Experts: Global Terror Threat Calls for More Coordinationby firstname.lastname@example.org (Mike O’Sullivan)
European government officials say the Brussels attacks on March 22 highlight the need to more swiftly share information among governments and intelligence services. In California, two terrorism experts also point to social media platforms used by extremist organizations, and say technology companies should be included in the effort. The analysts, who monitor hate groups from the U.S., say the threat of violent extremists has become global. The Brussels attacks, which left…
Cruz says Trump stoking false rumors about his wifeby By THOMAS BEAUMONT
OSHKOSH, Wisconsin (AP) — Ted Cruz accused Republican presidential rival Donald Trump of stoking false rumors about his personal life on Friday, charging that the billionaire businessman and GOP front-runner was trafficking in "sleaze" and "slime."…
Renewed Crackdown on Egyptian Rights Groups Sparks Concern by email@example.com (Katherine Gypson)
An investigation into two prominent Egyptian activists has renewed concerns about the ability of human rights groups to operate under the current government. Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and Gamal Eid, founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, are banned from traveling abroad or accessing their assets until an April 20 hearing that will help decide if they illegally accepted foreign funding. If found guilty, they could face up…
Brussels Bombers Use Old Tools With New Twistby firstname.lastname@example.org (Jeff Swicord)
The attacks in Brussels that killed more than 30 people and wounded more than 250 were carried out with an explosive compound made from ingredients available at a typical pharmacy anywhere in the world. Directions for its manufacture can easily be found on the Internet. Islamic State militants and al-Qaida may have perfected its manufacture in the past decade, which has terrorism officials alarmed. With Amy Katz narrating, VOA’s Jeff Swicord reports.
Concerns Linger About Belgium’s Security as Kerry Pays Tribute by email@example.com (Pamela Dockins)
Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would continue to provide any assistance needed to Belgium in the aftermath of this week’s “heinous acts of terrorism.” He commented during a whirlwind visit to Brussels on Friday that included talks with Prime Minister Charles Michel and a tribute to victims. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Russia Casts Cautious Eye on US-Cuban Détenteby firstname.lastname@example.org (Charles Maynes)
Omar Hernandez didn’t have a role in building socialist Cuba. He was born in 1963, four years after the Cuban Revolution, and his parents had been supporters of ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista. But growing up in a small town on the island, Hernandez did soak up Russian influences: an avalanche of Russian literary classics, Soviet films, cartoons, and other cultural flotsam that the Soviet Union sent to Cuba — all part of Moscow’s broader effort to expand communist…
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Today’s Headlines and Commentary by Alex R. McQuade
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced today that a senior Islamic State operative was killed during a special operations raid in Syria. During a press conference, Secretary Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford indicated that the Islamic State’s finance minister identified as Haji Imam, also known as Abd al Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli, was killed and that the United States military had eliminated several other key Islamic State leaders this week. Some reports suggest that Imam was the Islamic State’s second-in-command, yet the Washington Post reports that the U.S. officials “stopped short of describing Imam as No.2 in the organization, saying that he held an array of important positions, but remained largely behind the scenes.”
A U.S. official confirmed today that at least 2 Americans were killed in the Brussels terrorist attacks. Earlier today, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke after a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and stated that the “United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks.” Kerry provided no further details, but a senior U.S. official stated that the families of the Americans killed in Tuesday’s attacks have been informed of their deaths.
During his visit, Secretary Kerry also defended Belgium’s counterterrorism efforts, which have been under intense criticism following Tuesday’s assault that killed 31 people and wounded 270 others. The Associated Press tells us that Secretary Kerry confirmed that several FBI agents are involved in the investigation into the terrorist attacks and stated that the “carping” about Belgium’s intelligence and counterterrorism shortcomings “is a little bit frantic and inappropriate.”
Meanwhile, Belgian police forces have arrested six people suspected of having links to the terror cell that coordinated Tuesday’s attacks. The arrests come a day after top Belgian security ministers offered to resign amid the criticism of the country’s failure to foil the plot. Yesterday, Belgium’s justice and interior ministers acknowledged their departments miscommunications and other mistakes made prior to the suicide bombings.
