Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Jane Chong
Monday, December 30, 2013, 1:42 PM
Today a suicide bomber in Volgograd killed 14 people on a bus, in the second terrorist attack on the southern Russian city in less than 24 hours, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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Today a suicide bomber in Volgograd killed 14 people on a bus, in the second terrorist attack on the southern Russian city in less than 24 hours, reports the Wall Street Journal. Over sixteen people were killed and 50 injured yesterday after a suicide bomb went off at a railway station, just six weeks before Sochi is scheduled to host the winter Olympics;  here is the BBC story. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach expressed confidence today that the Winter Games will be "safe and secure"; Russian President Vladimir Putin is beefing up security across the country in response to the attacks, according to the Associated Press.
The latest from Der Spiegel: citing new NSA documents, on Sunday, the German magazine reported that an elite team of NSA hackers intercept computer deliveries and even hack into Microsoft to spy on targets. Here is the AP story making the rounds; here is another from the Guardian.
The presidential review panel can say what it wants, but NSA will not cease breaking encryption anytime soon. So writes Shane Harris for Foreign Policy:
of the 46 recommendations offered by a presidential review panel on government surveillance activities, the one that suggests that the NSA ramp down its efforts against encryption may be met by with a mixture of outrage and laughter in the halls of the agency.
The U.S. Army is launching a campaign to "assert its relevance in the Pacific," reports the Washington Post, and in the process getting into a bit of a tiff with the Marines.
To overcome what he calls “the tyranny of distance,” [the new top Army commander in the Pacific, Gen. Vincent K.] Brooks is trying to make his forces more maritime and expeditionary . . . . To the Marine Corps, however, Brooks is committing the military equivalent of copyright infringement.
The National Intelligence Estimate, an assessment compiled with the input of the country's 16 intelligence agencies, predict that gains made during the past three years in Afghanistan will erode by 2017. The Post reports.
What really happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012? David Kirkpatrick is making waves with a story that claims Al Qaeda was not involved at all, after months of investigation by the New York Times. Blake Hounshell of Politico is calling the Times report "Pulitzer bait," for whatever that's worth.
Over at the Foreign Policy blog Passport, Catherine Traywick explains why Syria is more dangerous for journalists that the standard war zone.
At least 12 civilians are dead after suspected Islamic extremists attacked two Christian villages in predominantly Muslim northeast Nigeria. Here is the AP.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni warned South Sudan's rebel leader today that he has four days to respond to the government's cease-fire offer. The warning comes on the heels of a meeting last week where East African leaders pushed for peace talks. The AP has details.
In an apparent coup attempt, militants armed with sticks and firearms attacked the state television station, the airport and the main military base in Dakar before being fought off by the Congolese military, reports the AP.
A gunmen opened fire in the western Anbar province on Monday when Iraqi police tried to dismantle a Sunni Muslim protest camp. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki previously accused the protestors of sheltering al Qaeda-linked militants. Reuters reports.
David Gartenstein Ross has a big spread in Politico on al Qaeda's 2013 comeback. He writes:
as this year ends, the jihadist group’s regional affiliates have dramatically reasserted themselves in multiple countries, carrying out spectacular attacks and inflicting increasing levels of carnage . . . . The affiliates’ regeneration became so apparent over the course of this year that President Barack Obama was forced to clarify that his administration’s various claims of al Qaeda’s decimation were limited to the core leadership in Pakistan alone.
Former U.S. drone operator Heather Linebaugh has words for politicians who "brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones" without "a real clue of what actually goes on." She writes in the Guardian:
I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it . . . . UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.
As for domestic drone developments, big news today from the Federal Aviation Administration. Six states---Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia---will host test sites for drones. The sites were apparently chosen based on considerations of geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. Here is the AP by way of Politico.
To end on a seasonal note---that is, finances---know that Al Qaeda is probably better than you when it comes to expense itemization. The AP writes that over 100 receipts and invoices have been retrieved from a building in Timbuktu, enumerating the grocery, hardware and car expenses of al Qaeda's North African branch, in addition to proof that the organization carefully tracks advances to fighters. A riveting excerpt:
Tomatoes and onions - 500 ($1)
Tomatoes - 200 ($0.40)
Lightbulb - 300 ($0.60)
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Jane Chong is former deputy managing editor of Lawfare. She served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University.

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