Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Tuesday, January 19, 2016, 5:08 PM

On Sunday, President Obama praised the historic nuclear agreement with Iran and the “power of diplomacy” following the release of five Americans. Among those released was Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who has been imprisoned by the Islamic Republic for the past few years. A day after Iran released the captives and strict international sanctions were lifted, the United States hit the country with new sanctions in response to Iran’s testing of a precision-guided ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead last October.

Relatedly, the Wall Street Journal reports that poor navigation, failed communications equipment, and a stalled engine contributed to last week's incident with Iran that resulted in ten American sailors being detained. This was the first time that U.S. Central Command has commented on the matter. The U.S. Navy issued their timeline report on Monday according to the New York Times. Still, questions remain about the incident, and Reuters reports that, prior to release, the U.S. sailors were held at gunpoint by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and had two SIM cards removed from their satellite phones.

Three American contractors have reportedly been kidnapped by gunmen from an apartment in Baghdad, the Washington Post and the Times report. According to the Associated Press, the abduction has triggered fears about the Iraqi government’s ability to control Shiite militias that have strengthened as Iraq’s security forces continue to battle ISIS.

In other ISIS news, the Guardian and Agence France-Presse report that ISIS fighters abducted more than 400 civilians and captured new territory in an assault on the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor in a massacre that left over 135 people dead.

Elsewhere, the Times reports that U.S. counterterrorism officials have labeled ISIS’s affiliate in Libya as its most dangerous. ISIS’s Libyan branch has gained territory and increased deadly attacks over the last few months. As a result, the United States and European allies have been forced to seek unreliable allies among the Libyan militias.

Defense One shares that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is traveling to Paris and Davos to seek aid in new offensives from Syria and Afghanistan, in the latest move by the Obama Administration to assure Europeans and Americans that their leaders are doing all that they can to combat the “unending waves” of Islamist terrorism.

The Hill tells us that the Pentagon may be targeting ISIS’s tech savvy members in an attempt to counteract the terrorist group’s online recruitment efforts.

Unfortunately for ISIS, according to a Vocative report, the extremist group is cutting fighter salaries in response to the United States’ increased airstrikes on financial targets.

In the aftermath of the brutal al Qaeda attack in Burkina Faso over the weekend that killed 29 people, the West African country has increased its security and pledged to fight against Islamic extremists with their neighboring country Mali, the Post reports.

In Yemen, a U.S. drone strike killed three suspected al Qaeda militants in what is believed to be the first drone strike of the year in the country.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Indonesian officials are calling for stronger powers to detain militants and sentence them to longer prison terms in response to last week’s attack in Jakarta. Indonesia is hesitant to pass strict counterterrorism laws similar to those adopted in neighboring Malaysia, which allow for prolonged detention of militants without trial, but will begin discussions on the topic next week.

Jumping to South Asia, the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for a suicide attack that killed 11 people and wounded 21 others in Peshawar today at a crowded police checkpoint.

Rogue Afghan policemen are on the run following an “insider” attack that killed nine of their colleagues Sunday evening. The attackers stole weapons from the police and then fled to join the Taliban, according to the Times. A preliminary investigation suggests that four rogue police officers carried out the attack at a police checkpoint in Afghanistan’s southern province of Uruzgan.

In yet another attack in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed 13 people and wounded 14 others in Jalalabad at the home of a tribal elder. The victims gathered at the elder’s house to celebrate his son’s release from Taliban captivity. Reuters reports that there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.

Reuters profiles the many desertions plaguing Afghan forces combating the Taliban and other insurgencies, resulting in concerns for the region’s security. Read the report here.

The AP shares that representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States gathered in Kabul on Monday for the second set of talks to end Afghanistan’s 15 year war with the Taliban. The first round of talks occurred last week in Islamabad. Regrettably, it appears the Taliban couldn't make it to either meeting.

The AP also provides a report that a top-level delegation from Pakistan visiting Saudi Arabia called for an open line of communication between the Kingdom and Iran. Pakistan has increased its efforts to mediate the ongoing conflict between Riyadh and Tehran following Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric and Iran’s announcement to cease talks with the Kingdom earlier this month.

Reuters tells us that Ukraine will review its cyber defenses after a cyber attack on Kiev’s main airport was launched from a Russian server last week. The cyber attack comes in a period of strained relations between Ukraine and Russia, though there is no proof that Moscow was behind the attack.

The AP reports that North Korea has launched propaganda leaflets via balloon into South Korea following increased tensions between the rival nations over the North’s recent nuclear test. The propaganda war continues as South Korea began blasting anti-Pyongyang broadcasts and even K-pop songs from border loudspeakers.

The Daily Beast breaks that the Pentagon is considering demoting retired four star General David Petraeus for disclosing classified information to his biographer turned mistress. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is reportedly reconsidering overruling an earlier recommendation to not de-rank the former CIA chief, in a move that will further diminish the once-esteemed general.

Speaking of more punishments, Foreign Policy shares that the Pentagon is preparing to discipline specific members of the U.S. special operations forces that were involved in a botched airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan late last year. The mistaken strike killed 42 civilians. Officials at U.S. Central Command and at U.S. Special Operations Command are weighing whom to punish and how to punish those involved.

The Times reports that two men from Virginia have been charged with providing material support to ISIS. Both men, Joseph Hassan Farrokh and Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, are currently in FBI custody and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Reuters explains that the European Union wants guarantees of effective limits on the United States’ power to request people’s personal information from companies in order to finish a new data transfer pact between the two powers.

Parting Shot: First we told you to get rid of your Bitcoin. Then we told to buy them back. Bitcoin “expert" Mike Hearn decided to stick with our original advice and sold all of his Bitcoins. He explains why Bitcoin has failed here. Let us know what you think because we are still debating what to do with ours.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig commented on Russian hackers’ cyber attack on Kiev’s main airport, China’s hacking of a Pentagon defense contractor in order to steal secret robot plans, and a new model for attributing cyber attacks.

Dawinder Sidhu shared his thoughts on the true scope of Islamophobia, outlining the resurgence of violence against Sikhs since the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks.

John Bellinger dove into the State Department’s announcement that Iran and the United States agreed to settle one of the largest remaining claims outstanding in the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal. John called the announcement, which was possibly linked to the release of the American prisoners, regrettable.

Alex McQuade and Elina Saxena watched the fourth Democratic Presidential Debate and outlined the national security sections relevant to Lawfare readers.

Paul was also disappointed with last week’s Nuclear Threat Initiative Report that stated that 20 different countries that have nuclear power plants are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, John Lee analyzed what the economic slowdown means for China’s future power.

Last week we were hard on Bitcoin, but Saturday, Cody brought us the Lawfare Podcast giving Bitcoin some love.

And finally, Cody also shared events coming up this week in The Week That Will Be.

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.