TIME Syria

Wife of British Hostage Pleads ISIS for Release

An undated family handout photo of British aid worker Alan Henning taken at a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syria border
An undated family handout photo of British aid worker Alan Henning taken at a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syria border. Reuters

Alan Henning's wife implored militants to release her husband from captivity

LONDON — The wife of a British aid worker held hostage by the Islamic State group has issued a statement pleading for the militants to release him and respond to her messages “before it is too late.”

The Islamic State group, which has released online videos showing the beheading of two American journalists and another British aid worker, has threatened to kill former taxi driver Alan Henning next.

Henning, 47, was kidnapped in December in Syria, shortly after crossing into the country from Turkey in an aid convoy.

His wife, Barbara, implored the militants to “see it in their hearts” to release him in a statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office late Saturday.

“Alan is a peaceful, selfless man who left his family and his job as a taxi driver in the U.K. to drive in a convoy all the way to Syria with his Muslim colleagues and friends to help those most in need,” she wrote.

“His purpose for being there was no more and no less. This was an act of sheer compassion,” she said.

The aid worker was driving an ambulance loaded with food and water at the time of the kidnapping, Barbara Henning said. She added that the militants have not responded to her repeated attempts to make contact.

Her appeal came after dozens of Muslim leaders in Britain urged the Islamic State group to release Henning.

More than 100 imams and Muslim organizations signed a statement expressing their “horror and revulsion” at the murder of three other hostages, including Briton David Haines.

They said the extremists were “not acting as Muslims” but as “monsters.”

TIME Iraq

Former Defense Secretary: U.S. Should Have Kept Troops in Iraq

The Last U.S. Troop Brigade In Iraq Departs Country After Over Eight Years Of War
Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division board a C-17 transport plane to depart from Iraq at Camp Adder, now known as Imam Ali Base, on Saturday Dec. 17, 2011, near Nasiriyah, Iraq. Mario Tama—AP

Panetta's expressed differences with his former boss, President Obama, in an interview with "60 Minutes"

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says the United States should not have completely pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Panetta, who was defense secretary under President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013 after being director of the CIA from 2009 to 2011, said he disagreed with the U.S. strategy of withdrawing soldiers from Iraq.

“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Panetta said.

Panetta also said the U.S. should have provided weapons to Syrians who opposed Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a view opposed to that of President Obama and many high-level security officials.

“I think the President’s concern, and I understand it, was that he had a fear that if we started providing weapons, we wouldn’t know where those weapons would wind up,” Panetta said. “My view was, you have to begin somewhere.”

The episode of 60 Minutes featuring Panetta will be broadcast Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET.

TIME Iraq

Dozens of Turkish ISIS Hostages Freed in ‘Rescue Effort’

A late-night operation brought 46 Turkish citizens home

Dozens of Turkish hostages who had been held by Islamist militants for three months were freed Saturday in northern Iraq.

Forty-nine people were seized in June when the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) raided the Turkish consulate in Mosul, abducting Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz, his family members and other citizens. All 49 have now been freed and returned to their home country, CNN reports. Forty-six of the captives were Turkish citizens.

Exactly how the hostages were returned to Turkey is unclear, but Turkish authorities described their release as the result of a late-night rescue operation. “At around 11:30 at night, this rescue effort reached its final stage,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a crowd in Ankara.

“I thank … every single member of the national intelligence agency from the director to the field operatives,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I congratulate them for their big success from the bottom of my heart.”

Mosul quickly capitulated when ISIS attacked the city on June 10.

[CNN]

TIME Security

Experts Doubt ISIS Could Launch Major Cyberattack Against the U.S.

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to ISIS waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria in June 29, 2014. Reuters

Experts say the Islamist militants' social media savvy doesn’t translate into a real cybersecurity threat against the U.S.

The Islamist militants who have taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq have proven remarkably adept at using 21st century technology.

In the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) drive to establish what it calls a new caliphate, the group has gathered between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters, partly thanks to its recruitment campaign over social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Widely disseminated video footage of executed American and British citizens have become ISIS’s tools for terror; the Internet is ISIS’s vehicle.

Today, ISIS’s adroit use of modern technology is raising a new specter: cyberterrorism. Several prominent national security experts and cyber analysts warned this week that ISIS could someday threaten the United States, elevating fears about the West’s vulnerability to a cyberattack.

“ISIS has already had success in utilizing technology, using the web for recruiting, distribution of terrorist information and scare tactics,” David De Walt, the chief executive of tech security company FireEye told the Financial Times this week. Now, De Walt said, “[w]e’ve begun to see signs that rebel terrorist organizations are attempting to gain access in cyber weaponry.”

And on Tuesday, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers warned that the U.S. needs to bolster its defenses against digital attacks from terrorist groups like ISIS.

“It’s something I’m watching,” Rogers said of ISIS’s aggressive use of Internet technology at a cybersecurity conference in Washington, D.C. “We need to assume that there will be a cyber dimension increasingly in almost any scenario that we’re dealing with. Counterterrorism is no different.”

