Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:28 PM

President Obama hosted world leaders today in Washington for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit focused on stopping nuclear proliferation. The Wall Street Journal writes that the summit comes amid increasing concerns that terrorists may acquire nuclear weapons and rising tensions and threats from North Korea. Additionally, the Journal reports that President Obama is scheduled to meet with the South Korean president and the Japanese Prime Minister to speak on the growing threat from North Korea. He will do the same with Chinese President Xi Jinping separately. According to the Journal, “while the summit is intended to broadly address nuclear proliferation, it is likely to be overshadowed by the threat of terrorism, particularly from the Islamic State.” Reuters has more on the summit here.

On the eve of the nuclear summit, President Obama wrote a piece for the Washington Post on how we can make our vision of a world without nuclear weapons a reality.

The Guardian reports that the United States and the United Kingdom will simulate a “war-game” including a cyber attack against a nuclear power plant, later this year. The planned simulation will test the readiness of the government and utility firms. According to government officials who spoke to the Guardian, “the exercise was not triggered by any credible intelligence about the threat of such an attack, but that it was ‘prudent planning’ adding: It gives us the ability to test these systems, and make sure that we learn any lessons.”

In other news, the United States government has used the All Writs Act legal tactic in more than 60 other phone-unlocking cases. The Guardian shares that the “American Civil Liberties Union scoured court records across the United States for cases where the government relied on the All Writs Act to try to force Google or Apple to help them unlock a phone.” You can read more on what the ACLU found here.

Following news of the Justice Department’s decision to drop its case against Apple, citing a way to unlock the iPhone from the San Bernardino case, the FBI has now agreed to unlock another iPhone for a local law enforcement investigation of an Arkansas homicide. According to the BBC, two teenagers are accused of killing a couple in Conway, Arkansas. Authorities wish to unlock an iPhone and iPod belonging to one of the suspected murderers.

Yet, Apple may never know how exactly the FBI unlocked the encrypted iPhone in San Bernardino. Reuters tells us that despite a U.S. government policy process for disclosing technology security flaws discovered by federal agencies, the FBI may be able to withhold this information from Apple. Reuters writes that “under the U.S. vulnerabilities equities process, the government is supposed to err in favor of disclosing security issues so companies can devise fixes to protect data. The policy has exceptions for law enforcement and there are no hard rules about when and how it must be applied.” Apple has requested that the FBI share how it had cracked the iPhone, but the FBI may not grant that request any time soon.

Still, the White House is assuring U.S. citizens should “absolutely” still have confidence in their personal privacy despite the government's ability to unlock iPhones. Reuters reports that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday during a press conference that “the reason [the American people] should be confident in that privacy because there are laws on the books that are assiduously followed...that protect the privacy of the American people.” He also added that privacy will be ensured “even as we undertake the necessary actions to protect our national security.”

Edward Snowden sat down with MIT professor Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald last Friday for a panel discussion on privacy rights hosted by the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. During the panel, Snowden commented on Belgium’s intelligence failures stating, “When you collect everything, you understand nothing...you’re blinded by the noise. I worked at that desk, I used the tools of mass surveillance.” The Intercept has a link to the discussion here.

Over in Europe, a laptop containing plans and photographs of Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel home and office was found near a terrorist hideout in Brussels yesterday. The Guardian reports that “the laptop was found in a bin near a flat in the Schaerbeek district that had been a makeshift bomb factory for the terrorists who killed 32 people and injured at least 340 in last week’s suicide bombings at Brussels airport and the city metro.” A spokesman for Prime Minister Michel assured that reinforced security measures had already been in place for several months.

Meanwhile, Belgian security officials released Faycal Cheffou, suspected of being the “man in the hat” with the two other Brussels airport bombers, earlier this week acknowledging that “the clues that led to his arrest ‘were not backed by the evolution of the current investigation.’” However, Cheffou is still suspected of committing terrorist murders. Politico’s explains here.

Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the team of terrorists that attacked Paris last November, wants to cooperate with French authorities, and now he may get his chance. Earlier today, Belgian judicial authorities approved of the suspected terrorist’s extradition to France. Federal prosecutors in Belgium stated “As Salah Abdeslam had declared to agree to be transferred to France, a federal magistrate took his formal declaration today...the transfer is possible. Belgian and French authorities will now consider jointly on how to proceed further in the execution of the transfer.”

Politico shares that ever since last week’s Brussels attacks, the French government has not missed an opportunity to “trumpet its frustrations at the failure of European institutions to tackle the terror threat.” France’s lament: If only everyone had listened to them in the first place.

