Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 2:13 PM

The Guardian reports that one police officer has been stabbed, a woman has died, and a number of people injured in an attack by an assailant on the UK Parliament. The man was shot by police and the Parliament is on lockdown, as is transportation to the area. The police have confirmed that they are treating the attack as a terrorist incident. Live updates can be found here.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced in a press conference that communications from the Trump transition team were picked up by incidental collection under FISA, CNN writes. The communications were reportedly picked up from November 2016 through January 2017. Nunes first appeared to say that communications of the president himself were picked up but then walked the statement back. Nunes told a reporter that he did not discuss his findings with Representative Adam Schiff, the Ranking Member of HPSCI, but will meet with President Trump to brief him later today.

The AP writes that former Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort worked with a Russian billionaire a decade ago, proposing an ambitious strategic plan to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, the United States, and Europe. Manafort signed a $10 million contract with Russian aluminum magnate and Putin ally Oleg Deripaska after confidentially proposing a strategy plan involving Manafort’s influencing politics, business, and news coverage in favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin inside the United States, Europe, and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Russian government. The work appears to contradict statements by the Trump administration and Manafort that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort did not register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for his work for Deripaska. Prior to the AP report, Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Mark Warner said that the SSCI needs to speak with Manafort to get answers related to its probe into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, The Hill notes.

The House Oversight Committee has requested documents from several government entities regarding any communications or payments between former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and “Russian, Turkish, or other foreign sources, including the Kremlin-backed media outlet RT.” Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings sent the request to the White House, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, ABC reports.

The Guardian tells us that Muslim special agents and intelligence analysts at the FBI are reporting a climate of fear inside the Bureau coinciding with the ascendance of President Donald Trump. FBI officials from Muslim majority countries said they are subject to an organizational culture of suspicion and hostility that leadership has done little to reform, which has only gotten worse since Trump’s took office. Emails to FBI Director Comey prompted a meeting with representatives of minority groups at the FBI to hear their “struggle stories,” but FBI veterans have said that there is little evidence Comey is addressing the issue.

The U.S. ban on flying with electronic devices larger than a cellphone from airports in eight Muslim-majority countries may be due to information gained from the January Special Forces raid in Yemen, according to CNN. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been trying to build bombs that contain little or no metal content for some time to target commercial aircraft, with the group’s chief bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, training others to do so. The Daily Beast notes that the bombmaker has ostensibly been able to create compact battery bombs that fit inside laptops, which may have successfully brought down a plane over Egypt and nearly brought down one over Somalia. But the smaller bombs would need to be manually triggered, which is why the ban only applies to devices in the aircraft cabin, not checked luggage. Numerous airlines, including Royal Jordanian Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines issued statements to passengers in attempts to comply with the U.S. ban, although Royal Jordanian later deleted their statement without explanation. Al Jazeera adds that aviation experts are divided on the effectiveness of the U.S. ban, with some warning of the dangers the ban poses, such as the danger of carrying lithium batteries in the cargo hold and the costs and delays for compliant airlines. The New York Times offers advice to travelers about how to handle the ban here.

Recode informs us that in the final six months of 2016, Twitter suspended more than 376,000 accounts for promoting terrorism. That number represents over three times the number for the same period in 2015, when it suspended roughly 125,000 accounts.

The Times writes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to meet with representatives of all 68 countries of the coalition against ISIS today at the State Department to discuss the administration’s strategy to defeat ISIS. The gathering is the first major diplomatic event hosted by Tillerson, who will face intense scrutiny over his influence within the administration and ability to guide multi-party diplomacy.

Independent Journal Review’s Erin McPike, who was the sole correspondent that accompanies Tillerson on his trip to Asia, profiles Tillerson, his trip, and the challenges and opportunities that Tillerson has in trying to implement Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

Foreign Policy tells us that senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, made his first foray into diplomacy before Trump was even inaugurated, leaning on the UK to push back the vote on the U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements until after the Trump administration was in office. But Kushner was rebuffed after making the request of UK ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch, with Britain's U.N. ambassador, who had played a large role in drafting the resolution, defending it against Trump’s furious response.

Politico writes that Defense Secretary James Mattis is angering congressional Republicans over his picks for key Pentagon roles and his reluctance to aggressively push for dramatic increases in defense spending. While Mattis was widely embraced by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, many Republicans now say he is wasting political capital he will need to reform the Pentagon by trying to fill top positions with Obama veterans, instead of helping Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee appoint their ideological allies.

The Times notes that Air Force Lieutenant General Jack Weinstein, who is responsible for overseeing the United States’s atomic weapons arsenal, has expressed concern over what he described as “much more aggressive” behavior by Russia in recent years, and recommended that the United States strengthen and modernize its nuclear deterrent force. While Weinstein expressed confidence that the U.S. nuclear arsenal remains effective, he said that it was overdue for an overhaul.

Meanwhile, CNN tells us that the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have launched a major offensive, backed up by U.S. forces, against a vital dam near Raqqa, Syria. The Tabqa Dam, which supplies electric power to large areas of Syria, is located 25 miles west of Raqqa and may be a key step to retaking Raqqa. The U.S. believes that pressure on Raqqa is working successfully to undermine ISIS, though success against ISIS will likely not come from victory in Raqqa alone.

The Times writes that at least 30 Syrian civilians have been killed by an airstrike by the United States-led coalition fighting ISIS militants in the rural area of Raqqa province. The airstrike, which hit a school in which civilians had taken shelter last night, marks the second time in recent weeks that onlookers in Syria have accused the United States of involvement in a strike that killed numerous civilians. The first strike killed 49 civilians in a mosque, though the U.S. military stated that the strike instead killed al Qaeda militants in a nearby building.

Reuters reports that, as the battle continues between Turkey and Europe over perceived diplomatic slights on both sides, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this morning that Europeans continued with their current behavior, “no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets.” Erdogan then called on Europe to “respect human rights and democracy.” Tensions have been building in the runup to Turkey’s April referendum on expanding the powers of the presidency.

North Korea has stated that it has nothing to fear from any sanctions from the United States, and will pursue “acceleration” of its nuclear and missile programs, according to Reuters. This “acceleration” includes developing a “pre-emptive first strike capability,” and an intercontinental ballistic missile, according to the country’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Foreign Policy informs us that NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett appeared to say today that North Korean computer hackers were behind a multi-million dollar heist targeting Bangladesh’s central bank last year. Computer hackers attempting to steal $951 million were only successful in making off with $81 million, some of which was later recovered. Pointing out that private researchers had linked the Bangladesh bank theft to the Sony hack of 2014, and if they were from the same source, Ledgett said “that means that a nation state is robbing banks. That’s a big deal.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Edward Jay Epstein detailed the damage that Edward Snowden did in compromising sensitive compartmentalized information.

David Kris discussed the CIA’s new guidelines governing publicly available information.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Lawfare Podcast, Special Emergency Edition, providing only the relevant parts of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s hearing on Russian active measures.

Daniel Severson flagged his new Aegis Paper on the encryption debate in Europe.

Robert Silvers asked whether the Trump administration will protect hard-won progress with China on cybersecurity.

Stephen Haggard commented on six components of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Isaac Park recounted the testimony of two witnesses over the admissibility of evidence in the 3/16 session of the military commissions.

Tod Lindberg provided a brief overview of the report he co-wrote with Lee Feinstein entitled “Allies Against Atrocities: The Imperative for Transatlantic Cooperation to Prevent and Stop Mass Killings.”

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