The Early Edition: April 13, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Peace talks aimed at ending the five-year war in Syria are set to resume today in Geneva, having been adjourned on March 29. This will be the second round of negotiations, the first having collapsed in February. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad went ahead with parliamentary elections today, coinciding with the first day of the peace talks in Geneva, a sign he has no intention of stepping down as leader, report Hugh Naylor and Fareed Zakaria. [Washington Post]  Moscow has said that the elections are intended to avoid a legal vacuum until early elections are held under a new constitution. [Reuters]

France joined Iran, the US and Russia in expressing concerns over the increasing violence in Syria yesterday, which it says does not bode well for the peace talks due to start today. [Reuters; New York Times’ Anne Barnard]

The CIA is planning to give more powerful weapons to moderate Syrian rebels if the current truce collapses, US officials have said. Known as “Plan B,” the intention would be to arm the rebels to attack Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions. [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous]

“We know that to be fully effective, we must work to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the first place,” Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J Blinken warned a congressional committee yesterday. Even though 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed by US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon officials, and millions of stolen dollars have been destroyed, this has not prevented the militant group from spreading into Europe, North Africa and Afghanistan. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg et al]

The “opportunity afforded by the retaking of territory from ISIS is being lost” in Iraq, according to a report from the Minority Rights Group International and the Ceasefire Center for Civilian Rights, released today, citing a lack of governance and security. [Al Jazeera’s Megan O’Toole]

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

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI enlisted the help of “professional hackers” to crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, reports Ellen Nakashima. A software flaw was discovered by the hackers and brought to the FBI, which then used the information to create an item of hardware that could discover the phone’s four-digit ID number without triggering the security feature that would have wiped the data it contained. [Washington Post]

EU data protection regulators are considering whether to approve the EU-US Privacy Shield that would allow companies to transfer Europeans’ data to the US, bypassing the EU’s data transfer regulations. Current concerns include the amount of data the US government can collect, and the independence of the new role of “ombudsperson” to handle EU complaints about US surveillance practices, reports Julia Fioretti. [Reuters]

“ExDetect.” UK scientists believe they have invented an “explosive residue detector” that can identify explosives in crowded spaces and could play a major role in preventing terrorist attacks, reports Frank Gardner. [BBC]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

A bomb scare at Amsterdam airport yesterday led to an evacuation and the arrest of one man, though no explosives were found in his luggage. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop and Maarten Van Tartwijk]

A rucksack worn by the individual suspected of being a second assailant in the Brussels subway attack last month, feared to contain explosives, is being looked for by Belgian authorities. [Wall Street Journal’s Natalia Drozdiak and Laurence Norman]

Three individuals detained in connection with the November Paris attacks yesterday were released by a judge today. They had been arrested during a house search in the Brussels district of Uccle, yesterday. [Reuters]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US and India have agreed in principle that they will share military logistics in an attempt to meet increasing assertiveness from China. [Reuters]

US-Philippine military cooperation is also being strengthened, partly in response to China’s actions in the South China Sea. After a “rocky patch” spanning 25 years, a new agreement will “solidify” a military relationship between the two nations that will allow the US to build facilities at Philippine bases and will raise the number of US troops and equipment deployed there. [New York Times’ Floyd Whaley]

China is using its fishermen to guard its territorial claims in the South China Sea, sending fishing vessels, backed up by coast guards, close to other nations’ coastlines, according to experts. [Washington Post’s Simon Denyer]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“Potential cancer risk and non-cancer health effects” associated with Camp Justice have prompted Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, who is overseeing the Guantánamo war court defense teams, to forbid them from sleeping at the Camp, though they will continue to work there during the day. The health risks were identified in a Navy-Marine Corps risk assessment dated February 23. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Former US senator Bob Graham received a call from the White House yesterday confirming the “28 pages” are to be released to the public, he has informed reporters. The documents are part of papers relating to 9/11 that have remained classified at the FBI’s request. [The Daily Beast]

If President Obama visits Hiroshima during his visit to Japan next month, he should be ready to offer something “tangible” aimed at promoting his vision of a world free from nuclear weapons, says the New York Times editorial board, critical of his efforts so far, suggesting he has “failed to take advantage” of opportunities for bold action such as drawing China, India and Pakistan into talks, not to mention the fact he has supported a $1 trillion program to replace the US’ nuclear weapons.

Taiwan’s military has denied involvement with the US naval officer currently being investigated on suspicion of providing secret information to Taiwan or China. [New York Times’ Austin Ramzy]

Jahba East Africa, a new militant group aligning itself with Islamic State, has pitted itself against the reigning Al-Shabaab, releasing a letter claiming it has lost its way and is purging the wrong people. Al-Shabaab has yet to respond. [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman]

The “torturers’ lobby.” Paul Manafort, now a top aide to Donald Trump, was previously a principal at lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, whose clients included dictators, guerrilla groups and other “despots” worldwide. [The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff and Tim Mak]

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has been accused of being “less than candid” over his plans for UK troop deployments in Libya by the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, which has issued a letter to him calling for a full statement. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

The Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Liberation Organization are appealing the decision of a court in the US to award millions of dollars to relatives of US citizens killed in terrorist attacks in Israel in the early 2000s. The groups say the US does not have jurisdiction to try the case, brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act, since the attacks were directed at Israel, not the US. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong]

Candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General faced questions at the first ever public auditions for the job before the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, delegates interrogating them on issues such as conflict prevention and resolution and internal problems with the UN itself. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

The “informal dialogues” will continue today and tomorrow, and are the beginning of what the President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft has called a “new and transparent process.”

Previously, the lobbying and selection process has taken place behind closed doors and has involved only the five permanent members of the Security Council, though on “at least two” occasions the person selected for the position did not even campaign for it, according to Alvaro de Soto, a former UN under-secretary-general, and was simply informed that they had been chosen by the Council. [New York Times]

“Right now in the United States we have a military that is not accountable to the public.” Cian Westmoreland, a former serviceman who built the communications infrastructure for the US military’s drone program in Afghanistan, speaks out about his experiences and US drone policy. [Al Jazeera’s Norma Costello]

The best way to stop Tehran’s ballistic missile program is to boost the US’ own ballistic missile defense capabilities and those of its allies, say Michael Makovsky and Charles Wald, who consider that the government’s “vague” efforts so far are “inadequate.” [Politico] 

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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