Over in France, French security forces have arrested one person believed to have been plotting an attack in Paris. Law enforcement authorities have confirmed that the individual’s plot was in its “advanced stages.” The Guardian reports that French police “carried out raids in the Argenteuil suburb of Paris following the arrest of the man at 5:30pm on Thursday who was believed to be planning a terrorist attack.” Agence France Presse identified the man arrested as French national Reda Kriket. Police uncovered assault rifles and TATP, the Islamic State’s “explosive of choice,” in Kriket’s home during a raid on Thursday.
In Foreign Affairs, Will McCants and Christopher Meserole argue that jihadists pose a greater threat to France and Belgium than to the rest of Europe. Why? Because of French political culture. Check out that story here.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for a European “security union” that would address and face the threat of terrorism. On Wednesday, Juncker indicated the Europe needs to do a better job of coordinating responses to attacks and stated “we feel we need capital markets union, energy union, economic and monetary union, but we also think that we need a security union. We need everything that will allow us to achieve a security union.”
In other global counterterrorism news, Malaysia has arrested 15 people suspected of being linked with the Islamic State. The Wall Street Journal writes that Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement that the suspects, among them an imam and a police officer, were arrested by a special task force between March 22 and March 24. Khalid reportedly said that the “members of the group had helped suspected Islamic State members enter neighboring countries and had financed Islamic State-affiliated groups in the southern Philippines.”
The Syrian peace talks were adjourned in Geneva after 10 days of no progress. U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that he was encouraged that there was “no drama, no walkouts” amid no visible signs of progress. The Associated Press writes that the ultimate goal for de Mistura is a plan for political transition in Syria and in the wake of the Brussels attacks, “de Mistura sought to focus international attention on the next-step, saying that to defeat ‘terrorism, you have to find a political solution in Syria.’”
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is being urged to wield influence over Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The Guardian reports that “the Syrian government has left a first round of peace talks in Geneva with a warning that there is no hope of progress unless Vladimir Putin exerts influence on Bashar al Assad, adding that a ceasefire will collapse if planned reconvened talks on the target date of April 9 do not move quickly to the issue of a political transition.” Sounds like de Mistura will have to face some drama after all.
However, the BBC shares that the United States and Russia have agreed to aim for a draft of the new Syrian constitution by August. Secretary Kerry made the announcement of the agreement after meeting with Vladimir Putin yesterday.
Following the deadly blasts that rocked Belgium’s capital, the Islamic States released a video on social media yesterday calling on its followers to claim victory and wage jihad. Reuters tells us that the video featured the training of Belgian militants suspected of carrying out the November 13 Paris attacks. The video also features Donald Trump. Read the story here.
Yet, even with the Islamic State’s successful attack in Europe, the Washington Post reports that “on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria the group is a rapidly diminishing force.” The Post writes “in the latest setbacks for the militants on Thursday, Syrian government forces entered the outskirts of the historic town of Palmyra after a weeks-old offensive aided by Russian airstrikes, and U.S. airstrikes helped Iraqi forces overrun a string of Islamic State villages in northern Iraq that had been threatening a U.S. base nearby.”
In Afghanistan, Islamic State forces are also facing setbacks. According to Reuters, dozens of fighters loyal to the pseudo-state have relocated into Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar following an “intense campaign” by U.S. warplanes and Afghanistan forces. According to Kunar’s police chief, Hafiz Saeed, a local Islamic State leader, is believed to have been among those who fled from neighboring Nangarhar province.
The prospects of jump-starting peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban are becoming increasingly dim. The Associated Press shares that the dimming chances come “amid recent battlefield gains by the insurgents in Afghanistan, an embattled government in Kabul, and growing suspicions of Pakistan’s good intentions in facilitating such negotiations.”
David Headley, a Pakistani-American terrorist involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Lashkar e Taiba, testified yesterday that Pakistan’s ISI paid him to carry out reconnaissance of targets in India. More on that story here.
