Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Matt Gluck
Thursday, May 13, 2021, 3:16 PM

In the rapidly intensifying conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Israel launched airstrikes on Thursday against Hamas targets in Gaza, and Palestinian militants launched strikes deep into Israel, reportedly resulting in the deaths of 83 individuals in Gaza and seven in Israel, according to the New York Times. Aside from military action, Jewish and Arab civilians are engaging in significant violence in Israeli cities, burning places of worship and offices, stoning cars and beating individuals. The Israeli border police have been active in Arab and Arab-Jewish areas in Israel, and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz deployed more security forces on Thursday to address rising unrest. Israeli leaders are warning that this conflict could be headed toward a civil war, while Palestinian leaders say the discussion of civil war distracts from the genuine reason for the unrest—which they view as Israeli police brutality against Palestinian demonstrators. President Biden has spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing the U.S.’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday and said their agencies are directing increased focus toward the government’s effort to combat domestic terrorism, with a particular emphasis on countering white supremacy, writes the Washington Post. Garland said that the Justice Department is working closely with foreign countries to expose potential connections between domestic extremists and similar actors abroad. He also said that the department is providing information to tech companies “to help them address the spread of domestic violent extremist activity online.” Mayorkas said the Department of Homeland Security has identified domestic violent extremism as a “national priority” and created a branch within the Office of Intelligence and Analysis devoted to domestic terrorism.

The House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department have agreed that former White House counsel Don McGahn will answer questions from the committee in private, according to the Associated Press. Court documents note that McGahn will only testify about information that was attributed to him in publicly available parts of the Mueller report. The interview, which Democrats on the committee have sought for nearly two years, will be part of an investigation into former President Trump’s potential obstruction of the Mueller investigation. In light of the agreement, the Biden administration and the House have requested that the D.C. Circuit Court cancel the hearing regarding McGahn’s testimony scheduled for next week. 

President Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that imposes strict regulations on the cybersecurity of software purchased by the federal government, reports the New York Times. The order comes as the U.S. continues to experience an increasing number of cyberattacks—including the recent large-scale ransomware hack on Colonial Pipeline’s information networks. Known violators of the standards will be taken off of federal procurement lists—significantly harming their abilities to sell their products commercially. The order also requires that federal agencies encrypt their data—both while it is being stored and transmitted—and creates an incident review board to evaluate and learn from significant cyberattacks.   

After the Colonial Pipeline was shut down due to a cyberattack last week, the company said it resumed service around 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, writes NPR. Colonial said “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.” Although a run on gas pumps due to fears about the shutdown has caused gas shortages in several states, experts say there is no underlying supply problem.

Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said during a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday that they did not communicate with former President Trump during the riot on Jan. 6, reports Politico. Both Rosen and Miller said that they did not need any additional authority to properly execute their duties on the day of the insurrection. Democrats on the committee criticized Miller for changing his description of what happened on Jan. 6 to appear more favorable to the former president, and they rebuked Rosen for his unwillingness to speak about his discussions with Trump.

According to data released on Tuesday, the Border Patrol’s 173,460 encounters at the border were up 3 percent in April from March, reports the Associated Press. This is the highest number of border encounters since April 2000, but the numbers are not exactly comparable because most individuals apprehended at the border were swiftly expelled from the U.S. due to pandemic-related authorities negating rights to seek asylum. Expulsion does not bear legal consequences, so many people attempt to cross the border more than once. The increase in encounters is primarily due to higher numbers of single adults trying to enter the country—the majority of whom were from Mexico. 

A three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan forces is set to begin on Thursday, marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, writes France24. This temporary truce comes amid intensifying Taliban attacks against Afghan forces since the U.S. missed its prior May 1 deadline for total military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban and the Afghan government have been engaged in peace discussions since September 2020, but progress toward a power sharing agreement has largely stalled. 

Protests in Colombia that started because of frustration with tax reforms due to the pandemic have escalated, evolving into widespread anger over misconduct among the national police force, reports the Times. Officers have opened fire on non-violent protests and detained, beaten and killed demonstrators. The government said at least 42 individuals—including one police officer—have died in the turmoil, though human rights groups say the number is likely higher. Critics of the Colombian police cite this violence as evidence of the need for meaningful police reform, but President Iván Duque rejects these calls for large-scale change and says the problem is limited.

Several wealthy countries that were most lauded for their successful handling of the coronavirus last year—like Japan, South Korea and New Zealand—have vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations, according to the Associated Press. Japan is currently experiencing a large coronavirus outbreak, making its one percent full vaccination rate particularly worrisome.

The Centers for Disease Control said Thursday that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks in most cases, including when they are indoors or in large groups, writes the Washington Post. The change in guidance does not apply to airplanes or health-care settings, and the health officials said immune-compromised people should speak with doctors before stopping to wear masks. Approximately 35 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast about the escalating conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Lawfare’s Scott Anderson spoke about the situation with Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brooking Institution and director of the Center for Middle East Policy, and Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for international peace. They discussed the roots of the current conflict, the political context surrounding it and the conflict’s implications for the Biden administration’s goals in the region. 

Erica Borghard argued that discussion about cyberspace should move beyond the bounds of the military versus intelligence dichotomy. 

Rohini Kurup shared a livestream of a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on domestic violent extremism, featuring testimony from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. 

Powell also shared the latest edition of the Rational Security Podcast featuring discussion about the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and the conflict within the Republican Party.  

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