Tuesday, April 19, 2016

9:16 AM 4/19/2016 - Headlines: Analysts: Russia Plays Double Game in Afghanistan...

9:16 AM 4/19/2016 - Headlines: Analysts: Russia Plays Double Game in Afghanistan | Afghan Taliban launch attack in central Kabul, killing at least 28 | Reuters

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Obama to Visit a Saudi Arabia Deep in Turmoil - The New York Times

FILE - An Israeli special forces soldier walks outside the Central Jerusalem Bus Station after police said a woman was stabbed by a Palestinian outside the bus station, October 14, 2015.
Kerry Vows to Continue Push for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

С Председателем Правительства Дмитрием Медведевым.
Рабочая встреча с Председателем Правительства Дмитрием Медведевым • Президент России
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The Early Edition: April 19, 2016 

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
Syria peace talks. The Syrian government delegation has said that the future of President Bashar al-Assad will not be a subject of discussion at peace negotiations, emphasizing the limited prospects of UN-brokered talks in Geneva. [Reuters]  Syria’s main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, postponed participation in the negotiations yesterday, withholding their engagement until the government delegation starts to discuss political transition for the country. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]  They have since said that the postponement is “indefinite” while “matters on the ground” remain unresolved. [Reuters’s Tom Perry and Laila Bassam]  Recent days have exposed infighting between the opposition. Sam Dagher reports. [Wall Street Journal]
Meanwhile, fighting has reportedly intensified in the north and center of Syria. [AP]
President Obama had an “intense conversation” with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, Obama expressing concern over the fragility of Syria peace talks and heightened violence in Ukraine, the White House said. [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Nick Cumming-Bruce]
The AP is providing a timeline of latest updates on the UN-sponsored talks.
US military advisers are to be sent close to the front lines of the fight against ISIS in Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced to American troops at the airport in Baghdad yesterday. The Pentagon will also deploy a number of Apache attack helicopters and long-range artillery to assist in the fight. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]  Carter also said that the “Iraqis are still in the lead” against ISIS, during an interview aired last night on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.” [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]
“My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall,” said President Obama speaking about the decision to increase support for the Iraqi military. [Reuters]
American and Kurdish forces killed Salman Abu Shabib al-Jebouri, known by the nom de guerre Abu Saif, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government Security Council yesterday. Jebouri was a member of the ISIS “military council.” [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley and Paul Sonne]
China’s new special envoy to Syria is to visit Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia in an effort to urge a peaceful solution to the Syrian war, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Although China has largely left the matter to the other permanent members of the UN Security Council until now, this is a sign that it is attempting to become more involved, reports Ben Blanchard. [Reuters]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 17. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 17 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“On the front line against ISIS: who fights, who doesn’t, and why,” an in-depth report from Scott Atran and Artis Research at The Daily Beast.
President Obama will meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this week. Issues likely to be on the agenda are Iran, the Syrian civil war, the conflict in Yemen, Islamic State and regional security. [New York Times]
There is a “public relations push” in Saudi Arabia ahead of President Obama’s visit tomorrow, reports Nahal Toosi, which has one goal: to demonstrate that Saudi Arabia is “as anti-terrorism as anyone in Washington DC” [Politico]
Saudi Arabia’s government paid “insufficient attention” to funds being sent to fuel the rise of al-Qaeda, President Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said in an interviewreleased yesterday. Asked about Saudi Arabia’s possible complicity in sponsoring terrorism, he said that it was a matter of “a number of very wealthy individuals” who contributed “sometimes directly” to terrorist groups. [Politico’s Eliza Collins]
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The bill that would allow the Saudi government to be sued in a US court over any involvement in the 9/11 attacks has been approved by the Senate committee. The bill was supported by democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]  However, the White House has indicated that President Obama will veto the legislation. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]
The White House is “confident” that Saudi Arabia will not go through with its reported threat to sell billions of dollars of US assets, spokesperson Josh Earnest said yesterday. [Reuters]
The UN-backed unity government moved last week to take political control of Libya following a “surprise” decision by the Tripoli administration to disband itself. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer el-Ghobashy and Hassan Morajea]
UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Seraj appealed for aid to fight Islamic State and rebuild a shattered Libya during his first video conference with EU foreign and defense ministers. The EU has responded by offering to assist with border management and with building police capacity. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]
The EU is looking into “enhancing the capacity” of its naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea in anticipation of an “influx” of people heading for Europe from Libya and neighboring countries. [Financial Times’ Jim Brunsden]
The UK is keen to take a “leading role” in establishing stability in Libya, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond offering support and £10 million-worth of aid to the unity government during his visit to Tripoli yesterday. It has also been suggested that the UK may supply ground troops to Libya as part of a 6,000-strong European force under Italian command, reports Jonathan Marcus. [BBC]
The transfer of nine detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Saudi Arabia over the weekend has been “blasted” by Republicans, who insist that it “unnecessarily” puts US citizens at increased risk. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
Released detainees’ writings “provide a glimpse” of how their “humanity endured in one of the bleakest prisons of the war on terror,” reports Murtaza Hussain. [The Intercept]
A bomb on a bus in Jerusalem wounded around 21 people yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing the explosion as a “terrorist attack,” though no perpetrators have been identified as yet. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]
Yosef Haim Ben David has been convicted of the 2014 murder of a Palestinian teenager in revenge for the abduction of three Israeli youths, an incendiary event which helped to instigate the subsequent war in Gaza. Ben David’s two accomplices have already been convicted and sentenced. [APReuters’ Jeffrey Heller]
The US feels “overwhelming frustration” at Israel’s government and its expansion of Jewish settlements. Vice President Joe Biden was speaking to the J Street lobby group in Washington yesterday about the US’s relationship with the Israeli government, stating that the US also has an “overwhelming obligation” to press for the “only ultimate solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a two-state solution. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]
There are “indications” that Islamic State has sent more fighters to Europe, according to Belgian authorities. [Reuters’ Robert-Jan Bartunek]
German authorities have arrested five people on suspicion of forming a right-wing terror group, designed to attack the homes of refugees and other facilities, prosecutors said. [AP]
A Moroccan man with suspected links to ISIS has been arrested by authorities in the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. [AP]
“Suddenly – and belatedly – leaders are willing to admit that extreme interpretations of Islam are a problem.” John Vicocur discusses what he describes as a “clash of civilizations” underway in Europe. [Wall Street Journal]
There should be limits on the government’s powers to conduct covert email searches, said Bill Gates yesterday, expressing his support for Microsoft Corp’s lawsuit against the government seeking freedom to inform customers when their data has been sought by federal agencies. [Reuters]
China has suggested that the US military may hack itself in order to increase budgets and present Beijing in a negative light. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]
The Russian fighter jet “barrel-rolled” over the US spy plane it flew close to last Thursday, the Pentagon has claimed. This was the second of two similar incidents in the Baltic Sea the past week, the first involving a Russian aircraft performing a “simulated attack profile” on a US warship, though neither of the Russian planes involved appeared to be armed, the Pentagon has confirmed. [AFP]  NATO is due to discuss Russia’s actions when ambassadors meet with Russian officials tomorrow, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has said. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]
A suicide bombing and gun attack hit a government security agency in Kabul, Afghanistan, this morning, killing “dozens” and injuring hundreds of people. The Taliban has claimed responsibility, saying that it detonated a truck filled with explosives. [Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati and Ehsanullah Amiri; AP]
A suicide attack in the northwestern city of Mardan, Pakistan, has killed at least one person today. A spokesperson for the militant group Jamat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP’s Riaz Khan]
UK ministers have discarded a plan to introduce a war powers act that would cement into law a convention that parliamentary approval is required before troops are sent into combat, except in an emergency. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs that he and the prime minister did not want to be “artificially constrained in action to keep this country safe.” [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor]
China has declined to respond to queries from the US military in relation to its use of a military aircraft to evacuate sick workers from one of its man-made islands in the South China Sea on Sunday. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard]
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Today's Headlines and Commentary 

