Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Friday, June 30, 2017, 3:16 PM

In September 2016, a Republican operative, who implied that he was working with Michael Flynn, tried locate Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails by reaching out to hacker groups that may have possessed the material, The Wall Street Journal's Shane Harris reported last night. The operative, Peter W. Smith, said two of the groups were Russian and may have been close to the government. In conversations with experts he hoped to bring onto the effort, Smith also said that he was in communication with Flynn, then a senior adviser to the Trump campaign. The actual role of Flynn in the effort is not clear.

Experts say the design of the recent “NotPetya” ransomware attack may have intended to divert focus from the identity of the culprit, The Washington Post reports. The attack, believed by those experts to have been perpetrated by a nation-state actor, damaged systems across the world, including those associated with critical infrastructure and a diverse set of companies. The attacks caused extensive damage to systems in Ukraine on the eve of the anniversary of the Ukrainian constitution, a major national holiday. Though presented as ransomware, which requires victims to pay money to regain access to their files, experts say NotPetya was designed to cause damage rather than generate revenue. The malware lacked the ability to unencrypt users’ files, and the payment system relied on a single email address that was quickly shut down.

Trump will meet with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit next week in Hamburg, Germany, reports The New York Times. The multiple law enforcement and congressional inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia complicate the meeting. Additionally, the U.S. is at odds with Russia over its occupation of Crimea, its possible responsibility for recent cyberattacks, and its support for the Syrian government. Officials have not specified topics for discussion, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the agenda would “really be whatever the president wants to talk about.” Some fear that without an agenda, Trump could make unnecessary concessions to a well-prepared Putin.

Increasing the stakes of the Trump-Putin meeting, the Pentagon released a report this week that raises concerns over Russia’s anti-U.S. posturing and its desire to regain its former military and political stature, Foreign Policy reports. The Senate also moved forward with legislation on harsh Russia sanctions. The sanctions have made the White House and some House members uneasy, have drawn ire from Russia and have angered European partners who could face business disruptions as a result.

The D.C. Circuit dismissed a suit filed by family members of individuals who were allegedly killed in a 2012 drone strike in Yemen. The plaintiffs argued the strike violated international and domestic law, but the Court said the suit presented a nonjusticiable political question. However, in her concurrence, Judge Janice Rogers Brown provided strong criticism of current oversight of targeted killing decisions.

The Trump administration’s partial travel ban went into effect last night at 8 p.m. EST, The Times reports. The Supreme Court’s cert decision earlier this week allowed part of the revised version of the ban to go into effect but maintained the lower court’s injunction for persons with a “bona fide” family relationship. A State Department cable on Thursday established the government’s definition of close family. Fiancés, who initially did not qualify for visas, were added later in the day on Thursday. The full list is available here.

Hawaii has filed a suit in federal district court challenging the government’s definition of “bona fide” family relationship, The Hill reports. The state has asked for clarification and for an expansion of the definition to include grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters-in-law. The original suit that Hawaii brought against the travel ban was one of those which ultimately made it to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. will sell arms to Taiwan in exchange for $1.42 billion, Reuters reports. The move outraged China, which considers Taiwan part of the Chinese state. The U.S. has often walked a thin line on the Taiwan question, officially respecting China’s view but providing aid and selling weapons to the Taiwanese government. The State Department says the current plan includes technical support for early detection radar, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, and torpedoes. The Taiwan deal is the latest development in rapidly deteriorating relations between Trump and the China, after the White House expressed concern with China’s failure to curb North Korean aggression.

China has built new military facilities in the South China Sea, reports Reuters. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a part of the Center for Strategic International Studies, says that the new developments are on the Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands and include missile shelters and communications facilities. According to AMTI, “Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time." The U.S. has opposed China’s assertions in the South China Sea and has conducted several freedom of navigation exercises to challenge Chinese maritime sovereignty claims. Several Southeast Asian nations also have competing claims in the region.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted a special edition of the Lawfare Podcast featuring an interview with Shane Harris about Shane’s story on possible Russian collusion.

Quinta Jurecic posted the State Department cable defining who qualifies as a “close relative” for exemption from the travel ban.

Josh Blackman discussed the Supreme Court’s use of the “bona fide” relationship standard in its travel ban opinion, and he compared it to current congressional practices.

Jurecic posted Hawaii’s emergency motion to clarify the scope of the preliminary injunction in the travel ban.

Bobby Chesney reported on the House Appropriations Committee’s surprising passage of an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would repeal the 2001 AUMF.

Mieke Eoyang examined a few of the scenarios that could follow if Congress repeals the 2001 AUMF.

Jurecic posted two new opinions from the Court of Military Commissions Review in the cases of Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi and the five accused 9/11 conspirators.

Wittes posted this week’s episode of Rational Security.

Steve Vladeck and Chesney posted the most recent National Security Law Podcast.

Christopher Porter argued that private sector cyber intelligence could help ensure the success of international cyber arms control treaties.

Dakota Rudesill posted an update on Congress’ body of secret legislation.

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