But do we really need to fear a cyber attack from ISIS? As it turns out, probably not: ISIS’s social media savvy doesn’t necessarily translate into a real cybersecurity threat against the United States, and much of the talk about the group’s growing cyber-prowess overstates the point, experts told TIME.

“I don’t think anyone has any proof that there’s an imminent attack or that ISIS has acquired the manpower or the resources to launch an attack on the infrastructure of the United States,” said Craig Guiliano, senior threat specialist at security firm TSC Advantage and a former counterterrorism officer with the Department of Defense. “It could be a potential threat in the future, but we’re not there yet.”

ISIS, a group with little technological infrastructure, doesn’t have many resources to wage a cyberwar against the United States. Compared to larger, state-sponsored hacking operations, ISIS is miles behind. Chinese hackers, for instance, who have been accused of attacking U.S. businesses and government contractors, are reported to have wide-ranging support from Chinese authorities, with many of the hackers hailing directly from the Chinese army.

A few ISIS-related figures have been connected with cyberattacks or cybercrime. Abu Hussain Al Britani, a British hacker who has since moved to Syria and begun recruiting for ISIS, was jailed in 2012 for hacking into former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Gmail account. One of the more prominent tech-savvy ISIS supporters, Al Britani maintains a Twitter account that calls for new ISIS recruits.

And a group called “Lizard Squad” that has claimed responsibility for high-profile cyberattacks that have brought down the websites of the Vatican, Sony and others has tenuously been linked to ISIS on the basis of tweets like this one:

But ISIS doesn’t appear to have the manpower to launch sophisticated attacks against the United States. “You need some resources. You need access to certain kinds of technology. You need to have hardcore programmers,” Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. “ISIS doesn’t have those capabilities.”

Unlike China’s state-sponsored hackers, who have a strong interest in attacking U.S. businesses to hawk trade secrets and intellectual property, ISIS is more concerned with taking real-world territory and controlling it. ISIS’ first priority is establishing control over the disparate desert regions from the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria to Falluja in Iraq and creating an Islamic caliphate—not an expensive and often intangible cyberwar against American websites.

“ISIS wants to conquer the Middle East, not hack websites in Omaha,” said Lewis.

That’s not to say that ISIS is incapable of launching an attack in the future. ISIS is believed to be well-funded, likely capable of purchasing simple malware on the black market and using it against the West. But the kinds of attacks ISIS would be able to carry out would likely be more of an annoyance than a debilitating strike on the United States’ infrastructure, the kind of attack that national security experts really worry about.

During the most recent spate of violence between Gaza and Israel, for example, hackers on both sides launched distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involves using multiple servers to overload a website and briefly disable it. That kind of attack is a far cry from shutting down power plants in the U.S. or attacking nuclear reactors. Still, the threat of a cyber strike, particularly against financial institutions as a means of funding ISIS’s expansion, may grow over time.

“ISIS is continuously looking for new ways to carry out high impact high visibility events to bring attention to their cause,” said John Cohen, recently the counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security and currently a professor at Rutgers University. “One has to speculate they are looking at the results of major cyber breaches such as Target or Home Depot and against critical infrastructure, and thinking about them as a potential avenue.”

TIME White House

Joe Biden’s Gaffe-Ridden Week

Vice President Joe Biden Gaffes
Vice-President Joe Biden looks on during a bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 18, 2014. Olivier Douliery—Corbis

Joe Biden, known for his verbal gaffes, has had a tough week

Speaking at the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum, Vice President Joe Biden on Friday praised former Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned in 1995 after 19 women accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

Err, awkward!

“It was Republicans that expanded access to the polls. It was Republicans in the judiciary committee that did motor voter,” Biden said in arguing that the GOP has moved to the political fringe. “It’s Republicans that were involved. Guys like Mack Mathias and [Bob] Packwood and many others. It wasn’t Democrats alone.”

Biden’s remarks capped a rough week. On Wednesday, he called lenders of bad loans to people serving in the military “Shylocks,” a derogatory name for Jews, earning him a rebuke form the Anti-Defamation League. Also, this week, Biden referred to the First Prime Minister of Singapore as “the Wisest Man in the Orient,” an antiquated word deemed offensive by many Asians. And at an event in Iowa, Biden seemed to leave the door open for ground troops in Iraq to fight the militant group ISIS, a day after President Barack Obama specifically rejected such an option.

Of course, Biden has long history of gaffes, but as Vice President he’s generally reined in his verbosity.

But five in a week is a lot, even for him. Perhaps impending lame-duckdom is loosening his tongue.

