Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Friday, July 8, 2016, 3:40 PM

At least one sniper, who said he wanted to target white police officers, killed five officers and wounded another seven along with two civilians in Dallas last night. According to the city’s police chief, David Brown, the suspected sniper was killed by a explosive dispatched by a robot. The suspect was killed after negotiations broke down and he again began exchanging gunfire with police. Brown said the suspect registered anger with white people, the shooting of black men, and white police officers in particular. Chief Brown—who is black—said the “divisiveness between police and civilians” must end. The tragedy comes after two police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota rocked the nation and President Barack Obama made remarks condemning police brutality and the disproportionate maltreatment that minority communities suffer at the hands of law enforcement. As more details emerge, check out the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

South Korea and the United States declared on Friday that the two countries will set up and maintain an advanced missile defense system in South Korea. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is ostensibly geared towards deterring North Korea’s growing ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities, but Chinese leaders have protested the missile defense system as a destabilizing development in the region. In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “China strongly urges the United States and South Korea to stop the deployment process of the THAAD anti-missile system, not take any steps to complicate the regional situation and do nothing to harm China's strategic security interests.” The announcement comes on the heels of Washington’s recent decision to impose individual sanctions on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and his coterie of close advisers. The announcement also demonstrates the limits to Beijing’s diplomatic clout, as the New York Times reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping had spent considerable political capital in an effort to cultivate South Korea as a closer geopolitical partner.

Beijing anticipates another diplomatic loss next week when an international tribunal is expected to rule against China’s claims in the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines. To the displeasure of many in the international community, China has already declared that it will ignore the verdict. But the Wall Street Journal points out that there may be a strong parallel between Beijing’s contempt for the U.N. arbitral tribunal and Washington’s contempt for a rebuke from the International Court of Justice in 1986 regarding the United States’ support of the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. The U.S. boycotted the proceedings and refused to pay the $370 million verdict that the ICJ initially awarded Nicaragua.

The Journal also discloses that General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, believes U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are sufficient for commanders to prosecute the war effectively. Votel arrived in Kabul on Friday after President Obama revised the number of U.S. troops that would remain in the country at the end of the year up from 5,500 to 8,400 troops. The Afghan government has struggled against a resilient Taliban insurgency while the Islamic State’s presence in the region has also grown.

And while the new 8,400 number is a decrease from the current U.S. troop level, Votel said the United States can still succeed in both its counterterrorism and indigenous capacity-building missions. A senior official told the Associated Press that NATO allies will consider increasing their troop contributions to the war in Afghanistan. The contributions would compensate for the drawdown in U.S. troop numbers and ensure that the total coalition force numbers would stay at their current levels of roughly 13,000 troops.

Reuters reveals that President Obama has called on NATO allies to stand firm against a revanchist Russia in light of Britain’s exit from the European Union. Obama also reaffirmed his support for NATO’s Article 5, which stipulates that all NATO nations are obligated to come to a member’s defense in case of an attack. “In Warsaw, we must reaffirm our determination — our duty under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — to defend every NATO ally," Obama said. USA Today reports that Obama dismissed concerns that the European structure is disintegrating as hyperbolic.

The Jerusalem Post discloses that Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all agreed on a phone call today that the terms of the Minsk ceasefire vis-a-vis Ukraine must be executed more speedily. The three leaders also stressed the need for granting special legal status to eastern Ukraine, implementing constitutional reform, offering amnesty and holding local elections.

The E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield framework cleared a final hurdle today, passing the European Commission. The framework stands to come into effect as early as next week. Its introduction should alleviate the legal and regulatory uncertainties that hampered U.S. companies such as Google, MasterCard, and Facebook after the EU’s top court struck down the last data transfer pact, Safe Harbour, over concerns about U.S. surveillance practices. Most EU member states voted in favor of the privacy shield but both Austria and Slovenia expressed doubts that the shield sufficiently protects civil liberties.

Germany announced that more than 220,000 migrants reached the country in the first six months of the calendar year, a stark drop from the last six months of 2015 when 865,000 newcomers registered in Germany. This slowdown, which has boosted Chancellor Merkel’s favorability ratings, can be attributed in part to a deal hammered out last spring between the European Union and Turkey to return migrants who cross the Aegean Sea into Europe illegally. The closure of national borders by some countries such as Hungary and Slovakia has also slowed migrant flows into Germany.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that German prosecutors accused an Algerian asylum seeker—who is identified as Bilal C.—of helping scout potential routes into Europe for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader of the November Paris attacks. Bilal allegedly passed information to Abaaoud as he traveled from Syria along the so-called Balkans route into Western Europe. Bilal’s detention is the latest evidence the Islamic State may seek to exploit refugee channels as a means of smuggling operatives.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged parents to inform law enforcement and intelligence officials if their children are missing. She said such efforts would help authorities prevent terrorist attacks such as this weekend’s assault in an upscale Dhaka restaurant. According to authorities, the terrorists were all young men who had broken contact with their affluent families.

