The Early Edition: March 1, 2016

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.

*** Correction: Yesterday’s Early Edition erroneously asserted that Ibragim Todashev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers. The story should have read: “Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev passed the US citizenship test three months before the attack …”

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syria’s ceasefire. The ceasefire agreement brokered by the US and Russia faces “complete nullification” because of Assad regime attacks in violation of the truce, warned a senior official from the Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee yesterday. [Reuters’ John Davison and John Irish]  Secretary of State John Kerry said that alleged violations of the agreement will be investigated, adding that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad should show “some measure of decency” during the cessation of hostilities. [BBC; CNN’s Susannah Cullinane]

Russian fighter jets sat idle today at Moscow’s Hemeimeem air base in Syria, as the country’s ceasefire enters its fourth day, reports the AP.

“In the Syrian ceasefire shell game, the good guys may be bad guys,” reports Alexander Decina, citing US-allied backed militia, Ahrar al-Sham which is actually allies with al-Qaeda. [The Daily Beast]

Iraqi forces are pushing back against the Islamic State in a strategic area north of Baghdad, officials said. The area, called Jazerat Samarra, will be essential for future operations aimed at reclaiming parts of Anbar province and Mosul, said the country’s spokesman of the counterterrorism forces. [AP]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the US is increasing its support for Iraqi troops as they attempt to reclaim Mosul from ISIS, saying: “Will we do more to enable as they go north? Yes, we fully expect to do that,” yesterday at a briefing. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  Echoing this, Gen Joseph F. Dunford Jr, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that US-backed troops have begun laying the groundwork for the battle to isolate Mosul from the militant group’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Matthew Rosenberg]

The American Army’s elite Delta Force has begun operations to target, capture or kill senior Islamic State operatives in Iraq, following a number of weeks of covert preparation, according to an administration official. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

Russia has appealed for a global pact to counter the growing threat of chemical warfare from Islamic State and other militant groups. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the UN-sponsored conference on disarmament in Geneva that the threat is “extremely urgent in light of newly revealed facts of repeated use of not only industrial toxic chemicals but also of full-fledged chemical warfare agents” by terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. [Reuters]

GOP lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of “paralysis” in failing to adopt the label of genocide for the actions of the Islamic State. Nahal Toosi provides the details. [Politico]

The Islamic State has executed eight Dutch members accused by the group of attempting to desert, according to the Syrian citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently via Twitter. [AFP]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb 28. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

New York judge rules in Apple’s favor. A federal judge ruled against the Justice Department yesterday, over whether the tech giant can be compelled to extract data from a locked cell phone. The decision could affect the fight between Apple and the FBI over the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett]  Magistrate Judge James Orenstein said that the 1789 All Writs Act did not authorize him to force Apple to act, reports Ellen Nakashima. [Washington Post]

Apple v. FBI. Apple and the FBI will present their cases before a congressional panel today concerning a court order demanding that the tech giant provide the federal agency with data from the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. [Reuters’ Julia Harte and Julia Edwards]  US officials are expected to argue that lawmakers should pass a bill requiring tech companies to retain user keys for decrypting customer data, report Sam Thielman and Spencer Ackerman. [The Guardian]

Investigators are unlikely to uncover much useful information on the iPhone of Syed Farook, even if the FBI succeeds in forcing Apple to unlock the phone, warn security and law enforcement experts. David Perera provides the details. [Politico]

The husband of one of the San Bernardino survivors is backing Apple in its fight against the FBI. Salihin Kondoker, whose wife Anies was shot three times in the attack, filed an amicus brief explaining that his decision was based mainly on the fact that it is “unlikely there is any valuable information on this phone.” [The Guardian’s Alex Hern]

The White House has warned the nations’ utilities companies that a sophisticated cyberattack like the one used to take down Ukraine’s power grid two months ago could be used on them. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

The Pentagon is utilizing new digital weaponry in the fight against ISIS, deploying technologies aimed at hindering the militant group’s ability to communicate, control forces and manage finances in Iraq and Syria, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Felicia Schwartz]

