Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore
Tuesday, December 15, 2020, 3:09 PM

Attorney General Bill Barr resigned yesterday after weeks of blistering attacks from President Trump. Although Barr has been intensely loyal to the president—most famously, he misled the country about the contents of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference—he angered Trump by rebutting his claims of widespread voter fraud in the November election. CNN reports that Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen will replace Barr. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined today that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is “highly effective,” according to the Wall Street Journal, paving the way for an emergency authorization later in the week. The FDA reviewed a 3,000 person study and confirmed that the vaccine is 94.1 percent effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. Analysts found that the vaccine may even prevent asymptomatic infections, which would reduce the risks of transmission from person-to-person. 

The Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the National Institutes of Health have also been targeted by Russian cyberespionage, writes the Washington Post. It was reported yesterday that hackers infiltrated the Treasury and Commerce departments in a sophisticated long-term operation. In an unusual move, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) directed all federal agencies to disinstall  SolarWinds—the compromised software—and to contact CISA with any knowledge about the breach. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged President-elect Biden’s victory for the first time, reports the Associated Press. Delivering a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell said that the “electoral college has spoken” and congratulated the incoming president. Many of McConnell’s Republican colleagues have remained silent over the past six weeks as President Trump advanced baseless claims of voter fraud.

Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court (ICC) declined to investigate China’s mass detention of Uighur Muslims, writes the New York Times. In a report released yesterday, the court found there was “no basis to proceed at this time” due to a lack of compelling evidence that China forcibly deported Uighurs. Even if the court wanted to prosecute crimes in China, it would be barred from doing so because China is not a party to the ICC. Uighur activists hope that the Hague will reconsider its position after viewing new evidence. 

The European Union released a bill today that outlines strict regulations for major tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook. According to Deutsche Welle, the landmark legislation would fine companies for anti-competitive practices, require them to report any planned mergers or acquisitions to the EU and even suspend their platforms if they “endanger people’s life and safety.” The bill mirrors a lawsuit waged last week by 48 U.S. states and the Federal Trade Commission in which Facebook was urged to divest from WhatsApp and Instagram.  

Major U.S. social media companies are forming a coalition to protect Section 230, a provision of the Communications and Decency Act that shields tech companies from liability over users’ content. President Trump and other Republican lawmakers have pushed to repeal the law, arguing that internet platforms like Twitter stifle conservative users. According to Reuters, the new coalition of companies called Internet Works, includes Snap Inc., Pinterest, Dropbox, eBay and others.  The coalition reportedly wants politicians to understand “the potential unintended consequences of blunt changes to the law.” 

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for kidnapping 300 boys in Nigeria on Friday night, reports the Washington Post. The group’s leader said in an audio message that their attack was meant to discourage “Western education” and “un-Islamic practices.” “This is a huge announcement — an audacious demonstration of capacity,” said Bulama Bukarti, a Boko Haram specialist at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in London. “He wanted to make a big political statement that we are attacking you in the northeast, we are abducting your children in the northeast, and now we are doing it in the northwest.” 

The Post also writes that people tied to the French military used Facebook to interfere in African politics. Facebook announced today that French and Russian accounts targeted politics in the Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan and Syria by posing as natives of Africa. Shelby Grossman, a Lawfare contributor and researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that “the operation worked aggressively to undermine Libya’s peace process.” She added, “About 1.3 million users followed the Libya Facebook Pages. This shows that the U.S. is, by far, not the country with the worst foreign interference in our politics.”

France 24 reports on Tigrayan civilians’ terror as they have been targeted by the Ethiopian military. The Ethiopian government has restricted access to the region, making it difficult to assess where humanitarian aid is needed most—yet the United Nations warns that the crisis is “spiralling out of control.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Nicholas Weaver wrote about the recent hacking of Solarwinds, an online operating system used by many government agencies. 

Kenneth Propp described a mounting crisis between the U.S. and the European Union over the exchange of transatlantic data. 

Bryce Klehm announced that there will be a Lawfare Live event this Friday featuring Scott Anderson, Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes and David Priess. They will field questions about the Biden administration’s nominees for top national security positions. 

Cameron Kerry and John B. Morris Jr. argued that legislative findings will be important for federal privacy investigation. 

Jack Goldsmith shared his immediate reaction to reports of a foreign country’s hack of key U.S. government networks.

Yaya J. Fanusie suggested that central banks should use digital currency to prevent money laundering. 

Josh Stiefel and Ian D. Smith proposed four ways in which President-elect Biden can make progress in cybersecurity on day one. 

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast entitled “China-Australia Relations and What the U.S. Should Do About It.” In the first part of this episode, Jordan Schneider, the host of ChinaTalk, sat down with Yun Jiang, a former Australian government official and an editor at the Australian National University's China Story blog. In the second part, Jordan spoke with Wendy Cutler, a long-time USTR official and current vice president and managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute, about how the Biden administration could address China on trade. 

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