Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 12:59 PM

The New York Times reports that the National Security Council may be reorganized yet again now that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is serving as national security adviser. McMaster, who has made a point of building relations with NSC staff, is weighing the restoration of the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff back to full membership on the Principals Committee, and incorporating the Homeland Security Council back into the National Security Council rather than making them separate but equal entities. It remains unclear whether Steve Bannon, who is a member of the Principals Committee and has been invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings, will remain in his current role. The NSC structure was organized once before under President Donald Trump to include the Director of the CIA, after outcry when the position was not included on the list of people involved in decision-making.

The Austin American-Statesman writes that University of Texas at Austin Chancellor and retired Admiral Bill McRaven, the former commander of Special Operations Command who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, called Trump’s disparaging comments about the media “a threat to democracy.” Lecturing at UT’s Communication and Leadership Speaker Series, McRaven was responding to a tweet by Trump in which he called major media outlets and newspapers “the enemy of the American people.” McRaven, echoing others like Senator John McCain (R-AZ), said that the country needs journalists now more than ever and that they must continue to hold others accountable.

The White House is pushing back the release of a revision of the executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries until next week according to the Hill. There was no explanation given for the delay of the revised order, which was originally set to be released early this week. Trump aide Stephen Miller, who was primarily responsible for drafting the order, has said that the new order will largely resemble the old one, with changes being “mostly minor technical differences.” Yet McClatchy has reported on struggles between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security over the extent to which the new order will cut back on the original text, with one official saying, “The Department of Justice does not want to be held in contempt.”

The Hill informs us that Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) is scheduled to have his hearing next week. Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, respectively, announced that the hearing will take place on Tuesday of next week. Coats previously served on the SSCI, and as ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration. He was banned from Russia in 2014 after announcing support for U.S. sanctions against the Kremlin over its annexation of Crimea.

The Washington Post tells us that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary will meet today with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who drew a sharp line against “unilateral” U.S. immigration policies yesterday ahead of the talks, saying that “do not have to accept provisions” of the immigration orders Trump put out yesterday. The meeting takes place against the backdrop of the highest tensions in U.S.-Mexico relations in decades, and comes a month after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a visit to the White House in the midst of a Twitter war with Trump over whether Mexico would pay for the border wall Trump has proposed.

Foreign Policy informs us that Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and an outspoken critic of Trump, is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s preferred choice to fill the role of director of policy planning at the State Department. Hook is the co-founder of the John Hay Initiative, a group of former Mitt Romney foreign policy advisers who organized a prominent letter signed by 121 GOP national security experts refusing to support Trump because he would “act in ways that make America less safe.” Hook also authored a book calling NATO “a bedrock of European security” and a crucial force in combatting “Russian aggression.” The White House could still refuse Tillerson’s choice, as it did with Elliot Abrams, also a Trump critic, for the deputy secretary of state role.

In Foreign Policy, Jeremy Shapiro looks ahead to 2020 to imagine how NATO might end, tracing the beginning of the decline to the inauguration of Trump as president.

The AP tells us that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said yesterday that Russia has information warfare troops in the first official acknowledgement of the existence of such forces. Shoigu, in a speech to the Russian Parliament, said that “propaganda needs to be clever, smart, and efficient,” but wouldn’t describe the troops’ mission. Various other officials in Parliament were equally vague about the mission of the unit, other than to say it was to protect Russia against Western propaganda.

The AFP writes that 90 percent of Poland’s top military brass has been replaced in an overhaul launched by the country’s right-wing government. Several leading generals already resigned over the past year as Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz moves to consolidate the government’s control of the military. Opposition parties have criticized the move in the face of heightened tensions with Russia.

Politico writes that hackers have launched renewed and more “professional” attacks on the government of Montenegro. The latest spate of attacks, which started on February 15 and have continued for several days, were more intense than those that hit the country’s institutions during its October elections. The government has said that it is working with partner countries on locating and identifying the perpetrators. The Montenegrin government blamed Russia for the October attacks, in which Moscow has denied having any involvement.

Al Jazeera reports that Iraqi forces have taken control of Mosul International Airport, along with a nearby military complex. The capture marks a major achievement in the opening phase of the offensive into the western half of Mosul, which is expected to pose major challenges with older and narrower streets to navigate, 750,000 civilians to protect, and the threat of ISIS car bombs.

The United Nations is set to host yet another set of Syrian peace talks today, in what will be known as “Geneva IV,” according to the AP. Hopes are not high for the talks after months of stalled humanitarian aid, bloodshed, and stop-and-start diplomacy. Al Jazeera adds that the rebel delegations are seeking to have direct, face-to-face negotiations with the Assad government, rather than discussing the issues from separate rooms. “It would save time and be proof the seriousness instead of negotiating in [separate] rooms,” according to Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) umbrella group.

Al Jazeera reports that seven have been killed and 17 wounded in a bomb blast at a market in Lahore, Pakistan. The blast follows a string of attacks that have continued to rock the country, including a suicide bombing targeting a Sufi shrine last week. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack as of yet.

The Wall Street Journal tells us how the hit squad that assassinated Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, carried out their plot. The members of the team assembled from three different countries and practiced at least twice in the shopping mall where they would carry out the killing. According to the Malaysian police chief, the assassins “knew what they were doing,” when they smeared a toxic substance on Nam’s face, contradicting earlier reports that the killers thought they were conducting a prank.

The Post notes that a former CIA officer was jailed this week by Portuguese authorities and will most likely be extradited to Italy for her role in kidnapping a German terrorism suspect in Milan 14 years ago. Sabrina De Sousa, who holds dual American and Portuguese citizenship and moved to Portugal in 2015, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by the Italian judicial system for the 2003 extraordinary rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. According to De Sousa’s attorney, Portuguese courts will only allow the extradition on the condition that she be given a new trial with the chance to present new evidence. If extradited to Italy, she may face up to four years in prison.

Buzzfeed tells us that a federal judge ruled this week that President Obama’s declarations that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan had been completed do not affect the U.S. government’s right to hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon, presiding over a case brought by detainee Moath Al-Alwi, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2001, ruled that regardless of Obama’s statements he would defer to the determination of the executive branch that the United States was still engaged in “active hostilities” against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affiliates. Leon is now the fourth federal judge on the D.C. District Court to reject arguments similar to those made by Al-Alwi’s lawyers.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted Rational Security: The “Death Without Dignity” Edition.

Alice Hill described how President Donald Trump dominated the Munich Security Conference.

Sarah Tate Chambers provided the Cybercrime Roundup, focusing on searches and seizures.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast: A Tale of RSA.

Ingrid Wuerth analyzed whether Trump controls head-of-state immunity determinations in U.S. courts.

David Schenker detailed how the United States should help Jordan from the chaos on its borders.

Jane Chong examined the historical relationship between the White House and the Justice Department within the context of the 2009 Holder memo.



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