It’s been a rough several months for the Islamic State in its quixotic effort to build a viable functioning nation-state. The Kurds and the Iraqi military keep slicing meaty territorial chunks from its flanks; the group is slashing its fighters’ salaries to make up for financial shortfalls; the U.S. continues ...

ISIS is a terrorist group attempting to become a state. It inherited al Qaeda's strengths, including international networks, battle tested military doctrine and strategy, and a radical religious ideology, Jihadi Salafism. The ISIS ideology has a proven record in recruiting foreign fighters worldwide to support jihadist insurgencies and terror cells. ...

The chaos we’re seeing today throughout the Mideast continues to escalate and shows no signs of subsiding. The United States and the West seem unwilling or unable to take the necessary steps to help bring some semblance of order to the region.    The Russians have entered the fray further complicating ...

In the past five years, the Middle East has suffered from a double collapse.  First, having proven unable to provide capable political institutions or economic opportunity to their citizens, several of the region’s states have effectively collapsed.  Reconstituting them has proven to be a task of immense difficulty, leading to ...

A couple years ago, when the Middle East was in turmoil but considerably less complicated than today, I was at a small gathering of foreign policy specialists, including one eminent Middle East expert who has followed the region for 25 years.  As we speculated about the region's future, this expert ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Mark Kelton, former Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Counterintelligence at the CIA, about the possible ceasefire deal in Syria. According to Kelton, Russia ended up with the “better of the deal” and Moscow will continue to conduct military operations in Syria until ...

For seven of the last eight years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has topped Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women.  Last year, she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”  But in the final hours of 2015, sexual attacks on women ...

In this GOP presidential nomination campaign, when the issue is national security, Donald Trump reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. I thought of that movie after watching Trump’s appearance last Wednesday on the CBS Morning News and felt it again watching his performance during Saturday’s Republican debate and his ...

Following the Euromaidan revolution, Ukraine is engaged in a two-pronged fight that integrates domestic and foreign components. The first battle is Russia’s desire to dismember Ukraine, halt its European integration, and return it to the Russkii Mir (Russian World) sphere of influence. The second battle is to begin to effectively ...

Russia, seemingly at will, ramps up the pressure in Ukraine. And it looks as if another uptick is underway. So far, the West has yet to show it has the resolve to end the Russian aggression. At the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany this weekend, international monitors indicated there ...

Closely supported by Russian air power and artillery, Syrian army attacks against rebel forces near Aleppo, Syria coincide with a significant intensification of fighting in eastern Ukraine, with the largest number of daily attacks by the Russian-separatist forces since August 2015. There have been heavy attacks all across the front ...

The Cipher Brief reached out to General Jack Keane to get his thoughts on the Syrian ceasefire agreement announced on February 12. Keane dismissed the significance of the deal, characterizing it as “total subterfuge.”  The Cipher Brief: What’s your take on the Syrian ceasefire agreement?  General Jack Keane: Unless there ...

The alarming spread of ISIS, coupled with competition amongst Iraq’s sectarian groups, has accelerated the Iraqi government’s disintegration. This downfall began during the tenure of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, whose policies triggered significant tensions between Iraq’s three main sectarian groups - the majority Shiites, the Sunnis and the ...

Victory in Ramadi City against ISIS by the Iraqi Army, despite ISIS holdouts, has given a shot in the arm to the Iraqi government and to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  Strengthening Iraq’s political institution is not only essential to the fight against ISIS but also for larger regional objectives. ...

In Iraq, the fight to rid the country of the Islamic State (referred to colloquially in Arabic as Daesh) is taking longer than officials and analysts expected. For instance, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently stated that the campaign to eject ...

The Caucuses region is simmering with tension, and, due to its strategic geographic location and Caspian energy markets, the international community cannot afford to let the situation boil over. Lying in between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the Caucasus is a politically and ethnically diverse region.  In the North are the ...

For two decades, hundreds of Russian citizens have become victims of terrorism rooted in the turbulent North Caucasus region of Russia. This area has also been a major source of fighters for different radical Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and beyond.    Several developments contributed to the radicalization of ...

