News Roundup and Notes: January 27, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Kurdish forces took full control of Kobani yesterday. A coalition of Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces gained a significant symbolic victory over the Islamic State who besieged the border town in September. Kobani was considered an important test of the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes strategy against the Islamic State. [The GuardianBBC]

“The lesson of Kobani” is that without a strong local ground force “willing to fight for months, airstrikes alone cannot win back territory from ISIS;” Nancy A. Youssef notes the “vulnerability” of the coalition effort to defeat the terrorist group. [The Daily Beast]

Bullets struck a FlyDubai passenger jet in Baghdad International Airport as it was landing yesterday evening, according to the company and officials. Two passengers were lightly injured. [Reuters]  U.A.E airlines have suspended flights to Baghdad in the wake of the shooting incident, citing security concerns. [Al Jazeera]

Two projectiles struck the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria today, according to an Israeli military source. [Reuters]

Japan has promised to work with the Jordanian government in efforts to secure the release of a Japanese hostage held by the Islamic State. [Reuters]  The hostage crisis could “likely further polarize Japanese opinion over Tokyo’s plan to play a more active role in global security,” writes Brian Padden. [VOA News]

A covert CIA program to train moderate Syrian rebels in 2013 was the “riskiest foray into Syria since [the] civil war erupted;” Adam Entous provides further details at the Wall Street Journal.  Syrian rebels to be trained in the upcoming program run by the Pentagon face the challenge that they took up arms with the aim of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but are now expected to fight ISIS, Alice Fordham discusses. [NPR]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Nine Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in clashes with Russian-backed separatists over the past 24 hours, according to the Kiev military. The deaths occurred as rebels fought to encircle a strategic town close to transport routes. Fighting in Ukraine is “by far” its worst since a ceasefire agreement last September, reports Reuters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed an escalation in violence in the east of Ukraine on the pro-Western government, accusing Kiev of refusing a path of peaceful resolution. [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson]  Putin also claimed that the Ukrainian government constituted a “NATO foreign legion,” a statement rebutted by NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday. [Al Jazeera]

Russian-backed rebels are making progress near Donetsk, Lugansk, and Mariupol; Michael Weiss and James Miller analyze Kiev’s ability to hold off the rebels’ advances on three fronts. [The Daily Beast]

The “peace of the world” is threatened by the uncertainty and violence that continue to plague Ukraine, argues Sen. Rob Portman, noting that the conflict will impact other U.S. national security priorities. [Politico Magazine]

The Washington Post editorial board outlines the necessary steps the U.S. and Europe must take in response to Russia’s new offensive in Ukraine.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criticism in Israel for his decision to speak to the U.S. Congress about Iran, accused by his rivals of risking relations with Washington to promote his election campaign. House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress on March 3, just two weeks before the Israeli elections. [McClatchy DC’s Joel Greenberg]  Michael Tomasky evaluates what lies ahead for President Obama and his administration, in the wake of Netanyahu’s “scandalous” acceptance to speak before Congress. [The Daily Beast]

The IDF has terminated the service of almost 50 reservists who signed a letter in September refusing to participate in “actions against Palestinians” for moral reasons. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

Two 2007 decisions of the FISC ruled that the USA Patriot Act authorized the NSA to collect foreigners’ emails and calls from domestic networks without judicial approval. The newly declassified documents reveal the NSA’s strategy on surveillance in the months before Congress enacted the Protect America Act in August 2007 which enabled such spying. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]

Britain’s spy agency collected sensitive data on smartphone users as part of a secret program codenamed BADASS—by intercepting unencrypted traffic from smartphones to servers run by advertising and analytics companies—according to a document obtained by Edward Snowden and released by Der Spiegel. [The Intercept’s Micah Lee]

A license-plate tracking program is helping to build a national database to track the movement of vehicles throughout the U.S. in real-time. The primary goal of this domestic intelligence-gathering program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize drug trafficking assets, but its use has since been expanded, reports Devlin Barrett. [Wall Street Journal]

JEFFREY STERLING TRIAL

Former CIA officer found guilty in leak trial. Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on nine felony counts related to the leak of a secret Iran operation to reporter James Risen. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]

Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement on the conviction noted: [DoJ News]

“As this verdict proves, it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”

The conviction secures Holder’s legacy on leak cases, but many are concerned that the outcome is likely to silence federal employees who would otherwise choose to expose public wrongdoing. [Politico’s Josh Earnest]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suspected CIA drone strike in Yemen killed three alleged al-Qaeda militants yesterday, the first U.S. drone strike since the Yemeni president was forced to resign last week. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari and Yara Bayoumy]

Charges announced against Russian spy ring in New York. [DoJ News]  Federal authorities charged three men accused of gathering information about the New York Stock Exchange and sanctions against Moscow, among other subjects; one man has been placed under arrest. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and M. L. Nestel; Wall Street Journal’s Christopher M. Matthews and Nicole Hong]

Gunmen in the Libyan capital have stormed a hotel frequented by foreigners, killing at least three guards and taking hostages. [AP]

French counterterror police arrested five people today during an operation aimed at rooting out a suspected jihadist network in the southern town of Lunel, according to a senior police official. [New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky]

A former U.S. Army prosecutor has been found guilty on rape and other charges; Maj. Erik J. Burris has overseen sexual assault cases and was found guilty following a six-day court-martial at Fort Bragg. [AP’s Michael Biesecker]

Female guards at Guantanamo have filed gender discrimination complaints against two military judges who have banned women from handling prisoners on their way to and from legal meetings. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

President Obama is leading the “large and high-level” U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and meet with his successor. [Washington Post’s Katie Zezima and Carol Morello]

Democrats criticize Republicans on Benghazi panel. The Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi have accused the Republicans of conducting secret meetings with witnesses and suppressing information. [Mother Jones’ David Corn]

USAID has suspended awards to a Virginia-based contractor, citing “serious misconduct” in the organization’s performance and management; International Relief and Development has received more than $1 billion for work in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last nine years. [AP]

A recreational drone crashed onto the White House lawn on Monday, highlighting a security gap at the site that the Secret Service has been unable to fix despite years of study, according to officials. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Craig Whitlock]

Afghanistan’s air force is suffering from a shortage of combat-ready planes, resulting in the use of “flying tractors,” created by attaching machine guns and rockets to Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopters. [Straits Times]

Efforts to impose new economic sanctions on Iran are “facing an increasingly uphill battle toward a veto-proof majority,” and despite No. 3 Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer signing onto a sanctions bill yesterday, it will likely be harder to gather support from other Democrats, suggests Burgess Everett. [Politico]

The former Lord’s Resistance Army commander, Dominic Ongwen, made his first appearance yesterday before the International Criminal Court, where he is facing charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. [ICC News]

Britain’s public inquiry into the death of one-time Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko opens today. Two prior attempts to kill Litvinenko may have been made before his death from radiation poisoning, the BBC has learned.

Boko Haram’s rampage appears “ready to escalate” this year. Emad Mostaque explores how to combat the group, stressing the importance of multinational support for the Nigerian troops and the existing French counterterror operations in the region. [Wall Street Journal]

A car bomb attack in Alexandria, Egypt, by suspected Islamist militants killed one person earlier today. [Reuters]  Former President Hosni Mubarak’s two sons were released from jail yesterday, pending their retrial on corruption charges. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro commented on the U.S. relations shift, writing that he supports the ongoing negotiations despite his distrust of Washington policy. [AP]

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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