Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, June 29, 2017, 12:00 PM

Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins will not seek a capital prosecution at the proposed war crimes trial against Indonesian al-Qaeda leader Riduan Isamuddin, the Miami Herald reports. Isamuddin, commonly called Hambali, is accused of directing three simultaneous bombings in Bali in 2002 and of coordinating an attack in 2003 against the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta. The attacks collectively caused more than 200 deaths. After holding him at a CIA black site from 2003 to 2006, the government later transferred Hambali to Guantanamo. The Senate Torture Report states that the CIA subjected Hambali to enhanced interrogation techniques. Pentagon prosecutors announced charges against Hambali on June 21, meaning Hambali is the first Guantanamo detainee charged in a military commission during the Trump administration. Pentagon Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof must now decide whether to proceed with charges.

The New York Times reports on a growing concern that the NSA cannot stop the spread of cyber weapons stolen from the agency in the aftermath of the NotPetya attack earlier this week. NotPetya, the second cyberattack in the past month believed to implement stolen NSA tools, first targeted systems in Ukraine on Tuesday before spreading to more than 60 countries, Reuters reports. Security experts believe that the attack was designed to disable key Ukrainian computer systems rather than to extort funds, according to the Times. The NSA has not acknowledged responsibility for developing the weapons used in this or prior attacks.

The State Department issued enforcement guidelines for President Trump’s immigration executive order after the Supreme Court partially lifted a lower-court injunction. The Court barred enforcement of the ban on those with a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The guidelines limit bona fide relationships to close family, including “a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, [and] sibling, whether whole or half,” including step relationships. Notably, the guidelines exclude extended family members and relationships that are not legally formalized, such as fiancés.

NATO members will increase defense spending by 4.3 percent in 2017, according to an announcement yesterday by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The pledge is consistent with the alliance’s progressive increases in defense spending since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, when members committed to raising annual defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024. Five NATO member states currently meet this commitment (the U.S., the U.K., Poland, Estonia, and Greece). NATO members characterize the increase in defense spending as a response to security needs rather than as motivated by pressure from the Trump administration, which is unpopular with European constituencies. By contrast, Stoltenberg has pointed to the pledge as an express demonstration of the alliance’s commitment to taking on a greater share of defense spending in light of the Trump administration’s concerns.

Wednesday’s helicopter attack on the Supreme Court building in Venezuela has raised concerns that Venezuela may descend into civil war. Anti-government protests erupted in March following a Supreme Court ruling that weakened the opposition-dominated National Assembly. President Nicolas Maduro has called for a July 30 referendum on whether to create a new Constituent Assembly to replace the National Assembly and rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. The opposition criticized the proposed vote as a ploy to delay the presidential elections scheduled for October 2018 and announced its intention to boycott the vote.

North Korea issued a statement calling for the assassination of former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and former director of the National Intelligence Service Lee Byung-ho nearly two months after accusing the pair of colluding with the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Relations between the North and South have strained in recent months after the North’s successive ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

Recent attacks on a district in northern Afghanistan by Islamic State fighters and former Taliban groups now aligned with the Islamic State suggest the group has expanded into a new geographical front, The New York Times reports. Fighters assaulted the Darzab district in the remote Jowzjan province and displaced the Taliban from its position of control. The Afghan government has deployed troops to the area to avoid losing control of the territory to the Islamic State.

The Senate Intelligence Committee seeks to complete its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election by year’s end and to conclude witness interviews of approximately 90 congressmen before the August recess. Chairman Richard Burr made the announcement yesterday shortly after the committee concluded a hearing on Russian interference in European elections. The committee’s accelerated timeline contrasts with the approach taken by the House Intelligence Committee, which has not put forth a target end date for its investigation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived today in Hong Kong in advance of the twentieth anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Xi is expected to reaffirm China’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” framework that has provided for the city’s relative autonomy from Beijing following its handover from the British. His visit comes at a time of growing popular support for greater independence from the mainland.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Byman posted part II of his analysis of Al Qaeda’s record, outlining the factors contributing to the group’s decline.

Lawfare editors announced the July 12 Hoover Book Soiree, featuring Jack Goldsmith in conversation with Graham Allison on Allison’s new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

Matthew Kahn posted a statement released by Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins in connection with military commissions hearings occurring this week in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.

Trey Herr analyzed the latest ransomware attacks and evaluated possible policy responses to limit future malware attacks.

Bruce Reidel considered whether Saudi King Salman will abdicate the throne and hand power to heir apparent Muhammad bin Salman.

Benjamin Wittes and Jonathan Rauch highlighted their recently coauthored Brookings report that featured a section on the intelligence oversight system. The full report, “More Professionalism, Less Populism: How Voting Makes Us Stupid and What to Do About It,” is available here. An interview with the authors on the Brookings podcast, Intersections, can be found here.

Ron Cheng advocated the use of financial sanctions and penalties as a regulatory method for combatting cybercrime.

Nicholas Weaver deconstructed the recent NotPetya ransomware and considered possible perpetrators and motives behind the attack.

Matthew and Alex Potcovaru flagged the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing yesterday on Russian meddling in European elections.

Matthew summarized materials contained in disclosure forms filed retroactively on Tuesday by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

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