Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Friday, January 16, 2015, 2:15 PM

Raids across Europe rooted out dozens of suspected Islamic extremists yesterday and today, ABC reports. The Guardian reveals that Belgian counter-terrorist units conducted an operation against suspected jihadists in the east of that country Thursday evening. In a firefight, authorities killed two gunmen and wounded another. The Associated Press notes that after the raid, Belgian authorities arrested 15 other suspected terrorists. A Belgian official stated that the terrorists were hours away from mounting an attack on police.

Across the border in Germany, hundreds of German police conducted raids on properties in Berlin tied to suspected radical Islamists. The operations netted two suspected terrorists, one of whom is thought to have lead a group in planning an attack in Syria on behalf of the Islamic State. Deutsche Welle has the story.

In Paris, French police arrested 12 people in connection to last week’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, according to France24. Those arrested are suspected of providing support for the gunmen in last week’s assault on the French publication. Authorities in both France and Belgium said there was no evidence of a link between the alleged terrorists in both countries.

In a new development, the BBC reports that 20,000 French websites have been targeted by Islamist cyber attacks. Government officials have identified several media outlets among the targets, and a vice admiral said he believes the attacks are in response to the unity march in Paris on Sunday.

As France continues to process last week’s horrific attacks, prosecutors are cracking down on expressions of support for the gunmen. Nearly 100 people are now being investigated for publicly speaking out to support or justify the attacks, and with trials moving from arrests to court in as little as three days, some have already been sentenced to months in prison. The New York Times explains that, while there has been an outcry over the appearance of a double-standard in freedom of speech protections, French law does ban speech that invokes or supports violence.

Earlier this week, in a story on the role of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in last week’s attacks, the Times quoted an anonymous AQAP source. Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey took the Times to task for using the anonymous source, sending the paper a letter saying “your decision … is both mystifying and disgusting.” The Times covers both the letter and the response from international managing editor Michael Slackman.

A new study by the National Academy of Sciences has found that there is no effective substitute for bulk data collection, the Times apprises us. The report was requested by President Barack Obama, who tasked intelligence agencies with determining what, if any, other methods could as effectively monitor the communications of terrorism suspects. As a case-in-point, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) credited the government’s surveillance programs with stopping a planned terror attack on the Capitol, as well as a recent foiled attempt on the Speaker’s own life. The Hill covered the Speaker’s remarks.

President Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron are meeting today in Washington to discuss cybersecurity and potential areas of cooperation in addressing increasingly complex cyber threats, Nextgov tells us. As part of this effort, the BBC reports that the UK and the US will stage joint cyber war games against one another later this year. The exercises will involve simulated attacks on large banks and national infrastructure. The Times details new developments in the cyber threat environment, noting that hackers are now for hire by just about anyone.

As moderate Syrian rebels continue to struggle against radical Islamist factions and government forces, DefenseOne informs us that the US will send 400 additional trainers to sites across the Middle East. The deployment will also include several hundreds of troops who will provide security for the military’s training operations. The US-led coalition continued its combat operations, conducting 22 air strikes split evenly between Iraq and Syria, according to Reuters.

Police in Kabul, Afghanistan have arrested five members of the Pakistani Taliban suspected of playing a role in the group’s gruesome attack on a Pakistani school last month. Afghan government officials said the arrests prove the effectiveness of the countries’ bilateral cooperation in law enforcement, which came about in response to the school massacre. The Wall Street Journal has more.

After the collapse of negotiations on the Ukrainian crisis and the capture of a symbolically-important Ukrainian airport by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists, the AP reports that President Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the need for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Ukraine and Russia were to hold talks today.

Leonard Glenn Francis, a former Navy contractor based in Singapore, has pled guilty to bribery in a case that has already seen several Navy officers plead guilty to accepting bribes. McClatchy reports that Francis’s plea may mean his cooperation in implicating even higher-level officials in the Navy. The scheme involved, the Times explains, Navy officials steering warships to ports that Francis’s company serviced, allowing Francis to overcharge the Navy for various services, in return for millions of dollars of cash bribes and other gifts.

The Pentagon’s recent directive mandating that Guantanamo judges reside on-base for the duration of their assigned case is complicating domestic military tribunals. The Miami Herald reports that the defense lawyer in a capital court martial case in Georgia has asked the presiding judge to step down, citing the judge’s role in the Guantanamo trial of a suspected in the USS Cole bombing.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified for the prosecution in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified material regarding a CIA spying program. Secretary Rice explained she was directed by former President George W. Bush to ask the New York Times to not publish a story based in part on the leaked material. Politico has the story.

According to Al Jazeera, prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will open a preliminary inquiry into potential war crimes committed in Palestinian territories. The announcement by the ICC comes just weeks after Palestine signed the Rome Treaty to join the tribunal.

Satellite images released by Amnesty International shows the path of destruction left by Boko Haram’s recent campaign in northeastern Nigeria. According to the AP, the images show thousands of buildings in two towns have been burned to the ground in a Boko Haram operation that, sources say, left hundreds of civilians dead.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

John Bellinger exhorted President Obama to refrain from further politicizing the closing of Guantanamo in his State of the Union Speech. Instead, John writes, the President should move beyond moral proclamations that inherently criticize the previous Republican administration and frame the need for closure as a national security issue.

In other Guantanamo news, Wells informed us of five more transfers of detainees, four to Oman and one to Estonia.

Carrie Cordero took aim at the eagerness with which commentators have called the Charlie Hebdo attacks the work of “lone wolves”, noting that even some of the earliest facts to appear pointed to something very different from a lone wolf attack.

Sean Mirski gave us a run-down of China’s position paper released to address the Philippines’ ongoing arbitration process over claims in the South China Sea. Sean details how the paper challenges the legitimacy of the arbitration process on several fronts, all while avoiding, yet again, to clarify the nature of China's claims in the South China Sea.

Bruce Schneier argued that technological advances give us an opportunity for more openness and accountability in governance. While that openness and accountability may never, and probably should never, become absolute, more of it would be an improvement to our current system.

Paul Rosenzweig updated us on Lawfare’s Bitcoin and its precipitous drop in value since December. At the moment, it’s a bad investment with its value dropping 30 percent since we purchased it, making now an even better time to support Lawfare.

In the second episode of the Rational Security podcast, Ben, Tamara Cofman Wittes, and Shane Harris brought on Brookings scholar Jeremy Shapiro to discuss returning foreign fighters.

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