Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 1:32 PM

The United Kingdom has formally begun the process of exiting the European Union, delivering notice of the country’s intent to withdraw to EU President Donald Tusk. Though Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU by 2019, both parties face complicated negotiations with a wealth of potential pitfalls ahead. It remains unclear what form Britain’s eventual separation from the bloc will take and what the eventual relationship between the UK and EU will look like. The New York Times has more.

Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Devin Nunes will not disclose to his fellow committee members the identity of the person who provided him with unspecified intelligence reports allegedly indicating incidental collection of Trump transition team communications, whose existence Nunes disclosed in a series of unorthodox press conferences last week, Reuters writes. The Wall Street Journal reports that the committee’s investigation has been “stalled” in the midst of the fallout from Nunes’s actions, with Nunes canceling even HPSCI’s regularly scheduled meetings.

Nunes declared yesterday that the committee will not continue its investigation until FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers return to testify on the intelligence reports ostensibly of concern to Nunes, the Washington Post tells us. Nunes had originally announced a closed hearing with Comey and Rogers for yesterday, only to cancel it on Monday after announcing that neither official was able to attend—though it now appears that the hearing was never scheduled in the first place. Last week, Nunes abruptly canceled an open hearing that would have included testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former CIA Director John, saying that he needed to make way for the closed hearing with Brennan and Clapper. However, the Post reported yesterday that Nunes’s cancellation of the open hearing coincided with a White House effort to invoke executive privilege to prevent Yates’s testimony.

The Senate Intelligence Committee may interview Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence official who compiled the dossier on Russian interference in the presidential election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. NBC has more.

The U.S.-led coalition “probably had a role” in the recent airstrike that may have killed up to 200 civilians in western Mosul, General Stephen Townsend, the U.S. commander of the anti-ISIS effort, has said. According to Townsend, the Pentagon is conducting an investigation into the airstrike, the AFP writes. The Times compiles what we know and don’t know about the strike.

The Post reports that the increase in civilian deaths from U.S.-led airstrikes has generated worry across Iraq and Syria. “People used to feel safe when the American planes were in the sky … but now they are very afraid of the American airstrikes” as well as those conducted by Russian and Syrian forces, said a founder of an activist group reporting on violence in Raqqa, Syria. Over 300 civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes in the region during March alone.

Coalition forces pushing deeper into western Mosul are nearing the landmark al-Nuri mosque, Reuters writes. The capture of the mosque, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of the organization’s caliphate in 2014, would be a major symbolic victory for anti-ISIS forces.

A U.S. service member has died in Syria of what are believed to have been natural causes, the AP tells us. No further information has yet been released.

A Russian general accused the anti-ISIS coalition of intentionally targeting Syrian vital infrastructure, including the Tabqa Dam in Raqqa. Coalition forces pushed back against the accusation, saying that they are taking care to preserve infrastructure. The coalition recently paused military operations near the dam to allow engineers conduct repairs. The AP has more.

Four suspected members of al Qaeda were killed in a drone strike in Yemen yesterday, Reuters writes. Reports indicate the strike was likely conducted by the United States.

The Times writes that German officials refused the Turkish government conduct surveillance within Germany of supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of engineering the failed July coup. Rather than allowing Turkey’s surveillance as requested, German authorities alerted some individuals named by the Turkish government that they might face difficulties if they were to return to Turkey. Turkish voters, including Turks living in Germany, will vote in a referendum next month on whether to expand the powers of the presidency.

North Korea is likely preparing for a sixth nuclear test, the Wall Street Journal tells us. President Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, during which the two will likely discuss Pyongyang’s recent provocations.

The Department of Defense has selected Harvey Rishikof as Convening Authority for Military Commissions, an role that involves overseeing both the prosecution and the defense teams in military commissions cases and includes the power to broker plea deals, the Miami Herald reports. Rishikof previously served as legal counsel to the deputy of the director for the FBI and taught law at the National War College. After the formal designation process is concluded, Rishikof will replace Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work as the Convening Authority.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Andrew Kent reviewed David Armitage’s book Civil Wars: A History in Ideas.

Tim Maurer, Ariel Levite, and George Perkovitch proposed a global agreement against manipulating the integrity of financial data, spelled out in their new white paper.

Joel Brenner and David Clark flagged their MIT report on protecting critical infrastructure.

Seamus Hughes and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens examined ISIS’s use of “virtual entrepreneurs.”

Michael Linhorst noted a rare en banc session of the FISA court and a notable FOIA decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Quinta Jurecic and Helen Murillo provided an explainer on executive privilege and the White House’s apparent efforts to prevent Sally Yates from testifying before HPSCI.

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with Michael Daniel.

Quinta noted that counsel for Ali Hamza Suliman al Bahlul have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

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