Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, November 6, 2015, 3:47 PM

After intercepting communications suggesting that ISIS may have downed the Russian jetliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, British investigators now strongly believe that a bomb in the plane’s hold was responsible for the crash, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prime Minister David Cameron had previously stated that it was “more likely than not” that a terrorist attack was responsible for the disaster.

Initial British suspicion over the possibility of a bomb led to the suspension of flights between the Sinai and the UK, Reuters writes. As officials continue to investigate the circumstances of the downed plane, Russia has suspended its own flights to Egypt until the cause of the crash is uncovered. The New York Times has the story.

Both Russia and Egypt had previously dismissed the U.K.’s claims that a bomb could be behind the attack. However, after Russia received pieces of the plane’s wreckage, which are now being investigated for traces of explosives, the BBC writes that the FSB recommended that President Vladimir Putin suspend flights. At the New Yorker, Masha Lipman asks how Putin will navigate the outpouring of both skittishness and patriotic fervor that may follow the crash: one way or another, the disaster will likely affect the ongoing Russian effort in Syria.

Experts have determined that mustard gas was used in a fight between the Islamic State and other Syrian rebels in Aleppo province in August, Reuters writes, though it is not clear where the gas came from. While the BBC suggests that the Islamic State was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, other sources indicate that responsibility for the attack has not been determined.  

The AP tells us that Syrian rebels recaptured the village of Atshan in Hama province as they continue to repel the Syrian government’s offensives. With Russian air support, the government has begun to wage a fierce battle for territory in the country’s west.

At Foreign Policy, Thanassis Cambanis takes a look at the many Sunni soldiers still fighting alongside the Syrian government’s forces. Syria’s large Sunni population, many of whom have eschewed the uprising but aren’t entirely trusted by the government, may play a key role in deciding the Syrian conflict. Obtaining their support will be a crucial task of any transitional government body and for the ultimate successor of the Assad regime.

In anticipation of the upcoming G20 Summit, Turkey has arrested over 20 people with suspected connections to the Islamic State in Antalya Province. Two of the suspects are reportedly Russian, and the police seized unidentified “digital materials” as part of the operation. The BBC has more.

As Iraqi forces prepare to enter combat situations against the Islamic State, the Hill tells us that they are eager to train with U.S. advisors in the country--in fact, so eager that the advisors don’t actually have enough time to train them all. The United States is prioritizing the training of troops who will enter into combat in the near future. Despite the eagerness of the troops, however, the advise-and-assist effort is still plagued by government corruption that has made it difficult to adequately equip Iraqi forces.

Over in Yemen, AFP tells us that Russia sent a plane carrying humanitarian aid to the capital city of Sanaa. The Saudi-led coalition initially prevented the Russian plane from departing the Sanaa airport, on the grounds that the plane failed to undergo inspection by the coalition forces in Djibouti before landing in Yemen, though the plane has now departed without incident. Russian planes have previously supplied humanitarian aid to Yemen, most recently in July.

Foreign Policy reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointee for chief of public diplomacy has apologized for unkind remarks made about the U.S. president and other public officials, ahead of Netanyahu’s Monday meeting with Obama. Ran Baratz faced a storm of criticism for his statements after Netanyahu announced his appointment.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post writes that President Obama has “conceded” that it will likely be impossible to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal within his remaining time in office. The administration’s new, less ambitious goal is simply to maintain “the mere possibility of a two-state solution” for as long as Obama stays in office.

Two Palestinians were killed and three Israelis wounded during the continuing violence in the West Bank and Gaza, Reuters reports. One of the two Palestinians, a 72-year-old woman, attempted to ram a group of Israeli soldiers with her car before being shot when the soldiers opened fire.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected plans from her own party to instill further restrictions on asylum seekers. The rejection marks a steadfast commitment to welcoming refugees on Merkel’s part, despite a push from right wing politicians to reinstate border controls and pursue other measures that would limit the influx of refugees and asylum seekers. Financial Times has the story.

In anticipation of the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris, France will reinstate its border controls both before and for the duration of the conference. The move is part of broader security measures for the conference, which will last between November 30th and December 11th. French officials maintain that the planned border controls are not a suspension of the Schengen agreement allowing freedom of movement across Europe, which has been threatened by countries’ reinstating border controls following the influx of migrants and refugees in Europe.

Still reeling from the 7.5-magnitude earthquake from earlier this month, victims in the Warduj province in eastern Afghanistan continue to wait for aid as they face two new threats: the impending winter and the threat of violence between the government and Taliban forces. Government aid has been slow to come, the Guardian reports, in part due to the presence of Taliban elements in the area.

The New York Times writes that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has renewed calls for the Pentagon to explain recent U.S. airstrikes on MSF’s Kunduz facility, as the Pentagon remains silent on the status of its investigation into the event. Meanwhile, the Post examines the tricky question of whether the Pentagon should make condolence payments for the injured Taliban patients killed in the Kunduz strikes. A Pentagon spokesman stated that, while the government plans to make payments after the completion of the Pentagon investigation, he did not know if the government would be "differentiating patient by patient.”

