Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 1:16 PM

ISIS has released a video appearing to show the execution of an Israeli Arab by a child soldier. The Wall Street Journal reports that, if confirmed, the execution of Mohammed Said Ismail Musallam would mark the first time the militant group has killed an Israeli citizen. The Associated Press adds that, while the video reportedly features a confession by Musallam that he was an Israeli spy, Musallam’s father says that his son was tricked into joining ISIS and executed for trying to return home.

The Guardian carries more revelations about ISIS’s propaganda videos, revealing that the militant group tricked its victims into appearing calm by rehearsing the beheadings over and over again while telling them they would not actually be killed. And, in a surprising turn, the city of Amman, Jordan has voted to change the color of the uniform worn by its 4,600 sanitation workers. Such persons will no longer wear orange jumpsuits---which remind residents of the grisly ISIS execution videos---but will instead don turquoise uniforms that, according to the brother of the Jordanian pilot murdered by ISIS, represent “life and energy, everything that is opposite of Daesh.” The New York Times has more on the change.

Iraqi forces and pro-government Shiite militias have captured large sections of Tikrit, a city in Iraq that has been held by ISIS since last year. The Times reports that, according to security officials, ISIS militants have begun to withdraw from the city in the face of the largest Iraqi government operation yet, though the the United States has yet to join the assault. Despite the operation’s success in rolling back ISIS’s advances, the group still poses a threat even in areas beyond its control. Yesterday in Ramadi, Agence France-Presse reveals, ISIS successfully detonated seven car bombs almost simultaneously.  The attacks left at least 10 dead and wounded 30 others.

In its fight to both retake areas controlled by ISIS and secure those areas still under government control, the Iraqi government is hampered by the recent precipitous drop in oil prices. The Wall Street Journal warns that falling oil prices are slicing government revenue and thus limiting the government’s ability to finance its battle against ISIS. “We’re battling on two fronts, both ISIS and oil,” said one administration adviser.

Across the border in northeastern Syria, ISIS has begun a new offensive against Kurdish forces. Reuters notes that, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, hundreds of militants are attacking Kurdish peshmerga forces near the border with Turkey, using tanks and other heavy weaponry in an attempt to regain the momentum the militant group has lost in recent weeks. This counter attack comes as Iraqi Kurdish forces assault ISIS positions in Kirkuk.

23 House members have published a letter pressuring the Obama administration to loan drones to Jordan, according to the Wall Street Journal. As the Air Force replaces its fleet of MQ-1 drones with MQ-9s, the MQ-1s are falling out of use; the letter proposes to loan three or four of these MQ-1s to Jordan, which has increased its involvement in the air campaign against ISIS since one of its fighter pilots was executed by the group earlier this year.

According to Stephen Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, the case against Syrian President Bashar Assad is far stronger than previous cases against Slobodan Milosevic or Charles Taylor. The Washington Post provides more insight on Ambassador Rapp’s comments.

Attacks by militants in the Sinai Peninsula continued yesterday, the Times reports. Two attacks in Al-Arish killed multiple people and wounded dozens of police officers. The attacks came on the heels of Monday’s similar attack in Sinai, which killed three police officers. The region has become a hotbed for violent extremist groups, one of which has pledged allegiance to ISIS. And in Libya, David Kirkpatrick of the Times writes that ISIS has found much more than a foothold, with the contingent having taken over a major Libyan city while demonstrating strategic and political coordination with the central organization in Raqqa.

The AP reports that several bombings in Afghanistan yesterday killed at least 13 people. The deadliest attack came in Helmand province, where, the AP adds, the Afghan army has been fighting to push back Taliban militants. The attacks may complicate upcoming face-to-face negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which the Express Tribune reports could take place within the next couple of days.

In the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri yesterday, a teenage girl suicide bomber killed at least 34 people at a bustling market. The AP reports that, while Boko Haram has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it closely mirrors previous Boko Haram attacks. A suicide bomber struck the same market on Saturday, killing 54 people.  And, in heartbreaking news, the BBC reports that roughly 80 children who have been rescued from a Boko Haram camp in Cameroon cannot remember their own names or origins.

