The Early Edition: March 11, 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.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. The Department of Justice has harshly criticized Apple in its latest court filing concerning its demand that the tech giant write software to break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The government said Apple “deliberately raised technological barriers” to prevent compliance with the warrant. The filing also alleges that Apple has assisted the Chinese government to access customer data while it rejected the FBI’s request. Apple’s lawyer has said the DoJ is attempting to “smear” it with “desperate” and “unsubstantiated” claims. [BBC; Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett; Reuters]

The court filing and Apple’s “emotional” rebuke signals an escalation in tensions over the case, which has drawn worldwide attention due to its significant legal and corporate implications. [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Katie Benner]

The new court documents also provide an insight into the days following the San Bernardino shooting, government lawyers defending the FBI’s decision to change the iCloud password associated with the iPhone, saying the auto-backup feature was probably disabled. [NBC News’ Andrew Blankstein and Mattew Deluca]

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) has presented a proposal to the US that would bring America’s role as the final authority on internet naming to an end. In return, Icann will overhaul its governance system intended to prevent meddling by governments in the future. Richard Walters provides the details at the Financial Times.

The Federal Communications Commission has put forward a draft proposal to govern how Internet providers share customer data with third parties, including advertisers. If adopted they would be the first rules of their kind. [NPR’s Alina Selyukh]

The FBI put bugs in binders in order to eavesdrop on Russian intelligence agents, court documents in the trial of alleged Russian agent Evgeny Buryakov revealed this week. [CNN’s Lorenzo Ferrigno]

LIBYA

UK Prime Minister David Cameron was “distracted by domestic priorities” while post-2011 uprising Libya became a “mess,” President Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic, revealing his frustration with aspects of British foreign policy. He said the nations’ “special relationship” would be at risk if the UK did not pay the proportion of its national income on defense required by NATO. [The Guardian’s Rowena Mason]  In a White House email to the UK’s BBC, however a spokesperson stated that the US “deeply” valued the UK’s contributions to efforts in Libya. [BBC]

Th Islamic State has been “portraying itself as the most important bulwark against foreign intervention” in Libya, according to the UN Security Council’s annual report released on Wednesday. The terrorist group has expanded into the security vacuum left by the 2011 uprising, the report says, its growing presence likely to “increase the level of international and regional interference, which could provoke further polarization.” [Reuters] The UN report has also found that numerous countries, companies and individuals are breaching the international arms embargo on Libya, supplying arms to factions in the North African country. [Wall Street Journal’s Margaret Coker]

LEAKED ISLAMIC STATE DOCUMENTS

Thousands of Islamic State personnel records obtained by German and British media this week have caught the attention of US intelligence officials, who are skeptical that they will disclose “many new revelations” about Islamic State’s current operations. Although US intelligence has yet to examine the documents, it appears they are as much as three years old. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef et al]

A “fantastic coup.” In Britain however the head of global counterterrorism, Richard Barrett thinks the trove of documents are “an absolute goldmine of information of enormous significance and interest” – assuming they’re genuine. [Reuters’ Guy Faulconbridge]  The documents appear to reveal the names of previously unknown British Islamic State fighters. They also list a number of well known British jihadis. [The Guardian’s Shiv Malik]

Others are questioning the authenticity of the documents, and have pointed out discrepancies in formatting, dates and the Islamic State logo displayed on the documents. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen]  The German Federal Bureau of Investigation will act on the assumption that the documents are genuine, according to Germany’s interior minister. [BBC]

Where did they come from? The documents had reportedly been “touted around the Middle East of months, dangled in front of media outlets for large sums of money,” before they were eventually published by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and then Sky in the UK. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will send delegates to the peace talks due to start in Geneva next week, says Russia’s foreign ministry. A formal announcement is expected from the Syrian foreign minister on Saturday. [Reuters]

A federal division that would maintain Syria’s unity as a single state while giving general autonomy to regional authorities is being discussed as a possible way forward by those involved in the UN-brokered peace talks, including some major Western powers, according to an anonymous UN Security Council diplomat. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]

A resolution declaring that Islamic State is committing “genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities” is set to be brought to the floor by Republicans on Monday. The resolution has more than 200 co-sponsors, from both parties, and is expected to pass. If it does, it will put further pressure on the Obama administration to make a similar declaration. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has ordered further nuclear tests, according to state media. The country now has the ability to launch a ballistic missile to the US, warned US military commander William E Gortney during a Congressional hearing yesterday. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; Reuters’ Jack Kim]  The UN is “gravely concerned” by what it referred to as North Korea’s “destabilizing acts.”

