lobby GOP on Defense Bill
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
The top two Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee are urging their colleagues to put aside any ill will toward Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Cuts for Military Retirees Costing GOP Support for Budget Deal
(The Washington Post: Josh Hicks)
GOP lawmakers and military groups have lined up against the bipartisan budget deal making its way through Congress because of a provision that would trim pay for young military retirees.

Reform of Military Retiree Benefits Is a Hard Job for Federal Lawmakers
(The Washington Post: Walter Pincus)
Not all military retirees fought in combat, but as a group they certainly know how to attack any legislative plan that cuts into their pensions.

Tea Party Criticism of Budget Plan Puts GOP in Tough Position
(Defense News: John Bennett)
Tea party organizations are hammering a sequestration-easing bipartisan budget deal that sailed through the House last week, putting pressure on a handful of Republicans facing re-election next November.

Budget Pact Moves Closer to Senate Passage
(The Wall Street Journal: Janet Hook, Kristina Peterson)
A two-year budget agreement is moving within reach of Senate passage, as Republican opposition ebbed Monday and the bill seemed likely to clear a pivotal procedural vote.


Kerry, Zarif Spoke Last Week After Fresh Iran-Related Sanctions
The U.S. and Iranian foreign ministers last week discussed the importance of carrying out the Nov. 24 Iran nuclear deal after Washington blacklisted 19 companies, people, and vessels for dealing with Tehran.

Q&A With Mohammad Javad Zarif
(The Washington Post: David Ignatius)
Iran's foreign minister says negotiations aren't dead, but have hit a snag.

E.U. to Ease Sanctions as Soon as Iran Curbs Nuclear Work
No date has been set for the deal between six world powers and Iran to take effect, and talks on implementing it ran into trouble last week.

U.K.'s Hague Says Western Powers to Stay Vigilant on Iran Sanctions
(The Wall Street Journal: Laurence Norman)
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said there would likely be "difficult negotiations" with Iran in coming weeks over the implementation of last month's deal.

White House Consults Israel Over Iran Nuclear Deal
(The Hill: Rebecca Shabad)
Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, met with Israeli officials at the White House last week to discuss the interim deal reached over Iran's nuclear program.


Family: Make Iran Talks Contingent on Levinson Aid
(Associated Press: Matt Apuzzo)
A layer for the family called on the U.S. government to "raise the ante."

Iran Nabbed CIA Asset Levinson, Says Witness
(Christian Science Monitor: Scott Peterson)
Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive who lives in Iran, saw Iranian police detain Robert Levinson in 2007, despite official Iranian denials.


Pentagon's Sexual-Assault Prevention Chief Steps Down
(USA Today: Tom Vanden Brook)
Patton's retirement comes at the end of a tough year for the Pentagon with sexual assaults.

DOD Ends Fiscal 2013 With $65.4 Billion in Unobligated Funds, Well Below Forecast
(Inside Defense)
The Defense Department ended fiscal 2013 with a total of $65.4 billion in unobligated funds from prior years, according to new Pentagon figures, 30 percent less than the White House Office of Management and Budget forecast in April.

Here's How the Military Wasted Your Money in 2013
(War Is Boring: Matthew Gault)
Billions of dollars worth of unneeded tanks, faulty ships and redundant rifles.

Hagel Video Chats Russia Amid Missile Moves
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held his first video teleconference with the Russian defense minister on Monday as Russia was moving long-range missiles to the Russian-European border.


U.S. Troops Exposed to Afghan Burn Pits After $5.4 Million Incinerators Fail
(Government Executive: Charles Clark)
As U.S. diplomats wrangle with the Afghan government over terms of troop departures, auditors have reported $5.4 million spent on incinerators that have never been used.


DOD Downplays South China Sea Incident Involving USS Cowpens and Chinese Warship
(Stars and Stripes: Jon Harper)
The Defense Department on Monday sought to downplay a recent near-collision of a Chinese warship and the USS Cowpens in the South China Sea.

Kerry Seeks to Boost U.S. Ties With Vietnam, but Presses on Human Rights
(The Wall Street Journal: Vu Trong Khanh)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged Monday to boost trade and security ties with Vietnam while urging the Southeast Asian country to make more progress on human-rights issues.

China Needs Western Help for Nuclear Export Ambitions
(Reuters: David Stanway)
China has the world's largest nuclear building program at home and hopes to leverage this into a nuclear export industry.

These Five Ships Are the Real Future of the Chinese Navy
(War Is Boring: Kyle Mizokami)
The Chinese navy has undergone an unprecedented buildup over the last decade.


U.S. Sends Two Guantanamo Bay Detainees to Saudi Arabia
(Associated Press)
U.S. officials say the two Saudis have been transferred to the custody of their own government after a security review.


U.S. Considering Request to Train Libyan Forces
(USA Today: Jim Michaels)
Libya's government and military are plagued by problems with armed militias and Islamic extremists.

U.N. Security Council Shows 'Grave Concern' on Libya
(Associated Press)
The council approved a nonbinding presidential statement Monday that "stresses the urgent need to strengthen military and police institutions."

More U.S. Assets Heading Into Africa
(The Hill: Carlo Muñoz)
The Pentagon is accelerating its support mission for a French-led peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, sending additional aircraft and equipment into the beleaguered African nation.


Lockheed to Wind Down 2013 With 36 F-35 Deliveries, if Weather Permits
(Inside Defense)
Joint Strike Fighter prime contractor Lockheed Martin is close to its projected plan to deliver 36 F-35 aircraft to multiple services and international customers in calendar year 2013.

