Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Friday, February 26, 2016, 3:07 PM

Yesterday, Apple filed a motion to vacate a court order compelling the tech company to assist the U.S. government in unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Arguing that the court should throw out the order, Apple stated that “the government’s request here creates an unprecedented burden on Apple and violates Apple’s First Amendment rights against compelled speech.” Wired provides an overview of Apple’s arguments here. In Lawfare, Bobby Chesney breaks down Apple’s brief in a user-friendly FAQ format.

As Apple took their case to court, the FBI went to Capitol Hill. FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday and called for Congress to resolve the debate on when law enforcement should get access to citizens’ private data, the New York Times tells us. Director Comey stated, “The larger question isn’t going to be answered in the courts, and shouldn’t be. It’s really about who do we want to be as a country and how do we want to govern ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Apple’s lawyers contend that if the government successfully forces the company to provide access to this iPhone,“there is no reason why the government could not deploy its new authority to compel other innocent and unrelated third-parties to do its bidding in the name of law enforcement.” Shane Harris of the Daily Beast has more on Apple’s “dystopian” claim that Americans could be compelled to become agents of the state.

Apple is taking the gloves off to combat the U.S. government, but does it pick fights with China? The Los Angeles Times writes that “when it comes to its second-largest market, China, the Cupertino, California company has been far more accommodating.” Read the rest here. And don’t miss Stewart Baker’s deposition questions for Tim Cook in Volokh.

During testimony before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that U.S.-backed forces operating in Syria have surrounded the Syrian town of Shaddadi. The Wall Street Journal reports that the siege around Shaddadi is part of an attempt to disrupt supply lines between Raqqa and Mosul, two of the Islamic State’s powerhouses. During his testimony, Secretary Carter also stated that “this is just the most recent example of how we’re effectively enabling and partnering with local forces to help deal ISIL a lasting defeat.”

Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly weighing a decision as to whether the State Department will formally accuse the Islamic State of genocide. Yet Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News reports that the decision has sparked intense debate in the Obama administration, as officials wrangle over the wording of a potential declaration against ISIS and discuss how it might affect the U.S.’s strategy against the group.

According to the U.S. Intelligence Community chiefs, efforts to establish a capable central government in Libya have complicated the United States’ attempts to uproot the Islamic State in that country. During his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described “a spectrum of political views” within the competing factions that are trying to gain control of Libya. The Hill has more.

President Obama has stated that the coming weeks will be “critical” for the future of Syria as the planned cessation of hostilities will start tomorrow. The BBC has more. From the perspective of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Moscow, however, there is not much to dislike about the upcoming “cessation of hostilities.” The Economist outlines how the upcoming freeze is fighting meets all of President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic and military requirements. And if you don’t know the difference between a “cessation of hostilities” and a “ceasefire,” CNN has you covered in their outline of everything you need to know about the proposed peace plan.

The Associated Press tells us that Saudi Arabia has cut billions of dollars of aid and instructed its citizens to leave Lebanon after Lebanon sided with Iran in the fallout over the execution of a Saudi Shiite cleric. According to the AP, the diplomatic dispute between the two nations has the potential to threaten the stability of Lebanon's already-struggling economy.

Israeli officials have asserted that Iran’s new cash-incentive program for “martyrs” is proof that the the Islamic Republic will spend the billions of dollars it collected under the recent nuclear accord, not productively, but instead on terrorism. According to Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Iran will now pay the equivalent of $7,000 “to every family of a martyr of the intifada in Jerusalem.” In addition, Fox News reports that “Tehran will pay $30,000 to the family of any terrorist whose home gets bulldozed by Israel.”

The United States is set to send Special Operations advisers to aid in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. The New York Times reports that the Special Ops advisers’ deployment will send them closer to Nigeria’s front lines with Boko Haram, a group that has killed thousands of civilians across the region. The deployment to Africa is one of the main recommendations from a recent assessment by U.S. Special Operations Commander for Africa Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc.

Speaking of Boko Haram, bombs retrieved from the the militant group accidently exploded at a police headquarters in Nigeria’s northeast city of Yola. The accidental explosions killed four people and injured others with shattered glass. The Associated Press tells us that “crying kids, screaming parents, and panicked market vendors began running for their lives when an officer warned of the possibility of a second explosion.” Additionally, the powerful blast shattered windows for blocks and destroyed the Nigerian Police Anti-Bomb Squad office and other buildings in the police complex.

