Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer, Cody M. Poplin
Monday, August 11, 2014, 1:55 PM

The New York Times shares an interview conducted by Thomas Friedman with President Barack Obama. In it, the President covers a wide-range of foreign policy issues, including Iraq, Israel, China, Syria, and more.

We start the day with Iraq. Reuters reports that Iraqi President Fouad Masoum has selected Haider al-Abadi to replace Nouri al-Maliki as the country’s Prime Minister. Maliki’s son-in-law stated that Maliki “would seek to overturn the nomination in the courts.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Maliki “not [to] stir those waters.” The Guardian has more on Secretary Kerry’s reaction.

Meanwhile, violence continues. The Washington Post provides a helpful map explaining how as many as 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect became trapped on Mount Sinjar. The Post reports that they have begun their descent from the mountain, “streaming into Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.”

The U.S. underestimated the Islamic State, says the Wall Street Journal, and according to a senior U.S. official, “collection [of intelligence] is tough.” The Times points out that American involvement in Iraq shaped the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, and his militant group.

According to the Post, a U.S. official confirmed that “small groups from a number of al-Qaeda affiliates have defected to ISIS.” Bobby Ghosh explains in Quartz why ISIS is the worst terrorist group we have ever seen.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Islamic State fighters have withdrawn from territory they had previously taken from Kurdish forces. This retreat represents “an early sign of [the] impact from the three-day-old American campaign.” The Post shares that predator drones were used in some of Friday’s strikes and provides video footage of recent U.S. military operations in Iraq. Still, the State Department is relocating a number of staff members from the U.S. consulate in Erbil. The Wall Street Journal details where they will be moved to.

On Saturday, President Obama refused to set a timetable for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq. USA Today shares footage of his statements, while the Times provides a timeline of President Obama’s decision-making on U.S. air support in Iraq. The Post explains the importance of the President’s use of the word “genocide” in relation to the current conflict. Meanwhile, the Associated Press informs us that the U.S. has begun directly arming Kurdish troops.

Of course, the Obama administration’s efforts in Iraq are not without detractors. Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic criticizes America’s “new war,” while in an op-ed in the Post, Phyllis Bennis explains why U.S. airstrikes in Iraq are self-defeating. Politico examines the “partisan divide” over U.S. action in Iraq. Meanwhile, although American involvement so far has been limited, Military Times posits that the current campaign may call for as many as 15,000 U.S. ground forces.

In an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “the failure to help build a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad... left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” Politico highlights President Obama’s response: “In Syria, Obama said the idea that arming rebels would have made a difference has ‘always been a fantasy.’” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal points out that though the U.S. has conducted air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq, ISIS “remains largely unchallenged in its operational base in Syria.”

A new 72-hour ceasefire began on Sunday between Israel and Hamas. Reuters and the Times report that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have resumed in Cairo. In a Post op-ed, Daniel Kurtzer argues that a “permanent fix” can only be achieved with international assistance.

Reuters reports that the case against Arab Bank Plc, accused of financing Hamas, begins in court this week. According to lawyers for the plaintiffs, this “is the first terrorism financing case to go to trial in the United States.”

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Kabul against a coalition convoy. The Times reports that the attack killed four civilians and wounded 35. No coalition soldiers were injured.

The attack is a potent reminder that much of Afghanistan’s future remains in question. Stars and Stripes tells us that despite agreement, a presidential election vote review is still moving at a glacial pace. With the audit deadline of August 31 quickly approaching, observers have only reviewed a quarter of the ballots.

The AP is reporting that a new report from Amnesty International charges the United States failed to properly investigate civilian killings, and possible war crimes, that occurred between 2009 and 2013. The report cites “abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes.”

In Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group, claimed that it had killed 14 soldiers in revenge for an army offensive against its members. At the same time, a U.S. drone attack killed three suspected militants, Reuters reports.

USA Today shares details on secret Egyptian prisons and the prisoner abuse that takes place there.

While crisis in the Middle East dominated headlines, Secretary Kerry took to Myanmar at a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations. According to the Post, China pushed back against a U.S.-supported proposal that would put a freeze on “provocative acts’” in the South China Sea and advance a code of conduct. But U.S. officials claimed that the ASEAN statement language “represents a significant setback for China’s efforts to play for time.”  Bloomberg has more on the story.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited India in efforts to enhance defense ties. Speaking in New Delhi, Hagel called on the two nations to “transform our nations’ defense cooperation from simply buying and selling to co-production, co-development, and freer exchange of technology.” Reuters has the story.

The Times Editorial Board analyzes last week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, suggesting that “determined follow-through will be required if the aspirations of the president and more than 40 African heads of state who were his guests are to be realized.”

The Times reports that the Ukrainian military is continuing to move forward on rebel strongholds, basing their strategy on a well-calculated gamble that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not invade to stave off the defeat of the pro-Russian separatists. As part of that calculation, Ukrainian leaders rebuffed a rebel-proposed cease-fire on Saturday, calling instead for their surrender. Bloomberg has more.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times reported that dozens of computers in the Ukrainian prime minister’s office and at least 10 in Ukraine’s embassies have been infected with a cyber-espionage weapon tied to Russia.

The AP highlights a story from the Russian state news agency wherein the Russian navy claims to have driven away a U.S. submarine in Russia’s northern waters. This comes as the United States has acknowledged at least 16 Russian aircraft forays around Alaska and northern Canada in the past two weeks, prompting U.S. fighter jets to scramble. Russia claims that the flights are training missions conducted in accordance with international rules; however, an unnamed U.S. official has suggested that the missions may be designed to test U.S. air defenses. USA Today and the Hill have more.

Frequent readers will recall the story we noted last week on a Russian crime ring.  The Times reported that the group has amassed 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses. According to the Guardian, the report prompted skepticism from cybersecurity experts, who have asked why more of the data has not been made public for independent review. Forbes also tips us off that Hold Security, the firm that initially exposed the breach, quickly offered a $120 service that will tell you if you have been affected. As Kashmir Hill writes, “I am skeptical of a firm with a financial incentive in creating a panic to be the main source for a story that causes a panic.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is looking to expand its aircraft rotations at an Australian air base close to Darwin.

In an interview with Inside Cybersecurity, Richard Danzig, an Obama administration advisor and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the RAND Corporation, argued that “existential” cybersecurity threats are not “the right focus of debate.” Inside Cybersecurity shares his thoughts and those of other top leaders on existential threats.

As Bruce Schneier says that the American intelligence community has been hit by a third leaker, the Los Angeles Times examines U.S. companies’ new fear of insider threats.

On Friday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered“the government to prepare and declassify a redacted version” of a FISC opinion from February 19, 2013, which authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect telephone metadata under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The Hill has more on the Court’s ruling.

The AP reports that in the 9/11 terrorism case today, Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins will ask the court to reconsider its decision to sever Ramzi Binalshibh from the litigation against his co-conspirators. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald explains the situation surrounding the severance of Binalshibh’s case.  Wells shared Martins’ statement this morning and will provide dispatches from Fort Meade throughout the day.

According to William Stone of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s national counterterrorism task force, “the biggest security threat facing U.S. commercial aviation stems from homegrown terrorists looking to sneak bombs or explosives into airports.” The Wall Street Journal has more on his statements.

NBC News tells us that Kanye West is worried about drones, too. No word on the upcoming release date of “Our Beautiful Dark Twisted Drone Policy.”

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