Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 5:34 PM

Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Umm Sayyaf, an Iraqi woman accused of taking American aid worker Kayla Mueller hostage. The Washington Post writes that Umm Sayyaf, or Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, was captured in May during a U.S. commando raid in eastern Syria that targeted her husband, senior Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf. Sayyaf was charged in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia yesterday for conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. U.S. authorities state that Sayyaf played a key role in the imprisonment of American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, who was killed in Syria last year. The Wall Street Journal has more.

The New York Times tells us that North Korea’s missile test over the weekend indicates that Pyongyang has made a modest advance in its rocket technology. The satellite had a longer range and carried a heavier payload than the one North Korea previously tested in 2012.

In response to the rocket test, the United States Senate is set to vote this week to increase sanctions against the hermit kingdom. The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, which passed the House last month, is scheduled for a vote in the Senate this week. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, “This latest aggression underscores the importance of enacting my legislation to strengthen targeted sanctions against this brutal regime.”

In Defense One, CSIS’s Thomas Karako walks us through what the DPRK’s latest missile test means for the United States and its allies in the region.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday that Canada will cease its airstrikes against the Islamic State by February 22. Although it will discontinue strikes from above, Canada will remain part of the coalition targeting the pseudo-state, tripling the number of troops deployed as part of its training mission. According to a Canadian government official, Canada will “focus on training and advising local security forces to take their fight directly to ISIL.”

According to Anbar Governor Sohaib al Rawi, “All of Ramadi has now been liberated.” The Iraqi army advanced in Anbar province on Tuesday, successfully recapturing territory east of Ramadi and linking the city to a major army base nearby. Reuters has more on the latest Iraqi security force victory.

The liberation of Ramadi adds to the drumbeat of reports from the past few weeks indicating that Islamic State forces have lost territory in Iraq and Syria; however, this has not stopped the terrorist group from seizing and controlling land in Libya. The Los Angeles Times reports that Islamic State militants have seized oil-rich land in Libya, possibly in an attempt to create a sanctuary from which they can launch attacks in North Africa and Europe. U.S. intelligence estimates put more than 5,000 ISIS fighters in Libya—double the official estimate from last fall.

Russia’s main security agency detained seven people yesterday on suspicions of being members of a cell aligned with the Islamic State. The men were allegedly planning a large-scale attack in Moscow and in other locations throughout the country. The Times writes that all seven cell members were citizens of Russia and Central Asian states, but that the group was managed by a leader in Turkey.

On Monday, tens of thousands of Syrians fled from the oncoming Russian-backed Syrian government assault on Aleppo, pressing their way towards border crossings with Turkey, the Times tells us. With no peace deal in sight, Syria’s five-year civil war continues to drive a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations declared yesterday “amounts to extermination.” Read that U.N. report here.

Politico reports that as Russia pounds rebel locations and Assad’s forces advance in Syria, Moscow is also laying siege to Obama’s diplomacy-first Syria strategy, and the number of voices calling for decisive action in order to keep peace talks from becoming irrelevant is on the rise. Two of those voices, Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier, argue in the Washington Post that after “five years of empty declarations,” “it is time to proclaim the moral bankruptcy of American and Western Policy in Syria.”

The Associated Press brings us news of an apparent internal power struggle within the deadly militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as “al Qaeda militants battled each other on Monday in a southern Yemeni city controlled by the group.” The schism seems to have opened after a U.S. drone strike killed Jalal Baliedy, a senior commander of the group known for his brutality. So far the fighting has left at least seven militants dead and another nine wounded.

Hundreds of additional U.S. troops are headed to the capital of heroin production, Helmand province, in order to back up embattled Afghan forces as they take on renewed attacks from the Taliban. Calling the “significant” troop increase a “planned deployment,” U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Michael Lawhorn told reporters that the new force would provide additional security and act as advisers. Reuters notes that American special forces “on the ground in Helmand have found themselves increasingly drawn into combat, with one Green Beret killed in January.”

As American troops reinforce their Afghan counterparts in the south of the country, Voice of America reports that up north in Jalalabad, ISIS has started a timber industry, cutting down trees along the Durand Line and smuggling timber into markets in Pakistan. According to locals in the area, ISIS fighters have imported tree-cutting machines and are sending timber-loaded trucks into Pakistan “daily.” Forest covers only 2 percent of Afghanistan and timber harvesting has long been illegal.

David C. Headley, a Pakistani-American man who helped plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, told an Indian court yesterday that throughout the planning process, he and his co-conspirators met with handlers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. The Times notes that Indian officials have long sought to question Headley in an attempt to establish a direct link between the Pakistani government and the attacks. Headley is serving a 35-year sentence in the United States for his role in the attacks.

The Associated Press reports that Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko, has warned that Moscow will respond to the recent buildup of alliance forces near Russian borders in eastern Europe. In Grushko’s televised remarks, he stated that the deployment of NATO forces “can’t be left without a military-technical answer.” He declined to say what kind of steps Russia would take.

Yet yesterday, President Vladimir Putin deployed thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes across southwestern Russia as part of an unannounced large-scale military drill. The AP writes that the drills are intended to assess Russian troops’ readiness amid rising tensions with the West.

Today, President Barack Obama tendered his FY 2017 budget request in which he proposed a 35 percent increase in cybersecurity funding. The total cybersecurity request would allocate $19 billion in order to boost the capability of the federal government to defend its networks. The proposal also calls for a cybersecurity national action plan that White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel said is “intended to go after the underlying causes of our cybersecurity challenges, not at the symptoms.” The plan would create a federal chief information security officer, increase coordination between federal officials on privacy issues, and replace some of the government’s aging computer equipment. Ellen Nakashima of the Post provides a roundup of the budget proposal while the Wall Street Journal walks through the initiatives in the cybersecurity plan.

President Obama himself authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today defending the proposal and calling the federal government’s information security systems “an Atari game in an Xbox world.” The president also suggested cyberthreats are among “the most urgent dangers to America’s economic and national security.”

The proposal came as Motherboard released a new report indicating that hackers have allegedly published the personal information of more than 20,000 FBI agents and 9,000 Department of Homeland Security officers. The information includes names, email address, and job descriptions of the individuals listed. Reuters reports that the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are investigating the claim. SITE Intelligence attributed the doxxing to a group called “Crackas with Attitude,” which previously hacked the email accounts of CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano.

It looks like Facebook may have the ignominious distinction of being the first casualty of the collapse of Safe Harbor. Even though U.S. and E.U. data regulators reached a new data transfer agreement last week, the French data protection authority yesterday cracked down on Facebook, telling the tech giant that it has three months to stop tracking non-users’ web activity without their consent. French authorities also ordered Facebook to stop some transfers of personal data to the United States, according to Reuters. The new E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield is not yet in effect, meaning American tech companies remain in legal limbo as they attempt comply with a patchwork of E.U. privacy laws.

Parting Shot: What do visa regimes tells us about the geopolitical architecture of the planet? Apparently, a surprising amount—at least according to a set of findings from Iranian researchers highlighted in the MIT Technology Review. Find out why they consider China a geo-political outlier here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody outlined this week’s activity in The Week That Will Be.

Ryan Scoville reflected on international law from a Cuban perspective after his recent visit and interview with Celeste Pino Canales.

David Ryan flagged the Fourth Circuit's affirmation to dismiss several Alien Tort Statute claims.

Elina Saxena watched the 8th Republican Presidential Debate and summarized the relevant sections for Lawfare readers.

Ben said that the New York Times editorial page was being “soft on sexual violence.”

Cody highlighted the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s most recent recommendations report.

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.