Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 1:41 PM

Islamic State militants abducted some 70 to 100 Syrian Christians yesterday in a series of raids in Hassakeh province. Neighbors, friends, and relatives are unsure who has been taken or what will be their fate. According to the Associated Press, the targeted Assyrian group “trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.”

Newly installed Defense Secretary Ash Carter noted yesterday that “he doesn’t think the administration’s current strategy [toward the Islamic State] needs a fundamental overhaul.” Instead, the plan could use some sharpening and refining. Defense One has more on the Secretary’s remarks from Kuwait.

Reuters shares a special report on Hashid Shaabi, a newly formed and “secretive branch of the Iraqi government,” which “takes the lead in many of Iraq’s security operations.”

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they are now willing to abide by the terms of a ceasefire negotiated earlier this year in Minsk. According to Reuters, fighting appears to have stopped, following a bitter battle last week for control of the strategic transport town Debaltseve, which rebels seized in seeming contravention of the ceasefire. Ukrainian officials emphasize that the militants are only obeying the terms of the agreement now so that they can build up their forces and weapons.

Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia met in Paris today and reaffirmed their commitment to the Minsk ceasefire. Agence France-Presse points out that the European leaders were unable to agree on how to respond to the fighting in Debaltseve.

The Wall Street Journal reports that American and Iranian nuclear negotiators are working on a deal that would keep the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities a year away from the development of a bomb for a period of ten years. This proposed timeline tracks largely with Iranian demands, as American negotiators had sought to establish a “breakout period” of twenty years.

The Wall Street Journal also examines the tensions inherent in the U.S. alliance with Qatar, a Persian Gulf nation known for its ties to militant groups, such as Hamas, the Taliban, and the Islamic State.

U.S. weapons manufacturer General Atomics is poised to sell the United Arab Emirates (UAE) eight unarmed Predator drones and associated equipment. According to Bloomberg News, the State Department has approved the transaction and all that is needed now is congressional sanction. The UAE would be the first non-NATO ally to buy drones from the U.S.

Although U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan have traditionally endured significant criticism within the two countries targeted, a number of Afghan officials have recently praised the strikes, calling them “essential for effective intelligence operations.” Afghanistan's TOLOnews shares their statements.

The Washington Post describes a law enforcement surveillance device, known as StingRay, which “simulates a cell tower” by drawing in signals information from mobile phones nearby. StingRay’s accuracy and effectiveness are remarkable, but it is unclear how the device comports with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. “A gag order imposed by the FBI — on grounds that discussing the device’s operation would compromise its effectiveness — has left judges, the public, and criminal defendants in the dark on how the tool works.”

Yesterday, a federal jury in Manhattan found both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) guilty of supporting terrorist attacks in Israel. Under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, American citizens may bring suit in federal court for damages sustained as a result of acts of international terror. The Post notes that in this case, “it is unclear whether the plaintiffs can ever collect.”

“Amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media, and other technologies,” CIA Director John Brennan intends to expand and reorganize the agency’s cyber-espionage operations and capabilities. The Post describes in more detail.

New America, Arizona State University, and Defense One have partnered to launch a new series on 21st century warfare. The project, entitled “The Future of War,” will feature reporting and analysis on “the new trends, technologies, and forces shaping war.” Defense One shares the project’s first post.

Following their Oscar win for Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden yesterday held an Ask Me Anything discussion on Reddit, during which they took questions and comments from users. See their conversation here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Tim Edgar questioned the notion that Europeans care more about privacy-related issues than Americans do.

Cody shared a statement from Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins in advance of this week’s Al Nashiri motions hearings.

Sebastian Brady compiled video footage from last week’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

Jane Chong considered the power that journalists wield through their discretion over publishing information provided by leakers and whistleblowers (such as Edward Snowden).

Mira Rapp-Hooper analyzed China’s development of the Spratly Islands and international law.

Ben and Cody brought us the real story behind Citizenfour’s Oscar victory.

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