Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Thursday, June 25, 2015, 1:50 PM

Earlier today, the Islamic State launched a new offensive effort on the town of Kobani along the Syrian-Turkish border, presumably in attempt to counter recent Kurdish advances on Tal Abyad and the jihadists' de facto capital of Raqqa. Kobani has become symbolically significant for the militant group following the four-month battle it waged, and lost, for control of the town last year. The New York Times describes the attacks on Kobani and the border town of Hasaka, and notes that ISIS fighters may have reached the two Syrian cities by traveling through Turkey---though Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has rejected these claims.

The Islamic State is expanding its recruiting efforts into Bosnia, taking advantage of the Balkan country’s high youth unemployment rates and enduring political paralysis. The Guardian reports that ISIS’ shift westward has alarmed European countries, who may come to regret their failure to address the problems that have plagued Bosnia since the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Four soldiers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia were killed by Houthi fighters in an attack on Yemen’s border with the Kingdom. The violence comes as Saudi Arabia increases its offensive in Yemen, killing one Houthi fighter and injuring two others in a bombing that struck Sanaa yesterday. Reuters has the story.

With five days to go until the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, a bipartisan group of American diplomats, legislators, policymakers and experts---including five of President Obama’s former Iran advisors---say that they “would have preferred a stronger agreement.” In an open letter released by the Washington Institute, they say the agreement will not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability and “does not purport to be a comprehensive strategy towards Iran.” The New York Times provides more details.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recent demands that sanctions be lifted before Iran begins to shrink its nuclear production and before the country allows any international inspections of Tehran’s nuclear sites. According to experts who spoke to the Times, the Ayatollah’s ultimatums may be “carefully choreographed to bolster Iran’s negotiators, who can argue that they cannot deviate from the supreme leader’s strictures.”

Earlier today, Pakistan rejected Afghanistan's allegations that an officer from Pakistan's intelligence agency was involved in Monday’s attack on Afghanistan’s parliament, along with members of the Haqqani network. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack while Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry rejected the accusations, asserting that “similar allegations have been levelled against ISI and its officers in the past as well.” The Tribune and Afghanistan’s TOLOnews have the story.

After allowing Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to leave South Africa despite the International Criminal Court’s demand for his arrest, the South African government is considering withdrawal from the I.C.C.’s jurisdiction. The BBC reports that withdrawal would be an option of “last resort” in the political and legal struggle over President al Bashir’s departure from the country.

From the Wall Street Journal: Japan announced possible plans to join U.S. forces in patrolling the South China Sea. The potential collaboration indicates Japan’s deep concern over China’s expansive territorial claims in the highly contested waters.

Annual talks between the United States and China have concluded, and the Journal writes that, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s description of a “frank” conversation between U.S. and Chinese representatives, little progress appears to have been made in resolving tensions over China’s involvement in the recent OPM hacking and its construction in the South China Sea. On the bright side, the Journal also reports that both nations have agreed to collaborate in completing a “code of conduct” for cyber activities.

Director of the NSA Admiral Michael Rogers refused to confirm China’s responsibility for the OPM hack. Admiral Rogers’ reluctance to “get into the specifics of attribution” contrasts with the willingness of anonymous government officials, quoted in the Times and Post in previous weeks, to place the blame on China.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris brings us more bad news about the recent data breach. A U.S. official confirmed that the hackers obtained access to the sensitive personal information of government employees, such as details of criminal activity and sexual behavior.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated that NATO ought to shore up its defenses to cyberattack before it puts energy into developing offensive capabilities for cyberwarfare. Carter also suggested that NATO should take a more active role in assisting allies to protect against cyberattacks---a position spearheaded by Estonia, which weathered a brutal cyberattack in 2007 that has been widely attributed to the Russian government. In other NATO news, the alliance has announced plans to triple the size of its Response Forces to 40,000 as tensions continue to rise over Russian military expansion. CNN has the story.

The Guardian details the possible de facto expansion of the E.U.’s “right to be forgotten” into the United States, using the example of Google’s recent decision to allow the exclusion of “revenge porn” from its search results.

Yesterday evening, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2016, The Hill reports. The bill, which includes a provision requiring internet firms to alert the government if their services are used for terrorist activity, will now advance to the Senate floor.

At Defense One, Molly O’Toole has an in-depth story (quoting Ben) on the Obama administration’s troubled efforts to close Guantanamo. As Gitmo’s closure seems to draw ever nearer, the capture of ISIS affiliates like Umm Sayyaf casts into question how the United States will handle detainees in the continuing “war on terror.”

Following up on yesterday’s New York Times story on domestic terrorism, the Guardian has a piece on the difficulties of detecting and preventing domestic attacks. In the deluge of “incendiary” information available online, the FBI is finding it difficult to track potentially dangerous extremists.

Parting shot: #AskHamas. The group launched its English-language website featuring a “Contact Hamas” button, “because we value your opinions and cherish diversity.” The tweet ends with a smiley face.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben and Yishai discussed the limitations of the recently released U.N. report on last summer’s conflict in Gaza.

Aaron Y. Zelon posted the Jihadology Podcast, along with a statement from the Taliban.

Bruce Schneier pondered apparently contradictory statements by the DOD on official policy toward American use of backdoor security vulnerabilities.

Charlie Dunlap and Steve Vladeck debated the status of military commissions and the D.C. Circuit’s decision last week in al Bahlul.

Staley Smith alerted us to the first ever Brookings Debate on the question: Should the US put boots on the ground to fight ISIS? A video recording of the debate is available.

Kenneth Anderson remembered law professor Mike Lewis, who recently passed away.

Bobby posted the White House’s veto threat to the Intelligence Authorization Act.

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