Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tia Sewell
Wednesday, July 22, 2020, 4:31 PM

Tensions continue to flare in Portland, Oregon, as the Department of Homeland Security has doubled down on deploying components of the department to subdue protests in the city, according to the New York Times. The demonstrations in Portland began on May 29, following the police killing of George Floyd, and have continued each night since. The federal government has responded aggressively, using tear gas and less-lethal munitions to disperse crowds. Legal experts have questioned the propriety of alleged uses of force by unidentified federal agents against protesters, reports the Post.

U.S. authorities have announced a ban on drones flying near federal buildings in Portland, according to Reuters. The Department of Homeland Security cited surveillance concerns for this decision, stating that unidentified drones “can be used to provide information that allows violent opportunists to maneuver around officers, act in the commission of a crime and jeopardize public safety.”

On Tuesday night, 15 people were shot near a funeral home in Chicago, writes the Washington Post. Officials have announced that 13 of the victims will likely recover, but two remain in critical condition. The shooting comes amid a yearlong uptick in gun violence in Chicago. The city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, appeared cautiously willing to accept federal agents who are preparing to deploy to Chicago. “We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship,” Lightfoot said Tuesday. “We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome the unconstitutional arrests and detainments of our residents, and that is something I will not tolerate.”

The Senate is poised to pass a defense bill which includes a provision to change the names of military bases that were named after Confederate figures, according to the Hill. President Trump has threatened to veto the bill, but multiple Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have urged the president to back down from this threat.

On Tuesday, the U.S. ordered the abrupt closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, reports the Wall Street Journal. The order’s timing coincided with a wide-ranging U.S. indictment brought against two Chinese hackers accused of targeting coronavirus research and stealing sensitive information from Americans. On Tuesday evening, following the closure notice, footage appeared to show people burning documents in an outdoor courtyard area of the Chinese consulate.

Today, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu spoke of searing tensions between China and Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait, according to the Journal. The Chinese military has ramped up its sea and air drills in the region considerably in the past few months. Wu urged extreme caution in dealing with Beijing, noting, “Other than having full military preparedness, we need to also be very careful to avoid letting Taiwan become an excuse for China to declare war or engage militarily.”

The U.S. recorded over 1,000 COVID-19 deaths yesterday, marking the highest single-day increase in the death toll since early June, writes Reuters. To date, nearly 142,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Cases continue to rise rapidly across the United States.

Twitter suspended thousands of accounts promoting conspiracy theories associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory on Tuesday evening, reports the Times. The tech company stated that accounts affiliated with QAnon are in violation of their policies and have the “potential to lead to offline harm.” Facebook is reportedly coordinating with Twitter and other online platforms in preparation to take similar actions against QAnon content next month.

The U.S. military announced that American forces conducted an airstrike against ISIS in Somalia on Tuesday, according to the Hill. The airstrike, which reportedly killed seven ISIS members, is the first strike against the Islamic State in Somalia since October. About 500 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Somalia to fight against ISIS and al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab.

The United Nations announced today that fears of famine in Yemen are returning, reports Reuters. A collection of factors, including coronavirus restrictions, locusts, floods, resurgent violence and underfunding have compounded to exacerbate the country’s alarming food insecurity.

A Hezbollah fighter was killed in an Israeli air strike near Damascus, Syria on Monday night, writes Reuters. Last August, Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, promised to retaliate if Israel killed any more of the group’s fighters in Syria. Monday’s strike marks Hezbollah’s first declared casualty by Israel since this warning was issued.

In a new letter, four former presidents of the D.C. Bar Association have called for a probe into Attorney General Bill Barr, according to Politico. The complaint argues that the D.C. Bar should investigate whether Barr has broken Washington’s ethics rules. The letter highlights actions and decisions from Barr “to serve the personal and political self-interests of President Donald Trump, rather than the interest of the United States.”

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said Tuesday that he is willing to brief Congress on global threats facing the U.S. in August, reports the Journal. This would be the first annual threat briefing since January of 2019. The briefings typically occur more regularly, but have slowed due to strained relations between the White House and the intelligence community.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Tia Sewell summarized the recent Uighur ICC complaint filed against Chinese leaders alleging genocide and crimes against humanity.

Bobby Chesney and Steve Vladeck shared an episode of the National Security Law Podcast on the presence of federal law enforcement at protests in Portland and other issues.

Chas Kissick, Elliot Setzer and Jacob Schulz discussed the decline of contact-tracing apps in the U.S. and around the world.

Stewart Baker analyzed the European Court of Justice's Schrems II decision and described actions the United States can take in response.

Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast featuring conversation on the Schrems II ruling, Iranian cyberspies and policymaking in the era of artificial intelligence, among other things.

Jordan Schneider shared an episode of ChinaTalk on how sanctions fail U.S. policymakers.

Elliot Setzer posted the U.K. parliament’s report on the British government’s failure to address Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Setzer also posted a livestream of a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on consular affairs and COVID-19.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast on the new DHS authorization for intelligence analysts to collect information on threats to monuments, memorials and statues.

David Priess announced an update to the associate editor job opening at Lawfare.

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