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Avril Haines to Be Deputy National Security Adviser

Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 8:20 PM

The Washington Post reports:

Avril D. Haines will become deputy to national security adviser Susan E. Rice, returning to the White House just 18 months after she left to be CIA Director John Brennan’s second in command, administration officials said Thursday.

Haines will succeed Antony Blinken, confirmed by the Senate this week as deputy secretary of state.

The musical chairs among the administration’s senior national security aides comes as President Obama positions himself for his last two years in office, faced with an overflow of world crises and a Republican-controlled Congress determined to check his policy-making power.

District Court Suppresses Pole Camera Surveillance Footage

Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 4:41 PM

Twitter brings news of this interesting little order in United States v. Vargas.  The court’s opinion was authored by Judge Edward F. Shea and opens:

The first duty of government is the safety of its people—by Constitutional means and methods. Technology, including the means for covert surveillance of individuals through the use of a hidden video camera that wirelessly transmits images to an offsite computer of a law enforcement officer, can be an important tool in investigating crime. Here, in April and May 2013, law enforcement officers obtained permission from a utility company to install, and did install, a disguised video camera on a utility pole more than one hundred yards from Defendant Leonel Michel Vargas’ rural eastern Washington home. It continuously recorded activity in the front yard of Mr. Vargas’ property for more than six weeks and transmitted those images to a law enforcement officer’s computer. This permitted the officer, when viewing live footage, to pan and zoom the camera and, when the officer was off duty, to record the footage for later viewing. Mr. Vargas argues this constant surreptitious video viewing and recording of the activities at the front of his home and yard violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. For that reason, he asks the Court to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of this prolonged surreptitious video viewing and recording. The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) opposes suppression, contending that the video feed simply permitted law enforcement to remotely observe what any law enforcement officer could have observed if he passed by Mr. Vargas’ front yard on the public gravel access road in front of Mr. Vargas’ home. After reviewing relevant Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and applying such to the facts here, the Court rules that the Constitution permits law enforcement officers to remotely and continuously view and record an individual’s front yard (and the activities and people thereon) through the use of a hidden video camera concealed off of the individual’s property but only upon obtaining a search warrant from a judge based on a showing of probable cause to believe criminal activity was occurring. The American people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the activities occurring in and around the front yard of their homes particularly where the home is located in a very rural, isolated setting. This reasonable expectation of privacy prohibits the warrantless, continuous, and covert recording of Mr. Vargas’ front yard for six weeks. Mr. Vargas’ motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the video feed is granted. The Court provides a more detailed articulation of the factual circumstances and its ruling below.

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 4:07 PM

The New York Times is reporting that American officials have concluded North Korea was “centrally involved” in the hacking attacks on Sony Pictures. Privately, Officials also note that the White House has not yet decided to accuse the North Korean government though, as it weighs what response it can credibly muster. Questions also remain over whether North Korean hackers were assisted by an insider at Sony with a depth of knowledge of the company’s computer and security systems. Wired carries an overview of the debate about who hacked Sony, suggesting that the evidence it was North Korea “is flimsy.” We await more information from the White House as to the evidence it is using for attribution.

The news came after Sony Pictures decided to cancel “The Interview,” a far-fetched comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-Un, which is believed to have prompted the attack from the North. Hackers had posted threats on the Sony computer system promising a “bitter fate” for those going to the movie and warning that the “world will be full of fear” if it was released. “Remember the 11th of September 2001,” they wrote. According to Nate Silver, killing “The Interview” could cost Sony $100 million. For the Council on Foreign Relations, Scott Snyder provides a top-notch analysis of “what Hollywood gets wrong about North Korea.” The Washington Post has more.

News of the unexpected announcement that the United States and Cuba will normalize relations has now transitioned to commentary and investigation into how such a momentous event passed under the radar. If you missed the big news, McClatchy shares an overview of the changes, and exactly what all is included in the deal. Elsewhere, Politico outlines the 18 months of secret conversations and backchanneling that brought Obama and Castro together.

If you’re wondering, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay is not part of the US-Cuban bargain. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reports that there won’t be a change in the status quo. It does lead to an interesting question though: Will Cuba now cash those 55 years’ worth of rent checks? Vice News explores the history of the US military base in Cuba.

The fallout from President Obama’s announcement has triggered a sharp partisan response, with Congressional Republicans promising to block changes to Cuba policy. McClatchy notes that “among the possible strategies: They could refuse to end the economic embargo of Cuba, block funding for a new embassy, or stall or defeat an ambassadorial nomination.” Leading the charge is Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who writes that “Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.” In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg disagrees, stating that “Obama and his team knew something that many previous administrations before them also knew: U.S. policy toward Cuba was self-defeating.”

A Reuters exclusive claims that Washington’s coalition allies are increasingly absent from the air war above Syria. In December, nearly 97 percent of strikes were carried out by the United States alone. As there are fewer and fewer easy-to-hit targets, more and more of the burden falls on the United States and its precision-guided munitions.

Over the last three days, the US and allied warplanes have conducted 61 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, with 45 strikes supporting Kurdish peshmerga troops as they fight to retake Sinjar and Zumar. The strikes were intended to clear a path and pin down ISIS militants before Kurdish forces launched their operation. According to Reuters, there are initial signs of success, with Kurdish forces reclaiming at least 8 sub-districts in the Zumar area.

In Syria, a newly uncovered mass grave may hold the bodies of more than 230 people from the Shyayat tribe of Deir al-Zour Province. They are believed to have been killed by the Islamic State in retribution for the tribe’s efforts to fight the group. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights notes that with their deaths, more than 900 Shuayat have been killed by ISIS.

As part of the battle to limit the flow of oil to the government of Bashar al Assad, the United States has imposed new penalties on five people and six companies that had been operating in violation of American sanctions. The companies were providing fuel and oil to the Syrian regime and are based in Syria, the UAE, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The New York Times has more on the sanctions.

Two days after the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, killing at least 141 people, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad has approved bail of roughly $8,000 for Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the man charged with planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The decision provoked outrage from India, with the Indian Foreign Ministry saying that it was “a reassurance to terrorists who perpetuate heinous crimes.”

Even so, Pakistan has asked for Afghan help to fight the Taliban, asking for help in capturing Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, who is believed to be hiding in north eastern Afghanistan. However, yesterday, the head of the Afghanistan’s chief intelligence agency said that the withdrawal of foreign troops has left an intelligence-gathering vacuum, leaving the region vulnerable to even more attacks.

