Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena
Friday, December 11, 2015, 3:56 PM

In a new exposé about the Islamic State’s oil trade, the Daily Beast’s Matthew Reed writes that while the “majority of ISIS oil is purchased by locals inside ISIS territory," the Syrian regime itself has done business with ISIS from day one, just as it did with al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other rebels who took over energy assets early in the war.” The Islamic State delivers both oil and natural gas to the Assad regime through a series of middlemen in exchange for which “the regime provides utilities like electricity.”

Remarking on Russian accusations that Turkey is the primary beneficiary of ISIS oil, Reed notes that "Russia’s spectacular claims don’t match facts on the ground or the reality of smuggling in this part of the world." This is unsurprising given that "Russia’s reputation for misinformation is well established.” Ben Taub of the New Yorker writes that “the practice of smuggling at the Turkish-Syrian border is decades older than the war.”

ISIS has made over $500 million through its oil trade with ”significant volumes sold to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and some finding its way to Turkey.” According to Reuters, U.S. Treasury Department official Adam Szubin gave "one of the most detailed public explanations of Islamic State's oil trade," explaining that the group sells up to $40 million in oil each month.

U.S. intelligence sources suggested that the Islamic State might have its own passport printing machines. FBI Director James Comey stated that "The intelligence community is concerned that [ISIS has] the ability, [and] the capability to manufacture fraudulent passports," raising concerns that the group’s militants could use these passports to infiltrate Western countries and carry out attacks. Fake passports are common in Syria and can be obtained for a few hundred dollars.

The Islamic State's finance minister, Abu Saleh, was killed by the U.S.-led coalition in November. CNN reportd that Saleh is the “third member of ISIS' finance network that the coalition says it has killed in the past three months.” U.S. officials suggest Saleh's death could be a significant blow to the Islamic State’s financial operations.

According to Kurdish militia sources, a triple truck bomb left at least 50 dead and 80 wounded in northeastern Syria. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The Hill reports that Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) "is circulating his own draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), adding to a growing list of such bills." Schiff’s AUMF would allow the administration to deploy ground forces for combat operations but would enable lawmakers to “force a timely debate to repeal or revise the authorization.” Lawfare’s Jack Goldsmith shared his thoughts on Schiff’s draft for an ISIS AUMF, and the Washington Post highlights the challenges of passing this type of authorization.

Syrian opposition groups agreed "to form a new and more inclusive body to guide the diverse and divided opponents of President Bashar al Assad in a new round of planned talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war," the New York Times tells us. The Washinton Post writes that the groups decided upon “a statement of principles that will form the basis for possible peace negotiations with the Syrian government next year.” The agreement came at the conclusion of the two-day conference in Riyadh, which was marred by the departure of “the biggest and most radical of the rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham.” The group “objected to the role given to a Damascus-based opposition group and ‘other pro-regime personalities,’ as well as the failure of the statement of principles to make reference to Syria’s ‘Islamic identity.’” The topic of the regime’s participation in a political solution to the Syrian conflict has been a source of contention among opposition groups.

Despite the agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that there were “kinks” in the opposition groups’ plan that needed to be addressed. Meanwhile, a Kremlin spokesman maintained that the Syrian people should decide Assad's fate.

In what appears to be the first “time Moscow said it was actually supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's opponents in the fight against Islamic State forces,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian forces in Syria were working to assist “in uniting the efforts of government troops and the Free Syrian Army." Reuters writes that Putin indicated Russia was supporting the Free Syrian Army by “providing it with air support, arms and ammunition in joint operations with Syrian troops against Islamist militants."

Urging Russian forces to “act tough,” Putin also said that "any targets threatening the Russian grouping or [Russian] land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed." In what appeared to be a reference to the Turkish shooting down of a Russian plane, the Russian president also warned against “those who would once again try to organise some sort of provocations against [Russian] servicemen."

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has turned to the United Nations after its demand for Turkey to withdraw troop presence from Iraq went unmet. Abadi asked the U.N. Security Council to “‘shoulder its responsibilities,’ and order the withdrawal of the Turkish troops stationed in the country's north at a military base near Mosul.” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has refused to withdraw Turkish forces from Iraq and maintains that the additional troops were sent to bolster international efforts to train and equip Iraqi forces fighting ISIS. Erdoğan added that Turkey “will continue the training process decisively” despite continued objections to Turkish troop presence from Baghdad.

