Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Tuesday, July 26, 2016, 2:37 PM

The Kremlin has denied accusations that it hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails in order to interfere with the U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican nominee Donald Trump, dismissing the allegations as “an old trick” and a “maniacal attemp[t] to exploit the Russian theme in the U.S. election campaign.” The denial comes after a number of private cybersecurity firms found evidence pointing to Russia’s involvement in the hack and subsequent leak of the emails.

The FBI is investigating whether aides and organizations closely associated with Hillary Clinton were also attacked in the hack. Though investigators claim to have found evidence only of unsuccessful attempts to gain access to those associates, new reports indicate that the reach of the hackers extended far beyond official email accounts, spreading to private email and smartphone content. Yahoo reports on the case a DNC consultant whose personal email account was hacked after she began to look into Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose connections to pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine have been well-documented.

Federal investigators claimed to have warned the Committee about a potential attack months before the party actually took action to address security problems, raising questions whether the Committee could have limited the damage. CNN has more.

Politico examines the Obama administration’s ability to push back legally in response to the hack. Out of all possible retaliatory tools, the administration may be most likely to turn to sanctions, though this would carry heavy political risk both domestically and internationally.

The effects of possible Russian involvement in the hack are already being felt on a geopolitical scale. Politico also reports that skeptics within the administration now have even more reason to mistrust President Obama’s ongoing effort to reach a deal on intelligence and military cooperation with Russia in Syria.

Turkey, meanwhile, continues to widen its crackdown against suspected plotters of the failed coup, sending drones and over 1,000 special force members in pursuit of 11 rogue commandos who attempted to attack President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the night of the coup. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, criticized the government’s “witch hunt” as “a shadow on the struggle that is being led for democracy.” Kilicdaroglu’s warning comes after tens of thousands have been detained or suspended. Reuters reports that the Turkish military has fractured in the wake of the coup, with both its unity and its role as a guardian of Turkish democracy called into question.

In a sign that rapprochement between Turkey and Russia is gaining steam, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to meet with Erdogan next month for the first time in over a year. Russia’s Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev maintained that trade sanctions against Turkey will remain in place, at least until after the meeting. Russia implemented the sanctions following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet near the Syrian border last November. Reuters has more on the upcoming meeting.

The Syrian army is tightening its grip around rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Reuters also tells us that regime forces sent texts to residents trapped in the besieged city, offeringsafe passage to anyone wishing to evacuate and urging armed groups to abandon their weapons. The move came a day after the UN pushed for a weekly 48-hour humanitarian pause in fighting to allow food and aid to be delivered into the city. More than 42 civilians have reportedly been killed in airstrikes launched by the Syrian army against the city. Al Jazeera has more on the city’s growing humanitarian crisis.

With ISIS continuing to suffer losses in Syria and Iraq, American diplomats and commanders are bracing for a long and bloody insurgency, expecting the Islamic State to combat its shrinking territory by reverting to guerrilla tactics. Officials fear such reversion will render the latest attack in Baghdad the norm, as Islamic State fighters blend into the largely Sunni civilian population in order to conduct more terror attacks. The New York Times has more.

The Afghan military has launched a major offensive against ISIS following a massive attack in Kabul, where an Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 80 people taking part in a peaceful protest. The campaign will be part of the government’s ongoing counteroffensive against the Taliban and will be carried out in Nangarhar Province, where ISIS has gained a foothold over the past year.

In yet another addition to the recent series of European attacks, two men stormed a parish church in Normandy this morning, killing an 85-year-old priest, injuring two people, and attempting to take hostages before being shot dead by police. President Hollande blamed ISIS for the attack and called for unity with other threatened countries, including Germany, to stop the organization’s “war on us.” ISIS has since claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to Bavaria’s Interior Minister, the Syrian suicide bomber who blew himself up on Sunday outside of a music festival in southern Germany had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video found on his cell phone. The attacker, who wounded 15 people, arrived in Germany two years ago as an asylum-seeker and had faced deportation to Bulgaria following repeated trouble with the police. Reuters has more.

A senior U.S. administration official has announced that the U.S. is seeking ways to increase counterterrorism cooperation with China, such as exchanging information and uniting to stabilize places like Iraq. The announcement comes a month after China’s anger was provoked by a State Department report claiming that China had been limiting counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.