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In a significant setback to securing peace in Syria, the mainstream Syrian opposition group called for a halt to peace talks in Geneva today, announcing a new offensive against Syrian regime forces, and accusing the United Nations of bias in favor of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Reuters reports that the coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, the main opposition body, said that it was “unacceptable” for peace talks to continue if the government did not lift sieges and stop bombing civilian areas. One diplomat told the newswire that Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Envoy for the Syrian conflict, “must imperatively reassure the opposition” by “putting pressure on the government.” The withdrawal from peace talks follows a Friday meeting in Geneva in which de Mistura “mentioned the idea of Assad remaining in power symbolically in exchange for the opposition’s nomination of three Syrian vice-presidents.”
Earlier today, rebel forces launched “a fierce attack against government forces in Latakia province” while also making “separate advances further east in Hama.” Reuters writes that “there were heavy government air strikes in Homs province to the south.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that schools had been evacuated and hospitals shut throughout the region.   
Back in the United States, the Hill reports that the Department of State has announced plans to bring an average of 1,500 Syrian refugees per month to the United States in order to fulfill President Barack Obama’s goal of settling 10,000 in the country by September. Only 1,300 refugees have been taken in since the president set the target last September. To meet the goal, the State Department has launched a “surge operation” in Amman, Jordan, citing a lack of personnel for the delays in processing refugee applications.
President Obama leaves for Riyadh this week with damage control high on the agenda. The Gulf Cooperation Council meeting follows the president's remarks in an Atlantic magazine interview that insinuated the Saudi’s were “free riders” among other comments calling for Iran and the Saudis to “find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.” The rising tensions come at a time when the White House is seeking more help from Gulf allies in efforts to rebuild parts of Iraq. The Administration will likely look to address at least some of the Saudi worries by providing "new counterterrorism, military, missile defense, and cybersecurity capabilities.” The United States has also pledged $139 million in humanitarian aid for Yemen.
One other thing bothering the Saudis: a bill pending in Congress would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times shares that while the Obama administration is quietly seeking to kill the legislation, Riyadh has said that should the bill pass, it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of  American assets.
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is preparing to expand the U.S.’s military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by boosting the number of Special Operator advising Syrian rebels. With the goal of accelerating the momentum of Iraqi forces, the administration is also considering “the addition of Army attack helicopters to fight against militants in Iraq.” There are now 50 special operations forces operating in Syria; under the new plan, that number could rise to 200. The plan for Iraq would include shifting trainers who are already in Iraq closer to Mosul.
Last week, President Obama announced that the United States is now conducting “cyber operations” against ISIS. Today, Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast have the rundown on what those operations entail. In short, “military hackers are disrupting ISIS’s encrypted chats, implanting viruses in terrorists’ computers, and mining the machines to launch real-world strikes.” In a sign of how prevalent and important encrypted chats have become, intelligence officers said that U.S. Cyber Command “has the capability to identify when someone is using an encrypted application and then target the communications infrastructure to make it harder, if not impossible, to use that application.”
Reuters reports that talks aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen, which were expected to begin today, have been delayed, as fighting continued throughout the country despite a ceasefire. A delegate representing Yemen’s Houthi group and the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh said “there’s no point in going to Kuwait if there’s no respect for the ceasefire.” Elsewhere, Reuters notes reasons for optimism regarding the talks, even though a number of potential “spoilers” loom on the horizon. Two Yemeni officials said they expected to opposing delegations to arrive by Tuesday. 
Iran proudly displayed parts of its shiny, new S-300 missile defense system on Sunday at its annual Army Day Parade. The lifting of sanctions against Tehran as part of the nuclear deal allowed the sale of the system by Russia to Iran, which both Israel and the United States have protested. TheTelegraph has the photos, pulled from Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency.
The Washington Post writes that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday to declare that Israel will retain full control of the mountainous plateau forever and will never return the strategic highlands to neighboring Syria.” Israel seized the region during the 1967 Six-Day War, but the international community, including the United States, has never officially recognized Israel’s annexation of the territory. Syrian officials have recently signalled that they would like to include the region in Syrian peace talks.  
The United Nations announced on Sunday that so far this year, fighting in Afghanistan has killed or wounded 2,000 civilians and left more than 80,000 people displaced. The death toll fell 13 percent from last year, but the number of wounded increased 11 percent over the same period. Almost one-third of civilian casualties were children. And while the report blamed the Taliban for 60 percent of the casualties, it noted that deaths from government forces were up 70 percent from the same period last year. The Times notes that “the report came as fighting raged across several provinces.” Indeed,Afghan forces repelled a Taliban assault in the city of Kunduz over the weekend. According to Afghan government estimates, 40 Taliban fighters and four Afghan forces were killed in the fighting. TheTimes has more on the fighting, though not much.
The Times also carries the story of two Afghan troops—thought to be dead—who resurfaced in a Taliban prison. Their reward for coming home? The Afghan government now wants the $2,300 USD paid to their families following their deaths.
In what could be the first openly acknowledged mission of its kind, the Chinese Defense Ministry on Sunday morning announced that it had dispatched a military plane to Fiery Cross Reef, a man-made island in the disputed South China Sea. Per the ministry’s statement, the plane was on patrol when it was diverted to the island in order to pick up three injured construction workers.
Russian aviators just can’t get close enough to U.S. military equipment lately. CNN reports that on Thursday of last week, a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane was operating in the Baltic Sea when a Russian Su-27 flew within 50 feet of the U.S. aircraft’s wing tip, beginning a barrel roll from the left side, going over the top, and ending on the right side of the aircraft. U.S. officials called the maneuver “unsafe and unprofessional,” but Russia’s defense ministry denied the incident occurred, saying that the reports were “not consistent with reality.”  
According to the Wall Street Journal, on Friday, Apple asked U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie to “reject the Justice Department’s effort to make it help unlock an iPhone tied to a New York druge case,” a move that the Journal describes as “the latest legal volley in a continuing battle over encryption and privacy.” The latest court filing follows a February ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein that found that the government lacked the authority to compel Apple to assist agents in extracting data. The Department of Justice is appealing that ruling.
In Defense One, Patrick Tucker describes how the Burr-Feinstein encryption resembles Chinese law.
The Miami Herald reports that on Saturday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accepted nine Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The transfer, expected for several weeks, leaves 80 detainees remaining at the facility. The nine men have long been cleared for release, but have been unable to go home due to a White House policy that bars the repatriation of detainees to Yemen. The Saudi government agreed to take “non-citizens from Guantanamo to its rehabilitation program set up to help Saudi jihadists transition back into society.” The transferred detainees include Tariq Ba Odah, Mansour Muhammed Ali Qatta, Ahmed Kuman, Adbul Rahman al Qyati, Mashur al Sabri, Ahmed al Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Nasir, Mohammed al Hamiri, Ali al Raimi. The New York Times has more.
Parting Shot: Call it a drone strike of a different sort. Upon approach to Heathrow Airport in London, a British Airways Airbus 320 collided with a small drone. The plane landed safely and was cleared for its next flight, but the crash—reportedly, the first of its kindcomes as aviation authorities around the world worry about the increasing prevalence of hobby drones in restricted airspace. BBC has more.
ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare
In this weekend’s Foreign Policy Essay, C. Christine Fair, Jacob S. Goldstein, and Ali Hamza arguethat Muslims with a greater knowledge of Islam are less likely to support terrorist organizations or radical interpretations of their faith.
Cody shared the latest Lawfare Podcast, which features a debate between Daniel Weitzner and Benjamin Wittes on “Going Dark and the Fallout from Apple v. FBI.”
Cody also provided The Week That Was, a roundup of Lawfare’s content from the previous week.
Sloane Speakman summarized the “surprising success of Syria’s quasi-ceasefire.”
Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us onTwitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.
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NATO to Discuss Russia’s Risky Military Maneuvers