The situation in the Russian North Caucasus has been complex for over 25 years now. A host of economic and social reasons, as well as the relations between this region and the federal authorities, and the mistakes made by both federal and regional politicians, have all contributed to the problem. ...

The Islamic State (ISIS) is the “preeminent global” threat and remains determined to execute direct attacks against the U.S. homeland, the top U.S. intelligence official told Senators at the annual Worldwide Threats hearings on Tuesday. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said ISIS “leaders are determined to strike the U.S. ...

With the Middle East ablaze, new opportunities have emerged for regional cooperation. In fact, partnerships have formed in the most unlikely of places, as Israel and some of its Arab neighbors have joined together to combat common enemies, such as ISIS and Iran. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has ...

Former head of Israel’s Shin Bet and current Knesset member Yaakov Perry discussed Israel’s cooperation with its neighbors to combat regional threats.  Perry explained that Egypt and Jordan are important partners for Israel in the fight against ISIS, and that Israel and many of the Gulf countries share mutual concerns ...

The collapse or weakening of state authority in different parts of the Middle East and Africa, together with growing inner challenges and chronic instability in large parts of the region and the widening and escalating Iranian-Arab power struggle, creates a chaotic environment militant Islamic groups exploit to expand their activities ...

The Islamic State, popularly known as ISIS, is in many ways an innovative economic actor. But its method of bringing oil to market has been anything but cutting-edge. ISIS took advantage of a black market that had been sharpened long ago, when Saddam Hussein’s regime looked for ways to skirt ...

Retired Brigadier General Russell Howard discussed ISIS’s involvement in antiquities trafficking with The Cipher Brief, explaining that ISIS taxes artifacts that are smuggled in territory it controls and even directly sells artifacts to antiquities traders on the black market. According to Howard, as the U.S. continues to target ISIS’s oil ...

The Islamic State (ISIS) and the threat from terrorism has dominated the news for the past 18 months. ISIS emerged from the chaos in Iraq and the Syrian civil war to seize control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, declare itself a “caliphate,” and become the richest terrorist group ...

Labeled as the richest terrorist group in the world, the Islamic State (ISIS) continues to amass substantial funds to bankroll its military, economic, recruitment, and propaganda campaigns. The key sources of ISIS income are grounded in illicit networks, as ISIS utilizes the black market to generate significant revenue streams. ISIS ...

With 34 years of service in the CIA now behind me, I was recently asked how our ongoing war with ISIS will end.  My answer that ‘either we will defeat them or they will defeat us’ struck some in the room, I am sure, as overly stark.  I am, however, ...

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the most successful terrorist organization in modern history.  ISIS has aggressively expanded into nine other countries and, through social media, has motivated and inspired its followers around the world to kill fellow citizens. What differentiates ISIS from other terror groups is ...

Victory against ISIS requires not simply more military muscle but diplomacy.  On the Iraq front that means complementing more effective military and political action in Sunni areas with diplomacy involving Iran, Turkey, the Arab states and Baghdad. The Obama Administration’s policy to defeat ISIS is the right mission, but defeating ...

Since December 2011, when the last American troops officially left Iraq, the members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) were mostly wiped out or on the run. However, the remaining AQI soldiers found new opportunities to rise again and went through a metamorphosis steered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The violent ...

Having spent some years living in Muslim countries and fighting terrorism, I always cock an eyebrow when I hear someone like Secretary of State John Kerry speak in the wake of the Paris attacks and say, "This is not about a clash of civilizations..."  Secretary Kerry’s statements tracked closely with ...

The framework for a political settlement in Syria, recently negotiated by the United States, Russia, Iran, and regional players in Vienna, is superficially impressive. It calls for a ceasefire, the establishment of a transitional government in six months, and new elections in 18 months. It does not specify which members ...