The Wall Street Journal analyzes leaked Islamic State documents to discover that more than 100 Chinese nationals have joined the so-called caliphate. The findings help explain why counterterrorism has increasingly become an area of mutual concern for Beijing and the West in recent years. Almost all of the Chinese fighters came from the country’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, where some members of the Muslim Uighur group have been resisting Beijing’s rule for decades.

During her visit to Beijing, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Chinese officials that while the two countries should work to ease tensions in the contested waters of the South China Sea, the United States would continue conducting naval operations in the region. China has characterized these operations as “heavy-handed intervention."

The AP reports that Vietnam prefers to conduct bilateral negotiations with China over the two countries’ territorial disputes in the South China Seas, rather than referring the dispute to an international tribunal. Though the tribunal recently granted the Philippines a decisive victory over China, the numerous other nations with maritime claims appear reluctant to follow a similar path, preferring not to risk escalating tensions in the region.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir replaced his vice president on Tuesday in a move that threatens to undermine an already fragile peace deal in a country ravaged by civil war. Riek Machar, the former vice president, fled into hiding this month amid renewed clashes with government forces, though many opposition generals and militia members remain loyal to him. Taban Deng Gai, the coalition government’s former mining minister and the rebel’s chief negotiator during peace talks, has been installed as the new first vice president. For more, the Associated Press has you covered.

Near the African Union’s military base in Mogadishu, two suicide bombers detonated explosive-laden cars outside a Somali army checkpoint and an office of the U.N. mine clearing agency, killing 13 people. Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack. The AP has more.

The Bangladeshi police killed nine militants and wounded one in a shootout in Dhaka on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. The militants were members of Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, a banned extremist organization. The country’s law enforcement and intelligence community has been vigilant since the beginning of this month, when 22 people were killed in a terrorist attack on a Dhaka restaurant in an attack claimed by ISIS.

ABC News tells us that Brazilian police have arrested the last remaining suspect wanted so far in a police investigation of Brazilian ISIS sympathizers who allegedly discussed attacking the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The anti-terror case began last Thursday, when ten Brazilians were arrested across the country, stoking fears over security ahead of the Summer Games.

According to the Associated Press, North Korea warned the United States on Tuesday that Washington will pay a “terrifying price” if tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalate. Pyongyang released this statement following Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks calling on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program at a regional security conference hosted in Laos.

Reuters reveals that North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said at the same conference that North Korea’s decision to conduct a fourth nuclear test would be contingent on U.S. behavior. While Ho did not elaborate on this statement, the North Korean regime has previously called for the U.S. to withdraw from South Korea and abandon military exercises with its southern neighbor.

South Korea warned its citizens living in China or Southeast Asia that the North Korean government may have deployed operatives to harm or abduct South Korean citizens there. Sun Nahm-kook, a deputy spokesman for the South Korean foreign ministry, said in a briefing that South Korean missionaries, journalists, and North Korean defectors to the South could be prime targets. The threat may be retaliation for the South’s granting of asylum to workers from a restaurant run by the North in China, whom Pyongyang accused Seoul of abducting.

The interagency parole board in Guantanamo Bay announced that the last Russian held at the detention facilities, Ravil Mingazov, will be transferred. According to a brief statement issued by the federal Periodic Review Board, Mingazov “did not express any intent to reengage in terrorist activities nor has he espoused any anti-U.S. sentiment that would indicate he views the U.S. as his enemy.” The decision means that 32 of the detention center’s 76 captives are now earmarked for release to arrangements that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will approve. Carol Rosenberg has more at the Miami Herald.

In the New Yorker, Connie Bruck takes a lengthy look at the complicated politics behind the Obama Administration’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay. With the president’s last day in office steadily drawing closer, the clock is ticking on his 2007 campaign promise to shutter the detention center.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith flagged an interview he did with Slate’s Isaac Chotiner with regards to Russia’s alleged hack of the DNC’s email system.

Jack also offered his immediate take on the DNC hack, asking whether the U.S. government has a plan to protect our highly decentralized electoral system from foreign interference.

Susan Hennessey urged the intelligence community to be transparent with its findings about Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential campaign so that the public can make an informed choice on Election Day.

Carrie Cordero wrote about how the intelligence community will need to wrestle with how much information it can provide to the public on matters of significant public interest.

Benjamin Wittes published the third instalment of his series on the power of the American president in light of a potential Trump presidency.

Nicholas Weaver analyzed the legal interaction between Riley v. California and an iPhone’s TouchId.

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