Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 1:55 PM

The Wall Street Journal reports that UN-sponsored talks over a ceasefire in Yemen have “hit a roadblock,” with the Houthi delegation unwilling to engage with the Yemeni government in exile. The delegation’s leader accused the exiled government of seeking to manipulate the talks. Meanwhile, at least 31 people were killed as Saudi-led airstrikes over Yemen hit a civilian convoy. A series of car bombs rocked Sanaa, including one that exploded outside the Houthi political headquarters.

Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen executed two Saudis suspected of spying for their home government and enabling the killing of Nasser al Wuhayshi by an American drone. The New York Times and Washington Post analyze al Wuhayshi’s death in terms of larger U.S. strategy, questioning the extent to which “decapitation” strikes targeting specific terrorist leaders are really effective as part of a broader counterterrorism strategy. On that note, The Atlantic studies what such strikes tell us about the organizational structure of al Qaeda and its affiliates. Foreign Policy argues that the strike on al Wuhayshi left untouched an even greater danger: Ibrahim al Asiri, a Saudi chemist and “master bomb-maker” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Kurdish fighters have successfully captured the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from ISIS and are now moving south with their sights on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. The New York Times reports that in Raqqa, as well as elsewhere in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has “filled the void” left by absent governments, providing harsh yet regular rule of law, fixing downed power, painting sidewalks, and reopening closed hotels—complete with discounts for newlyweds.

In a letter addressed to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Afghan Taliban has warned ISIS to keep out of the conflict in Afghanistan, albeit very politely: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from a brotherhood point of religion wants your goodness and has no intention of interfering in your affairs. Reciprocally, we hope and expect the same from you.” Absolutely cordial.

The New York Times presents a fascinating worldwide map of attacks committed or inspired by ISIS. The map was inspired by the arrest of a New York City college student on suspicion of plotting to detonate a pressure cooker bomb in the city. Apparently a “lone wolf” supporter of ISIS, the student seems also to have been influenced by the use of a pressure cooker bomb in the Boston marathon attacks of 2013.

Bombs left in an abandoned Boko Haram camp in northeast Nigeria killed at least a dozen people when local residents gathered to examine them. As many as 63 may be dead. The Guardian reports that the militant group has increased its bombing attacks since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari in late May.

If this seems like an unusual amount of chaos to you, you’re not alone: The increase in numerous, small-scale crises across the globe has caused U.N. appeals for international aid to go up by 500% over the last decade, according to the Guardian. This increased necessity for funding has the United Nations seriously reconsidering its reliance on voluntary donations in order to raise money for humanitarian appeals.

The Palestinian consensus government faces a crisis as Fatah and Hamas, the two factions sharing power, remain at odds. Al Jazeera reports that it is unclear whether the government will dissolve entirely.

Returning to the podium after his ill-fated bicycling excursion, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the United States may ease economic sanctions on Iran even before international inspections confirm the extent of Iran’s nuclear program. Details of the program have been a sticking point in nuclear negotiations. Secretary Kerry emphasized that U.S. negotiators will still insist on access to Iran’s military research sites in order to ensure that any development of nuclear weapons has ceased.

In what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg referred to as “saber rattling,” President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced plans to acquire 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. The New York Times reports on the possibility of a “new arms race” and voices doubts over Russia’s capacity to pay for this refurbished defense capacity.

From the Journal: As the June 30th expiration date on Greece’s bailout draws ever closer, the Greek debt crisis has taken an alarming turn. The Bank of Greece announced that “uncontrollable crisis” could result if Greece is unable to reach an agreement with its creditors and warned that, if talks break down, Greece may be forced to default on its loans in a process that could lead to the country’s exit from the eurozone and perhaps even the European Union. For those interested in the possibility of “Grexit” or “Graccident,” the Guardian has a liveblog.

Pro-Kremlin and Chinese state-sponsored internet trolls are expanding their online presence. Outspoken Ukrainian and Russian political opponents of Putin claim that their Facebook accounts are being suspended on a frequent basis, and assert that pro-Kremlin internet trolls are to blame for excessively reporting to Facebook unfavorable political views as ‘pornography’ or ‘inappropriate material.’ In China, Foreign Policy reports on the presence of state-sponsored internet trolls, who stand up for the government in online debates.

On a policy we're sure they're busy defending: China declared that it is set to complete its contentious island-building program in the South China Sea. Beijing’s continued aggression in the region is of increasing concern to its neighbors and the United States alike. U.S. and Chinese leaders will meet next week in Washington at the the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual conference.

Facial recognition technology is coming under fire from privacy campaigners. Privacy groups have walked out of talks on the new technology after the companies rejected their demand that individual consent be required to use facial recognition.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) scored a major victory with the passage of their amendment banning the use of torture. The Feinstein-McCain amendment would make permanent an executive action implemented shortly after President Obama took office, which requires all government employees to use only the techniques included in the Army Field Manual.

The Second Circuit has released its opinion in Turkmen v. Hasty, a potentially landmark case on the post-9/11 detention of immigrants in New York City.

Parting Shot:

W: “Did Snowden’s revelations and raising national consciousness about surveillance end up being a good thing for America?”

SB: “No.”

Next Question.

Don’t miss Stewart Baker’s latest colorful interview with Wired.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Zoe Bedell posted an in-depth overview of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in al Bahlul v. United States.

Yishai and Jennifer Williams provided the Middle East Ticker.

Alex Whiting discussed Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s departure from South Africa in continued evasion of the International Criminal Court, which has sought his arrest since 2009.

Rebecca Ingber wrote on the capture and detention of Umm Sayyaf and the ambiguous U.S. policy on captured members of ISIS.

Bruce Schneier considered the recent Sunday Times report that the Russian and Chinese governments have decrypted U.S. files taken by Edward Snowden.

Susan Landau responded to Ben’s post on the privacy community’s reaction to the OPM hack.

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