Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 5:36 PM

Today, FBI Director James Comey and Apple’s General Counsel Bruce Sewell both testified before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing covering encryption and “going dark” matters. Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes had some questions of their own for Apple and provided a link to the hearing.

Just yesterday though, a federal judge in New York sided with Apple against the federal government, declaring the FBI’s request for assistance in extracting data from a locked iOS7 iPhone is not permissible under the 1789 All Writs Act. The Wall Street Journal writes that Apple’s latest win in court could shape the broader battle about privacy, security, and technology now being fought between Washington and Silicon Valley.

Reuters reports that members of the House Judiciary Committee are considering filing an amicus brief in the Apple vs. FBI dispute. The brief will argue that the case between the FBI and Apple should be decided by Congress and not the courts. Reuters writes that according to sources familiar to the matter, the brief will argue that the order for Apple to write special software to unlock the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers threatens the constitutional separation of powers.

Defense One tells us that the battle of Mosul has begun and that it “ultimately will be the biggest U.S. operation in Iraq since the end of the last war.” During a press conference yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford indicated that multinational forces have begun to block Mosul’s supply and communications lines and also encircle and isolate Islamic State fighters with cyber, air, and ground attacks. The announcement from the defense officials comes just days after President Obama directed the military to accelerate the war against the Islamic State on all fronts.

CNN reports that the U.S. Army’s Delta Force operations to target, capture, or kill Islamic State leaders have begun in Iraq. After several weeks of covert preparation including setting up safe houses, establishing informant networks, and coordinating operations with Iraqi and Peshmerga units, Special Operations forces have crafted a similar strategy to ones used in previous deployments to combat zones. CNN writes that according to Secretary Carter, the forces will conduct raids, seize places and people, and free Islamic State-held hostages and prisoners.

Although facing Delta Force units, the pseudo-state has not ceased its terrorist attacks. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at an Iraqi funeral yesterday that killed 38 people and wounded dozens of others. USA Today reports that the suicide bombing was in Muqdadiyah, a city 60 miles north of Baghdad. The bomber entered the funeral home with the mourners before detonating his explosives.

In Iraq, the U.S. Embassy Baghdad and the Iraqi government are warning residents living along the Tigris River of a possible Mosul Dam collapse. The Associated Press calls the issued statements the strongest public warnings to date. In case you missed the warning issued yesterday, here is a link to the statement from the U.S. Embassy Iraq.

Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, the commander of U.S. special operations forces in Africa, asserted that the Islamic State has become too strong to be rolled back without United States help in Libya. According to the Wall Street Journal, Gen. Bolduc estimated that American military involvement would be needed in Libya even if a unity government were formed.

Over in Syria, the United Nations has taken advantage of the partial truce between the fighting parties in the region as an opportunity to deliver aid. The BBC reports that the U.N. and its partners are increasing their deliveries of food, water, and medicine and plan to reach over 150,000 people over the next week.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan military raided a Taliban “prison” in the Helmand province and liberated 35 people, including women and children. The Long War Journal writes that the jail was the third facility in Helmand to have been targeted by Afghan forces since last December. Read the rest from the Long War Journal here.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a second batch of documents obtained from the 2011 raid that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death. Reuters tells us that al Qaeda’s leaders “were increasingly worried about spies in their midst, drones in the air, and secret tracking devices reporting their movements as the U.S.-led war against them ground on.” Intelligence officials stated that the 113 documents in all, translated and declassified by U.S. intelligence agencies, dated between 2009 and 2011.

The parents of the American college student detained in North Korea have been unable to communicate with their son, the New York Times reports. Otto F. Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was detained in North Korea earlier this year, tearfully plead for his release yesterday during a state-run media briefing. During the media briefing, Warmbier said that he had stolen a political banner from a hotel in Pyongyang at the “urging of an Ohio church, a secret society at the University of Virginia that he aspired to join, and the Central Intelligence Agency.” The Times writes that the “unlikely nature of the details suggests the script had been written by Mr. Warmbier’s North Korean interrogators.”

As the DPRK continues with its almost weekly provocations, the Associated Press carries a branch by branch breakdown of North Korea’s military capabilities.