The New York Times reports that the onslaught of economic pressure and instability in Russia may push Russian President Vladimir Putin into a peace deal with Ukraine. Multiple times over the last few days, Putin has spoken with his Ukrainian, German, and French colleagues. The Wall Street Journal writes that Mr. Putin’s miscalculations over the bite of Western sanctions and Europe’s determination to see him pay have restricted his options and made a recession next year “all but inevitable.”

Boko Haram militants killed 32 people and kidnapped dozens of others during a brutal attack on Thursday. In a sign of the difficulties Nigeria has faced in fighting the Islamic extremist group, a court martial sentenced 54 Nigerian soldiers to death for refusing to deploy for an operation against Boko Haram. The troops claimed they did not have proper equipment or weapons for the operation.

The United States embassy in Manila has refused to hand over a US Marine charged in the killing of a transgendered Filipino. While the embassy says its position is in accord with the bilateral forces agreement, the decision is likely to spark anti-American protests, according to the Guardian.

In the Daily Beast, Tim Mak says that “prosecutors have no idea when 9/11 mastermind’s trial will start” as legal proceedings drag on, and on, and on.

In the Wall Street Journal, Michael B. Mukasey, former US Attorney General, argues that CIA interrogators followed the law.

Parting Shot: A Texas City plumber’s truck has wound up in the Syrian war. The plumber found out after receiving calls and threats after a photo of his truck, now mounted with an anti-aircraft gun, was featured in jihadi propaganda on Twitter.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

In an early edition of the Foreign Policy Essay, Frederic Wehrey writes of the counterterrorism dilemmas presented by the Islamic State in Libya.

Ben Wittes, who is in Israel, shares his thoughts on sipping coffee along the border with al Qaeda.

This week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast includes an interview with Joanne McNabb, the Director of Privacy Education and Policy for the California Attorney General’s Office.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.


A Coffee Shop on the Israeli-Al Qaeda Border

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 5:13 PM

The last time I was on the Israeli-Syrian border looking at the ruined Syrian city of Quneitra was thirty years ago. I was fifteen and taking a summer course in Israel. And an Israeli soldier manning a border position was explaining to my class the mechanics of this tense but oddly stable border, over which Israelis and Syrian forces stared at each other but which—unlike the Lebanese border—remained stable over long periods of time. I was struck, I recall, by the visible presence of a United Nations outpost, and I asked the soldier what the UN’s role along this line was. He responded in a heavy Israeli accent with amused contempt—and no small amount of truth: “Well, eh, they monitor, eh, the situation very carefully so that if anything happens, eh, they can get out before they get hurt.” It is a comment that has conditioned my view of many UN operations ever since.

Coffee AnanI returned today to that same spot overlooking Quneitra to find the Syrian army gone. The UN is still there, and still monitoring the situation very carefully. There’s a cafe at which some of them hang out on the Israeli side called “Coffee Anan”—which is a double pun in Hebrew because “Anan” means cloud and the cafe is at the top of a high peak. But on the other side of border, there are no Syrian troops any more. Quneitra fell a few months ago to the Al-Nusra Front. And the Syrian army has not come back. Where I once looked across the line at Syria, the crossing point is now manned on the opposite side by a wing of Al Qaeda.Quneitra

Al Nusra has been making its way northward along the Israeli-Syrian border for a while now. But the regime’s loss of Quneitra, and its failure to return there, is particularly striking. Quneitra is a symbol. It was a relatively big city, a regional capital, and it was completely destroyed in the 1967 war. The Syrian government rebuilt a different Quneitra a few miles back from the line, but it left the ruins of the old city as a monument to Zionist aggression. The Assad regime used to take foreign visitors there. As someone remarked to me today, it played a role in the regime’s legitimizing of its struggle not unlike the one that the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial plays for Israel. And now it’s in the hands of rebels. Indeed, this border is really now an Israeli-Al Qaeda border.

Read more »

Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, Episode #47: An Interview with Joanne McNabb

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Our guest this week is Joanne McNabb, Director of Privacy Education and Policy for the California Attorney General’s Office.  Joanne discusses the findings and recommendations in the recently released 2014 California Data Breach Report.  She also offers insight into some of the key factors the Attorney General’s Office considers in deciding whether or not to investigate a breach.  Finally, she discusses changes in California privacy law that will go into effect on January 1 – including SB568, the so-called “online eraser” for minors seeking to delete unwanted posts, and AB1710, which extends data security requirements to companies that “maintain” personal information, not just those that own or license it.  Finally, she settles a dispute only privacy lawyers could find interesting regarding the scope of AB1710’s provision requiring identity theft prevention/mitigation services.

We almost got through the week without any NSA news, but the FISA court made the news for doing exactly what you’d expect – renewing the section 215 orders for metadata.  More interesting was the news from Turkey, which effectively rewrites the history of cyberwar, and it no longer begins with Stuxnet.  It looks as though Russia launched a distinctly kinetic and sophisticated cyberattack in 2008 on the Turkish-Azeri pipeline that threatened to break its chokehold on Caspian oil.  Michael Vatis takes the day off to file an amicus brief in support of Microsoft in the fight over overseas warrants.

The Sony breach fallout continues to be severe. Things are bad enough that the Hollywood Reporter is asking me to write op-eds. We question whether Sony is really resorting to “active measures” to block distribution of the stolen files. And Aaron Sorkin calls the media “dishonorable” for publishing all these leaked documents. Funny, but I don’t remember him saying the same thing when it was Manning and Snowden putting stolen docs on the front page.

Chris Conte explains the SEC’s new cybersecurity rules for exchanges and other trading platforms.

And the lame duck allows cybersecurity legislation to pass in a convoy:  Five cybersecurity bills, all modest in impact, were adopted by Congress in the last few days:

  • 1691 – allowing pay flexibility to attract cybersecurity professionals;
  • R. 2952 – requiring DHS to adopt a workforce strategy and assessment plan;
  • 2519 – authorizing DHS to run an integration center providing threat information to civilian agencies and modifying federal government data breach rules;
  • 1353 – a very NIST-centered set of authorizations for cybersecurity awareness, research and workforce measures that may or may not be funded
  • 2521 – confirming DHS’s role in providing FISMA oversight under OMB guidance

And Sony has company. It turns out that an Iranian hack on the Sands Las Vegas may be first cyberattack on US soil. Both Sony and Sands join the DDOS attacks on our banks as cyberattacks on the US that have gone unanswered. Instead of a digital Pearl Harbor, it looks as though we’re getting a lot of digital Sudetenlands.

