The State of
Play in Syria | Fritz
Lodge, The Cipher Brief
Amid the dizzying array of jihadist groups, rebel militias, umbrella
opposition alliances, and state-level actors either directly or
indirectly involved in Syria’s conflict, it can be difficult to tell
who is fighting whom and why.
Incoherent U.S. Policy Will Doom Raqqa Campaign| Barak Barfi, Research Fellow, New America
Raqqa may prove too much for the Kurds. With a pre-war population of
over 200,000, it is by far the largest city that the PYD has put in its
cross hairs. An almost exclusively Arab city with no Kurds, it holds
limited appeal to the PYD.
Telling Friend from Foe in Syria|Fabrice Balanche, Visiting Fellow, Washington Institute
for Near East Policy
If we put aside the Kurds and the Islamic State, the Syrian military
opposition is divided between four different trends: the global jihad
fighters, Syrian Salafists, groups affiliated with the Muslim
Brotherhood, and groups without an explicit religious ideology
(although this does not mean they are secular).
Column: Network Take
Trump Security Policy: Not a Lot to Draw On|General Michael Hayden, Former Director of the CIA and
Donald Trump isn't one to make detailed speeches or to offer commentary
at think tanks or to post policy prescriptions. And he doesn't have a
foreign policy track-record to explore. So that leaves pretty much the
campaign rhetoric to rely on. And campaign rhetoric historically gets
softened by the realities of office (President Barack Obama and some
electronic surveillance programs come to mind). And the federal
bureaucracy has its own way of pushing back, too.
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This week, The
Cipher Brief’s Executive Editor Fionnuala Sweeney talks
to the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de
Kerchove. De Kerchove discusses the challenges of keeping the
continent safe, following terrorist attacks in France and Belgium in
the past year. Listen now
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The World is Watching: The American Election and
Russia | Will Edwards, The Cipher Brief
Most recently, relations between the two countries have been strained
by the DNC hack and its attribution to Russia by the U.S. intelligence
community. The hack highlights the threats espoused by security and
defense experts about Russia’s formidable cyber capabilities and, at
worst, suggests Russia is trying to influence the U.S. election and the
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The World is Watching: The American Election and
Iran | Bennett Seftel, The Cipher Brief
For the Islamic Republic of Iran, the stakes couldn’t be higher when it
comes to the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. With a
landmark nuclear agreement reached last year between the world powers –
the U.S., Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany – and Iran, and implemented
earlier this year, November’s election will determine the path forward
in U.S.-Iranian relations.
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Donald Trump Wins U.S. Presidential Election In a stunning
electoral victory, Donald Trump was elected President of the United
States, defeating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Republican
party also maintained control of both the Senate and the House of
Representatives. Meanwhile, global markets tumbled; Dow Jones futures
fell by as much as 800 points during after-hours trading.
The Cipher Take: As the dust settles, questions now turn to Trump's
intended policies. According to Cipher Brief Network Expert General
Michael Hayden, a Trump security policy would, among
other things, shake up traditional alliances, alter immigration and
trade policy drastically, and deeply affect the U.S.' current
relationships with Russia and China. In the run-up to the election on November
8th, the Cipher Brief also examined how five key nations –
China, Russia, Germany, Iran and Saudi Arabia – view Donald Trump.
Syrian Army Takes Aleppo District The Syrian
army claims to have taken a key district of Aleppo in what could be one
of the most important advances by forces loyal to Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad yet. Rebel groups still claim that they are fighting
for the 1070 Apartments district, but media outlets currently claim
that forces loyal to Assad are in complete control of the district.
The Cipher Take: Aleppo has been the
center for the rebel uprising against Assad since that start of the
Syrian Civil War in 2011. With help from Russian air strikes, pro-Assad
forces have been able to mobilize around Aleppo and gain ground in the
rebel held territory. In addition to representing a rebel stronghold,
Aleppo is also facing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis as it has come
under heavy bombardment from pro-Assad and Russian forces.
Five Arrested in Germany for Recruiting for Islamic
State German police
arrested five men accused of recruiting members for the Islamic State
terrorist organization. The arrests were made in the states of
North-Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony and follow a string of similar
arrests in Germany in the last few months.
The Cipher Take: Germany's domestic
intelligence agency estimates that around 500 individuals in the
country may be willing to commit Islamic extremist inspired violence
and are considered a serious security threat. The country has been
working to better coordinate various state agencies and the federal
intelligence services after a string of terror attacks in Europe and
Germany this past summer. European intel-cooperation came under
scrutiny after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, which left
130 people dead and 368 injured.
