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
Islamic State militants carried out simultaneous assaults in Syria overnight, attacking Syrian troops in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, while also targeting the Kurdish-held border town of Kobani. The fresh offensive comes after a series of setbacks for the militant group. [Reuters] At least eight people were killed in a bomb attack in Kobani today, as violence flared once again in the Syrian town. [Al Jazeera]
A “more intensive effort” is required to defeat the Islamic State. Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine outline the elements of a “forward-leaning approach” in a Washington Post opinion piece.
Who lost Iraq? Michael Crowley asks a dozen experts if Obama or George W. Bush is to blame for the current crisis. [Politico Magazine]
SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY
President Obama spoke with French President François Hollande yesterday following reports of NSA surveillance of three French presidents from 2006-2012. During the call, Obama reiterated his 2013 commitment that “we are not targeting and will not target the communications of the French President.” [France 24]
France responded with “carefully calibrated anger” to the reports, indicating that French officials and lawmakers were not taken by surprise and that many view such surveillance as routine. [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Scott Shane] Nicholas Vinocur considers the four takeaways from the latest revelations, including the growing anti-American sentiment. [Politico]
France’s lower house of parliament approved an expansive surveillance law on Wednesday, amid anger over the U.S. spying claims. [Reuters]
NSA chief Michael Rogers said signals intelligence is not enough, stating that the agency needs better visual information during his GEOINT keynote address. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]
So-called “adjudication information” including intimate and embarrassing personal details of federal workers were compromised in the OPM hack. The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris investigates the implications.
The government initially hid the extent of the OPM cyberattack, despite knowing from the outset about the breach of security-clearance forms in addition to personnel data. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Damian Paletta]
A major government contractor refuted claims that stolen information from its networks led to the OPM hack. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett] The contractor, KeyPoint Government Solutions, is funded by a private equity firm linked to “a long history of controversial government contracting,” according to a report by The Intercept’s Lee Fang.
A federal watchdog will monitor implementation of a $20 million contract with CSID, tasked with credit monitoring for federal employees impacted by the OPM hack, after concerns that the contract was hastily secured. [Washington Post’s Christian Davenport and Lisa Rein]
Senior American security advisers have emphasized the necessity of additional safeguards in the pending nuclear deal with Tehran, in an open letter that outlines the requirements for a “stronger” deal. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]
The New York Times editorial board comments on the hardening outlook of the Iranian supreme leader, and the likelihood of compromise between Iran and the P5 +1. And the Washington Post editorial board writes that the U.S. must not be pressured into last-minute concessions, in light of the supreme leader’s speech.
Saudi-led bombing in Yemen has failed to curb Houthi rebels, who have gained more ground, raising concerns that Saudi intervention is worsening the situation and making it more difficult to end the conflict. [New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa and Ben Hubbard]
Houthi fighters have carried out a prisoner swap with volunteer troops loyal to Yemeni President Hadi. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Sa’ed Al-Abyadh]
A political ceasefire in Yemen is still possible, according to the UN envoy for Yemen, amid a dire humanitarian crisis. [UN News Centre]
President Obama announced the shift in hostage policy on Wednesday. While the government will not reverse its policy against paying ransom to terrorist groups, it “does not prevent communication with hostage-takers—by our government, the families of hostages, or third parties who help these families.” The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis provides more details. The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that the president is “giving terrorists even more incentive to snatch more Americans” despite his “good intentions.”
“Beyond Guantanamo.” Molly O’Toole explores how the U.S. will deal with prisoners of a “forever war,” as President Obama begins his final push to close the military prison. [Defense One]
An al-Shabaab attack in Mogadishu on Wednesday killed at least 12 people when a car-bomb targeted a vehicle transporting U.A.E. diplomats. [Al Jazeera]
NATO is accelerating its response to Russian aggression, speeding up the deployment of the new rapid response unit. [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid]
The rebuilding of Gaza following last year’s war has been severely delayed due to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and slow arrival of foreign aid, according to a UN official. [AP]
Social media companies should respond to extremism propagated online by militant groups, a UN panel has recommended. [AP]
Street children were among those sexually abused by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, according to new allegations. [Al Jazeera]
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