Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Friday, August 11, 2017, 2:48 PM

In another provocative warning to the Kim Jong Un regime, President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that the U.S. is “locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” The New York Times reports. This is just the latest in a string of reciprocal warnings between Washington and Pyongyang, which threatened to attack Guam, a U.S. territory. Trump did not specify what actions would prompt a U.S. military response and there have not been signs of U.S. mobilization that would indicate an impending military engagement. China has indicated that it will not come to North Korea’s aid if it initiates an attack on the U.S. and then faces American retaliation.

Trump said he was “thankful” to Vladimir Putin for forcing the number of U.S. government personnel in Russia to be slashed by 755, citing “a smaller payroll,” the Times reports. The statement may have been tongue-in-cheek, though Trump gave no definitive indication he was joking. Russian President Putin made the decision after it was clear the U.S. Congress would impose new sanctions on the Russian government. Observers noted that Trump’s statements did not directly criticize Putin, which he has avoided doing throughout his candidacy and presidency.

President Trump said in a press conference Thursday that he had not given “any thought” to firing special counsel Robert Mueller and that he is “not dismissing anybody,” the Times reports. Trump associates, however, have previously said that the president has considered firing Mueller. Trump also expressed surprise at the FBI’s search of the home of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The United States is investigating whether U.S. diplomats in Cuba were the targets of an attack that damaged their hearing and resulted in other neurological symptoms, The Washington Post reports. Officials concluded that the attackers used a “covert sonic weapon” that could not be heard by the victims. The State Department announced Wednesday that the U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats from the country in response to their failure to keep foreign diplomats safe, as required under the Vienna Convention. However, some neuroscience experts expressed doubt about the government’s claims and said another cause may be to blame.

India has increased military readiness on its eastern border with China as a seven-week standoff over the Doklam Plateau continues, Reuters reports. India sent its military to intervene after discovering that Chinese construction crews were attempting to build a road in an area claimed by both China and Bhutan, which has close ties with India. Indian troops on the border routinely go into “operational readiness” for two months a year, but the activity was advanced this year out of caution. There have not been additional force deployments, sources said, and observers said they did not expect the tension in Doklam to escalate into conflict.

Afghanistan will begin to expand its elite commando forces, which have consistently been some of the most effective units in the 16-year war against the Taliban, The Post reports. Officials hope the force will double in size to about 22,000, which could take approximately four years. The U.S. favors the plan and sees the commandos as a reliable partner but also warned against overuse, as the commandos and other special units have accounted for 80 percent of all Afghan offensive operations. Critics say the government should focus on the 150,000 regular Afghan soldiers who could be trained to do many of the same tasks.

Russian hacker group Fancy Bear spied on high-value hotel guests by infiltrating hotel Wi-Fi networks since as early as last fall, Wired writes. The group has begun using leaked NSA software EternalBlue to strengthen its control over the hacked networks, stealing users’ login credentials and intercepting their communications. The hotels targeted include ones likely to attract corporate and diplomatic business travelers.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted the Rational Security podcast, in which the gang discussed Trump’s warnings to North Korea, the Department of Justice’s crackdown on leaks and new developments in the Russia investigation.

Helen Klein Murillo reviewed a lawsuit filed by five transgender service members against Trump’s announced policy of banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.

Emmah Wabuke analyzed legal questions around the internal deployment of military forces in Kenya following a March 17 decision by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

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