Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, January 12, 2016, 5:13 PM

This morning, a suicide bomber killed 10 people and wounded at least 15 others in Istanbul’s historic district in an attack the Turkish government has attributed to ISIS. The 10 people murdered in the attack were all foreign tourists. In a call for international support, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cited the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris, stating “We should display the same solidarity, stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in the aftermath of the Istanbul attacks as well.” Follow the latest developments in the fallout from the attack here.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Islamic State claimed credit for pair of attacks in Iraq that killed at least 29 people. In a rare coordinated assault, ISIS operatives targeted a Baghdad shopping mall with a bomb and threw hand grenades at a crowd of pedestrians while spraying the area with bullets. ISIS warned that a subsequent attack would be “even more severe and more bitter with the permission of Allah.” Shortly after the mall assault, ISIS attacked a cafe in Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad, targeting civilians with two bombs.

The United States has taken to targeting ISIS’s money, literally. The United States conducted a drone strike on an ISIS facility in Mosul containing a huge supply of money the group utilized for paying its troops and financing strategic operations. CNN reports that defense officials said that the United States plans to destroy more financial targets in order to undermine ISIS’s ability to function as a state-like entity.

Nancy Youssef and Shane Harris of the Daily Beast confirm Russian airstrikes are inadvertently helping U.S.-backed forces in Syria. Although not designed to aid their fight, the Russian strikes paved the way for Kurdish and Arab forces to make advances and retake parts of the city of Aleppo. However, the unintentional help from Russia has raised alarm among U.S. officials about a potential alliance between proxy forces in Syria and the Russian military.

Recently released documents from the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office reveal the U.S. government is crafting an aggressive campaign to revamp their strategy to combat ISIS messaging online whether or not it has the support of social media and telecommunications companies. Last Friday, high ranking national security officials met with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other Internet companies, a meeting that suggested the Administration would include Silicon Valley in their efforts. Defense One outlines the State Department’s new counter-messaging goals here.

The New York Times reports that Israel’s domestic terrorism agency, the Shin Bet, is targeting Jewish terrorism networks in the country with a renewed sense of urgency, imposing what the Times calls “extraordinary methods that were previously reserved for Palestinians accused of terrorism.” Those tactics include administrative detention, wherein suspects are imprisoned without charge. The Times chronicles the rise of these violent settler movements, one of which is called Revolt, and the Shin Bet’s concern that they pose a “continuing danger of violence.”

Yesterday, Iran removed the core of its plutonium reactor from the facility in Arak, filling it with concrete. The Washington Post writes that the work “effectively rendered the reactor at Arak harmless,” fulfilling the last major hurdle under the landmark nuclear deal reached between Tehran and the six world powers in July. Once the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that the work is complete, U.S. and international sanctions will be lifted. Robert Einhorn of Brookings told the Post that the speed with which Iran has dismantled its nuclear program showed that the Rouhani administration wanted to implement the deal before Iran’s February elections in order to “reap the electoral benefit of sanctions relief.”

As the international community readies to lift sanctions against Iran, the United States Congress is preparing a new round of legislation that “seeks to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test by expanding sanctions on Pyongyang,” the Associated Press reports. Even so, the AP notes that former State Department officials expressed skepticism over the new measures’ effectiveness, complaining that the new “sanctions won’t have teeth unless China makes a major shift in policy toward its rebellious ally.” And in yet another provocation aimed at the United States, North Korea announced yesterday that it had detained a U.S. citizen on suspicions of spying and stealing state secrets. The State Department has not yet confirmed the report.

The Philippine Supreme Court cleared a major defense pact between Manila and Washington today, declaring that it is constitutional for American forces to temporarily base in local military camps. The agreement is one of several U.S. efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific in order to reassure Asian allies that the United States is committed to their political integrity and territorial sovereignty in light of a rising China. According to the Philippine military, at least eight local camps have been chosen for American forces, including some that are near the South China Sea.

In Democracy Journal, Mieke Eoyang writes that “Congress must encourage whistleblowers concerned about sensitive intelligence programs to approach the committees first, not to go straight to the media,” providing three policy solutions that would “make whistleblowers feel more welcome inside the classified system.”

USA Today reports that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) plan to introduce a bill to Congress that “would create a national commission on security and technology to come up with creative ways” to “spy on suspected criminals without weakening cybersecurity and privacy.” Rep. McCaul and Sen. Warner defended the bill in the Washington Post, arguing that “we cannot wait for the next attack before we outline our options, nor should we legislate out of fear.”

Back on the news side of the Post, Andrea Peterson shares that the debate over extraordinary access and backdoors is not just happening in the United States, but is resounding around the world as law enforcement and global tech firms grapple with the rising challenge. In a letter released online in 10 languages on Monday, nearly 200 experts, companies, and civil society groups from more than 40 countries urged governments around the world to support strong encryption.

Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports that the Pentagon yesterday repatriated Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammad al Rahman al Shamrani to Saudi Arabia. Never charged with a crime, al Rahman had been at Guantanamo since January 16, 2002. He was cleared for transfer last September on the basis that he would enter a Saudi rehabilitation program for lower-level Islamic extremists. There are now 103 detainees remaining at the detention facility.

In the Guardian, Spencer Ackerman details how “even when a Periodic Review Board clears a detainee for release, a month-long period for government departments to object imposes a bureaucratic freeze” on any proposed release. Critics, according to Ackerman, have said that the major flaw in the special review board “allows the process to grind almost to a halt.” The Guardian has more on the “underappreciated” bureaucratic hurdles that have slowed the process of approving detainees for release.

The AP reports acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning has stepped down temporarily, in a “show of comity” to Congress, because they still have not confirmed his nomination. Select members of the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed concerns that Fanning’s continuing as the acting secretary would violate the Vacancies Act, which governs procedures for positions that require Senate confirmation. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) placed a hold on Fanning’s nomination as Army Secretary protesting President Barack Obama’s plans and possible executive action to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba.

Tonight, President Obama will deliver the final State of the Union address of his presidency in what may be his last best chance to polish-up his legacy. Alongside legacy-building, Foreign Policy writes the President will have a “tougher argument” to make on foreign policy given the brutality of the Islamic State, the Syrian refugee crisis, and other national security issues arising in the last couple of months. Foreign Policy outlines the topics that Mr. Obama will and will not cover in his address here.

Parting Shot: On the eve of his last State of the Union, the Times asked a few folks to weigh in on what President Obama’s legacy will be as it relates to U.S. national security policy. Whether you agree or not, it's worth reading Micah Zenko’s comments on the institutionalization of America’s drone program and Jameel Jaffer’s mixed review on the president’s actions relating to surveillance, privacy, Guantanamo, and more broadly, transparency in national security policymaking.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Carrie Cordero shared a new Harvard Law Review feature on “the role of the President and National Security Council in overseeing foreign intelligence collection.”

Susan explained the privacy protections found in OmniCISA and how they will impact the function of DHS’s new information sharing portal.

Helen Klein provided an overview of the government’s response in al Nashiri, which focuses on the issue of abstention as raised in the National Institute for Military Justice’s amicus brief.

Cody shared the Week That Will Be, Lawfare’s weekly roundup of events and employment announcements.

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