Today's Headlines and Commentary

Rishabh Bhandari, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, August 5, 2016, 3:41 PM

In a New York Times editorial, former acting and deputy director of the CIA Michael J. Morell lambasts Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency and a “threat to national security.” Morell accuses Trump of serving as an “unwitting agent” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking positions that benefit Russia over the United States.

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In a New York Times editorial, former acting and deputy director of the CIA Michael J. Morell lambasts Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency and a “threat to national security.” Morell accuses Trump of serving as an “unwitting agent” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking positions that benefit Russia over the United States. Responding to Morell, Trump’s vice presidential pick Mike Pence criticized the CIA for “playing politics.”

The Washington Post profiles Mohammed Masri, the son of Osama bin Laden’s top bombmaker who has shifted his alliances between Islamic State and al Qaeda. The feature explores Masri’s role as a personification of the complex politics and internecine clashes between the two terrorist groups.

According to The Guardian, confidential documents on internal UN deliberations show that the United Nations is considering overseeing a Russian proposal to create humanitarian corridors for civilians who wish to leave the besieged city of Aleppo. Aid organizations have rejected the proposal, which they see as “deeply flawed” and “legitimising a move that would put civilians at risk.”

Jan Egeland, an adviser to U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, urged all parties on Thursday to pause the fighting around Aleppo to allow humanitarian relief. Government forces in the city have been pounding opposition areas with airstrikes while rebels are attempting a counterattack to reclaim the western half of the city. Turkey’s foreign minister similarly called for a renewed round of negotiations to resolve the Syrian civil war.

The Daily Beast tells us that Russia is looking to recruit U.S.-trained Syrian rebels by tempting them with “unlimited amounts of weaponry and close air support” to fight the Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al Sham, the organization formerly known as the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. The rebels will likely look to leverage this offer to receive more support from the Pentagon. According to one rebel interviewed for the piece, the Syrian groups no longer believe that President Barack Obama is committed to defeating the Islamic State.

In response to criticism of an administration plan to coordinate military and intelligence operations in Syria with the Kremlin, President Obama stated yesterday that he does not trust Russian President Vladimir Putin to help lessen the violence in Syria. Obama warned that he is expecting Russia to cooperate in de-escalating violence or else prove itself to be an “irresponsible actor” that is “supporting a murderous regime.” He said a recently publicized proposal between Washington and Moscow to collaborate against radical terrorism in exchange for a cessation of airstrikes by the Syrian regime is a test of whether Russia can be an effective partner in resolving the crisis. Politico has more.

In the same wide-ranging press conference, Obama vowed that the Islamic State “is inevitably going to be defeated.” But the president cautioned that the dispersed terrorist networks it spawns are likely to continue trying to launch attacks after the group loses its major strongholds in Iraq and Syria. “As we’ve seen, it is still very difficult to detect and prevent lone actors or small cells of terrorists who are determined to kill the innocent and are willing to die,” he said.

Obama also dismissed allegations that the U.S. government’s delivery of $400 million to Iran earlier this year constituted a ransom payment in return for the release of Americans detained in Tehran. “What we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January,” the president said when asked about the delivery, the result of a decades-old dispute over payment for a scuppered arms deal.

The New York Times’ David Sanger and Michael Shear offer a resource to explain the fierce debate over the $400 million payment--or as they put it, the #PalletsOfCash debate.

Reuters reveals that the Islamic State may have captured up to 3,000 fleeing Iraqi villagers on Thursday and subsequently executed 12 of them. The civilians were attempting to flee to the city of Kirkuk.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials do not expect to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric whom Turkey blames for masterminding a failed coup. Officials are not convinced by the evidence against Gulen that Ankara has presented so far and are troubled by threatening public statements issued by Turkish officials.

But according to the New York Times, Ankara furthered the process after submitting an arrest warrant for Gulen. The warrant, issued by an Istanbul court, said that Gulen ordered the July 15 coup attempt that resulted in the deaths of more than 250 people. Erdogan has been calling for Gulen’s extradition since 2013, when he accused Gulen’s followers, who held positions in the judiciary, of orchestrating a corruption inquiry that implicated Erdogan’s inner circle.