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The interceptions of a U.S. Air Force plane and a Navy destroyer by Russian warplanes last week were unsafe and highlight the need for Wednesday’s discussion between Russia and the Western allies, the head of North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Tuesday.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said the alliance will discuss Russia’s risky military maneuvers and related issues when allied ambassadors meet with Russian officials Wednesday.
The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels will be the first since June 2014, when the alliance cut off practical cooperation with Moscow following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
“The incidents we have seen in the Baltic Sea over the last week with the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of Russian planes close to an American ship and an American plane underline the importance of open military lines of communication, predictability and risk reduction,” Mr. Stoltenberg said ahead of a meeting of European Union defense ministers in Luxembourg.
According to the U.S. account on Monday and Tuesday of last week, Russian warplanes and a military helicopter repeatedly buzzed the USS Donald Cook , as it carried out operations in the Baltic Sea. In another incident on Thursday, a Russian fighter plane flew over the top of a U.S. reconnaissance plane. The Russian pilot, approaching from the left side, rolled his jet over the top of the Air Force plane.
Mr. Stoltenberg said Tuesday the incidents were dangerous. U.S. military officials said they are protesting the incidents.
The Russian military has disputed the U.S. accounts of the interceptions. Russian officials have said U.S. forces have started operating closer to Russia’s borders.
The U.S. ship and plane were operating in international waters and airspace. But there is little doubt the incidents were warnings by the Russian military for the U.S. to keep its forces away from Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave that is home to critical military bases.
In a roundtable with reporters last week, Alexander Grushko, Moscow’s ambassador to NATO, accused the alliance of building up forces in Poland and the Baltic region, an increase of forces he said was unjustified.
“In the long run, NATO has to choose what kind of relationship it wants to have with Russia,” he said. “I don’t see any possibility for the improvement of our relationship if NATO continues to move on the path of deterrence.”
NATO, Mr. Grushko said, was abandoning the idea that security isn’t guaranteed by increased number of tanks. The western allies, he added, are in violation of a 1997 agreement not to permanently station substantial numbers of combat forces in Eastern Europe.
“It was a common assumption that European security could not be based on more military assets, but, on the contrary, on restraint,” Mr. Grushko said.
Mr. Stoltenberg disputed the idea that NATO was the aggressor or had triggered an arms race in the Baltic. NATO’s reinforcement in Eastern Europe, he said, was a response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine
“NATO does not seek a new Cold War,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “NATO does not want a new arms race. What NATO has done when it comes to reinforcement of our collective defense is defensive and is proportionate.”
Both Russian and NATO officials have played down the chances of any concrete agreement or progress from Wednesday’s meeting. But Mr. Stoltenberg has been pushing for the meeting since December and said the dialogue was important.
“It is very important we have political dialogue especially when times are difficult, as they are now,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “When tensions are high, the need for open channels of dialogue, for predictability, for transparency, is more important.”
Write to Julian Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com
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Uncovering the Hidden Truths of 9/11