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 2:42 PM

In a historic speech, today, President Barack Obama announced that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, opening an embassy in Havana, reviewing Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, and easing travel and monetary restrictions. The deal comes at the end of 18 months of talks facilitated by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who the New York Times reports hosted the final meeting at the Vatican.

Earlier this week, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke on the phone, agreeing to put aside years of animosity and forge a new relationship.

The agreement was preceded by the release of an American contractor, Alan P. Gross, who had spent five years in a Cuban prison, accused of espionage. The United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American jail since 2001. The United States also secured the release of of a US intelligence agent who had been held by Cuba for nearly 20 years.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama said speaking at the White House today. “It’s time for a new approach.” The New York Times has more on the announcement and exactly what all it includes.

As Cuba enters onto the world’s stage, Russia is retreating once again into isolation.

From the New York Times: “Russia is stuck in a vicious cycle in which falling oil prices worsen its financial position, which causes a loss of confidence in the ruble. A falling ruble causes high inflation and makes businesses reluctant to invest, and the central bank’s interest rate increase to combat the falling ruble will have a side effect of worsening the economy further.”And on Tuesday, President Obama announced that he would support new sanctions against Moscow.

Trading in the Russian ruble remained volatile this morning, reports the Times. The Russian Finance Ministry announced that it is willing to sell as much as $7 billion of its foreign currency reserves in an attempt to stabilize the ruble.  However, traders remained skeptical, with one noting that the Russian Central Bank had been sold billions of foreign reserves already, which has done nothing to stop the skid.

The Wall Street Journal writes that money changers “from St. Petersberg to Siberia” ran out of foreign currency yesterday, and Russians rushed to buy big-ticket items. One mid-size Moscow lender said they would be unable to send foreign currency on Wednesday as the aircraft that typically transport cash are full.

In Politico, Michael Crowley asks, “is Obama destroying the Russian economy?”

The shifts are tectonic, and Bloomberg explains they extend farther than just the Russian economy. As the American market accelerates, and China’s cools, “the dollar is surging and the influence of the BRICS is on the wane.” The vulnerability in emerging-markets is pushing capital into tradition safe havens, boosting the US economy along the way.

Following the despicable attack on a school in Pakistan that left at least 141 dead, the Guardian reports that the Pakistani military has responded with massive air strikes against Taliban strongholds near the border with Afghanistan. Reuters also brings us news that a US drone strike in Afghanistan killed four members of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) – the group responsible for the attack.

Today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised to pursue terrorists even outside of Pakistan’s borders, while also lifting a long-held moratorium on the death penalty. After speaking with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Sharif promised that the fight would also continue “on the Afghan side of the border.” According to the Washington Post, Pakistan’s Army Chief also took an emergency flight to Kabul to meet with Ghani and US General John F. Campbell, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that a senior official in Peshawar claims that Pakistan posses hard intelligence that the attack was planned by Taliban coordinators hiding in eastern Afghanistan.

In Bloomberg, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake discuss how the US may get drawn into Pakistan’s new war, with the attacking pushing President Obama to renew and expand the counterterrorism partnership with the restive country that has deteriorated since the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Counterterrorism officials predict more attacks like the one on the school in Peshawar. A TTP spokesman said that the attack on the school was “just the trailer.”

Reuters carries a special report going inside Iraq’s “killing zones” – patches of Sunni farmlands that encircle Baghdad where Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia groups have declared all-out war against suspected ISIS militants. According to the International Rescue Committee, at least 83,000 people have abandoned their homes in the area. The “Baghdad Belt” is considered vital in keeping the Iraqi state together.

The Associated Press reports that two suicide bombers killed 26 people, including 16 students in Yemen yesterday. The attacks targeted a Shiite rebel checkpoint, but occurred just as a school bus was passing through.

In an attempt to crack down on terrorism, Kenya has closed over 500 NGOs, including 15 for alleged fundraising for terrorism.

In a 55-38 vote, the United States Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as the number 2 at the State Department.

A bill to extend the federal terrorism insurance program fared more poorly, effectively dying when retiring Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn requested last minute changes and refused to drop his objections. Reuters has more.

According to the Los Angeles Times, New York Times reporter James Risen has been ordered to appear at a January 5th hearing to give limited testimony before the trial of a former CIA officer who is charged with revealing classified information, particularly those covered in Mr. Risen’s book, State of War. Previously, the Department of Justice had agreed that it will not force Mr. Risen to reveal the name of his source.

In the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler fact checks Dick Cheney’s comments about waterboarding in WWII, finding that Cheney “is simply wrong when he claims Japanese soldiers were not tried for waterboarding.”

Finally, the Guardian reports that hackers who targeted Sony for its new movie, “The Interview,” have invoked the 9/11 attacks, suggesting “the world will be full of fear,” and warning people to avoid theaters showing the film.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody Poplin linked us to videos of the 2014 Cato Institute Conference on Surveillance, where Ben Wittes prompted a number of responses from Edward Snowden.

Ben Wittes and Matt Waxman, both in Israel, wrote of the heroism of effective logistics at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Finally, Peter Margulies explained all that’s wrong in the ongoing debate about the efficacy of torture.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.


The Foreign Policy Essay: Mosul on the Mediterranean? The Islamic State in Libya and U.S. Counterterrorism Dilemmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Editor’s Note: After the United States helped overthrow Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya was put on the back burner of U.S. policy even as its problems mounted. Moments of horrific anti-U.S. violence, like the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012, grabbed attention, but the myriad problems plaguing the country were often ignored even as its fires burned hotter and hotter. Indeed, for those who thought things could not get worse, Libya may now host an Islamic State presence. Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, offers us an incisive and comprehensive look at the Libya challenge today, drawing on his recent field work as well as his deep knowledge of this troubled country to offer a range of recommendations for policymakers. 

(NOTE: The Foreign Policy Essay is traditionally published every Sunday, but because many folks will soon be traveling for the holidays, we decided not to wait until Sunday to publish this piece. We hope you have a wonderful break and a happy new year. We will return with a new Foreign Policy Essay on January 4, 2015.)


The Islamic State has come to Libya. The very sentence is enough to ring alarm bells that the fractured country—long neglected by Washington—is now a North African “colony” of the jihadist behemoth. A recent article in Newsweek claims that “Libya’s internal fighting could push [it] into the arms of the ever-opportunistic Islamic State.” But will it? And how can the United States prevent this from happening in a way that does not make things worse?

