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’s ceasefire has buckled beneath fresh fighting in and around Aleppo, days after the peace talks in Geneva came to a halt. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen and Daniel Boffey] At least 35 people have been killed as a result of rebel shelling and government airstrikes in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Jazeera]
The peace talks will resume on May 10, despite the renewed fighting, Russia’s news agency RIA has reported, citing Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. [Reuters]
The US and Turkey are deploying advanced rockets and additional Turkish forces to the Syrian border in an effort to shut off the Islamic State’s main route out of Syria, US and Turkish officials said yesterday. The Islamic State and other militant groups have been using a 60-mile stretch of the border to transport weapons, supplies and troops between the countries, and to send members to carry out attacks in Europe. [Wall Street Journal’s Ayla Albayrak and Dana Ballout]
The Islamic State has taken five villages along the Syria-Turkish border today, further weakening rebels’ hold on the Aziz district, north of Aleppo. [AP]
The number of foreigners joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has dropped significantly, now at around 200 per month as opposed to up to 2,000 a month a year ago, US Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E Gersten, Deputy Commander for Operations and Intelligence for the US-led campaign said yesterday, crediting progress on the battlefield by coalition forces and their partners for this. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]
Airstrikes on the Islamic State’s cash stores have destroyed up to $800 million of the “best-funded” terrorist organization’s funds, Maj. Gen. Gerstein said during a briefing yesterday. It is not known exactly how wealthy Islamic State is, but last year it approved a budget of $2 billion after capturing oil fields and imposing taxes before suffering significant losses to its finances. [BBC]
President Obama would consider sending yet more troops to Syria if the addition of 250 announced on Monday “yields positive results,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday, though no plans to do so have been made as yet. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]
A 35-year-old resolution rejecting Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war, remains in effect, the UN Security Council has said, responding to Israel’s declaration last week that it will never give up its claim over the land. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition nations carried out seven strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 25. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 18 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The FBI isn’t sharing the tool it used to crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters with Apple because its own understanding of the tool is too limited, reports the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima. FBI Director James Comey indicated that the bureau will not even engage in the usual White House-led process whereby government agencies debate whether to disclose computer software flaws to the software maker so that it can fix them.
Washington has been given greater oversight and control over national security cases under new rules issued by the Justice Department following the collapse of several high-profile prosecutions of Chinese-Americans, which led to allegations that they were being singled out as spies. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]
The Pentagon will not reveal the cyber tactics it is using against the Islamic State for fear that the terror group will use the information to defend itself from future attacks, head of US Cyber Command and the NSA Adm. Mike Rogers said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]
A “kill-list” of US government officials has been published by the United Cyber Caliphate, a hacking group which supports the Islamic State and which claims to have infiltrated the State Department to access the information. The State Department has told reporters it is unable to comment due to security concerns, though Cory Bennett, reporting in The Hill, notes that a lot of the officials’ personal data is publicly available online.
Visits to Wikipedia pages on terror groups and their tools have dropped almost 30-percent since 2013’s revelations of the NSA’s mass surveillance. That’s according to a forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal investigating the “chilling-effect” on the legal pursuit of online information following the disclosure of the NSA’s widespread web monitoring by former contractor Edward Snowden. [Reuters’ Joseph Menn]
“There’s the Saudi Arabia then, and there’s the Saudi Arabia now.” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-KY) has not read the redacted 28-pages of the US’s report on 9/11 believed to discuss Saudi Arabia’s connection to the attacks, but said yesterday that their decade-old contents will not affect the US’s relationship with the Saudi Arabia of today. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
There is a “disconnect between the rhetoric of strategic partnership with the United States and the actual practices of Persian Gulf regimes,” says the Washington Post editorial board, accusing the Obama administration of playing down or ignoring abuses such as “the abduction, torture and trial on trumped-up charges of US citizens” Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat.
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
Belgium has extradited Salah Abdeslam to Paris to stand trial for his alleged part in the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, during which around 130 people were killed. [BBC] France’s Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas has said that Abdeslam will be held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security jail in the Paris region. [AP]
The Islamic State may be targeting Sweden’s capital Stockholm, the Iraqi government has warned, an official telling reporters that the government had found intelligence indicating a plan involving seven or eight Iraqi citizens. [NBC News’ Phil Helsel and Kate Brannelly]
European countries are “grappling with how far to go in tightening laws to prosecute, monitor and restrict the movements of returnees” from Islamic State camps in Syria and Iraq, the question of whether to take pre-emptive action against those who have not been implicated in terrorist plots at the center of the debate. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter]
The US is “setting up a shield” to block “low-level threats” posed by North Korea, President Obama said in an interview aired yesterday. This has involved “positioning our missile development systems,” presumably a reference to plans to deploy a new missile defense system in South Korea, suggests Jordan Fabian. [The Hill]
North Korea has announced its first ruling party congress in 36 years, which analysts are suggesting will be preceded by another nuclear test. The summit will be carefully observed for signs of how Kim Jong-un’s party will present its nuclear weapons policy, “byongjin.” [The Guardian; New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun] The congress will take place on May 6. [AP]
“Technologically backward, unreliable, and wickedly unsafe for the unfortunate souls tasked with operating them.” David Axe discusses North Korea’s nuclear missile submarines, which leader Kim Jong-un “wants the world to think he’s just crazy enough to use.” [The Daily Beast]
The US has warned its citizens about “credible indications” of terrorist attacks on tourist areas in Turkey via its Embassy’s website. [AP]
There are concerns that China is considering expanding the area of the South China Sea in which it hopes to reclaim islands, US defense officials confirming that the US has recently flown three different “freedom of navigation” air patrols near the area, which were later condemned by China. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Jeremy Page]
Yemeni government forces have captured al-Qaeda’s last stronghold along Yemen’s southern coast. The extremists departed so suddenly, however, that some are speculating about a “secret deal” with local dignitaries. The army denies this. [Al Jazeera’s Saeed Al Batati]