News Brief: Senate Panel Hearing, Iraq Aid Conference
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What are the biggest threats to American national security? Today a Senate committee examines threats from outside as well as some problems within.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The hearing arrives at a difficult time for U.S. intelligence agencies. The CIA has lost sources overseas. The National Security Agency, the NSA, had some of its hacking tools stolen by hackers. And the FBI is being investigated by some of President Trump's allies in Congress. So what can we learn from this hearing today?
INSKEEP: NPR political reporter Tim Mak is going to be paying attention throughout the day. He's in our studios.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Who are you going to hear from?
MAK: Well - so the heads of some of the agencies you mentioned are going to be at the hearing but also a few others that don't get so much attention normally, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats for example. He's kept a really low profile...
MAK: ...Since he's been in his job. People don't see him in public very frequently at all, but he's obviously extremely important and very close with the president. He meets with the president frequently, and so does CIA Director Mike Pompeo who's going to be at this hearing. Leaders of the Defense Intelligence Agency - they monitor foreign militaries - and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which deals with maps and satellite capabilities - they're going to be at the hearing. And that suggests a lot of discussion could be about North Korea...
MAK: ...Which is going to be - there are going to be a lot of questions about its nuclear ambitions and its capabilities.
INSKEEP: Oh, I suppose if you're the geospatial agency, you'd want to know exactly where nuclear facilities - to the meter if you can do it - are in North Korea, that sort of thing.
INSKEEP: So what else might come up?
MAK: OK. So this is an annual hearing. It's about worldwide threats. So they hold this every year in the Senate intelligence capability. It's a big show. They're going to be probably talking about typical topics you'd expect - Iran, North Korea, al-Qaida, ISIS. But they're also going to be talking about things like espionage from countries like China and Russia and probably the danger that we might be facing from further Russian intervention about upcoming elections.
There's also a lot of trouble happening in the intelligence agencies right now. As you mentioned, we had big scandals that senators are going to ask about, such as the NSA's most powerful tools leaking out onto the Web. We have a big controversy over a former CIA operative leaking the names of spies to China. We have privacy advocates, like Senator Wyden, that are probably going to be asking about surveillance that the NRA is - that the NSA is doing and basically how we can rein in some of the surveillance, if that's what some of the senators want.
INSKEEP: So you mentioned Russian interference in the 2016 election. Let's be frank. The FBI counts as an intelligence agency. The FBI is investigating that interference, has been prosecuting people around President Trump and faces allegations that it's been politicized. When you talk with people in the intelligence community, how much pressure are they under at this moment from the president's allies?
MAK: I think the rank and file in the FBI and in the intelligence community - they feel a lot of pressure to do things by the book. They want to take their agencies out of this time of crisis. These attacks, they're meant to delegitimize what the FBI may find ultimately. They're not done to attack these agencies per se. They're meant for a political purpose, in case they find something in the future.
INSKEEP: But how do you do one without the other? I mean, that's - they're the same thing, aren't they?
MAK: Well, they just have to keep going on. The FBI is committed - they say they're committed to doing it by the book.
MARTIN: And watch Dan Coats today. I mean, he - so far - has been able to skirt the issue of the president's attacks on the intelligence community. He is the head of the IC, the intelligence community, so he's going to be pressed on that today.
INSKEEP: There you go. NPR's Tim Mak, thanks very much.
MAK: Thank you.
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INSKEEP: An Israeli military court holds a trial today, and the defendant is a 17-year-old Palestinian, a young woman. We'll go on to another topic here, actually. The United States faces a request for help in nation building - again.
MARTIN: Maybe that means it's nation rebuilding since it's happening so much. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends a conference in Kuwait today. Iraqi officials want a commitment for rebuilding after the campaign to drive out ISIS. And while U.S. airstrikes were critical in this war, it isn't clear how big of an investment the U.S. is ready to make in this whole thing.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf has been viewing the destruction in Iraq, and she's on the line.
Hi there, Jane.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So how's this conference going?
ARRAF: Well, Iraq has told donors it will need $23 billion for starters. And that's just in the short term to repair the damage from the fighting. So anyone watching this and listening to this is kind of staggered by these figures. There are more than 2.5 million people still displaced, almost 150,000 homes damaged or destroyed. In Mosul, which is Iraq's second-biggest city, 750,000 kids don't have health care. And you know what? As bad as that sounds, it's even worse on the ground.
