News Roundup and Notes: May 15, 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

ISIS has released an audio recording purportedly from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader; if confirmed it would be the first message from him in months. Baghdadi was reported to have been seriously wounded by a coalition airstrike in Iraq in late March. [BBC]  Jamie Dettmer notes how difficult it is to date when the audio was recorded and provides analysis of the content. [The Daily Beast]

The Islamic State is advancing on the ancient city of Palmyra, sparking fears that the Syrian city could face the same destruction as heritage sites in Iraq. [AFP]  A Syrian official has called on the international community to take action to protect Palmyra, telling the AP that the U.S.-led coalition should expand its airstrikes to target ISIS on its advance, report Albert Aji and Bassem Mroue.

President Obama said the U.S. would work with the international community to put a stop to the use of chlorine bombs in Syria, if recent reports of their use are confirmed. [Reuters]

An Iraqi citizen who worked for the U.S. military before moving to America has been arrested by the FBI in Texas; he is accused of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State and misleading agents about his travel plans to Syria. [New York Times’ Scott Shane]

Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush backtracked on an answer he gave earlier in the week as to whether he would have invaded Iraq knowing what is known today, saying “I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.” [New York Times’ Michael Barbaro]

The “mystery” surrounding the exposure of U.S. troops to Iraq’s unused stocks of chemical weapons has “clear[ed] slightly,” but ongoing efforts to discover the truth have nonetheless been repeatedly met with “official indifference,” reports C.J. Chivers for the New York Times.

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels exchanged accusations of violating a five-day humanitarian ceasefire on Thursday. A coalition helicopter gunship hit a truck in northern Yemen, killing nine people. The Saudi embassy in Washington released a statement citing a number of incidents in which the Houthis “deliberately” breached the truce. [AP’s Ahmed Al-Haj]

An Iranian member of parliament called the Saudi king a traitor to Islam yesterday, a marked escalation in rhetoric over the air campaign against Iran-backed Shi’ite rebels in Yemen that began on March 26. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall and Mohammed Mukhashef]

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen is pushing the coalition to relax its inspection regime currently stemming the flow of humanitarian and commercial goods into the country. [Reuters]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed legislation “opening the door” to short-term reauthorization of intelligence powers yesterday; the bill would renew expiring parts of the PATRIOT Act for two months, giving lawmakers extra time to make a final decision. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

“Squabbling” among Senators may mean key government spying authorities expire at the end of the month, as GOP lawmakers remain “deeply divided” over the future of the PATRIOT Act. [Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Kate Tummarello]

The passage of the USA Freedom Act may not end bulk surveillance, and in fact might codify the ability of the government to carry out dragnet data collection, say critics of the legislation, expressing concern about the specific authorization of mass collection still permitted under the Act. [The Intercept’s Sam Sacks]

The USA Freedom Act has left the NSA “unscathed,” according to a former agency official, emphasizing the benefit to the NSA in having phone companies retain records rather than the agency itself. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

Oil company BP has appointed the retired head of MI6, Britain’s overseas spying network, as a board member. [Bloomberg’s Rakteem Katakey]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

President Obama pledged more military aid to Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states to defend against potential attacks from Iran, describing his commitment to their security as “ironclad.” During the daylong meeting at Camp David yesterday the president stopped short of offering a formal defense pact. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger]

In return for his support, Obama’s Arab allies promised to support his pursuit of a “verifiable” nuclear deal with Iran; the statement of support could provide a boost to the president’s efforts to secure an agreement with Tehran. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon]

Camp David saw no breakthroughs in U.S.-Gulf relations but those in attendance succeeded “at least, in not letting their relationship get worse,” writes Nahal Toosi. [Politico]

The House passed legislation giving Congress the authority to review, and potentially reject, an international nuclear accord with Iran. The passage sends the legislation to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it into law. [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]

The White House dismissed concerns that a potential Iran deal could spark an “arms race” in the Middle East, an attempt to downplay reports of Saudi plans to expand nuclear capability. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The House rejected a proposal to shut Guantanamo Bay detention facility by the close of 2017; the framework for closure contained in an amendment to the annual national defense authorization failed 174-249. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos]

Senator John McCain brokered a bipartisan compromise that could grant President Obama the authority to close the detention facility, however it is only feasible if Congress approves Obama’s plan to close the prison. [Defense One’s Molly O’Toole]

The Canadian Supreme Court has rejected a government request to have former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Omar Khadr, recognized as an adult offender. [The Canadian Press’ Mike Blanchfield]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A missing U.S. Marine helicopter in Nepal has been located, Nepal’s defense secretary said today. Three charred bodies along with the wreckage of the helicopter were found in Kalinchok, close to the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake. A recovery of the bodies is underway. [New York Times’ Bhadra Sharma and Gardiner Harris]

Iranian patrol boats fired at a Singapore-flagged commercial oil tanker yesterday as it moved through the Strait of Hormuz; the confrontation is the latest in a string of attacks heightening tensions in the Gulf region. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

More than 350 child soldiers were released by armed groups in the Central African Republic yesterday, the largest such release since the country was overcome by sectarian violence in 2013, according to UNICEF. [AP’s Krista Larson]

The U.S. and Cuba announced a new round of diplomatic talks next Thursday, aiming to remove barriers to the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana. [AP]

NATO and the EU committed to closer cooperation on threats posed by “hybrid warfare” yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker]

Afghanistan appears to be “awash with nostalgia” for the country’s former president, Hamid Karzai, a mindset which not so long ago would have been “unthinkable,” write Azam Ahmed and Mujib Mashal. [New York Times]

An explosion at a Hamas training camp in northern Gaza wounded over 60 people last night, including women and children; Hamas’ military wing said in a statement that the blast was caused by an Israeli missile remaining from the war last summer. [New York Times’ Majd Al Waheidi]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved legislation to loosen restrictions on Japan’s self-defense powers; Abe announced that his country would “never become entangled in a war being fought by the United States.” [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield]

A failure of Secret Service supervisors to report an incident involving two agents in March “resulted from an agency culture in which lower-ranking staff fear retribution if they point out misconduct,” a government investigator told lawmakers yesterday. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites across the Middle East are mostly “fought for political and economic sway” inside individual countries and across the region, rather than coming from an “eternal hatred” based along religious lines, writes Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

Authorities in Burundi have arrested three generals for their involvement in an attempted coup. [Reuters]  President Pierre Nkurunziza announced on Twitter that he has returned to the country, though fighting is thought likely to continue. [Wall Street Journal’s  Heidi Vogt and Nicholas Bariyo]

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security