Each week, NBN Politics recaps the top five news stories from the past week and brings you a look at the week ahead. Welcome to the Fast Five. For the first time ever this week, we actually only have five stories.
Karzai bans U.S. special forces
Afghan President Hamid Karzai accelerated the U.S. pullout this week by ordering American special forces out of the province of Maidan Wardak. The ban follows allegations that special forces have been responsible for the deaths and disappearances of civilians in the area. Aside from the negative effect this will have on U.S. relations with Afghanistan, the ban complicates the already-planned withdrawal of troops. In much of eastern Afghanistan, military forces were going to be reduced down to a purely advisory capacity, and special forces were expected to provide the majority of American offensive power. This new ban will undoubtedly cause problems for the Pentagon going forward.
Mandiant accuses China of backing hackers
Tensions continue to rise over the threat of Chinese hackers this week. American security company Mandiant released a report alleging that recent hacking attempts on American companies have come primarily from a group of highly-skilled hackers in China, and that the Chinese government is aware of their activities. The hackers are apparently part of a Chinese military group called Unit 61398, though it’s unclear what exactly the Chinese government or military hoped to gain through these attacks. The Chinese government, of course, has denied these allegations, claiming that Mandiant lacked sufficient technical evidence to justify their claims.
Study finds fish frequently mislabeled
A new report by conservation group Oceana alleges that a significant portion of all fish sold in the U.S. is mislabeled. This mislabeling has potentially dangerous health effects; high mercury-content fish like tilefish is sold as red snapper, which can lead to serious complications for pregnant women and other high-risk groups. Though some of this labeling is illegal, not all of it is. Patagonian toothfish, for instance, can be marketed as Chilean sea bass under FDA regulations, since consumers probably wouldn’t buy something called “toothfish”. Legislation on the issue is incoming, and should provide an interesting lesson on the relative power of the food lobby.
United States to put drone base in Niger
In a surprising bout of transparency, President Obama announced that the United States will be installing a drone base in Niger. Following through on his State of the Union promise to be more open about U.S. military operations, Obama told Congress that the base’s role would be to provide reconnaissance to French forces in Mali. He did not rule out a potential permanent base in Niger, or the possibility of weaponizing these drones in the future. The base is part of an increased focus on Africa in counterterrorism efforts, which may influence U.S. policy there for the next few years.
CNN reveals FBI disciplinary issues
There's no way to lead up to this that's funnier than the story itself: the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a sexting problem. Roughly 1,000 FBI employees have been disciplined for incidents including, but not limited to, “sexting, dating a drug dealer and visiting a massage parlor”. Between the misconduct of CIA director David Petraeus and the Secret Service’s prostitution problems, sex scandals are having quite a year in government agencies. One day, maybe people will learn to stop spilling the salacious details of their affairs on government-issued equipment.
The week ahead: the sequester
Months of anticipation and buildup will finally come to a head this week as America falls over the fiscal cliff. The sequester, a set of automatic spending cuts designed to force a budget compromise, was set to go into effect at the start of the year. Congress delayed it until the first of March, but still no compromise is emerging. Politicians already seem to be thinking past the sequester and on to the resulting PR fight, where Obama is expected to come out on top. The sequester could cause serious job losses and damage our GDP, or it might not. We'll know in about six months.