This morning, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a new trove of documents recovered during the May 2011 raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The release contains two sections: 1) a list of non-classified, English-language material found in and around the compound; and 2) a selection of now-declassified documents. The declassified documents consist of 103 new items, including letters, speeches, and updates from al Qaeda leaders and affiliates.
“Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” as the ODNI terms it, features 39 English language books including America’s Strategic Blunders by Williard Matthias, Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky, and The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy. The declassified list of documents also contains media articles from prominent American outlets, think tank studies, software and technical manuals, and 75 publicly available U.S. government documents.
The fallout from the collapse of Iraqi security forces defending Ramadi continues to shape headlines, with both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal carrying feature stories on the failed strategy to train and equip local Sunnis. In the Times, Tim Arango writes that as thousands of Shiite militiamen pour into Anbar Province in an attempt to retake the city, the U.S.-backed Iraqi government initiative to foster local Sunni fighters seems “incidental.”
Carol Lee and Dion Nissenbaum write in the Journal that the Obama administration is set to accelerate the train and equip program. However, it remains unclear exactly what that will mean in practice. It is even less certain those forces can be effective against the next wave of attacks by the Islamic State. Even so, National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told the AFP that “there is no formal strategy review” ongoing.
Some American officials “characterized the fall of Ramadi as an anomaly,” citing the fact that dust storms held off American airstrikes as ISIS forces stormed the city. But, the fall also reveals that recent tactical shifts by ISIS are proving remarkable deadly and effective. The use of “Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices” in highly coordinated attacks has had a major psychological impact on Iraqi forces, who lack the armor-piercing weapons necessary to counter the explosive-laden cars and trucks. In the Daily Beast, Nancy Youssef reports that according to some U.S. military officials, Ramadi fell in large part because the Iraqi security forces “didn’t want to fight” ISIS, choosing instead to flee.
Yet, Iraqi forces did fight off an overnight attack near the city of Ramadi by ISIS militants. That bit of positive news comes from Reuters this hour.
The failure of Iraqi security forces and local Sunnis means that Iranian-backed Shiite militias will likely be the driving force behind the attempt to retake Ramadi. That turnaround has sparked concerns of sectarian bloodshed. DefenseOne shares the troubling news that, in addition to concerns over sectarian conflict, the militias are also complicating the U.S. role in the war by spreading rumors that the United States is providing arms to ISIS. Already, anti-ISIS forces have fired on a U.S. helicopter in one instance.
More news from the special forces raid over the weekend that left Abu Sayyaf dead: ISIS sources have declared that the raid also killed two other important figures, Abu Taym and Abu Mariam. Taym was believed to oversee oil operations in the area, while Mariam worked on the group’s communications. Convinced that the raid was successful due to an insider mole, the sources also told Reuters that the group plans to tighten recruitment procedures.
ISIS fighters are also closing in on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, one of the world’s most significant ancient sites. The group has already destroyed countless precious historical sites and artifacts throughout Syria and Iraq, condemning them as idolatry. And while many of the items have been broken off and sold on the black market to finance their activities, many are worried that the city may simply be destroyed. From a tactical standpoint, however, the advance on Palmyra may be just as significant: as the Times observes, just five days after the fall of Ramadi, the operation proves ISIS remains capable of carrying out “complex operations simultaneously on multiple fronts.”
Elsewhere in Syria, al Nusra Front fighters announced that they had captured the Assad regime’s largest remaining military base, Mastouma, in the province of Idlib. The capture of the base leaves only a few positions in the province in the Assad government’s control.
Saudi airstrikes continue in Yemen today, and Reuters reports that the latest bombing campaign killed at least 15 Houthi rebels. However, in what seems a positive step toward defusing the crisis, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced today that peace talks between the parties will resume in Geneva on May 28th. Iran also agreed to allow international inspections of an aid ship, under escort of two Iranian naval vessels, currently headed towards Yemen. The ship had prompted worries of a larger tussle in the gulf between Iran and Saudi forces who are currently enforcing inspections on all vessels entering Yemeni ports.
A suicide bomb detonated outside of the Justice Ministry in Kabul yesterday afternoon, killing at least five people and wounding dozens more. The Washington Post shares that the Afghan Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, calling on its fighters to continue targeting prosecutors and judges.
Jeremy Scahill’s latest piece in the Intercept might be the greatest deterrent for foreign fighters joining terrorist groups we’ve seen yet. In it, he details how al Shabaab’s Somali leadership, in a paranoid hunt to root out spies and to reassert their own local authority, has turned against its foreign fighters, executing several of them while locking many of the rest in underground prisons where they are subjected to long periods of torture.
The USA Freedom Act will get a vote in the Senate this week after all. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters that he would allow a vote on the legislation; however, the Hill notes that McConnell and other Republican Senators expect that the bill will fail to get the 60 votes necessary to foreclose a filibuster, forcing its proponents to accept a two-month extension of the current Section 215 authorities. Last year, a similar bill came two votes shy of overcoming a GOP-led filibuster. Ben weighed in on the latest Congressional spat this morning, arguing that it would be “totally irresponsible to let a month go by without sending a bill to the President’s desk.”
Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of six Chinese nationals on charges of economic espionage and theft of trade secrets “for their roles in a long-running effort to obtain U.S. trade secrets for the benefit of universities and companies controlled by the PRC government.” One suspect, a Chinese professor named Zhang Hao, was arrested on May 16th as he entered the country from the People’s Republic of China. The New York Times notes that the move is “clearly meant to signal to China that the United States would now aim to capture and try those accused of perpetrating what the former head of the National Security Agency, Keith B. Alexander, often called ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history.’” David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times cover the story; you can find the indictment here.
Senate Armed Service Committee Chair John McCain is once again on the war path, but this time it’s against the Pentagon itself. A provision inserted into the annual National Defense Authorization Act would strip away the authority for acquiring new weapons from Pentagon leaders and instead grant that power to the military branches. The new program, if instituted, would look to streamline the acquisition process, with a goal of fielding new weapons systems in just two to five years, reports Politico. One committee aide told the magazine that “the committee is trying to move this to a more dynamic, commercial-based approach that is competitive.”
According to a new Government Accountability Office report reviewed by the Washington Post, the Army’s drone pilots are under-trained because they are constantly being assigned to other duties, such as “lawn care, janitorial services, and guard duty.” The report also found other constraints, such as a lack of equipment and the failure by commanding officers to offer the kind of training required.
Canadian police have arrested 10 “youths” suspected of wanting to go to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, reports the Associated Press. No charges have been brought forth yet, but the passports of all ten have been confiscated.
Finally, the Telegraph shares news that Italian police have arrested a Moroccan man suspected of participating in the attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia that killed 21 tourists in March.
ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare
Stewart Baker shared the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Dan Geer.
Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) outlines just how much would a sunset of Section 215 change the surveillance debate.
Finally, Herb Lin offered his comments on Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech yesterday in Korea calling for “an open and secure internet.”
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