Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, March 2, 2018, 1:58 PM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems to be building the case to indict the Russians who carried out the hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and the subsequent release of the information during the 2016 presidential election, NBC reports. The charges, which sources say would rely heavily on classified intelligence from the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Department of Homeland Security, would likely include violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and election law, as well as conspiracy charges. An official briefed on the matter said charges could come within the next few weeks.

Russian politician Alexander Torshin, who is purportedly under investigation by the FBI for illegal funding money to the National Rifle Association as deputy governor of the Bank of the Russia, has cultivated deep ties to the gun group’s leaders, according to NPR. Torshin has claimed that his ties to the NRA have given him access to President Donald Trump and has documented numerous instances in which he has sought to leverage his relationship to gain deeper connections to American politics. The NRA has denied any wrongdoing in connection with Torshin in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden.

FBI counterintelligence officials are investigating a business deal by Ivanka Trump in Canada, CNN tells us. The officials are looking into the details surrounding the financing of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, Canada, as part of its background investigation of the president’s daughter and senior adviser. The investigation comes as increased scrutiny has been placed on Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in the wake of Kushner’s security clearance being downgraded from the top secret to secret level.

A report by Justice Department Inspector General Anthony Horowitz is expected to blame former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for authorizing disclosure to news outlets of information regarding on-going investigations, the New York Times informs us. The report, which is part of Horowitz’s wide-ranging probe about the FBI’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of classified information, is expected to detail McCabe’s disclosure to the Wall Street Journal of information damaging to Clinton and the Obama Department of Justice. The report will likely provoke further criticism of McCabe by Trump, who has repeatedly attacked the former deputy director of what he sees as political bias.

Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, Trump’s nominee to replace Adm. Mike Rogers as head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, said Thursday during his confirmation hearings that he did not think Russia, China, and other countries expected much of a response from the United States over cyberattacks, Reuters writes. Nakasone, who has led the U.S. Army’s cyber command since late 2016, called the United States the “cyber punching bag of the world,” and said that a “whole of government” response to the attacks to cyber attacks was the responsibility of the Trump administration. Nakasone’s comments came just two days after Rogers, who will be retiring within the next few months, told the same panel of senators that Trump had not authorized him to disrupt Russian election-hacking operations.  

Iliana Magra of the Times profiles Russian attempts to influence elections across Europe over the last two years in the run-up to Italian elections this Sunday.

The Defense Department is developing an expanded missile defense policy that would focus on threats from Russia and China, while also bolstering efforts against rogue states like North Korea and Iran, the Washington Post reports. The draft policy reflects a shift in strategic focus towards “great power competition” that was foreshadowed by the National Security Strategy released by the administration in December of last year. The policy would specifically focus on how the United States can deal with threats to regional theaters like Europe and Asia. The change in policy comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian has a hypersonic, nuclear-powered cruise missile that can breach U.S. defenses. The policy also comes as Stephen Walker, the director of DARPA, said that similar research into hypersonic missiles by the agency is being underfunded, according to Foreign Policy. The 2019 budget has requested an increase in funding for such research.

China appears to be ramping up its enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea along its borders, the Wall Street Journal writes. Checkpoints like the one in Quanhe, once a hive of activity, are now scenes to local Chinese businesses that are hit hard by the factory closures, increases in prices, and power shortages that are starting to occur in North Korea as a result of the sanctions. The impacts of the sanctions will likely only increase as the country runs low on foreign currency.   

The United States hopes to put to a vote next week a resolution to create a new U.N. inquiry into who is responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria, Reuters tells us. The previous investigation into culpability, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, ended last year after Russia, which sees the mechanism as flawed, blocked attempts to renew it. The resolution envisions the creation of a U.N. Independent Mechanism of Investigation for one year.

Roberta S. Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and a veteran diplomat, plans to leave her post later this spring, the Post informs us. Jacobson, who is well-respected in Mexico, is one of a number of State Department officials who have departed for personal reasons as the Trump administration settles in. Jacobson will likely be succeeded by Trump ally and former General Motors and AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre, Jr., a colleague of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The new ambassador will enter at a fraught time in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, as tensions increase over the proposed border wall, renegotiation of NAFTA, and the upcoming Mexican presidential election.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

William Ford posted the joint resolution on Yemen introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and the response of the Defense Department General Counsel.

Benjamin Wittes posted the Rational Security podcast.  

David Kris commented on the irony behind the claims in the Nunes memo.

Chris Mirasola summarized the EU General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect on May 25.

John J. Farmer, Jr. and Edward M. Neafsey examined why Trump may have backed away from his previous endorsement of torture.

Megan Reiss flagged a report by the U.N. detailing sanctions evasion by North Korea and Syria through the illicit weapons trade.

Phil Caruso described the rise of China’s human intelligence operations in the U.S.

Bob Bauer explained why Trump’s latest attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not “old news.”

Phillip Carter addressed three questions that loom for civil-military relations under Trump.