Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Staley Smith, Quinta Jurecic
Monday, July 20, 2015, 3:25 PM

New details are emerging about 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the Kuwaiti-born man who opened fire on two military sites in Tennessee, shooting seven people and killing five U.S. service members. The Washington Post explains that “The portrait emerging of Abdulazeez isn’t one of a committed Muslim or vengeful jihadist, but rather an aimless young man who came from a troubled home and struggled to hold down a job after college.” Abdulazeez suffered from depression and a drug and alcohol problem which may have been a large contributing factor, his family says. U.S. counterterrorism investigators are looking into a visit he made to Jordan for a few months last year “under a mutual agreement with his parents to help him get away from drugs, alcohol and a group of friends who relatives considered a bad influence.”

At this point, the FBI has not found any connection to overseas terrorist groups. ABC News reports that 30 FBI agents are expected to arrive in Chattanooga today as investigators retrace Abdulazeez’s steps that led him to commit what is being investigated as a possible “act of terrorism.” A diary belonging to Abdulazeez paints “a picture of a disturbed, suicidal young man using drugs, preparing for bankruptcy and facing an appearance in criminal court.” Even so, the picture is complicated by questions over why Abdulazeez went to Jordan and the fact that he sent a text message to a friend hours before the shooting quoting an Islamic verse saying, “Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him.”

In what is sure to be a controversial piece, William Saletan of Slate rejects the notion that this incident is an act of terrorism. Rather, Saletan argues, “It was a rational, horrific act of war.” He goes on to say that, “When [the United States] targets a training facility and kills its inhabitants, we don’t call that terrorism. We call it moral success...That’s how we evaluate our own strikes overseas: If we target a training site, and if the only people we kill are the fighters or trainees inside, our hands are clean. And that seems to be what Abdulazeez did to our own men in Chattanooga.”

The Military Times tells us that in response to the attack, the Marine Corps Recruiting Command decided that recruiters will not wear their military uniforms for the time being, which was immediately approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Carter “has told the [military] services to get back to him by the end of next week with additional force protection measures.” The Command has also increased the force protection condition level from “Bravo” to “Charlie,” the third highest security level. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command did the same, in coordination with the Marines Corps.

Governors in six states have taken further steps, ordering national guardsmen to be armed in the wake of the attack on military recruiting centers. In an executive order, Florida Gov. Rick Scott immediately ordered the relocation of recruiters to armories. The Military Times informs us that “the Republican governor said he wants Guard recruiters to move from six storefront locations into armories until state officials can evaluate and make security improvements, including possibly installing bullet-proof glass or enhanced surveillance equipment.”

The New York Times notifies us that earlier today the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to lift international economic sanctions against Iran. The resolution “lays out the steps required only for the lifting of United Nations sanctions. It has no legal consequence on the sanctions imposed separately by the United States and the European Union.” The European Union also approved the Iran deal earlier today, paving the way for the lifting of its own sanctions, which include prohibitions on the purchase of Iranian oil. The EU will “continue to prohibit the export of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights.” If Congress refuses to lift American sanctions against Iran, diplomats have warned that the “Iranians may renege on their commitments as well, which could result in a collapse of the entire deal.”

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle blasted President Obama for sending the Iran deal to the United Nations before Congress had an opportunity to review the final agreement, in no doubt what many view as an attempt to sidestep the legislative body. Perhaps anticipating the angry response from the Senate, the Times tells us that during the negotiations in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for Congress to have a chance to review the Deal before the United Nations Security Council could vote to lift sanctions. Iran, Russia and even European allies rejected his argument, insisting that U.N. Security Council action should come first. Congress will have 60 days beginning today to review the Deal. Their review “will focus on an array of contentious issues, including the duration of the agreement, the strength of inspection provisions and the procedures for reimposing sanctions if the Iranians violate the agreement.”

Yet, if Congress really wants to get constructive on the Iran deal, its best shot at preventing an Iranian break or sneak out may be to give the “cash-strapped” IAEA a little more love. In the Atlantic, Mark Leon Goldberg explains how the International Atomic Energy Agency will be expected to restrict Iranian nuclear advances on a budget the size of San Diego’s police department.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, voiced support for the Deal on Saturday in a speech following a special prayer marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He was quick to emphasize that the agreement does not “signal an end to Iran’s hostility toward the United States and its allies, especially Israel.” His comments will likely quiet hard-line critics in Iran, but they also “seemed likely to become fodder for critics in the United States, complicating President Obama’s efforts to sell the deal to Congress and the American people.” The Times has the story.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the United States and Israel over comments made by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the use of military force against Iran remains an option. Zarif noted that "Applying not an option but an unwise and dangerous temptation….there are people who talk about illegal and illegitimate application of force" for their own purposes. The AP has the story.

