News Roundup and Notes: May 4, 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

Syrian rebels are making some gains against President Assad’s forces with the help of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, according to reports. Talk is intensifying within Jabhat al Nusra about breaking ties with al-Qaeda, which may entice the West to impose a no-fly zone across northern Syria. [Daily Beast‘s Jamie Dettmer]

A British-based human rights organization claims 52 civilians have died in an airstrike by U.S.-led forces in Aleppo, Syria. [Reuters] The U.S. military says those killed in the strike were all fighters. [AFP]

Iraqi officials say two bomb blasts minutes apart in a popular commercial area killed 17 people in Baghdad on Saturday. [AP]

It has been roughly a month since the Islamic State was driven from Tikrit, and the city is now a ghost town, reports Mustafa Habib [Daily Beast]

Canada announced $139 million in additional aid to address the refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria brought on by fighting in the region, in addition to the $67 million already committed to Iraq. [AP’s Sinan Salaheddin]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition military forces carried out 1 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 30 and 8am May 1. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Sec. of State John Kerry sought to quell Israeli worries over the negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran, saying there is “a lot of hysteria” about the deal, but that the U.S. will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. [AP]

Sen. Mitch McConnell faces a difficult choice on the bill that would require congressional sign-off on the Iran nuclear deal: he can file for cloture and push a vote of the full Senate on a clean version of the bill, or he can allow senators to attach controversial amendments that will likely sink the bill. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Defense Sec. Ashton Carter approved military escorts for some commercial freighters passing through the Strait of Hormuz last week, the site of the last direct military clash between Iran and the U.S. nearly three decades ago. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

“Get used to the protections of your civil liberties being minimally viable.” The New York Times Editorial Board argues that the USA Freedom Act does not go far enough to protect Americans’ civil liberties.

Edward Snowden participated in a two-day conference at Princeton University at the end of last week. Cambridge University Professor Ross Anderson has posted his notes from the event.

What are five things you need to know about about the Patriot Act as the Section 215 sunset looms? Julian Hattem gives a rundown. [The Hill]

France is set to pass a new intelligence-gathering law in the face of opposition from ISPs, civil liberties defenders, and NGOs, who have raised concerns that the law will allow mass surveillance. It contains provisions that expand the purposes for which secret surveillance can be conducted and authorizes the bulk collection of metadata from Internet providers. [BBC’s Hugh Schofield]

The Justice Department will start revealing more about the government’s use of Stingray devices and cell site simulators, launching a review into how law-enforcement agencies using the technologies, reports Devlin Barrett. [Wall Street Journal]

YEMEN

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Houthis in Yemen has started using cluster munitions supplied by the U.S., according to a Human Rights Watch Report released on Sunday. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

“[L]ocals are more likely to be enticed by al-Qaeda’s mix of soft-culture approaches.” Oxford researcher Elisabeth Kendall explains why the group has found so much success in Yemen in recent years. [BBC]

Yemeni fighters believed to have received training and weapons in Saudi Arabia have joined the fight against Houthi rebels, according to local militia fighters in Aden. If the claims are true, they would represent one of the first major deployments of ground troops trained by the Saudi-led coalition. [New York Times’ Saeed al-Batati and Kareem Fahim]

ISRAEL

Hezbollah poses an increasingly significant cyber threat, according to senior officers of the IDF’s Cyber Defense Unit. Yaakov Lappin provides an interesting window into the Unit’s operations. [Jerusalem Post]

Thousands protested police treatment of Ethiopian-Israelis in Tel Aviv on Sunday. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner] As the night wore on and violence erupted, police fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd. [AFP]

NIGERIA

Nigerian troops have been accused of killing dozens of civilians and burning villages in central Nigeria, according to community leaders in Plateau state. The violence follows the deaths of six soldiers at the hands of local villagers. [BBC]

The Nigerian military has rescued 275 more women and children from Boko Haram. They were rescued in Sambisa Forest, a stronghold of the Islamic extremists, raising the total number of women and girls rescued in the last several days to 677. [AP’s Michelle Faul]

Members of Boko Haram killed older boys and men in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest, according to some of the women who were rescued by the Nigerian army last week. [Guardian]

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

After the House Armed Services Committee’s vote to approve the $612 billion defense bill last week, Martin Matishak provides a breakdown of the winners and and losers. The bill is set for a vote by the full House during the week of May 12. [The Hill]

The bill includes an increase of $3 billion on weapons spending beyond what the Pentagon requested. [The Intercept’s Lee Fang]

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has indicated he wants to include a provision forcing a change in command of the CIA’s drone program, shifting responsibility from the spy agency to the military. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem and Martin Matishak]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A security officer was injured and two gunmen were killed when they opened fire outside of a “Draw Muhammad” contest in Dallas. [AP] Security for the event was tight and the exchange lasted just “seconds.” ABC News is reporting that one of the gunmen “was previously the subject of a terror investigation” by the FBI.

U.S. intelligence agencies badly misjudged al-Qaeda’s ability to take advantage of the Arab Spring, according to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell’s new book, writes Greg Miller. [Washington Post]

Roughly 6,800 migrants were rescued and 10 bodies were recovered off Libya’s coast by Italy’s Coast Guard and Navy on Sunday. [Reuters]

“Cairo is coming unhinged.” Jeff Martini considers how domestic politics in Egypt may affect the country’s relationship with the U.S. [Foreign Policy]

The Federal Aviation Administration finished replacing the computer system that controls U.S. air traffic amid concerns that it might be vulnerable to hackers. [The Hill’s Elise Viebeck]

New grassroots efforts have emerged that seek to empower Muslim communities and to stave off intensified intelligence and law enforcement scrutiny, reports Murtaza Hussain. [The Intercept]

National security issues are the most important for Republican primary voters, followed by job creation and economic growth, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Democratic primary voters are concerned about jobs, health care, and climate change. [Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook]

There are rising concerns in the northern parts of Kazakhstan that the region could become the “next Ukraine,” falling victim to ethnic unrest and Russian expansionism. [Guardian’s Shaun Walker]

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).