Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, April 7, 2017, 12:52 PM

CNN informs us that in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Syrian province of Idlib that killed more than 100 on Tuesday, President Donald Trump ordered the launch of a military strike on a Syrian government air base late last night. The U.S. warships USS Porter and USS Ross launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat Airfield, where the U.S. military believes the warplanes that carried out the chemical attack are housed. The strike is the first direct military action against the Assad regime in the country’s six-year civil war, and represents a significant escalation of the U.S. military campaign in the region. The Hill writes Trump said he was launching the strikes because preventing the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons is a “vital national security interest of the United States,” and added that there could be “no dispute,” that Assad’s regime was behind the of banned chemical weapons that “choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children.” At the Washington Post, Josh Rogin runs through what the White House has released so far regarding legal justification for the strikes: the administration argues that the airstrikes were in the national interest of ““promoting regional stability, which the use of chemical weapons threatens.”

The strikes were met with mixed reactions both domestically and internationally. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) praised the move by Trump, but others, like Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), questioned the constitutionality of the strikes, saying that they required Congressional authorization. NPR tells us that Russian President Vladimir Putin called the strike an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law,” based on a “made-up pretext,” and “groundless accusations,” representing a “significant blow” to Russian-American relations.” Russia also suspended an agreement with the United States to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to the airstrikes. President Assad reacted with outrage to the strikes, calling them an “unjust and arrogant aggression” that would only increase his government’s determination to “crush” militant groups in Syria. Syrian state media reported that seven Syrians had been killed by the strikes, including four children. The U.K. government, in contrast, said that it “fully supports,” the actions of the United States, and urged Russia to put more pressure on the Assad regime to end the civil war. The reactions of other world leaders can be found here. Reuters reports that the U.N. Security Council is meeting to discuss the strikes by the U.S. warships. Foreign Policy adds that it is not clear exactly what the Trump administration seeks to achieve in Syria, having done an about-face after having been content to leave the embattled Syrian leader in power as a recognition of “political reality.”

The Guardian reports that at least three people have been killed and eight injured after a truck drove into pedestrians in a busy shopping area of central Stockholm, Sweden. Officers said they were treating the incident as terror-related, with everything indicating that it was “a terror attack.” Photos on social media showed the truck crashed into the corner of the Ahlens upmarket shopping center with its cab on fire. In recent years, several hundred young Swedes have travelled to Syria to join ISIS, making Sweden one of the main sources of European recruits to the militant Islamist group.

The New York Times tells us that the C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Trump to the presidency, but decided not to disclose the information to the public until after Trump had secured his electoral victory. The briefings also reveal a critical split between the CIA and the FBI, where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected. It appears that then-CIA Director John Brennan was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.

The Times also reports that Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner failed to mention dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months on his application for a top-secret security clearance. The omissions, which Kushner’s lawyer called an “error,” are particularly sensitive given the congressional and FBI investigations into contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. The form warns that “withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying information” could result in loss of access to classified information, denial of eligibility for a sensitive job and even prosecution; knowingly falsifying or concealing material facts is a federal felony that may result in fines or up to five years imprisonment. Mr. Kushner’s aides said he was compiling that material and would share it when the F.B.I. interviewed him, and that for now he has an interim security clearance.

Former Assistant Attorney General of the National Security Division at the Justice Department John Carlin warns that the Russians will most likely perpetrate more sophisticated attacks on U.S. infrastructure in the future, and that the 2016 election interference was just the “opening salvo” in Politico Magazine.

The Military Times writes that the scores of explicit photos of female Marines distributed among male members of the Marine Corps appear to be for sale in an online criminal marketplace run out of Russia. The revelations regarding the ongoing scandal raise serious questions about the potential for the photos to be used exploited by foreign governments or other entities seeking to influence or undermine the United States, given that many military personnel hold security clearances that allow them access to highly sensitive and classified information.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping begins the second day of his visit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for a summit between the two leaders, Trump said yesterday that he expects to secure a commitment from China to pressure North Korea to curb the nation’s nuclear ambitions, according to the Wall Street Journal. While Trump acknowledged that he had “gotten nothing,” he also said that the he and Xi had “developed a friendship,” and that he thinks “China will be stepping up,” on North Korea.

CNN reports that ISIS has revealed that the chief editor of its online propaganda magazine Rumiyah was killed in a coalition airstrike. According to the group, Sheikh Abu Sulayman ash Shami, an American computer scientist, died near Tabqa, Syria during the second week of January.The terrorist group made the announcement in the eighth edition of its online magazine Rumiyah, which was released early yesterday.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Byman asked what effect Trump’s airstrikes against Syria will really have.

John Bellinger examined the legal basis for the airstrikes airstrikes.

David Bosco noted that the Spanish prosecutor has challenged the jurisdiction of Spain to try an alleged Syrian torturer on the grounds that the victim was not a Spanish national.

Frederica Saini Fasanotti and Karim Mezran argued that Italy is not guilty of neocolonialism in Libya.

Quinta Jurecic flagged House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s decision to recuse himself from the Committee’s Russian active measures investigation.

Jane Chong discussed whether Devin Nunes thinks he really “recused” himself from HPSCI’s Russian investigation.

Bobby Chesney provided a primer on the issues, rules, and possible reforms of the unmasking of U.S. person information.

Paul Rosenzweig analyzed whether homeland security is a subset of national security in evaluating whether the homeland security adviser should be subordinate to the national security adviser.

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