News Roundup and Notes: May 21, 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 militants are in full control of Palmyra, following the group’s advancement into the ancient Syrian city yesterday, according to activists and a monitoring group. The fall of Palmyra could pave the way for the Islamic State to advance toward government-held areas of Homs and Damascus, reports Al Jazeera.  The city is of strategic importance as it is situated among gas fields and a network of roads cutting across Syria’s central desert, report Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad. [New York Times]  UNESCO has expressed deep concern at the risk posed to the civilian population and the celebrated World Heritage site. [UN News Centre]

More than half of Syria’s territory is now under Islamic State control, a monitoring group has said. [Reuters]

Iraqi forces fought off a third Islamic State attack on the outskirts of Ramadi, which fell to the militant group on Sunday. [Reuters]  The Iraqi government has waived restrictions on those coming into Baghdad, allowing civilians displaced by the situation in Anbar province to enter the capital. [BBC]

The U.S. is sending 1,000 antitank rockets to Iraq to assist forces in countering the suicide vehicle bombs deployed by the Islamic State in seizing Ramadi. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]  The U.S.-led coalition has also carried out airstrikes targeting Ramadi, according to administration officials. [Al Jazeera]

Administration efforts are now focused on Iraq’s Anbar province, with the capture of Ramadi forcing a shift away from the planned offensive to reclaim Mosul in the country’s north. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz and Julian E. Barnes]

The loss of Ramadi highlights that ISIS is “still in business,” despite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s assurance that the “psychological battle” against the group had been won after the success in Tikrit, writes The Economist.

GOP senators sharply criticized the administration’s strategy to counter the Islamic State in light of developments in Ramadi. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]  And David Ignatius writes that interagency quarrelling is undermining the administration’s efforts toward defeating the terrorist group. [Washington Post]

The Islamic State-affiliated group in Egypt called for attacks on judges in an audio recording from the leader of the group, Sinai Province; the recording’s authenticity could not be verified. [Reuters’ Michael Georgy and Stephen Kalin]

YEMEN

The UN has announced peace talks aimed at ending the Yemeni conflict; the consultations will begin on May 28 in Geneva. [UN News Centre]  The leader of the Houthi rebel movement indicated yesterday that his group will participate in the UN-sponsored talks. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

The three-day Riyadh conference on Yemen ended with calls for the establishment of “safe zones,” a joint Arab military force, and the delivery of greater humanitarian aid. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Nasser Al-Haqbani]  Gamal Gasim analyzes the shortcomings of the Riyadh conference for Al Jazeera.

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Sen. Rand Paul spent 10-and-a-half hours on the Senate floor attacking surveillance programs and key provisions of the Patriot Act, but it is unclear if his address yesterday had “real effect” on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans, report Seung Min Kim and Alex Byers. [Politico]  Paul was joined in his efforts by ten senators, including seven Democrats and Ted Cruz; The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy et al provide a comprehensive summary.

The NSA will need to wind down its bulk surveillance program after Friday, unless Congress agrees on legislation, in order to ensure the agency “does not engage in any unauthorized collection” beyond the June 1 deadline, according to a Justice Department memorandum. [Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Ellen Nakashima]

Allowing key provisions of the Patriot Act to sunset would be a “big problem” for the FBI and the agency’s ability to carry out its work, Director James Comey warned yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

“BIN LADEN’S BOOKSHELF”

The ODNI released a trove of documents uncovered during the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound on Wednesday.

The declassified documents reveal bin Laden’s fixation with attacking U.S. targets, purported negotiations between al-Qaeda and allies within the Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani intelligence, and correspondence with the group’s affiliate in Yemen. [Reuters’ Mark Hosenball]  One letter reveals that the al-Qaeda leader was contemplating leaving his Abbottabad compound in the months leading up to the U.S. raid. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Julie Tate]  The released materials also include, among other things, the contents of Bin Laden’s library, correspondence with his family, and an application form to join the terror group. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman et al; Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A second U.S. marine has died after an Osprey aircraft had a landing mishap during routine training earlier this week in Hawaii. [Fox News]

The administration has no obligation to release the full version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s post-9/11 practices, a federal judge has ruled in response to a FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

President Obama described climate change as “an immediate risk to our national security,” during an address at the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation ceremony yesterday. [Al Jazeera America’s Tom Kutsch]

French troops have killed four al-Qaeda jihadists in Mali, including two “terrorist chiefs,” according to the defense ministry; one of those killed has been tied to the 2013 killing of two French journalists taken hostage in Mali. [France 24’s Leela Jacinto]

Former Guantánamo detainees resettled in Uruguay ended their protest outside the American embassy in Montevideo, signing a deal with the Uruguayan government for housing and a stipend. [AP’s Leonardo Haberkorn and Peter Prengaman]

A Moroccan man suspected of involvement in the Tunis attack in March on the Bardo National Museum has been arrested by Italian police. [AFP]

Iran’s supreme leader ruled out interviews of Iranian scientists by international inspectors as well as inspection of military sites under any final nuclear accord with the P5+1, during a speech yesterday. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and David E. Sanger]

Ukraine is building a nuclear missile shield, according to the country’s top security official, who cited the need to “defend against aggression from Russia.” [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian]

Sen. John McCain is moving to significantly alter the oversight regime for acquiring new weapons, aimed at reining in officials and contractors and giving the military branches greater control over their own programs, report Austin Wright and Leigh Munsil. [Politico]

American soldiers and Pentagon employees improperly used military cards, spending over $1 million in casinos and “adult entertainment establishments” in one year, according to a new report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

The U.S. and Tunisia are keen to “forge an enduring partnership,” including deeper security cooperation, as outlined in a joint op-ed from President Obama and Tunisian President Béji Caïd Essebsi. [Washington Post]

The U.S. needs to offer “more than just rhetoric” to halt South Sudan’s “downward spiral,” writes the Washington Post editorial board.

Cuba and the U.S. will resume talks today aimed at reinstating diplomatic relations and securing the “crucial next step” of opening embassies, reports Reuters.

The Chinese navy issued eight warnings to a U.S. surveillance plane yesterday which was flying over islands in the South China Sea. [CNN’s Jim Sciutto]

North Korea claims to be able to build small nuclear warheads to attach on to a missile, although analysts are unable to assess whether the country’s nuclear program has advanced to this extent. [BBC]

Countering violent extremism. Join former senior UN counterterrorism official, Richard Barrett, and Just Security’s Faiza Patel for a discussion on countering violent extremism on May 29, 2015. Details here.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).