Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Staley Smith
Friday, June 23, 2017, 1:16 PM

This morning the Washington Post revealed in an 8,000 word deep-dive that the CIA obtained Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct instructions for undercutting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In response to Russian interference, President Obama approved a “modest package” of sanctions, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats, and a “previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure.” The project was in its early stages when Obama left office and therefore its future was left to the discretion of President Trump. Senior Obama administration officials expressed regret about not doing more to retaliate against Russia. One such official stated that, “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend...I feel like we sort of choked.” The Post also provided a condensed timeline of its findings.

Time reported that Russia’s hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously thought, including at least one case in which investigators found evidence of manipulation of voter data in a county database. The alterations were discovered and rectified. Additionally, current and former officials revealed that Russian state-sponsored hackers stole thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. Sources told Time that congressional investigators are looking at whether any of the stolen data made its way to the Trump campaign.

During an interview on Fox and Friends this morning, President Trump kept open the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, Special Counsel on the Russia investigation. Trump called Mueller’s close friendship with fired FBI Director James Comey “very bothersome” and noted that Mueller has hired “all Hillary Clinton supporters.” He continued: “I mean the whole thing is ridiculous, if you want to know the truth, from that standpoint.” When asked whether Mueller should “recuse himself from the investigation,” Trump said three times “we'll have to see.”

In two tweets yesterday, President Trump asserted that he did not record conversations between himself and former FBI director James Comey: “With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information I have no idea …. whether there are ‘tapes’ of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, such recordings.” Here’s the New York Times story. Trump had previously suggested on Twitter that Comey had better hope that there are no tapes. Comey testified on June 8 that Trump had privately asked him to drop the inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Separately, the U.S. private sector faces its own set of challenges with Russia. Reuters reported today that western technology firms, including Cisco, IBM and SAP, are acceding to demands by Russia that its authorities be permitted “to review source code for security products such as firewalls, anti-virus applications and software containing encryption” before the products can be imported and sold in the country. A number of firms are complying with the requests in order to preserve their access to Russia’s tech market, but the U.S. firm Symantec stated that it stopped cooperating with Russian source code reviews over security concerns. U.S. officials contend they warned firms about the risks of providing products’ source code to the Russians, but noted that they have “no legal authority to stop the practice unless the technology has restricted military applications or violates U.S. sanctions.”

Foreign Policy reported yesterday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known by as CFIUS—responsible for making sure that foreign acquisitions of American firms do not present a threat to U.S. national securitysuffers from a lack of staffing. Administration officials suggested they would like to see CFIUS strengthened, which could be a “valuable tool to curb Chinese investments in America, a central concern for the current White House.” Officials added that they “want the ability to more specifically target transactions from Russia and China.” Earlier this month Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that CFIUS “needs to be updated” to recognize China’s interest in American technology. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a self-employed consultant in Virginia was charged with espionage for providing classified documents to a Chinese agent.

The Hill reported yesterday afternoon that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) formally requested the Trump administration’s legal justification for recent U.S. military action in Syria, including the downing of a Syrian jet and an Iranian-made drone operated by unspecified pro-Assad forces. The Pentagon justified its actions as self-defense while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford invoked the 2001 AUMF as the legal rationale, asserting that “We are there and have legal justification and the authorization of use of military force. We are prosecuting a campaign against ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria.”

Kuwait, acting as a mediator, has presented a list of demands to Qatar from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the region. The four Arab nations recently cut ties with Qatar, alleging Qatar’s support of terrorism. The Associated Press provides a look at the 13 demands.

In response to recent debate over an additional U.S. troop deployment to Afghanistan, Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada warned today that “The more [the United States insists] on maintaining the presence of their forces here or want a surge of their forces, the more regional sensitivity against them will intensify.” However, he also pledged “constructive and good relations with you and the world” once “your illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end.”

Yesterday U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Michigan issued a 14-day stay of orders to deport around 100 Iraqi immigrants arrested by ICE agents, “pending the Court’s jurisdictional determination.” Reuters reports that recent arrests of immigrants in Michigan were part of a coordinated roundup of 199 Iraqi immigrants around the country by ICE officials in recent weeks. Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the Iraqis in Michigan asserted that the Court’s decision “may very well have saved numerous people from abuse and possible death,” noting that many of the Iraqis are Chaldean Catholics who are “widely recognized as targets of brutal persecution in Iraq.”

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a unanimous decision that the U.S. cannot revoke citizenship for minor misstatements during naturalization proceedings, the Times reports. Writing for the majority in Maslenjak v. United States, Justice Kagan stated that “the government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.” Several justices expressed surprise at the government’s hardline position on the issue when the case was argued in April.

Virtually undetectable malware that could cause far greater damage than WannaCry may have infected thousands of computers, possibly including those that control key infrastructure, the Times reports. The cyber attackers use a combination of EternalBlue and DoublePulsar—both stolen NSA cyber tools—to get complete access to a system. It is a cyberattack “the world isn’t ready for,” according to Golan Ben-Oni, one of the people who discovered it and has been trying to sound the alarm about its dangers.

The aviation industry may begin to consider innovations better able to handle cyberattacks, the Journal reports. While changes are likely far off, advocates say that more advanced systems that can detect and respond to threats in real time will be needed to ensure the security of aircraft.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Susan alerted us to President Trump’s tweets in which he denied recording his interactions with former FBI Director James Comey.

Erica Gaston explained the legal rationale of self-defense for recent U.S. military action in Syria.

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