Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Matt Gluck
Friday, May 14, 2021, 4:18 PM

As Hamas continued to launch sustained volleys of rockets into southern Israel, Israel intensified its attack on Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip on Friday, carrying out joint air and artillery operations targeting Hamas’s underground system of tunnels, reports the Washington Post. The fighting has resulted in the deaths of 119 individuals in Gaza and nine in Israel—with hundreds more wounded. Israel’s midnight attack aimed at wiping out Hamas’s tunnels and introduced ground forces into the conflict for the first time, but the soldiers did not enter Gaza. Despite the increased pressure from Israel, Hamas showed no sign of slowing its attacks. Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said Thursday, “We have much more to give...The decision to hit Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water.” Streets in Israel remained violent, and Israeli police arrested dozens of individuals—including nine Jewish Israelis who were allegedly seeking to provoke violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We will act with full force against enemies from without and lawbreakers from within in order to restore calm to the state of Israel.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said Thursday that he will hold a vote on legislation with bipartisan support that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations (AUMFs) for the use of military force related to Iraq, reports the Hill. The vote will likely take place in either late May or early April. Senate supporters expect to receive the 60 necessary votes to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations, but they believe it will be significantly more challenging to roll back the 2001 (AUMF)—which has been interpreted to permit a broad swath of military operations, including those targeting the Islamic State. According to Sen. Tim Kaine, one of two drafters of the bill, the Biden administration appears to support the repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs and seems open to beginning discussions about reforming the 2001 AUMF. 

Colonial Pipeline paid almost $5 million worth of Bitcoin in ransom to hackers on Friday to help restore its system and resume the flow of gasoline and jet fuel along the East Coast, according to Bloomberg. The hackers are likely in Russia or Eastern Europe and reportedly specialize in cyber extortion. The FBI has said they are connected to a criminal ransomware group known as DarkSide. On Wednesday, reputable media outlets reported that Colonial did not intend to pay the ransom. President Biden said that the effects of the payment on the transportation of gasoline and fuel would not be immediate and that the U.S. would conduct “a measure to disrupt…[the criminals’] ability to operate.” 

DarkSide said Friday that it lost access to its hacking infrastructure and is shuttering operations amid pressure from the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Security researchers say DarkSide has gone from a relatively unknown group to one of the most significant players in the emerging criminal ransomware industry in less than one year. The group brought in at least $60 million from its criminal activities in its first seven months. The shutdown could cause problems for companies who are currently seeking to recover from the effects of a DarkSide hack, but the hackers pledge to provide decryption software in the future—which would enable companies to undo the effects of DarkSide’s ransomware encryptions. 

House Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal on legislation that would create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Friday, writes the Washington Post. The 10-member panel will examine the “facts and circumstances...as well as the influencing factors” that instigated the riot. 

An explosion at a Sunni Mosque on the outskirts of Kabul province, Afghanistan on Friday killed at least 12 individuals, marking the end of a three-day ceasefire—which began on Thursday—between the Afghan government and the Taliban, reports the Wall Street Journal. While Shiite places of worship are targeted regularly by affiliates of the Islamic State and other militants, this attack was the first on a Sunni Mosque in months. The Taliban denied responsibility and blamed the Afghan government for the explosion. The Afghan government did not comment immediately on the bombing. The police spokesman in Kandahar province said at least seven individuals died in two land mine explosions in the province on Thursday, and Kunduz province officials said two individuals were killed in an explosion there on Thursday. 

An Alabama federal judge upheld a federal anti-riot statute despite claims that the law is grounded in racist ideology and unconstitutionally prohibits protest activities with First Amendment protection, according to Politico. This decision by U.S. District Court Judge Terry Moorer—former President Trump’s first Black appointee to the federal judiciary—greenlights the prosecution of Tia Pugh, who prosecutors allege violated the “civil disorder” statute by smashing a police car window less than a week after the murder of George Floyd. 

A Guantanamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, has agreed to a deal that would appear to lead to Khan’s release in the next few years in exchange for Khan relinquishing the right to question the CIA about its torture program in military court, reports the New York Times. After attending high school in Maryland, Khan—a Pakistani citizen—was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and was then detained by the CIA for three years without having the ability to communicate with anyone. He was kept in darkness, sleep-deprived, kept naked, hooded and hung by his wrists. Khan was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006 and pleaded guilty in 2012 to terrorism charges related to his work supporting Al Qaeda following the attacks on September 11. This agreement staves off an impending legal clash between prosecutors and the judge in Khan’s case—Col. Douglas K. Watkins—over Watkins’s directive to bring CIA witnesses to Guantanamo Bay to testify about Khan’s torture in the overseas CIA prison network. 

Nine individuals were wounded—including three with serious injuries—on Thursday evening during a shooting in Providence, Rhode Island, reports the Associated Press. The incident occurred among young men and began with shooting from a vehicle aimed at a home, followed by gunfire from the home targeting the vehicle. The shooting was part of an “ongoing feud,” according to Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh T. Clemens. 

On Friday, Ireland’s High Court rejected all of Facebook’s procedural grievances concerning a preliminary August ruling on data flows from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, writes the Wall Street Journal. If the commission’s preliminary decision is finalized, it might force Facebook to suspend transmitting personal information about EU users to U.S. Facebook servers. 

Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio will head a new Republican effort in the House to reconstruct the way in which the military manages sexual assault and other severe crimes, reports Politico. Turner plans to introduce a bill with a Democratic co-sponsor in the House that would mirror bipartisan Senate legislation that would transfer the authority for prosecuting felony-level charges—like sexual assault and harassment—from military commanders to special military prosecutors. This move comes less than 24 hours after the Defense Department distributed its most recent annual survey on sexual assault in the military—which revealed that the number of sexual assault incidents during military service reported by service members increased by 1 percent from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2020. 

Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Thursday that schools should open fully in the fall, writes the Hill. Fauci’s statement comes after the Centers for Disease Control announced earlier Thursday that most fully vaccinated individuals need not wear masks in most settings.

Prominent supporters of former President Trump conducted an organized campaign to denigrate perceived enemies of the former president during the Trump presidency, reports the New York Times. The effort included a sting operation targeting Trump’s then national security adviser H.R. McMaster and covert surveillance operations against members of the FBI—which sought to expose anti-Trump bias within the bureau. The FBI-related campaign was run by the conservative organization Project Veritas and involved female undercover operatives scheduling dates with FBI employees with the goal of surreptitiously recording members of the bureau making negative comments about Trump. Similarly, the operation against McMaster sought to capture the former national security adviser making inappropriate comments that might have resulted in his firing. It is unclear whether Trump’s White House advisers were aware of the campaign, but one participant in the operation said she was brought into the campaign by an individual who had “access to McMaster’s calendar.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Bobby Chesney and Trey Herr explained President Biden’s new executive order on cybersecurity, which imposes new cybersecurity regulations on federal contractors and creates a new cyber safety review board to investigate cybersecurity incidents, among other things.

Bryce Klehm shared the executive order.

Laurence Heifer and Molly Land argued that comparing the Facebook Oversight Board to an international human rights tribunal demonstrates that the board’s ability to hold Facebook accountable is dependent on whether it can develop human rights norms and convince Facebook to take those norms to heart.

Jen Patja Howell shared the latest edition in Lawfare’s Arbiters of Truth series, journalist Will Oremus joined Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic to discuss his reporting on Nextdoor—a social media platform designed to facilitate connections among neighbors. Oremus claims the app is filling the gap left by the dwindling presence of local news.  

Shaiba Rather detailed India’s path to its current coronavirus emergency.   

Lester Munson shared an episode of Fault Lines featuring his discussion with Ambassador Cindy Courville, the first ambassador to the African Union. They spoke about how policymakers should approach African affairs, how the U.S. should work to prevent human rights cruelties in Ethiopia and the U.S.’s role in Northern Mozambique.

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