The Associated Press reports that Pakistani security forces arrested an Indian intelligence officer for his involvement in “subversive activities” in Pakistan. Pakistan has alleged that the Indian intelligence officer was involved in acts of terrorism. The AP writes that “Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it summoned the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad to lodge a protest over the Indian officer’s illegal entry into Pakistan. It said the man was involved in violence in Baluchistan province and the city of Karachi.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Pakistan today marking a historic visit between the two nations. The Associated Press writes that the visit comes at a “time when Saudi Arabia is courting Islamabad to increase participation in a new Saudi-led military alliance of mostly Sunni nations, a coalition perceived by Tehran as an anti-Shiite block.” President Rouhani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a televised press conference after their meeting and announced that they wanted to forge a relationship built on economic development and shared interests and also privately signed several “memorandums of understanding” in fields such as health, diplomatic training, trade, and commerce.
While Iran and Pakistan work on diplomatic ties, the United States has imposed new sanctions against Iranian defense firms and units of Tehran’s elite Revolutionary Guard for their alleged roles in supporting Iran’s recent ballistic missile launches. The Wall Street Journal has more.
U.S. intelligence officers believe that North Korea “probably” miniaturized a nuclear warhead. According to CNN, “the assessment has yet to become a formal consensus view of the U.S. government. But it reveals just how far along many in the U.S. believe the reclusive country has come to gaining a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile that could potentially strike the United States.” The suspicion of a miniaturized nuclear warhead comes amid rising threats from the Hermit Kingdom and its recent nuclear weapons test and subsequent missile launches.
More than 800 Boko Haram hostages have been rescued by the Nigerian army in multiple villages across northeastern Nigeria. The Guardian shares that all of the hostages were rescued in Nigeria’s Borno state with 520 hostages recovered in Kusumma village and another 309 from 11 other villages under Boko Haram control.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is placing pressure on the Department of Justice to release a “contentious, secret legal opinion that is believed to be connected to cybersecurity law.” According to the Hill, Senator Wyden wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch stating, “I believe that this opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law, and should be withdrawn. I also believe that this opinion should be declassified and released to the public, so that anyone who is a party to one of the agreements can consider whether their agreement should be revised or modified.” He also urged the Justice Department to comply with a pending Freedom of Information Act request.
Reuters tells us that senior U.S. and German officials have agreed to deepen their collaboration on a range of cyber issues, “including working to promote norms for responsible state behavior in cyberspace and expanding training in developing countries.” Both the United States and Germany announced their shared cyber goals in a joint statement following a two-day annual bilateral meeting on cyber issues.
In the latest FBI vs. Apple news, the Washington Post reports that the FBI is “cautiously” testing ways in which it can gain access to the infamous San Bernardino iPhone. The Post writes that “officials say the bureau is testing its new approach first on other devices to try to catch any errors that might end up erasing the data that investigators are trying to recover.” One official indicated the “caution is the rule of the land.” The FBI expects to try the solution proposed by the third party vendor, allegedly Israel’s Cellebrite, within the next few days.
Keeping up with the 2016 presidential election? The New York Times has issued a critique of all the 2016 presidential candidates’ counterterrorism responses to the Brussels attacks. Check that out here.
Parting Shot: And if you read one thing today, let it be this: John McCain’s salute to a Communist.
ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare
Ellen Scholl issued the latest update in Hot Commodities, the “dropping bombs in oil market terms” edition.
Elena Chachko commented on the Israeli Supreme Court debates on counterterrorism home demolitions.
Susan argued that the NSA is not the “going dark” solution, no matter what Richard Clarke thinks.
Dan Byman told us what the Brussels attacks signify about the state of ISIS and Europe today.
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.
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Who Is Helping the FBI? by Paul Rosenzweig
Who is helping the FBI crack the Apple iPhone? Some skeptics say “noone.” Other conspircy theorists say, “the NSA.” Now Reuters tells us it is an Israeli firm.
Israel’s Cellebrite, a provider of mobile forensic software, is helping the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Today’s Headlines and Commentary by Elina Saxena
The manhunt continues in Belgium, following yesterday’s attacks in Brussels that left 31 dead and 270 injured. The Zaventem airport and much of the Brussels subway system are expected to remain closed until Thursday as “Belgium remains in a state of mourning and on the highest state of alert.”Responding to the attacks, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that “we are determined, admittedly with a strong feeling of pain in our stomachs, but determined to act,” adding that “we must turn the page on naivete, a form of carefreeness that our societies have known.” Four U.S. nationals have been reported missing after the attacks.