Here is what we know so far: Libya has long served as a source of foreign fighters for Syria, with some estimates placing the total number of Libyans involved at roughly 500. Some have joined Jabhat al-Nusra, some the Islamic State, while still others are fighting with non-jihadist groups. The return of Libyan foreign fighters from the conflict has long been a concern. In the spring and summer of this year, the pace of the jihadist return picked up, spurred in part by the outbreak of factional fighting in Benghazi.

Wehrey photoIn early October 2014, the Darnah-based Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC) pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, declaring eastern Libya to be a province of the Islamic State. It was the first such pledge by a Libyan jihadist group, facilitated by the return to Libya of a group of pro-Islamic State Libyan jihadists from Syria, the so-called Bitar Battalion, and the later arrival of Yemeni and Saudi emissaries from the Islamic State.

In the ensuing weeks, the IYSC tried to copy the more draconian functions of the Islamic State’s governance, setting up its own morality patrols, convening Shari‘a courts, and conducting a beheading in the city’s stadium—the first public execution in Libya since Qaddafi’s overthrow. On November 12th, the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, accepted the oath of the IYSC, urging Libyans (along with Algerians, Tunisians, and Moroccans) to “fight the secularists.”

On December 4th, the commander of the United States Africa Command announced that a “couple hundred” militants are present in Islamic State training camps in eastern Libya. Retired General John Allen, the U.S. special envoy for countering the Islamic State, later added that the United States is uncertain if the camps are the result of rebranding by an existing Libyan group or a new initiative by the Islamic State. Read more »

The 2014 Cato Institute Surveillance Conference

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Last Friday, the Cato Institute held an all-day conference to explore the questions raised by the growth of government surveillance, the revelations of NSA activities by Edward Snowden, and how these newly disclosed technologies should be regulated by the Fourth Amendment and federal law.

Ben took part in the conversation on the second panel, which included Charlie Savage, John Napier Tye, Marcy Wheeler, Laura Donohue, and Alex Joel. Later, in the final session of the conference, Edward Snowden responded directly to some of the arguments raised earlier by Ben.

You can find the full remarks from each panel below and at the Cato website.

Read more »

The Heroism of Effective Logistics: A Dispatch from Kerem Shalom

By and
Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 5:15 PM

We witnessed a moving scene today—if the loading and unloading of trucks amid looming concrete security barriers can ever really be moving: A major joint Palestinian-Israeli operation to route goods into the Gaza Strip.

We’re not talking here about politics. The politics of the Kerem Shalom crossing are endless and complicated, with Palestinians and many international organizations decrying the tight grip Israel maintains on Gaza’s access to foodstuffs, building materials, and consumer goods, and Israel and Egypt alike restricting the flow of goods into Gaza out of fear of Hamas’s use of those materials to build rockets, tunnels, and other terror infrastructure.

What’s moving, rather, is the logistics—which is odd, since there’s something kind of inherently unmoving about logistics. While what sort of materials get through to Gaza is a both political matter and a strategic matter, physically getting the goods into the territory—and getting Gazan produce and exports out of it—requires more than politics and high strategy. It requires a complicated on-the-ground endeavor that involves a lot of doing on both sides. And there’s a group of people both on the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the line who take real risks running an elaborate joint operation to make it all happen.

We visited, toured, and talked to the Israeli and Palestinian management of the Kerem Shalom crossing—which sits at the three-way border between Gaza, Egypt, and Israel—this morning as part of a study trip to Israel for legal scholars sponsored by Academic Exchange in partnership with the Yitzhak Rabin Center. (Matt is an executive board member of Academic Exchange, which organizes educational missions and conferences related to Israeli and Middle East politics and security.)

Kerem Shalom Read more »

Today’s Headlines and Commentery

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 2:36 PM

A devastating attack on a school in Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban has left 145 dead. Nine attackers stormed a military-run school in Peshawar, open to both the children of civilians and military members, in what a spokesman for the militant group said was retaliation for the ongoing military offensive in North Waziristan. As the militants proceeded through the school, they methodically shot children in the head and forced students to watch as they set fire to their teachers, according to witnesses. The Wall Street Journal reports that of the dead, 132 were children. Another 121 from the school were wounded, and while the severity of those wounds could not be confirmed, the death toll is expected to rise. The assault lasted for nine hours before the military declared it had regained control.

Malala Yousafzai, who recently accepted the Nobel Peace Prize and was herself a victim of an attempted TTP assassination plot, said in a statement, “I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror.” She continued, saying “innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this.”

Pakistani security officials have long feared retaliatory attacks for its ongoing operation in Waziristan. In recent weeks, the TTP had come under even more pressure on both sides of the Durand Line, squeezed by drone strikes and tribal uprisings that many thought were hampering its ability to operate. According to Dawn, the Pakistani military hit back hard today, executing 10 airstrikes in Khyber province.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Pakistani newspaper Dawn have more on the attack. Reuters carries the accounts of pupils who escaped the attack. Follow the BBC for live updates.

Today, India declared a ban on the Islamic State, just a few days after it detained an engineer for running a popular pro-ISIS account from Bangalore. Police are currently reviewing 129,000 tweets to determine if the man behind @ShamiWitness, Mehdi Masoor Biswas, was just a cheerleader or an active online recruiter.

New details are still arising from yesterday’s hostage situation in Sydney that left two captives and the gunman dead. A police statement said that the two hostages, a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, died during the police operation. Four others were injured, including one police officer who was suffered a gunshot wound to the face. The operation was approved after police noticed that the gunman, an Iranian born man named Man Haron Monis, was agitated and cordoning captives into one section of the cafe.

Read more »

The SSCI Report and Its Critics: Torturing Efficacy

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Polarization surrounding the SSCI Report (see here for Lawfare’s coverage) has been most pronounced on the efficacy of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs). The Report and its supporters have proclaimed that EITs never produce useful information. Unfortunately, that pat assertion undermines the possibility of a consensus on future interrogation tactics, including a consensus that rules out coercion. If we believe that coercive treatment of detainees is wrong, we should acknowledge the trade-offs that this judgment entails, including the possible loss of some helpful information. Unfortunately, both the SSCI Report and the minority report critiquing it are more focused on debating points than on substance. Ironically, the CIA’s own response to the SSCI may come closest to a balanced discussion of the real stakes in this debate.

The treatment of Abu Zubaydah has been a centerpiece of debate. The SSCI Report and its critics disagree on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs), including waterboarding, used on Zubaydah yielded useful information. (I’ll assume, as Lindsey Graham [p. 65] has stated, that waterboarding is unlawful; on whether it’s torture, see this paper by Mike Lewis.) The actual answer to the Zubaydah efficacy question is mixed. The CIA notes (p. 11) that Zubaydah revealed the existence of Jose Padilla, a US citizen who was eventually convicted of terrorism-related offenses after being detained for over three years without charges. Zubaydah was not being subjected to EITs per se at this time; however, the CIA notes, he was subjected to sleep deprivation, which was eventually approved as one of the enhanced techniques. The SSCI minority report suggests rightly that Zubaydah revealed a great deal of information during this period, which the majority report fails to fully acknowledge because of its definitional sleight of hand.

The SSCI minority also rightly argues that the majority report undervalues the importance of corroboration in intelligence-gathering. Corroboration is important in a fluid investigation where multiple leads complete for a place on counterterrorism officials’ radar screen. Corroboration can help an official prioritize certain information, turning that information into actionable intelligence. Actionable intelligence was eagerly sought in the months after 9/11, when we still knew little about Al Qaeda and each day brought fresh fears of a new onslaught. Zubaydah’s flagging of Padilla may have allowed analysts to connect the dots, when other information was isolated and less susceptible to analysis. Viewed in this light, the SSCI Report may have been too facile in asserting that Pakistani officials had already informed the US about their concerns about Padilla or that US officials were already “on alert” because of “information indicating that [Padilla’s] travel was suspicious” (SSCI p. 30 n. 122).   Learning that travel is “suspicious” in some generic sense is far less actionable than specific corroboration of an individual’s terrorist ties from a subject like Zubaydah, who was in a position to know.

Conceding the minority’s point, we are still left with the reality that Zubaydah gave up little of further value when he was waterboarded in August of 2002. Indeed, the CIA does not dispute that Zubaydah was waterboarded and subjected to other EITs for at least two weeks after he had revealed everything he knew. That’s another risk of EIT-centered interrogations. Suppose a subject has cooperated after EITs, but some officials feel that the subject has more to offer. Further EITs may be futile, because the subject has in fact provided all the information known to him. But, as the saying goes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Interrogators may order another round of EITs, only to discover that the last round secured no new data. Even accepting that efficacy is an acceptable metric, the risk of EITs’ needless use toward an interrogation’s conclusion should give supporters pause.

If the SSCI report was not sufficiently candid on the role of some EITs in Zubaydah’s April 2002 disclosures to the FBI, the minority’s use of statistics is even more problematic. At p. 21 of the minority report, the minority concludes that the decision not to use EITs on some detainees had a “failure rate” of over 40%. However, the reasoning for this conclusion is shaky. The minority states that it calculated this figure by first determining that 80 detainees were not subjected to EITs, and then finding that of this group interrogations of 34 detainees produced no intelligence reports. Unfortunately for the minority’s logic, there are plenty of reasons besides ineffective interrogations that could explain why the 34 detainees produced no intelligence. For example, the 34 detainees could simply have had no intelligence to provide.

Here, the minority report fails to address that coercive tactics typically occur in an environment of incomplete data points. We don’t necessarily know if detainees have useful information. Even if we know this to a reasonable certainty, we still don’t know when they’ve given up all the information they have. EITs don’t necessarily improve the situation. As Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo showed long ago, once we put torture on the table, we quickly become confident that it will do the trick. That overconfidence, however, is part of the problem of imperfect knowledge, not part of the solution.

Conscientious critics of the SSCI Report must also acknowledge that because of imperfect knowledge, we can’t know whether more traditional tactics, such as building rapport against the backdrop of legal detention, would be as effective as EITs over the long haul. The US experience with Somali terrorist Ahmed Warsame suggests that traditional interrogation can yield a great deal of useful information. Moreover, as CIA Director John Brennan stated in remarks on Thursday, traditional interrogation can gain that data without the reputational harm that the US suffered because of the use of EITs.

If we are agnostic about whether coercive tactics yield actionable information, we should look for a tie-breaker. The best tie-breaker, as John McCain has said, goes not to torture’s efficacy but to its effect on us. Senator Lindsey Graham’s piece on waterboarding highlights the corrosive effect that coercive interrogation tactics can have on good order and discipline for those applying the coercion. Here, the CIA report uses bland language to describe a disturbing yet reassuring truth. According to the CIA, doctors observing the waterboarding of Zubaydah commented on the “lack of available data upon which to draw conclusions about [waterboarding’s] safety” (p. 6). Translation: The CIA’s own doctors worried that waterboarding would cause severe, lasting harm to subjects, and so informed their superiors.

This disclosure is disturbing because the OLC opinions on waterboarding cited doctors’ attendance at the sessions as a factor in concluding that the technique was legal. A lawyer taking a less myopic view might have suggested to a client that it was a bad idea to use a technique that required a doctor’s attendance. However, the CIA’s disclosure is reassuring because the doctors’ reaction tells us that Zimbardo may have been partly wrong: for some of us, at least, brutalization is not inevitable, and a healthy revulsion is not so readily extinguished. That should give us some comfort that “who we are” is more resilient than some may have thought.

The agnosticism about efficacy drawn from this debate demonstrates that ruling out EITs is a normative judgment, not a descriptive one. If we embrace that normative judgment while understanding the risks, our judgment will be more enduring. If we adopt that judgment glibly, while ignoring the mixed evidence on the efficacy of coercion, our judgment will not stand up to the “next attack.”

DOJ releases six FISC documents on StellarWind

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 6:44 PM

The Department of Justice has released six Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) documents related to the surveillance activities originally initiated by President George W. Bush following the attacks of September 11, 2001—including the so-called “StellarWind” program.

As reported by Charlie Savage of the New York Times, the documents shed new light on the legal debate and disagreements over the United States government’s authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping.

The full set of documents is below:

Memorandum of Law in Support of Application for Authority to Conduct Electronic Surveillance, 12/13/06

Declaration of NSA Program Manager for Counterterrorism Special Projects, 01/02/07

Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Application for Authority to Conduct Electronic Surveillance, 01/02/07, Begins on page 19

Foreign Large Content Order, Judge Howard, 01/10/07

Domestic Large Content Order, Judge Howard, 01/10/07

Order and Memorandum of Opinion, Judge Vinson, 04/03/07

Short-term Extension Order, Judge Howard, 04/05/07


Thoughts on the SSCI Report, Part I: Introduction and Overview

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 4:00 PM

I have now spent enough quality time with the SSCI interrogation report—and with minority views and the CIA response—that I am ready to begin commenting upon it. This is not to say I have finished reading it all; far from it. A plane flight to Israel and a lot of other hours have only gotten me started. And I confess that I am amazed by the speed with so many journalists, organizations, scholars and commentators appear to have digested nearly 1,000 pages of dense material sufficiently so as to pronounce confidently on what they all say, what is true in them, and what they all mean cumulatively. Nearly a week after the release of the material, I am still only just starting to formulate my thoughts.

