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The Early Edition: April 14, 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

Syria peace talks. Opposition delegates met in Geneva yesterday. There is as yet no plan for direct talks, though President Assad’s government has said that its delegates will arrive in Geneva tomorrow for the indirect talks. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim and Dana Ballout]

The Syrian regime is using “pretexts” to avoid joining the talks, leader of the opposition group the High Negotiations Committee Asaad al-Zoubi told reporters following yesterday’s discussions. [Al Jazeera]

Political transition is “the priority and the agenda,” UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, who is mediating the peace talks, said yesterday. He also called on parties involved to reaffirm their “faith and determination in protecting” the cessation of hostilities. [Reuters’ Tom Miles]

The Syria cease-fire is “tenuous” and subject to repeated violation by the Assad regime, President Obama said following a meeting with the CIA yesterday. The President will discuss Syria with leaders of the Gulf States who oppose President Assad next week. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee]

“We have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum.” Obama also insisted that the US has made substantial gains against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and has reduced its forces to the lowest level in two years. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

“Phase two” in the fight against Islamic State is about to begin, the Pentagon announced yesterday, which spokesperson for the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria Col. Steve Warren explained is designed to “dismantle this enemy” now that it has been “weakened.” Phase two will focus on isolating Raqqa in Syria. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is pushing his country into a “major political crisis” while it struggles under financial pressure and the war with Islamic State, starting with his presentation in March of a new cabinet which fails to represent Iraq’s major parties, warns Zalmay Khalilzad, adding that Abadi needs the US and Iran to help him to avoid it. [New York Times]  Over 100 politicians signed a petition calling for the prime minister’s resignation yesterday following a day of “bickering and brawls.” [Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Loveday Morris]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 13. Separately, partner forces conducted a further seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The company that created the method for unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters has “sole ownership” of the technique, meaning the government is unlikely to disclose it to Apple or anyone else, according to Obama administration sources. [Reuters’ Joseph Menn and Mark Hosenball]

Operation Trail Mix. Newly declassified and released records show that the FBI’s battle with Apple is not the first time it has been unable to decode data and has found a “clever workaround.” In 2003, the agency convinced a judge to allow it to secretly and remotely install software on computers belonging to an animal rights group in order to get round the encryption, and intercept the group’s communications. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]

A draft of the Senate Intelligence Committee encryption bill arrived yesterday, reports Cory Bennett, and it does not differ significantly from the discussion draft that was made public last week.  It requires a vast range of companies to provide “information or data” to the government “in an intelligible format” on being served with a court order. [The Hill]

The Email Privacy Act will be taken up by the House in the last week of April, house Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy confirmed yesterday. The Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill yesterday. The bill will close a “loophole” in existing legislation and mean that the government will have to obtain a warrant before obliging technology companies to provide customers’ electronic communications. [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]

A Bill that would mean that the public is able to make FOIA requests for National Security Council records was also introduced in the House yesterday, as was the case until a court ruling in 1996 put a stop to it on the ground that the National Security Council’s function of advising and assisting the president meant that it was not an “agency” under federal law and was therefore not subject to FOIA. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, set up earlier this year, will include the chief executive of MasterCard Inc, the former head of the NSA and officials from Uber and Microsoft, President Obama announced yesterday. The commission is tasked with making recommendations by December for strengthening cybersecurity in the private sector and government. [Reuters’ Roberta Rampton]

Stopping the spread of material online is a “signature element of warfare in the age of technology,” and has been “vital” in efforts to stop Islamic State recruiting and disseminating its ideology, report Christopher S Stewart and Mark Maremont. [Wall Street Journal]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui orchestrated the Paris and Brussels attacks, Islamic State has announced in its magazine “Dabiq,” in contrast with French investigators’ belief that Abdelhamid Abaaoud was the ringleader.  The two brothers blew themselves up at Brussels airport and a metro stop in March. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop]

