Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Thursday, August 6, 2015, 2:37 PM

Yesterday, President Obama continued his push for the Iran deal in a speech at American University---a site likely chosen in order to draw parallels to a speech President John F. Kennedy gave in the same location promoting the nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union in 1963. In remarks that the New York Times called “aggressive,” the president argued that detractors of the deal have no reasonable, peaceful alternative to offer: “the choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some sort of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.” The text of the speech is available here, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Yesterday also saw the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, testify privately before the Senate on the IAEA-Iran agreement supplementing the nuclear deal. The Post informs us that Amano confirmed the agreement’s confidential status, saying that “confidentiality is an essential building block to protect the safeguard regime.”

Yet some reports indicate that the IAEA may already be having problems in implementing that “safeguard regime.” The Wall Street Journal writes that Tehran has so far refused to allow the IAEA to interview key officials who may have been involved in an Iranian nuclear weapons program, causing serious problems for the IAEA investigation of Iran’s past nuclear activities.

Moreover, both the U.S. intelligence community and the Institute for Science and International Security, a think-tank that monitors nuclear nonproliferation, have pointed to satellite images showing crates and trucks outside a suspected Iranian nuclear military site---perhaps indicating that Iran has begun “sanitizing” the site prior to IAEA inspections. Administration officials stated that the IAEA will retain full technological ability to detect nuclear activity despite any “sanitation” efforts. The AP and Bloomberg News have the story.

Bloomberg also notes that victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism are now asking a New York district court to block the unfreezing of Iranian assets, out of concern that releasing the assets will limit possibilities for compensation. U.S. officials stated that “the U.S. does not hold or control any of this money.”

As the news on Iran rolls in, Defense One reminds us that the Senate heads out for the August recess today---and so September will be the key month for Congress to debate and vote on the nuclear deal.

When Congress reconvenes in September, however, it will have a lot more on its plate than just the Iran deal. The Hill reports that trade groups backing major technology companies are urging Senate leaders to reject a proposal, included within the 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act, that would require social media and other tech companies to report “terrorist activity” on their services. The groups argue that “the provision will lead to reporting of items that are not of material concern to public safety, creating a ‘needle in the haystack’ problem for law enforcement.”

The United States has launched its first drone strike against ISIS from a Turkish airbase, the Journal tells us. The drone took off from a base in southern Turkey and conducted a strike against ISIS troops in northern Syria. Though the United States has long sought the use of Turkish airbases in the fight to launch airstrikes, Turkey only recently agreed to U.S. activity as part of newly aggressive Turkish efforts against ISIS.

But the Times writes that, within Turkey, those efforts are largely seen as a ploy by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to revitalize his slumping popularity. Turkish anti-ISIS efforts have included a robust---and to some, dismaying---military campaign against the Iraqi Kurdish PKK. The Times speculates that President Erdogan’s nationalist supporters may find this politically appealing.

Meanwhile, the PKK is fighting back by attacking pipelines that pump oil and gas through Turkey---the same tactic used by PKK fighters during conflict with Turkey in the 1990s. Reuters reports that Turkey is stepping up security along the pipelines in order to protect its energy infrastructure.

With the tiny cohort of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels still reeling from the al Nusra Front’s kidnapping of over a dozen of their members, an officer trained in the U.S. program has weighed in with more criticism. According to the BBC, Captain Ammar al Wawi has criticized the United States for failing first to train rebel troops and then to protect them. The Post also examines a failed U.S. effort to train a new Libyan military force in the wake of the Arab Spring, demonstrating the limits of American power in standing up military forces.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States and Russia will collaborate in bringing forward a United Nations Security Council resolution to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. The Security Council vote has been scheduled for Friday, the Times writes. Radio Free Europe also tells us that Iranian leaders will soon present a peace plan for Syria before the United Nations. “Iran and Russia,” the story notes, “are among the last allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.”

ISIS fighters have seized a potentially key town in central Syria from pro-government forces, the BBC reports. The capture of Qaryatain creates a clear route between the city of Palmyra and the Qalamun region near Damascus, both held by ISIS. The AP notes that Qaryatain is currently sheltering the large refugee population that had fled from Homs, the site of a prolonged siege between Syrian government and rebel forces.

The Journal studies the role of former Baathists in today’s Iraq: are they friends or foes of ISIS? And what about their relationship with the current Iraqi government, and Western forces? Though many Iraqi Shiites believe that ISIS is simply a “new incarnation” of the Ba'ath party, Iraqi Sunnis and some Western diplomats argue that bad blood between Baathists and ISIS may make some “good Baathists” into valuable allies.

A Times report indicates that the Department of Homeland Security is strengthening restrictions on a visa waiver program, which allows foreign citizens to enter the United States without a visa if they are staying for fewer than 90 days. But concerns over radicalized fighters carrying out attacks on U.S. soil have led DHS to demand new information-sharing protocols with those countries participating in the program, and to require the presence of U.S. air marshals on some flights to the United States. European countries including Britain, France, and Germany---all of which have struggled with the problem of radicalized young people traveling abroad to join ISIS---are all members of the program.

