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
Islamic State is facing military assaults on two of its strongholds: Raqqa, Syria and Fallujah, Iraq. The two offensives hope to capitalize on losses suffered by the group in recent months. Nour Malas has further details at the Wall Street Journal.
The US military says it has rectified the poor intelligence collection and target identification that has plagued the war against Islamic State, with successes now apparent in the targeting of oil rigs and secret cash stores. However, some critics think that the new approach has greater risk of civilian casualties, reports Eric Schmitt. [New York Times]
Moscow will halt airstrikes against al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, it announced on Wednesday, a move designed to give other rebel groups the opportunity to distance themselves from the extremists. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]
Russia has accused Turkey of providing Islamic State with chemical components used in improvised explosives that are “being widely used to commit terrorist acts;” the accusations were levied in a letter from Moscow UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out two strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 24. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 15 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Afghan government has called on the Taliban to engage in peace negotiations, threatening dire consequences for the group’s new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, if it fails to do so. [Al Jazeera]
Haibatullah faces “contradictory expectations” from those inside the militant group and outsiders such as the Afghan government, with the former looking to him to unify the fractious group, and the latter looking for indications that the new leader is more willing to end fighting than his predecessor, reports Sune Engel Rasmussen. [The Guardian]
“The question to Mr Obama is whether this killing is merely an end in itself or part of a strategy to drive Pakistan, America’s supposed ally, and Taliban leaders to the peace table.” The New York Times editorial board discusses the drone strike that killed previous Taliban leader Mansour this weekend.
Does killing the leaders of militant groups work? Asks Yaroslav Trofimov, concluding that “the verdict is far from clear and, to an extent, depends on the size and cohesion of the targeted group.” [Wall Street Journal]
The Economist observes that “America remains royally fed up with Pakistan, not least because of its reluctance to go after a key Taliban ally, the Haqqani network, sheltering in North Waziristan.”
“The hits and misses of targeting the Taliban.” Vanda Felbab-Brown notes that Saturday’s drone strike is “unlikely to improve Kabul’s immediate national security problems, and may create more difficulties than it solves.” [New York Times]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
“If a whistle-blower is willing to take that risk to alert the American people to dangers, the least the law should do is to take full account of the whistle-blower’s intentions.” Mark Hertsgaard, author of “Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden,” discusses the risks faced by those who wish to report wrongdoing and the unwillingness of many in Washington to provide legal protections for those that do so, “at least in the case of Edward Snowden.” [New York Times]
CIA officials disagreed with Director John Brennan over his approach to the conflict between the spy agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee, thinks Sen Ron Wyden, who stated during an interview on HBO’s “Vice” that he is sure CIA officials thought what Brennan had done was “flat out wrong.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s office intends to request that the EU’s top court reviews legal methods used by Facebook and other tech giants to store Europeans’ data on servers in the US. Sam Schechner provides further details at the Wall Street Journal.
Romanian hacker “Guccifer” has pleaded guilty to charges of hacking and aggravated identity theft in a Virginia court; Guccifer earlier this month claimed to have hacked into Hillary Clinton’s “completely unsecured” server, a suggestion dismissed by her campaign. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]
The Pentagon still uses a 1970s computer system and floppy disks to run its nuclear weapons force, a government accountability office report has revealed.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
“The most right-wing government in Israel’s history” has been formed with opposition leader Avigdor Liberman’s joining of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Presenter Laura Kyle explores the implications for any future peace deal with Palestine in this week’s episode of Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story,” available here.