The Times also published a feature outlining how Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s first leader after the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, remains an influential force in the country’s political system. His critics and those close to the current president, Ashraf Ghani, said Karzai remains a destabilizing force in Kabul. The feature comes at a time when the Afghan government is on the brink of losing control and the security situation has worsened despite renewed U.S. military assistance.

Maulavi Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top leader, has been working tirelessly to unify the insurgency and reintegrate those who had been sidelined by his predecessor. Akhundzada’s more inclusive approach marks a break from the leadership of Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May and had attempted to stamp out opposition to his leadership, after rival factions battled for control of the group. The group splintered when it emerged last year that their supposed leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died two years before and his death had been kept secret. The Wall Street Journal has more.

The crew of a Pakistani helicopter that crashed on Thursday night is being held hostage by the Afghan Taliban, according to the Associated Press. Pakistani army spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa said the Russian-made chopper was being flown to Russia via Uzbekistan for maintenance. The six-man crew included a Russian navigator.

The Israeli domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet claimed on Thursday that the Gaza head of the U.S.-based nonprofit World Vision funneled more than $7 million to finance the terrorist activities of Hamas, diverting some 60 percent of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza. The Shin Bet said the aid group’s Gaza director, Mohammed el-Halabi, is an active figure in Hamas’s military wing. Halabi was indicted by Israeli authorities on Thursday. The Post has more.

The New York Times reports that the Palestinian party Fatah has boasted of having “killed 11,000 Israelis” as part of its electoral campaign to win votes in the lead-up to a hotly contested local and municipal elections. The comments were made on Fatah’s official Facebook page and have been cited by David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, as evidence that Fatah’s “moderate” image is misleading.

The Daily Beast discloses that an FBI undercover agent told Elton Simpson, the ISIS-inspired terrorist behind the Garland, Texas shooting, that he should “tear up Texas” before the attack had occurred. Simpson responded by encouraging the undercover agent to be discreet: “U know what happened in Paris. So that goes without need to be direct.” That revelation comes amidst a national debate about the use of undercover officers and human sources in terrorism cases. Undercover sources are used in more than half of ISIS-related terror cases, according to George Washington University. The Washington Post also has more coverage on the men who were allegedly involved in the lead-up to the strike.

Politico profiles Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton University who demonstrates the immense vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines by hacking into them on a routine basis. The feature warns that foreign powers are easily capable of interfering with U.S. elections, a possibility that has been accentuated with the proliferation of electronic voting machines in a number of critical states such as Florida.

C.J. Chivers published a kaleidoscopic profile in the New York Times that uncovers how the AK-47 and the AR-15 became the two major rifles of choice for mass killers, including terrorists. The piece explores the major milestones and tragedies that accompanied the history of these rifles.

The Guardian takes a look at the leadership struggle apparently roiling Boko Haram. The group announced a new, ISIS-backed leader two days ago--only to have Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s previous leader, release an audio message proclaiming that he was still in charge. Shekau’s message claims that ISIS had replaced with him with an “infidel” in a coup.

The Journal reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has been suffering in the wake of a string of violent attacks across the country during July, two of which were linked to ISIS. In a new poll, two-thirds of the respondents disliked Merkel’s open-door refugee policy--the highest disapproval rating toward the policy yet. A top aide to Merkel reaffirmed that “Germany will continue to live up to its humanitarian obligations” despite the recent attacks.

Indonesian authorities have arrested six individuals for their alleged involvement in a plot to launch a rocket attack against Singapore, Reuters tells us. A spokesman for the Indonesian police indicated that the suspects had been plotting with a member of ISIS in Syria.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

In a new installment of “Beyond the Border,” Stephanie Leutert reminded readers that homicide rates remain stubbornly high in Mexico.

Nora Ellingsen highlighted several more Islamic State material support cases that are currently moving through the U.S. judicial system including one suspect who worked as a cop for the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Dave Aitel cautioned policymakers that lawful hacking frameworks may be getting ahead of technology.

Benjamin Wittes argued that a feckless legislature paved the path for the rise of an imperial presidency that he worries a grossly incompetent candidate may inherit.

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Rishabh Bhandari graduated from Yale College with degrees in History and Global Affairs. His senior thesis focused on the decision making of the Nixon administration in response to the 1971 Bengali Genocide. He is pursuing a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University.
Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.

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