The Early Edition: June 15, 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.

ORLANDO NIGHTCLUB ATTACK

The wife of gunman Omar Mateen was aware of his plans for the attack and may soon be charged as an accessory, law enforcement sources said yesterday. A federal grand jury has reportedly been convened and the charging could take place as early as today. [Reuters’ Letitia Stein and Julia Edwards]

“If in fact procedures were followed and no obvious clues missed, the questions become more difficult. Are the procedures adequate?” The Washington Post editorial board asks this and other questions of the previous FBI investigations into Mateen, which found that no action was warranted.

The FBI’s “pursue-every-lead” policy ultimately led to the Orlando shooting, says Trevor Aaronson in The Intercept. Agents are pursuing “thousands of assessments nationwide,” no matter how ridiculous they may be. The FBI forces them to close assessments equally as quickly, meaning that “if you cannot come up with articulable facts in a short period of time,” according to recently-retired agent Jeff Danik, the agent has to move on.

“There is little time for hand-wringing.” Matt Apuzzo and Eric Lichtblau make a similar observation in the New York Times. The investigation into Omar Mateen was closed after agents followed a standard checklist. FBI supervisors approved the decision. They suggest that the reason tens and thousands of counterterrorism tips reach the FBI each year is partly America’s “see something, say something” attitude to vigilance.

Was the Islamic State too quick off the mark to claim Mateen for one of its own? As the killer’s backstory of “conflicted sexuality and heavy drinking” emerges, the Islamic State risks losing control of its narrative and the “carefully crafted public image of its fighters,” say Lori Hinnant and Sarah El Deeb. [AP]  The claim was “opportunistic” and maybe “a sign of weakness rather than strength” from an organization which is suffering territorial losses and a rising rate of desertions, suggests Tim Lister. [CNN]

A UN Security Council statement condemning the Orlando attack for “targeting persons as a result of their sexual orientation” is the first time the institution has weighed in on sexual orientation, reports Somini Sengupta in the New York Times. Drafted by the US and released Monday, the statement was signed by an “unlikely” group of countries, including Egypt and Russia. 

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Iraqi army retook control of a village south of Mosul, the largest Islamic State-held city in Iraq, yesterday, marking the end of an offensive which has taken almost three months. The delays have reportedly been a source of “embarrassment” for the Iraqi army and the coalition, the operation having been touted as the first real test for newly trained Iraqi units. The training and equipping of the soldiers involved took up much of the $1.6 billion spent by the US last year. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim]

At least seventy Assad regime soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours in fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Pro-regime fighters lost two villages southwest of Aleppo city before retaking them several hours later. [Al Arabiya]

The Syrian government has claimed that German special forces were present alongside French and US military personnel in northern Syria, today. Germany has denied the accusation. [Reuters’ Lisa Barrington and Andreas Rinke]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 13. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

EUROPE

Larossi Abballa, suspected of stabbing a police captain and his partner in Paris, pledged allegiance to Islamic State live on Facebook while still inside the couple’s home, according to French authorities. The couple’s three-year-old son could reportedly been seen in the background of the video, Abballa saying “I have not decided what to do with him,” according to a local journalist who viewed the video. [New York Times’ Alissa J Rubin and Lilia Blaise]  Facebook is cooperating with French authorities in the investigation. [France 24]

France will see more terror attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said today, adding that French intelligence and police services had stopped fifteen attacks since 2013 and were waging a “non-stop battle” to track down would-be terrorists. [Reuters’ Brian Love]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea may have added six or seven nuclear weapons to its stockpile in the last eighteen months, according to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which estimates that North Korea has between 13 and 21 weapons at this point. [Reuters]

China has banned exports to North Korea of technological materials which could be used in weapons production today, a new response to North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The CIA was considering requesting an advance promise from the Justice Department not to prosecute officials engaged in interrogation techniques, a July 2002 draft letter prepared for then-Attorney General John Ashcroft shows. The request specifically concerned those who were involved in interrogating Abu Zubaydah, a suspected terrorist who was subjected to waterboarding dozens of times. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]  

The CIA has released declassified versions of 50 documents relating to the controversial Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program that was condemned in the 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee “torture report.” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The US has managed to “infuriate” both Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Iran nuclear deal. When the deal, which came into effect in January, was reached, Saudi and other Sunni Arab leaders were convinced America had shunned them. Six months later, Iranian leaders and their Shia Arab allies are more and more certain that the US is really against them, short-changing them with a deal which has not delivered the sanctions relief it promised. Both sides are “partly right,” says David Gardner in the Financial Times.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart in Norway today to discuss Iran’s complaints that it is not receiving the sanctions relief it expected under the nuclear deal. [AP’s Matthew Lee]

NATO formally recognised cyberspace as a domain of warfare yesterday, acknowledging that battles are waged on computer networks as well as in air, sea and land. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]

Russia is violating an internationally-agreed ceasefire in Ukraine “again and again,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said today. [Reuters’ Robin Emmott]

There was renewed fighting overnight on the Afghan-Pakistan border, resulting in the death of an Afghan border guard, an Afghan official said today. Islamabad has dispatched more troops and weapons to the border in response. [AP’s Munir Ahmed]

NATO will maintain its layout of bases in Afghanistan, world leaders are expected to agree at the NATO summit in Warsaw next month, even if the US goes ahead with its plans to drawdown troops. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

The EU’s maritime force off Libya’s coast has been authorized to seize illegal weapons that are helping to support violence in the North African country by a resolution unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council yesterday. [AP’s Edith M Lederer and Dave Bryan]

A Chinese observation ship shadowed US aircraft carrier John C Stennis in the Western Pacific today, the carrier’s commander said, as it joined Japanese and Indian warships for a drill. [Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan and Tim Kelly]

A Chinese intelligence ship entered Japan’s territorial waters this morning for the first time in over a decade. The ship was sighted by a Japanese surveillance plane. Japan subsequently voiced concern that the move, along with other recent Chinese military activity, is escalating tensions between the two nations. [AP]

Former aide to Hillary Clinton Bryan Pagliano received immunity from the Justice Department in connection with a criminal investigation, a federal judge confirmed yesterday. The computer expert worked at the State Department while Clinton was serving as Secretary of State and was also paid privately by her. He has reportedly previously received immunity in connection with statements he provided to the FBI about Clinton’s private email server. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein] 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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