The Soufan Group MORNING BRIEF in association with the Center on National Security at Fordham Law

Morning Brief - 2/21/12

Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated outside the gates of Bagram Air Base on Tuesday over reports that NATO personnel there burned copies of the Koran. The NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, issued an apology, acknowledging that personnel at the base had “improperly disposed” of Korans and Islamic materials. “When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them,” Allen’s statement said. “I assure you this was not intentional in any way.” (NYT, CNN)

The United States
Plane crash in Djibouti: Four U.S. Special Operations service members were killed Saturday when their reconnaissance plane crashed near the U.S. base in Djibouti, the Defense Department said yesterday. The plane had been conducting a surveillance mission in Afghanistan, and the crash is under investigation. (AP, Wired, NYT)

Conflict Zones
Yemenis went to polling stations on Tuesday to vote to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “In reality,” reports the New York Times, the election “is meant to be more symbolic than democratic: the only candidate is Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi.” Still, “it is an important transitional moment for a nation that has been mired in conflict for more than a year, leaving its troubled economy in tatters and many people dead or wounded.” (NYT) If Yemen’s new government “moves quickly to restructure its military forces, stem official corruption and implement electoral reforms,” the Obama administration is prepared to increase assistance to the country, a U.S. official said Monday, according to the Washington Post.

An Iranian defense official struck a bellicose tone on Tuesday, warning that Iran might take pre-emptive action if it felt its national interests were threatened. Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy armed forces head, said that “our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” the New York Times reports. A team from the IAEA arrived in Iran on Monday for a two-day visit, but the investigators appear to be limited to talks, rather than visiting nuclear sites as they had sought to do. Iranian state media also indicated that a ban on oil exports to the UK and France, announced Sunday, might be expanded to other European countries. (AP, CNN, NYT)

Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s spy agency will reportedly be deployed to army units across the country in order to monitor Afghan soldiers in an attempt to weed out those who might pose a threat to coalition forces. (WSJ)

Syria: Syrian forces continue to bombard Homs, with activists reporting at least seven dead on Tuesday. (AP) Two Iranian warships that had docked in Syria have reportedly left. (NYT)

Terror plot in Thailand: “Big questions remain about who was behind” a plot involving several Iranian men who blew up their rented house in Bangkok last week, the Associated Press reports. (AP)

Arguments, Editorials, and Must Reads
Mansfield Frazier on ‘invented’ homegrown terrorists: “If federal authorities thought Amine El Khalifi was a clear and present danger to America, they could have easily solved the problem by deporting the 29-year-old Moroccan, who had been living as an illegal immigrant in northern Virginia for years, having overstayed his visitor’s visa by a decade,” writes Frazier in The Daily Beast. “Instead, he was arrested Friday in a garage outside the U.S. Capitol for allegedly planning to set off a fake suicide vest and shoot people with an inoperable automatic weapon—both provided to him by his government handlers.” If the Feds hadn’t gotten involved, would the same thing have happened? “You want to be very sure that the narrative is not substantially provided by the government,” says Karen Greenberg. “There’s a lot of gray area in these cases.”

Samuel Rascoff on why Uncle Sam is no imam: “From a national security point of view, challenging ideas that underpin radical Islam makes sense,” writes Rascoff in the New York Times. “Counterterrorism is ultimately about ideas; why shouldn’t officials try to marginalize the theological teachings cited by violent terrorists? The problem is that when American officials intervene in Islamic teachings — interpreting them to believers in a national-security context and saying which are or are not acceptable — they create tensions, both legal and strategic.”

NYT’s Room for Debate on the use of civilian drones: “Now that American civilians have wide latitude to use drone aircraft, the potential is dizzying: shooting Hollywood films, crop dusting, monitoring weather, spying on neighbors, photographing celebrities,” writes the NYT. “Should the government restrict where drones can fly and film, to protect people’s privacy? Or should we all assume that if we are outdoors or near a window, we have no privacy?” Five commentators, including Harvard Law’s Jonathan Zittrain and M. Ryan Calo of the Center for Internet and Society, weigh in.

The Washington Post on the man who retrieves the Taliban’s dead: “In the southern province that has borne more violence and death than any other since the war began, the Taliban knows Hakim as the man who can retrieve insurgents’ bodies from American and Afghan authorities and return them to their families and comrades,” reports Kevin Sieff in the Washington Post. “In the past six years, he has done it 127 times, carrying letters of permission from both the Afghan government and the Taliban as he weaves through Kandahar in a beat-up yellow taxicab, with dead insurgents in the trunk.”