Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Thursday, January 18, 2018, 1:19 PM

The Senate passed S.139, the bill reauthorizing Title XII of the FISA Amendments Act and extending the Section 702 surveillance program for six years, in a 65-34 vote, Reuters reported. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump, who criticized the Section 702 program in a tweet that he later retracted, for his signature. Lawfare’s 702 reauthorization resource page provides further context for the bill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said U.S. troops would stay in Syria after the end of the fight against the Islamic State, the New York Times reported. In a major speech on Syria policy, Tillerson said U.S. forces would remain to support U.S.-backed forces against Iran and the Syrian government. Tillerson cast the policy as ensuring that the Islamic State would not return to previously liberated areas. The speech was the first time that a U.S. official said American forces would remain in Syria after the battle against the militant organization ends.

The U.S. walked back a proposal for a Kurd-led border force to defend the Kurdish enclave in Syria after Turkey threatened to attack the YPG, the leading Kurdish militia in Syria, the Washington Post reported. Tillerson said descriptions of the proposal for a border force were not accurate and that the proposal was for the U.S. to provide training to local groups to defend their areas of control against the Islamic State. Turkey deployed tanks and troops along the Turkish side of the border with Afrin, a Kurdish-controlled area, threatening to attack the YPG unless the U.S. withdraws the proposal, Reuters reported. Turkey says any border force would be a risk to its national security because of the links between the YPG and the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that Turkey, the U.S. and the EU have labeled a terrorist organization. In response to the Turkish threat, Syria threatened to shoot down any Turkish warplanes that participate in an attack on Afrin, according to the AP.

President Donald Trump said the planned move for U.S. embassy in Israel to relocate to Jerusalem will not take place within the year, contradicting comments from Israel’s prime minister, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he expected the relocation to occur within a year’s time. In an interview, Trump said while he is considering different options, a move within the year is not on the table. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December started a process to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but at the time, Tillerson said that process would take at least three years.

Steve Bannon agreed to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, sidestepping a subpoena to appear before a grand jury, the Wall Street Journal reported. Bannon will not invoke executive privilege to protect his work while at the White House from scrutiny. On Tuesday, the House intelligence committee subpoenaed Bannon during an interview after he claimed executive privilege prevented him from answering questions about his time in the White House. Bannon’s lawyer attempted to delay another appearance by Bannon before the House intelligence committee, the Post reported. Committee leaders told Bannon to clarify the scope of executive privilege that the president intended to invoke and reappear on Thursday, but Bannon’s lawyer said that would not be enough time.

U.S. spies that applauded the arrest of Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer believed to have a role in the exposure of CIA sources in China, are concerned that Lee will not face charges for his actions, the Washington Post reported. The FBI arrested Lee on Monday after he arrived at a New York airport from China, but senior officials said it was unlikely he would face charges about divulging classified information to the Chinese government. The New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman detailed the CIA’s hunt for moles in China in an extensive feature.

The Justice Department defended its use of terrorism numbers from a Department of Homeland Security report to promote stricter immigration controls, Politico reported. Ed O’Callaghan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for national security, said the numbers’ inclusion of terrorists captured overseas and extradited to the U.S. in the same category as immigrants in the U.S. who later conducted acts of terrorism was justified because the arrests abroad ultimately prevented terrorist attacks in the U.S. Another Trump administration official said that domestic terrorism was not included in the scope of the report.

India tested its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile as part of a project to build up its nuclear deterrent against China and Pakistan, Reuters reported. The 5,000-kilometer range Agni missile launched from an island off India’s eastern coast. New Delhi says that bordering Pakistan and China, both nuclear-armed states, pose a threat to its security.

The House passed a bill that would restore the leading State Department cyber diplomacy office, the Hill reported. The Cyber Diplomacy Act would restore State’s office of the cyber coordinator, a post Secretary of State Tillerson said will be subsumed into State’s economic bureau in the course of its redesign. House members expressed concern that Tillerson was not prioritizing cyber diplomatic efforts. However, the bill’s path forward remains uncertain, because there is no companion legislation introduced in the Senate.

Facebook will open a broader investigation into Russia’s influence on its platform during the 2016 vote for the British exit from the European Union, the Times reported. Facebook told British lawmakers in December that it had not found any evidence of Russian efforts to affect the vote. On Wednesday, Facebook acknowledged that its initial investigation only examined accounts previously identified as linked to Russia by U.S. intelligence agencies. Facebook is now looking into other accounts as potentially linked to Russia.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Herb Lin and Paul Rosensweig responded to Suan Landau’s call for a new definition of cybersecurity that includes information warfare, agreeing that protecting U.S. election requires attention on both information warfare and cybersecurity concerns.

Robert Chesney discussed the merits of a new habeas petition for 11 Guantanamo Bay detainees that argues the government’s authority to detain them under the 2001 AUMF has expired.

Klon Kitchen argued that the U.S. needs to convene a new Solarium project to address cybersecurity.

Harry Graver summarized the briefs and oral arguments in Dalmazzi v. U.S.

Benjamin Wittes posted a special edition of the Lawfare Podcast, featuring an interview with Anthony Cormier on his reporting about the investigation into suspicious payments by the Russian embassy during the 2016 election.

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