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A view from the top of the escalators in the Bankers Trust building show the wreckage of the World Trade Center on September 25, 2001 in New York. (Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)
For nearly 15 years, ever since jihadists took down the Twin Towers and killed nearly 3,000 Americans, many have wondered how a bunch of novice terrorists—several of whom could barely fly an airplane, much less a big jetliner—could pull off such complex and audacious attack. What al-Qa’ida termed their ‘Planes Operation’ was meticulously planned prior to execution—but by whom, exactly?
That key question remains partly open, and the American public has never received the full explanation from our government that they deserve. I know what they have not been allowed to see: When 9/11 happened I was a counterintelligence officer with the National Security Agency and part of my purview was looking into state connections to international terrorism. I was one of the few officials in our Intelligence Community seriously looking into al-Qa’ida’s links to foreign intelligence before the Twin Towers fell.
In the months after the attacks, a complex intelligence picture emerged of who secretly aided al-Qa’ida in the run-up to 9/11—large portions of which were kept highly classified. Why they remain classified still is a good question that needs to be asked. Regrettably, the 9/11 Commission, which was established to get to the bottom of that national tragedy, dodged certain key questions—though in fairness to its members the Commission was not allowed to see some important evidence.
For want of a complete explanation, conspiracy theories have proliferated about 9/11, promising the “real” story. Most of this is toxic silliness, with bizarre Internet theorizing by fools and charlatans about how the Twin Towers were “really” destroyed by persons not in al-Qa’ida: Jews, the Pentagon, the Illuminati, or space aliens, depending on your preferred flight of fancy. Such ridiculousness unfortunately obscures the reality that there remain important unanswered questions about the Planes Operation.
Let me state that the job done by the 9/11 Commission was essentially accurate but incomplete. The attacks were the work of al-Qa’ida and their airborne assaults on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon unfolded as the U.S. Government has told you. The backstory they have omitted, however, is vitally important and needs public airing.
This vexing issue is back in the news again thanks to CBS, whose 60 Minutes program reported on the so-called “28 Pages,” the portion of the official report on 9/11 that has been withheld from the public since 2003, through two presidencies. Many former officials, including members of Congress, long demanded Washington release the 28 Pages, to no avail. Presidents Bush and Obama have demurred because those pages reveal some very unflattering things about Saudi Arabia, our longtime ally.
Since the U.S. Government did not do its job, the task of unraveling Iran’s links to 9/11 has fallen to private citizens.
As the 28 Pages make clear, Saudi officials had contacts with some of the 9/11 hijackers that can charitably be termed odd. To any counterintelligence professional, these connections—combined with the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals—raise enormous red flags, particularly because there were visible connections between some of the hijackers and Saudi intelligence agents in the United States.
Just as bad, the U.S. Government, even in highly classified channels, demonstrated a stunning lack of interest in running down possible Saudi connections to the Planes Operation. Nobody really wanted to know what Riyadh’s role might have been. Accepting that a close ally may have had some sort of hand in 9/11 was a possibility seemingly too awful for the George W. Bush White House to contemplate.
Worse, the Bush administration enabled numerous Saudi nationals—including some with worrying connections to the hijackers—to flee the United States after 9/11, preventing any real investigation from taking place. While it is overwrought to present this as a grand conspiracy, as some seek to do, Americans should have questions about what was going on here. At a minimum, the FBI seems to have stonewalled efforts to look into what some of those Saudis were up to in the months before the attacks.
Yet nobody should expect Washington, DC, to come clean about this anytime soon. Almost 15 years later, admitting that two administrations have kept important facts about 9/11 from the public would cause political trauma. Not least because bipartisan refusal to admit the full truth about major terrorist attacks is something of a tradition in our nation’s capital. Additionally, Riyadh has reacted hystericallyto recent public comments on the 28 Pages, threatening dire economic pain if Americans start asking pointed questions about any Saudi angle to the Planes Operation. That they have something to hide is painfully obvious.
What exactly Saudi Arabia is hiding, though, may be less nefarious than some suspect. It’s evident that Saudi officials, both from their government and from several jihad-linked “Islamic charities,” provided material assistance to some of the 9/11 hijackers. This was the same template that Riyadh employed for decades—throwing money at radicals and terrorists in the hope they cause trouble outside the Kingdom rather than inside it—right until the Planes Operation exposed how toxic this nefarious Saudi bargain really was.
