Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Emily Dai
Thursday, December 16, 2021, 3:00 PM

On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladamir Putin met over a video conference in a show of solidarity between the two leaders fighting Western pressure, reports the New York Times. Putin pledged that he would attend the Beijing winter Olympics, which Biden and other leaders are boycotting. Faced with threats of Western sanctions if Russian forces attack Ukraine, Putin talked to Xi about Russia and China cooperating to “more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.” The two leaders talked about building independent financial infrastructure to reduce their reliance on Western banks and vulnerability to punitive measures, and they also discussed the possibility of a three-way summit with India. While the two countries do not have an official alliance, Kremlin aide Yuri V. Ushakov briefed reporters that Xi told Putin that “in its closeness and effectiveness, this relationship even exceeds an alliance.”

Gary Desrosiers, a spokesman for Haiti’s national police, told the Washington Post on Thursday that the remaining members of the U.S.-based Christian missionary group who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released. The 17 hostages were kidnapped by the notorious street gang 400 Mawazo outside Port-au-Prince. The gang demanded $1 million for each victim’s return, but it is unclear whether the ransoms were paid. The United States and Canada do not typically pay ransoms. The kidnapping brought international attention to the wave of mass abductions by gangs in Haiti.

Close to 100,000 people have fled their homes as Typhoon Rai made landfall in the southern Philippines on Thursday, says Reuters. The Category 5 storm hit the island of Siargao in the southern province of Surigao del Norte, with maximum sustained winds of 121 miles per hour. There have been reports of power outages and flooding in some areas, but no casualties have been reported so far. Hundreds of flights were canceled and transport authorities banned sea and land travel, leaving thousands stranded at ports. Because of Rai, the Philippines was forced to postpone the start of a mass vaccination drive.

According to Microsoft and cybersecurity firms, hackers linked to China and other governments are among a growing number of cyberattackers looking to exploit a flaw in Log4j software, a piece of code that tracks activity in computer networks and apps, reports the Wall Street Journal. Hacking groups linked to China, Iran, North Korea and Turkey have launched attacks using the Log4j flaw.

More than a dozen Democratic members of Congress signed onto a letter calling on the Biden administration to sanction four cyber surveillance businesses for “enabling human rights abuses” by selling their technology to authoritarian governments, according to CNN. Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group, Emirati cybersecurity firm DarkMatter and European surveillance firms Nexa Technologies and Trovicor were the businesses named in the letter for the Treasury Department to sanction. 

Muhammad Naeem Wardak, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, described the Taliban’s objectives in Afghanistan in an interview with. Wardak discussed the Taliban’s position on women’s education and efforts to resume operations at Kabul’s international airport, and he emphasized continuing talks with the United States and the international community.

A new batch of declassified documents released on Wednesday offer new details about the investigation into the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but it is not likely any evidence will emerge that will call into question the conclusion of the Warren Commission’s report that Lee Harvey Oswald was the line gunman, writes NPR. The documents were supposed to be opened by 2017, but then-President Donald Trump postponed the release of many, claiming that some agencies had told him that releasing the information may lead to “[p]otentially irreversible harm to our Nation’s security.” Biden similarly delayed the release of the papers in October.  Nearly six decades after Kennedy’s assassination, it’s unclear what national security concerns over releasing the documents remain.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast in which Benjamin Wittes, Molly Reynolds, Jonathan Shaub and Scott R. Anderson talk about the case of Trump v. Thompson.

Emily Dai provided a summary of what the Nov. 16 report from the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General said about the department’s response to the events on Jan. 6.

Simon Handler analyzed how foreign intelligence services can siphon a wealth of information from ransomware operations that are of operational and strategic value.

Howell also shared an episode of Rational Security in which the hosts were joined by Reynolds to discuss the PowerPoint presentation handed into the Jan. 6 committee by Mark Meadows, the accusations against a secret cell of elite U.S. soldiers and the push by progressive Democrats to overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s determination that bills passed through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process can’t include certain types of immigration reforms.

Claudia Swain announced this week’s Lawfare Live, in which Natalie Orpett will host a discussion with Reynolds, Wittes, and Quinta Jurecic on the latest Jan. 6 developments, both congressional and criminal.

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