Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, November 19, 2015, 5:22 PM

French President François Hollande has called for the United States, Russia, and France to form a global coalition to fight against ISIS. The New York Times writes that building such a coalition may be easier said than done though, suggesting that “powerful centrifugal forces are still pulling the would-be partners apart as competing national interests challenge efforts to translate that newly shared aspiration into a sustained collaboration over time.”

Despite Hollande’s call for unity in the fight against ISIS, Washington "remains leery of Putin’s eagerness to form a grand military coalition," but hopes to test Putin’s commitment to a political agreement that would end Syria’s civil war. U.S. officials also want Russian forces to halt the bombing of moderate Syrian rebels currently fighting to displace the Assad regime. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal says that the Obama administration, European, and Arab allies are seeking to distance Russia's alliance with Iran. Diplomats hope that daylight between Moscow and Tehran will lead Putin to abandon Assad and pressure his Iranian interlocutors to do the same.

Of course, none of this is helped by the on-going war of words between U.S. and Russian officials who continue to criticize the other’s strategy. In what Foreign Policy correctly characterizes as a “weird cat metaphor,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the United States as “a cat that wants to eat a fish but doesn’t want to wet its feet.” For his part, U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren called Russian tactics “antiquated.”

While international leaders push for a ceasefire in Syria, the New York Times writes that “the path to any ceasefire and political talks is long.” Discussions of a political transition continue, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad has dismissed the possibility of a transition as long as “terrorists”still remain in the country.

The attacks in Paris have revealed the relative ease with which the militants travelled between Syria and Europe and the difficulty of managing the sheer volume of those considered “potential threats.” Both French and Belgian leaders have called for tougher security measures in recent days, adding that the European Union needed to reinforce its tracking of the movements of people throughout the continent.

Reflecting on the police raid which left the top suspect in the Paris attacks dead, the Economist adds that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has acknowledged that there are currently 10,500 people in France classified as "Fiche S", meaning that they are suspected of being radicalised. Valls conceded that only a fraction of that number can be closely monitored. Valls has now presented a bill to the French parliament which would seek to extend the nation’s state of emergency by three months, warning that ISIS militants could launch chemical attacks on the country. U.S. and Iraqi intelligence said on Thursday that they believe an ISIS branch is seeking to develop such weapons.

Agence France Presse reports that Belgian police staged six raids the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. The Guardian has with live updates on the latest developments in the investigations.

Just days after the attacks on Paris, a Jewish teacher was stabbed in the French city of Marseilles by purported Islamic State supporters. The teacher was approached by three men who uttered threats and insults before stabbing him. The teacher is expected to recover.

French airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria appear to have caused only limited damage. Though French officials say that the retaliatory strikes have hit a command post and military-training center near Raqqa, the Boston Globe writes that the "Islamic State has learned to secure its weapons, communications systems, and fighters in fortified bunkers or densely populated residential areas where bombing would inflict intolerably high civilian casualties." Following the liberation of Sinjar, U.S. and Kurdish forces uncovered an elaborate series of tunnels used by the Islamic State to avoid coalition air attacks.

As air strikes continue, the Daily Beast takes us inside of the U.S. airstrike control center in Iraq.

The latest edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s English language magazine, surfaced yesterday and featured photos of a bomb ISIS claimed was used to bring the Russian metrojet down over the Sinai. The Daily Beast sheds light on expert analysis of the purported bomb and questions why exactly ISIS would choose to share the photo. Dabiq also depicts the bodies of two executed foreign hostages from Norway and China. The magazine provide details surrounding the hostages’ deaths, but if verified, this will be the first Chinese hostage killed by the militant group.

The Islamic State has reportedly moved its propaganda machine to the darknet just one day after the Paris attacks, CSO reports. Al Hayat Media Center, the Islamic State’s media arm, posted a video celebrating the attacks on its new website, which hosts a collection of videos and statements in various language claiming responsibility for the attack.

French president François Hollande reaffirmed the French commitment to accepting 30,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. Despite Hollande’s pledge, the attacks in Paris have still galvanized anti-refugee sentiments across the West. The New York Times writes that “as Europeans were reminded of the fragility of their security, the hundreds of thousands of people who arrived on the Continent recently have also confronted a changed world.” In many countries, the welcome extended to asylum seekers is “wearing thin.”

The New York Times reports that House Republicans passed a bill which would add “stringent — and difficult to implement — new screening procedures on refugees from Syria seeking resettlement.” The legislation “would require that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat.” The Senate is set to decide on the bill after the Thanksgiving recess. The White House maintains that such legislation will only serve to “create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives.”

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested that tourists, who are minimally screened, present more of a threat than refugees. The Washington Post reports that Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “will introduce legislation Thursday tightening the visa waiver program to make it more difficult for potential radicals to enter the United States.” The bill will end visa waivers for anyone who has traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years. The new legislation is an attempt to prevent entry by possible extremists with European nationalities, who on account of their European passports, would traditionally qualify for the visa waiver program.