The US has deployed three B-2 stealth bombers to Asia and the Pacific, to “integrate and conduct training with ally and partner air forces,” amid heightened tensions with North Korea, as well as China. [CNN’s Brad Lendon]

North Korea, Inc. is a “cadre of elite state-owned trading companies that keep the flow of cash and supplies steady” to and from North Korea. Jim Walsh and John Park have been investigating and explain the “pathways, partners and practices” North Korea uses to obtain materials for its prohibited nuclear weapons programs. [New York Times]

“How worried should we be?” Anna Fifield looks for any genuine threat behind North Korea’s “saber-rattling,” concluding that “there’s no proof that North Korea has been able to do the things it’s been claiming,” though in the midst of soaring tensions, there is “a risk of miscalculation.” North Korea could also attack through less conventional means, such as cyber-hacking, she suggests. [Washington Post]

North Korean cyber attacks on the South have doubled in the past month, according to South Korea’s spy agency, including previously reported attempts to hack into the smart phones of 300 foreign affairs, security and military officials. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iran’s missile launches are not prohibited by the nuclear agreement, reports Rick Gladstone, and whether or not they are a violation of UN resolution 2231 – which put the nuclear agreement into effect – is a matter of interpretation: it requires Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activity “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Iran insists that the wording does not prohibit launchings per se and that since it has no nuclear weapons, it can’t have violated the resolution. [New York Times] Nevertheless, after Wednesday’s launch, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Iranian government “not to increase tensions through any hasty actions.” He added that it was for the UN Security Council to decide whether the resolution has been breached.

In Afghanistan, the Islamic State has been contained to a single district and the Taliban is beginning to fracture into separate groups, the deputy chief of staff for communication for NATO’s Resolute Support Mission said yesterday.

A UK counterterrorism database contains the fingerprints and DNA profiles of almost 8,000 individuals, the biometrics commissioner, Alastair Macgregor QC has revealed in his latest report. [The Guardian‘s Alan Travis]

Two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino are being held captive by Islamic extremists in the Philippines. The terrorists have threatened to kill the captives within a month if their demands for a ransom are not met. [New York Times’ Floyd Whaley]

Some of the Guantánamo prison infrastructure is “deteriorating rapidly,” the commander of Southern Command, Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd told Congress yesterday. He did not seek additional funding however. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A senior al-Shabaab commander has appeared in public to refute claims that he was killed in US airstrikes on a training camp in Somalia last week, in which it is claimed over 150 of the group’s fighters were killed. [Al Jazeera]

Falling oil and gas prices are set to deplete Russian defense procurement by about 10% this year, according to Sergei Chemezov, chief executive of the Russian state industrial holding, Rostec. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

Final plans to integrate women into all military positions have been approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, meaning that US forces can now go ahead with plans to open all positions immediately. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

US special forces are training Senegalese troops to combat terrorist groups in the West African nation, part of the war games that US Special Operations Command and its Western and regional partners conduct annually. [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov]

South Sudan government forces have intentionally suffocated over 60 men and boys in a shipping container, according to Amnesty International, dumping the bodies in a field in Leer Town, Unity State. A separate UN report has accused government troops of murdering and raping civilians. The government denies targeting civilians, and says it is investigating. [BBC]

Special measures aimed at creating a more effective response to sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel were presented by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council yesterday. [UN News Centre]

Those campaigning to be the next US president have failed to set out how they would deal with critical international issues such as the US’ continuing role in Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe and tensions between China and its neighbors – apart from Hillary Clinton, says the New York Times editorial board. 

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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