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Morning Brief - 11/15/12


Today's Top Story
President Obama has issued a secret directive that will allow the Pentagon and federal agencies to defend the nation from cyberattacks more effectively, reports the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima. Analysts say the policy directive, which was signed in mid-October, is the most extensive effort yet from the Obama administration to distinguish between offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace, and spell out which agencies are authorized to take which actions. “It should enable people to arrive at more effective decisions,” said a senior administration official. “In that sense, it’s an enormous step forward.”
The White House also says that the directive empowers law enforcement and traditional network defense, rather than military cyberwarfare, as the government’s first option in mitigating a cyberattack. (WashPost)

The United States

A report from the National Academy of Sciences released on Wednesday says a terrorist attack on the U.S. power grid could cause tremendous hardship by destroying critical hardware (substations and transmission lines) and blacking out large swathes of the country for weeks or even months. Many Americans could die from exposure in the fallout, according to NAS, and the economy could face hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. Analysts say the report is the most authoritative yet on the matter, but that electricity grid vulnerabilities have been well known for years. (NYT)

Shabaab Leader: The FBI has added Omar Shafik Hammami (aka Al-Amriki) to its list of most wanted terrorists. Authorities believe Hammami, a 28-year-old American from Alabama, is residing in Somalia, where he has become a leader of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate. However, some analysts say Hammami may have fallen out of favor with some of his fellow jihadists. (WashPost)

Portland bomber: Mohamed Mohamud, the 21-year old Oregon man accused of plotting to bomb a Portland Christmas festival in 2010, was in court for a host of hearings on pre-trial motions. Mohamud is scheduled for a one-month trial in January, where he faces one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. (Oregonian)

Petraeus Scandal: U.S. authorities say that a computer belonging to Paula Broadwell, the woman whose extra-marital affair with CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation, contained extensive amounts of classified information. The findings warrant further investigation, official say. (Reuters)


Conflict Zones


A new Israeli offensive on Gaza opened on Wednesday with a precision airstrike that killed the military commander of Hamas, Ahmed al-Jabari, as he was riding in his car. Israel, which is retaliating for a barrage of rocket attacks on its territory in recent days, has warned other Hamas operatives that they would suffer similar fates if they “show their faces.” Three Israeli citizens were killed in a rocket strike on Thursday, the first Israeli casualties in the conflict. Analysts fear the violence is lurching toward all-out war. Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi condemned the Israeli assault as “unacceptable,” while the Obama administration stood by Israel’s right to self-defense, but was “working to de-escalate the situation.” (NYT, Reuters)

Syria: Syrian rebels wrested control of a government-held military post on the country’s northeastern border with Turkey, according to an activist group. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad escalated the bombardment of rebel targets in the environs of Damascus. (al-Jazeera)


World News

The head of U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, warned that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could “export violence” to European nations and the United States. Gen. Ham said that AQIM was linked to the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and therefore posed an “imminent threat” to U.S. interests in the region. (AFP)

Mali: A spokesman for Ansar Dine, one of the three Islamist militant groups holding sway over Mali’s breakaway northern region, said his group would not give up Sharia rule. The president of Burkina Faso, who is serving as a mediator in the Malian crisis, has been meeting with representatives of Ansar Dine in hopes of averting the need for foreign military intervention. (AP)

China: China’s Communist Party has completed its leadership transition and granted the reigns of power to Xi Jinping, the 59-year-old son of a prominent revolutionary and economic reformer. (WSJ)

Top Op-Eds:

Justifying targeted killings: This New York Times debate mulls the murky morality and legality of targeted killings in the wake of Israel’s assault on Hamas, asking whether such acts by government are ever appropriate.

Petraeus’ potential replacement
: “[Michael] Morell is a career agency analyst -- not a member of the operations branch that runs clandestine agents -- who cut his teeth on East Asia, which promises to be a major priority for the White House as it completes its pivot away from the Middle East in Obama's second term,” writes Brian Fung in the Atlantic.

Killing from the sky
: “Drones have killed al-Qaeda leaders with devastating precision but with the unintended consequence of pushing the organization out of its lair in northwest Pakistan and into every other broken part of the Muslim world,” writes Vali Nasr for Brookings.

Editor's Pick:

New York Times: Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?