News Roundup and Notes: January 16, 2015

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.

EUROPE’S TERROR THREAT

Belgium terror raid. Belgian counter-terrorist units foiled what was described as a “grand scale” terrorist plot during pre-emptive raids on suspected jihadists in the town of Verviers, close to the German border. A shootout during the raid killed two gunmen and wounded another. All three were Belgian nationals. The decision to launch the raid was made in light of surveillance of men thought to have recently returned home from Syria. [The Guardian’s Ian Traynor et al]

Belgian authorities have detained 15 people following Thursday’s raids across the country. [Reuters]

No formal link between the raid and the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris has been made, and investigations had begun before the Paris attacks, according to a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has raised the country’s terror threat level. [Deutsche Welle]

Some Muslim leaders in Belgium have warned that measures to crack down on homegrown Islamist violence “may actually worsen the problem,” reports Michael Birnbaum. [Washington Post]

French police arrest 12 over Paris attacks. Those arrested are suspected of providing “logistical support” to the gunmen in last week’s attacks. [France 24]

Secretary of State John Kerry began a day of high-level talks and commemorations in the French capital today. The visit is a “change to correct the United States government’s failure” to send a top official to the unity rally this past weekend, reports Michael R. Gordon. [New York Times]

French authorities have clamped down on speech supporting terrorism, this week sentencing two men accused of expressing support for the Charlie Hebdo attackers. The aggressive response has raised questions about a double standard for free speech, report Doreen Carvajal and Alan Cowell. [New York Times]

German police arrested two men in Berlin early today on suspicion of involvement with an Islamist group; one of the men was allegedly preparing to carry out an attack in Syria. [Deutsche Welle]

French and German leaders spoke to reassure Muslims of their place in European society, with both Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel calling for national unity as anti-Islamic sentiment increases in both countries following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s William Horobin and Andrea Thomas]

AQAP’s claim of responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks raises some questions; Gregory D. Johnsen puts forward five questions that need to be answered about the 11-minute video released on Wednesday. [BuzzFeed News]

The New York Times’ decision to grant anonymity to an AQAP source in a report on the Paris attacks has been criticized as “both mystifying and disgusting” by FBI Director James B. Comey, in a letter to the Times. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

President Obama’s absence at the Paris rally is “reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, calling on the president to reinvigorate the “dangerously stalled” war against al-Qaeda.

“[T]he European reaction … plays right into al-Qaeda’s hands,” by turning the Paris attacks into a “giant battle for civilization,” and placing Europe’s Muslims in a difficult situation, argues Amil Khan. [Politico Magazine]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Government and private companies are vulnerable to online attacks from foreign countries and criminal hackers because encryption tools are not being implemented fast enough, according to a 2009 U.S. cybersecurity report. The advice on encryption as the “best defense”—contained in the cache of Snowden documents—contrasts with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest pledge to crack down on the use of encryption by technology firms. [The Guardian’s James Ball]

The U.S. and U.K. will stage “war game” cyberattacks against each other, part of new joint efforts to counter online threats. [BBC]

“A concerted public-private effort” is required to build strong cybersecurity defenses, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

“No technological replacement exists” for bulk collection of data, but there are methods to carry out targeted collection more effectively and to “control the usage of collected data,” according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

Surveillance programs helped uncover the planned terror attack on the Capitol that surfaced this week, Speaker John Boehner said yesterday. [The Hill’s Scott Wong]

CIA-SENATE DISPUTE

CIA Director John Brennan’s decision to contact the White House Chief of Staff last year about the agency’s investigation into whether Senate staffers had breached security protocols sparked repeated warnings from a CIA lawyer, who said the contact could undermine any potential criminal investigation. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The clearing of CIA officers over allegations of improperly searching the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computer network by the agency panel provides “yet more evidence of Brennan’s extraordinary impunity,” argues Dan Froomkin. [The Intercept]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Pentagon rule requiring military judges to relocate to Guantanamo for the period of their trials is causing further complications. The defense lawyer for an airman awaiting a death penalty trial in Georgia has asked the judge to step down, on the basis that his role in the al Nashiri pretrial hearings at Guantanamo creates conflicting priorities. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Lawmakers should prevent the release of more detainees from Guantanamo, House Armed Services Committee chair Mac Thornberry said yesterday, citing the dangers of re-engagement by the prisoners. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The prison is “a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, makes us less safe and runs contrary to our values,” argues Rep. Jackie Speier in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syria peace talks. The UN will resume talks with the Syrian government next week with the aim of achieving a ceasefire around the city of Aleppo. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

The U.S. will deploy 400 troops to assist in training moderate Syrian rebels for the fight against the Islamic State; the training will likely begin in the spring in locations outside of Syria possibly including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, said Pentagon spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren. [Reuters]

The U.S. Central Command hack this week is a “different kind of terrorist attack altogether: doxing.” Eli Lake and Josh Rogin explain the practice which has been used to “sow terror among men and women in uniform.” [Bloomberg View]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and Coalition nations conducted 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 14. Separately, U.S. and Coalition forces carried out a further 11 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Two Italian female aid workers held hostage by the Nusra Front in Syria have been released and are on route home, according to the Italian government. [New York Times’s Gaia Pianigiani and Rick Gladstone]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The so-called “Quartet” diplomatic group will meet in Brussels on Jan. 26 to discuss a way forward in the “increasingly intractable looking conflict” between Israel and Palestine, reports Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]  Addressing the Security Council on the situation yesterday, a UN spokesperson expressed concern that the two parties “are now engaged in a downward spiral of actions and counter-actions.” [UN News Centre]

Israeli military officials have warned against taking punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority, such as asset freezes, citing the risk of jeopardizing security coordination with Ramallah. [Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome]

The Hezbollah leader confirmed reports of an infiltration of the group by an Israeli spy yesterday, but he sought to downplay the incident describing media reports on the issue as “very exaggerated.” [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

IRAN

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Jawad Zarif will meet for talks on Iran’s nuclear policy today in Paris. [Reuters]

“Sharp words” were exchanged between President Obama and Senator Robert Menendez yesterday over the imposition of new sanctions on Iran while the administration is negotiating a nuclear deal with Tehran, reports Michael D. Shear. [New York Times]

A nuclear accord with Iran will not be linked to the release of U.S. prisoners held in the country, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, emphasizing that they “are priorities nonetheless.” [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The shortage in drone pilots is being addressed through interim measures, including greater pay incentives and bringing in more National Guard and Reserve pilots onto active duty, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said yesterday. [AP’s Lolita C. Baldor]

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified in the CIA leak trial of former agency officer Jeffrey Sterling on Thursday. Politico’s Josh Gerstein provides more details.

Force is required in the fight against radical Islam, and crucial to defeating the ideology is a “global alliance to teach tolerance” to millions in the Muslim world, said former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking at a closed-door Republican strategy session in Pennsylvania. [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts]

Americans are prioritizing the fight against terrorism as much as the improvement of the economy for the first time in five years, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

The shift to a consolidated POW/MIA accounting agency is drawing skepticism from many groups, including former employees of the separate offices, who say the new plan is unlikely to address many of the major problems. [Stars and Stripes’ Matthew M. Burke]

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan visited north-east Nigeria, following mass killings by Boko Haram, marking the president’s first visit to the region since March 2013. [BBC]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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