Tightened security measures have been instituted in Kashmir in anticipation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, the AP tells us. The measures involve clamping down on numerous planned separatist protests.

As Chinese president Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou prepare for a historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday, the Times takes a look at Beijing’s failed efforts to sweeten its relationship with Taipei through economic partnership. To some commentators, the upcoming meeting represents Xi’s acknowledgement that economic benefits have failed to win over Taiwan and that a different diplomatic approach may be necessary. Or to put it another way, money can’t buy you love.

Earlier today, President Xi visited Hanoi where Vietnamese leaders pledged to build a “truly trustworthy” relationship with China. Yet at the same time, Vietnam invited Japan to participate in naval exercises and visit an under-construction Vietnamese port. Relations between China and Vietnam have been rocky as of late in a large part due to China’s expansion of territorial claims in the South China Sea, and the invitation to Japan is unlikely to help matters. Reuters has more.

For its part, the European Union’s foreign policy chief has cautioned against further escalation in the South China Sea, voicing opposition to “any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion, force or any unilateral actions which would cause further friction.” Reuters writes that the European Union has been unwilling to criticize Beijing’s expansion in the past for fear of endangering trade relations.

The Justice Department has charged four Ohio men with “providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to obstruct justice” for their roles in siphoning money to Anwar al-Awlaki in 2009, the Wall Street Journal tells us. FBI agents interviewed one of the men soon after Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, but he denied any connection with Awlaki.

The AP reports on the case of Younis Chekkouri, a former Guantanamo detainee who was recently released to his home country of Morocco only to be detained after arriving for over two months. Though Chekkouri’s lawyers insist that he was given assurances that he would not be detained for more than 72 hours upon his return, the Moroccan government now states that it made no such promise. A Moroccan judge has ordered a hearing on Chekkouri’s detention for December 3rd, though the government has not clarified why he is being held.

First Shaker Aamer, now Ravil Mingazov. The Guardian examines the circumstances surrounding the detention and possible release or transfer of Mingazov, a Russian detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Mingazov’s lawyers have filed a petition requesting Mingazov be allowed to join his family in the United Kingdom, where they were recently granted asylum. The question is whether the British government has any interest in taking on negotiations on behalf of another Guantanamo detainee after the “legal quagmire” of Shaker Aamer.

A draft of the NDAA revised in light of the recent budget deal overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives yesterday, paving the way for a Senate vote on the measure. While the revised NDAA addresses the spending issues that led the president’s veto on the last draft of the legislation, the bill still includes a controversial provision that would severely limit the White House’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay. The White House has not threatened a veto this time around, though Reuters says that President Obama may be looking to executive action to transfer the detainees instead.

But some in Congress are unhappy over the president’s potential use of executive action to finally shutter Guantanamo. Responding to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s statement that the administration would “not take anything off the table” on the matter of Guantanamo, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) blasted the administration’s plan to sidestep Congress and promised “attempts to reverse” any executive order, possibly through “funding mechanisms.” The Hill has more.

Defense One sheds light on the Pentagon's recent push for lethal cyber weapons. Military contractors are competing for nearly $500 million to develop mechanisms that would “essentially [] direct an enemy’s critical infrastructure to self-destruct,” intentionally harming human life in the process. Any such technology would be used according to the traditional law of war.

Remember those teenagers who hacked CIA Director John Brennan’s AOL account? They may have continued to target government officials in retaliation for the ongoing FBI investigation against them, the Hill reports. The two hackers have stated that they have successfully hacked into a personal account belonging to FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, though the FBI has not confirmed the claim.

In the Tank: The German Marshall Fund of the United States shares a new paper from the Transatlantic Digital Dialogue, a working group of U.S. and German experts. Their policy paper, which sought to “develop a constructive agenda for the modernization of privacy/security policy that begins to address the global debate over digital surveillance,” identifies three chief areas for policy reform: “oversight and transparency; extraterritorial access to data; and cyber-security and strong encryption.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody invited you to intern at Lawfare! Seriously, we're hiring!

Ben posted the “Did You Miss Us” edition of Rational Security where the gang discusses President Obama’s decision to send special forces to Syria among other topics.

Robert Loeb and Matthew Weybrecht discussed the Sixth Circuit's ruling in Mokdad v. Lynch, which held that district courts could hear a plaintiff’s challenge to suspected inclusion on the No Fly List.

Zack Bluestone posted the latest Water Wars, in which he sheds light on more of the fallout following the U.S. naval patrol in the South China Sea.

Jack pointed to recent statements made by government officials which confirm his earlier arguments about the decline of OLC.

David Ryan shed light on the Ninth Circuit's en banc decision in the United States v. Dreyer case and its implications on the Posse Comitatus Act.

Nicholas Weaver suggested that the proposed Draft Investigatory Powers Bill represented the "triumph of the U.K. Surveillance State."

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.