Last week, French authorities arrested a man believed to have been plotting an “imminent” attack on Paris. The New York Times tells us that the suspect, Reda Kriket, “had amassed a trove of guns and bomb-making equipment, including the type of explosive used in terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.” Kriket was charged with terrorist conspiracy, possession of weapons and explosives, and falsification of documents, among other offenses. The Times has more.

As Europe continues to heighten its security in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, the Islamic State has urged German Muslims to carry out Brussels-style attacks in Germany. They’ve even provided ideas for targets: Chancellor Angela Merkel's office and the Cologne-Bonn airport. Reuters has more on that story here.

President Bashar al Assad, still celebrating his major victory over the Islamic State in Palmyra, expressed support of the continuation of peace talks next month in Geneva. However, he firmly rejected the opposition party’s key demand: remove him from power. The Washington Post reports that “in an interview with Russian media, the embattled leader discussed his vision for eventual reconstruction from a devastating civil war and his desire to let Moscow, a key ally, maintain an indefinite military presence in Syria.” President Assad also called the idea of forming a new transitional government to end the civil war in his country as “illogical and unconstitutional” but then suggested that it would not be too difficult to agree on a new Syrian government including opposition figures.

Reuters reports that Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, aided by army troops and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, have advanced towards the western town of Hit today. The advance is the latest attempt by Iraqi forces to dislodge Islamic State militants. Reuters writes that the “recaptures of Hit, strategically located on the Euphrates River near Ain al Asad airbase where several hundred U.S. forces are training Iraqi army troops, would push Islamic State further west towards the Syrian border, cutting a connection to the northern town of Samarra and leaving Falluja their only stronghold near the capital.”

The New York Times’ editorial board calls for a frank talk on the Islamic State. Check out their piece on why President Obama needs to be direct with the American people.

The New York Times reports that the “Libyans who lead a United Nations-backed unity government traveled by sea early Wednesday to Libya’s capital, Tripoli, as part of a bold if risky effort to break the country’s two-year political stalemate.” However, their trip defied an air blockade led by rival groups in the city. The leaders arrived in Tripoli to take control of the country that has been in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.

Following Sunday’s suicide blast in Lahore, Pakistan by Jamaat ul Ahrar that killed 72 people and injured many others, Pakistan’s counterterrorism police have cracked down on militants in the country. Yesterday, Pakistani security forces killed at least five people and arrested scores more suspected of ties with terrorists and other militants. The Los Angeles Times reports that “police and intelligence agencies in Punjab rounded up at least 5,221 suspects in the 24 hours after the attack and had released 5,005 by late Tuesday.”

In other news out of Pakistan, hundreds of radical Islamist ended their four day rally in Islamabad yesterday just hours after the government threatened to use force to disband them. The Associated Press shares that “the Islamists were protesting last month’s hanging of a policeman who had shot and killed a secular governor over his opposition to the country’s strict blasphemy laws.”

Over in Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader announced his approval of the country’s missile program yesterday. The New York Times tells us that “defending the military’s recent tests, which critics, particularly in the United States, say are a violation of the recently concluded nuclear agreement, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that both negotiations and the testing of missiles were important to Iran.” Iranian officials assure that their country does not have nuclear weapons under the nuclear agreement and that the missile program is part of the country’s national security program.

Interested in becoming the next United Nations Secretary-General? The United Nations is currently accepting applications, but with some new provisions for the post. The Guardian reports that for the first time ever, Secretary-General candidates will compete openly for the job and will “explain their ideals and intentions in front of representatives from the 193 member nations next month at the U.N. general assembly and many will also hold unprecedented public debates in New York and London.” Current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to step down at the end of this year. Read more on the declared candidates and potential candidates here.

The Pentagon has announced plans for more detainees to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay. The New York Times reports that the Department of Defense has informed Congress that it plans to transfer up to a dozen more prisoners from the military prison. The move would reduce the number of prisoners remaining at GTMO, currently 91, and move the United States closer to President Obama’s plan to close the facility before leaving office next January. The dozen detainees set to be transferred include a Yemeni man who has been on a hunger strike since 2007. More on that here.

Yesterday, former Congressman and head of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (R-MI) indicated that there are more foreign operatives within the United States than at any point in the country’s history. During an address at the Heritage Foundation, Representative Rogers stated that “there are more spies in the United States today from foreign nation states than at any time in history, including the Cold War. And they are stealing everything.” The Hill has more.

Parting Shot: Turns out Americans and the world’s nations are not the only ones monitoring the 2016 US presidential election cycle. Al Qaeda has released an article detailing the election and, surprisingly, as come up with accurate conclusions. Take a look on AQ’s analysis (that is so weird to write) here from the Washington Post.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Bruce Riedel commented on Saudi Arabia turning up the heat on Hezbollah.

Paul Rosenzweig stated that Donald Trump is a national security threat and examined who is to blame for “Trumpism.”

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.