Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Raffaela Wakeman
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 12:50 PM

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and, unsurprisingly, was questioned about the Obama administration’s targeted killing policy. On the subject of U.S. citizen targeting, Holder told the panel to expect more from President Obama, as Peter Finn reports in the Washington Post and Richard Serrano reports in the LA Times. Over at Salon, Marcy Wheeler wonders about General Holder’s knowledge of the law regarding the use of force on U.S. soil. And Jordy Yager of The Hill notes Senator Leahy’s suggestion, at the hearing, that he might compel the Justice Department to release OLC memos on targeted killing.

No such compulsion will be necessary as far as two other committees are concerned.  We learned yesterday that the Obama administration indeed will share all OLC memos on targeted killing with members of the Senate  Intelligence Committee members, and with one staff member per member.  The promise to do so reportedly led to DCIA nominee John Brennan's approval by the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Not everyone in Washington was away from work yesterday, on account of the “sequestorm."  As you likely know by now (from, say, Alan, Jack and/or Steve), Senator Rand Paul took to the Senate floor and filibustered DCIA nominee John Brennan---which is to say, Paul and his supporters spoke for thirteen hours, thus precluding floor action on Brennan's nomination.  There was a lot of reaction and coverage: see The Economist, the AP, The Washington Post, National Review Online, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Mother Jones, Wired’s Danger Room blog, and Foreign PolicyBrookings congressional scholar Sarah Binder also wrote this piece on the Monkey Cage blog on the significance of Paul's talkathon.

Scott Shane wrote this lengthy piece on Brennan's quandary with regard to the Senate Intelligence Committee's classified, 6,000 page report on the enhanced interrogation program.   Shane explains:

If he endorses the Senate report, he will be criticizing the many C.I.A. officers who worked on the program and challenging the stance of former directors, notably George J. Tenet, who oversaw the brutal interrogations, and Michael V. Hayden, who has fervently defended them.

“The career work force will be watching,” said John A. Rizzo, a top agency lawyer for 30 years before retiring in 2009. “Hundreds who were part of the seven-year E.I.T. program — and who still believe it was the right and essential thing to do — are still there,” he added, referring to enhanced interrogation techniques.

A U.N. special rapporteur wants access to the SSCI's report, too,  says Colum Lynch of the Washington Post.

For those wondering what cybersecurity firm to hire, perhaps consider the latest addition to the field: Ridge Schmidt Cyber LLC. That’s right, it’s a joint effort between the first SecDHS Tom Ridge and the Obama/Bush cybersecurity advisor Howard Schmidt. Here’s a story in the International Business Times about the new firm, and check out their website here.

Over at NPR’s All Tech Considered, Steve Hehn reminds us of a few other items that are vulnerable to cyberattacks besides our financial systems, power grid, and air traffic control: sewer systems, traffic lights, prison doors, among others.

Meanwhile, as Paul mentioned, the Defense Science Board has released a study on the DoD's ability to withstand and/or fight off cyber attacks. It doesn’t look too good, says Ellen Nakashima of the Post as well as Anna Mulrine of the Christian Science Monitor. The study's executive summary lays its major findings:

  • The cyber threat is serious, with potential consequences similar in some ways to the nuclear threat of the Cold War
  • The cyber threat is also insidious, enabling adversaries to access vast new channels of intelligence about critical U.S. enablers (operational and technical; military and industrial) that can threaten our national and economic security
  • Current DoD actions, though numerous, are fragmented. Thus, DoD is not prepared to defend against this threat
  • DoD red teams, using cyber attack tools which can be downloaded from the Internet, are very successful at defeating our systems
  • U.S. networks are built on inherently insecure architectures with increasing use of foreign-built components
  • U.S. intelligence against peer threats targeting DoD systems is inadequate
    With present capabilities and technology it is not possible to defend with confidence against the most sophisticated cyber attacks
  • It will take years for the Department to build an effective response to the cyber threat to include elements of deterrence, mission assurance and offensive cyber capabilities.

Today DHS Secretary Napolitano will testify before the Senate Commerce and Homeland Security Committees about the Obama administration’s cybersecurity executive order. Check it out on C-SPAN at 2:30. The other witnesses include U.S. Department of Commerce Under Secretary for Standards and Technology Patrick Gallagher, U.S. GAO Director of Information Security Issues Gregory Wilshusen, and the Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President of Dow Chemical Company David E. Kepler.

As Matt already noted, Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung have this story in the Post about a debate amongst members of the administration over the limits of the 2001 AUMF's application. Write Miller and DeYoung:

The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to “associated forces” of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called “associates of associates.”

The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda’s agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill-or-capture missions involving U.S. troops.

And over in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed at least 17 captured members of the Afghan National Army.  After negotiations, six Afghan soldiers were released from custody, but the Taliban executed the rest. Here’s Rod Nordland of the Times. Meanwhile, the AFP reports that a last group of detainees held under U.S. authority at Bagram prison will be transferred to Afghan custody.

The Obama administration hasn’t yet launched its Periodic Review Board process at Guantanamo---despite a 2011 executive order promising that. Human Rights First takes a moment to remind us.

The U.N. Security Council has approved a temporary rescission of the two-decade old arms embargo against Somalia, reports Rick Gladstone in the Times.

The final report from the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction has come out.  Here’s the gist of Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen’s assessment of U.S. expenditures there:

The general belief across each group is that the relief and reconstruction program should have accomplished more, that too much was wasted, and that the lessons derived from the Iraq reconstruction experience should drive improvements to the U.S. approach to stabilization and reconstruction operations.

A chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations strives to promote a less provocative, nonviolent meaning of “jihad”---among other things, through advertisements in which Muslims describe their quotidian "jihads," or struggles, to stay fit despite busy schedules, among other things.  The campaign predictably has triggered a counter-campaign from Pamela Geller.  Last year, her organization lined New York subways with ads that read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”  Steven Yaccino and Poh Si Teng provide all the details in this New York Times piece.

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