The Obama Administration has launched an aggressive campaign in the Middle East as it seeks to ease fears over the consequences of the Iran deal. The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States is looking to “expedite arms transfers to Arab states in the Persian Gulf and is accelerating plans for them to develop an integrated regional ballistic missile defense capability.” Secretary of State Ashton Carter arrived in Israel last night where he will meet with his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Ya’alon as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the Deal "A historic mistake for the world.” The U.S. has made repeated offers to increase its $3 billion military aid package to Israel, “but they have made clear privately and publicly that they do not want to engage in this conversation at this juncture,” according to a government official. The Pentagon chief also plans to visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia on his trip to the region.

Finally, opponents of the deal, Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz argue that Iran’s readmission to the SWIFT international financial network was the real prize for Tehran, making it easier for Iran to fund terrorism throughout the region. True as that may be, a secret CIA assessment, covered by the L.A. Times, concludes that Iran is unlikely to spend its post-sanctions windfall on militants, but instead pump most of its money into its economy.

In Yemen, government forces consolidated control over the port city of Aden, pushing out Houthi fighters from their remaining positions in the city. The BBC reports on the capture of Aden, while Reuters tells us that nearly 100 people have died in shelling during the government’s offensive.

A bomb exploded Monday in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border, killing at least 30 and wounding over 100. The blast disrupted a meeting devoted to discussing the reconstruction of the nearby Syrian city of Kobani, until recently held by ISIS. According to the BBC, the attack may have been an ISIS suicide bombing. The Times notes that bombs also struck Kobani on Monday, though it is unclear whether there exists any connection between the attacks.

An airstrike in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka killed six foreign fighters this morning, including a senior leader of ISIS from Tunisia. Al Jazeera reports that it is still unclear whether the strike was conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces or by the Syrian government. Meanwhile, coalition forces are also dropping far less deadly cargo over ISIS’s stronghold in Raqqa: warplanes have distributed hundreds of propaganda leaflets showing pictures of dead ISIS fighters and declaring, “Freedom will come.”

Last week, the Washington Post provided us with a detailed map of ISIS attacks over the past year. Iraqi forces are attempting to roll back ISIS control in Anbar Province, but perhaps to little avail: Foreign Policy examines the recent Iraqi offensive against ISIS’s presence in the region, and predicts that Iraqi forces and Shiite militias will have a long road ahead if they hope to recapture Ramadi.

The AP writes that young children living in areas under ISIS control are being captured and “re-educated” by ISIS fighters, trained in extremist doctrine and even in the technique of beheading. Meanwhile, ISIS has claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded Friday in eastern Iraq, killing 100 people and wounding over 100 more.

The Times informs us of recent Saudi efforts to crack down on ISIS sympathizers, which have resulted in the arrests of over 400 people. Saudi officials stated that those arrested either had connections to planned attacks or were involved in spreading ISIS propaganda online.

Of course, concerns over ISIS’s canny use of social media aren’t confined to Saudi Arabia. Over at Defense One, David P. Fidler pondered proposals in both the House and Senate to respond to the extremist presence on social media, examining the differences between both measures and the possible merits of both. And in the United Kingdom’s most recent effort to prevent young people from becoming radicalized on social media, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a plan that would allow concerned parents to apply for cancellation of their children’s passports in order to prevent them from traveling to fight with ISIS.

A NATO airstrike on Monday killed multiple Afghan soldiers and wounded several others, in what may be the deadliest “friendly fire” incident involving international forces in Afghanistan since 2001. The AP reports seven dead, while the Guardian writes that eight were killed and five were wounded. The Guardian piece suggests that the helicopters may have been American.

The Los Angeles Times writes that a meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and two U.S. generals may have flagged a hitch in U.S. plans to withdraw remaining troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. After their meeting with President Ghani, General Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General John Campbell, commanding officer of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, indicated that a resurgent ISIS or Taliban presence may be cause to reverse the decision to pull out troops.

The U.K. Foreign Office is currently warning travelers to reconsider their plans to visit Tunisia in the wake of last month’s brutal attack on a Tunisian beach resort, but the Tunisian government has asked the United Kingdom to reconsider. The Guardian reports on Tunisian officials’ efforts to turn back the travel warning, which, they say, is “in line with the hopes of the terrorists.”

Nevertheless, Europeans considering a trip to North Africa will likely be less than heartened by the news that four Italian workers were kidnapped in Libya this Sunday. According to the Journal, the workers were captured near a gas plant by individuals whose affiliation remains unknown. Libya has been plunged into violence in the wake of the Arab Spring, with two parliaments and various militant groups all vying for control.

