Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 2:43 PM

The battle for Aleppo has ended, with government forces now finally in control of the beleaguered city. Rebel forces agreed to a ceasefire on Tuesday afternoon in order to evacuate both civilians and rebel fighters to opposition-held territory. Russia’s U.N. envoy confirmed that fighting had ended as of Tuesday afternoon, Reuters writes. While the battle does not definitively end Syria’s long-running civil war, it marks a major defeat for the opposition movement and a significant victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in response to reports that government forces are executing civilians in eastern Aleppo in what one U.N. official called “a complete meltdown of humanity,” the New York Times writes. 82 civilians were reported dead at the hands of government soldiers, including 13 children. The Washington Post reports that civilians terrified of capture or execution have been posting goodbye messages on social media.

Donald Trump has announced Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for Secretary of State and former Texas Governor Rick Perry as his pick for Secretary of Energy, the Times tells us. The possibility of Tillerson’s appointment met with criticism when it was floated over the weekend, with senators across the aisle voicing concern over Tillerson’s closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his support for easing sanctions on Russia. The Wall Street Journal reports on the potential Secretary of State’s business connections to the Kremlin and to other “strongmen on the wrong side of the U.S. government,” including Moammar Gadhafi.

The CIA’s assessment that Russian intervention in the U.S. election was aimed at helping Donald Trump was based in part on indications that Russian hackers “prioritized” Democratic over Republican Party targets, the Post writes. Hackers linked to the Kremlin appear to have probed Republican computer systems but may not have taken any information. Meanwhile, Reuters tells us that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence remains uncertain whether the Kremlin’s cyberattacks were specifically aimed at electing Trump rather than merely undermining public confidence in elections. The FBI has voiced a similar opinion, although there is no disagreement between ODNI, CIA, and FBI over the fact of Russian interference itself—only as to Russia’s intent.

Incoming national security advisor General Michael Flynn may be behind Trump’s harsh criticism of the CIA in recent days, as well as the President-elect’s tense relationship with much of the intelligence community. the Times reports. Flynn told the Times over a year ago that the CIA had become a “very political organization” in support of Barack Obama, and his view of the Agency as a political entity could be shaping Donald Trump’s dismissal of the CIA’s concerns over Russian interference in the election.

On that note, former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden argues in the Post that Trump’s attacks on the CIA have set a disturbing note for his approach to the intelligence community going forward. “Intelligence should be called on to create the basis, and set the boundaries, for rational policy choices,” he writes, but “the odds that it will happen … seem a little bleaker after this past week.”

In the face of outcry over U.S. military support to the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has been criticized for high civilian casualties, the United States will place limits on intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia but will otherwise maintain military support. The Post writes that the shift in policy, which one U.S. official referred to as a “corrective measure,” will require a reduction in the sharing of intelligence that could be used to conduct strikes on civilian targets in Yemen but will allow the sharing of intelligence on AQAP or Houthi military targets. The administration will also halt the planned sale of precision munitions guidance systems to Saudi Arabia and will rework its training of the Saudi air force to address “endemic problems with their targeting practices.”

Gulf nations are concerned over Trump’s uncertain approach to the region but may also welcome the chance for change, the Times tells us. Bitterness toward President Obama among regional leaders has led to excitement for the potential change in policies that Trump may bring, although it remains deeply unclear what those new policies will look at. Iran, which has been the focus of many of Trump’s attacks during and after the election, remains on edge,

Pakistan is also struggling to figure out its relationship to the President-elect amidst the incoming administration’s unpredictability. Following a phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which Trump expressed overwhelming support for Pakistan, Pakistani officials have done their best to position the country advantageously as Trump calibrates his diplomatic approach, hoping to ward off a shift toward India.

A representative of the Trump transition team met last month with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an effort to force out Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, who began work for NATO this past October after her nomination by Barack Obama. Though Gottemoeller is unpopular among Republican members of Congress, which may have led to the request, it would be unprecedented for the U.S. government to exert this degree of control over NATO leadership. The Post has more.

President Barack Obama will archive a full copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report” in the presidential record, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald. Guantanamo defense attorneys in the 9/11 case had voiced concerns that the report, only few copies of which are in existence, might vanish entirely under the incoming administration.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Elena Chachko provided an overview of the ongoing controversy in Israel regarding proposed legislation aiming to “legalize” West Bank settlements.

Quinta Jurecic posted a statement from Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins.

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes argued that the appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State would do little to deter Russian aggression.

Peter Margulies reviewed a new report on surveillance policy from the Center for a New American Security.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Richard Nephew argued that Trump’s proposal to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran would be much harder than it looks.

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