I am, however, far enough along in that process that I have at least isolated what I think are the major fault lines and developed preliminary instincts on them, instincts I will be fleshing out over the next few days. I’m going to lay these out in a series of posts, as they are far too involved, and conflicting, to develop in a single document. What follows in this post is an overview of coming posts on the subject.

It seems to me there are four distinct, major subjects addressed in the competing documents, issues with very different merits in my view. There also innumerable sub-debates, but I’m going to put those aside for now.

In the first post, I’ll look at the allegations in the Senate report that the treatment of detainees was far more abusive, far less controlled, and far more brutal than the CIA has acknowledged—the matter on which the committee majority is to my mind most persuasive. The committee majority makes horrific allegations about the actual conduct of the program—as opposed to the program in theory—particularly in its early years and particularly as authorized techniques are used in sustained combination by personnel not up to the job and in substandard facilities. The committee also makes horrifying allegations about conduct that exceeded the four corners of the program’s legal authorization, conduct that went unpunished criminally and sometimes undisciplined administratively as well. By and large, the agency and the minority do not present effective rebuttals to these allegations, though the agency does explain—relatively convincingly—that a lot of the abuses flowed from the chaos of the early period of the program, during which the CIA was unprepared to take on a delicate new operational mission.

In the second post, I’ll look at an area on which the committee majority is frankly less persuasive: its startling claim that the net intelligence benefit of the agency’s coercive program was zero, even negative. To be sure, the committee pokes real holes in certain agency claims of major intelligence breakthroughs from its coercive interrogations. But the committee is far less convincing in its dogmatic insistence that no benefit accrued to the agency from any of its use of coercion. The minority on this point makes genuinely valid criticisms of the majority’s methodology and conclusions. And the CIA itself is almost certainly correct that it obtained critical information after using brutal methods—making it impossible to determine whether it was those methods or not that yielded the operational gains. Read more »

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Heavily armed Australian police have stormed a Sydney cafe in order to free several hostages held there at gunpoint. Two hostages and the gunman are dead. Reuters reports that the gunman, identified as Man Haron Monis, was an Iranian refugee and self-styled cleric facing multiple charges of sexual assault as well as accessory to murder. In all, 17 employees and customers were held for more than 16 hours. The New York Times has more on on Monis and this evolving situation.

At one point in time, the gunman had hostages hold a black flag with white Arabic script similar to those used by Islamic militants in Iraq, but not the same flag frequently brandished by ISIS. The flag displays the Shahada – a testament of faith to Muslims.

The New York Times’s Charlie Savage reports on newly released documents that shed light on the legal interpretations and disagreements of the judges who were asked to approve the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

The Times also has carries a detailed account of the horrors endured by a just a few of the 26 people held in error during the CIA’ secret detention and interrogation program.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has signalled his intention to introduce legislation in the new year that would, in his words, “make it clear…that if torture is used in the future, there would be a basis to prosecute.”

In the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti and Peter Baker also explore the relationship between President Barack Obama and CIA Director John Brennan, noting that in the 67-year history of the CIA, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chief as Mr. Obama has with Mr. Brennan.

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said yesterday that some interrogation techniques, “were not supposed to be done” and that “the people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders.” Yoo co-wrote a memo that was used as the legal justification for the CIA’s program.

Those comments came on the same day that former Vice President Dick Cheney actively defended the CIA program on the Sunday morning talk shows. Conor Friedersdorf outlines Cheney’s incoherent logic in defending “the torture of innocents.”

The Syrian government and Islamic militants appeared to trade territory this weekend, with the forces of Bashar al Assad seizing an area north of Aleppo, but losing Wadi al Deif, a key military base next to the country’s main north-south highway to the al Nusra Front. Syrian soldiers killed 34 al Nusra fighters outside Aleppo. In the latter battle, at least 31 government soldiers and 12 al Nusra fighters were killed.

Reporting from Erbil, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times describes how the Islamic State has imposed its strict order in Mosul, and how that order has brought about deprivation. According to the Times, electricity has been cut off for months, tap water is undrinkable, and prices are way up on ordinary foodstuffs. And while it has sworn to eliminate the government in Baghdad, at the moment, ISIS relies on it to pay the salaries of public sector workers who keep some semblance of normalcy and order in the city.

The Christian Science Monitor shares that ISIS is proving much harder for local Sunni tribes in Anbar to challenge than was Al Qaeda in Iraq from 2006-2008. Heavily outmanned and outgunned without US or Iraqi security forces on the ground, massive numbers of tribal fighters are dying, and even more are being scared away from rising up against the Islamic State.

And, on Friday, the Pentagon said that the year-long plan to train and equip 5,000 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS could push into early 2016. The Hill notes that Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that it would take three to five months to recruit and vet the rebels, a process that is yet to begin. The rebel fighting units may not be prepared for battle before March 2016.

The Islamic State has released yet another propaganda video that employs a drone. This time, the drone is used to film suicide attacks in the Syrian city of Kobani. The Washington Post carries the footage.

Finally, police in Bangalore, India have arrested Mehdi Biswas, the suspected manager of pro-ISIS Twitter account @ShamiWitness. The account had more than 17,000 followers and has since been deleted. Biswas has denied facilitating recruitment for the militant group.

In the Atlantic, Allen McDuffee reports on the watershed of violence throughout Afghanistan this weekend, that left two US soldiers, one Afghan Supreme Court justice, 12 workers, and 7 Afghan soldiers dead. 

The Wall Street Journal shares that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has carried a decisive electoral victory, giving his party a comfortable majority to pass nearly all legislation.

A United States Marine has been charged with murder in the Philippines, according to Time.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the next chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has signalled he may be prepared to help close Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying, “I think it can be done.” CNN has more from the Senator’s interview.

According to Reuters, US Attorney General Eric Holder will not force New York Times reporter James Risen to identify his source for a story detailing a failed CIA effort to subvert Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In light of a statement from Germany’s top prosecutor suggesting he had found no evidence that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, German newspaper Der Spiegel is doubling down and standing by its report.

On Friday, the Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act. The measure authorizes the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels for two years and provides $5 billion for the training of Iraqi security forces. The legislation also includes changes to the way the military justice system deals with sexual assault cases, striking the “good soldier defense.” The Associated Press has more.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Mira Rapp-Hooper tipped us off to a new web-based program, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Lawfare will host information about the debates and resources the AMTI has for readers.

