Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Friday, October 24, 2014, 2:54 PM

A doctor in New York who recently treated Ebola patients in Guinea has contracted the disease, the New York Times reports. Authorities have placed Craig Spencer into isolation at the city’s Bellevue Hospital, while they conduct contact-tracing and map out his every move over the past few days; the day before self-reporting a fever of 103 degrees, while he was reportedly still asymptomatic, he went to a bowling alley and rode the subway.

The New York Times also writes that the EU has secured $1.25 billion for the Ebola fight in West Africa. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the increased support on Thursday, saying Britain had shown the way by initially pledging “an additional $126 million to fight the disease.”

According to Reuters, despite shelving a promising vaccine years ago because of financial considerations, international drug companies now “plan to work together to speed up development of an Ebola vaccine and hope to produce millions of doses for use next year.”

Finally, the New York Times divulges that Ebola appears to have crossed the border into Mali, where a 2 or 3-year-old girl whose parent probably died of the disease was diagnosed with it on Thursday. Mali is the sixth West African country to confirm a case of Ebola within its borders.

A robust response to gains made by ISIS in Iraq appears far off “despite increasing assistance from the United States.” The New York Times reports that while “Iraqi and Kurdish troops have demonstrated in a few recent instances that they can repel attacks by the militants,” including this week around the Mosul Dam, “Iraq’s ability to mount a sustained counter-offensive to retake territory seized by the Islamic State is still months away.” Reuters has more, including an assessment of the losses that the Iraqi army has taken in Anbar province.

Retired Army Lt. Col John Nagl told Yahoo! News "Top Line" reporters yesterday that US troops would ultimately be necessary for defeating ISIS in Iraq, suggesting that the U.S.’s reluctance to involve American troops on the ground is a major “reason why the Iraqi forces are not able to take on and really defeat the ISIS forces.”

Those comments come as US Central Command reports that the United States and coalition allies have dropped more than 1,700 bombs on the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

Also, according to the Times, the US is currently investigating whether or not ISIS used chlorine gas last month against Iraqi police officers near the town of Balad, just north of Baghdad. The officers themselves claimed that ISIS “set off an explosive that unleashed a mass of yellow smoke that hung close to the ground,” and hospital officials who treated the men “confirmed the men’s suspicious that chlorine gas had been used against them.” The report states that “eleven officers were made ill” in the attack, “though all survived.”

In Syria, the Battle for Kobani continues, but reports on the fighting have come to resemble the live reporting from a capture the flag game, with outlets providing blow-by-blow accounts as Kurdish forces recaptured a strategic hill to the west of the city. Larger strategic questions about the battle for the city remain unanswered, and at the time of writing, it appeared that previously promised Kurdish peshmerga forces from Iraqi Kurdistan had yet to leave for the battlefield. The Wall Street Journal has the full story on the battle.

The Hill reports that a member of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Omar Abidi, has requested that ISIS spare the life of American hostage Peter Kassig. According to the UK’s Daily Mail, Aqidi tweeted that that Kassig is a Muslim convert who had helped treat his shrapnel wounds. ISIS threatened Kassig’s life earlier this month in a video depicting the beheading of Alan Henning. The report notes that “numerous ISIS sympathisers” have pleaded with the group to release Kassig, with some scholars noting that killing him would be an “enormous” sin.

The appeal comes as the FBI warned news organizations that it had “credible information” suggesting the Islamic State-affiliated groups have been given an order to kidnap journalists in the region and take them to Syria. ISIS has already beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff,.

The New York Times has a troubling story on the surprisingly successful recruitment of Western women by ISIS.

Foreign Policy reports that while the US Treasury Department is working to “kneecap” ISIS’s financing methods and networks, ISIS, “unlike its forerunner al Qaeda in Iraq or other Islamist terrorist groups,” has “additional sources of financing that make it less reliant on well-heeled donors.” This makes it better funded than most terrorist groups and also less susceptible to the Treasury’s traditional tactics against such militant organizations. David Cohen, the Treasury’s point man on the unit that tracks terrorist financing, noted that “recent estimates” of the group’s income “range from $1 million to $3 million per day,” which includes selling black market oil, conducting ransoms and smuggling, among other activities. Others say the actual number is lower. Cohen also stated that the US is considering military action against oil pipelines being used by ISIS, and that some coalition partners, including Qatar and Kuwait, are not “pulling their weight” and are “‘permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing.’”

