Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, March 10, 2017, 1:21 PM

Politico tells us that yesterday, FBI Director James Comey briefed the “Gang of Eight” on Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap against him, including top Republicans and Democrats of both houses and the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ intelligence committees. The briefing comes as the New York Times informs us that the Justice Department has declined to comment on whether Trump is under investigation, in another instance of verbal gymnastics over potential investigations into Trump’s potential ties to Russia. While DOJ’s reticence would usually be standard practice, Trump’s tweet has raised the unlikely possibility of an ongoing investigation into him specifically.

CNN reports that FBI investigators and computer scientists are continuing to examine whether there is a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank. Investigators find the server relationship “odd” but are unsure of its significance. CNN also tells us that the investigation is in the hands of the same FBI counterintelligence team looking into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and examines what we know about that division’s work.

The Times profiles Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who is leading the Democrats’ investigation into connections with Russia in his role as the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Trump was unaware that his former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn had worked during the campaign as a “foreign agent” in his capacity as a lobbyist working for a firm connected to the Turkish government before appointing him in that role, the AP writes. However, it now appears that the transition team may have been told that Flynn would need to register as a foreign agent before taking the position of national security advisor. Flynn only recently filed documents registering his work as a foreign agent for the Turkish firm, though his lobbying activities continued through the campaign.

Buzzfeed updates us on the latest news regarding legal challenges to Trump’s executive order limiting travel from six majority-Muslim countries. Washington State is asking Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington to affirm that the existing injunction placed on the initial executive order continues to apply to the revised order. Minnesota and Oregon have also joined in Washington’s suit, while the State of Hawaii is pursuing a separate case.

Foreign Policy tells us that General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress yesterday that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan, possibly in a role other than the advisory capacity in which current U.S. troops in the country have been deployed. Votel’s comments come as rapid changes have been made in U.S. military posture in the Middle East, with 400 Marines being deployed to a base near Raqqa, Syria to act as a buffer between Kurdish militia forces and Turkish troops, as well as ramped-up airstrikes in Yemen to target al Qaeda militants.

The complicated situation in Syria and elsewhere has not dampened Turkey’s hopes for Trump, according to the Washington Post. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other Turkish government officials have expressed positive opinions of the new administration, and Trump’s order to the U.S. military to beef up anti-ISIS operations has been an encouraging sign. Yet the Trump administration continues to back the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the anti-ISIS effort, which the Turkish government sees as a terrorist organization.

Reuters informs us that the SDF said yesterday that it has enough forces to take back Raqqa on its own, without any Turkish support. An SDF spokesman said he expected their forces to reach the outskirts of the city within a few weeks.

Foreign Policy writes that Trump’s ramped-up use of airstrikes signals a more aggressive use of the military. The Trump administration has conducted more airstrikes in Yemen over the past week than the Obama administration carried out over all 2016, with Trump administration officials giving the green light more quickly to military action. The shift likely reflects the White House’s increased willingness to speed through policy deliberations, a process likely helped along by a bare-bones staff.

The Post reports that a U.S. military investigation into the raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens concluded that as many as a dozen civilians were killed during the raid, the most specific admissions of civilian casualties yet. Reports from within Yemen have put the figure of civilians killed around 30. The raid has come under intense scrutiny despite the Trump administration insistence that it netted valuable intelligence. The Intercept provides an in-depth look at the raid from the perspective of women and children in the village, and reports that the raid was to capture or kill the current leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not to collect intelligence, as the White House has repeatedly claimed.

The military continues to struggle with sexual harassment as the Marine Corps continues its investigation into revelations that former and current service members shared explicit photographs of female colleagues on social media. Meanwhile, USA Today informs us that former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin Dempsey intervened to cover up an Army inspector general report that a two-star general had an affair with a woman.

The Christian Science Monitor chronicles how the Department of Homeland Security plans to secure all United States networks against future Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

The fallout continues over the Wikileaks release of a trove of secret CIA cyber documents, as Reuters informs us that Julian Assange has offered to provide technology companies with exclusive access to CIA hacking tools so that they can patch software flaws. If the offer is legitimate, it would put technology companies in the awkward position of relying on Assange, a man believed by intelligence officials to be linked to the Russian government. Microsoft and Cisco said that they welcomed submissions of their vulnerabilities through normal reporting channels. The CIA has responded by saying that Assange “is not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) requested a classified hearing on the Wikileaks disclosure yesterday according to the Hill. Jackson Lee said that members of the House Homeland Security Committee should receive a briefing about how the Wikileaks release “impacts negatively on the intelligence community.”

Reuters writes that China has expressed concern over the trove, which purports to show that the CIA can hack into all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. China has reiterated its opposition to all forms of hacking, even as it is frequently accused of hacking by the United States and other countries, a charge it consistently denies.

Reuters tells us that China has placed pressure on travel firms over the diplomatic row caused by South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. THAAD missile defense system over Beijing’s objections, forcing Chinese travelers to bypass South Korea. The crackdown has sent a chill down South Korea’s retail and tourism sectors, which rely heavily on Chinese trade, and has prompted South Korea to consider filing a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that South Korea’s Constitutional Court has removed South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a result of impeachment proceedings against her. Park’s removal is expected to shift power to the opposition party, which favors more engagement with North Korea.

The Post writes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions said yesterday that he favors bringing new terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and trying them by military commission rather than in federal courts. In an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Sessions appeared to inaccurately suggest that defendants in military commissions trials do not have rights to defense counsel and discovery of intelligence, which is not true. The Times has more on Sessions’ comments.

Carol Rosenberg reports in the Miami Herald on the ongoing pretrial hearings in the USS Cole case, where the question of whether the Trump administration will honor an Obama-era plea deal allowing a detainee to serve his sentence in Saudi Arabia rather than Guantanamo has become a key issue. Government prosecutors made clear that they expected the administration to honor the agreement, but Trump’s criticism of Obama- and Bush-era releases from the detention center have made the White House’s intentions unclear.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted Rational Security: The “Tapp My Wires” Edition.

Michael Linhorst commented on a decision by the D.C. District Court saying that documents the FBI creates when processing FOIA requests can be withheld.

Ron Cheng outlined the prospects for U.S.-China cybercrime cooperation.

Elena Chachko provided legal context to Israel’s anti-BDS travel ban.

Matthew Waxman reviewed Deborah A. Rosen’s Border Law: The First Seminole War and American Nationhood and Benjamin Allen Coates’s Legalist Empire: International Law and American Foreign Relations in the Early Twentieth Century.

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