In this weekend’s Foreign Policy Essay, Michael Becker took a look at the “wolves who are lonely.”

This week’s Lawfare Podcast featured Mieke Eoyang and a discussion on her proposal for FAA exclusivity.

Lawfare also completed its initial review of findings, conclusions and areas of dispute in the SSCI, Minority and CIA reports on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Part 5 is here.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

On This Week’s Scheduled Mini-Hearing in the 9/11 Case

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Day one of the two-day hearing was apparently cancelled yesterday evening.  We await the final word on tomorrow’s planned session, though the odds of further in-court proceedings strike us as slim.

At any rate, the Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo had this to say. His statement addresses, among other things, the impact of the SSCI report on commission cases:

Before turning to the proceedings scheduled for the coming week, I note that this past Tuesday, on 9 December 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence made public the 517-page Executive Summary of its Study on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Former Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (“RDI”) Program. Though publication of the Executive Summary resulted from many factors and considerations, the process by which the Legislative and Executive Branches made this document public did include some consideration of military commission trials. See Attachment B to AE 120D, Letter from Kathryn H. Ruemmler, Counsel to the President, to Sen. Feinstein, Chairwoman, S. Select Comm. on Intelligence & Sen. Carl Levin, Chairman, S. Comm. on Armed Services (Feb. 10, 2014) (noting, in the context of the Committee’s Study, that the CIA Director “is taking [steps] to declassify certain information relating to the former [RDI] program in support of the current military commission proceedings”).

Far from disrupting military commissions, as some observers have speculated, the Committee’s publication alters none of the rules of law or due process that will continue to govern each and every trial to its conclusion. That said, the declassification of information contained in the extensive Executive Summary surely accelerated the provision of specific material to the defense that would have otherwise occurred through the discovery process. I have consistently maintained that the United States will not, in any case, seek to introduce statements it assesses are involuntary under the Military Commissions Act (“M.C.A.”). And, under Section 948r of the M.C.A., no statement obtained through the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is admissible into evidence in a military commission. Yet there remains a formal process by which an accused and defense counsel may use the discovery they receive to challenge the admissibility of any statements the prosecution might seek to introduce as evidence at trial. See 10 U.S.C. § 948r; M.C.R.E. 304. Such discovery will further enable accused persons to present evidence, and seek due consideration by the commission, of postcapture treatment, where appropriate. Tuesday’s declassification increases the likelihood that more of these processes will be open to the public and assures the accused will be able to see and consult with defense counsel about certain information not previously available to them. But all this will unfold without changing any part of the essential framework of justice by which the alleged offenses are to be tried.

Our Collective Privacy Panic

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM

We are told there is a privacy crisis.  The Snowden revelation and other such things have given the sense that we are in a crisis.  I think what we have is a privacy panic.  What I would call the Snowden left, joined by the Tea Party right, are churning this up way past any reasonable limits.  And then, of course, the press chimes in because that’s what the press does.  The press has not been particularly good on this subject.  In fact, as I will illustrate to you, they regularly report some technological innovation or some event and say it raises privacy concerns.  Their ability to analyze this notion or even to see that it needs to be analyzed is totally lacking.  The amount of public attention to these supposed assaults on privacy is out of all proportion to their seriousness.  Compare this to the to another set of revelations that came out of the post 9-11 world—the fact that the United States has been using torture, more brutal and extensive than anyone had imagined.  Although we now have the startling and detailed report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,  and that has produced considerable media coverage, from past experience one can predict that the popular reaction and legislative activity will be muted and short-lived.  And that is remarkable because torture has traditionally been viewed as absolutely wrong—as one of the worst things that human beings can do to each other.  And I would just cite a couple of examples of this condemnation.  There’s Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which says quite clearly that torture is out under all circumstance.  And, if you are a little skeptical about this because the Pope’s organization back in the days of the Inquisition was a major league torturer, let me cite Article 15 of Abraham Lincoln’s General Orders which made it clear that torture may not be used under any circumstances.

Compare the public reaction to claims of violations of privacy.  The very invocation unnamedof the word privacy sets off a media frenzy as if to use that word is to make an argument.  Well, it isn’t.  Consider the Constitution.  The word privacy does not occur in the Constitution.  The Fourth Amendment speaks about searches and seizures, and people being secure in their homes and papers.  However, unlike the absolute and general moral and statutory prohibitions on torture, the Fourth Amendment speaks only of unreasonable searches and seizures and allows these if with a warrant.  So this is far from an absolute prohibition. Compare torture: there is no such thing is reasonable torture and so far nothing like torture warrants.  Why this disparate reaction?  I suggest people are upset about phone tapping and data mining, because it happens to them.  Torture is something that happens to other people. Read more »

Over 700 Million People Taking Steps to Avoid NSA Surveillance

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 9:02 AM

There’s a new international survey on Internet security and trust, of “23,376 Internet users in 24 countries,” including “Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.” Amongst the findings, 60% of Internet users have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those “have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations.”

The press is mostly spinning this as evidence that Snowden has not had an effect: “merely 39%,” “only 39%,” and so on. (Note that these articles are completely misunderstanding the data. It’s not 39% of people who are taking steps to protect their privacy post-Snowden, it’s 39% of the 60% of Internet users—which is not everybody—who have heard of him. So it’s much less than 39%.)

Even so, I disagree with the “Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users” headline. He’s having an enormous impact. I ran the actual numbers country by country, combining data on Internet penetration with data from this survey. Multiplying everything out, I calculate that 706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing. (For example, 17% of Indonesians use the Internet, 64% of them have heard of Snowden and 62% of them have taken steps to protect their privacy, which equals 17 million people out of its total 250-million population.)

Note that the countries in this survey only cover 4.7 billion out of a total 7 billion world population. Taking the conservative estimates that 20% of the remaining population uses the Internet, 40% of them have heard of Snowden, and 25% of those have done something about it, that’s an additional 46 million people around the world.

It’s certainly true that most of those people took steps that didn’t make any appreciable difference against an NSA-level of surveillance, and probably not even against the even-more pervasive corporate variety of surveillance. It’s probably even true that some of those people didn’t take steps at all, and just wish they did or wish they knew what to do. But it is absolutely extraordinary that something like 750 million people are disturbed enough about their online privacy that they would represent to a survey taker that they did something about it.

