Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Friday, November 21, 2014, 2:08 PM

The fight over immigration in Washington is underway. Last night, President Obama gave a prime time speech outlining his plan to act unilaterally on immigration, which would allow up to five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and work legally. The new plan will have Immigration and Customs Enforcement focus increasingly on recent border-crossers, criminals, and individuals who are suspected to be threats to national security.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson circulated a letter on Thursday supporting the President’s planned action. You can find the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion on the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to prioritize the removal of certain unlawful aliens while deferring the removal of others here. Earlier this week, Ben wrote about the legality of President Obama’s executive power to produce unilateral immigration reform.

House Speaker Boehner criticized the President, saying he was “damaging the presidency itself” by resorting to executive actions to prevent the deportations of millions. While saying that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would work to counter his moves, he did not provide details. President Obama, for his part, “all but dared” Republicans to react, knowing that a challenge to his plan “could be politically disastrous” for the GOP. The New York Times has more on the evolving story.

Just a few hours before President Obama announced the reforms to the immigration system, a federal judge ordered the government to finalize a schedule for releasing information on the United States’ practice of “prolonged immigration detention” where people were kept “for months, if not years - without adequate procedures in place to determine whether their detention is justified.”

In Mexico, thousands of people have been taking to the streets in the past few days over perceived corruption and official foot-dragging in response to the apparent massacre of 43 trainee school teachers. Popular opprobrium has flared recently in the country of 110 million since the murder of the teachers in Iguala by drug gangs, who were allegedly in cahoots with corrupt police and possibly even elected officials. Reuters reports that demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails outside of Mexico City’s National Palace yesterday and clashed with riot police.

As the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran rapidly approaches, the United States has outlined an ambitious goal for what the deal should accomplish, stating that the agreement should make sure that it would take Iran at least one year to make enough material for a nuclear bomb, should it decide to abrogate the agreement. The New York Times has more on the ongoing negotiations, but in Financial Times, Geoff Dyer tells us that the United States and Iran are already preparing for the coming blame game should talks collapse.

On the same day that North Korea threatened to conduct another nuclear test in response to International Criminal Court’s charges of crimes against humanity against the regime, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that the DPRK had presented President Vladimir Putin with a letter suggesting they were ready to resume international six-party nuclear talks. It is unclear what the Kim regime is attempting to accomplish, and the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins has reported that recent activity at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center may signal that Pyongyang is attempting to extract more weapons-grade plutonium for spent fuel rods at the center.

According to the Associated Press, al Qaeda in Yemen has denounced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for declaring a “caliphate,” arguing that the group’s expansionist tendencies are “driving a wedge” among jihadi militant groups. The group, also known as AQAP, is considered one of the most dangerous local branches of al Qaeda due to its several attempted attacks on the United States. However, while AQAP pushed back on ISIS, CNN reports that Egyptian terror group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has changed its name to Wilayat Sinai, or “the State of Sinai,” as a sign of its position as a province of the Islamic State.

A new propaganda video from the Islamic State showcases French fighters burning their passports and calling on fellow Frenchmen to conduct attacks inside of France or to join the group’s fight in Iraq and Syria. The video comes after the release another film wherein two French fighters we shown beheading Syrian government forces. The New York Times has more.

In Foreign Policy, Gopal Ratnam and Kate Brannan note that Iraq needs more weapons to fight ISIS militants, but Congress is nervous that Iraqi security forces may be unable to hold on to them. The weapons currently in consideration are 175 M1A1 Abrams tanks, 146 Stryker anti-tank guided missile vehicles, 50 Stryker reconnaissance vehicles, and an undetermined number of Bradley fighting vehicles. For its part, the Pentagon has decided that it will not wait for Congress to provide new funding before it will dispatch 1,500 new troops to Iraq. The Hill has more on General Lloyd Austin’s plan to “jump-start” the U.S. actions in Anbar. The Washington Post reports that drones are currently being used to airlift aid to beleaguered Syrian refugees.

On the battleground, ISIS militants have launched coordinated attacks around the western Iraqi city of Ramadi. The report from Reuters confirms that the city center remains under Iraqi government control, but the outlying neighborhoods have been seized. Reuters also brings news that a coalition air strike has killed an Islamic State’s leader in the city of Mosul. According to sources on the ground, Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni, the group’s “governor” in Mosul, was killed when his car was hit on Wednesday afternoon.

Foreign Policy has an expanded update on last week’s breakthrough agreement between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional government regarding Kurdish oil sells. And in what the New York Times calls a “vivid example of a scramble taking place all across the Middle East,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Iraq yesterday. The visit is the first by a Turkish prime minister in four years.

According to McClatchy, the Islamic State has started buying gold, silver, and copper in markets throughout Iraq in an effort to stockpile enough to allow the group to mint its own currency. The news follows an earlier announcement by ISIS that the militant group would begin minting the dinar currency of the Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled an empire from modern Iran to Spain for almost 200 years. Whether or not ISIS ever successfully convinces people to trade its currency, the precious metals are another resource for the group to use to exercise its power in the region.

