News Roundup and Notes: January 20, 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.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

GCHQ scooped up emails to and from journalists from leading media organizations—including the New York Times and Washington Post—which were saved and shared on the British spy agency’s network as part of a test exercise in November 2008. The cache of documents provided by Edward Snowden also reveals that a GCHQ security assessment had listed “investigative journalists” as a threat alongside hackers and terrorists. [The Guardian’s James Ball]

The NSA is taking the lead in preparing for future digital wars, with mass internet surveillance only “Phase 0” in the digital war strategy, according to secret documents from Edward Snowden. [Der Spiegel’s Jacob Appelbaum et al]

The NSA has infiltrated North Korea’s computer networks since 2010, enabling American officials to authoritatively blame the country for the Sony cyberattack, according to a New York Times report. David E. Sanger and Martin Fackler note that the extensive breach of the North Korean system raises questions about why the government did not warn Sony about a possible attack.

Congressional staffers are committing “basic cybersecurity mistakes that attackers can exploit to do harm,” reports Tal Kopan, based on a series of interviews carried out by Politico.

IRAQ and SYRIA

An Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sunday killed six Hezbollah members, including one of the group’s commanders and Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the group’s late military leader. [Reuters’ Mariam Karouny and Laila Bassam]  The strike also reportedly killed a general in Iran’s elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards force, Brig. Gen. Muhammad Ali Allahdadi. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick and Dana Ballout]  Reza HaghighatNejad profiles Jihad Mughniyeh, “Iran’s favorite (terrorist) son” at Iran Wire.

The risk of a retaliatory attack is high following the killings, as thousands of Hezbollah supporters gathered on Monday for the funeral of Mughniyeh in Beirut. [Haaretz’s Tom Perry]  A Hezbollah official said the group’s response to Israel will be harsh and carefully chosen, during an interview with Lebanese media. The official added that Israel had used the strike to boost the morale of jihadists fighting the Assad regime in Syria. [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury]

The Islamic State has threated to kill two Japanese hostages in a newly released video, demanding $200 million in 72 hours to ensure their release. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to save the men, but did not say whether the ransom would be paid. [AP’s Jon Gambrell and Mari Yamaguchi]

U.S. support for two diplomatic initiatives in Syria indicates “shifting views” on how to end the country’s civil war and the “quiet retreat” from demands that President Bashar al-Assad step down, write Anne Bernard and Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

Canada’s special forces currently deployed in Iraq have exchanged fire with Islamic State militants. A Lieutenant-General yesterday said that troops “neutralized” incoming mortar and machine gun fire, but that the action was taken in self-defense, stating that this does not mean Canada has begun a combat mission. [National Post’s John Ivison]

As many as 1,000 U.S. trainers and support personnel may be involved in the Pentagon’s program to train moderate Syrian rebels, the department said Friday. [AP]  U.S. senators, in a delegation led by John McCain, have met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and Qatar’s emir, as part of a tour focused on the training of moderate Syrian rebels. [AP]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces conducted 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sunday. Separately, U.S. and Coalition forces carried out a further 11 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

EUROPE’S TERROR THREAT

Four men are facing preliminary charges in France following their arrest on suspicion of connection to one of the gunmen involved in this month’s terror attacks in the capital. Five other people, detained last week in relation to the investigation, were released overnight. [France 24]

“From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France.” Rukmini Callimachi and Jim Yardley offer a detailed analysis of the Kouachi brothers’ path to the Charlie Hebdo attack. [New York Times]

EU foreign ministers discussed strategies to improve counterterrorism links with the Middle East and North Africa yesterday; ideas included greater intelligence sharing and accelerating plans to stem the flow of foreign fighters to and from Iraq and Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Naftali Bendavid

Police searched 12 apartments in and around Berlin as well as in the eastern state of Thuringia. Around 200 police officers, in addition to special forces, were involved in the anti-terror raids. [Deutsche Welle]

Terror suspects are “exploiting the ease of travel” within continental Europe, managing to move militants, cash, and weapons across the EU bloc without drawing attention. [Wall Street Journal’s Stacy Meichtry et al]