As investigators continue to look into the San Bernardino attacks, the FBI has “sent divers to search a lake in San Bernardino, CA, for a computer hard drive missing from the home of the suspects” of the attack in San Bernardino. FBI officials suggest that the couple “tried to dispose of evidence before the attack by dumping it in the water.” Investigators were also considering ties between the couple and a group that was arrested in 2012 for “planning to go overseas and fight, go through Taliban training camp, and ultimately enter an Al Qaeda training camp and fight against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

A Palestinian man was killed after attempting to drive into a group of Israeli troops in the West Bank. In a separate incident, a second attacker was wounded by Israeli forces after opening fire. Another Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in Hebron. So far, some 19 Israelis and 109 Palestinians have been killed in the violence that began in mid-September.

As violence in Israel enters its third month, the Washington Post writes that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up his rhetorical campaign to convince the world that the surge in Palestinian violence here is not born of frustration against Israel’s decades-long military occupation, but is instead the work of radical Islam.”

Peace talks between the warring parties in the Yemeni conflict will begin on December 15. The accompanying ceasefire will provide “an opportunity to bring in urgent humanitarian aid for millions of people who have been deprived of vital supplies since the war escalated nine months ago.”

A car bomb exploded near a Spanish embassy guest house in Kabul, wounding at least seven. Sources close to the embassy said that the embassy was working to establish the whereabouts of all personnel but that most were in a safe location. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States agreed to re-enter into peace talks with the Taliban, but, as the New York Times reports, "there is still one big piece of the effort missing: the Taliban themselves." The agreement follows President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan where he received a warm welcome from his Pakistani counterpart despite current anti-Pakistan sentiments in Afghanistan.

Citing pressures from the Afghan president, Afghan chief of intelligence Rajmatullah Nabil resigned from his post. Nabil and Ghani hold differing opinions on the role of Pakistan in fighting the Taliban. Nabil’s resignation comes after Tuesday’s Taliban attack on Kandahar which left at least 50 dead.

The death toll from the deadly Hajj stampede in September has surpassed 2,400, according to one estimate from the Associated Press. The AP’s estimate is more than three times the initially announced figure and is “based on what the agency described as its updated compilation from state news reports and official remarks from 36 of the more than 180 countries where pilgrims had traveled from.”

Newly-minted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed Syrian refugees to Canada. Canada is expected to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by March under its accelerated entry program.

A suicide bomber killed seven dead and wounded 27 in Cameroon. Officials suspect that Boko Haram is behind the attack though no group has claimed responsibility.

Finland jailed a pair of 23-year-old Iraqi brothers after arresting them on Tuesday at a refugee center on suspicions that they are ISIS militants involved in killing 11 unarmed soldiers in Iraq in 2014. Finnish authorities stated tht the men were seen in an ISIS video which depicts the men “taking part in a massacre outside the Iraqi city of Tikrit.” The Associated Press writes that, if convicted, “the brothers face up to life imprisonment, which in Finland means being released — although not automatically — after serving between 12 and 15 years.” It is unclear how the men entered the country or whether they entered as part of the refugee flow.

Geneva raised its level alert from to three on a sale of five, after being “notified by the federal authorities that ‘suspicious individuals’ may be in the city or surrounding areas.” The city deployed additional police forces to search for the alleged suspects.

An ISIS-aligned Illinois man pleaded guilty in a Chicago federal court for charges related to “conspiring to provide material support and resources to Islamic State and willfully making false statements to the FBI about the purpose of his cousin's planned trip overseas in March.” The man had planned to attack the Joliet Armory with his cousin who is also charged. Further north, federal authorities in Minnesota arrested a man for attempting to send others to Syria to join ISIS.

Officials are concerned that ISIS could be developing its own encrypted apps. In light of the Paris attacks, authorities have increasingly questioned the role of encrypted messaging apps in enabling the militants to communicate and coordinate with followers.

A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the public’s fear of terrorism has boosted GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s popularity among Republican primary voters.The poll also revealed that the majority of those surveyed do not support barring Muslim entry into the country.

Army Col. James Pohl denied a request to lift the order preventing female guards at Guantanamo from having physical contact with the five men involved in the 9/11 trials.

Parting shot: The hacktivist group Anonymous has declared that today, December 11, is “ISIS Trolling Day.” The group has called upon all social media users to troll and harass the Islamic State.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Elaine Korzak highlighted the U.N. resolution that mandates the creation of a Group of Governmental Experts to study potential threats and responses to information security.

Nicholas Weaver explained the dangers of targeting default security of technical systems.

Greg Nojeim argued why the Daskal-Woods proposal to reform law enforcement demands for communications content across borders should account for cross-border law enforcement demands for metadata.

Jack Goldsmith endorsed Adam Schiff (D-CA)’s draft for an ISIS AUMF.

Bobby suggested that the Pentagon plan to create a series of global bases to coordinate counterterrorism operations is nothing new.

Ben shared the “Irrational Security” issue of Rational Security.

Amy Zegart argued that Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report is flawed.

Cody shared the latest on Bowe Bergdahl.

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