There are several considerations to keep in mind when assessing the sustainability of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership: his sense of paranoia, his nostalgia for the influence Russia used to hold globally as a superpower, and his desire for “stability” in Russia.  Significantly, the popularity of these aspects of Putin’s ...

To say the relationship is frosty would probably be an understatement.  Formal meetings between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are few and far between, and when they do happen, both men appear tense and uncomfortable.   Most of their contact comes at the sidelines of international gatherings ...

The immediate aftermath of the heinous attacks on the French capital by the Islamic State Group has, perhaps, opened the possibility for a rapprochement between the United States and Russia. On the ‘sidelines’ of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had ...

The Russian government accused Human Rights Center Memorial, the country’s leading human rights organization, of plotting against the regime. The brazen accusation came in mid-November after three and a half years of the Kremlin’s staggering crackdown on critics of the government. Memorial has been a target all along, but this ...

As the world reacts with horror to Friday's terror attack in Paris coming so shortly after the downing of the Russian-operated A321M over the Sinai, it should be clear to even the most casual observer that the piecemeal and divided international effort to deal with violent radical Islam in general ...

Here’s the wicked paradox about terrorism. Long-term responses do nothing about short-term dangers. Short-term reactions feed extremism over the long term. There are no quick solutions and there may be no "solution" as we think of it. This is quite distressing for Americans in particular, I think. Pick your point ...

This weekend, the international talks on Syria will reconvene in Vienna, and a main focus will be the creation of a list of rebel groups deemed acceptable in a transition and postwar government. This process will be extremely divisive; countries like Saudi Arabia will vie to get the United States ...

“We have contained them.”  Those words from U.S. President Barack Obama about the status of ISIS came the day before the Paris terrorist attacks and continues to reverberate around the world.  The President has since said he was referring to stopping ISIS’ march across Iraq and Syria when he made ...

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, U.S. defense officials announced a rare military strike on a senior Islamic State group (ISG) leader in Libya. Wall-to-wall press coverage of events in Europe made the strike on the Iraqi commander Wissam al-Zubaydi (aka Abu Nabil al Anbari) seem relatively trivial, but ...

Osama bin Laden would be a happy man were he still alive. His hopes and dreams have seemingly come to fruition. And, the master plan that one of his closest disciples devised for him a decade ago to reverse al Qaeda’s then waning fortunes and launch it on a trajectory ...

Dr. Sebastian Gorka, an expert in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and irregular warfare, told The Cipher Brief that ISIS has superseded al-Qaeda as the world’s leading jihadist terror organization. Furthermore, Gorka explained that the U.S. is currently losing the war against ISIS due to its inability to effectively counter ISIS’ strategy. The ...

Last month, our Network weighed in on the situation in Syria, making the case for increased American involvement in the conflict. One of our contributors, Rob Dannenberg, a former head of security for Goldman Sachs, explained Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria. This month, we pick up that conversation with ...

An image of a drowned Syrian boy washed up on the beach clearly signifies a failure on the part of the global humanitarian system. A Syrian father attempted to save his family via a boat trip organized by human smugglers, but the journey ended tragically. While such incidents should serve ...

A fifty-year veteran of American intelligence recently told me how once, as a young officer, he had blurted out that a situation he had been reporting on was so bad that it could hardly get any worse.  One of his mentors quietly stared at him and then observed, "It can ...

A fifty-year veteran of American intelligence recently told me how once, as a young officer, he had blurted out that a situation he had been reporting on was so bad that it could hardly get any worse.  One of his mentors quietly stared at him and then observed, "It can ...

There has been no shortage of speculation about the motives behind Russia’s recent military deployment to Syria following the September 28 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York. Most of the commentary, however, has failed to ...

The recent infusion of Russian weapons and other military materiel into Syria has gotten the chattering class in Washington in a tizzy. "Inside-the-Beltway" policy experts, as a chorus, are now calling for the U.S. and other Western powers to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in any talks about a non-military ...

Today in Europe there are more people made homeless by wars and conflict than ever before in recent history. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called it “the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.”  Although the refugees flooding Europe are from many parts of the ...