Today's Headlines and Commentary

Elina Saxena
Thursday, March 3, 2016, 2:48 PM

In his remarks at a conference on computer security, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he opposed “back doors or a single technical approach” for accessing data on encrypted devices. While urging industry cooperation with the government, Carter unveiled “two new moves to draw Silicon Valley’s technology elite into efforts to spur defense-industry innovation, creating

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In his remarks at a conference on computer security, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he opposed “back doors or a single technical approach” for accessing data on encrypted devices. While urging industry cooperation with the government, Carter unveiled “two new moves to draw Silicon Valley’s technology elite into efforts to spur defense-industry innovation, creating an official hackathon of military websites” as well as “a new Defense Innovation Advisory Board that would be led by Alphabet Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Electricity has begun to return to parts of Syria after a nationwide power cut struck the country. Reuters quoted the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) as saying that “electricity work has been cut in all governorates” and that “attempts to find the cause of the outage have begun,” but SANA did not specify the cause of the cut.

As the ceasefire enters its sixth day, U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the cessation of hostilities is largely holding. He added that, while the ceasefire has reduced violence, “there are still a number of places where fighting has continued, including parts of Hama, Homs, Latakia and Damascus, but they have been contained.” The Associated Press writes that “the cease-fire is shaping up as the most promising initiative in years to help end a five-year war that has killed at least 250,000 people.”

International actors continue to support the cessation of hostilities. France and Britain called upon Syrian and Russian forces to respect the terms of the cessation. The Washington Post tells us that the Russian Defense Ministry, in efforts to secure the ceasefire, has set up a “that includes several dozen officers who visit opposition groups and local communities to help negotiate local truce deals.” Following State Department efforts to establish a hotline to monitor ceasefire violations, the initiative was hampered by language difficulties as operators struggled to understand Arabic. Agence France Presse writes that “some reporters and activists have given up on the US line and are instead reporting breaches to the United Nations or to the opposition.”

Despite the optimism that has been generated by the partial cessation of hostilities, the Wall Street Journal notes that experts are skeptical that the ceasefire will produce a political deal. Syrians themselves are preparing for fighting to return. The next round of peace talks are expected to begin next week, but opposition figures have cast doubt on whether the talks will resume at all, with Assad government attacks near the Turkish border have calling into question whether the truce is fulfilling the opposition’s demands. AP has the latest from Syria.

U.S. forces led nearly 30 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria yesterday. Noting the increased U.S. activity in Iraq , Foreign Policy tells us that the “battle to reconquer the pivotal city of Mosul has already begun.” The Delta Force raid responsible for capturing the first suspected Islamic State operative in Northern Iraq “adds to the growing pressure on the group across northern Iraq, as the Iraqi Army begins to move into place for its eventual assault on the country’s second-largest city, which has been held by the Islamic State for nearly two years.”

Europe continues to face an influx of refugees from Syria. Yesterday, NATO commander U.S. Gen Philip Breedlove accused Syria and Russia of “deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

In an act of defiance, North Korea fired six short-ranged missiles into the Sea of Japan just one day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution imposing heavy sanctions against the country. According to the Post, the new U.N. sanctions will “require cargo inspections for all goods going in and out of North Korea by land, sea or air" and "choke off supplies of most aviation fuel for its armed forces. The sanctions will also “ban the sale of all small arms and conventional weapons to Pyongyang and prohibit transactions that raise hard cash for North Korea through sales of its natural resources.” European Union officials are considering additional sanctions. Reuters tells us that “Germany, France, Spain and Poland want to see what more the bloc can do in areas such as finance and insurance, as well as hitting more North Koreans with asset freezes.”

In other news, the Washington Post reported that Israel is expected to launch “one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world” that “ will be able to knock down not only ballistic missiles but also orbiting satellites.” According to the Post, “a joint exercise now being conducted between thousands of Israeli forces and the U.S. European Command represents a final test before Israel begins to deploy one of the most sophisticated missile defense systems in the world.”

Two women attacked an Istanbul police station using guns and a grenade. Police confirmed that both attackers were shot dead. A Turkish news source suggested that “the women were identified as members of the banned far-left group, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front,” NBC News writes.