The Week That Will Be

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Event Announcements (More details on the Events Calendar)

Monday, December 15th at 9 am: The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host Vice Admiral James Syring, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency, for a conversation with other experts on The Future of Homeland Missile Defense: A Fresh Look at Programs and Policy. For a full list of experts, or to RSVP, visit the CSIS event announcement.

Monday, December 15th at 9:30 am: The Stimson Center will hold a discussion on the Escalating Shi’a-Sunni Conflict: Assessing the Role of ISIS. Joseph Bahout, Omar al-Nidawi, and Geneive Abido will address questions as to whether ISIS capitalized on the conditions in the region or if it help to create them. Does ISIS have the potential to spread to other countries in the region where there is a sectarian problem? And, what is the potential for the US to push back on the ISIS march. Register here.

Tuesday, December 16th at 12 pm: What Fuels Global Jihadism? Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist extremist turned liberal activist, will offer an assessment of how and why young men around the world are recruited into jihadist groups as well as provide policy prescriptions to reverse these trends. Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour will moderate. The event will be held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. RSVP.

Wednesday, December 17th at 10 am: The Brookings Institution will host Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller for a discussion of U.S. Nuclear Arms Control Policy. Under Secretary Gottemoeller will cover the Obama administration’s policy on nuclear arms control and the prospects for further progress. Brookings Senior Fellow Steven Pifer will moderate the discussion. Register with Brookings

Read more »

Transparency in Troubled Seas

Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 2:00 PM

One month ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies launched a new web-based program, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. The premise of this project will be familiar to many of you: maritime competition in Asia has been steadily increasing in recent years, and doing so in an environment of informational opacity. Maritime geography makes it difficult to monitor events at sea as they occur, and when it comes to disputed territories and competing maritime claims there are numerous actors, each with its own national narrative. AMTI aims to be a source for regular information updates on maritime security issues in East Asia. It also hosts expert analysis from leading maritime security scholars worldwide, as well as historical and documentary resources for researchers.

On the theory that Asia maritime issues are of inherent interest to readers of a national security law website, Benjamin Wittes has asked me to post on Lawfare information about the debates and resources we are hosting at AMTI. In this post, I’m going to cover two issues—the most recent of which we released this week.

The penultimate installation of AMTI focused on the one-year anniversary of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. An ADIZ is an identified area of airspace extending beyond a national boundary in which civilian aircraft are required to identify themselves and may be subject to interception for that country’s national security.  There are few international agreements that govern ADIZs: they are zones that individual countries establish for their own safety and security, and they do not confer any sovereign rights.  The United States was the first country to establish an ADIZ shortly after World War II. Several countries in Asia also have them, including India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and since November 23, 2013, China.

China’s announcement of its first ADIZ was controversial for several reasons. First, China’s ADIZ includes multiple disputed territories—most prominently, the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China), which are administered by Japan, but also Ieodo (Suyan) Rock, which South Korea claims too. This led the ROK to expand its own ADIZ. Second, China made its declaration without consulting other states in the region, which is not illegal but does break with custom. Third, China declared that it would require all aircraft, including military aircraft, to identify themselves to Beijing, regardless of whether or not they were bound for China as opposed to passing through the zone in transit elsewhere. This led the United States to fly two B-52 nuclear-capable bombers through the ADIZ in a demonstration of military noncompliance. ADIZs generally increase transparency and reduce the risk of accidents, and Beijing insists that this one is no different. But last November, US and other officials insisted that these three unique features made the East China Sea ADIZ fundamentally destabilizing.

Read more »

The Foreign Policy Essay: Wolves Who Are Lonely

Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Editor’s Note: “Lone wolf” terrorists—those who strike on their own without links to an established organization—are a nightmare for counterterrorism officials. They have no ranks to be penetrated, and often the only time they appear on the radar screen is after they have launched a bloody attack. But Michael Becker, a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University, urges us all to take a deep breath. Becker contends that the threat is easily exaggerated and that most lone wolves, most of the time, pose at most a limited danger.


Militants from the group known as the Islamic State recently called for individuals not directly affiliated with the organization to carry out attacks against targets in Western countries. This call for “lone wolf” attacks echoes those issued in the past by al-Qaeda exhorting “one brother or a few of the brothers” to strike the United States “here and there.” In one sense, these calls-to-arms represent a sign of weakness on the part of terrorists. Thanks to U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have been unable to directly orchestrate an attack on the U.S. homeland since September 11, 2001. They have been trying instead to inspire Americans sympathetic to their cause to carry out attacks. In another sense, though, lone wolves pose a frightening specter to Americans: such attackers can potentially manifest as anyone, they can strike anywhere, and since by definition they don’t communicate with other terrorists, they are much harder to detect or stop.

But much of the fear surrounding lone wolves is unwarranted and based on ignorance of how they operate. My research shows that lone-actor terrorists tend to conform to certain distinct patterns that can be useful in preventing future attacks. Perhaps more important, my findings indicate that lone wolves are not nearly as threatening as either their name or the hype around them suggest.

Becker photoThe concern about lone-wolf terrorism pervades much of the U.S. national security establishment. President Obama, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, among others, have cited lone wolves as one of the gravest potential threats to U.S. security. They point to the rise of social media and terrorist propaganda, like the sophisticated videos produced by the Islamic State, and express concern that socially isolated individuals can become radicalized with troubling ease.

It is true that lone-wolf terrorism against the United States has become more common in the past several years. And several lone-actor attacks—including the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which left six dead, and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, which killed 13—have had deadly and tragic consequences. Concurrently, there has been little success in terms of identifying a lone wolf “profile.” They can be young or old; black or white; radical Islamists, right-wing extremists, anti-Semites, militant environmentalists, or of another ideological persuasion altogether. Given the diversity of their backgrounds, how can such a protean enemy be countered?

I recently undertook an analysis of 84 lone-wolf attacks that occurred in the United States between 1940 and 2012 in an effort to identify patterns in the targets that lone wolves chose. I came away with several findings that have important national security implications. First, similar to our recent experience with the Ebola outbreak, the fear of the thing is usually worse than the thing itself. Few lone-wolf attacks in the United States actually kill anyone, and many others only succeed in killing one person: the lone wolf himself (they are almost invariably men). Many lone wolves are incompetent loners with no experience discharging a bomb or firearm; oftentimes they exhibit behavior that, in retrospect, is more bizarre and sad than frightening. Take Dwight Watson, a.k.a. the “Tractor Man.” In 2003, Watson drove his tractor to Washington, D.C., and threatened to blow up explosives near the National Mall. After two days, he surrendered unceremoniously and it was revealed that he never had any weapons at all. Read more »