Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Staley Smith, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 1:57 PM

As of this morning, Greece is effectively in default after failing to complete a debt payment to the IMF. The New York Times reports that the IMF has designated Greece as “in arrears,” choosing to avoid technically categorizing Greece as having defaulted on its loans. Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras suggested that Greece was “prepared to accept” the terms of a previously rejected bailout deal in return for concessions from its creditors. Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel, however, insists that negotiations must not continue until Sunday, when Greece will hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the European Union’s bailout and the harsh austerity measures that will come along with it.

The Guardian, as always, has a liveblog of the negotiations, and suggests that interested spectators also follow Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on Twitter for the full debt-crisis experience. Meanwhile, Foreign Policy reports that Greece is facing a looming migration crisis on top of its economic crisis: the struggling country is now the top European recipient of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

Does all the news about the Greek debt crisis have your head swirling? Us too. Check out this handy explainer from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business for the basics.

This morning, an Egyptian ISIS affiliate launched a large-scale attack on military checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Reuters writes that 30 people, including 10 soldiers, were killed in the attack, while the AP reports a death toll of at least 50. Both sources agree that a force of about 70 fighters coordinated attacks on five total military checkpoints, and that 22 of the militants were killed.

The attack occurred just days after the death of Egypt’s top state prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, in a roadside bombing. Last night, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi announced plans to strengthen Egyptian anti-terror laws in the wake of Mr. Barakat’s death, the Wall Street Journal reports. While President Sisi blamed the bombing on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the current Egyptian government has treated harshly, no group has yet come forward to claim responsibility for the bombing.

The New York Times writes that extremist groups in Gaza have begun pledging loyalty to ISIS and targeting Hamas as “insufficiently pious.” “We will uproot the state of the Jews (Israel) and you and Fatah, and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be over-run by our creeping multitudes,” said a masked militant in a newly-released video. While these groups are not officially affiliated with ISIS, family members of the local militants do receive money from ISIS.

A Syrian rebel group has released a video showing the execution of 18 ISIS fighters. The video appears to mimic ISIS’s own execution videos, showing the fighters dressed in orange jumpsuits before their deaths and using similar sound and video effects. Rebel fighters in the video argue that the executions represent retaliation for ISIS’s own execution of three of the rebel group’s soldiers.

More information has surfaced on the identity of Sefeddine Rezgui, the gunman who attacked a Tunisian beach and hotel this past Friday. The Guardian has video of a former acquaintance of Rezgui’s stating that Rezgui underwent ISIS training in Libya before returning to Tunisia. This news is consistent with ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the attack, allowing with the suicide bombing that took place in Kuwait on the same day.

According to the Pentagon, the United States has now spent almost $3 billion in the fight against ISIS since operations began last August. The Hill reports that a whopping 54% of those expenses derive from airstrikes.

Foreign Policy has uploaded a detailed map of territory claimed by ISIS and attacks perpetrated by the group, one year after ISIS declared a caliphate spreading across Syria and Iraq.

A chaotic scene in Kabul yesterday left 22 Afghans and one American soldier wounded and underlined the lingering tensions between Afghan civilians and U.S. troops. The Times reports that an attempted Taliban suicide bombing on a U.S. military convoy injured the Afghans but left no soldiers wounded. As a crowd gathered to tend to the wounded civilians, a U.S. soldier was attacked with a knife. At least one other U.S. soldier fired---possibly into the air, or possibly into the crowd of civilians. The Times writes that, despite the Taliban’s responsibility for the bombing, “much of the anger [in Kabul] was directed against Americans.”

A new British law seeking to clamp down on extremism came into effect today, as the United Kingdom grapples with the comparatively high numbers of young British Muslims leaving the country to fight alongside ISIS. The law requires public officials---including, most controversially, teachers---to report to authorities if they suspect individuals to be at risk of radicalization. British Muslim communities in particular have decried the measure as unfair and alienating.

The United Nations is struggling to meet the needs of refugees fleeing from Syria, as a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme to cut relief programs. The Guardian writes that the WFP will halve the amount of food vouchers given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and may completely eliminate aid to refugees in Jordan by the end of the summer. The recent increase in humanitarian crises around the world has left the United Nations straining to meet global need.

Yesterday, around 1,200 prisoners escaped from a prison in central Yemen after an al Qaeda attack. Reuters quotes a “local official” as saying that some of the escaped prisoners are “suspected of belonging to al Qaeda.” The prison is located in Taiz, a city partially held by Houthi forces.