Speaking of American hostages abroad, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution yesterday calling on Iran to fulfill its promise of assisting the United States in the case of Robert Levinson. The former FBI agent went missing in Iran nine years ago. Levinson’s case drew renewed attention in January when he was not part of the prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran following the implementation of the recent nuclear accord between the two nations. The Associated Press has more on the story.

Bloomberg Business reports that the Pentagon is requesting $34.7 billion through 2021 for cybersecurity in an effort to “beef up” offensive military capabilities. Examples of these offensive military capabilities include those deployed in the newly disclosed operations against the Islamic State. While Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said little on those secret technologies, Bloomberg Business writes that previously undisclosed budget documents from DoD’s five-year plan “show increasing investments in offensive cyber capabilities as well as a strategic deterrence and defensive cybersecurity."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is heading to Silicon Valley this week to meet with leaders from technology companies. Defense News writes that even though not related, the timing of Secretary Carter’s visit, a day after the Pentagon announced it had stepped up cyber operations against the Islamic State, is symbolic in some ways because Carter has made clear that he believes the tech industry in the United States is crucial to the Pentagon’s future.

Speaking of cybersecurity, the New York Times tells us that the Obama administration has warned United States power companies, water suppliers, and transportation networks that sophisticated cyberattack techniques, such as the one recently deployed against Ukraine’s power grid, could easily be turned on them. The Times reports that after an extensive investigation, American officials concluded that the attack in Ukraine last December may have been the first blackout triggered by a cyberattack.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States and the European Union have published new details on the data-privacy accord negotiated earlier this month. If finalized by both parties, the agreement would re-establish an easier way for businesses to move information about Europeans to servers on U.S. soil and create a new U.S. ombudsman to follow up with complaints about surveillance of Europeans. The Wall Street Journal has more on the data-privacy plan.

The New York Times shares that a letter about the Bush administration’s secret program which allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans’ international communications was made public yesterday. The Times writes that the release of the 22-page letter authored by John Yoo, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, adds to the historical record of the controversial surveillance and bulk data collection program known as “Stellarwind.” The New York Times has more on the letter.

During opening statements for the first trial of an American charged with trying to join the Islamic State, a prosecutor told jury members that Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran, wanted to join the Islamic State to die a martyr. Tairod’s defense attorney called the prosecution’s allegations a “fantasy.” Read more on the different portrayals from the Associated Press here.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated that President Obama cannot transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States without Congress’ permission. During a news briefing yesterday, Carter told reporters that the transfer “can’t be done unless Congress acts, which means that Congress has to support the idea that it would be good to move this facility and--or the detainees to the United States.” Additionally, the Hill tell us that Secretary Carter mentioned that there were some detainees that would not be safe if they were transferred out of U.S. custody and that in order to close the Guantanamo detention facility, there would have to be an alternative one within the United States.

Lt. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas has been appointed to head U.S. Special Operations Command. Lt. Gen. Thomas currently serves as head of Joint Special Operations Command. According to the Washington Post, Thomas, a 1980 graduate of West Point, has lead in Ranger battalions and Delta force, spent almost 12 years in Afghanistan before becoming the top military liaison to the CIA in 2013. He currently awaits Congress’ confirmation.

Parting Shot: It has indeed been the “end of an era” or decade in this case. Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ended his ten year campaign of silence on the bench and asked a question during oral arguments. Read what he said and asked in the New York Times.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Henry Farrell reviewed Adam Segal’s book, The Hacked World Order. Out of the many books written on cybersecurity over the last couple of years, Henry says this one is the best.

Jack Goldsmith and Amira Mikhail argued that Congress is responsible for the Iranian exemptions to the new visa waiver law.

Blair Reeves demystified Apple’s FAQ and offered some additional background that the company left out.

Rachel Stohl graded the Obama administration’s progress on drone policy. The administration performed poorly.

Aaron Zelin released the latest Jihadology Podcast focusing on nashids’ history and culture.

Susan Hennessey flagged Apple’s latest win where a New York federal judge ruled that the government’s request for Apple to extract data from an iPhone is not permissible under the All Writs Act.

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