In Saudi Arabia, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque attended by the Saudi Interior Ministry’s special forces. At least 15 were killed, including 12 members of the security forces. Site Intelligence Group reports that “Al-Hijaz Province,” a newly-announced ISIS division in Saudi Arabia, has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.

Foreign Policy takes note of a joint eulogy of Mullah Mohammad Omar issued by three al Qaeda affiliates. The al Nusra Front, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb collaborated to memorialize the former Taliban leader, yet failed to even mention Omar’s replacement, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. The story quotes a “senior U.S. analyst” as stating that al Qaeda has little to gain from recognizing Mullah Mansour as the Taliban’s new leader until Mansour succeeds in consolidating his still-shaky hold on power.

In the first Taliban attack since confirmations of Mullah Omar’s death, the Taliban has detonated a truck bomb in a provincial capital in eastern Afghanistan. Meanwhile, an Afghan official stated that U.S. drone strikes have killed up to 60 ISIS fighters within Afghanistan in the last few days, and the crash of an Afghan army helicopter led to the deaths of over a dozen people.

The Pakistani army has begun publicly shaming two retired Pakistani generals over past misuse of military funds, in a move that the Guardian describes as “almost unheard of.” This constitutes a major change in policy for the army, which has long been criticized for its corruption and lack of transparency.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi announced plans to expand the Suez Canal in an $8.5 billion building project. Al Jazeera suggests that the move is aimed at revitalizing the long-struggling Egyptian economy. Despite President Sisi’s efforts, crisis in Egypt continues to roil: fighters belonging to the ISIS-affiliated group Sinai Province released a video threatening to kill a Croatian citizen kidnapped last month in Cairo. The Post has the story.

Cameroon will soon repatriate roughly 12,000 Nigerian refugees who crossed the border seeking shelter from Boko Haram attacks. As Reuters tells us, the Boko Haram insurgency has so far led to the internal displacement of about 1.5 million people, with thousands more fleeing to outside Nigeria.

Foreign Policy reports on Russia’s faltering international energy deals. Though the Kremlin has done its best to bolster Russian power through energy partnerships with China and Turkey, the reality of low energy prices and new oil and gas sources have put the brakes on Russian plans for energy dominance.

The AP has more on yesterday’s meeting between Secretary Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum. Secretary Kerry criticized Chinese restrictions on navigation and airspace in the disputed South China Sea and stated that the United States “will not accept” these limitations. The secretary also commented that Minister Wang may not have been wholly “fulsome” during their meeting, despite the minister’s stated desire to resolve the territorial dispute diplomatically.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. At a commemoration ceremony in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked on Japan’s responsibility to promote nuclear disarmament, as the only nation ever to have suffered a nuclear attack. Yet the Japan Times adds that Prime Minister Abe’s perceived desire to build up Japan’s long-dormant military may undermine this pledge for peace. The Journal offers photographs from today’s commemoration event---and for a little history, Paul Ham of the Atlantic examines the bureaucrats who singled out Hiroshima to best demonstrate the destructive power of the atomic bomb.

Reuters reveals that the United States and the European Union are finalizing a long-awaited commercial data-sharing deal, which the parties moved to renegotiate following the Snowden Revelations. The deal would reform an existing E.U.-U.S. agreement allowing companies to transfer data easily between the two areas, but E.U. officials are demanding U.S. guarantees that “collection of EU citizens' data for national security purposes would be limited to what is necessary and proportionate.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been vocal in his appeals for collaboration between the Pentagon and technology firms in Silicon Valley, and his efforts may have finally paid off, the Journal reports. Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work announced the establishment of DIU-x, a new organization intended to bridge a gap between high-tech innovation and the military.

A researcher at the ongoing Black Hat cybersecurity conference claims that he can access---and even alter---data from the satellite network of Globalstar, which produces communications equipment for clients including the U.S. military. “How big a problem is this?” asks Patrick Tucker of Defense One. “Consider how the military might react if a small private plane appeared to be deviating from its flight path, making a beeline toward the White House. Or how the Navy might react if supertankers in the Strait of Hormuz suddenly vanished. Or how the Army might react if an enemy somehow knew just where to find U.S. soldiers lying in wait.”

Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit ruled in United States v. Graham that “the government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it obtains and inspects a cell phone user’s historical [cell-site location information] for an extended period of time” and “that obtaining such records requires a warrant.” At the Post, Orin Kerr details the multiple circuit splits, which, he suggests, may lead to Supreme Court review.

Parting shot: Estonia recently introduced a program to create digital identities for even non-residents. The Estonian government is now teaming up with Garage48, an NGO, to host an international e-Residency hackathon aimed at developing existing services as well as working prototypes of new ones “in an intense 48 hours of inspiration and hard work.” The event, open to international developers, is set to take place from September 11-13 on Vormsi Island.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Eric Mill made the argument for why it’s time to encrypt Lawfare.

Cody explained the Indian and Bangladesh land boundary agreement that ended one of the world's most intractable border disputes.

Cody also offered coverage of President Barack Obama’s address yesterday at American University in which he defended the nuclear deal reached with Iran last month.

Wells tipped us off to the Fourth Circuit’s important decision in United States v. Graham.

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