There is no evidence that Saudi assistance to 9/11 was more than tactical. Based on their usualmodus operandi with jihadists, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that Riyadh, per se, had anything to do with the Planes Operation. Low-level support to radicals had been Saudi policy for so long that they may have done so here without pondering consequences. We may never get to the bottom of exactly what Saudi officials were doing in the months before the Twin Towers fell.
This all looks eerily like the murky backstory to the June 28, 1914 Sarajevo assassination that caused World War One. We know Serbian intelligence was behind the attack—it was state-sponsored terrorism—just as we know that Russian intelligence was actually funding the assassination plot. However, over a century later we still don’t know whether the Russian government officially approved that—records, if they ever existed, were long ago destroyed—and it’s certainly possible that eager mid-level Tsarist spies were acting without official go-ahead.
Moreover, focusing solely on Saudi tactical support to the Planes Operation obscures the bigger question of possible strategic support to 9/11. In other words, did any governments secretly aid al-Qa’ida in even more substantial ways than Riyadh did? Regrettably this question was always considered even more off-limits inside the Beltway than talking about Saudi involvement in 9/11—and it still remains explosive today.
That Iran had some sort of hand in the Planes Operation has long been suspected by many insiders. Contrary to what “terrorism experts” may say, Tehran was always willing to aid Sunni extremists like al-Qa’ida, while Osama bin Laden and his ilk were equally willing to accept secret help from the Shia they despise. Iranian intelligence has enjoyed a clandestine relationship with al-Qa’ida going back to the early 1990s, and U.S. intelligence has known of meetings between their leadership and top Tehran spies since 1996.
As I exposed in my 2007 book Unholy Terror, it was this toxic secret brew of Saudi cash and Iranian know-how that enabled al-Qa’ida in the 1990s to transform from a regional terrorist group into a global movement and threat. The real road to 9/11 was paved by Riyadh’s moneymen and Tehran’s spies, who despite their mutual antipathy were both eager to help bin Laden and his movement in their jihad against the West.
Despite these facts, the 9/11 Commission demonstrated little interest in Iranian ties to the Planes Operation. While admitting that several of the hijackers had transited Iran, and that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the notorious KSM, the jihadist entrepreneur who came up with the Planes Operation, had stashed his family in Iran for years, it went no further. Why Tehran would want to help Sunni radicals was left essentially unexplored. In particular, the 9/11 Commission punted on the obvious lines of inquiry that such information opened up to anyone with eyes wanting to see, lamely noting that the issue of Iran’s role “requires further investigation by the U.S. Government.”
That additional inquiry never came. In fairness to the 9/11 Commission, they were not allowed to see important information that might have changed their minds. In particular, they did not see NSA signals intelligence that shed significant light on Iran’s clandestine role supporting al-Qa’ida generally and the Planes Operation particularly. SIGINT from NSA makes up the lion’s share of intelligence in our government, and the fact that the 9/11 Commission was never shown the impressive full NSA archive of reports, many highly classified, on the very topic they were investigating seems incomprehensible.
Since the U.S. Government did not do its job, the task of unraveling Iran’s links to 9/11 has fallen to private citizens who have filed suit against Tehran, with some success. At a minimum, they havemarshaled impressive evidence that Iran’s secret role was important and something that needs serious examination. Recently a Federal judge agreed, ordering Tehran to pay more than $10.5 billion in damages to the families of 9/11 victims on the basis of Iran’s role in that criminal conspiracy.
Nearly six years ago, I implored our government to at last deal with the knotty issue of foreign ties to 9/11, in particular to release any and all intelligence that bears on this vital question, to no avail. The same questions remain: What foreign governments had any operational impact on 9/11? What was Saudi Arabia’s role? How many hijackers spent time in Iran and what were they doing there? Were any al-Qa’ida officials involved in the Planes Operation, especially KSM, assessed as Iranian agents? What about Imad Mughniyeh, Iran’s arch-terrorist, who before his 2008 death is believed to have enjoyed a close relationship with certain top Sunni jihadists? Did Mughniyeh have anything to do with 9/11?
Answering these questions will finally bring the real backstory of 9/11 into focus. By all means our government ought to release the 28 Pages, the public should demand no less. Yet there is no point in unmasking Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans while ignoring the equally important, and possibly far greater role of Iran behind 9/11. It’s time for the truth to be revealed. The victims and the American public deserve nothing less than the full story of September 11, 2001.
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11:51 AM 4/18/2016 - Headlines: Uncovering the Hidden Truths of 9/11 | Observer | Hundreds of migrants believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy confirms | Dilma Rousseff Is Impeached by Brazil’s Lower House of Congress - The New York Times 