Authorities have identified three suspects involved in the attacks, including the two brothers who detonated suicide bombs. The brothers, identified as Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, had criminal records but had not been linked to terrorism until last week’s raids related to the Paris attacks. The two are believed to have had connections with Salah Abdeslam, the supposed mastermind of the Paris attacks, who was arrested last week. The Wall Street Journal reports that, “in the raid that lasted over 12 hours on Tuesday,” investigators searching the apartment of one of the brothers “found 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of TATP explosives, 150 liters (40 gallons) of acetone, 30 liters (8 gallons) of hydrogen peroxide, detonators and a suitcase filled with screws and bolts” as well as an Islamic State flag.
A third suspect, Najim Laachraoui, remains at large. According to the Washington Post, Laachraoui remains the “target of the manhunt and his DNA was found on at least one bomb used in the Paris attacks.” Laachraoui, a Belgian national born in Morocco, is said to have travelled to Syria and has been “described as a suspected Islamic State bombmaker” by one European security official.
The attacks in Brussels came when Belgian authorities most expected them, raising questions about the ability of Western security forces to combat the threat of terrorism. The Daily Beast tells us that“U.S. counterterrorism officials are frustrated and angry at Belgium’s inability to tackle ISIS terror cells that are successfully plotting murderous attacks on the West from inside the country’s tiny capital city.” As suggested by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), “Belgium has been stepping up the amount of people they’re devoting to intelligence and law enforcement but they’re playing catch-up and we’re seeing the terrible results of that today.”
According to the Soufan Group, “the recent attacks demonstrate again how much damage and chaos one relatively small group of trained and motivated people can inflict on a city well-equipped to counter the threat.” Suggesting that “the March 22 attacks were sudden in their execution, but a long time coming in their build-up,” TSG writes that “these cells operate as socio-criminal units; as difficult as it is for police to contain known gang activity, it is even more so with terrorist groups, which retreat further below the radar the closer they are to executing a plot.”
While “European security services are overwhelmed” in their efforts to combat rising threats, Dan Byman writes that “Europe has emerged as a key battleground” in the Islamic State’s fight against the West. Byman tells us that attacks such as those in Paris or Brussels “enable the group’s leaders to claim they are taking the fight to their enemies” and allow the group to portray success, despite major defeats incurred by the group on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Greg Jaffe of the Post tells usthat the attacks “pose the worst kind of foreign policy dilemma for President Obama, pitting his instincts that he’s doing all he can to defeat the Islamic State against intense political pressure for him to do more.”
As the Geneva peace talks between Syrian regime and opposition forces proceeded into their second week, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura responded to the attacks in Brussels, suggesting that “the tragedy in Brussels … reminds us that … we have no time to lose,” emphasizing the “need to extinguish the fire of war in Syria.” Talks have reached an impasse as the topic of a political transitionremains contentious. Following the Assad regime’s refusal to discuss its political future, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow today in order to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the prospects of a political transition in Syria. A State Department official told reporters that “if the cessation of hostilities is going to transform into a true transition for Syria, it is going to have to involve getting down to brass tacks on what that political transition looks like.” Kerry is also expected to discuss how to respond to violations of the fragile cessation of hostilities among other topics.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army is fast closing in on the ISIS controlled town of Palmyra. The Washington Post writes that “in the push on Palmyra, which started in earnest last week, Syrian government forces have been backed by intense Russian airstrikes,” and Reuters adds that “the Syrian army is trying to recapture Palmyra, which Islamic State seized in May, to open a road to the mostly IS-held eastern province of Deir al-Zor.”
Turning to Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged that the number of troops deployed in the country exceeded the official troop cap of 3,870. Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Carter stressed that temporarily deployed troops are counted differently and said that “people who are temporarily assigned — and this has been true for here and in Afghanistan for some time — they, under the caps, are counted differently.” A few months ago, Senator John McCain estimated that the number of troops deployed in Iraq was closer to 5,000.
Carter’s remarks came on the heels of the second U.S. combat death in Iraq over the weekend, a death that revealed the existence of a Marine fire base. The base, known as Fire Base Bell, is intended to target the Islamic State as Iraqi forces seek to retake Mosul. It was targeted by Islamc State rocketfire on Saturday, killing Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin and wounding additional U.S. personnel. According to the Washington Post, “the Pentagon had planned to release the details of the Marines’ new position, a small outpost of berms, tents and four 155mm M777 howitzers, but did not because it was not fully operational, according to Army Col. Steve Warren.” The Post notes that “the creation of a U.S. outpost indicates a noteworthy development in a battle that is largely fought from the skies.”
