NATIONAL SECURITY: With President Barack Obama scheduled today to end in some way the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of phone data, here’s a graphic on the number of terrorists actually thwarted by NSA surveillance—17. Obama claimed “at least 50 threats” had been averted when Edward Snowden first brought the extent of NSA surveillance to light.
An extensive report examining 225 terrorists charged with an act of terrorism since 9/11 finds “traditional investigative methods” were behind 60 percent of cases—including by implication methods used at Guantanamo and other facilities shunned by the Obama administration.
In a now-familiar pattern (Iraq timetable, Afghanistan troop levels, Syria intervention, Iran), Obama into Thursday evening was “still wrestling”—after a 6-month formal review process—with what to do and say in his speech today.
ISRAEL’S most persistent strong man, Ariel Sharon, died on Jan. 11, snatched from the limelight (and an assured victory) by a massive stroke on the eve of his reelection as prime minister in 2006. He had been in a coma ever since, largely forgotten despite his outsized role as a soldier, minister of defense, and political leader in modern Israel’s formation. Elliott Abrams to my view offers the most insightful perspective on Sharon, “a Jew whose job it was to protect the Jewish state.” Thomas Friedman, who first interviewed Sharon as a 16-year-old Minnesota high-school student, and went on to become the best-known New York Times Mideast bureau chief, is not to be missed—capturing the evolution of Sharon, the “founding father” of settlements, who later abandoned them and handed Gaza to the Palestinians. Sharon’s legacy of seizing the offensive is rarely seen today.
MALI: A bomb scare at a Christian school has reignited fears of a resurgent jihad led by Tuareg rebels, in an area French troops regained a year ago.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: A UN official is warning of genocide in Central African Republic without international intervention: “It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.”
A UN official also warns about the “level of hatred” in Central African Republic “between Muslims and Christians.” That’s a common misleading understanding of the conflict (we’ve seen the same thing in Nigeria and elsewhere), as Islamist rebels seized power in March 2012 and have been responsible for launching attacks on Christians there.
ISLAM: Alleged “Islamophobia” has been a controversial term, with the Organization of Islamic States long working in international forums to ban speech and activities deemed “anti-Muslim.” Mark Durie spoke today on the topic at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Watch a video of the event here.
EGYPT: With voter turnout exceptionally low, Egypt is awaiting official results on a referendum to approve a new draft constitution, which is expected to pass. The draft constitution gives important concessions to Christians—and had the support of Coptic Pope Tawadros, shown voting on the front page of The Wall Street Journal—but keeps Islamic law as the supreme law of the land, which has a way of generally ending progress toward religious freedom.
SOUTHEAST ASIA: Barbed wire traps, metal spears, and a wild boar hunt set the stage for sharing the gospel in the jungle.
NORTH KOREA: A professor with a degree in tuba, an American University senior with an apparently bottomless travel budget, and a Canadian who won an auction to play horse with retired NBA star Dennis Rodman are the triumvirate behind Rodman’s controversial tête-à-têtes with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Correction: Several readers were good to correct me on the religious makeup of Trinidad, mentioned in Wednesday’s column. According to the 2012 U.S. International Religious Freedom report, of 1.3 million people, the country is 21.6 percent Roman Catholic, 26.2 percent Protestant … and 18.2 percent Hindu—not majority Hindu as I reported. Of Hindus as an “unreached people group” in Trinidad and Tobago, fewer than 2 percent have become Christians—that’s where I got confused, through no fault of the still-recommended Operation World prayer guide.