Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, July 27, 2017, 12:44 PM

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford announced that the military will not put into practice President Trump’s ban on transgender servicemembers until it receives implementation guidance from the Secretary of Defense, Reuters writes. “In the meantime,” Dunford wrote to military leaders, “we will continue to treat all our personnel with respect.” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was given a day of warning on the White House’s plan to ban transgender personnel from the military and was “appalled” by the president’s decision to tweet out his decision, the New York Times writes. The White House was unable yesterday to answer questions as to what would happen to transgender servicemembers currently deployed.

President Trump has considered installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment should Attorney General Jeff Sessions depart his office, the Washington Post reports. Trump’s advisors and attorneys have discouraged him from firing Sessions, which they warn could result in political and legal consequences and would detract from the administration’s policy agenda. Interviews with different parties have presented a mixed picture of Trump’s seriousness about moving forward with this course of action, suggesting that he has expressed different objectives at different points in time. Senate Democrats have indicated that they intend to use parliamentary stalling measures to prevent a recess appointment by limiting the chamber from formally adjourning during the upcoming August recess for more than one week—the minimum time that must pass before the president may make a recess appointment.

Senior Russian officials reacted forcefully to yesterday’s passage by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives of new financial sanctions targeting Russia, and suggested the onset of deeper period of tension in U.S.-Russian relations. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov noted that “the possibilities for [the] normalization of relations in the foreseeable future are closed.” The AP reports that the Kremlin is evaluating how to respond, with Russian lawmakers suggesting that the new sanctions would profoundly affect U.S.-Russian cooperation on counterterrorism operations.

Meanwhile, the European Union announced that it would soon act to counter the proposed sanctions, out of concern that the new U.S. sanctions would jeopardize the bloc’s energy security. The sanctions would target any company that contributes to the maintenance or modernization of Russia’s energy export pipelines, which EU officials say sanctions would undercut at least eight ongoing pipeline development and maintenance projects. In addition, they would pose complications for Western firms that have partnered with Russia’s Gazprom to develop the controversial pipeline route known as Nord Stream 2 that would run between Germany and Russia below the Baltic Sea. An EU document outlining the bloc’s response strategy calls for securing “demonstrable assurances” from the U.S. that sanctions would not target the interests of Western energy companies, and raises the possibility of invoking an EU regulation to defend against U.S. “extraterritorial’ measures and of filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization. These steps would require the approval of the 28 EU member states, an uncertain prospect.

Reuters reports that Russian intelligence agents created fictitious Facebook accounts to secure personal information about French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign associates, adding detail to reports of the Russian campaign to interfere in the French presidential election. Facebook confirmed that it had identified spying efforts traceable to the Russian military intelligence agency, or GRU, during the first round vote, and believed it had deactivated the suspect accounts before phishing attacks on campaign associates could be carried out. Nevertheless, two days before the second round of voting and as the French electoral ban barring campaigning went into effect, campaign documents and email addresses of tens of thousands of campaign officials were published online in an attack U.S. intelligence officials have linked to the GRU. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the GRU as responsible for coordinating the hacking of U.S. targets during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Yesterday, the European Union filed a complaint against Poland for proposed legislation that would have fundamentally limited the independence of the country’s judiciary. Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed two of the three pieces of legislation in a surprise move on Monday, following public demonstrations and threats by EU officials to appeal to Article 7, a previously never-invoked provision that could lead to economic sanctions and Poland’s loss of voting rights in the bloc. The EU complaint—known formally as the Rule of Law Declaration—triggers legal action that may also result in economic sanctions against Poland.

The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday along party lines to remove a Democratic resolution to obtain documents concerning President Trump’s dismissal of former FBI Director Jim Comey. Republican lawmakers replaced the text with a resolution seeking documents on Comey’s conversations with the Obama administration and journalists regarding the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Human Rights Watch has alleged that U.S.-trained Iraqi military personnel carried out war crimes in the final period of the campaign to retake Mosul’s Old City, Reuters reports. The allegation follows reports of extrajudicial killing by the Iraqi military personnel of ISIS fighters in the weeks since the Iraqi forces claimed victory in Mosul. U.S. troops advising Iraqi forces have reported observing only 5 instances of abuse, raising questions about whether U.S. personnel disregarded the attacks or had simply not been present to observe them.*

Bill Miller, acting head of the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau, has submitted his resignation, the Washington Post reports. Miller’s departure leaves the bureau—which coordinates security for U.S. embassies and ambassadors worldwide—without leadership in its two most senior positions. Miller is the latest State Department official to resign since President Trump took office, a trend considered more pronounced than in previous administrations. Nearly all State Department senior leadership and political positions remain unfilled. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to nominate Michael Evanoff, former head of personal security detail to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during Rice’s time in office.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Philip R. Reitinger argued that creation of a new Department of Cybersecurity would be a detriment to, rather than a “silver bullet” capable of ensuring U.S. preparedness in the event of a “cyber 9/11.”

Carrie Cordero underscored that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was correct to recuse himself from the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and urged that Sessions not resign from office amid escalating pressure from President Trump.

Daniel Byman assessed the long-term dangers posed by the Islamic State to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged developments in digital currency markets and considered the utility of the term “Internet of Things” in the latest Bits and Bytes feature.

Paul highlighted a report that recently discovered security vulnerabilities in internet-connected drive-through car washes could be harnessed by rogue actors to remotely inflict damage on vehicles and their occupants. 

Ben Wittes outlined a defense of his view offered last Thursday that Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should jointly resign, and assessed the merits of the opposing view put forth  by Jack Goldsmith in the day following.

Quinta Jurecic posted videos from 2017 Aspen Security Forum that convened on July 19-22.

Ben Wittes posted the latest episode of Rational Security, entitled “The ‘Beleaguered’” edition.

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*The post previously stated incorrectly that Human Rights Watch reported that crimes against humanity had occurred in Mosul. In fact, the organization reported war crimes. This post has been updated accordingly.