News Roundup and Notes: June 23, 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

An American airstrike in Mosul last week killed an ISIS operative, Ali Awni al-Harzi, who was linked to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. [DoD News]  Harzi is believed to have acted as an intermediary between terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa, and was described as “middle management” by a defense official. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung]

U.S. airstrikes around Ramadi are “not very effective,” according to the leader of the Iran-linked militias on the outskirts of the fallen city, who also maintained that his fighters are under Baghdad command and not taking orders from Tehran. [NBC News’ Bill Neely]

Moderate Syrian rebels in the U.S. training program are receiving a stipend of $250-$400 per month, depending on their skills and position, a Pentagon spokesperson said yesterday. [Reuters’ David Alexander]

Kurdish forces in Syria have seized an important military base from ISIS north of Raqqa, the group’s de facto Syrian capital. [BBC]

A wounded Syrian died after Israeli Druze attacked an Israeli military ambulance transporting the individual, in the latest show of anger from the community over assaults on their counterparts in Syria. [AFP]

Many displaced Iraqis are struggling to return to their hometowns. The Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Matt Bradley report on the difficulties, including sectarian tensions.

The Islamic State’s social-media campaign is having an impact in the U.S.; Susan Zalkind details the problem for American law enforcement. [The Daily Beast]

The EU’s law enforcement agency is launching an effort to take down all ISIS-related social media accounts used to disseminate propaganda and recruit fighters. [Reuters]

The Islamic State’s presence is being felt across Asia, with governments worried that citizens are being influenced by propaganda to join the fight or carry out attacks on domestic soil, comments The Economist.

Australian intelligence agencies are seeking to verify the deaths of two Australian militants in Mosul while fighting alongside the Islamic State. [AP’s Rod McGuirk]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The NSA worked with its British counterpart, GCHQ, to undermine security software to breach networks, repeatedly targeting Russian-based security software company, Kaspersky Lab, according to documents provided by Edward Snowden. [The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman and Morgan Marquis-Boire]. The Intercept also reports on how Britain’s spy agency stretched legal limits, and details the controversial surveillance tactics used in domestic law enforcement by a GCHQ sub-unit.

Around 18 million people were affected by the cyberattack at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), FBI Director James Comey told senators in a closed-door briefing. However, OPM has yet to confirm the number, which is higher than its previous estimates. [CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu attempted to discredit the report on the 2014 war in Gaza, released by the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, calling it “flawed and biased.” [Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash]  The report suggests that the ICC “is the only thing that can actually deter the two sides from yet another round of fighting,” writes Barak Ravid. [Haaretz]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan and the U.S. reacted differently to yesterday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament. Afghan politicians criticized failing security agencies but U.S. officials noted the country’s “growing capability to provide security.” [Reuters’ Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni]

Afghan forces reclaimed control over a district in the northern city of Kunduz, which had come under Taliban threat in recent days. [Reuters’ Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni]

The UN ambassador to Afghanistan has blamed an increase in violence on simultaneous attacks by the Taliban, foreign fighters and ISIS that have strained Afghan security forces. [AP]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russia has expressed strong criticism over the extension of EU sanctions, calling them “Russophobic” and pledging to respond by extending countersanctions. [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn]

The U.S. will contribute military aid to NATO’s rapid-response force to equip it with the capacity to respond to a Russian attack, among other types of security crises, Defense Secretary Carter said on Monday. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]  Earlier today, Carter announced that the U.S. will place some military equipment in eastern Europe. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

Only five of 28 NATO members have reached their goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defense, according to a NATO report released yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid]

Ukraine’s intelligence chief discusses the hybrid warfare that Moscow is waging with Kiev, in an interview with Politico, Joseph Marks reports. And the New York Times editorial board questions President Putin’s provocative foreign policy.

IRAN

Both Iranian and Western officials publicly stated a willingness to work past the June 30 deadline if necessary, despite expressing confidence that a deal was in sight. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

Hooman Majd analyzes how a nuclear agreement will impact Iranian President Rouhani’s politics in the region. [Politico Magazine]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Obama administration indicated it will downsize the National Security Council, in an attempt to rein in the considerably expanded agency. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]

The Senate confirmed the nomination of new TSA chief, Peter Neffenger, following controversy surrounding the TSA’s failure to detect undercover security tests. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Morale surrounding the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is low, given recent tension over China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and allegations regarding its role in cyberattacks targeting the U.S. [New York Times’ Jackie Calmes]  Meanwhile, Japanese and Philippine officials reported joint aerial surveillance of areas in the South China Sea, where China is controversially expanding its reach. [Reuters]

The UN Secretary General has appointed a panel tasked with reviewing the UN response to sexual abuse allegations against forces in the Central African Republic. [UN News Centre]

The email exchanges between Hillary Clinton and former aid Sidney Blumenthal, released by the House Benghazi panel, are analyzed by the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Byron Tau.

The Houthi delegation from the UN-backed Geneva peace talks is in Muscat, but it is unclear what it will be discussing in Oman’s capital. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Nasser Al-Haqbani]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Sarika Arya

Former Summer Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@sarika_arya).