Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 11:58 AM

North Korea reopened a telephone hotline with South Korea at the demilitarized zone, restoring a direct communications channel between the rival states as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extended an offer to Seoul for negotiations, the New York Times reported. Kim proposed talks about easing tensions on the Korean peninsula and Pyongyang’s possible participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The overture came as President Donald Trump exchanged threats with Kim over Twitter, Trump saying he had a “bigger” nuclear button on his desk than Kim.

Pro-government rallies took place across Iran on Wednesday, receiving heavy state media coverage as the Iranian regime attempted to shore up its support after protests swept across Iran’s provincial areas over the past week, the Times reported. On Tuesday, the European Union urged Iran’s government to respect protesters’ right to demonstrate and to refrain from violence. Twenty-one people were dead and hundreds arrested as police sought to break up the protests. The Trump administration accused the Iranian government of blocking protesters’ access to social media sites, the Washington Post reported. The administration is also seeking support for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to condemn Iran for human rights violations. The protests could provide Trump the final push to undo the Iranian nuclear deal, Politico reported. He will have to decide in less than two weeks whether to waive sanctions on Iran in keeping with the deal, but the demonstrations could convince him that increasing sanctions would bolster economic leverage over Tehran.

The National Security Agency has lost hundreds of highly-skilled technical experts and analysts since 2015, creating a talent deficit at an agency critical for national security, the Post reported. Low pay and an unpopular reorganization effort have driven hackers, engineers and analysts to higher-paying private sector positions. In the wake of a series of leaks starting with the Snowden revelations, the NSA enacted tighter security protocols that have created a difficult working environment for many experienced professionals. The Post’s story also reports that Adm. Michael Rogers, the NSA director, has said he plans to retire this spring.

Ethiopia will release and pardon political prisoners and close a detention facility where human rights groups said the regime has tortured prisoners, Reuters reported. Ethiopia’s authoritarian government said the move was intended to advance “national reconciliation” after protests sparked a political crisis in which senior government officials resigned. Protests and civil violence have caused turmoil in Ethiopia for more than three years, and resulting in the deaths of hundreds. Human rights groups hailed the announcement as a possible end to “an era of bloody repression.”

A U.S. drone strike in Somalia destroyed a truck transporting explosives and killed two al-Shabab militants, according to the AP. U.S. Africa Command said the strike prevented the truck’s explosives from being used in an attack on Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. Last year, the U.S. carried out more than 30 strikes against al-Shabab after the Trump administration expanded military operations in the region.

The federal judge overseeing the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker accused of subverting U.S. sanctions on Iran, refused for the second time to declare a mistrial in the case, Reuters reported. Lawyers for Atilla argued that a question to their client during cross-examination about a disputed report by a Turkish expert had tainted the case. Judge Richard Berman said a mistrial would be an “extreme” outcome to the case. The trial featured prominent testimony from Reza Zarrab, the Turkish businessman who plead guilty to violating U.S. sanctions and agreed to assist prosecutors in the case. 


ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

David Anderson described a new intelligence oversight tool that the United Kingdom is using: independent assessments of internal reviews.

Paul Rosenzweig shared his predictions for what will happen in cybersecurity in  2018.

J. Dana Stuster posted an abridged Middle East Ticker, covering the protests sweeping Iran.

Jane Chong argued that Congress has the power to impeach a president for unconstitutional abuses of power—even those powers that fall squarely in the purview of the executive.


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