In Germany, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who disagrees with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staunch support for accepting refugees, has warned against making connections between refugee inflows and terrorism. Buzzfeed News writes that Maizière’s posture “has emerged as the political consensus in Germany in the days after the attacks, and one that has at least nominally unified Germany’s leaders at a time when the rest of the world seems to be growing only more acrimonious.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that “Turkish border police detained eight Moroccans in Istanbul this week after becoming suspicious that they were Islamic radicals who planned to infiltrate Europe by joining the migrant stream.” Turkey has detained more than 1,000 suspected ISIS extremists in the last year, but sources suggest that the eight Moroccans detained are the first who sought to use the well-worn refugee trail to infiltrate Europe.

A ISIS video released yesterday threatens New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio brushed off the threat and declared that “the people of New York City will not be intimidated.” De Blasio said that “there is no credible and specific threat to the city” and that the New York Police Department (NYPD) will continue to work with the FBI to determine and disrupt any developing threats. NYPD presence has been increased across the city.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that U.S. investigators are struggling to track people with suspected ties to ISIS. Few American suspects have travelled to Syria, which complicates U.S. investigations, since merely purchasing a weapon or expressing support for ISIS are not illegal. Officials suggest that the lack of formal training or support from jihadi cells makes “thwarting an Islamic State-inspired attack in the United States less like stopping a traditional terrorist plot and more like trying to prevent a school shooting.”

Swedish officials raised the terror threat assessment to an all-time high after security services reported that "they had concrete information about a possible attack on Sweden." Police have identified and are searching for a suspect.

In a speech at a university in Rhode Island, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that reconstruction efforts in the country have been plagued by massive corruption, stating that “corruption undermines every single endeavor we undertake in Afghanistan.” Radio Free Europe has more.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen told reporters yesterday that a total of 5,700 people have been killed since fighting broke out in Yemen in March. More than 320,000 children in Yemen are malnourished on account of failing basic services and a bleak humanitarian environment, where aid has been blocked by collapsing ceasefires and natural disasters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran has disabled over a quarter of its uranium-enriching centrifuges in the last month.

In Israel, three Israelis were killed in two separate incidents involving Palestinian attackers. The New York Times suggests that “the attack came hours after Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a long-awaited agreement granting Palestinian mobile carriers the right to offer 3G cellular services in the West Bank,” an effort in part designed to bring the violence to an end. Israeli officials have suggested that “confidence-building measures should be built on some kind of reciprocity” and are expecting Palestinian officials to “end incitement to violence in the news media.” Since the beginning of the wave of violence in September, eighty Palestinians and fifteen Israelis have been killed.

In Nigeria, a twin suicide blast in a Kano market killed eleven. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, officials suspect that the attacks were coordinated by Boko Haram. The group has been named the “deadliest terror organization” in the world. The group is responsible for killing over 6,664 people in the last year. The Atlantic has more on the the Institute for Economics and Peace’s most recent Global Terrorism Index, which provides data on the casualties and attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups.

As Asian leaders meet in the Philippine capital of Manila for the annual APEC trade summit, anti-APEC protesters comprised of indigenous, student, and labor groups clashed with local police. The APEC meeting has been overshadowed by continuing disputes in the South China Sea and the recent Paris attacks. The attacks in Paris have prompted APEC leaders to call for increased cooperation in the face of terrorism.

The Guardian reports that Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, will block Islamic State broadcasts. Telegram has been a popular forum for ISIS to share propaganda. The group used Telegram to claim responsibility for both the attacks in Paris and the downing of the Russian plane. Yesterday, FBI director James Comey reaffirmed the importance of providing law enforcement and intelligence officials access to encrypted information on phones.

Parting shot: The Force Awakens in a few weeks, but Alex Grigsby on the Council on Foreign Relations opines that the Galactic Empire still has a long ways to go in terms of cybersecurity. The galactic overlords, after all, should know that it would have been beneficial to encrypt the blueprints to the Death Star. (For those less nerdy readers, this is all one giant Star Wars reference).

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben shared the latest edition of Rational Security, the “Anybody Got Any Bright Ideas?” Edition.

John Bellinger called on the Senate to confirm Brian Egan as State Department Legal Adviser.

Nicholas Weaver wrote on the “limits of the panopticon.”

Bobby considered the intelligence gathering impact of Anonymous’s war on ISIS’s online activities.

Ingrid Wuerth described the international legal issues at play with Russian actions against ISIS in Syria.

Jack pondered the significance of Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s testimony on closing Guantanamo Bay.

Stewart Baker linked to Episode #89 of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Mark Shuttleworth of Thawte and Canonical/Ubuntu.

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