The Financial Times highlights an annual report by a German domestic intelligence agency that claims Iran has repeatedly attempted to acquire nuclear technology in Germany in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. The report said illegal Iranian attempts to procure German technology were particularly frequent for “merchandise that could be deployed in the field of nuclear technology.” The agency counted nearly 100 times that actors traceable back to Iran attempted to acquire technology for proliferation purposes. Reuters adds that the German Foreign Minister Martin Schaefer said it is likely that these efforts were driven by a minority faction in Iran that has opposed the nuclear deal from the outset. He said he had “great deal of faith” in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved measures blocking U.S. companies from selling commercial passenger planes to Tehran. The vote was directed at Boeing after the company recently concluded a $17 billion deal with Iran’s national air carrier to sell three models of planes. The amendment was added to a financial services spending bill. The White House is almost certain to veto the legislation, which some view as having the potential to undermine the Iran nuclear deal.

Congressional Republicans are also not ready to end the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while she served as secretary of state. Although FBI Director James Comey publicly recommended that no criminal charges be leveled for Clinton’s use of a private email server, Republicans in the House said they want the Bureau to investigate Clinton’s October testimony where she said under oath that she had never sent or received emails marked as classified when she served as secretary of state. She also said she only used one mobile device for emails and turned over all of her work-related emails to the State Department. According to the FBI’s findings, neither of those claims are true. The Associated Press has more.

Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a Shia Muslim shrine north of Baghdad, killing 40 people and wounding 71 others. The attack occurred as Shiites celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr visited the mausoleum of Sayid Mohammed bin Ali al-Hadi, a revered figure in Shia theology. The Sunni extremist group has shifted its focus to suicide attacks against Shia populations as the pseudo-caliphate looks increasingly likely to collapse from external pressure. Last Sunday, a large-scale car bombing in Baghdad claimed nearly 300 lives, stoking the public’s anger at the Iraqi government’s inability to provide adequate security. In response to public agitation, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi fired his security chief on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the whereabouts of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who appears to have fled Uruguay remain a mystery as law enforcement officials from across South America are scouring the region for the missing man. The former detainee, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, is originally from Syria and was among six men resettled in Uruguay in 2014 under the Obama administration’s prisoner transfer program. Brazilian authorities are particularly concerned that Dhiab could launch an attack during the Olympic Games that will take place next month in Rio De Janeiro.

Voice of America reported that another former detainee from Guantanamo Bay, Airat Vakhitov, was arrested by Turkish officials in connection to the triple suicide attack at Istanbul’s main airport. Russia’s security service has accused Vakhitov—who was held for two years in Guantanamo after being captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001—of fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The Obama administration’s special envoys for the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay testified in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. They defended the White House’s ongoing policy of releasing detainees to other countries and said the current standard for releasing a detainee is “more rigorous and intensive” than the protocol that President George W. Bush’s administration employed. Under Obama, 159 detainees have been released to other countries whereas more than 520 were sent out under Bush.

The New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser profiles the curious case of Blerim Skoro, a man who claims to have served as a spy for the U.S. government in the Balkans and the Middle East, but who now sits in jail, facing deportation. Skoro, who was born in Kosovo, was arrested in 2000 for drug trafficking. Following his conviction and initial deportation, he claims that he assisted the CIA in the Balkans. He was arrested this year after illegally using his daughter’s discounted metrocard in New York City after having re-entered the United States illegally. Skoro claims that his detention and deportation could deter other possible informants and spies from cooperating with the intelligence community.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Rishabh Bhandari flagged FBI Director James Comey’s lengthy testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Governance Reform.

Stewart Baker posted the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, wherein they discuss Edward Snowden’s relationship with the Russian intelligence community among other issues.

Cody Poplin shared the statements and congressional testimony of Lee Wolosky and Paul Lewis, the two special envoys from the Pentagon and State Department respectively who are charged with releasing Guantanamo detainees to other countries.

Kenneth Anderson drew our attention to the joint statement of Russia and China on their interpretations of existing international law.

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