Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 1:57 PM

NATO ambassadors met in Brussels today to discuss Turkey’s security situation: In response to a series of terror attacks within its borders, Turkey “has begun firing against... Islamic State positions in Syria, as well as... Kurdish militants in Iraq.” Following the meeting, NATO condemned the terror attacks against Turkey. The alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg affirmed that NATO stands with Ankara. The Wall Street Journal shares more.

Issues with Turkey’s response have already arisen, though. The Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a U.S. partner in the Middle East known for its role in retaking the city of Kobani and the town of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State, has claimed that Turkish air strikes have hit some of their territory, injuring both fighters and civilians. The episode illustrates the narrow position the U.S. must negotiate - “On the one hand, the U.S. has a combat-proven partnership with the YPG; on the other hand, it needs Turkey to be an active player to use its air bases and set up a buffer zone in northern Syria,” the Wall Street Journal quotes Metin Gurcan, a security analyst and former Turkish special forces officer, as saying.

The Washington Post explains Ankara’s relationship with the Islamic State, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Syrian Kurds, and leftist radicals.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that leaders from the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State are meeting in Canada today “to discuss how to improve the effectiveness of the campaign.”

So far, the campaign has cost the U.S. $3.21 billion. The Hill informs us that just over half of the money has gone toward airstrikes, while a little less than a quarter has paid for weapons. The remaining money has been “spent on missions involving military carriers and other operations.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Moscow is reevaluating its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Russia has proved one of Syria’s staunchest allies and its military and political backing has been indispensable in keeping Mr. Assad afloat during more than four years of conflict.” However, Moscow officials are now reevaluating that policy, displaying “more openness to discussing alternatives.” Russian support for a negotiated exit could serve as a watershed in the current Syrian civil war.

President Obama has nominated Daniel Rubinstein, the current U.S. envoy for Syria, to serve as the next American ambassador to Tunisia. Reuters shares more.

Today, in Ethiopia, President Obama delivered a speech to the African Union, bringing to a close his historic five-day trip to the region. He discussed the importance of development and job creation and offered the U.S. as a viable partner in pursuit of such efforts. He noted the importance of security cooperation, as the continent battles militant groups, such as al Qaeda, the Islamic State, al Shabab, and Boko Haram. He also affirmed the importance of democracy and denounced figures who become “president for life.” The Associated Press shares specifics from the President’s remarks.

During his time in Ethiopia, the President sat down with regional leaders to discuss the civil war in South Sudan. The meeting ended with an agreement to push both sides of the dispute to reach a ceasefire by August 17. If the combatants fail to do so, they will face sanctions or worse. The Times discusses what shape those consequences might take.

Yesterday, fighting continued in Yemen despite the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s promise to halt military operations there. Humanitarian groups have, therefore, been unable to deliver relief supplies to the civilians trapped in the war-torn country. According to the New York Times, approximately thirteen million Yemenis have difficulty finding food, and over six million face starvation. Humanitarian aid organization Oxfam says that Yemen now has “the highest ever recorded number of people living in hunger.”

A new CNN/ORC poll finds that fifty-two percent of Americans believe that Congress should reject the nuclear agreement reached with Iran by P5+1 diplomats. Meanwhile, forty-four percent of U.S. citizens approve of the accord. CNN shares more data from the poll.

The administration’s “secret weapon” on the deal is doing his best to win over supporters, though - Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been “intellectually charming” critics in Congress, reports the Post. Secretary Moniz joins Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today.

The AP reports that four-star General Robin Rand will take control of the Air Force Global Strike Command, the Air Force’s nuclear branch. His leadership is hoped to redirect and “reinvigorate” a force that had “atrophied” and misstepped.

The Defense Department Inspector General is investigating the possibility of carcinogens located near the Department of Defense's Military Commissions site at Guantanamo. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reports that nine cases of cancer may be related to the compound.

The Obama administration is working on a plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo before the President leaves office in 2017. At last week’s 2015 Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Deputy National Security Advisor Lisa Monaco described some of the contours of the plan. The government intends to “whittle down” the number of prisoners to an “irreducible minimum, who would have to be brought here to a secure location, held under the laws of war, continuing under military detention.” Stateside, the detainees would be held in “supermax cells” and prosecuted by the military justice system. Defense One points out that one problem with this plan is current American law, which prohibits both bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. and also spending money in any attempt to do so.

The debate over data encryption and government backdoors continued on during the Aspen Security Forum. Many government officials, including FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, argued that end-to-end encryption interferes with intelligence and law enforcement pursuits. However, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff articulated a different position, asserting that backdoors increase vulnerabilities. Defense One examines the ideas put forth.

The Director of National Intelligence announced yesterday that the NSA’s access to historical telephony metadata collected under the authority of Section 215 will end on November 29. Afterward, however, the agency cannot just destroy the files, as they must be preserved until the resolution of civil litigation against the NSA. The AP shares details.

Chrysler has issued a formal recall for 1.4 million cars that contain a software vulnerability leaving them open to hacking. Earlier this month, two researchers demonstrated for Wired that they could wirelessly take over a Jeep Cherokee’s dashboard functions, steering, transmission, and brakes. On Friday, Chrysler responded, saying all affected customers will receive a software update via a USB drive that can be plugged into the vehicle’s dashboard port. The auto manufacturer has also implemented “network-level security measures.” Wired shares the list of potentially affected cars, and notes, “One recall won’t change the fact that cars, SUVs, and trucks are increasingly connected to the Internet and vulnerable to hacker attacks.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Zoe Bedell reviewed Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary, “one of the only first-hand accounts we have from Gitmo.”

John Bellinger wondered whether President Obama’s visit to Kenya was a snub to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ben shared a second batch of videos from the 2015 Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Wells posted the government’s latest en-banc rehearing petition in Al-Bahlul v. U.S.

Ben played a little game of “I Spy,” speculating about the unclassified databases that might interest the Chinese hackers, who perpetrated the attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Paul Rosenzweig joined the fun and added “a few more [databases] that a good Chinese spy ought to look at.”

Jack Goldsmith picked apart the weaknesses of David Rivkin and Lee Casey’s argument against the Iran deal.

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.