LIBYA

US military involvement will be needed in Libya to defeat Islamic State, even if a unity government is formed, Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, commander of US special operations forces in Africa, has said. Although his comments were focused on the special operations arena, they are more direct than those made on previous occasions by other US officials, reports Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

Britain is due to send a training team of troops to Tunisia’s border with Libya, in an effort to put a stop to “illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of Tunisian authorities” by Islamic State. [Reuters’]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The last of the 30,000 emails on Hillary Clinton’s private server were released yesterday, including an email dated July 3, 2009, concerning North Korea, which prompted the original referral to the FBI last year for a review of Clinton’s handling of classified information. [New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers and Julie Hirschfeld Davis]  Nick Gass provides a compilation of the “23 must-read emails from Clinton’s inbox.” [Politico]

Meanwhile, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has fielded further questions about potential criminal charges in relation to Clinton’s handling of classified emails, stating that the Department of Justice will not obey “any kind of artificial deadline” and will look to “follow the facts, follow the law and come to an independent conclusion.” [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

The US’ system of classifying documents is “dysfunctional, arbitrary and counterproductive,” says Abbe David Lowell, the Hillary Clinton email affair being the latest demonstration of this. Clinton is “right” to argue that government information is “overclassified” and “poorly labeled.” A “saner” system of classification is needed. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

More US troops than planned may remain in Afghanistan at the end of the year to support national security forces. At a Pentagon briefing, General Joseph Dunford explained that assumptions made previously as to Afghanistan’s progress have proved wrong, though this was not surprising given the “two major elections and a difficult political transition” Afghan forces have had to deal with in the past few years. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

An Afghan policeman has shot and killed four colleagues at an isolated checkpoint in the Uruzgan province.  Another 11 policemen are missing.  It is still unclear what took place, and no group has claimed responsibility for the incident, the police chief of Uruzgan province stated. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“It’s good if it can be done, but it cannot be done under current law.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters yesterday that the closure of Guantánamo Bay will not go ahead without the support of Congress. He also said that a similar facility would have to be built in the US to house those detainees who are not safe to release from US custody. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

 “Ford administration officials suppressed the Rockefeller Commission’s actual report on CIA assassination plots.” The National Security Archive at the George Washington University, which released internal White House and commission documents yesterday, said the report had been substantially changed in order to soften its impact. In particular, a whole portion on CIA assassination plots was taken out. [The Daily Beast]

A Palestinian man has been shot dead by Israeli forces, and ten others have been injured, after an army jeep entered a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank “by mistake,” according to Israeli police. [Al Jazeera]

 “Snooper’s charter.” A revised investigatory powers bill is to be published by the UK legislature today. The revisions are said to include more stringent privacy safeguards. [The Guardian’s Alan Travis; BBC]

Nuclear materials have been flown between the US and the UK 23 times over the past five years, the UK’s Ministry of Defense has admitted, politicians and campaigners raising alarm at the risk of radioactive contamination they say this would have posed. Materials transported were tritium, plutonium and enriched uranium, all ingredients of Trident warheads. [The Guardian’s Rob Edwards]

“Territorial integrity and sovereign equality of nations.” UN and OSCE principles “must still form the bedrock of how we live together as nations,” the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) said to the UN Security Council yesterday. He added that states need to “muster the necessary political will” to uphold their commitment to these principles in the face of “enormous” conflict resolution challenges. [UN News Centre]

In an increasingly unpredictable world climate, future US military budgets need to be “better, not bigger,” says the New York Times editorial board. So far, none of the presidential candidates have properly explained what their approaches to military spending would be.

The UN Security Council will vote today on whether to impose new sanctions against North Korea. The draft resolution, which was presented to the Council last week, requires UN member states to conduct mandatory inspections of all cargo passing to or from North Korea via their territories, and bans all weapons imports and exports to and from Pyongyang. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]

The trial of Seamus Daly, accused of carrying out the Omagh bomb attack in Northern Ireland in 1998, has collapsed. Daly’s was the first and only trial in relation to the attack, which killed 29 people, and took place soon after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. [BBC; The Guardian’s Henry McDonald] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE