on Russia and China: Making the Grade | Will Edwards, The Cipher Brief
As President Obama wraps up his final days in office, presidential
watchers are evaluating how well he performed, wonder what his legacy
will be, and how events could have transpired differently.
Obama Failed to Understand Putin| Rob Dannenberg, Former Head of Global Security,
In the intervening seven years since the Clinton reset, it should be
clear President Barack Obama was never advised or chose to ignore
counsel that would have helped him understand, and perhaps interact and
influence more effectively, his major geopolitical adversary, Putin.
Did Mideast Crises Hamper Obama's Asia Pivot?|Christina Lin, Fellow, Johns Hopkins SAIS
Washington needs a better response to China-led initiatives than
attempting to lead a boycott, especially when allies see benefits in
Today's Column: Fine Print
A Challenging Four Years for the Media|Walter Pincus, The Cipher Brief
This Trump presidency is going to test our democratic institutions, not
just Congress and the Judiciary, but also the so-called mainstream
media that in the past was referred to as the Fourth Estate.
15 Minutes is a weekly interview podcast with the biggest names in
the global security space.
This week, The Cipher Brief's Executive
Producer and Reporter Leone Lakhani sits down with Ambassador Dennis
Ross, Counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and
a former senior Middle East Adviser to three U.S. Presidents. She
talks to him about President Barack Obama’s legacy in the Middle
East, and the challenges facing the next administration. Listen to 15 Minutes with Ambassador Dennis
Don't Miss On The Cipher Brief
China's Economy: Great Power, Great
Responsibility | Fritz Lodge, The Cipher Brief
Driven by export-led growth and massive state investments in
manufacturing and infrastructure, China had enjoyed a period of
scorching GDP growth at an average of 10 percent a year. However, that
growth has now stuttered to roughly seven percent and, as the country’s
upward trajectory flattens, wide gaps have begun to emerge in the
Chinese economic model.
The Global Debate Over the Legality of Drones
Continues | Bennett Seftel, The Cipher Brief
While lethal U.S. drone strikes have successfully removed many key
terrorists from the battlefield, the legal justifications for such
actions remains a heavily debated topic in the United States and
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The Cipher Take
Iraqi Parliament Legitimizes Shiite Militia The Iraqi
Parliament passed a controversial law to legitimize the majority–Shiite
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) as a separate military corps. The PMF
have played a large role in Iraq’s battle against ISIS, but have been
accused of committing human rights violations against liberated Sunni
populations and reportedly have deep political and military connections
to Iran. Sunni lawmakers boycotted the vote in protest; on Monday,
prominent Sunni politician Khamis Khanjar told Reuters that continued
PMF participation in the ongoing Mosul offensive could lead to a new
split between Sunni and Shiite Iraq.
The Cipher Take: The passing of this
law, as the PMF continue their advance to the west of Mosul, is a
worrying sign for the future of a politically unified Iraq. Turkish
president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to intervene in response
to any perceived atrocities in Mosul or the surrounding areas. Even if
this does not happen, majority-Sunni populations in northern Iraq are
unlikely to accept a significant PMF presence. If the central
government does not try to reach out to these populations, Baghdad will
find it near-impossible to unify northern Iraq even after ISIS’ defeat.
Syrian Forces Continue Aleppo Offensive On Monday,
Syrian government forces and their allies continued to advance against
Syrian rebel positions in eastern Aleppo. Under cover of intense
shelling and aerial bombardment, regime forces have already captured
roughly a quarter of the rebel–held districts in eastern Aleppo. The
bulk of opposition forces have retreated and remain under intense
pressure from Syrian and Russian bombardment.
The Cipher Take: Following this
success, an Assad victory in Aleppo seems highly likely. Regime forces
have not only recaptured significant territory,
they have also managed to effectively cut off the northern and southern
regions of eastern Aleppo from one another. Assad is working to
consolidate a contiguous government-controlled bloc of territory in the
populous central coastal regions of Syria. Without a foothold in any of
the country’s major urban centers, the opposition dream of toppling Assad
will be all but dead.
Obama Expands AUMF Scope to Include Al Shabaab In a letter
set to be disclosed to Congress next month, the Obama Administration
reportedly expanded the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military
Force (AUMF) to cover al Shabaab, a terrorist group operating in the
Horn of Africa. The administration now includes al Shabaab as part of
the armed conflict that Congress authorized against the perpetrators of
The Cipher Take: This move is meant
to shore up the legal basis for an intensifying
campaign of airstrikes and counterterrorism operations conducted in the
Horn of Africa in support of African Union and Somali government
forces. Since 2001, U.S. presidents have relied on the AUMF, passed one
week after the 9/11 attacks, as the legal basis for U.S. drone strikes
against al Qaeda operatives around the world. In Somalia, the United
States had long taken the position that individual leaders of al
Shabaab had sufficient ties to al Qaeda to make them legitimate wartime
targets, but it had debated whether al Shabaab as an organization
itself should be included, particularly as the group emerged years
after the AUMF was passed.
Israeli Airstrike Kills ISIS Militants Near Border with
Syria An Israeli air
strike killed four ISIS gunmen after they fired at Israeli troops
patrolling along the Israeli-Syrian border. The gunfire came from a
vehicle driving along the Syrian side of border and the fighters were
identified as members of the ISIS-affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades
(YMB), a group based in southern Syria.
The Cipher Take: Founded in 2012, the
YMB was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department in
June, one month after it pledged allegiance to ISIS. The YMB is
known for conducting kidnapping operations targeting UN personnel along
Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan. Israel has responded to errant
fire from the Syrian civil war in the past, but exchanges of fire with
gunmen along the Israeli-Syria border have been relatively rare.
South Korea: Park Offers to Resign as Protests Grow Amidst growing
scandal and massive protests, South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye
said Tuesday that she would be willing to resign "if the governing
and opposition parties inform me of the way to minimize the confusion
and vacuum in state affairs and ensure a stable transfer of
power." Organizers behind the protest last Saturday claim it
reached 1.5 million people. While Seoul police peg the number closer to
270,000, it is still the largest in 5 straight weeks of protests.
The Cipher Take: Opposition leaders
have rejected Ms. Park's offer, saying it was merely an attempt to
avoid impeachment. Prosecutors wish to question Park over her
relationship with Choi Soon-sil, a friend and confidante recently
arrested for defrauding Korean companies for as much as $70 million.
President Park has previously admitted that she showed classified
documents to Choi, who was not allowed to see or give advice about such
information. It has inflamed a citizenry that has never shied away from
protesting government scandal. However, under South Korean law, the
president cannot be indicted - she must be impeached and removed from
office first; opposition politicians plan to call for a vote to do just
that on Friday. A long slog lies ahead for Korean politics.
Italy's Monte dei Paschi Bank Rescue Plan Faces Risk Monte dei
Paschi – a Tuscan bank facing an imminent debt crisis – said on Monday
that its 5 billion Euro rescue plan is under threat. That plan aims to
convert subordinated bonds (lower-ranking debt) into equity to raise
the 5 billion Euros necessary to save the troubled lender. However, the
bank’s statement noted that instability caused by a “No” vote in
Italy’s upcoming constitutional referendum – often referred to as
Italy’s “Brexit moment” – might undermine this debt swap.
The Cipher Take: Monte dei Paschi
fared the worst out of any other bank in EU stress tests this July, and
it is unlikely to emerge from financial distress anytime soon. However,
it is not alone - seven other major lenders are faltering and Italian
banks hold over a third of all bad loans across the EU. Strict EU
regulations prevent the Italian government from bailing out its banks
except in the most extreme circumstances; instead, the bank’s
investors, including ordinary depositors, must take the loss on bad
debt. If the rescue plan fails and a “No” vote on Italy’s referendum
spooks the market, Monte dei Paschi’s problem could become Italy’s, and
the EU’s, crisis.
The Cipher Take: Ransomware is malicious software
that breaches a network—often through a downloaded file—and encrypts
shared resources such as drives, folders, files, printers, and serial
ports, rendering them inaccessible. The attackers will then release, or
unencrypt, the data once a ransom payment has been made—often through a
crypto-currency like bitcoin. The anonymous email provided by the
hacker is hosted on Russian servers, and the malware used is believed
to be a variant of HDDCryptor, which uses disk-level commercial tools
to encrypt hard drives.