Today's Headlines and Commentary

Staley Smith, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 1:29 PM

In the latest Snowden scoop, the New York Times and the Guardian have

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In the latest Snowden scoop, the New York Times and the Guardian have jointly released a story on a number of classified government documents that detail the intelligence collecting processes used to conduct American drone strikes. The documents describe the NSA’s extensive collaboration with the British intelligence agency GCHQ in collecting and sharing intelligence on the location of individuals in Yemen and Pakistan. In at least one case, the data was used to supply intelligence for a U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed two AQAP members. GCHQ’s involvement in a strike in Yemen may represent a shift in policy for the United Kingdom, which had previously only conducted drone strikes within conventional war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated both that Iran will not accept a long-term freeze of nuclear activity and that sanctions must be lifted immediately after the signing of a potential nuclear deal, rather than after international confirmation of Iran’s fulfillment of the nuclear agreement. The Ayatollah’s demands come as the clock ticks down toward the June 30 deadline for nuclear negotiations. Julian Borger of the Guardian considers what effect the Ayatollah’s statement will have on nuclear talks, while The Week suggests that negotiations will likely continue past the looming deadline.

Kurdish forces are advancing on the ISIS-held city of Raqqa, Syria. The fighters captured the town of Ain Issa, about 30 miles north of Raqqa, along with a nearby military base. The BBC reports that ISIS has begun fortifying Raqqa in preparation for the imminent Kurdish attack.

After planting mines and explosives in Palmyra, ISIS has destroyed two mausoleums just north of the historic Syrian town, the Wall Street Journal says. The demolition shows that ISIS’ destruction of archaeological sites has spread from Iraq to Syria.

Yesterday, ISIS released another video showing hostages being drowned, bombed, and incinerated. The Times reports that the video appears to be aimed specifically at intimidating the Iraqi Lieutenant Bassam Mohammed, who has supported efforts to combat ISIS in Nineveh and Mosul. Relatedly, Google may seek to combat ISIS propaganda videos on Youtube, not through censorship but through posting anti-ISIS content.

Over at the Guardian, Nabeelah Jaffer details extensively the young women who travel to Syria to join ISIS. “Opposing the west,” she writes, “was their measure of religious authenticity.”

In response to the capture of American hostages by extremist groups---including the journalist James Foley, whose execution was recorded and widely distributed by ISIS last August---the Obama administration will change its policy on allowing families of hostages to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones. The shift in policy will not affect the U.S. government’s official refusal to provide ransom payments, but will rather lift the threat of criminal prosecution from families who wish to pay or negotiate with kidnappers. The Journal has the story, while the Times reports on the confused state of hostage policies. For those interested, Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker provides an in-depth look at the experience of families whose relatives were held hostage. Lawfare readers may also remember Ben’s commentary last year on the debate over ransom payments and terrorist financing, sparked by the death of James Foley.

Next month, NATO will begin training Iraqi officers in the effort against ISIS, the Telegraph writes. NATO forces assisted in training Iraqi troops from 2004 to 2011. The alliance emphasized that no NATO troops will be involved in combat exercises---just as the United States did in announcing the deployment of 450 additional troops to Iraq two weeks ago.

Armed forces loyal to exiled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi seized a border crossing with Saudi Arabia. The attack represents a minor setback for Houthi forces, who control three other border crossings between Yemen and the kingdom.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Nations stated that the country faces a threat from an “unprecedented convergence” of Taliban forces, extremist groups including ISIS, and foreign fighters pushed into Afghanistan through the Pakistani military’s efforts to combat extremism in northern Pakistan. The Afghan government also suggested that some Taliban fighters may be collaborating with ISIS---despite last week’s news that the Afghan Taliban had delivered a sternly worded letter warning to ISIS to stay out of its way. The letter would seem inauspicious for collaboration between the groups.

Attacks conducted by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria have killed at least 40 people. The BBC reports that one attack was a suicide bombing conducted by a young girl.

In Mogadishu, al Shabaab attacked a diplomatic convoy from the United Arab Emirates. While the U.A.E. ambassador was unharmed in the bombing, twelve others were killed.

In new legislation introduced today in Australia, dual citizens may have their passports stripped if they damage or destroy Commonwealth property, not necessarily in connection with terrorism. In addition, the legislation applies to any individual possessing a “thing” related or connected to terrorism. The legislation would not render anyone stateless nor would it dismiss the role of the courts. The Guardian has the story.

Fresh on the heels of the recent debate over what constitutes domestic terrorism in the wake of the Charleston shooting, a story by the New York Times tallies homegrown extremist attacks since 9/11. Domestic attacks by extremists in the United States have been primarily perpetrated by non-Muslims: of those killed in violence related to domestic extremism since the attacks on the Twin Towers, 48 have been killed by non-Muslims, compared with 26 by Muslim jihadists.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called Guantanamo Bay “an extra talking point” for jihadists, stating that "it would be good to eliminate that." In an interview with CBS News, Carter said he is “not confident” that it will be possible to close down Guantanamo Bay by the end of the current Administration, though he remains hopeful.

The Guardian brought us news that earlier today, ethnic Uighurs attacked police with knives and bombs in China’s western Xinjiang region. Three police officers were killed in the attack by the Uighurs, a minority Muslim population in China. Police responded by killing 15 suspected terrorists, raising the death toll to 18.

Government-sponsored cyber theft and the need to keep sea lanes open in the South China Sea were at the forefront of issues discussed yesterday between America and China at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington. Reuters reports that economic ties in two-way trade between the countries were worth $590 billion last year.

Hundreds of government employees use their .gov email accounts to sign up for accounts in easily hacked websites, according to a report released by security intelligence firm Recorded Future. In the event that employees used the same passwords, it is easy for hackers to breach government agencies without high-tech, sophisticated schemes.

Yesterday, Wikileaks published documents exposing that the NSA spied on three successive French Presidents from 2006-2012: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. France will send a senior intelligence official to the United States this week to discuss the report, says Foreign Policy. The scandal comes just as tensions between the United and States and Germany began to simmer down over the NSA’s eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

Parting shot: From waves to drones: The advocacy group “Women on Waves,” famed for its use of ships in international waters to deliver abortion-inducing pills to women in need, is now expanding into the drone business. The “abortion drone” will take flight from Germany to Poland, flying outside Polish airspace to deliver pills to Polish women with limited access to abortion services.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells alerted us to the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on Guantanamo detainee al Nashiri’s petition for mandamus relief. The court found that it had jurisdiction over the case but declined to issue mandamus; the detainee and military commission accused had claimed that two of the three judges presiding over the government's interlocutory appeal in his military commission case had been appointed unconstitutionally.

Steve Vladeck weighed in on al Nashiri, describing the D.C. Circuit’s opinion as “thoroughly convincing.”

Stewart Baker posted this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with General Counsel for the FBI James Baker (no relation).

Bobby and Peter Margulies wrote on the passing of Professor Mike Lewis.

Paul kept us updated with Bits and Bytes.

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Staley Smith previously was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. She spent the past year studying in Jordan and Israel and will graduate from Johns Hopkins University in 2016 with a major in political science.
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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