Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rebecca Heller
Wednesday, August 16, 2017, 4:08 PM

A Ukrainian hacker is cooperating with the FBI after authorities discovered that Russia-linked entities used a program he created to hack into the DNC’s networks prior to the 2016 election, reports The New York Times. The man, identified only by his online alias “Profexer,” does not appear to have worked directly for the Russian government, but the Department of Homeland Security assesses that malware he sold on the Dark Web was used in the DNC hack. Russia has long used Ukraine as a testing ground for politically-motivated influence campaigns and cyber operations that it later used elsewhere, including in the United States and Western Europe, but this man is the first publicly-known living technical witness to the DNC hack. The Times reports that his cooperation is likely to lead to important new information on Russian cyber interference, especially pertaining to the GRU-linked hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 28, or “Fancy Bear.”

The engines on North Korea’s new Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-12 intercontinental-range ballistic missiles appear to use “a variant of a Soviet-origin engine,” according to The Diplomat. However, contrary to reports earlier this week, the engines the North uses were probably not made in Russia or Ukraine. Their provenance is unclear: North Korea may have co-developed the engines with Iran and then manufactured them itself. The U.S. has previously sanctioned eleven “individuals and entities” for their involvement in Iran’s missile program. In a statement, the Treasury Department said that one sanctioned individual “traveled to North Korea to work on an 80-ton rocket booster being developed by the North Korean government.”

Iran may be building a missile factory in northwest Syria, reports the AP. According to an Israeli television report, satellite images show that an Iranian facility under construction in northwest Syria bears a strong resemblance to a rocket factory near Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently expressed concern about Iran’s growing presence in Syria and said last month that “our policy is clear: we vehemently oppose the military buildup by Iran and its proxies, primarily Hezbollah, in Syria and we will do whatever it takes to protect Israel’s security.” This development comes as the Islamic State is working to expand its presence in Iran, where Sunni minority groups could be especially vulnerable to recruitment, according to the Washington Post.

Three female suicide bombers killed at least 27 people and wounded 83 more in Mandarari, Nigeria on Tuesday, according to NBC News. One bomber detonated explosives at a local market, killing 27 people. The other attackers blew themselves up at a nearby camp for displaced persons, where they wounded dozens.The attack is suspected to be linked to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group, an Islamic State affiliate that has created instability across large swaths of northeastern Nigeria in the last eight years, has long relied on girls and women to carry out suicide bombings, writes Newsweek. A recent study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point says that between April 11, 2011 and June 30, 2017, 56 percent of Boko Haram’s 434 suicide bombers were women.

Indonesian police say they discovered a plot by Islamic State supporters to build chemical bombs and detonate them at the presidential palace, according to the Wall Street Journal. The police arrested five people on Tuesday, including a married couple, who allegedly planned to detonate the bombs at other locations in addition to the palace. Authorities did not specify how much progress the subjects had made in building the bombs, but their successful completion would have been a major advance for Indonesia’s Islamic State-linked militants, whose past attacks have generally been “amateurishly planned and executed,” writes the Straits Times.

NAFTA renegotiation talks began Wednesday in Washington. Negotiators are kicking off with a major dispute: whether to retain Chapter 19, the portion of NAFTA which specifies that tariff conflicts should be resolved by expert panels, writes the Journal. President Donald Trump believes that the panels interfere with his “America First” vision, while Mexican and Canadian negotiators see them as a crucial alternative to the American court system. Trade, immigration, and agriculture are also expected to be contentious issues, according to the Journal. In his opening statement, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that much more than “a mere tweaking” of the agreement is necessary, statement, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that much more than “a mere tweaking” of the agreement is necessary, according to Reuters.

Negotiators hope to move through the renegotiation unusually quickly: they would like to conclude talks and complete ratification before U.S. and Mexican elections in 2018. Trump heavily criticized NAFTA during his presidential campaign and threatened to withdraw from the agreement in April. However, he reversed course after cabinet members and Canadian and Mexican officials convinced him not to pull out. The key question now is whether American negotiators can bring home enough concessions for Trump’s base while simultaneously satisfying his supporters in the business community, says the Journal.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will end an Obama administration program that brought young Central American migrants seeking refuge from violence to the U.S. on a temporary basis, reports the Times. The move is a response to the president’s immigration executive order, which directs federal officials to increase selectivity in their use of discretionary authority to admit immigrants. The Obama administration created the program to address the flow of unaccompanied children migrating to the southern border from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, especially those who did not qualify for refugee status.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Saturday’s fatal car attack by a white supremacist in Charlottesville could be “a civil rights violation or a hate crime,” reports NBC News. Sessions said that no decisions have been made about whether the driver, James Alex Fields Jr., would be tried in state or federal court. He also did not say which charges prosecutors might bring against Fields. The attack killed one person, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and injured at least 19 others.

Tech firms are moving to sanction white supremacists whose online conduct violates their use policies, reports the Journal. Both Google and GoDaddy stopped hosting the neo-Nazi website DailyStormer, while Airbnb banned participants in last weekend’s Charlottesville rally from renting properties through its service. Uber, GoFundMe, and Paypal have also taken similar steps. But these actions are likely to trigger a public debate about the role technology companies play in promoting or restricting free speech. It could also open the companies up to legal challenges in places like Seattle, where they are subject to local laws that ban discrimination on the basis of ideology.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

J. Dana Stuster shared The Middle East Ticker, covering recent developments in the diplomatic dispute in the Persian Gulf, how Turkey and Iran are addressing growing instability in Idlib, and Saudi Arabia’s actions toward Iraqi Shi’ites.

Philip Zelikow outlined legal responses to the dangers of unauthorized private military groups.

Shannon Togawa Mercer answered some frequently asked questions about Guam, an island that took on new significance in the ongoing crisis with North Korea.

Herb Lin addressed the difficulty that North Korea might face in interpreting the president’s recent statements.

Jane Chong posted key documents related to a Justice Department order to obtain information on visitors to an anti-Trump organizing website.

Danielle Citron and Helen Norton discussed the importance of strong responses from government officials in the face of hate crimes and hate speech.

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