Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Friday, March 11, 2016, 3:55 PM

Yesterday, news broke that an Islamic State defector has been disclosing inside information about the terrorist group’s inner bureaucracy. The New York Times shares that German authorities have obtained documents that are said to list foreigners who have traveled to Syria to fight for the pseudo-state. Germany’s Interior Ministry confirmed that officials believed that the documents are authentic.

However, some U.S. officials doubt the value of these leaked documents. Intelligence officials remain skeptical that the files contain any new revelations about the terror group. The Daily Beast reports that although they have not yet obtained copies of the documents, U.S. officials cautioned that similar files may have been obtained and analyzed previously. Additionally, the Beast tells us that the documents appear to be as much as three years old, diminishing the value for planning military strikes. The Guardian has more on “the Islamic State’s good book-keeping.”

Speaking of Islamic State leaks, Sleiman Daoud al Afari, one of the Islamic State’s top chemical weapons experts captured in a raid last month, has been transferred from U.S. custody to the Iraqi government. Yesterday, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook stressed that the United States would keep Islamic State detainees only for the “short term,” handled on a “case by case” basis. Al Afari provided U.S. military officials with key information regarding the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program which led to Allied airstrikes against alleged chemical weapon facilities. The Associated Press adds that the United States has “disrupted and degraded” the Islamic State’s ability to produce chemical weapons as a result of the airstrikes.

The Islamic State continues to greatly expand its control over territory in Libya. Reuters reports that U.N. sanctions monitors said that Islamic State militants are claiming to be the key defense for Libya against foreign militaries. In their annual report to the U.N. Security Council, the monitors also stated that Libya has become more attractive to foreign fighters.

Back in Syria, Reuters tells us that Russian warplanes have launched heavy strikes on the Islamic State-held city of Palmyra yesterday. The strikes may signify the Syrian government’s attempt to recapture the historic city, which fell to the Islamic State in May of 2015. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicated that dozens of Islamic State fighters were killed or wounded in the airstrikes that came after the heavy air raids in Palmyra.

Additionally, the Obama administration is facing mounting pressure by the Knights of Columbus, one of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organizations, to declare the Islamic State’s torture, murder, and rape of Christians as genocide. You can read the full report here.

Some major powers close to the U.N. peace talks on the Syrian civil war are discussing the possibility of a federal division of Syria. According to Reuters, Syria would maintain its unity as a single state while granting broad autonomy to regional authorities. As rumors of a possible division of Syria flourish, the Syrian opposition has agreed to attend the continued peace talks in Geneva set to resume on Monday. However, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has downplayed the chances of reaching an agreement with Bashar al Assad’s government. In a statement, the HNC said it would be in attendance in Geneva as part of its “commitment to international efforts to stop the spilling of Syrian blood and find a political solution.”

European Union officials raised legal and practical questions about a deal with Turkey concerning the E.U.’s migrant crisis yesterday. The Wall Street Journal reports that “the draft deal obliging Turkey to take back all migrants crossing illegally into Greece, including Syrian refugees, agreed to on Monday, still needs final approval by the bloc’s leaders at a summit next week.” The plan will allegedly outline that for each Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, European countries will take one Syrian refugee directly out of Turkish camps. Human rights groups and the United Nations’ refugee agency have raised concerns regarding Turkey’s mixed record on abiding by international refugee law.

During a clash between rival Taliban factions, dozens have been killed in the latest uprising against the insurgent group’s leader, Mullah Mansoor. The Guardian shares that “up to 100 fighters were killed in the Shindand district of Herat in western Afghanistan when followers of Mullah Mohammad Rasool clashed with Mansoor supporters.” Last year, the Taliban’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was announced dead, leading to mounting insurrections against his successor.

In the latest news from Pakistan, Pakistani officials have announced that India is no longer the country's sole focus. The Indian Express tells us that instead, Pakistani officials said that it was “time to concentrate on economic revival of the country rather than have any expectations from India.” Read more on the announcement from the Indian Express.

Former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin—found dead in a Washington, DC hotel room last year—died of blunt force injuries to the head, U.S. authorities announced yesterday. However, reports in Russia had indicated that Vladimir Putin’s former press secretary died of a heart attack. Reuters tells us that Mr. Lesin, Putin’s press secretary from 1999-2004, had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms, and legs and that a possible murder probe into his death has not yet been ruled out.

In other Russia news, the FBI eavesdropped on a meeting involving Russian intelligence personnel in New York City. Reuters reports that “the hours of covert recordings from 2013 were disclosed in papers filed in a Manhattan federal court on Tuesday in the case of Evgeny Buryakov.” Buryakov is a Russian citizen who had posed as a banker to participate in a “Cold War-style” spy ring. The spy ring included two more Russians, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy. “The trio conspired to gather economic intelligence for Russia, including information about U.S. sanctions against the country, and to recruit intelligence sources in New York City.”

CNN tells us that the Obama administration is preparing to attribute a 2013 cyber attack against a New York dam to Iranian hackers. According to CNN, “the intrusion at the Bowman Avenue Dam, around 30 miles north of New York City in suburban Rye Brook, New York, isn’t considered sophisticated—the hackers managed only to get access to some back office systems, not the operational systems of the dam.” However, the attack alarmed the Obama administration about the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure to cyber attacks. Reuters has more on the newly attributed attack.

Over in North Korea, Kim Jung Un ordered his country to improve its nuclear attack capability by conducting more tests, after watching a ballistic missile launch test this week. Kim Jung Un’s announcement comes as tensions mount on the Korean peninsula after the Hermit Kingdom tested a nuclear weapon earlier this year. During a state-run media news broadcast, reporters told North Koreans that Kim Jung Un said that work “must be strengthened to improve nuclear attack capability and issued combat tasks to continue nuclear explosion tests to assess the power of newly developed nuclear warheads and tests to improve nuclear capability.” Earlier this week, North Korea had announced that it had developed a nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on a ballistic missile.

Foreign Policy shares a piece on the new measure in the Senate aimed at making it harder for cyber attackers to take down the nation’s electrical grid. But will the plan do more harm than good?

In other cyber news, the Financial Times covers how a typo ... yes a typo, tripped the alarm in a $101 million cyber bank heist. Check that story out here.

Yesterday, the FBI threatened to raise the stakes in its legal battle with Apple. Yahoo News tells us that the FBI suggested that it might “demand access to Apple’s source code and secret electronic signature used to verify the legitimacy of its software updates.” The Verge adds that the tone between the FBI and Apple just became openly hostile; read that report here.

Defense News reports that yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to advance Eric Fanning’s nomination to become the new Army secretary to the full Senate. Fanning’s nomination has been in limbo for months. If confirmed, Mr. Fanning would become the first openly gay civilian to lead a U.S. armed service.

In the latest Guantanamo Bay news, over a dozen Republican senators introduced a resolution on Thursday to send detained Islamic State fighters to the detention center in Cuba. The Hill writes that “the resolution comes a day after the Pentagon announced that U.S. forces had captured an Islamic State leader on the ground sparking new questions about how to handle such prisoners.” The Hill has more.

Parting Shot: The next president will face many foreign policy challenges from the fight against terrorism to Chinese and Russian aggressions. However, few of the presidential candidates have offered much sense on how they would actually take on these issues, so says the New York Times’ editorial board. Check out their piece on filling in the foreign policy blanks.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben suggested DC area readers donate to Lawfare because we're less annoying at fundraising than WAMU.

Ben also shared the government’s response to Apple.

Robert Chesney provided us with an update on an ISIS detainee being transferred from the U.S. to Iraqi custody.

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