Google Buys Pentagon's Robotics Lab
(Defense Tech: Mike Hoffman)
Google has acquired the robotics company that the Pentagon typically leans on to develop next-generation robots doing everything from carrying troops' gear to searching for IEDs.

Japan to Buy Ospreys, Global Hawks
(Stars and Stripes: Seth Robson)
The decision is part of a wider effort by Japan to counter China's military build-up.


Homeland Security Inspector General Who Was Under Probe Steps Down
(The Washington Post: Carol Leonnig)
An acting inspector general who was himself under investigation for allegations he misused his office and softened reports to keep from embarrassing the Obama administration stepped down from his job late Monday.


Fate of Air Base in Mansfield, Ohio, Reflects Larger Battle Between Active Duty, Reserves
(The Washington Post: Rajiv Chandrasekaran)
As shrinking budgets force the military to thin its ranks, many active-duty leaders, seeking to protect their ilk, want the pain to fall disproportionately on National Guard and reserve forces.

Endangered Species: 'Warthog' Faces Extinction as Air Force Eyes Pacific
(Washington Times: Kristina Wong)
The Air Force's A-10 "Warthog," which provides close air support for ground troops, is about to be downed by the budget cutter's pen.

Is the Air Force's Combat Rescue Helicopter Left for Dead?
(Foreign Policy: Dan Lamothe)
The pushback on the proposed cancellation of the Air Force helicopters has put the service in a tough position.

Leaders Push Involuntary Exits to Trim Force by 1,900
(Air Force Times: Stephen Losey)
The most sweeping force cuts since the end of the Cold War have begun.


Both Male and Female Marines Will Have to Wear Male Cap by 2017
(Washington Free Beacon)
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos approved a recommendation by the Marines' Uniform Board to adopt the male service and dress frame cap as the cap for all Marines.


U.S. Navy Helicopter Crashes South of Yokosuka
(Stars and Stripes: Erik Slavin)
A U.S. Navy Knighthawk helicopter crash landed in an empty area of reclaimed land about 10 miles southwest of Yokosuka Naval Base, officials said Monday afternoon.

Soldiers to Stay on Navy Ships for Pacific Exercises
(Navy Times: Meghann Myers)
Sailors working in the Pacific can expect to bunk with Army helicopter crews soon, if all goes according to plan.


Army Truck Shoots Drones, Mortars With Lasers
(Popular Science: Kelsey Atherton)
Laser defense might be the biggest thing since gunpowder.

Lawmakers Fence Off Ground Combat Vehicle Funds Pending Army Report
(Inside Defense)
The fiscal 2014 defense authorization would restrict funding for the Ground Combat Vehicle until the Army submits a full assessment of the program as well another report on the service's efforts to assess the combat vehicle industrial base.


Survey Aimed at Understanding Veterans' First Civilian Jobs
(Stars and Stripes: Leo Shane III)
Veterans unemployment has dropped steadily over the last two years, but no one knows whether the jobs they are finding are any good.

Pension Poachers' Profit off Benefits Meant for Elderly Veterans, Widows
(Cronkite News Service: Chad Garland)
Business is booming in a multibillion-dollar government program that offers modest pensions to America's neediest elderly wartime veterans—and that's not necessarily a good thing.

V.A. Eases Rules for Claims on Some TBI-Related Health Problems
(Stars and Stripes: Leo Shane III)
Veterans Affairs officials are easing disability filing rules for brain-injured veterans with additional combat complications like depression, dementia, or Parkinson's disease.


State of Deception
(The New Yorker: Ryan Lizza)
Why won't the president rein in the intelligence community?

Cool War Rising
(Foreign Policy: James Stavridis)
With Washington and Moscow caught in a deteriorating relationship, is conflict inevitable?

100 Most Influential People in Defense
(Defense News)
The Defense News 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense is back.

Testing a U.S. 'Empathy Deficit' in Syria
(Christian Science Monitor)
With the U.N. making a record appeal for aid as refugee flows escalate, U.S. empathy will be tested again.

Power or Persuasion: More Sanctions or Bombs for Iran?
(Defense One: James Kitfield)
Sanctions and the threat of military action to thwart Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions are often presented as "either/or" options, but they are mutually reinforcing up until the moment that diplomacy fails.

The Most Notable Global Stories of 2013
(The Atlantic: Moisés Naím)
From North America's energy boom to the international crusade against inequality, the developments that will matter for years to come.


A Powerful Rebuke of Government Surveillance
(The New York Times)
At last, a federal judge reviews and rules against the National Security Agency's phone-data collection program.

The NSA Must Disclose More to Make Its Case
(The Washington Post)
The practice, disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, demands extensive checks to guard against misuse.

Disarming Surveillance
(The Wall Street Journal)
Mr. Obama's own commission wants to introduce more obstacles to the surveillance that is America's main remaining advantage over terror networks.

(Politico: Matthew Aid)
How a toothless bureaucratic commission went all Snowden on the NSA.

NSA Goes on '60 Minutes': The Definitive Facts Behind CBS's Flawed Report
(The Guardian: Spencer Ackerman)
Our take on five things the spy agency would like the public to believe about its vast surveillance powers.

The Truth About the NSA's Bogus Malware Apocalypse
(The Verge: Russell Brandom)
Keith Alexander says China's BIOS virus could bring down the U.S. economy—but could it?

A Question for '60 Minutes': Why Would China Want to Destroy the Global Economy?
(The Atlantic: Conor Friedersdorf)
The CBS program implies that Asia's biggest country has the intention and ability to damage every computer on earth.

National Journal's Early Bird is not produced by or officially sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was created to serve the defense community upon U.S. DoD's announcement, on Nov 1, 2013, of its decision to discontinue the much-beloved Early Bird news report.

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