Ahead of planned peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, chief Afghan peace negotiator Hekmat Khalil Karzai has called the talks that "the last opportunity to have peace" between Pakistan and Afghanistan and peace between "Afghanistan and the violent opposition." Scheduled to begin later this week in Pakistan, the talks have been brokered by a “four-nation coordinating group consisting of diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China.” The group has already prepared a “road map” for the peace process.

The Ukrainian government has “accused Russian-backed rebels of using large-caliber weapons despite a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine that required both sides to pull back those arms.” Rebels deployed a Grad multiple-missile launcher against government forces outside of Donetsk, the Associated Press reports. The government said that the attacks were accompanied by “over 60 cease-fire violations along the front line.” New United Nations estimates put the death toll in the conflict at 9,160 since fighting began in April 2014.

Saudi Arabia declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization yesterday, a move that comes weeks after the Arab kingdom cut a $4 billion aid package to Lebanon. The Times notes that, as Saudi Arabia cuts aid and distances itself from Lebanon, the small country is “once again thrust into the middle of the battle for regional dominance between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.”

The United States is planning joint naval exercises with India, Japan, and the Philippines in the northern Philippine Sea. Announcing the exercises in New Delhi, U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris added that “no nation should perceive freedom of navigation operations as a threat.” The Wall Street Journal writes that “the maneuvers are part of an annual event between the U.S. and Indian navies that, since 2014, has expanded to include Japan, signaling closer cooperation between the three countries that share concern about China’s military ambitions.” In response to the drills, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “[China hopes] the cooperation of relevant countries will benefit regional peace and security, and not harm the interests of third parties.”

The Associated Press tells us that “a federal court in Minnesota has created a program to assess the risks posed by terrorism defendants and come up with plans to deradicalize them so they don't engage in similar activities again.” The first of its kind, the program will be applied to four men who pled guilty in a conspiracy for involvement in a plan to provide material support to the Islamic State. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis suggested that the program could be expanded to other terror defendants. The AP notes that “Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the U.S. and has been a target for terrorism recruiters,” and that “about a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join militant groups in recent years, and more than 22 men from Minnesota's Somali community have left since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia.”

In the trial of suspected ISIS sympathizer Tairod Pugh—one of the first U.S. cases against an Islamic State supporteran FBI agent testified "that Pugh warmed up to him after seeing an Islamic State flag on his Facebook page.” The agent described his encounter with Pugh in Kennedy Airport and suggested that Pugh was concerned that he would be arrested during his return to the United States from his travels to the Middle East.

U.S. prosecutors will not seek the death penalty in the case against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who is facing nine new terror-related charges for his alleged role in helping al Qaeda plan an attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in 2009. Al Farekh was transferred to the United States from Pakistan in 2015 and has largely spent his detention in solitary confinement.

Over 50 GOP foreign policy experts signed an open letter declaring that presidential candidate Donald Trump is unfit to serve as President of the United States. The Post tells us that “Trump’s rhetoric appears to have finally crossed a line for those conservatives who have made their careers in foreign policy.” The letter states that Trump’s “vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.” The letter is the latest in a series of concerns from experts in the field. Earlier in the week, former CIA director Michael Hayden suggested that the U.S. military might not follow orders from Trump, and yesterday, Lawfare’s Ben Wittes explained why the presidential candidate is a threat to national security.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Bobby took a look at the Obama administration's short-term military detention model.

Stewart Baker shared this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which among other topics, considers Apple’s brief against providing additional assistance to the FBI.

Ben outlined why presidential candidate Donald Trump poses a threat to national security.

Cody alerted us to ODNI’s declassification and release of a second tranche of documents seized in the 2011 Abbottabad raid.

Nicholas Weaver imagined "a future where the FBI wins the San Bernardino case.”

Paul Rosenzweig asked whether President Obama's Executive Order "Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities" was merely an idle threat.

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.

Elina Saxena was a National Security Intern at The Brookings Institution. She is currently a senior at Georgetown University where she majors in International Politics with a concentration in Security Studies.

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