All of this leaves us wondering: What will Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State do next in Syria? In an op-ed in Al-Hayat, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Yezid Sayigh outlines a few alternative possibilities.

And here’s an odd story: Australian authorities have expressed fear that Islamist radicals may join forces with biker gangs.

According to Amos Yadlin, a former general in the Israeli Air Force and the head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, more attacks in Jerusalem are inevitable. Foreign Policy has more.

Reuters reports that Israel has rejected an EU appeal to stop its controversial practice of demolishing the homes of alleged terrorists. Arguing that the practice serves as a deterrent to terrorism, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that the move was consistent with Israeli law and “would be pursued.” Israeli forces have demolished one home in East Jerusalem already and have plans to destroy four more.

The Times of Israel writes that while it was a quiet day in Jerusalem, hundreds rioted throughout the West Bank following Friday prayers. Tensions were particularly high in the holy city of Hebron, where approximately 350 Palestinians demonstrated.

According to the Moscow Times, Russia is considering whether or not to open an Arctic Ministry. If established, the department would oversee the development of the country’s Arctic territory.

US Vice President Joe Biden is in Kiev for talks today. The Washington Post reports that in addition to reinforcing the US’s support for Ukraine amid the recent conflagration, Biden will also push the Ukrainian government to continue implementing economic and political reforms. Biden had some strong words for the Kremlin, the BBC carries some of his comments. Reuters writes that the US is planning on increasing non-lethal aid to Kiev, including Humvees; as of now, Washington has decided not to provide lethal weaponry.

If you are looking for more background on the recent crisis in Ukraine, check out Lawfare’s #tbt post from yesterday on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

Al Jazeera reports that a suspected Boko Haram attack on Wednesday killed 45 in northeastern Nigeria. The militants concentrated their assault on the village of Azaya Kura, in the Mafa area of restive Borno state.

The New York Times reports on some good news out of Liberia: the spread of Ebola there is slowing. The director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, stated that a mix of international efforts combined with more effective action by local communities seems to be beating the deadly epidemic.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has officially dissolved the lower house of Parliament, setting the stage for early elections.

Thai smugglers appear to be cashing in on the plight of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Reuters reports that human smuggling has become so lucrative of late that Thai fisherman are converting their boats to carry humans.

In a surprise move today, China’s central bank cut interest rates. The New York Times reports that the unexpected action is the “clearest sign yet” that Beijing is growing more concerned about the country’s economic slowdown.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reported yesterday on the transfer of five Guantanamo detainees to Georgia and Slovakia. The New York Times also has a readout on the decision and what it means for the other 143 inmates still in the camp.

The Times of India reports that India has redoubled its efforts to gain entry into elite nuclear groups, with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh telling the India-US high technology cooperation group that “India's impeccable non-proliferation records, our responsible behaviour as a nuclear state for more than three decades and strict adherence to a nuclear doctrine should continue to guide the expedited easing of export control restrictions.” The push accompanies news that US President Barack Obama will visit India in late January after accepting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation as chief guest. President Obama will be the first American president to visit India twice while in office.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that a US drone strike yesterday in northwest Pakistan has killed six suspected militants. The Long War Journal brings us news that an earlier strike killed two senior leaders of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday with White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough, Senate Democrats accused the White House of attempting to censor “significant details” in a report on the CIA’s use of torture. The New York Times has more on the “tense confrontation.”

At the Washington Post, Dan Drezner examines whether or not the Central Intelligence Agency should be less centralized.

For the Hill, Cory Bennett reports that the FBI is considering a change in how it assigns cyber cases. Because a single cyber criminal can conduct thousands of attacks in all 50 states simultaneously, FBI Director James B. Comey said the agency needs to adapt and assign the worst cyber offenders to the most talented FBI divisions, regardless of jurisdiction.

The Washington Post also carries comments made yesterday by the head of the NSA, Admiral Michael S. Rogers, on foreign cybersecurity threats. At a congressional hearing yesterday, Rogers said that several countries, including China, are infiltrating critical industries in the US in order to steal information that would be instrumental in the planning of a “destructive attack.”

Parting Shot: if you are wondering what the bookshelf of a CIA intelligence officer looks like, search no further. No surprise really, the officer’s reviews include thoughts on a litany of Snowden revelation books.

Parting Shot Part Deux: On the opposite side, the reading habits of would-be jihadists may surprise you.

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

Ben shared with us a reader survey on live Lawfare events and webcasts. Please take a few moments and give us your feedback!

Ben Bissell and Cody wrote this week’s Throwback Thursday on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and what it means for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Alex Ely reported that the Navy is weighing the fate of a nurse who refused to perform force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay.

And, if you haven’t contributed to Lawfare, here’s a few reasons to consider doing so.

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