During his visit to Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr, the new U.S. Commander in Afghanistan,issued an apology for the U.S. bombing of Médecins Sans Frontières’ Kunduz hospital in October.The New York Times tells us that Nicholson’s “tone was a sharp contrast to that of General Nicholson’s predecessor, Gen. John F. Campbell, who had sent confusing messages after the attack and had stopped short of apologizing.” Nicholson traveled with his wife “to Kunduz on Tuesday to meet with local officials and families of victims of the attack,” which left 42 dead.
Elsewhere in the country, eight Islamic State militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike in eastern Nangarhar province. No civilians were killed in the strike that targeted a vehicle carrying ISIS militants.
A U.S. airstrike in Yemen killed dozens of militants in the Yemeni al Qaeda affiliate. The strike targeted an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula training camp west of the port city of Mukalla on the country’s southern coast. Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook issued a statement saying that “our initial assessment is that dozens of A.Q.A.P. fighters have been removed from the battlefield,” adding that the “strike deals a blow to A.Q.A.P.’s ability to use Yemen as a base for attacks that threaten U.S. persons, and it demonstrates our commitment to defeating Al Qaeda and denying it safe haven.”
In efforts to combat the violence that has gripped Israel for months, Israel has arrested some 1200 unauthorized Palestinian workers. According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli parliament “approved a tough new law to keep out illegal Palestinian workers, as part of measures aimed at tackling a surge in attacks against Israelis,” last week.
Agence France-Presse reports that Somali security forces “killed 65 Shebab Islamic insurgents who attacked coastal towns in the semi-autonomous Puntland area in the country’s northeast.” That said, the AFP adds, “both the Somali authorities and the insurgents regularly report having inflicted significant losses on the other, claims that are often impossible to verify.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Ukrainian government “of dragging its feet on implementing last year’s cease-fire agreement as Moscow sought to press its point in a new round of high-level diplomacy,” according to the Associated Press. While the cease-fire has largely held, “none of the political elements, including calling a local election, has been implemented” which, Lavrov told reporters, “is the main stumbling block to a peace settlement in the east.” Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high. Yesterday, a Russian court sentenced Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko to 22 years for her role in the deaths of two Russian journalists as Russian prosecutors argued that her actions were fueled by “political hatred.” Savchenko has been hailed as a hero by Ukrainians, who have protested the conviction.
Over in the South China Sea, “Taiwan flew international media to its largest island holding in the South China Sea in a bid to reinforce its territorial claims in the disputed and increasingly tense region,” AP reports. The trip sought to “show that Taiping is an island capable of sustaining human habitation, and not simply a “rock” as the Philippines claims in a case brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”
In considering why “a third party went to the F.B.I. with claims of being able to unlock an iPhone,” theNew York Times writes that, “for all the steps Apple has taken to encrypt customers’ communications and its rhetoric around customer privacy, security experts said the company was still doing less than many competitors to seal up its systems from hackers.” The Times adds that unlike other tech companies, which reward hackers for revealing security flaws, “when hackers do find flaws in Apple’s code, they have little incentive to turn them over to the company for fixing.” Following the DOJ’s motion to postpone yesterday’s previously scheduled hearing, Politico writes that “latest legal gambit in its dispute with Apple could hamstring the FBI’s larger push to gain access to encrypted data.”
AP reports that a “three-judge federal appeals panel has partly dismissed an Idaho woman’s lawsuit over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records as moot.” The woman sued the government in 2013, claiming that the NSA’s data collection violated the Fourth Amendment.
ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare
Carrie Cordero wrote that the attacks in Brussels highlight that something is going wrong with international efforts to counter terrorism.
Cody shared the Department of Justice’s motion to vacate yesterday’s CDCA hearing in the Apple case.
Susan and Ben asked what we should make of the aforementioned motion to postpone the court hearing as the FBI attempts to discover whether another way of hacking the San Bernardino exists.
Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us onTwitter 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.
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