Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Monday, July 13, 2015, 2:45 PM

And so we wait: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there would be no announcement of a deal on Monday. The AP tells us that negotiators are on the brink of finalizing a historic nuclear deal with Iran, though there are at least two remaining issues that need to be agreed upon: “Iranian demands that a U.N. arms embargo be lifted and that any U.N. Security Council resolution approving the broader deal no longer describe Iran's nuclear activities as illegal.” The talks will continue tomorrow.

In a last minute effort to prevent a deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a Farsi-language Twitter account. In his first Tweet, he wrote: “With the continuation of the show of compromising with Iran, the path to Iran getting a nuclear bomb is paved, and they are being given billions of dollars for terrorism and invasion.” Unsurprisingly, Farsi-speaking Tweeters were not too welcoming: “May your eyes be gouged out,” one user replied.

Meanwhile, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been jailed in Iran for over a year, appeared in court for a closed hearing today. There were no immediate reports of what transpired but Rezaian’s lawyer said that no verdict had been reached. The Wall Street Journal explains that it was “unclear whether Mr. Rezaian’s hastily called court session on Monday had any link to the [nuclear] talks. U.S. officials have demanded the release of several Americans held in Iran, including Mr. Rezaian, as the talks progressed.”

As of this morning, the European Union has avoided “Grexit”... at least for the moment. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acceded to European demands that Greece accept strict austerity measures in exchange for yet another bailout. The New York Times, however, notes that negotiations are still to come on what that bailout package will entail. The Guardian reports that Greece’s crisis, while the most immediately dire, is far from unique: more than 20 countries around the world face dangerous debt crises with potentially devastating effects to the world economy.

The Wall Street Journal brings us news that the United States is shopping for drone bases in North Africa so as to better surveill ISIS activity in the region. North Africa currently represents an intelligence “blind spot,” according to a U.S. official quoted in the Journal, given that current U.S. bases in Africa are too distant to allow constant surveillance of ISIS in Libya. U.S. authorities have declined to name the countries whose military bases the United States might wish to use, but the Journal points to Egypt and Tunisia as possibilities in light of recent U.S. dealings with both countries.

The Tunisian government continues its security efforts in response to the June terror attacks. On Friday, Tunisian forces launched an operation that killed Mourad Gharsalli, the leader of an armed opposition group with ties to al Qaeda. Al Jazeera has the story. Meanwhile, the Atlantic takes a look the proposed Tunisian effort to construct a 100-mile wall along the country’s border with Libya in order to keep out extremist fighters, considering the merits and demerits of defensive walls over the course of history.

Despite growing concerns over ISIS entrenchment in North Africa, the group that calls itself a state admitted on Sunday that it had effectively lost control of the key Libyan city of Derna, near the Egyptian border. The AFP nevertheless reports that ISIS’s loss of the city may not represent a significant setback for the group, which has exploited chaos in Libya to gain territory in the region.

In Cairo, a car bomb outside the Italian consulate killed at least one person and injured nine others on Saturday morning. CNN writes that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, using the social media accounts of its supporters to widely distribute a statement declaring its involvement in the bombing. This attack follows a string of violent clashes in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during the past weeks between the Egyptian military and an ISIS-affiliated group, Sinai Province.

Yemen’s much-sought-after humanitarian truce appears to have been short-lived: Saudi-led airstrikes hit the northern border only hours after the ceasefire began on Saturday night, the Journal reports. With Eid only a few days away, the Ramadan ceasefire has yet to fully materialize.

Over the past few days, the Syrian government has repeatedly conducted airstrikes northeast of Aleppo, killing over 60 people. The ISIS-held town of al Bab has become a frequent target for President Bashar al Assad’s air force, according to Al Jazeera, which also notes that President Assad’s forces may have used indiscriminate barrel bombs during Saturday’s attack. While it denies the allegations, the Syrian government has faced repeated accusations over the use of these devices during the course of the conflict. The BBC also tells us that fighting near Aleppo seriously damaged a historic 13th-century citadel, which government forces were using as a military headquarters.

A series of car bombs and suicide bombings hit Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad this Sunday. The AP estimates 35 killed, while the Guardian reports “at least” 23 deaths. The attacks were among the deadliest in Baghdad in recent months. ISIS is widely suspected, though the group has yet to claim responsibility.

