Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, February 16, 2018, 5:10 PM

The Justice Department has issued indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on charges related to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Politico reports. The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The charges were brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The indictment charged that the defendants had “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

Yesterday, the White House formally condemned Russia for the NotPetya cyberattack that crippled Ukrainian infrastructure and impacted computers worldwide, echoing a similar condemnation by the U.K., the New York Times writes. The White House also threatened “intentional consequences” for the attack, though it did not go into detail about what those consequences would be. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in the statement announcing the attribution of the attack, called the attack “reckless and indiscriminate” and said it was “part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict.” Cybersecurity exports have widely attributed NotPetya, a ransomware attack which struck last June, to Russia.

Starting today, intelligence officials will brief election officials from all 50 states on potential threats to the 2018 election from foreign adversaries, the Hill reports. The briefing, which will take place on Friday and Sunday, will attempt to educate officials on “”foreign adversary intent and capabilities against the states,” and will be led by the ODNI, DHS, and the FBI. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates and CIA Director Mike Pompeo testified before Congress earlier this week that the intelligence community expects election interference from Russia similar to what occurred during the 2016 presidential election.  

The Senate confirmed John Demers to be the assistant attorney general for the national security division of the Justice Department yesterday, the Hill tells us. Demers, who previously served in the national security division from 2006 to 2009 and had until yesterday been an assistant general counsel at Boeing, was confirmed after Sen. Cory Gardner lifted his hold on the nomination. Gardner decided to lift his hold due to “positive conversations” with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the acting U.S. Attorney for Colorado over the Justice Department’s marijuana law enforcement policy, which was a cause of concern for Gardner.

Politico’s Janosch Delcker profiles a campaign against lethal autonomous weapons systems, known colloquially as “killer robots,” by a “global coalition of human rights activists, philanthropists, and thinkers.

Susan Thornton, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for east Asia and the Pacific, stated that the Trump administration has no “bloody nose” strategy with regards to North Korea, Reuters informs us. The Trump administration has said that it prefers a diplomatic solution, but Thornton said North Korea would be required to give up its nuclear weapons “one way or another.” The statement contradicts other reports by senior administration officials that the administration has discussed the possibility of a limited strike on North Korea that would neither knock out the program nor effectuate regime change.

After a round of intense talks, the United States and Turkey agreed to initiate a formal dialogue over a Kurdish militia in Syria that has caused friction between the two countries, the Washington Post reports. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held hours-long discussions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu. Tillerson announced that the parties would form a working group that would convene in March to tackle the continuing differences between the United States and Turkey. The bitter disagreements between the two country center around the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which both countries consider a terrorist organization, as it draws closer to the Turkish border in its efforts to defeat ISIS. The bilateral relationship broke down rapidly after Turkey launched an offense against the group last month. Other thorny issues that remain are the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkey blames for an attempted coup in 2016, and the arrest of thousands of Turkish citizens, along with American embassy employees. CNN adds that Tillerson broke protocol by meeting with Erdogan and Cavusoglu without a translator, aides, or a note-taker. Cavusoglu performed the translation instead. The move has drawn criticism from former State Department officials.

The American citizen being held by U.S. forces as a suspected ISIS fighter informed investigators that he guarded gas fields and monitored civilians, but had originally intended to work as a journalist, the New York Times tells us. According to declassified court documents, the ISIS suspect, who has been registered with the group since June 2014 according to recruiting documents, indicated that to be released from prison after being captured by ISIS fighters, he agreed to work in a limited capacity, though the document details that he lied to the FBI about several details regarding his travel between the United States and Syria. The document also outlined the broad sketches of the man’s life, including details that he studied electrical engineering at a college in Louisiana and that he is married with a 3-year-old daughter. When caught, he was carrying $4,200 in cash, a GPS device, a Quran, USB drives with files about weapons, and a scuba mask and snorkel.

Around 300 Russian men working for a private military firm were killed in Syria last week, Reuters informs us. The incident occurred around the same time as a battle on Feb. 7 between U.S.-led coalition forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The deaths are the highest since clashes in Ukraine in 2014 led to a similar number of casualties, and demonstrate the heavy involvement of Moscow in the Syrian conflagration.

Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi, a Saudi citizen being held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be transferred to Saudi Arabia in the next few days, NBC News writes. As part of a plea agreement in 2014, al-Darbi waived his right to trial and agreed to cooperate with government officials. The agreement specifies that al-Darbi will be released after four years in custody, which he has nearly completed. The prosecution has recommended that al-Darbi be released based on his extensive cooperation with the government.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with NSA General Counsel Glenn Gerstell.

Bobby Chesney posted the National Security Law Podcast.

Sarah Grant summarized the last week of proceedings in the al-Iraqi military commission.

William Ford posted the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in IRAP v. Trump.

Jeremy Rabkin reviewed Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, From Freemasons to Facebook.

Josh Blackman explained how recent judicial decisions on Trump administration policy demonstrate the judiciary has learned to equilibrate between the president and the legal resistance.  

Fred H. Cate and Jon Eisenberg flagged a new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that elucidates the encryption debate.

Derek Grossman examined whether Trump is properly gleaning intelligence from the President’s Daily Brief.  

Masahiro Kurosaki provided a view from Japan on the “bloody nose” strategy towards North Korea and international law.

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