Several Palestinians convicted of murder or collaborating with Israel now face execution, following the release of a statement by Hamas calling for the resumption of the death penalty, reportedly being seen as a “green light to begin executions.” [New York Times’ Majd al Waheidi and Diaa Hadid]
Israeli and Palestinian leaders must do “radically more” to achieve peace in the Middle East, the UN said yesterday. UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that “the will to advance toward peace clearly exists” among citizens, but the absence of “the political will and bold leadership to make genuine progress a reality” risks an escalation in violence between the two nations. [AP’s Michael Astor]
Legislation to send Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria to Guantánamo Bay was introduced by a group of Republicans yesterday, by way of an amendment to the Senate’s 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It would mean that the detention facility would remain open. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
The “Senate Torture Report” has been banned from Guantánamo Bay’s library because “there are things that would be of interest to a potential adversary of the United States” in it, and because it would pose a risk to “good order and discipline” inside the detention center. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY
A State Department independent watchdog report is “highly critical” of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office, concluding that she had not sought permission to do so, and would not have been given permission if she had. The report also undermines some of Clinton’s statements regarding her treatment of classified emails. [New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers and Eric Lichtblau; Washington Post’s Rosalind S Helderman and Tom Hamburger]
“Now everyone has proof of her deceptions,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board: the report concludes that Clinton broke federal record-keeping rules, ignored security concerns raised by other officials, and employed a staff which shared her same “disdain” for the rules …
… yet “no evidence of illegal activity” has been uncovered by the report, which will nevertheless serve as “fodder for attacks” from her political opponents, and “fuel concerns within her own party” over perceptions of her trustworthiness, say Demetri Sevastopulo and Courtney Weaver. [Financial Times]
The “9 biggest revelations” in the report have been summarized by Nick Gass. [Politico]
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
Belgian police detained four on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group in Antwerp yesterday, following a search of houses. All four were charged. The four do not appear to have links to the Brussels Airport and subway bombings of March 22, according to a statement released by prosecutors. [Reuters; AP]
Enhanced powers to detain terror suspects, impose house arrest and use deadly force to halt attacks have been given to French police and judicial authorities in a bill approved by France’s Senate yesterday. Aurelien Breeden provides a summary of the new powers. [New York Times]
The G-7 Summit began today in Shima, Japan, Obama’s last such meeting before he leaves office. The US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan are meeting to discuss an agenda including global security issues such as Ukraine and the South China Sea, as well as the global economy. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee; Reuters] Live updates on the Summit are being provided by the Guardian.
China has warned G-7 leaders not to “escalate tensions” over the South China Sea. G-7 foreign ministers antagonized Beijing last month by issuing a “thinly veiled” statement which criticized China’s activities in the area over recent years. [Financial Times’ Tom Mitchell and Yuan Yang]
China is due to send nuclear missile-armed submarines into the Pacific Ocean for the first time – a response, it says, to the US Thaad anti-ballistic missile system installed in South Korea, which has undermined China’s own deterrent force. This is in line with a recent Pentagon report predicting that China would conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]
A former member of the 9/11 Commission does not believe the Saudi royal family was unaware of the 9/11 plot. Tim Roemer was responding to questions posed during a House Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. He suggested that his questioner, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), read the still-classified 28-pages of the 2002 congressional report, which describe overseas support for the 9/11 attackers. [The Intercept’s Alex Emmons]
The search for the “black box” of crashed EgyptAir Flight 804 continues, Egypt enlisting European deep-sea search crews to assist. At the moment, investigators still have no idea what caused the jet to crash last week. [The Guardian]
Islamic State is attempting to infiltrate the migrant smuggling trade to transport its members into Europe from Libya, now that the route from Turkey and Greece has become more policed. Nick Paton Walsh interviews some of those who have been contacted by the militant organization. [CNN]
Another Australian has been arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, the latest in a string of such arrests. [Reuters’ Matt Siegel]
The head of the UN mission in Central African Republic has vowed to put a stop to sexual exploitation and abuse by troops, setting a goal of “zero tolerance.” UN peacekeeping, and French and European troops, have been accused of the sexual abuse of children and adults in CAR since 2013, when violence broke out there. [The Guardian’s Clár Ní Chonghaile]
Oil firm Chevron’s onshore facilities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta have been attacked by militants, the company confirmed this morning. A militant group called the Niger Delta Avengers said they had blown up the facility’s main electricity feed. [Reuters’ Ulf Laessing and Ed Cropley]