Fighting alongside Shiite militias, the Iraqi military began efforts today to drive ISIS from Iraq’s Anbar Province. The offensive will take place on multiple fronts, with efforts centering on the ISIS strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah, the AP writes. The Kurdish newspaper Rudaw estimates that ISIS currently controls roughly 85% of the province.

Iraqi efforts will likely be helped by the four F-16 fighter jets that arrived in Baghdad from the United States this Monday. Reuters tells us that a fleet of 36 F-16s were originally slated to arrive in Iraq, but security concerns over ISIS’s expansion has delayed their arrival. Relatedly, the Long War Journal investigates photos showing members of the Badr Organization, an Iraqi Shiite militia involved in the fight against ISIS, posing with a U.S. M1 Abrams tank.

The Journal examines the food shortage created by ISIS’s control of a large proportion of the Iraqi grain supply. Iraqi authorities are pushing farmers to harvest as much as possible in order to avert a food crisis caused by ISIS’s territorial gains on the one hand, and the government’s looming budget deficit on the other. The story suggests that ISIS may be transporting some of the wheat grown in Iraq’s northern regions to Syria, worsening scarcity in Iraq.

Friday brought the news that a U.S. airstrike had killed a senior ISIS leader, Hafiz Saeed, in eastern Afghanistan. Now an audio recording released by ISIS has called reports of Saeed’s death into doubt, Reuters tells us. The recording appeared on an ISIS website on Monday, but the date of its recording is unclear and its authenticity has not yet been verified.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military base in the Afghan province of Khost, killing at least 25. The Times reminds us that the base, known as Camp Chapman, was the site of a notorious suicide bombing in 2009 that killed seven CIA employees. According to the Times, it remains unclear whether any U.S. forces or officials were at the base during Sunday's attack, which appears to have targeted the Afghan military unit that currently controls Camp Chapman.

In the midst of the United Kingdom’s review of security and defense spending, Prime Minister David Cameron released comments urging for higher military spending to counter ISIS. The Times quotes Prime Minister Cameron’s call for “more spy planes, drones, and special forces”: “in the last five years, I have seen how vital these assets are in keeping us safe.”

And over the weekend, the U.K. Ministry of Defence released footage of a recent British drone strike against an ISIS convoy in Iraq. The video, which is dated from July 6, shows Hellfire missiles attacking an armored vehicle and a personnel carrier belonging to the group.

The United Kingdom, of course, is increasingly concerned not only with battling ISIS abroad, but with fighting it at home as well. The Guardian examines a recent in-school campaign designed to dissuade Muslim students from radicalization by presenting a “counter-narrative” to ISIS’s alarmingly effective social media presence.

Speaking of ISIS’s social media presence, the group recently launched Furat Media, a Russian-language online propaganda network. ISIS’s profile has been growing within the former Soviet bloc---particularly in Chechnya, as the Daily Beast reported last week. Furat represents a serious upgrade in the quality of ISIS’s Russian-language propaganda campaign, which has previously been scattered and piecemeal.

The Israeli activist group B’Tselem released footage that appears to show Israeli soldiers in the West Bank shooting and killing a fleeing Palestinian teenager, who seems to turn and run after attacking an IDF vehicle. The BBC notes that the video seemingly contradicts the testimony of one of the soldiers, who had claimed that he fired at the teenager in the belief that his life was in danger.

After a seemingly promising start to talks between India and Pakistan, the conversation has ground to a halt. The Indian Express writes that Pakistan has now refused to continue dialogue without the possibility of negotiations over disputed territory in Kashmir, which India is reluctant to allow.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appointed new military leaders after firing the heads of the Nigerian army, navy, and air force. President Buhari, who came to power partly through promises to defeat the militant group Boko Haram, has criticized the Nigerian military for its inability to adequately combat the group. The BBC has the story.

Al Shabaab carried out attacks at popular hotels in Mogadishu on Saturday, though the Somali military was able to break the siege. The group continued its efforts on Monday, attacking a strategic town in southern Somalia and killing ten Somali soldiers.

DefenseOne offers a comparison between the recently released U.S. National Military Strategy and China’s own national security strategy. While China is more focused on suppressing internal threats, the United States  is “preparing for never-ending war abroad.”

Chinese authorities say 109 ethnic Uighurs were en route to wage jihad in Syria or Iraq when they were caught in Thailand. The Uighurs had been in Thailand for more than a year claiming to be Turkish. The Guardian let us know that 13 of them had fled China after being linked to terrorist activities and another two had escaped detention.

