News Roundup and Notes: December 22, 2014

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.

SONY and NORTH KOREA

The U.S. is considering placing North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in response to what President Obama called “an act of cyber vandalism” against Sony, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” [AP] Senior administration officials said that the White House is weighing a number of serious options, including intensified financial measures, following North Korea’s alleged hacking of Sony. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee et al]

North Korea warned that it would retaliate against any U.S. punishment, stating it would inflict “thousands of times greater damage” on targets including the White House and the Pentagon. [Bloomberg News’ Sam Kim]

China said it condemned cyberattacks, but said that there was no proof linking North Korea to the Sony hack. China made no reference to a previous call by the U.S. to join action with other countries to counter similar attacks. [Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan And Steve Holland]

The Sunday political shows focused on the Sony hack. Sen. John McCain called the cyberattack “a new form of warfare,” while House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers criticized Obama for his slow response. [The Hill]

Many security experts remain skeptical that North Korea is responsible for the Sony cyberattack, reports Michael Hiltzik. [Los Angeles Times]

“The very function of terrorism is to terrify” and cancelling the film, The Interview, “sets us on a slippery slow towards appeasement, and will only further empower North Korea’s regime,” writes Adrian Hong. [Politico Magazine]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board offers some suggestions of “proportional” responses to the Sony cyberattack, including once again placing North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and reprising the Treasury Department’s 2007 sanctions on Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia accused of money-laundering for Pyongyang.

“Sony carries much of the blame for this cyber catastrophe” due to “egregious security practices,” as the attack could have been averted “if it had simply protected its data better,” argues Tom Fox-Brewster. [The Observer]

GUANTANAMO BAY

Four Guantanamo Bay detainees were released to Afghanistan on Saturday; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had specifically requested the repatriation of the men.  [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

President Obama said yesterday that he will do everything in his power to close the Guantanamo detention facility, however he stopped short of promising the camp would be closed by the end of his second term. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military will today announce that it has forwarded the conclusions of its investigation into the disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2009 to an army commander who will decide what punishment Bergdahl should face. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes]

Seven police officers were killed in the northern province of Jowzjan, Afghanistan following an insurgent attack on a checkpoint; the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]

The Afghan military engagement against the Taliban in the Chak Valley offers a “glimpse” of the country’s military future following the withdrawal of NATO troops from the country, reports Sudarsan Raghavan. [Washington Post]

Malware was used to target visitors to official Afghan government websites, according to U.S. cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect. [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal]

SENATE TORTURE REPORT 

CIA officials accused of searching a computer network being used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers conducting the investigation into the torture program will go unpunished, following recommendations from a panel investigating the incident. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Mark Mazzetti]

The name of the senior CIA official responsible for misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, reports Glenn Greenwald. Last week both NBC News and the New Yorker discussed Bikowsky’s role but kept her identity anonymous.  [The Intercept]

The New York Times editorial board calls for those involved in the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program to be prosecuted, arguing that a criminal investigation “is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments;” the editorial cites John Sifton’s guest post at Just Security.

IRAQ and SYRIA

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and partner nations carried out four strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 19. Separately, U.S. and partner nations conducted 11 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have succeeded in pushing Islamic State militants from a large swath of territory around Mount Sinjar in the north of the country, according to Kurdish officials, who added that around 300 jihadi militants had been killed during the operation. [The Guardian’s Fazel Hawramy] 

PAKISTAN 

Pakistan executed four prisoners on Sunday, continuing the retributive response to the Peshawar Taliban attack. Two other convicted terrorists were hanged on Friday after the prime minister decided to abandon a six-year moratorium on the death penalty. [The Guardian’s Jon Boone]  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed the Attorney General to “pro-actively” pursue terrorism cases where courts have granted stay orders against executions. [Dawn’s Mateen Haider]

Pakistani authorities arrested a number of suspects accused of involvement in the Taliban school attack last Tuesday in Peshawar, officials said yesterday. [AP]

Airstrikes in response to the school attack continue. Government forces targeted terrorist strongholds killing Pakistani Taliban fighters and commanders on Saturday. Tribal leaders in North Waziristan reported a U.S. drone strike early Saturday close to the Afghan border that killed at least five militants. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig] 

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba will not abandon its communist ideals, Cuban President Raúl Castro said over the weekend, while thanking President Obama for his diplomatic efforts. [Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow]

Obama faces a hard fight with Congress over U.S.-Cuba ties, as Congress controls important restrictions on travel and trade between the countries. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and William Mauldin]

Sen. Marco Rubio repeated his criticism of the president’s policy on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, stating that Obama had given away “much of [the] leverage” the U.S. had over Cuba.

Cuba must return a woman convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper before relations with the U.S. can be normalized, Gov. Chris Christie has said to President Obama. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

A Republican senator, Jeff Flake, became Obama’s supporter on Cuba, Lauren French explains at Politico. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

President Obama will name Sally Yates as his nominee for deputy attorney general today, according to a U.S. official. [Reuters’ Julia Edwards]

A massive cyberattack on a German steel factory resulted in the hackers accessing production networks and tampering with controls on a blast furnace, according to the government in an IT security report. [IT World’s Loek Essers]

2008 Mumbai terror attack. Three intelligence agencies – the U.S., the U.K., and India – had each compiled a large amount of relevant spy data but failed to “pull together all the strands gathered” that could have enabled them to prevent the deadly attack, report James Glanz et al. [New York Times]

Wikileaks has released two classified documents pertaining to how CIA operatives should maintain their cover while travelling through airports using false ID, including through the European Union and the Schengen passport control system.

Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram increasingly poses a regional threat with the group’s influence apparent in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria itself. [AP] 

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).