News Roundup and Notes: November 14, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE

The UN Committee Against Torture questioned the Obama administration on compliance with the Convention Against Torture during Thursday’s session in Geneva. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage provides more details.

The American Psychological Association will carry out an independent review into its role in the Bush administration’s use of torture in the interrogation of terror suspects. [New York Times’ James Risen]

Outgoing Sen. Mark Udall is keeping “all options on the table” with respect to publicly releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation program. [The Hill’s Mark Trujillo]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Iraqi military has succeeded in pushing Islamic State militants out of Baiji, the key oil refinery town north of Baghdad. [BBC]

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have agreed on a plan in Syria to stop fighting each other, and instead focus on battling their opponents, including the Western-backed moderate rebel factions. [AP]

U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State’s “capital” in Syria, Raqqa, are dispersing militants and disrupting the brutal regime, but local residents view the strikes as compromising the limited stability in the city, reports Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for jihadi violence against Shi’ite Muslims and Saudi rulers, in a purported audio recording that follows conflicting reports that he was seriously wounded by an airstrike in northwestern Iraq. Baghdadi also accepted the pledge of alliance expressed by Egyptian militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, as well as those of smaller groups in Algeria, Libya, and Yemen. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick and Rick Gladstone]

The Islamic State’s ability to encrypt communications and avoid U.S. surveillance is the reason why the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has proven so hard to track and kill. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Noah Shachtman]

The Iraqi central government and the Kurdish Regional Government have reached a deal on oil exports and budget payments, ending the standoff which began earlier this year. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]

The U.K. has outlined its plan to deal with Islamic jihadists joining the fight in Syria. Suspected fighters will be prohibited from returning to the U.K. for a period of two years, unless they agree to stand trial, home detention, police monitoring or participate in a deradicalization course. Moreover, police will be granted greater powers to seize passports to prevent suspected jihadists from leaving the country. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]  Responses to the proposals have been mixed, with critics concerned that the measures will leave some people, in effect, “stateless.” [BBC]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the administration’s operations against the Islamic State at a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. Hagel cited progress in pushing the group back and stated that as the Iraqi military strengthens, so will the “tempo and intensity” of coalition airstrikes. Hagel’s comments followed strong censure from Committee chairman Buck McKeon, who criticized Obama’s “no-boots-on-the-ground” policy. [Politico’s Jeremy Herb]

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee that he would not foreclose the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to accompany their Iraqi counterparts on the complex stages of the fight against the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper et al]

Akbar Ahmed explores the “basic confusion about the nature of ISIS that is putting Washington in danger of failing yet again in the Middle East.” [Politico Magazine]

The “Yemen model” lauded by President Obama is a recipe for “disaster,” and the lessons which should have been learnt from Yemen ought to be applied in the fight against the Islamic State, argue Michael Shank and Casey Harrity [The Daily Beast]

The Economist argues that a limited UN ceasefire plan to gradually freeze battles across the country, starting with Aleppo, is unlikely to succeed.   

In order to resolve the Syrian conflict, “major powers backing both regime and opposition camps” must fundamentally change their entrenched and self-interested policies, argues Edward Dark. [The Guardian]

A French citizen was sentenced to seven years in prison for his involvement with a jihadist group in Syria, a significant ruling in French efforts to tackle the flow of citizens to the front lines in Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Stacy Meichtry]

Bosnian authorities have arrested 11 individuals suspected of fighting with Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, or of recruiting and fundraising for jihadist groups. [Reuters]

Matina Stevis has a special report on the Syrian refugee exodus into Europe. [Wall Street Journal]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The Justice Department is obtaining data from thousands of cellphones through the use of devices on airplanes that imitate cellphone towers. The program is intended to target criminal suspects, but information about innocent citizens is reportedly caught up in operations, according to Devlin Barrett in a report for the Wall Street Journal.

A cyberbreach that compromised the confidential files of thousands of DHS employees this year also compromised the data of workers at other federal agencies, according to a former senior DHS official. [AP]

The Washington Post editorial board calls on Congress to pass legislation to “shut the door to cyberthreats.”

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to face strong criticism from world leaders over Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian conflict at the G20 Summit in Australia this weekend. [Deutsche Welle]

Moscow and Kiev exchanged accusations of violating the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine yesterday, amid fresh shelling in Donetsk. Meanwhile, Western leaders indicated further “costs” for Russia’s “military escalation” of the conflict. [Reuters’ Thomas Grove and Natalia Zinets]

Vehicles reportedly used to transport soldiers killed in action have been observed crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border, OSCE monitors said on Thursday. [BBC]

The Washington Post editorial board considers Putin’s amplified “anti-Western propaganda,” warning that the Russian leader’s actions “can go some way toward recreating a Soviet-style grip on the information most Russian citizens consume.”

Russia intends to reduce its involvement in a joint effort with the U.S. to safeguard nuclear materials within its territory, a move likely to compromise decades of cooperation aimed at ensuring non-state actors do not obtain nuclear components. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians have pledged their “firm commitment” to “specific and practical actions” aimed at ameliorating tensions over the volatile holy sites in Jerusalem, according to Secretary of State John Kerry who spoke after meeting with leaders in Amman. The New York Times’ Rana F. Sweis and Isabel Kershner provide more details.

Israel has raised the age bar for Muslim men attending the al-Aqsa mosque compound, allowing men of all ages to attend the main weekly prayers for the first time in months. [Al Arabiya News]

Israel has erected concrete barriers next to light-rail stations in Jerusalem, in response to a number of fatal ramming incidences in recent weeks. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick and Nicholas Casey]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Department of Homeland Security has released a “damning report” reviewing recent security lapses in the Secret Service, concluding that a number of “performance, organizational, technical” and other failures allowed an intruder to breach the White House perimeter in September. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]  House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul called for an independent and comprehensive review of the Secret Service, stating he was introducing legislation to create an external advisory board. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will announce a plan to address the shortcomings of U.S. nuclear operations today, following two reviews carried out after incidents involving nuclear personnel. [Reuters]

Afghan militants attacked a convoy of vehicles owned by coalition forces twice yesterday using suicide bombers, the first such attack in almost a month, according to a coalition military spokesperson. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]  Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has “officially broken his first campaign promise” by failing to form a cabinet within 45 days of his inauguration, reports Rod Nordland. [New York Times]

Britain’s major Internet providers have agreed to host a public reporting button for terrorism related material online, and have committed to using filters to prevent children and youths from coming across radicalizing content. [The Guardian’s Peter Wintour]

The Nigerian military has recaptured two towns in the northeast of the country that had been seized this past month by Boko Haram militants. [Reuters]

Five security personnel were killed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula by militants  yesterday. [Al Jazeera]

Widespread extremism in the Middle East poses a growing threat in Asia, according to leaders meeting at the East Asia Summit in Myanmar yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Otto]

The Economist questions whether this week’s Russia-Iran deal to build nuclear reactors will help or hinder chances of reaching a nuclear accord with Iran by the Nov. 24 deadline.

Both the Sudanese government and rebels are under mounting pressure, particularly from the African Union, to fully engage in negotiations aimed at bringing peace to the war torn country. [New York Times’ Isma’il Kushkush]

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is sending a special envoy to Russia “soon,” according to state media. [Reuters]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security