The government of North Korea has officially confirmed the purging of Defense Chief Hyon Yong Chol, just two months after South Korean news outlets reported his execution for disrespecting leader Kim Jong Un by falling asleep during an official meeting. Hyon was allegedly killed by by anti-aircraft fire in April. The Irrawaddy informs us that North Korea’s “official Korean Central News Agency named army general Pak Yong Sik as the armed forces minister in a dispatch about a meeting with a Lao military delegation.” Kim Jong Un has executed 70 government officials since he took power in 2011.

The druglord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, is on the loose again after a second prison break. His escape is a huge blow to the Mexican government and President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration has been lauded for its success in capturing top traffickers. A security analyst in Mexico told the New York Times that “Chapo’s escape is spectacular as a blatant example of the corruption and complicity inside the prison system.” The Times piece also says that “[e]xperts on the drug underworld were left dumbfounded and predicted the escape could bolster American demands to extradite top crime figures, particularly when United States law enforcement personnel have played major roles in many cases, and not without personal risk.” The Guardian presents photographs of the escape route through one-mile tunnel under the Altiplano prison, 60 miles west of Mexico City.

New details are emerging every day about the staggering breadth of the OPM data breach. On Friday, the Navy announced that every sailor, Marine and Navy Department civilian who has completed a SF-86 security questionnaire from 2000 to the present is at risk of having their information stolen, as a consequence of a breach that has impacted nearly 7% of the American people. OPM says its databases were hacked twice, the second breach being “the mother of all hacks,” according to the Military Times. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned late last week.

Overt Action considers the possibility that Chinese hackers not only accessed data, but “modified individual records as they saw fit.” At this point, there is no evidence that any data manipulation took place although it would be difficult to identify if it had. If does evidence emerge that hackers manipulated information, OPM “would have to determine what information is trustworthy and what is not. For a nation that runs on information, this would be a truly catastrophic situation.”

The Milan-based cybersecurity firm Hacking Team is under fire after 400GB of its data was dumped on the internet, exposing its dealings with repressive states. Founder David Vincenzetti admitted: “We did [sell tools to Libya] when suddenly it seemed that the Libyans had become our best friends.” He also acknowledged providing tools to Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco and Sudan, as exposed by company emails, though refuted any engagement with Syria. The breach into Hacking Team had widespread effects on the larger world of cybersecurity, including exposing vulnerabilities within Adobe’s Flash plugin. The Guardian has the story.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investor interest in cybersecurity firms is growing. CrowdStrike, a security services provider focused on preventative measures, announced earlier today that it had raised $100 million in a new round of funding. The Times reveals that the “investment was led by Google Capital, one of the technology giant’s venture capital arms, in its first cybersecurity deal.”

The American Psychological Association was shaken Friday by the public release of an independent report by former assistant U.S. attorney David Hoffman, which reveals the extensive involvement of some APA members in the CIA’s interrogation program. The report flies in the face of the APA’s past public opposition to torture and its “strict code of ethics,” which ostensibly forbade complicity in torture. The Guardian wonders if the news may merit a criminal investigation by the FBI, perhaps even criminal prosecution of the involved psychologists. The Times notes that health professionals within the CIA frequently criticized the interrogation program, but were “rebuffed” by APA-registered psychologists who “lent credibility” to the CIA’s activities.

After the public release of the report, the APA issued a swift apology. The Guardian discussed the issue with the APA’s representative and former president, Nadine Kaslow, who recommended that psychologists should no longer involve themselves in U.S. military interrogations or detentions. Kaslow stated that the APA would soon deliver the Hoffman report to the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, along with the inspectors general of the Pentagon and CIA.

Parting shot: Put on your tin hats and your body armor: Operation Jade Helm starts on Wednesday in Texas, causing us all to revisit that perennial question: standard military training exercise, or shadowy, totalitarian government takeover?

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Carrie Cordero posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring an interview with Rear Admiral Bob Day, Executive Director of the Virginia Cyber Commission.

Herb Lin pondered the human cost of the OPM hack, given the Office’s failure to adequately address the likely frustration of many government employees.

Gordon Adams and Richard Sokolsky co-authored the Foreign Policy Essay on U.S. assistance to local security forces.

Ben wrapped up his thoughts on “going dark,” weighing the merits of the ongoing debate over encryption.

Ingrid Wuerth alerted us to her upcoming commentary on Zivotofsky v. Kerry in the American Journal of International Law and provided a brief preview of her thoughts.

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