News Roundup and Notes: February 3, 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

The White House is due to announce new rules on how the intelligence agencies collect and hold data. The rules will make “modest changes” in the use of national security letters, require analysts to delete incidental private information collected about U.S. citizens, and require deletion of the same information about foreigners within five years. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

It remains unclear whether NSA officials who abused their powers by tracking spouses and others have been held accountable. Sen. Chuck Grassley asked Attorney General Eric Holder how the matter was handled one year ago and renewed his request in a letter yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

AFGHANISTAN

Ashton Carter would consider changes to the current drawdown plan for Afghanistan to accommodate security concerns, according to the defense chief nominee’s written comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee. [AP]

The U.S. will declassify some details on the efforts to build the Afghan army and police forces, reversing its decision to classify this information on the basis that it could endanger American and Afghan lives. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Violent clashes in eastern Ukraine continue. At least 5 people were killed by artillery fire in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk yesterday. [AP]

The administration is weighing providing “defensive lethal arms” to Kiev, including Javelin antitank missiles and ammunition, according to U.S. officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Adam Entous]  The debate over arming Ukrainian troops indicates heightened American fears that Russia is determined to break up Ukraine, much like Moscow’s policy in Georgia after the 2008 conflict. [The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out the supply of military aid to Ukraine, stating yesterday: “I am convinced that this conflict cannot be solved militarily.” [New York Times’ Alison Smale]

“Direct military support” for the Ukrainian army is the only answer to Russian aggression, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

The cost of inaction on part of the West is rising—“in terms of human lives, economic decline and overall impact on the architecture of Europe”—warns former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili [Politico Magazine]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Jordan’s involvement in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State is facing growing opposition from the public, after the militant group’s threat to kill the captured Jordanian pilot last month. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Suha Ma’ayeh]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. American and Coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria and a further 17 airstrikes against the group in Iraq yesterday. [Central Command]

France arrested eight people today on suspicion of links to jihadist recruitment networks for Syria. [Reuters]

ISRAEL

The chair of the UN war crimes investigation into last summer’s 50-day Gaza war resigned yesterday. William Schabas–a Canadian law professor–cited Israeli accusations of personal bias which had led to an inquiry into whether he should be removed. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for scrapping the UN war crimes probe into the Gaza war in the wake of Schabas’ resignation today. Netanyahu described the commission–set up by the UN Human Rights Council–as an “anti-Israeli body” with nothing to do with human rights. [AP]

LIBYA

“IS systematically makes use of the chaotic conditions in Libya.” Deutsche Welle looks at the terrorist group’s encroachment on Libya, using a different kind of expansion strategy than al-Qaeda.   Christopher Stephen writes that the “brutal fashion” in which the Islamic State announced its arrival in Libya last week by attacking a Tripoli hotel will make it “harder for Washington to continue ignoring the conflict and chaos raging” across the country. [Politico Magazine]

The internationally recognized Libyan parliament has suspended a controversial law barring Gaddafi era officials from holding political posts. [Al Jazeera]

EGYPT

Two bombs were defused overnight at Cairo International Airport while a homemade explosive device exploded in the Egyptian capital’s center today; airport security has been tightened in the wake of the incident. [Reuters’ Omar Fahmy]

Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy’s release may be “imminent.” The Canadian-Egyptian journalist, one of the two Al Jazeera reporters still held by Cairo, has renounced his Egyptian citizenship in a move facilitating his deportation by presidential decree. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama is requesting a base defense budget of $534 billion from the Republican Congress, the Pentagon said yesterday in its FY 2016 budget proposal. The figure exceeds sequestration by $35 billion. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]  The 2016 fiscal budget calls for another round of military base closures beginning 2017, reports Kristina Wong. [The Hill]

A U.S. drone strike last week killed a young Yemeni boy, arousing the “kind of anger that has long helped al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to recruit fighters.” Yara Bayoumy discusses the circumstances of the child’s death and the U.S. drone campaign which appears to be “sliding into disarray.” [Reuters]

The evidence obtained by the FBI through agents impersonating internet repairmen should be supressed, a federal magistrate judge has ruled in a case involving a sting operation to uncover an illegal gambling ring, reports Kevin Gosztola.

A female suicide bomber in Nigeria detonated minutes after President Goodluck Jonathan left a campaign rally in the northern city of Gombe; the attack killed at least one person and injured 18 others. [BBC]

A bomb blast in Pakistan’s northwestern Manshehra district killed two police officers today when it hit a street patrol. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the local Taliban are suspected. [AP]

Hezbollah is “becoming overstretched” as it strives to take on Sunni adversaries far beyond its base in Lebanon; the group is facing difficult choices between tackling Sunnis across the Middle East and fighting Israel. [AP]

Iran is “sweetening” the terms of oil development contracts so as to interest foreign investment currently put off by sanctions and low crude prices, as the country’s president makes efforts to deliver on his pledge of economic recovery. [Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi and Jonathan Saul]

The U.S. and North Korea have discussed the possibility of returning to denuclearization talks, according to a senior U.S. administration official. [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield]

Cuba has warned the U.S. that it must scale back aid to Cuban dissidents before the countries can reopen embassies; a second round of talks between the former adversaries will take place this month. [Reuters’ Daniel Trotta]

The International Court of Justice ruled today that neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide during the Balkan wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. [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