Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette
Thursday, October 6, 2016, 3:16 PM

New details have emerged regarding the FBI’s arrest of an NSA contractor for reportedly stealing documents from the agency. It remains unclear whether Harold Thomas Martin III, a Booz Allen employee, leaked the information, and the FBI is investigating whether he brought the files home without the intention of disseminating them. According to the Daily Beast, Martin worked in NSA’s elite hacking unit and was working on a dissertation at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The New York Times writes that, in the words of an intelligence official working on the investigation, Martin’s is “a sad case.”

The Times provides further reporting on a recent Reuters story regarding Yahoo’s cooperation with a government order to scan emails for a digital “signature” using technology developed to identify malware and child pornography. According to the Times, the search was conducted pursuant to an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under Title I of FISA. However, in a conflicting report, Reuters writes that the order was issued under Section 702 of FISA, which is up for renewal in Congress in December 2017. The details of the story remain heavily ambiguous.

An impending decision by the European Court of Human Rights on U.K. mass surveillance programs could have significant implications for American counter-terrorism operations, reports the Washington Post. A group of human rights organizations filed the lawsuit following the Snowden revelations, challenging the United Kingdom’s mass surveillance policies and its intelligence cooperation with the Five Eyes—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Syrian military announced it will reduce the tempo of its air and artillery strikes in Aleppo to give civilians time to leave the besieged city, writes the Wall Street Journal. The decision follows widespread international condemnation of the humanitarian consequences of Syrian and Russian operations. The reduction will likely soon give way to a continued government offensive, given that the regime threatened anyone left in Aleppo after the window “would face their ‘inevitable fate.’” Reuters has more.

A bomb killed 25 people, mostly Syrian rebels fighting with the support of the Turkish military, west of Aleppo along the Turkish-Syrian border. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Germany may lead an effort to impose new European sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Syrian civil war, notes the Journal. Chancellor Angela Merkel first cobbled together European support for sanctions against Russia after its annexation of Crimea two years ago, and there are reports that Germany is in the early stages of discussing a new round of sanctions. Domestic political pressure—both in Germany and in other European states—may ultimately kill the effort, but the possibility highlights the international frustration with Russian adventurism.

France is pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution to renew the Syrian ceasefire and ground all military flights over Aleppo. French diplomats acknowledged that Russia will certainly veto the resolution, but said that the veto would only highlight Moscow’s complicity with the Syrian regime’s war crimes. Reuters has more.

Russia announced it will no longer cooperate with the United States on nuclear research, following Moscow’s decision on Monday to abrogate an arms control deal, reports the Washington Post. Officials blamed American sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine as the spoiler, largely sidestepping the key dispute over Syria.

Shiite militias from Iraq are joining Syrian government forces in the siege of Aleppo, notes the Journal. Over 1,000 soldiers have left the fight against the Islamic State in the past month, which brings the tally of foreign fighters working with the regime to 5,000—half of the government’s military strength in the siege.

As the Islamic State gradually atrophies, Iraq will face tremendous challenges not only from inter-sectarian rivalries but also from intra-sectarian fighting within the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish communities, argues the Financial Times. The mobilization and armament of almost every significant group in Iraq to repel the Islamic State has laid the groundwork for competitive infighting to gain dominance within and across communities.

Despite disagreements over the conflict in Syria and sectarian differences, Turkey and Iran are strengthening their bilateral cooperation, including in trade and energy. Turkey’s unique political and historical legacy makes it possible to set aside the sectarian rivalries that have poisoned other Sunni nations’ relationships with Iran, writes the Journal.

The war of words between Iran and Saudi Arabia continues with Revolutionary Guard Corps General and leader of the Quds force Qassem Soleimani suggesting that the Saudi prince—defense minister Mohammed bin Salman—“is very impatient and might kill his king.” Saudi Arabia does not take allusions to regicide lightly. The Washington Post has more.

The United States sharply criticized Israel for violating its promise to halt construction of new settlements after Israeli officials announced development plans in the West Bank, reports the Times. The timing of the announcement is particularly galling to the White House given that the United States only recently announced a $38 billion military aid deal to Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu did not inform President Obama of the decision when the two discussed settlements at the United Nations last month.

The battle for Kunduz between Taliban and Afghan government forces has stretched into its fourth day, reports the AP. Despite government assurances that it had recaptured the city the day after it fell, local sources claim that there is still heavy fighting. Almost 10,000 civilians have abandoned the city. While Afghan security units with U.S. backing will likely repel the Taliban from Kunduz, the operation highlights that the Taliban is still capable of challenging government forces fifteen years after the start of the war. The Journal has more.

Almost fifty Afghan soldiers training in the United States have left training sites to live illegally in the United States, Reuters writes. The unusually high frequency of disappearances among Afghan trainees illustrates the problems with developing a professional Afghan National Army, in which the United States has already invested $60 billion.

The Indian military announced today that it repelled an attack on an Indian military base and targeted militants along the Line of Control in Kashmir, ultimately killing seven fighters, reports the Post. The operation is the latest retaliatory move after a Pakistani-sponsored terrorist group attacked an Indian military base last month. Pakistan’s army chief denounced the attack, threatening to retaliate in turn, adds the AP.

The U.N. Security Council has formally voted to approve António Guterres of Portugal as the next U.N. Secretary General, notes the Post. All five permanent members of the Council voted in favor of Guterres’ appointment. After serving as the Portuguese prime minister from 1995 to 2002, Guterres was the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015, where he grappled with the onset of the refugee crisis.

The Paris Agreement on climate change will enter into force on November 4th, writes the AP. After the European Union, Canada, and Nepal finalized their ratification of the agreement, the treaty met the key threshold to come into force by including all states responsible for 55 percent of global emissions.

The United States is largely ignoring the controversial statements of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, even as it spars with Duterte over his apparent approval of extrajudicial killings, observes the Financial Times. In addition to drawing parallels between himself and Hitler, President Duterte has explicitly threatened to subvert the Philippine’s alliance with the United States by canceling military cooperation and pivoting toward greater engagement with China. Polls show that Duterte still retains significant domestic support despite these controversies, and President Obama seems content with letting the next administration tackle this issue.

The Swedish military announced that women may be eligible to be drafted, the Post commented. The decision reflects concerns about the growing Russian threat as well as emerging norms of gender equality in the armed forces. Sweden only recently announced plans to reinstate the draft after abolishing it in 2010.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing six people in an attack targeting Christians in Kenya, the Post writes. Kenya’s decision in 2011 to deploy troops in Somalia to fight al-Shabaab has prompted numerous retaliatory attacks over the years.

Two former CIA officials will be deposed on the agency’s post-911 interrogation program in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, reports the Post. Three former detainees are suing the two contractors who developed the CIA’s interrogation program, which is now widely considered to have included torture. Former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Jose Rodriguez and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo will submit to depositions.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

John Bellinger suggested presidential waiver authority as a potential remedy to mitigate the effects of JASTA.

Nicholas Weaver warned of the need to prepare for electoral chaos from Russian electronic interference with the election.

Bobby Chesney provided information on the NSA contractor who was recently arrested for bringing home classified materials.

Zachary Burdette and Quinta Jurecic outlined the national security highlights from the vice presidential debate.

Emma Borden delved into the details of the $1.7 billion payment that the United States made to Iran earlier this year.

Dan Byman explored the insights that historical analogies can provide into the Middle East’s contemporary problems.

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