U.S., South Korea on High Alert for Potential North
Korea Missile Test The South
Korean and U.S. militaries are preparing for a potential North Korean
test – either ballistic missile or nuclear – in conjunction with the
U.S. presidential election. It is believed that the missile would be a
Musudan-type intermediate range missile, one that North Korea is
currently trying to perfect. CNBC reported that representatives from
Iran may be present to observe the latest test.
The Cipher Take: North Korea often
times important tests with key dates in its own history or that of its adversaries.
For example, North Korea tested a missile and nuclear device after the
election of President Obama. The presence of Iranian observers is
nothing new either, as they have attended important tests in years
past; this is not necessarily an indication of collaboration on weapons
NATO To Put 300,000 Troops on High Alert In a response
to mounting tensions with Russia, NATO will put up to 300,000 troops –
to include intelligence and cyberwarfare divisions - on high alert,
according to a NATO representative. Planners hope to implement this in
two months, although it may take as many as six.
The Cipher Take: Russia’s threefold
increase in defense spending since 2000 as well as the 2014 annexation
of Crimea have spurred this action by NATO. By comparison, most NATO
countries are still underneath the agreed level of defense spending—2%
of GDP. While some countries are now moving to correct this, it will
take time for the results to be felt. Putting this many troops on high
alert will also serve to reassure many of Russia’s neighbors, including
Poland and the Baltic states. This sort of worry may not be unfounded:
a recent RAND study concluded that Russia could overrun the Baltic
states in under 36 hours.
Pirate Attacks May Again Be On the Rise Merchant
vessels sailing through shipping lanes between Somalia and Yemen have
come under attack in recent weeks. Pirates reportedly attacked a
chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia while a gas tanker was
attacked off the coast of Yemen. These are the first reported piracy
incidents since February 2014 when a container ship came under fire off
the coast of Somalia.
The Cipher Take: Instability in
Somalia, primarily in the country’s northeastern, semi-autonomous
Puntland region where pirate gangs have been known to operate, has
triggered concerns that piracy may once again be on the rise. Piracy
attacks escalated between 2008 and 2011, when more than 700 hostages
and 30 vessels were held by Somali gangs. Since then, protective
measures such as the deployment of armed security guards on ships
combined and pre-emptive strikes by naval forces helped reduce reported
attacks to just two in 2014 and none last year.
Canadian Police Spied on Journalists Quebec police
confirmed its officers obtained court orders allowing them to monitor
the cellphone metadata of ten prominent investigative reporters,
information that could reveal the identity of their confidential
informants and would allow tracking of their phones via GPS
geolocation. For some of these journalists, the police also received a
warrant to listen in on the journalists’ conversations. Privacy and
civil liberties groups suggest that the police have abused their power
by monitoring individuals not actively suspected of a crime. Police,
however, respond that the journalists were not the targets of their
The Cipher Take: Canadian police
reportedly obtain hundreds of thousands of warrants for cellphone
metadata every year, likely as a result of a recently passed law meant
to prevent cyberbullying. The law lowered the threshold to obtain court
orders by which police can access data; they must simply suspect a
crime has or will be committed. While law enforcement has said the
information will not be used for other investigations, critics point
out there is nothing in the law to prevent it. Another fear is that
police could identify patterns of activity for an individual where they
retroactively become a suspect in other crimes.
Documents Reveal FBI Operation on Dark Net Went Beyond
Warrant In 2013 the
FBI received permission to access the data of over 300 specific users
of TorMail, a dark net email service. But documents recently published
by the Department of Justice reveal that the FBI tactics exceeded those
300 users—all of which were related to child pornography-related
crimes—to those not included in the issued warrant, many of which were
potentially using the email service for legitimate privacy reasons.
The Cipher Take: The incident
occurred in 2013 after the FBI seized Freedom Hosting, a dark net
hosting service that included a number of child pornography sites as
well as the anonymous email service TorMail. The FBI deployed a network
investigative technique (NIT)—a piece of malware designed to obtain the
real IP address of those visiting the 23 child pornography sites in
what is called a “watering hole trap”— to reveal the criminals’
identities. The FBI did the same with TorMail, with the NIT deployed to
“investigate any user who logs into any of the target accounts by
entering a username and password.” Instead, it seems that anyone who
visited the TorMail site—even if the individual was not listed in the
warrant or even entered credentials—were presented with an error page
carrying the deanonymizing malware.