The United Nations is accusing South Sudanese forces of human rights abuses, including repeated incidents of the rape and incineration of young girls, during South Sudan’s recent military campaign against rebel forces. The U.N. report describes the ongoing conflict in South Sudan as having reached a “new brutality and intensity.”

News broke yesterday that negotiations on a possible nuclear deal with Iran have been extended another week, with a new deadline of July 7. On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will meet with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ “nuclear watchdog,” to discuss terms for the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that President Barack Obama has declared his willingness to turn down any deal that does not include a strict monitoring regime on the Iranian nuclear program. The Guardian writes on Iran’s efforts to ensure relief from sanctions.

The process of normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba continues. The countries will formally reopen diplomatic relations and reestablish embassies, the Washington Post says. Foreign Policy notes, however, that the Obama administration has yet to select an ambassador for the new post.

The state-owned Russian oil company Gazprom has halted the delivery of gas to Ukraine, after the two countries failed to come to an accord over the appropriate price to be paid by Ukraine. The Daily Beast also reports that a Ukrainian volunteer regiment has used drones to identify a large Russian military camp, near the disputed city of Donetsk. The article includes pictures of the camp taken by the Ukrainian drone.

China has passed a new national security law expanding its already tight control over the internet. The first clause of the legislation states its intent to “safeguard national security, defend the people's democratic dictatorship and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.” The legislation lays out broad national sovereignty measures, leaving much room for interpretation to keep “political security and social security, while dealing with internal society.” The Guardian and South China Morning Post have the story.

Shane Harris of the Daily Beast tells us that U.S. intelligence agencies initially refused to share classified information with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency that fell victim to the Chinese-perpetrated cyberattack in which millions of Americans’ most sensitive information was stolen. The intelligence community was hesitant to hand over information about its operatives, fearing that linking systems with the OPM would exacerbate the consequences in the event of a breach. Eventually it relented, allegedly allowing the systems to be linked under pressure to “merge their records into one all-purpose security-clearance system.”

Hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet is about to get even easier. Next month at the DefCon hacker conference, Ben Caudill will unveil his new invention, ProxyHam. The new “hardware proxy is designed to use a radio connection to add a physical layer of obfuscation to an internet user’s location,” describes Wired. A user must put the ProxyHam within 2.5 miles of his location and if investigators trace the IP address back to its origins, the result will be the ProxyHam in a public place, rather than the location of the user.

In a controversial ruling issued yesterday by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the National Security Agency is permitted to continue bulk data collection of Americans’ domestic phone records for the next 180 days. The New York Times informs us that the USA Freedom Act, which puts an end to the once-secret mass domestic surveillance program, does not go into effect for 6 months. The lull period was intended to give intelligence agencies time to transition to the new system in which phone companies will be in control of the bulk data. Yesterday, FISA Court Judge Michael W. Mosman rejected the Second Circuit’s earlier holding and stated in his opinion that “Second Circuit rulings are not binding...and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act.”

The U.S. Cyber Command is getting an upgrade. What was once an Army golf course will soon become an NSA-operated 600,000 square foot “server farm” and the new home of the U.S. Cyber Command joint operations center, according to Defense News. The new site represents the growing need for manpower and resources in U.S. military cyber operations and follows the announcement of a new cyber strategy from U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter earlier this year.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry named former National Security Council official Lee Wolosky as the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Wolosky will be the third official to hold the post of “Guantanamo Closer.”

Members of Congress looking to advance new drone legislation have begun turning to the coming reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and John Hoeven (R-ND) may all seek to attach measures regulating individual and commercial drone usage to the FAA bill, reports Morning Consult.

In Seattle, a man suspected of injuring a woman with a drone during a gay pride parade on Sunday has turned himself in. The BBC chronicles recent similar incidents and suggests that drone-related injuries may represent a growing problem.

Parting Shot: Happy upcoming July 4! The FAA wishes you a delightful holiday but in their new safety campaign video they request that you “Leave your drone at home” when out and about in the nation’s capital. And remember, the DC area is a “No drone zone.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Aaron Y. Zelin posted a statement from al Shabaab, “Avenging the Honor of our Prophet.”

Stewart Baker provided us with the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, this week featuring an interview with Rob Knake of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Cody posted the FISA Court’s order reviving bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 for an additional five months, as allowed for under the USA Freedom Act. Lawfare readers may note that this is the first FISC opinion to begin in French.

Ben continued to ponder responsibility for the OPM hack, linking to Shane Harris’ new story on the data breach in the Daily Beast and considering the relevant passage from a 2010 GAO report on data security.

Cody informed us of the State Department’s appointment of Lee Wolosky, a former member of the National Security Council, as the special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo.

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