News Roundup and Notes: September 24, 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

President Obama will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in New York, if it can be arranged; the meet would be the first face-to-face encounter between the leaders for over a year and comes amid growing tensions over the Syrian conflict, US officials said. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]

Russia will unilaterally conduct air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria if the United States does not agree to join forces, it was reported Wednesday. [Reuters]

The US still hasn’t figured out why Moscow has decided to escalate involvement in the Syrian conflict, officials attempting to determine the potential impact of Russian buildup on US efforts to push for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

The Pentagon has denied that it trained a Syrian fighter suspected of defecting to the Nusra Front, despite claims to that effect reported Tuesday by The Daily Beast, reports Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

Residents of Palmyra have fled amid escalated Syrian government airstrikes on the city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Airstrikes have killed more than 100 people since Friday. [Al Jazeera]

The legality of the use of drone strikes to kill British citizens is being challenged in court by two UK Green Party members of parliament. [BBC]

Senior American intelligence analyst, Gregory Hooker is leading a group of analysts that have accused senior military figures of changing intelligence reports relating to the war against ISIS. Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo profile Hooker. [New York Times]

The Wall Street Journal discusses the “Petraeus Intervention,” commenting that “the larger problem at the top of the chain of command is that the Middle East’s crises threaten to undermine not merely regional stability but also US interests world-wide.” The Wall Street Journal also hosts extracts from the former director of the CIA’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

US-CHINA RELATIONS 

President Obama hopes to use his personal rapport with President Xi Jinping to improve relations between the two nations when he hosts the Chinese leader at a private dinner this evening. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Jeremy Page] Philip Ewing considers just how tough Obama will be with the Chinese leader, particularly on questions of national security, at Politico. 

The OPM hack was worse than previously thought, the agency disclosing that the hackers took the fingerprints of 5.6 million federal employees in addition to security clearance information. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta] The attack has been attributed to China by US intelligence agencies. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

A new report highlights the extent of Beijing’s “state-controlled cyberespionage machinery.” Josh Chin provides the details. [New York Times]

A Chinese fighter jet flew too close to an American spy plane last week, performing an unsafe maneuver, Pentagon officials said yesterday. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

YEMEN

Two suicide attacks targeting a mosque controlled by Houthi rebels in Sana’a today killed at least 25 people. The explosions hit the al-Balili mosque during prayers for Eid al-Adha. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Islamic State is suspected. [BBC; Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia and its coalition members are pursuing a diplomatic campaign to avoid international censure for its conduct during an air campaign against Houthi rebels, diplomatic sources say. [Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch] 

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Hillary Clinton restated her position on her private email server, saying there was “no evidence it was ever breached,” in an interview with The Des Moines Register’s editorial board.

Revelations that the FBI has recovered deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s server opens up a “new front” in the “battle” over her emails while in office as secretary of state; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has called for an independent review of the deleted content. [Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Devlin Barrett]

“The next question” in the email controversy is “who will force the FBI to release any documents” retrieved from the server, “Congress or the courts?” Josh Gerstein and Rachel Bade discuss. [Politico] 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has promised that his government will crack down on widespread sexual abuse of boys by powerful Afghan commanders, describing the practice as “unacceptable.” [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg] And a coalition service member has been killed following a Taliban attack near the American base at Bagram, it was announced yesterday. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein] 

The Justice Department is maintaining that there is no concrete proof that Verizon Wireless was involved in the NSA’s phone data collection program, despite a government document released earlier this month which appears to verify the claim, reports Josh Gerstein. [Politico]

France will sell two Mistral class warships to Egypt; the vessels were originally built for Russia but France refused to deliver due to Moscow’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton] And Egypt’s president has pardoned two Al Jazeera journalists, a decision welcomed by human rights groups and diplomats.

The NSA spied on Iran’s communications while diplomats were in the US for previous UN summits, and the agency appears ready to do so again in the coming days, former intelligence analysts told NBC News, reports Robert Windrem.

The New York Times editorial board opines that “increased cooperation” between the US and partners, including Israel is “vital to ensuring that Iran sticks to” the nuclear accord concluded in July.

UN member states seeking accountability for the Malaysia Flight 17 plane, downed in eastern Ukraine last year, may establish their own prosecution tribunal, the Australian foreign ministry said. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

Burkina Faso’s interim president, Michel Kafando has been reinstated following a leadership coup last week. [New York Times’ Hervé Taoko] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed his return to power and commended the efforts of West African leaders in reaching the political solution. [UN News Centre]

“The challenge for the US goes beyond even moral responsibility for current ills.” William A. Galston argues that the refugee crisis in Europe is a test of President Obama’s moral leadership, at the Wall Street Journal.

Columbia and the FARC rebel group have agreed to end their 50-year war within the next six months, making a historic deal on issues of justice and reparations to victims of the conflict. [Reuters; The Guardian’s Sibylla Brodzinsky]

The State Department has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s appointment as the head of a key UN human rights panel, despite the decision provoking global indignation, writes Glenn Greenwald. [The Intercept] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security