Al Shabaab continues its assault in the Horn of Africa. Today, al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, claimed credit for an attack on a hotel in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu. Gunmen from the militant group stormed their way into the hotel after a suicide bomber rammed his car into the hotel’s entrance.

The BBC, quoting Somalia’s president, reports that at least 180 Kenyan troops were killed when al Shabaab attacked a Kenyan military base last month. Kenya’s army has refuted those numbers but refused to provide its own casualty figures. The BBC also writes that if the 180 deaths are confirmed, the attack would be al Shabaab’s deadliest assault since its creation.

China has confirmed that it will send warships to participate in a major U.S.-hosted naval drill this summer. Reuters shares that the Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC, is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise and is held every two years in Hawaii in June and July. However, some critics, most notably Senator John McCain (R-AZ), have asserted that the United States should bar China from drills to show its disapproval of China’s military aggression in the South China Sea.

China and the United States have agreed to impose tighter sanctions on North Korea. The New York Times reports that the proposed agreement between the two countries is the product of intense negotiations. The tighter sanctions plan comes weeks after North Korea allegedly successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

Speaking of testing weapons, last night, the United States launched its second test this week of an intercontinental ballistic missile in a move to demonstrate its nuclear arms capability during a time of rising tensions with Russia and North Korea. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work watched the test launch and described it as a “signal that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” You can watch the test launch here.

The Daily Beast covers the latest in an investigation of allegations that some intelligence products about the Islamic State were doctored. According to a poll of analysts conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, forty percent of analysts working at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) believe that there are problems with the “analytic integrity” in their work. In the aftermath, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) accused U.S. CENTCOM and the Department of Defense of “slow-rolling” his attempts to investigate the allegations. Foreign Policy has the latest on that here.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration is “on the verge of permitting the National Security Agency to share more of the private communications it intercepts with other American intelligence agencies without first applying privacy protections to them.” Charlie Savage reports that the plan would let “experts across American intelligence gain direct access to unprocessed information, increasing the chances that they will recognize any possible nuggets of value,” relaxing restrictions that have prevented other federal agencies from reviewing the data until the NSA had minimized the information of innocent Americans. Robert Litt, General Counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, emphasized that the rules are still in draft form and have not been finalized.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday that a Demember power outage in Ukraine was caused by a cyber attack. Reuters notes that the incident is the first time U.S. officials have acknowledged the blackout was caused by a cyber attack. Following the announcement, DHS officials advised electric utilities that they may need to stop using the Internet altogether in order to protect their grids from attack. The report advises utility companies that they should “isolate” control networks from “any untrusted networks, especially the Internet.”

The Hill has your Guantanamo news today, with Kristina Wong reporting that, according to Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), Secretary of Defense Ash Carter approved the transfer of Shaker Aamer without the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cotton, citing a letter from Carter, said that Chairman Martin Dempsey “had some concerns that Shaker Aamer might reengage in terrorist activity after his transfer to the United Kingdom.” Carter in the letter to Cotton, says that he “determined that transferring Shaker Aamer” was “in the national security interest of the United States.”

Elsewhere in the Hill, Wong describes how the White House lost Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on closing GTMO. McCain called the Obama administration’s plan to close the detention facility “a Chinese menu,” with lots of options but no set plan for closing the prison.

Parting Shot: Former CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden is scared. In an interview yesterday with CNN, Hayden said that the 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric, which has reduced complex national security issues to “bumper sticker” slogans, “scares me and I’m sure it scares a lot of the rest of the world.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Yesterday, Jack and Ben announced Lawfare’s new subsidiary page, Aegis: Security Policy in Depth, which will be published in cooperation with the Hoover Institution National Security, Technology and Law Working Group. The page page will focus on work of greater length and depth than we normally are able to feature on Lawfare.

To kick off the page, David Kris posted his new paper, Trends and Predictions in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance: The FAA and Beyond. Check it out here.

Laura Dean shared her eighth dispatch in Syria Displaced, which focused on “Syria’s Other Government.”

Stewart Baker posted the latest edition of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with NSA General Counsel Glenn Gerstell.

Cody linked us to yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on “International Conflicts of Law Concerning Cross Border Data Flow and Law Enforcement Requests.”

Finally, Ben uploaded this week’s Rational Security podcast: the “How About them Apples?” edition.

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