Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Monday, June 22, 2015, 1:22 PM

The United Nations has released a report on last summer’s conflict in Gaza, finding that both Israeli and Palestinian forces committed violations of international humanitarian law that “may amount to war crimes.” The report points to both the “inherently indiscriminate nature” of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and the Israel Defense Forces’ attacks on residential and medical buildings in the Gaza strip, the Wall Street Journal reports. The New York Times describes the report’s troubled history and its controversial reception within Israel.  

The Taliban launched a brutal attack on the Afghan parliament this morning. Around 30 civilians were injured and at least two died in the assault, which began with a car bombing and ended in a firefight in which all seven gunmen were killed. No members of parliament were among the casualties. The parliament had been preparing to vote on the endorsement of a new defense minister, Masoom Stanekzai, who has previously been a target of Taliban attacks. Though government buildings in Kabul have long weathered Taliban assaults, this appears to be the first attack launched on the parliament building. The Washington Post has video.

The Taliban’s unprecedented attack occurred just hours after the militant group seized control of a second district in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, the AP reports. A first district fell to Taliban control this Sunday. 150,000 Afghan civilians have reportedly been trapped in the region by fighting.

The AP also reports on violence in Baghdad, where two policemen and a civilian were killed by gunmen. Two bombings in and near the city have killed at least five and wounded 19.

Late on Sunday, Al Shabaab attacked a security compound in Somalia. The group claimed to have killed ten officials, though it has inflated casualty counts in the past.

A series of grenade attacks have hit Burundi as protests continue against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third presidential term, in violation of the Burundian constitution. According to the BBC, a senior Burundian police officer claimed that the attacks represented a terror campaign organized by President Nkurunziza’s opponents, an accusation that anti-government protestors were quick to deny.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-government organization monitoring the conflict in Syria, stated that ISIS fighters have planted mines and bombs in the Syrian city of Palmyra, home to historic Roman ruins. According to Reuters, it is unclear whether ISIS intends to use the explosives for military purposes or plans instead to destroy the ruins. If the group intends the latter, this would mark a continuation of ISIS’ well-publicized destruction of ancient cities and artifacts across Syria and Iraq.

Saudi-led airstrikes continue over Yemen, with over 20 strikes on Sunday targeting Houthi-held areas. The Saudi effort against the Houthis is a marker of Saudi Arabia’s tensions with Iran, given Iran’s backing of the Houthi movement. On that note, the Wall Street Journal writes on WikiLeaks’ recent release of documents ostensibly obtained from the Saudi foreign ministry, which purport to display the diplomatic machinations behind the kingdom’s tensions with Iran---including one cable that advocates using Facebook and Twitter to denounce the Iranian regime. The documents have, however, not yet been verified.

Thomas Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies considered Saudi Arabia’s interception of a Houthi ballistic missile a few weeks ago, and what it means for nuclear negotiations with Iran---specifically, the notable omission of long-range ballistic missiles from a potential nuclear deal.

Japan and the United States are both conducting joint drills with the Philippine military near the the South China Sea, a sign of Japanese and U.S. support for the Philippines in the midst of China’s efforts to expand its territorial claims in the disputed waters. Meanwhile, in advance of a yearly China-U.S. conference, Chinese officials have declared that China’s island-building activity is simply part of an effort to improve weather forecasting through the use of new island meteorological stations.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is encouraging NATO to abandon the “Cold War playbook”---that is, to move away from large-scale military operations in favor of a more “mobile” and “agile” approach that can better counteract the blend of conventional and irregular warfare used by Russian forces in Ukraine. Secretary Carter also declared that America will contribute weapons, aircraft and forces, including commandos, for NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the AP reports.

Yet in the midst of all this activity, NATO nevertheless announced that only five nations will hit last fall’s goal of increasing defense spending to 2% of GDP: the United States, Estonia, Britain, Poland and Greece. Yes, you read that right: Greece.

Yesterday, hackers attacked the Polish airline LOT, cancelling 10 flights and delaying dozens more. The systems were back up and running five hours later, during which 1,700 passengers were stranded in the Warsaw Chopin airport. A LOT spokesman referred to the attack as the “first of its kind”: while cybercrime has become a concern for airlines, especially with the growing use of Wi-Fi onboard planes, the use of hacking in order to ground flights is unprecedented. An investigation into the breach’s perpetrators is ongoing, says Reuters.

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled in favor of two international human rights NGOs, stating that the GCHQ’s covert surveillance of the groups’ emails was illegal. While the initial interception was permitted, the agency violated internal procedures by retaining emails longer than it should have. The Guardian has the story.

Speaking of GCHQ, the Intercept has released a story describing how newly published documents released by Edward Snowden reveal that the agency, along with the National Security Agency, has worked to identify vulnerabilities in software produced by antivirus companies. One of the documents in question includes GCHQ’s request for a renewed warrant to engage in the process of reverse-engineering antivirus software, as required under British surveillance law---though the Intercept also takes issue with the warrant’s legal rationale.

A Europe-wide police unit, led by Europol, will be created next month to combat ISIS’s social media presence, the BBC tells us. A Brookings Institution paper released in March, “The ISIS Twitter Census,” estimates there are at least 46,000 Twitter accounts linked to the militant group.

The Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the Fourth Amendment case City of Los Angeles v. Patel, affirming the Ninth Circuit’s holding that hotels maintain an expectation of privacy over hotel registration records, even when the information in those records is mandated by law. The Court therefore held unconstitutional a Los Angeles ordinance authorizing warrantless police inspection of the records. Many commentators (including Paul) had predicted that the Court would overturn the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, but this surprise decision is sure to delight privacy activists.

Parting Shot: Pay close attention the next time your coworker eats lunch near your laptop. Israeli hackers have developed a data-stealing device small and powerful enough to be hidden inside a piece of pita bread---and that’s not just a colorful turn of phrase. The BBC story includes a photo of some fully-wired pita.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Aaron Y. Zelin of Jihadology provided English translations of three recent statements from jihadist groups: one from al Qaeda on the purported conversions to Islam of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, one from al Shabaab claiming the killing of a number of Ethiopian troops, and one from the Global Islamic Media Front on the death of Nasser al Wuhayshi in an American drone strike.

Cody posted this week’s Lawfare Podcast, featuring a discussion between Wells, Steve Vladeck, and Adam Thurschwell on the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Al Bahlul v. United States.

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Jane Chong considered the legal and cultural distinctions between hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.