News Roundup and Notes: May 12, 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

Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss whether it is possible to work with Moscow on finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria, during a meeting today in the Russian city of Sochi. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and coalition military forces carried out nine airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am May 10 and 8am May 11. Separately, military forces conducted a further nine strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Air-deployed bombs have hit over 6,000 targets linked to the Islamic State since the U.S.-led air campaign began 10 months ago. Some 288 U.S.-made Humvees, 77 tanks and 16 aircraft have been targeted, according to new data from U.S. Central Command. [Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman]

Two leading Sunni politicians claim their community is being ignored by the Iraqi political system, one month after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assured the U.S. that his majority Shi’ite central government was working toward creating a multi-sectarian state. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Clues on Twitter suggest links between the Texas gunman and the Islamic State online network, reports Rukmini Callimachi.  [New York Times]

Two people have been arrested on suspicion of spreading Islamic State propaganda online by police in the Spanish city of Barcelona. [AP]

YEMEN

A suspected U.S. drone strike has killed four leading AQAP members in eastern Yemen, according to Islamic militant websites. [AP]

The Saudi-led coalition “pounded” Yemen’s capital with airstrikes today, hours before a five-day humanitarian ceasefire is due to take effect. [Reuters]  Saudi Arabia has assembled a “massive force” of additional troops along its frontier with Yemen following heavy clashes with Houthi rebels ahead of the truce, reports Al Jazeera.

Shi’ite Houthi rebels say they shot down a Moroccan fighter jet that had been targeting their stronghold in Saada province. The group provided photos of the downed jet and the pilot’s remains, but the claims could not be independently confirmed. [Wall Street Journal’s Mohammed Al-Kibsi and Karen Leigh]

Tehran is keeping a close watch on the situation in Yemen, writes Gareth Smyth, analyzing Iranian-Saudi relations as they enter a “new, volatile period.” [The Guardian]

The Economist comments on the situation in Yemen which is becoming “uglier by the day,” noting that aid agencies have denounced the Saudi campaign as the collective punishment of Yemenis, and some have suggested that the strikes constitute war crimes.  

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

The administration is backing the USA Freedom Act, with the AG and DNI expected to issue a letter stating that the bipartisan bill will boost privacy, but not at the cost of national security. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Mike DeBonis]

Sen. Rand Paul said he will filibuster provisions of the Patriot Act when they come up for reauthorization, in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, reports Dan Tuohy.

The NSA’s capacity for speech recognition is the agency’s “best kept open secret.” Dan Froomkin has a second piece on the subject, noting the lack of public debate on the NSA’s use of automated speech recognition. [The Intercept]

The reason for the public’s mild reaction to NSA surveillance is explored by James Bamford, who notes “NSA fatigue” and the technically complex nature of the stories, highlighting that the spying is worse than believed. [Reuters]

The U.S. is open to using a range of measures to deter cyberattacks, including military force and economic sanctions, Cyber Command chief Michael Rogers said yesterday. [Defense News’ Joe Gould]

U.S.-SAUDI TIES

The administration sought to downplay the Saudi king’s absence from a summit hosted by President Obama this week, where he is expected to reassure Gulf countries over an emerging nuclear accord with Tehran. The White House said that the officials attending the meeting, which include Saudi’s crown prince and deputy crown prince, are “the right group of people.” [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick and Angus Mcdowall]  Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also maintained that the decision did not relate to a disagreement between the countries, citing the five-day cease-fire in Yemen for the change in King Salman’s travel plans. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi and Michael Crowley]

The development marks a significant shift in U.S.-Saudi ties, with both countries fundamentally disagreeing on how to achieve regional stability. [New York Times’ Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear]  Politico’s Michael Crowley explores the factors shaping Obama’s strained relationship with the Arab monarchs, including democracy concerns and the nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

The White House will have to urgently salvage its foreign policy in the wake of the Arab leaders’ non-attendance, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, noting that “the one thing we can expect is a new round of arms sales to the Gulf.”

BIN LADEN RAID

Seymour Hersh’s account of the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid criticized.  Vox’s Max Fisher critiques Hersh’s report, commenting on the “tissue-thin sourcing, its leaps of logic, and its internal contradictions.”  CNN’s Peter Bergen reports on how the account is easily contradicted by “a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.”  Jack Shafer also criticizes Hersh’s piece, noting that it offers “little of substance” for those who may wish to corroborate the claims. [Politico Magazine]  Meanwhile, Jon Schwarz and Ryan Devereaux note that an author made the same claims as Hersh in 2011, apparently using different sources. [The Intercept]

The White House dismissed Hersh’s allegations as “baseless” and “patently false.” National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said the Pakistani government had no knowledge of the raid, which was a “U.S. operation through and through.” [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

NBC News has since reported that the CIA discovered bin Laden’s location from a Pakistani intelligence official, not by tracking his couriers, according to intelligence sources.

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russia has committed “blatant violation[s]” of the Minsk agreement, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, citing Moscow’s continuing support of Ukrainian separatists and the provision of heavy weapons, training and personnel. [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid]

At least 220 Russian soldiers have been killed so far during fighting in east Ukraine, and Moscow has spent over $1.04 billion supplying the rebel movement, according to a report from a Russian opposition activist group. [Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova]

Russian President Vladimir Putin will receive Secretary of State John Kerry today, the first visit by Kerry since the start of the Ukraine crisis; discussion will likely focus on the situation in eastern Ukraine. [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker]  The visit appears to be as much about keeping open lines of communication as anything else, with relations between the two countries at the lowest point since the Cold War, write Arshad Mohammed and Denis Dyomkin. [Reuters]

Georgia and the U.S. have begun joint military exercises to strengthen cooperation between Georgia’s military and NATO. Russia has strongly criticized any military exercises close to its border. [New York Times’ Andrew Roth]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling has been sentenced to 42 months for leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter; the three-and-a-half year sentence is lighter than had been expected by some of his supporters. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Twenty ex-CIA officials, including former chiefs Leon Panetta, David Petraeus and Michael Hayden, issued a criticism of the New York Times yesterday. In a letter to the publication, they criticized the “outing” of the identities of three top officials in a story published last month covering the administration’s admission that a drone strike killed two Western hostages in Pakistan.

The EU is ready to take military action against Libya-based migrant smuggling rings even without the UN Security Council’s approval, the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, has said.  The bloc is seeking a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force against the smuggling organizations, including in Libyan territorial waters. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

“The real story of Benghazi.” Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, provides his account of what happened when the State Department facility in Benghazi, Libya was attacked in 2012. The piece is adapted for Politico Magazine from his new book.

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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