The Daily Beast also weighs in on the chaos in Libya, reporting on the case of an ISIS leader who was captured, publicly shamed, and then brutally executed by a rival extremist group. Both sides, the story suggests, are growing increasingly vicious as the conflict stretches on---an outcome that should, and probably does, worry that United States.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the United States this morning and will meet with President Obama later this afternoon, in a discussion that will likely address the growing threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgency. Later this week, President Obama will travel to Kenya, and the Wall Street Journal reports on the country’s efforts to project calm and control over the security threats posed by al Shabaab.

On Sunday, Japanese construction company Mitsubishi Materials Corporation issued a formal apology to the captured American soldiers forced to work as slave laborers for the company during World War II. Reuters writes that Mitsubishi is the first major Japanese company to apologize for its involvement in Japan’s wartime slave labor program. With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaching, Japan’s struggles with its past have come to the forefront, especially with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial plans to increase the role of the Japanese military.

The United States and Cuba reopened their embassies in Havana and Washington, respectively, in a landmark occasion for the normalization of relations between the two countries. The Times notes, however, that the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba will involve the revival of American financial claims for property seized in the Cuban Revolution---an issue that may strain the countries’ still-fragile diplomatic ties.

Defense One features a piece on the difficulty of preventing “insider attacks” such as that at Fort Hood. Faced with the sheer mass of information available, a DOD program seeking to monitor personnel in search of potential threats now must grapple with a problem “as big as big data,” and may not ultimately be useful in preventing attacks.

The Times reported Saturday that despite government efforts to shore up cybersecurity in the wake of the OPM data breach, government systems remain vulnerable, “defended with the software equivalent of Bubble Wrap.” While the potential dangers posed by cyberattacks have increased exponentially in recent years, U.S. cybersecurity has been slow to catch up.

On that note, the Aspen Institute released a study today on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. Nearly three-fourths of the IT executives surveyed stated that cyberattacks are increasing, and almost half believed it likely that there will be an attack on critical infrastructure within the next three years.

Italian police now believe that the data breach of the firm Hacking Team, which released information on the firm’s sale of surveillance software to repressive governments, may have been carried out by former Hacking Team employee--despite founder David Vincenzetti’s insistence last week that the operation was of such a magnitude that it only could have been carried out “at the government level.”

Also in data security news, the Guardian tells us that hackers have attacked a network of dating sites, including the “infidelity site” Ashley Madison. The hackers, working under the name Impact Team, claim to have total access to the sites’ financial records and user databases and are threatening to release all the information online if the sites are not shut down permanently. Impact Group has released a statement positioning the hack as an act of protest against the sites’ disingenuity regarding the privacy of users’ data. More details are available over at the blog Krebs on Security.

It’s been an exciting few days for drone enthusiasts, though not all the news is good. The Times reports on the worrying trend of amateurs flying drones over wildfires in search of exciting footage, which can often delay firefighting efforts by cluttering the airspace. Over the weekend, drones above the fire on a San Bernardino highway briefly prevented firefighters from using helicopters to quench the blaze.

In a FAA-approved exercise on Monday, a drone successfully delivered medical supplies to a health clinic in rural Virginia. According to the Guardian, the test run represents the first successful delivery by drone in the United States. Meanwhile, Wired brings us a detailed analysis of the physics behind the handgun-firing drone that made the rounds on the Internet last week, and comes to the conclusion that global domination by robot overlords is surely imminent.

And back in the world of manned rather than unmanned aircraft, defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin is set to acquire Sikorsky, the maker of the Blackhawk helicopter. Time has more.

Finally, Military Times reminds us that the military commissions in Guantanamo continue onward. Proceedings in the case of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, a “high value” detainee and alleged leader of al Qaeda, were originally scheduled to begin Monday. But Lawfare’s own Wells Bennett has let us know that the proceedings have been pushed back to Wednesday, if not beyond.

Parting Shot: Take a look at this “underwater graveyard” of WWII planes. The planes were discarded at the bottom of the ocean when the United States determined that it would be too expensive to transport them back to the States from the Pacific, and have only just been photographed.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody posted the Lawfare podcast, featuring a conversation on Russia’s recent nuclear sabre-rattling.

John Bellinger considered whether the draft U.N. Security Council Resolution on the Iran deal would legally require the United States to lift sanctions on Iran.

Aaron Zelin provided us with a “Statement from Foreign Fighters in Syria”: “About the Baghdadi Group.”

Gordon Adams and Richard Sokolsky continued last week’s Foreign Policy Essay with a second post on U.S. assistance to security-related institutions abroad.

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.