An online magazine, released by AQAP, has been downloaded 55,000 times from British IP addresses over the past three months, and is being read by 4,000 Britons per week, according to a report. The terrorist content of the magazine includes instructions on how to build a bomb and urges an attack on the U.K. [International Business Times’ Ewan Palmer]

How has Belgium become Europe’s hub of jihadist recruitment? Michael Birnbaum explains the “consequences of what critics call decades of ineffectiveness in integrating immigrants.” [Washington Post]

A French court upheld a ban on an “Islamists out of France” rally planned for yesterday, citing fears of civil unrest. [Jurist’s Emelina Perez]

Widespread protests took place in Chechnya yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of protestors joined the rally to oppose the Charlie Hebdo depictions of the prophet Muhammed, reports Anna Nemtsova. [The Daily Beast]  And at least 10 people have been killed and 45 churches set alight in Niger, also during protests of the cartoons. [BBC]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel is lobbying members of the ICC to cut funding to the court, in response to the decision to launch an inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestinian territory. Experts do not expect the lobbying move to result in significant cuts, report Thomas Escritt and Dan Williams. [Reuters]

The EU will challenge court decision on Hamas. The EU’s General Court decided in December to strike Hamas off the region’s terror list, citing an absence of properly examined evidence. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

IRAN

The P5+1 and Iran made slow progress on furthering nuclear negotiations in Geneva last week, although an Iranian diplomat said the parties were “moving in the right direction.” [Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen]  Talks will resume at the senior official level in early February. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

Supporters of new Iran sanctions legislation are confident they can secure the required Senate votes needed to override President Obama’s threatened veto. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  The Washington Post editorial board questions the president’s logic on the Iran sanctions bill, noting that new sanctions would only take effect if Iran fails to accept an agreement by the deadline set by the parties.

NIGERIA

Central African countries have been urged by the UN Security Council to boost multinational efforts to counter Boko Haram, which has stepped up violent attacks and cross-border assaults in recent weeks. [Al Jazeera]

More than 20 captives have been freed after suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped around 80 people during a cross-border attack in Cameroon. [Reuters]

A briefing on Boko Haram from The Guardian’s Mark Tran documents the group’s goals and increasing strengths.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Dutch court has blocked the extradition to the U.S. of a man accused of having fought U.S. troops in Afghanistan, citing concerns over the possibility of CIA torture during the man’s arrest in Pakistan. [Reuters]

The memoir of current Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi, detailing how he endured torture and humiliation, is being published this week following a six-year battle over declassification. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman and Ian Cobain]

The Justice Department has retreated from its previous assaults on press freedom; Lynn Oberlander covers Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement last week on the department’s revised media guidelines, governing when information about journalists’ sources can be sought. [The Intercept]

Fighting in eastern Ukraine intensified over the weekend. Kiev accused Moscow of sending “two battalions” of Russian troops across the border, while Kremlin officials accused Kiev of dismissing a new peace plan from Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian]

Shi’ite Houthi rebels have besieged Yemeni Prime Minister Khalid Bahah’s main residence in the center of the capital, Sana’a. The incident comes despite a ceasefire agreed yesterday following fierce clashes in the city between Houthi fighters and Yemeni army soldiers. [Al Jazeera]

Australia’s terror threat for attacks on police has been raised to “high” following the emergence of fresh intelligence. [Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe]

The “routine intimidation of [Pakistan’s] prosecutors” is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of successful prosecution of terrorism suspects in ordinary courts, with the planned military courts unlikely to remedy the problem. [Wall Street Journal’s Syed Shoaib Hasan]

The U.S. is facing “a global armed conflict of uncertain duration.” Michael Gerson outlines how President Obama should respond to this “enormously complex” state of affairs. [Washington Post]

Andrew Jerell Jones interviews John Kiriakou, the only CIA officer “to go to prison in connection with the agency’s torture program” on account of disclosing classified information about the program to reporters. [The Intercept]

The U.S. can assist in “bring[ing] accountability to Sri Lanka,” writes Ryan Goodman, highlighting the benefits of targeted and timely criminal prosecutions in the United States, in an op-ed at the New York Times.  The new Sri Lankan government “will take a new approach” with regard to international efforts on accountability for war atrocities, the foreign minister has pledged. [The Hindu’s Suhasini Haidar]

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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