INSKEEP: What's it look like in a city like Mosul, which was fought over so fiercely?
ARRAF: So I was there a few days ago, and it is devastated, and it's devastating. In that oldest section of the city where ISIS was finally defeated, most of the neighborhoods have literally every house either damaged (inaudible), no water. And the worst thing is there's almost no help for these people. I was surrounded by people who had been waiting - a lot of them widows, older men - and they had been coming every day and waiting for one of the aid groups that had come to register some of them a few days before for assistance.
So they took me into their homes where people were still finding the bones of ISIS fighters in their houses, like seven months later. They took me down alleys where there were still unexploded bombs. And they were saying, look, we can do a lot of the rebuilding ourselves. We just need a little bit of help.
INSKEEP: I guess we have sound of one of these people.
MANHAL ZAIDAN: (Through interpreter) They haven't even cleared the streets so that people can come back to their houses. Where are all these countries that were so brave about destroying? They destroy so quickly, and there's no rebuilding.
ARRAF: So that's a guy named Manhal Zaidan (ph). His daughter and two of his sisters were killed. And that's the thing about almost all of these people. Almost all of them have lost relatives. In part from that incredible loss of life, they've come back. And nobody's helping them. And it's safe now, but the worry is that with no jobs and no hope and the feeling that the government doesn't care about them, it could be a breeding ground for a new version of ISIS.
INSKEEP: Jane - can I just ask? - this as a country obviously devastated by years and years of war, but it's also, in its way, an oil-rich nation. Does Iraq just not have the money to help people?
ARRAF: That is such a great question. It's up there along with, why is there no electricity 15 years later? Iraq has, potentially, money. It has oil revenue. Oil prices are back up. But Iraq has a lot of problems. And one of the problems, we have to be honest - it is one of the world's most corrupt countries by any measure. But also, all of these years of fighting and the invasion have left it fragmented.
So the U.S. is trying to get companies to pitch in and help. It says, we're not going to put up a lot of money. But here's some American companies, and they can invest. But as you can imagine, that's kind of a tough sell for American companies. And they've been down that road before.
ARRAF: And in many ways, it's a much tougher climate now.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf, thanks very much.
ARRAF: Thanks, Steve.
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INSKEEP: All right, there's a high-profile trial in an Israeli military court today. The defendant is a 17-year-old, a young Palestinian woman. The case stems from a video filmed in December.
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AHED TAMIMI: (Screaming in foreign language).
MARTIN: In the video, this girl, Ahed Tamimi, slaps and punches two Israeli soldiers outside her house in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The soldiers shrugged it off. But when her mother posted the video online, it went viral. Many Israelis then demanded a response, and Israeli troops arrested her. She has been in jail ever since.
INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is at the military court in the West Bank. He joins us now.
Hey there, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.
INSKEEP: What more do you know about the young woman?
ESTRIN: Ahed Tamimi just turned 17. She's one of several hundred Palestinian kids detained in Israeli jails each year. Her father is a prominent leader of protests against the Israeli military. And he told me that what she did was a natural reaction to what she's grown up with - violence, relatives jailed and killed, and life under Israeli military occupation.
INSKEEP: But if the Israeli soldiers, at the time, were not really that affected by her protest against them, why would the government later arrest her?
ESTRIN: Well, you know, that's a good question. The Israeli military has charged her on 12 counts of assaulting soldiers...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking unintelligibly).
ESTRIN: ...Also throwing stones at troops in previous instances. This is the sound you're hearing here of the Israeli military court, you know, on a very crackly phone...
ESTRIN: ...Or a crackly...
INSKEEP: Making announcements.
ESTRIN: ...Announcement. Right. But, you know, one of the reasons that an Israeli lawmaker told me that this arrest happened was that this was an important arrest for the Israeli public. He said, you know, military service here is mandatory. So when Israelis saw the footage of the two soldiers being harassed and hit, for Israelis, it was like watching their own children being hit. So you know, that couldn't go unanswered.
INSKEEP: Suppose Ahed Tamimi is convicted. What kind of penalty could she face?
ESTRIN: She could face several months in jail, maybe longer. And we're going to have to wait and see. This is just the very start of her trial. And the judge ordered a large crowd of journalists here to leave the courtroom today. He declared the trial be behind closed doors. The Israeli lawyer says she's arguing in court that this trial is just trying to deter young Palestinians from protesting.
INSKEEP: Daniel, thank you very much.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin.
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