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11:51 AM 4/18/2016 - Headlines: Uncovering the Hidden Truths of 9/11 | Observer | Hundreds of migrants believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy confirms | Dilma Rousseff Is Impeached by Brazil’s Lower House of Congress - The New York Times

Hundreds of migrants believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy confirms
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is greeted by U.S. General McFarland upon arriving in Baghdad, April 18, 2016. (C. Babb/VOA)
US Defense Secretary in Iraq for Talks on Beefing Up IS Fight

Dilma Rousseff Is Impeached by Brazil’s Lower House of Congress - The New York Times

Ъ-Газета - Александра Лукашенко приняли в исламе
На встрече с Президентом Государства Палестина Махмудом Аббасом.
Встреча с Президентом Государства Палестина Махмудом Аббасом • Президент России

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    Dozens Dead In Flash Floods In Afghanistan

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    At least 30 people have been killed by flash floods in northern Afghanistan.

    Gay penguins Stan and Olli are not alone – video

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    Penguins aren’t the only animals known to form same-sex relationships – but they are perhaps the most well-known (and adorable). King penguin couple Stan and Olli are moving to an all-male enclosure in Hamburg while also becoming a symbol for marriage equality campaign in Germany
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    The Latest: EU border agency says Mediterranean crossings up

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    The Latest on European efforts to deal with the influx of migrants (all times local):

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    US 'extra troops' to aid Iraq war on IS

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    US to send 200 extra troops to Iraq to help fight against so-called Islamic State, officials say

    US to send 200 more troops, Apache helicopters, to fight Islamic State group in Iraq amid push to retake key city of Mosul 

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    US to send 200 more troops, Apache helicopters, to fight Islamic State group in Iraq amid push to retake key city of Mosul.

    Arabic speaker told to leave US plane

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    An Iraqi university student in California says he was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight for having a conversation in Arabic.
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    Brazil lawmakers OK Rousseff impeachment - Indiana Gazette

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    Indiana Gazette

    Brazil lawmakers OK Rousseff impeachment
    Indiana Gazette
    Anti-government demonstrators celebrated Sunday in São Paulo after the lower house of Congress voted to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. (Andre Penner/Associated Press). Click photo for gallery. BRASILIA, Brazil — For the second time in ...
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    Drone collision with jet highlights growing aviation danger

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    LONDON (AP) -- A collision between a British Airways passenger jet and a drone over London has left the plane undamaged but the aviation industry deeply shaken....