TIME Iraq

France Becomes First Ally to Join U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq

FRANCE-DIPLOMACY-HOLLANDE
French President Francois Hollande holds a press conference with Madagascar president (unseen) at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on September 19, 2014. Fred Dufour—AFP/Getty Images

France became the first foreign country to publicly join United States airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, bombing a logistics depot controlled by Islamist militants, Iraqi and French officials said. Rafale fighter jets accompanied by support planes “entirely destroyed” the depot controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the north of the country, President Francois Hollande said. Iraq’s military spokesman said four morning airstrikes killed dozens of fighters…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME Congress

Rand Paul Calls Kerry ‘Intellectually Dishonest’ on Arming Syrian Rebels

"We will be sending arms into chaos”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday as “intellectually dishonest” about the Obama Administration’s claim that it doesn’t need new congressional authority to arm Syrian rebels.

“You are intellectually dishonest if you argue that something passed in 2001 to [deal] with the people who attacked us in 9/11 has anything to do with sending arms into Syria,” Paul said during an afternoon speech on the Senate floor. “It’s intellectually dishonest and to say otherwise you are an intellectually dishonest person.”

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the Administration would act under congressional authority passed in 2001 to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates as it arms more moderate Syrian rebels for the battle against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The rebels have been all over the map,” Paul said. “There’s said to be 1500 different groups. It is chaos over there. We will be sending arms into chaos.”

Paul said the Senate should vote on a separate measure to expand military action in Syria instead of including it in the short-term government funding bill that the House passed Wednesday.

The issue of whether or not to train and equip the Syrian rebels opposed to ISIS has divided potential 2016 presidential candidates. While Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) oppose the measure, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) supports it.

TIME Iraq

ISIS Releases Video of ‘Message’ from British Hostage

Futurenet1977/Wikipedia

Press photographer John Cantlie, kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, appears in a new propaganda video by the Islamic extremist group

A video posted on YouTube shows John Cantlie, a British press photographer, delivering a ‘message’ to the public as a captive of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Cantlie, 43, has been held prisoner for almost two years by the same militants responsible for the beheading of two American journalists and one British aid worker since August. ISIS began posting videos online after the U.S. began launching airstrikes in northern Iraq.

The video runs for just over 3 minutes and is titled “Lend Me Your Ears, Messages from the British Detainee John Cantlie”.

The journalist, who appears in an orange shirt sitting behind a desk, speaks calmly but makes it clear he is under duress. “Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking: ‘he’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head and he’s being forced to do this,’ right?” he says. “Well it’s true I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of Islamic State I have nothing to lose.”

Cantlie then promises to “convey some facts” about ISIS in a series of “programmes” he will be filming; about the “truth” behind the group, and about how the Western media is being “manipulated.” He notes that many European hostages have been released after their governments negotiated with the extremists, but that British and American authorities refuse to do so.

This is not the first time Cantlie has been captured by Syrian militants, The Guardian reports. In 2012 he was rescued from kidnappers after a seven-day ordeal but returned to Syria four months later, where he was abducted again and sold on to ISIS.

Cantlie has worked for British newspapers including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph. It is thought that he was abducted as he attempted to leave the country along with James Foley, the first U.S. journalist to be beheaded in the video posted online on Aug. 19. Alan Henning, a 47-year-old British taxi driver who went to Syria as a volunteer on an aid convoy, has also been threatened with death by ISIS militants.

TIME Congress

Kerry Seeks to Assure Lawmakers About ISIS Strategy

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.
US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

The Secretary of State returns from an overseas trip to drum up support in Congress for the fight against ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assure lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. would not be alone in the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, as Congress looks to pass legislation this week to equip and train the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

“This cannot be simply a campaign by the West against the East,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee before which Kerry testified. Kerry responded that Menendez was “absolutely correct.”

“When we say ‘a global coalition’ we mean it,” said Kerry, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to rally about 40 countries for the fight against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). While there’s currently “no discussion” about countries sending in ground troops, Kerry said some have committed to air strikes. U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that it has conducted a total of 174 airstrikes across Iraq.

Kerry said military action would end “when we have ended the capability of [ISIS] to engage in broad-based terrorist activity.” The ultimate goals of the fight include a “political settlement” in both Syria and Iraq to end terrorist safe havens there, he added. Kerry said that the U.S. strategy will be a “multiyear effort.”

The top two leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, cautioned the Obama Administration against engaging in such a long military conflict in Syria without new, explicit congressional authority.

“As I have said many times, temporary and targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria fall under the President’s powers as commander in chief, but if the military campaign lasts for an extended period of time, Congress will need to approve an [ISIS]-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” Menendez said.

Kerry reiterated the Administration’s position that it would act under the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and associated forces, enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said that when ISIS separated from al-Qaeda a year ago in a “publicity stunt,” the organization did not change its targets and thus was still under the force of the previous congressional authority. Kerry added that he would welcome congressional action, but that President Barack Obama would act if the legislative branch did not.

Corker ripped Kerry’s response.

“To say that you’re going to do this, regardless of what we say—you’re not going to ask for a buy-in from the United States Senate or the House of Representatives on behalf of the American people—in a conflict that you say is going to be multiyear… taking us into another country with a different enemy, it’s exercising the worse judgment possible,” Corker said.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser