Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Matthew Kahn
Friday, October 27, 2017, 11:56 AM

Catalonia’s parliament declared independence Friday, reports the New York Times. Shortly afterward, the Spanish Senate voted 214-47 to invoke a provision of the Spanish constitution that gives the government authority to seize control of Catalonia and remove the regional leadership. This story is still developing.

Four U.S. Army Special Forces who were killed in Niger earlier this month were separated from their team as militants ambushed them, reports the Times. The new detail about the fatal incident during a “train and assist” mission further shifts the public’s knowledge of the fatal incident that caught the public and members of Congress, who did not realize the extent of U.S. military operations in West Africa, by surprise. The White House said earlier this week that President Trump did not order the operation; he delegated the decision to the Pentagon. The Washington Post reports that on Thursday, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, emerged from a closed briefing from the military saying he would give the Defense Department the 30 days it would need to conduct an investigation, but other senators said they “expect more.”

On Thursday, the National Archives began releasing more than 2,800 documents connected to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Times reports. The release was mandated by a 1992 law, but President Donald Trump retained the power to withhold certain documents for national security considerations. Though reports earlier in the week suggested that Trump would release all documents, against the advice of the National Security Council, the Post reports that he conceded on Thursday to requests from the FBI, CIA and other national security agencies to continue sequestering certain information about the assassination.

Twenty-six days behind schedule, the Trump administration on Thursday moved to begin implementing new congressionally mandated sanctions on Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports. The administration sent Congress a list of enterprises linked to the Russian defense and intelligence branches—a necessary step toward implementing sanctions that was due on Oct. 1 according to the bill that Trump signed into law in early August. Under that law, the sanctions must be executed by Jan. 29 of next year; the State Department says it will release the list of targets soon.

Twitter announced on Thursday that it will ban paid advertisements “from accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, effective immediately.” The company cited the intelligence community’s January assessment, which named RT and Sputnik as entities executing state-sponsored interference measures. But according to Wired, the changes may be more bark than bite: As of Oct. 2017, RT and Sputnik still have more than 2.65 million and 200,000 followers, respectively, leaving them significant audiences for organic content. The move comes as big tech firms are addressing propaganda efforts on their platforms in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. election. On Nov. 1, the general counsels of Facebook, Google and Twitter will testify in open session before the Senate intelligence committee at 9:30 a.m., then the House intelligence committee at 2:00 p.m.

Defense Secretary James Mattis visited the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on Friday. The Times reports that details of the trip highlight Seoul’s vulnerability to attack; it took Mattis only 30 minutes to travel from the capital city to the border by helicopter, and his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, emphasized the strength of the North Korean artillery and battalions stationed on the border. The visit comes as the Trump administration weighs its options for containing the threat from North Korea amid cycles of escalation between Washington and Pyongyang. Trump will visit Seoul next month. In a rare act of conciliation, North Korea agreed on Friday to return a South Korean fishing boat that it captured Saturday on the north’s side of the maritime border to the east of the Korean peninsula.

Yanghee Lee, a U.N. human rights investigator, excoriated Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, for her silence as the country’s military persecutes the Rohingya minority, the Times says. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been displaced; more than 600,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, sparking a refugee and public health crisis. “It has really baffled everyone, and has really baffled me, about Daw Aung’s non-position on this issue. She has not ever recognized that there is such a people called Rohingya—that’s a very startling point,” Lee told reporters at the U.N. on Thursday.

A U.N. report fingers the Syrian Air Force for the lethal chemical attack on April 4, reports the Times. That conclusion paints Russia, an ally of the government of Bashar al-Assad, in a dark light. The Russian government agreed in 2013 to ensure that the Assad regime destroyed all of its chemical weapons. The report also says that Islamic State militants used sulfur mustard poison in a Sept. 16, 2016 attack in Aleppo Province. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that a diplomatic solution to the Syria conflict will require that Assad and his family resign their leadership of the Syrian government, reports the Post.

Iraqi soldiers, aided by militias aligned with Iran, led an advance on Thursday to recover more Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq, says the Post.

In parts of Afghanistan, violence has become so severe that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is closing clinics, according to the Post. In the past year, three ICRC employees have been abducted and seven killed, including one at a Red Cross facility. The ICRC has so far closed two offices in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. About 675,000 Afghans rely on those facilities; they may need to find another resource for food, water and medicine until the government or another aid organization can help.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Bobby Chesney noted a few legal questions to consider on the potential use of force in Niger against al-Mourabitoun.

Daniel Richman wrote about the changing landscape of encryption.

Benjamin Wittes posted this week’s episode of Rational Security: the “How Many Elephants Make a Stampede?” edition.

Bob Litt reminded readers that despite the current discussion surrounding the so-called “Steele dossier,” it did not play a role in the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

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