The Times reports President Obama is facing increasing political pressure from both inside and outside his administration to arm Ukraine, yet it appears that he remains unconvinced that such a move would help. The AP reports that, according to the German ambassador to the United States, President Obama agreed to delay sending arms to Ukraine at the behest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in order to give political and diplomatic efforts more time to work. DefenseOne adds that, in the year-long period that the Obama administration has been debating whether or not to arm Ukraine in its fight with Russian-backed militants, 6,000 Ukrainians have been killed. According to Reuters, that number increased yesterday: a Ukrainian military spokesman said today that another serviceman has been killed despite a ceasefire agreement.

For its part, Russia continues to arm the pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier today. And in another provocative move, yesterday, Russia announced that it will fully withdraw from a European arms control treaty, according to the AP. While Russia in 2007 suspended its participation in the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe---which limits the heavy non-nuclear weaponry allowed on the European continent---Russia will also now not attend meetings related to the treaty. In another arms-related move, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said earlier today that Russia had the right to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea, though, Reuters notes, the official added that he knew of no plans to do so.

The Iran letter penned by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and signed by 46 other Republican senators continues to reverberate around Washington. At the Daily Beast, Tim Mak writes that some Senate Republicans, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN), have begun expressing doubt about the wisdom of the letter, though none of the signatories have publicly backtracked yet. Politico’s Michael Crowley notes that, while the letter itself may be unprecedented, foreign policy has long been a bitter battleground between Congress and the President. And, of course, this latest instance of partisan fighting has allowed for plenty of public blaming and shaming, which the Post wraps up. Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass raised perhaps the most damning critique, saying the letter damages the America’s standing in the world and  “raises questions about America’s predictability.”

It appears that the ongoing Iran negotiations have stalled the investigation of retired Marine General James Cartwright. Investigators suspect the latter leaked details about a covert operation jointly conducted by the United States and Israel to disable Iran’s nuclear capabilities. But, the Post reports, any prosecution of Gen. Cartwright could reveal further details about the operation, which neither the United States nor Israel has confirmed; and also could hinder Iranian cooperation in ongoing nuclear negotiations.

The CIA apparently helped the Justice Department develop technology to secretly scan data from U.S. cell phones. The covert program jointly managed by the two departments developed a device that can, when mounted on a plane, mimic cell towers in order to hunt criminal suspects. The Wall Street Journal has more.

The CIA has also sponsored researchers that have spent years attempting to break into iPhones and iPads, according to documents obtained by the Intercept. The efforts, according to the documents, aimed to break through the encryption keys used to secure Apple devices through both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques.

The conservative government in Canada has come under fire for its proposed new anti-terror legislation. The legislation is a response to two deadly lone wolf attacks that occurred in October 2014, and under the new mandate, Canada’s spies would have the authority to actively disrupt threats while also engaging outside of Canada for the first time. AFP reports that the legislation would empower the agency to “interfere with financial transactions, prevent a suspect from boarding a plane, intercept weapons or conduct ‘online counter-messaging,’ for example, by hacking a Twitter account used to recruit jihadists.” However, Canada’s privacy commissioner declared that the bill “goes too far” and would give “almost limitless powers to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians.”

Parting Shot: Advice from Afghanistan’s only woman taxi driver.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack followed up his Monday response to the controversial letter 47 Republican senators addressed to the Iranian leadership with an analysis of the Iranian Foreign Minister’s response. Steve also discussed the letter and noted that talk of the senators’ potential violation of the Logan Act is hollow given the immense legal obstacles to prosecution under that law.

In response to a New York Times editorial by the founder of Wikipedia asserting that the NSA is probably tracking Wikipedia visitors overseas, Herb Lin noted that the op-ed seems to argue for giving the same constitutional protections currently reserved for U.S. citizens to foreign citizens. Such an argument, Herb argued, seems contrary to the intent of the Constitution.

Yishai Schwartz and Jennifer Williams brought us the newest installment of the “Middle East Ticker.”

Susan Landau detailed the evolving cyberthreat landscape and detailed what this landscape demands of us.

Gabriella Blum joined Ben to announce the publication of their new book, The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones——Confronting A New Age of Threat, and shared the book’s central question: “How do you govern a world in which anyone can attack anyone from anywhere?”

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