Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, December 22, 2016, 2:13 PM

New evidence provides strong evidence that one of the two groups responsible for the DNC hack is linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, malware used to attack DNC systems is similar to software used to hack a phone app used by the Ukrainian military in its ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists. While CrowdStrike previously had “medium confidence” that the entity involved in the DNC hack, known as “Fancy Bear,” was acting on behalf of Russia, this new report bolsters their conclusion to one of high confidence. The Washington Post has more.

German police are conducting a manhunt for their chief suspect in Monday’s deadly truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market, a Tunisian citizen named Anis Amri who had previously applied for asylum in Germany and who was known to authorities as a potentially dangerous individual with ties to a radical Salafist preacher. Amri had previously been subjected to deportation proceedings but had been allowed to remain in Germany in the absence of documentation of his Tunisian citizenship, even after authorities were aware of the threat he could have posed, The New York Times writes.

Amri’s status as a foreign national seeking asylum has created further political problems for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose welcoming migrant policy has been the subject of intense domestic criticism. In the United States, President-elect Donald Trump announced that the Berlin attack had “proven [him] to be right” on the danger posed by Muslim immigrants and appeared to reiterate his support for a proposal to either create a registry of Muslims in the United States or ban further Muslim travel to the country.

The Times reports that the Obama administration will end the long-inactive National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which the Trump team has suggested could be used to implement a “Muslim registry.” NSEERS, which dates from the Bush administration, has not been used since 2011; its formal dismantling represents both a symbolic repudiation of President-elect Trump’s proposals and an effort to slow the implementation of any such efforts in the new administration.

Following a delay from harsh winter weather, evacuations of civilians and rebel fighters from Aleppo have concluded, Syrian state television announced today. The Syrian regime has now gained full control of the city in what marks a crushing defeat for rebel forces. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed the government’s full recapture of Aleppo as a victory for the regime’s Iranian and Russian allies as well, Reuters writes.

The U.N. General Assembly voted to establish an independent investigative team to document evidence of war crimes and other violations of international law in Syria and to prepare cases for potential prosecution, the AP tells us. 105 nations (including the United States) voted in favor of the investigative body, with 15 against and 52 abstaining. The resolution aims to sidestep the deadlock at the Security Council, on which Russia and China have consistently resisted measures to address the crisis in Syria.

A United Nations board of inquiry has concluded that bombing by warplanes was responsible for the destruction of a humanitarian aid convoy on the outskirts of Aleppo three months ago, the Times reports. The board did not indicate which entity was responsible for the bombing, but noted that it was “highly unlikely” that U.S.-led forces were involved, implying Syrian or Russian responsibility.

President-elect Donald Trump urged the United States to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt, the resolution’s sponsor, withdrew the measure in response to uncertainty over what course of action the U.S. would take; the United States vetoed a similar resolution five years ago but had not indicated its position on the current measure, though NBC tells us that the U.S. was planning to abstain. But Trump’s comments add to an unorthodox and potentially dangerous pattern of the President-elect inserting himself into sensitive international issues, an unusual act for an incoming president at odds with the current administration.

Four aid workers and multiple civilians were killed by mortar fire in Mosul while distributing aid, Reuters tells us. The United Nations condemned the attack as a violation of international law. The coalition offensive on Mosul has continued against the Islamic State at a slower pace than expected, in part due to the difficulty of securing civilian safety in a dense urban battlefield.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his belief that his rival, Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, was behind the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Monday, the Times writes. Erdogan’s government has blamed Gulen for the failed July coup attempt and unsuccessfully requested his extradition from the United States in response. Gulen denied any connection with the assassination.

The House Intelligence Committee has released its full, newly declassified report on Edward Snowden to the public. Previously, only the executive summary of the report was broadly available. Reuters reviews the declassified report, which is highly critical of Snowden’s actions, and notes the Committee’s conclusion that Snowden “has had and continues to have content” with Russian intelligence agencies.

The Post examines the complicated political dynamics that plagued both the Department of Justice and FBI throughout the election regarding the Clinton email investigation. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s tarmac conversation with Bill Clinton in June placed her in a difficult position that eventually limited her willingness to serve as the public face of the investigation and prevented her from ordering FBI Director James Comey not to release further information before the election.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Matt Tait warned that the Obama administration should be careful before rushing into a response to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

J. Dana Stuster reviewed 2016 in the Middle East.

Paul Rosenzweig noted reports that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board may soon be non-functional.

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