Today's Headlines and Commentary

Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 2:42 PM

Late last night, President Barack Obama signed into the law the USA Freedom Act. The bill, which finally cleared the Senate with a vote of 67 to 32, curtails certain aspects of U.S.

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Late last night, President Barack Obama signed into the law the USA Freedom Act. The bill, which finally cleared the Senate with a vote of 67 to 32, curtails certain aspects of U.S. surveillance policy created after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The New York Times proclaims that the passage of the Freedom Act represents “a cultural turning point for the nation,” which started following the revelations of Edward Snowden.

The vote was also seen as a rebuke to both gentlemen from Kentucky, Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. Paul had had led a filibuster of the Freedom Act, which he felt did not go far enough in restricting U.S. surveillance powers, while McConnell opposed the act because, in his words, it takes “one more tool away from those who defend our country everyday.” Overestimating his ability to force a deadline driven extension of the Patriot Act, McConnell made a series of miscalculations that ultimately led to the straight passage of a bill he had for so long sought to kill.

Under the Freedom Act, the bulk metadata records used by the NSA will now be stored in the hands of the phone companies, and the government must request access from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to search them. The Washington Post carries a brief rundown of the bill, outlining what’s in and what’s out. We will have a more detailed one in a little while.

“A regional problem trending towards global implications”. That’s how General John Allen, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Global Coalition against the Islamic State, described ISIS at a conference in Qatar yesterday. He also said that the group has lost about a quarter of the populated areas it once held in Iraq since the coalition’s fight began. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a Coalition conference in Paris, also emphasized the Coalition’s gains, saying that more than 10,000 ISIS fighters had been killed in the last nine months. Yet, while that may be true, DefenseOne carries video demonstrating just how little the Coalition has actually achieved over nearly 300 days of airstrikes. According the the Times, the Paris conference on Tuesday offered little to suggest that the advance of ISIS would be blunted anytime soon.

As the struggle to turn back ISIS continues, the New York Times reports that Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces may be aiding the groups most recent surge. Several Syrian opposition leaders have accused the Syrian government of cooperating with the Islamic State, leaving the militants free to carry out a surprise offensive against other insurgent groups near Aleppo. However, the claims go beyond accusing Assad of passively allowing ISIS to eliminate more moderate insurgent groups, and instead charge that he is deliberately bolstering their positions by conducting targeted airstrikes in front of the ISIS advance. Analysts have long feared that Assad would attempt to eliminate moderate groups in an attempt to present himself as the only alternative to the Islamic State.

Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen mistakenly killed at least 16 fighters allied with the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday, according to witnesses in the area.

The first serious battle in months erupted in Ukraine today between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops. Reuters reports that the Ukrainian forces were able to prevent the rebels from taking the eastern town of Maryinka. However, the battle lasted almost twelve hours and the violence far exceeded the low-level skirmishes that have become typical of the area since a ceasefire went into effect. Rebel forces denied that they had launched the assault.

South Korea test-launched a new ballistic missile capable of targeted all of North Korea, the country’s president announced today. According to Reuters, the missile is the first of its kind developed under a 2012 agreement with the United States that will allow South Korea to boost its missile program, eliminating the advantage the DPRK now enjoys in missile capabilities.

Politico shares that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is expected to sign several major agreements with India today in an attempt to encourage U.S. defense cooperation on the production of India’s aircraft carriers and jet engines.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reports that Majid Khan, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, has alleged that he was twice waterboarded by CIA agents. Notably, Khan was not one of the three cases of waterboarding confirmed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its review of CIA enhanced interrogation techniques. For its part, the CIA has denied Khan’s allegations, while admitting that he did undergo several other harsh interrogation techniques.

The Associated Press has traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, as part of what it is calling a “civilian air force” designed to provide surveillance throughout the United States. In a statement, the FBI maintained that the surveillance planes are not secret, but that “specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” The AP found at least 13 fake companies to which the planes were registered in an attempt to obscure the relation between the planes and the FBI.

According to the Washington Post, an FBI agent and a Boston police officer shot and killed a man yesterday who was the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation. The man, Usaama Rahim, had been under surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston. When officials went to question him outside a drugstore, he became hostile, approached the officers with a “large military knife, and refused to drop the weapon.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse shared his comments from Law Day at the NSA on “why Americans hate government surveillance but tolerate corporate data aggregators.”

Stewart Baker brought us the latest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Jason Brown and much more.

Steve Vladeck wrote on Amendment 1451, a proposed revision to the USA Freedom Act, that in his words, was “utter bullshit.”

Finally, Susan Landau linked us to a new Journal of Cybersecurity and issued a call for submissions.

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Cody Poplin is a student at Yale Law School. Prior to law school, Cody worked at the Brookings Institution and served as an editor of Lawfare. He graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 with degrees in Political Science & Peace, War, and Defense.

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