Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, October 7, 2016, 3:10 PM

Moscow has warned the United States that the Russian military will use its air defense systems in Syria to stop any American attacks on regime forces, the Washington Post reports. Russia has deployed its advanced S-400 system deployed Syria’s Hemeimeem air base and also dispatched S-300 assets to a naval base in Tartus earlier this week. The threat comes as the Obama administration considers how to move forward in Syria after the collapse of the ceasefire brokered with Moscow.

The Russian Duma finalized a treaty with Syria that authorizes a permanent Russian military presence in the country, notes the Post. The treaty includes provisions specific to the air base at Hemeimeem. A separate agreement may also be in the works to indefinitely maintain Russia’s naval presence in Tartus.

Russia also announced plans to bolster military cooperation with Iran and to increase its naval presence in the Mediterranean, the Wall Street Journal reports. Unlike the basing agreement with Syria, Russian cooperation with Iran seems to be mostly limited to greater dialogue on military issues. That distinction is notable given Iran’s decision to grant—and then quickly revoke—Russian military access to an Iranian airbase to launch operations into Syria earlier this year. Moscow’s plans to augment its naval presence in the Mediterranean, though, are more concrete. Russia is dispatching two missile corvettes to reinforce its task force off Syria, and has plans to also send its only aircraft carrier later this year.

While Aleppo remains the battle in the global spotlight, numerous active military operations continue across Syria. The AP outlines the developments in Hama, Damascus and southern Syria, northwestern Syria, Dier al-Zour, and Aleppo.

Ahead of the Mosul offensive, Sunni militias are asking for greater support from the Iraqi government, Reuters observes. While Turkey provides training to these Sunni forces, the fighters argue that Iraq’s Shi’ite-led central government is not providing greater support for sectarian reasons. The sectarian dispute also revolves around who will lead the offensive on Mosul, Reuters adds. The Turkish government warned that the involvement of Shi’ite militias would be counterproductive to the operation, arguing instead that the Turkish-backed Sunni forces were better equipped to liberate the city.

The Washington Post chronicles what life is like for children living under the Islamic State’s rule. Interviews with five boys illuminate the dark process of indoctrination and training that the group forces children to go through.

Israel denounced the United States’ “strong condemnation” of its plans to develop a settlement in the West Bank, writes the Post. Israeli officials argued that building new housing is distinct from new settlements, and suggested that the United States should be more focused on the conflict in Syria than Israel’s activity in the West Bank.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized Saudi Arabia for gender-based discrimination and laws that “allowed children to be executed by stoning or punished with amputations and floggings,” Reuters notes. The kingdom has come under increased international scrutiny recently for its domestic human rights problems, its checkered history of complicity with terrorist groups, and its bloody intervention in Yemen.

Pakistan’s parliament criticized India’s military operations in Kashmir, the Post reports. The resolution denied responsibility for terrorist attacks against Indian military forces, shifting the blame to India for “sponsoring terrorism” that targets Pakistan.

The battle for Kunduz has reached its fifth day, the Post comments. Government forces report success in pushing the Taliban out of the city. Civilians continue to flee Kunduz, and the United Nations has warned that the city may face severe food and water shortages.

Activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site has raised suspicion that the hermit kingdom may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test, the Journal tells us. The heightened level of activity could simply indicate an effort to collect data from the last test, but North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions during major political anniversaries within the state—two of which are coming up on Sunday and Monday.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made good on his promises to weaken the country’s defense cooperation with the United States, writes the Post. The Philippines’ defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, informed his U.S. counterparts that all joint patrols and naval exercises in the South China Sea are “on hold” and that U.S. special forces carrying out counter-terrorism operations in the Philippines must leave once local forces build capacity. The announcement is the first concrete follow-through after a series of President Duterte’s provocative statements. Lorenzana also stated that the Philippines will shift to greater reliance on China and Russia for procuring weapons systems if the United States withdraws military aid, adds Reuters.

Vietnam accused the Viet Tan, a California-based activist group, of conducting terrorist operations against the Vietnamese government. Officials claimed the pro-democracy group “recruited and trained operatives to use weapons and explosives.” Reuters has more.

Increased Russian operations in Syria are only a subset of the Kremlin’s new appetite for broader military activism. Moscow is “rethinking” whether it wants to reopen military bases in Vietnam and Cuba that had been closed as part of a global drawdown following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, Estonia and Finland also reported that Russian aircraft penetrated their territorial airspace multiple times on Thursday and Friday. The timing coincides with Estonia’s hosting of the Ukrainian defense minister and with Finland’s signing of an agreement to strengthen its military collaboration with the United States. The bilateral agreement significantly expands the scope of U.S.-Finland defense cooperation beyond current joint drills to include “information exchange, joint research and development in areas like cyberdefense” as well as “cooperation in ship building, nuclear defense and developing technologies for the Arctic,” writes the Post.

Beyond standard military operations, Russia is also becoming bolder in its efforts to influence the internal political systems of foreign states. In the wake of a pattern of Russian-linked hacks on U.S. political targets, a group of experts and former national security officials have released a letter warning that Russian intelligence services may “doctor” the emails they release from hacks to have greater effect. Yahoo has more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the country’s 52 year civil war, the New York Times reports. The Washington Post chronicles the various domestic and international reactions to the decision. Colombian voters rejected the peace deal President Santos proposed in a referendum, but the AP notes that the government and FARC have committed to a cease-fire until the issue is resolved.

Investigators looking into NSA contractor Harold Martin for taking home classified information are unsure if he leaked any of the material, the Times remarks. Martin may have merely been hoarding the material so that he could continue his work at home. Regardless of his motives, Martin’s arrest could have significant implications for his employer Booz Allen, the contractor also responsible for hiring Snowden. The Times has more.

More details have emerged in the increasingly complicated story of Yahoo’s cooperating with a government order to search emails for a telltale digital signature. Reuters has walked back its initial reporting that the order was issued under Section 702, and now agrees with the Timesearlier reporting that the FISA court granted a warrant under Title I of FISA. Meanwhile, Motherboard writes that the tool used by Yahoo to scan emails may have been a piece of malware, rather than software routinely used to search correspondence for child pornography and viruses, as indicated earlier.

The FBI again finds itself in the possession of a dead terrorist suspect’s locked iPhone, writes Wired. The phone belonged to Dahir Adan, a Minnesotan who may have been inspired by the Islamic State to stab bystanders in a mall earlier this year. Depending on the phone’s model and operating system, it may use encryption that the FBI would not be able to bypass with the technique used to decrypt the phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters earlier this year—potentially renewing the showdown between Apple and the FBI over encryption.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

 

Sarah Tate Chambers rounded up the U.S. government’s cases against Chinese cyber-criminals.

Benjamin Wittes uploaded the latest edition of Rational Security, which covers the vice-presidential debate, JASTA, the NSA leaks, Shimon Peres, and Russia.

Rachel VanLandingham discussed the procedural regulation of detention in armed conflict.

Nora Ellingsen summarized a new counterterrorism case in D.C.

Benjamin Wittes explained that he is withholding analysis on reports that Yahoo is scanning emails for U.S. intelligence agencies, arguing that analysts should wait until the underlying documents are published, the facts are clearer, and it is apparent what legal authority the government cites for the program.

David Bosco outlined what a team from the ICC will and will not do on its trip to Israel and Palestine.

 

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.