Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, March 16, 2018, 12:27 PM

The Trump administration accused Russia of perpetrating a series of cyberattacks on American and European critical infrastructure on Thursday, the New York Times reports. The attacks, which started in 2015 around the same time that interference in the 2016 presidential election began, compromised some operators in the spring of 2017. The hackers were able to gain a foothold that allowed them to shut down or sabotage the systems, which included nuclear power plants, as well as water and electrical systems—though they appear not to have used those capabilities. The intrusions suggest at least three separate but simultaneous interference efforts by the Russians: one to steal documents from the Democratic National Committee, another to use the Internet Research Agency to sow division and discord online, and a third to compromise critical infrastructure.

The United Kingdom suggested that it might target assets of Russian oligarchs in the U.K. in response to Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the Times writes. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has hinted that associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin might be targeted in an anti-corruption campaign, and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May pledged on Wednesday to “freeze Russian state assets wherever we have evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of U.K. nationals or residents,” with attention on “corrupt elites.” The move comes as the United States, France and Germany joined with the U.K. to jointly condemn the poisoning of Skripal as an incursion on British sovereignty and as Downing Street expelled 23 Russian diplomats. In response to these measures, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Russia will expel British diplomats, the Financial Times informs us. He did not give further details on how many diplomats would be expelled or when they would be.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records relating to Russia, the first known move by Mueller to gain access to records directly related to Trump’s business dealings, according to the Times. It is unclear how many documents the grand jury has compelled or why they were not simply requested, but it is an indication that the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is expanding to include the role foreign money may have played. Trump has previously threatened to respond if the special counsel crossed the “red line” of delving into his family’s finances, but the president didn’t specify what that response would be, nor is it clear whether Mueller has yet run afoul of that line.

House Republicans are concerned they may have fumbled the release of the House intelligence committee majority report concluding that Trump did not collude with Russia in its election interference, Politico tells us. House GOP members are on the defensive due to comments by Rep. Mike Conaway, who had been leading the probe, implying that the intelligence community was incorrect in its analysis that Russia intervened on behalf of Trump in the contest for the presidency in 2016. The comments led to charges of partisan bias by the House intelligence committee majority in an effort to protect the president and further pitting the committee’s Republican leadership against the minority and the intelligence community. It also led to a split within the Republican ranks, with Rep. Trey Gowdy, among others, supporting the assessment of the intelligence agencies.

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe met with Justice Department officials to request that they not fire him just days before his retirement, the Washington Post tells us. The matter, which will be decided by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, heated up after the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility recommended terminating McCabe due to charges in a yet-to-be-released inspector general report alleging that McCabe authorized the disclosure sensitive information to a reporter and misled internal investigators about the incident. If McCabe is not terminated, conservatives may charge that the former deputy head of the FBI has received undeserved leniency. But supporters of McCabe within the bureau may see any effort to fire him as harsh treatment at the behest of a vindictive president, who has singled out the career official on Twitter and elsewhere.

Trump plans to replace national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster but has not put a hard deadline on the decision, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to administration officials, Trump has conveyed his decision to remove McMaster from his post to White House chief of staff John Kelly, but does not have replacement in mind. The Pentagon is looking for a suitable post for McMaster, while Trump met with former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who could potentially take up the position.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats rolled out a reorganization of his office on Wednesday, consolidating numerous functions under a new layer of management, Politico writes. The new structure will focus on four key areas: streamlining intelligence flow, allocating resources, promoting partnerships with foreign agencies and the private sector, and developing strategies for future threats.

Seven U.S. servicemembers were killed when their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter went down over western Iraq, the Post informs us. According to the Pentagon, the incident is under investigation but does not seem to have been the result of enemy fire. The military has not yet released the names of the service members, as not all of the families have been notified.

Defense Secretary James Mattis expects to receive a report from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the investigation into the deaths of four U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger last year by Friday, the Post tells us. Mattis, speaking to reporters on a flight home from Bahrain, said he didn’t want the investigation “dragged out” and that he was reading a draft of the “very thick” investigation report, which has prompted several questions in his mind. The Oct. 4 ambush killed two members of the elite 3rd Special Forces Group, along with two other soldiers assigned to that unit.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Philip Reitinger responded to Paul Rosenzweig’s article concluding from survey results that Americans don’t care about cybersecurity.

Michael Paradis explained how the UK could use international institutions to wage lawfare against Russia in response to the poisoning of the Russian expatriate in Salisbury.

Nicholas Weaver flagged a new white paper and website describing flaws in newly-released computer chips from AMD.

Paul Rosenzweig posted another edition of Bits and Bytes, flagging Iran’s cyberattack on Saudi Arabia, lies traveling further than truth, and Berkeley's efforts at surveillance and transparency.

Benjamin Wittes posted this week’s episode of Rational Security: the “Rex, Eat the Salad” edition.

William Ford posted the livestream for the Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone’s confirmation hearing to be the Director of the NSA before the Senate intelligence committee.

Andrew J. Grotto examined the U.S. policy toolkit for handling Kaspersky Labs.

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