Prime suspect in the November Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam had documents concerning a nuclear research center in Germany in his possession, German newspapers have reported. The Juelich center is used to store atomic waste.  Printouts of internet articles and photos of the center’s chairman were discovered in Abdeslam’s apartment in the Molenbeek area of Brussels. [Reuters]

Spanish police have arrested a Frenchman suspected of supplying arms to Amedy Coulibaly, who held up a Jewish supermarket two days after his accomplices killed 12 in an attack on the offices of Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo in Malaga on Tuesday. [Al Jazeera]

“The purpose is clear: to show the West that the attackers really were sent from the heart of the group’s terror machinery.” Photos published by Islamic State show those who perpetrated the attacks in Brussels and Paris wearing the exact uniforms they wore during those attacks while posing for “carefully choreographed scenes” depicting atrocities committed in Iraq and Syria, reports Rukmini Callimachi. [New York Times]

LIBYA

The Islamic State is moving into Libya in response to US efforts to combat the group in Iraq and Syria, President Obama warned yesterday, speaking at the CIA’s headquarters. [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts]

Italian Foreign Minister Paulo Gentiloni became the first foreign official to visit the UN-backed unity government in Libya, arriving with food and medical supplies to be distributed in Tripoli and Benghazi. He stated that he would be willing to provide military intervention if invited to do so and if Italy’s parliament approved, but hoped that this would not be necessary. [Al Jazeera’s Barbara Bibbo]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Legislation requiring the Pentagon to publicize information about Guantánamo Bay detainees at least 21 days before release to other countries was introduced in the Senate yesterday. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

North Korea has deployed up to two intermediate-range ballistic missiles to its east coast, a South Korean news agency has reported, suggesting that the North may be intending to launch them on Friday to mark the birthday of the country’s founder. [Reuters]

Russian warplanes and a military helicopter flew “dangerously close” to a US Navy destroyer two days this week, according to US officials; the warship was patrolling and conducting helicopter exercises with Poland in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Speaking on the incident, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that: “Any peacetime military activity must be consistent with international laws and norms.” [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis; Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold]

Jordanian authorities shut down the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country yesterday, the group announced in a statement. Jordan revoked the Muslim Brotherhood’s official registration last year after it failed to comply with new government requirements. [New York Times’ Rana F. Sweis]

The UN has withheld 41 new cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, a US-based NGO AIDS-Free World has said, citing a leaked cable from MINUSCA to UN headquarters. [Al Jazeera] And American senators yesterday rebuked UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon for what they described as his failure to stop sexual abuse by the international body’s peacekeepers, threatening to hold back crucial funding not only to the UN itself but bilateral aid to nations which fail to hold their armed forces to account. Somini Sengupta provides the details. [New York Times]

President Obama arrived at the CIA headquarters yesterday for the fourth and likely last visit of his presidency to the agency. Greg Miller discusses the agency’s present concerns over who might become the next president, “particularly if it is Donald Trump.” [Washington Post]

Canada’s Liberal government is facing harsh criticism for proceeding with a $12 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, originally concluded by the previous Conservative administration in early 2014. Critics say the deal, which is believed to be the biggest in Canadian history, will help Riyadh to wage war in Yemen. [AFP]

“Hillary Rodham Clinton versus the US Department of Justice is a theoretical showdown that few in the [Democratic] party want.” Dan Roberts reports on the ongoing threat of criminal charges against the former secretary of state, and the impact that might have on the presidential race. [The Guardian]

There will be “uproar” if the UK’s Chilcot report on the Iraq war is not released within a few weeks, said former Conservative foreign minister David Davis. The Guardian reports.

The White House is considering removing the lowest tier of information classification as scrutiny escalates on senior government officials’ ability to protect sensitive information. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Still missing: most of the almost 300 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria two years ago today have yet to be found, many of their relatives and friends accusing the government of doing little to inform them of any attempts to locate them. [New York Times’ Chris Stein and Dionne Searcey]  A video featuring 15 girls who identify themselves as some of the abducted pupils has been released by Boko Haram. [BBC]

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About the Authors

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

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