    'Casualties' In Jerusalem Bus Explosion

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    Twenty people have been killed or injured in an explosion on a bus in Jerusalem, Israeli radio has reported.

    Israeli rescue service says bus explodes in Jerusalem

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    JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli rescue service says a bus has exploded in the heart of Jerusalem, wounding at least 10....

    Drone collision with jet highlights growing aviation danger

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    A collision between a British Airways passenger jet and a drone over London has left the plane undamaged but the aviation industry deeply shaken.

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    U.S. Will Send 200 More Troops to Iraq to Fight ISIS

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    (BAGHDAD)— The U.S. has agreed to deploy more than 200 additional troops to Iraq and to send Apache helicopters for the first time into the fight against ISIS in Iraq, the first major increase in U.S. forces in nearly a year, U.S. defense officials said Monday.
    The uptick in American fighting forces — and the decision to put them closer to the front lines — is designed to help Iraqi forces retake the key northern city of Mosul, and to help retake Raqqa, the extremist’s group self-proclaimed capital in Syria. Last June the Obama administration announced that hundreds of troops would be deployed to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi — a goal they accomplished at the end of the year.
    Of the additional troops, most would be Army special forces, who have been used throughout the anti-ISIS campaign to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder would include some trainers, security forces for the advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.
    The decisions reflect weeks of discussions with commanders and Iraqi leaders, and a decision by President Barack Obama to increase the authorized troop level in Iraq by 217 forces — or from 3,870 to 4,087. The advise-and-assist teams — made up of about a dozen troops each accompanied by security forces — would embed with Iraqi brigades and battalion, likely putting them closer to the front lines and at greater risk from mortars and rocket fire.
    The proximity to the battlefront will allow the U.S. teams to provide more tactical combat advice as the Iraqi units move toward Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, still under ISIS control. Until now, U.S. advisers have worked with the Iraqis at the headquarters level, well back from the front lines.
    The Apache helicopters are considered a significant aid to any attack on Mosul.
    Last December, U.S. officials were trying to carefully negotiate new American assistance with Iraqi leaders who often have a different idea of how to wage war. At that time, the Iraqis refused Apache helicopters for the battle to retake Ramadi.
    Speaking to U.S. troops at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Ash Carter also said that the U.S. will send an additional rocket-assisted artillery system to Iraq.
    U.S. officials have also said that the number of special operations forces in Syria would be increased at some point, but Carter did not mention that in his comments. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
    Carter’s announcement Monday came after several meetings with his commanders and Iraqi leaders about how the U.S. can best help Iraqi forces retake Mosul.
    He met with Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. military commander for the ISIS fight, as well as a number of Iraqi leaders including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Iraq’s minister of defense Khalid al-Obeidi.
    He also spoke by phone with the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani
    Late last month, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he and Carter believed there would be an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq in the coming weeks.
    Later this week, Obama will be in Saudi Arabia to talk with Gulf leaders about the fight against ISIS and ask for their help in rebuilding Ramadi, which took heavy damage in the battle.
    U.S. military and defense officials also have made it clear that winning back Mosul is critical, but will be challenging, because the insurgents are dug in and have likely peppered the landscape with roadside bombs and other traps for any advancing military.
    A senior defense official told reporters traveling with Carter that while Iraqi leaders have been reluctant to have a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq, they also need certain capabilities that only more American or coalition forces can provide.
    Iraqi leaders, back the addition of more U.S. troops if their work is coordinated with Iraqis and directed toward the retaking of Mosul. The official was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Iraq has been struggling with a political crisis, as efforts to oust the speaker of parliament failed. Al-Abadi’s efforts to get a new cabinet in place met resistance, and influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a deadline, giving parliament 72 hours to vote in a new Cabinet.
    At the same time, the costs of the war against ISIS, along with the plunge in the price of oil — which accounts for 95 percent of Iraq’s revenues — have caused an economic crisis, adding fresh urgency to calls for reform. Iraqi officials predict a budget deficit of more than $30 billion this year.
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