Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, March 30, 2018, 2:26 PM

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that an American service member was among those killed by a roadside bomb in Syria, CBS reports. The bomb killed two members of the anti-ISIS coalition and wounded another five when it exploded Thursday night, apparently somewhere near the Syrian town of Manbij. Roadside bomb attacks are rare in the war-torn country, and the coalition is still gathering information about what happened.

Noor Salman, the wife of the shooter responsible for the June 2016 massacre at the Orlando Pulse nightclub, was acquitted of charges that she aided and abetted her husband’s terrorist attack on Friday, the Washington Post informs us. Prosecutors had attempted to show over weeks of arguments and testimony that Salman willingly participated in her husband’s plot, and had lied to the FBI during subsequent questioning about her involvement. Salman’s family and lawyers had defended her actions as that of another innocent victim of her husband’s actions. Jurors deliberated for around 12 hours before returning with a not-guilty verdict.

President Trump surprised his staff and allies in agreeing to the largest expulsion of Russian diplomatic personnel in U.S. history, the Post tells us. Trump, who has been unusually fond of Russian President Vladimir Putin for a U.S. president since the 2016 election and who refuses to acknowledge the latter’s interference in the election, made clear in the days leading up to the decision that he was only interested in expelling the Russian officials if other countries would do the same. The president’s national security team created three options, dubbed “light, medium, and heavy.” The first two called for expelling 30 and 60 diplomats, respectively. Trump ultimately chose the latter. The “heavy” option remains shrouded in mystery to preserve the president’s future flexibility.

The person listed in the latest court filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as “Person A” is most likely former GRU officer Konstantin Kilimnik, according to Defense One. Kilimnik, who began working for the International Republican Institute after serving as a translator in the Russian Army, was in contact with former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The filing by Mueller alleges that Gates knew that Kilimnik was a Russian intelligence officer, and that he continued contact with him into 2016. Mueller’s office also appears to have referenced Kilimnik in another filing in December in an effort to prevent a bail deal for Manafort.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions revealed on Thursday that he has tapped Utah U.S. Attorney John W. Huber to review the FBI’s handling of numerous high-profile investigations rather than appoint a second special counsel, the Post informs us. Sessions wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy informing them he would not be appointing a special counsel because such a move should only be taken in “extraordinary circumstances” and that the public interest was better served by having a U.S. attorney look into the matter. The matters included in Huber’s review will include the FBI’s handling of alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation, the sale of a uranium company to Russia, and the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth warned the social media company in a 2016 memo that its services could be used to help plan terrorist attacks, Buzzfeed reports. The memo, which was entitled “The Ugly” and was leaked in the wake of increasing public criticism of Facebook, claimed that regardless of any harm that came to people because of how Facebook was used, its mission of connecting people was “de facto good”, and therefore overrode any other considerations. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a hastily composed statement on Thursday, saying that his company “never believes the ends justify the means,” and that he disagreed with the 2016 memo. Bosworth, one of Zuckerberg's most trusted employees, is known for his blunt style and willingness to speak his mind within the company.

The Islamic State has started using an app known as “MuslimCrypt” as a means of sending and receiving encrypted messages, according to Wired. The terrorist organization, which has long taken advantage of encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram, first released the app in January in a private Telegram channel. The app applies a method of encryption known as steganography, which attempts to hide content by embedding it in other software.

President Trump said on Thursday that the United States will be exiting the military situation in Syria “very soon”, Politico informs us. The comments by Trump are in direct contradiction to statements made by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who have both sketched out a strategy for Syria that involves a long-term U.S. presence in the region. Trump claimed that once the fight against ISIS has been won on the battlefield, U.S. troops will return home. The comments also potentially conflict the views of newly-named Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new national security adviser John Bolton, who have both expressed a need to remain in Syria beyond the immediate conflict.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Bob Bauer argued that Congress could protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller by mandating that he report on the status of the investigation if he is fired.

Alan Z. Rozenshtein explained how the new encryption report by the National Academies of Sciences released last month points to a path forward on the debate about secure third-party access to encrypted data.

Rachel E. VanLandingham reviewed Gregory S. Gordon’s Atrocity Speech Law: Foundation, Fragmentation, Fruition.

Benjamin Wittes posted this week’s episode of Rational Security: the “All the President’s Lawyer’s” edition.

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