Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Monday, July 31, 2017, 3:39 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered 755 personnel at U.S. diplomatic missions across Russia to leave their posts in response to recent U.S. congressional sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, The Washington Post reports. Although both sides in the conflict have expelled each other’s diplomats in the past, nothing on this scale has occurred since 1917. About 1,200 personnel currently work at U.S. missions in the country, around 850 of whom are foreign nationals. The Russian government is capping the total number of permitted personnel at 455, the same number of Russian personnel in the country’s U.S. missions. Russia also seized two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to a similar move taken by the U.S. under President Barack Obama.

Wikileaks published 70,000 emails connected to French President Emmanuel Macron, including material related to his recent election campaign and other correspondence, the Post reports. The emails do not appear to contain a major bombshell, though it may be some time before the emails are fully analyzed. More immediately, the hack brings further scrutiny on the cybersecurity of campaigns and political organizations across Europe. Meanwhile, the New York Times visited Munich to explore current attitudes towards the potential for damaging leaks designed to influence the German elections slated to take place in September.

Several former Department of Homeland Security officials have expressed concerns that John Kelly’s move from Secretary of Homeland Security to White House Chief of Staff will disrupt the DHS cybersecurity mission, Politico reports. The shift comes during a critical time for the department as it works to secure cyber vulnerabilities including critical infrastructure and election-related systems. However, others have said the competence of now-acting secretary Elaine Duke makes them confident the department will not suffer a disruption. Speculation paints the leading candidates to take over at DHS as House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan, and possibly Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Kelly called former FBI Director James Comey to express his anger following Comey’s dismissal, CNN writes. Kelly reportedly told Comey that he was considering resigning, which Comey counseled him against.

The U.S. pressed China to take measures to reign in the Kim Jong-un regime following North Korea’s launch of a test intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, which experts say could place major U.S. cities within striking range, The Wall Street Journal reports. Vice President Mike Pence made a statement saying the U.S. believes China should do more, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley rejected calls for an emergency UN Security Council session and urged increased pressure on the Kim regime, and President Trump sent two tweets expressing displeasure with China for failing to take greater action. China rejected blame and advocated for cooperation to find a solution and for the decoupling of the North Korean question and U.S.-China trade relations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Trump had promised to take “all necessary measures” to protect U.S. allies in the region, and that the two discussed “fresh action” against North Korea. Trump pledged to “handle” North Korea in response to a question during a news conference earlier today. Yesterday, the U.S. flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean peninsula, and the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces reiterated U.S. willingness to use force to respond to the North Korean threat.

The Pentagon and the State Department have developed a plan to arm Ukraine with defensive weapons in its fight against Russian-backed separatists in the East, the Journal reports. Officials have not yet presented the plan to the White House. The plan could include the provision of weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Currently the U.S. provides only non-lethal aid and training to Ukrainian forces.

At Guantanamo Bay, the military commission trial of five men accused of conspiring in the September 11 attacks is still in limbo due to a dispute over the lack of a separate boat to transport the chief of the war court across the bay, the Miami Herald reports. Rear Admiral Edward Cashman took over as prison commander in April and ended the practice of providing a separate craft for the military judge Colonel James Pohl. Pohl has said the new policy risks “commingling” reporters, families of 9/11 victims, lawyers and his staff. Most recently, Cashman suggested that the controversy should be handled by Convening Authority for Military Commissions Harvey Rishikof.

A new Russian law set to take effect in November bans the use of virtual or proxy networks, which individuals can use while browsing online to anonymize their activity, Forbes reports. Another law slated to take effect in January will force chat apps to identify users by their phone numbers, removing the option to chat anonymously. Some say the first law will make it harder for users to view content that questions the government’s authority while the removal of anonymous chatting may reduce the likelihood of protests. A Russian lawmaker said the government seeks to block access to “unlawful content” but not to introduce new censorship. Human rights groups have criticized the new restrictions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threatened to jail his political opponents following Sunday’s national vote to form a new, all-powerful constituent assembly in what opposition leaders called a sham election, the Journal reports. The new body, which will take power within 72 hours, will have the ability to dissolve the current National Assembly controlled by Maduro’s opponents. Ten people died Sunday following continued violent protests, bringing the total deaths in the country’s ongoing crisis to 125.

ICYMI: This weekend, on Lawfare

Matthew Kahn posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring Susan Hennessey’s conversation on FISA Section 702 with FBI General Counsel Jim Baker and Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch Carl Ghattas.

John Bies explored who would act as Attorney General if Jeff Sessions is fired.

Jack Goldsmith discussed the fractured nature of the current executive branch.

Adam Segal introduced his Aegis series paper on China’s increasingly activist cyber diplomacy.

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Robert Litwak explained state-based strategies to deter nuclear proliferation among non-state threats.

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