Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, February 4, 2015, 1:35 PM

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter began his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Politico reports that, in his opening statement, Carter would insist on the proper chain of command. (The comment aimed to allay Republican criticisms of alleged micromanagement of the Secretary of Defense by the Obama administration.) Carter also was to address the need for acquisition reform and the end of sequestration. DefenseOne describes the balancing act for Carter in his hearings, supporting the president he will serve while addressing the concerns senators have with the president’s foreign policy.

If Carter is confirmed, the Wall Street Journal notes, he will face an immediate trial-by-fire, in the form of conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East. In both, the Obama administration has remained risk-averse, while the military officials Carter will oversee have pushed for a stronger military response.

ISIS has released a video showing the immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muadh al Kasabeh, the Daily Beast reports. After weeks of attempted negotiations for his release by Jordanian officials, the group released a video replete with special effects, music and narration that experts say may have been recorded as long as a month ago. The Daily Beast explains that this is not the first time that ISIS has orchestrated drawn-out media coverage of hostage situations after the hostage had already been executed.

Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry issued statements strongly condemning the barbarous act. The Washington Post notes that the administration has signed an agreement with Jordan committing to significantly increase its aid to the country. For its part, Jordan exacted swift retribution for the brutal killing. The BBC reports that it executed two convicted terrorists in response to the release of the video, one of whom had previously been offered as part of a prisoner swap for the Jordanian pilot.

The campaign against ISIS is ongoing, but the New York Times reveals that the United Arab Emirates halted its participation in the multilateral effort in December. The UAE cited fears for pilot safety and demanded that the United States alter its search-and-rescue operations before the UAE would rejoin the fight. Meanwhile, the United States reportedly is trying to combat the impression of the campaign as a war on Sunni Muslims (the UAE is largely Sunni), while shoring up support among hesitant allies. The campaign also suffers from internal Kurdish rivalries. Al-Monitor explains that, after Kurdish forces pushed ISIS militants out of Kobani, Syria, infighting has limited efforts to liberate the whole city. In Iraq, Iranian-backed militias are increasingly blending in with the Iraqi military, Bloomberg View shares, meaning that U.S. airstrikes may end up supporting Iranian forces.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announces that the first of 12 facilities used for the production of chemical weapons in Syria has been destroyed. Operations to destroy the 11 other facilities are ongoing.

Canada has filed terrorism charges against three individuals with connections to ISIS, according to the National Post. One of the accused has been arrested in Canada, while the other two are believed to be fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In Belgium, authorities have revealed that the two suspected militants killed in an anti-terror raid last month fought for an ISIS-affiliated group in Syria, the Wall Street Journal shares.

In Somalia, the United States conducted a drone strike on a leader of the militant group al Shabaab. Reuters notes that U.S. military officials claimed that the strike, if successful, would deal a significant blow to an already weakened group.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have threatened to seize power today if no satisfactory deal is reached, the Wall Street Journal reports. Leaders within the ongoing negotiations have reported that little progress has been made and that the Houthi rebels are wary of foreign attempts to mediate the conflict.

The Ukrainian military has begun to evacuate civilians from Debaltseve, a key junction town between the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, as the pro-Russian separatists continued attacking the town, according to Asharq Al-Awsat. In Donetsk, a hospital was shelled, killing three people as international figures continued calls for a truce to allow civilians to leave the city, the BBC reports. In the United States, a bipartisan group of senators is pressing President Obama to provide the Ukrainian military with weapons, the Hill shares.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has tapped Mary McGowan Davis, a former justice of the New York Supreme Court, to lead an inquiry into possible war crimes committed during the 2014 war in Gaza. The previous lead investigator resigned after Israel accused him of a blatant conflict of interest. The Times has more.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be speaking to a less than full house when he addresses the U.S. Congress on March 3, Politico reports. Several Democrats, the most prominent of which is Vice President Joe Biden, have threatened to skip the speech in protest over the partisan manner in which the speech was planned.

The border between Gaza and Egypt, which was recently beset by bombings by an Islamist militant group, remains volatile. Reuters reports that a bomb went off near an Egyptian military convoy on Tuesday, and others were detonated in Alexandria and Egypt. The Egyptian military, who accuses Hamas of providing the militants with support, responded by firing warning shots into Gaza.

A convicted former al Qaeda operative has accused the Saudi royal family of funding al Qaeda in the late 1990’s, the Times reveals. In testimony given in a lawsuit against the Saudi royal family by family members of victims of the 9/11 attack, Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that the royal family provided significant support to al Qaeda and that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a staffer at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

The Chadian military has entered northeastern Nigeria and begun fighting against Boko Haram. The BBC explains that the move represents a shift in the conflict from a localized Nigerian conflict to a regional one. Naij reports that the Nigerian military has surrounded 6,000 militants from Boko Haram in the northeastern state of Borno.

Yesterday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report detailing its progress in implementing reforms to Signals Intelligence collection called for by President Obama a year ago in an effort to enhance privacy and civil liberties. Newsweek shares that the new rules require the deletion of communications data collected on Americans inadvertently during sweeps for foreign intelligence, so long as the data in question has no foreign intelligence value, and also requires the deletion of the same data collected on foreign individuals after five years. The Wall Street Journal reveals that the ODNI also announced that businesses that receive “national security letters” from the FBI requesting business records may, after a certain amount of time, disclose the existence of such letters.

The Guardian notes that critics of U.S. data collection, including U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), were quick to criticize the lack of significant reforms in the report. Politico explains that biggest change comes for foreigners, who will now be afforded essentially the same protections as U.S. nationals.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells gave us the first section from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s new report, as well as the accompanying fact sheet.

In the form of a lengthy Twitter exchange, Ben revealed that ex-NSA director General Keith Alexander did not leave his laptop unattended on a train yesterday morning.

Steve Vladeck provided a preview of the upcoming argument in the al-Nashiri case before the D.C. Circuit.

Harley Geiger described what would happen if Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is allowed to sunset this year.

Stewart Baker shared the newest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with the NSA’s director of privacy and civil liberties.

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