The BBC quotes the Canadian government as saying there is “no evidence so far” that the shooter who killed one soldier on Parliament Hill two days ago was involved with ISIS. In an interview with the BBC, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said that while Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was “‘certainly radicalized,’” he was not on “a list of high-risk individuals.” Even so, Shane Harris and Reid Standish write in Foreign Policy that the attacks in Ottawa mean that “NSA-style surveillance could be coming to Canada much faster than anyone thought.”

In the Times’ Opinion section, Mona Eltahawy examines the “mirage” of “New Egypt” by analyzing three recent billboards and their messages.

In an article in Foreign Affairs, Intissar Fakir and Maati Monjib assert that while Rabat may have had it good compared to other Arab governments recently, the “Arab Spring-driven 2011 constitutional reforms” may be altering Morocco’s political system “more than anticipated.” Specifically, “it has allowed Morocco’s governing Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), to increase the palace’s political accountability.”

In an article in Foreign Policy, William J. Burns caps off 33 years at the State Department by sharing 10 “modest observations” for diplomats and “all those who share a stake in effective American diplomacy.”

The New York Times reports that while Americans have oft said that “China should take on greater responsibilities as a world power,” Washington “has not embraced” a Chinese idea for a new, internationally funded bank that would offer quick financing for infrastructure projects in “underdeveloped countries” in Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping has publicly backed the project and Beijing recently pledged to contribute most of the $50 billion in initial capital, but American officials continue to lobby against the World Bank lookalike “with unexpected determination.” In Foreign Policy, Ely Ratner explains “why China’s new infrastructure bank represents a challenge to the global order.”

In the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong, student-led democracy protesters say “they will hold a straw poll on government proposals they had rejected earlier in the week.” Reuters reports on the fifth week of the instability there.

According to the South China Morning Post, “the number of mainland group tours to Hong Kong has almost doubled despite” the pro-democracy protests wracking the territory. The reported numbers contrast “sharply” with “the grim picture painted by the tourism trade, which claimed the Occupy sit-ins could drag down arrival numbers and hotel occupancy rates.”

The US and South Korea have again delayed the “transfer of wartime control over allied forces on the Korean peninsula.” Stars and Stripes reports that on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo approved an MOU that called for the OPCON transfer to be “conditions based," “meaning the move has been postponed indefinitely.” The Washington Post has more.

Reuters has an exclusive report that claims the charred remains of tanks in Ukraine betray Russian involvement in the country’s civil war. The report notes that, after showing photographs of the tanks to four independent military experts, all agreed that at least one of the tanks was a T-72 BM, a type used exclusively by the Russian army.

Yet punishment for Russia's incursion may be non-existent, as in Foreign Affairs, Eric Lober and Elizabeth Rosenberg argue that the “same sanctions strategy” the US used against Iran “won’t work” on Russia.

The BBC brings us news that Pakistan and Iran have exchanged mortar fire again along their shared desert border cutting through Pakistani and Iranian Baluchistan. For those keeping track, Pakistan has exchanged fire with three of its neighbors, India, Iran, and Afghanistan, in the last month.

Swedish military forces have “called off” their search “for a suspected submarine in the sea south of Stockholm.” According to the BBC, the vessel, which was suspected to be a “Russian submarine,” is now believed “to have left Sweden’s territorial waters.” Russia’s defense ministry claims none of its ships were involved in the Swedish operation, which was reportedly “the country’s biggest military mobilization since the Cold War.”

The New York Times informs us that the story of a former Russian soldier who traded sides during the Soviet War in Afghanistan, remained in the country, and then fought against American troops, will end in an American courtroom. Irek Hamidullan, who has been held at Bagram prison since 2009, will be transferred to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges. The Times notes that the decision to prosecute him in civilian court was made easier by a string of Department of Justice terrorism convictions in recent years.

Buzzfeed reports that NSA official Teresa Shea is leaving her position following a separate Buzzfeed report questioning whether her financial interests, along with that of her husband, constituted a conflict of interest. Shea was the director of signals intelligence at the NSA.

Wired has a sort of Senator Ron Wyden in his own words piece, wherein he discusses “fighting the NSA from the inside.”

Elsewhere, David Francis in Foreign Policy writes that the push for NSA reform has new life following the terrorist attacks in Canada.

Fareed Zakaria argues in the Washington Post that Edward Snowden should return to the United States to stand trial, suggesting that doing so would “transform what he has done from theft to civil disobedience.” Quoting Lawfare’s own Bobby Chesney, Zakaria determines that Snowden could, indeed, get a fair trial.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that worried about vulnerability from hackers and terrorists, the U.S. military is building its own power grids on bases.

Finally, here at Lawfare, we spend a lot of time thinking through the way new technologies are changing the future of war. This story reminds us that old weapons, such as a samurai sword, still have their place in home defense.

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