Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 1:37 PM

As the world sifts through the trove of CIA documents released yesterday by Wikileaks, the New York Times tells us that the revelations have ruptured the fragile trust between the government and Silicon Valley. Major technology companies, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are trying to assess how badly their core products have been compromised. The documents released by Wikileaks suggest that the CIA found 14 vulnerabilities in the iPhone, which Apple said it had either already patched or is now working to patch, as well as two dozen in the Android operating system, which Google said it was studying. The Daily Beast adds that a CIA employee was most likely the source of the leak. Meanwhile, memes quickly spread online alleging that the leak showed that the CIA had framed Russia for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, with one cybersecurity expert speculating that bots may have been involved in disseminating the rumor.

The Hill informs us that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will hold its first public hearing in its contentious investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on March 20th according to HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The hearing has been scheduled for the same day as the beginning of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. The witness list includes FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Mike Rogers, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that identified the breach of the DNC as being the work of Russian operatives.

Politico writes that now the CIA is providing raw intelligence to the intelligence committees as the investigations enter a new phase. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), House Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence visited CIA headquarters on Monday to view intelligence information.

As the fallout continues over President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims that former President Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Hill notes that former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raised concerns yesterday over the claim, saying that it “weakens the office of the presidency.”

Meanwhile, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, have requested that the FBI provide copies of “any warrant applications or court orders … related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.” Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee have also requested a briefing from the FBI on Trump’s allegations of wiretapping.

The Guardian reports that a bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives today seeks to sanction Russia for its role in election hacking both here in the United States and in the European elections of 2017. The resolution, introduced by Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), seeks to sanction “entities and individuals in Russia or associated with the Russian Government who interfere in democratic elections,” and cites specifically the express desire of Russia to “divide the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance, weaken democratic institutions, and support extremist, pro-Moscow candidates throughout Europe.”

President Trump’s new national security advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster has succeeded in reversing his predecessor’s policy of excluding National Security Council staff from phone calls between President Trump and foreign leaders, Politico writes. NSC staff will now be included on the calls for the first time since the inauguration.

The Hill also informs us that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has postponed the vote on Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats, until Thursday due to the volume of unanswered written questions by Committee members. The delay comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the Trump administration over its communications with Russian officials. Coats has tried repeatedly to reassure Committee members on the strength of the DNI’s position on the National Security Council, saying that Trump administration’s language reorganizing the NSC was never intended to “demote” the DNI. The Washington Post provides a tracker of how many other key positions have yet to be filled in the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, Hawaii has become the first state to file a legal challenge to Trump’s new executive order restricting travel from six majority-Muslim countries, with attorneys from the state filing a 40-page request for a district judge to issue a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the new order, according to CNN. CNN also reports that national security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke at a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia earlier this month, where an Iraqi family he sponsored became U.S. citizens. Iraq was left off the list of Muslim majority countries targeted by the new travel ban, after having been included in the original one.

The Post writes that, to fund the border wall that was the signature platform of his campaign, Trump is considering cutting funding to the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. Republican lawmakers have criticized the plan as nonsensical, as the Coast Guard assists in the interdiction of drug trafficking and cartels.

The Times reports that gunmen stormed the main military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan dressed as hospital attendants, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens of others as Afghan forces struggled for several hours to end the siege. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Sardar Daud Khan hospital, which is the main care center for wounded army soldiers. The attack began around 9am, the busiest time of day for the hospital, with a suicide bomber on foot detonating his explosives at one of the hospital’s rear entrances. The Guardian adds that the number of ISIS fighters in the region have swelled to around 2,000 in the wake of numerous suicide attacks.

The Times also tells us that the United States may be planning to enlist the assistance of the Kurdish YPG militia in a campaign to push ISIS out of Raqqa, thwarting Turkish ambitions to push the United States to abandon the group. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned that “there will be a cost to Turkey-U.S. relations,” if such a move is carried out. The comments come as the chiefs of the military forces for the United States, Russia, and Turkey sat down yesterday to discuss coordination, which one official said “could change the whole picture.”

The AFP informs us that 2,100 Iranian fighters have been killed in Iraq and Syria, according to the Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. The figure is more than double the number given back in November, which included only those killed in Syria. The nationalities of those killed were not provided; the figure may include “volunteer” fighters recruited from Shiite communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Reuters tells us that fearing a rapid escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, China has called on a truce to be brokered that involves North Korea discontinuing its missile tests in exchange for the United States and South Korea halting their military exercises. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that a “dual suspension,” would allow all sides to return to the negotiating table. The Post adds that the Chinese truce offer of “suspension for suspension,” to ease the tensions is not new, having been proposed by North Korea numerous times to an incredulous United States, but that this is the first time the offer has been made under Trump. It is unclear how Trump will act towards Chinese overtures, but this stands as an early test for his presidency, according to the Times.

The Hill notes that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released updated figures on former Guantanamo Bay detainees suspected or confirmed of reengaging in terrorism yesterday, showing a small shift since September. According to the figures, 121 former detainees have re-engaged in terrorism, a one-person drop since the previous report. Overall, the percentage of former detainees released by both former President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush dropped to 29 percent.

The military judge presiding over the USS Cole case ruled yesterday that defense attorneys could call former CIA officials as witnesses regarding the destroyed CIA “black site” interrogation tapes in order to derail the death penalty for their client according to the Miami Herald. The anonymous witnesses listed in the one-page order may include John Rizzo, former CIA General Counsel, and Jose Rodriguez, Jr., the Agency’s former clandestine service chief, both of whom approved the destruction of the tapes, as well as two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who designed and implemented the interrogation techniques captured on the tapes.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

John Bellinger lauded the choice of nominees for CIA General Counsel and Department of Defense General Counsel.

Quinta Jurecic posted video of the confirmation hearing for Rod Rosenstein and Rachel Brand as Deputy and Associate Attorney General.

Nicholas Weaver presented an initial analysis of the trove of CIA documents released by Wikileaks.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast: Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear, and . . . Sneaky Bear?

Graham Webster provided some observations on China’s new international cyberspace cooperation strategy.

Bobby Chesney commented on the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act discussion draft.

Helen Murillo discussed President Trump’s draft executive order proposing a revamping the “public charge” law.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Julian Ku and Chris Mirasola explained how China’s 2017 summer fishing moratorium may rekindle conflict with the Philippines.

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