Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, March 9, 2017, 12:53 PM

The United States may deploy up to 1,000 troops to Kuwait as a “reserve” force in the fight against ISIS, Reuters reports. 6,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in the anti-ISIS effort in Iraq and Syria, though primarily in advisory roles. It is unclear whether Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has given his support to the proposal.

U.S. Marines have deployed to Syria in support of the offensive on Raqqa, according to the Washington Post. The Marines will aim to establish an outpost from which they can deploy artillery in support of the fight for Raqqa. Their deployment adds conventional U.S. troops to the U.S. special forces that have been acting as advisors to Syrian rebels in the country for months. The new Marine mission was disclosed after members of the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment appeared in the Syrian city of Manbij over the weekend in order to discourage Syrian or Turkish troops from making any moves that could shift focus away from ISIS.

The New York Times reports that ISIS leaders are fleeing Raqqa as coalition forces converge on the city, with plans to carry on the fight from other sanctuaries in Syria and Iraq, such as Deir al-Zour in Syria and in towns along the Euphrates in Iraq. 3,000 to 4,000 ISIS fighters will remain in Raqqa to prepare for the coming fight, while no more than 2,500 fighters are struggling to maintain their hold on western Mosul in the face of a rapid advance by elite Iraqi army fighters with U.S. air support. Though ISIS is losing significant territory, the group appears ready to fight until the bitter end.

Al Jazeera informs us that another suicide bombing has taken place in Iraq, this time at a wedding in Tikrit, as ISIS struggles to divert attention away from the disaster that it faces in Iraq, particularly in Mosul.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI is scrambling to uncover how an apparent trove of CIA hacking tools managed to end up on a Wikileaks website, with the initial focus likely to fall on contractors outside the Agency. The leak comprised more than 8,000 pages of documents that may constitute the largest breach of classified information in the Agency’s history, though the CIA and the White House have declined to disclose whether the documents are authentic. The Times adds that the CIA has scrambled to assess and contain the damage from the leaks, temporarily halting work on some projects as the FBI does its investigation. NPR explains why the CIA document dump isn’t the same as the Snowden revelations about the NSA, and Robert Graham over at Errata Security seeks to bust some of the myths that have been spread about the capabilities of the CIA based on the leaks, saying that most of the dump is “child’s play” compared to the capabilities of the NSA.

The Times writes that the saga of Trump’s wiretap claim has taken another turn as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed to refute Trump’s claim during a press conference, saying that there was “no reason” to believe that Trump “is the target of any investigation whatsoever.” Spicer read the comments from a sheet of paper that was handed to him at the end of the briefing.

Meanwhile, the Post tells us that ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) is “more than willing” to meet with the British author of the dossier alleging that Russia had compromising information on Trump, Christopher Steele. Schiff also said that other members of the HPSCI would like to do the same, with Steele potentially falling into the category of witnesses for the Committee’s investigation that have “pertinent information” to offer, although HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) did not mention Steele specifically.

Former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman has accepted Trump’s offer to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, according to NBC News. This will be Huntsman’s third ambassadorship following his appointment  as ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.

The Times informs us that Air Force General Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress yesterday that Russia has deployed a prohibited cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the first public confirmation of the violation by the United States. The treaty bans the testing, production, or possession of American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land. The Times had earlier reported that Russia had deployed a battalion of the prohibited missiles, but the Russian Foreign Ministry had dismissed the article as “fake news.” Reuters tells us that the Kremlin has again denied the accusation, saying that it is and will continue to abide by its international obligations.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are requesting information from the White House regarding the administration’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act, which require preservation of records relating to official government business. The letter notes concerns over reports that White House staffers may be using confidential messaging applications that would make recordkeeping impossible, along with the question of whether presidential tweets have been deleted.

FCW informs us that a report by the Pentagon found that the combatant commands are vulnerable to cyber attacks. The report, which detailed the efforts of “red teams,” whose job is to get inside the networks of the regional command centers, stated that the teams were able to gain the upper hand in major training exercises. The report says that “DOD personnel too often treat network defense as an administrative function, not a war fighting capability. Until this paradigm changes . . . the Department will continue to struggle to adequately defend its systems and networks from advanced cyberattacks.”

Defense News writes that the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee, expressed his concern over the service’s shrinking munitions stockpile at a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. Piggee said that at normal levels, stockpiles were adequate, but a surge in contingency operations could leave the Army bereft of adequate resources. And Stars and Stripes tells us that the Army is eyeing new bases in Germany as the Pentagon reviews its force structure in Europe. The downsizing of the U.S. Army in Europe has operated at a steady pace since the end of the Cold War, but Russia’s intervention in Ukraine prompted the Pentagon to reconsider the number of troops on the Continent.

The United States and South Korea rejected China’s suggestion that North Korea freeze missile tests in exchange for a halt in joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, according to the Times. In rejecting the Chinese overture, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the United States needs to “see some sort of positive action by North Korea before we can take them seriously.” Haley added that the Trump administration was “not ruling anything out,” and was “considering every option,” in handling North Korea.

Al Jazeera reports that the Afghan government has launched an investigation as to whether ISIS was really behind into the attack on a military hospital in Kabul yesterday, as the terrorist organization has claimed. Some analysts have said that ISIS does not have the capacity to perpetrate an attack of this magnitude, which involved militants dressing up in lab coats, detonating suicide bombs, firing shots, and battling with security forces for hours. Even so, the Afghan Taliban has denied responsibility for the attack.

Politico notes that lawyers involved in cases of Guantanamo detainees, including former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, have publicly disputed the Trump administration’s efforts to defend an inaccurate presidential tweet about Guantanamo detainee recidivism. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that the Obama administration had released 122 detainees who later reengaged in terrorism, though the majority of those mentioned by Trump had been released by the Bush administration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to defend the tweet, saying first that Trump had meant the number in aggregate across administrations, and then saying that most of those released by the Bush administration were done so by “court order,” attempting to criticize the Obama administration as simply releasing “more and more.”

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jeh Johnson posted the text of his speech at the Oxford Union on safeguarding our homeland and protecting our values.

Lisa Daniels chronicled discovery woes, unauthorized browsing, and Captain “X” at the 3/6 session of this week’s military commissions.  

Helen Murillo examined the airstrike in Yemen that led to President Trump’s tweet about Guantanamo recidivism.

Bobby Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted Episode 7 of the National Security Law podcast.

Herb Lin provided a few observations on Wikileaks and Vault7.

Matthew Waxman asked three questions about cyber operations and the North Korean missile system.

David Kimball-Stanley reviewed the NYPD’s new oversight deal regarding its surveillance practices.

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