Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 4:38 PM

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, NSA director Adm. Mike Rogers admitted that President Trump has not formally asked him how to defeat Russia’s ongoing attempts to hack American election infrastructure, Politico . Rogers’ admission marks the second time this month that a top intelligence official has confirmed that the White House has not ordered the intelligence community to combat Russia’s hacking and disinformation campaigns. Rogers noted that while he has offered his opinion on the subject, he has not “put anything into writing” or received a command to author a formal assessment of the Russian threat. or Rogers’ testimony before the armed services committee.

Jared Kushner and all White House aides working on Top Secret/SCI-level interim security clearances had those clearances downgraded to the Secret level, Politico . The decision to downgrade these clearances, outlined in a memo circulated to the White House staff on Friday, will restrict Kushner’s access to the sensitive documents he was once able to view. While Chief of Staff John Kelly did not sign the memo outlining the changes to the clearance process, President Trump delegated the decision to his chief of staff last week. Politico remarks that the change in clearance policy reflects Kelly’s willingness “to impose the same sort of discipline on the White House clearance process that he has tried to impose on the West Wing staff more broadly.” Kushner’s attorney said that the change will not affect his client’s ability to perform the duties expected of him by the president.

Hope Hicks, a top White House aide and close confidante of President Trump, resisted questions from lawmakers on the House intelligence committee during a closed session on Tuesday, the Washington Post . According to Rep. Chris Stewart, Hicks refused to answer questions related to conversations and events that took place since the president assumed office. Her proximity to Trump both in the White House and during the campaign make her testimony—specifically her account of the statement she helped draft on Air Force One in response to Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-affiliated lawyer—quite valuable to the intelligence panel’s ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  

Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy and deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan, will retire on Friday, the Post . An individual “familiar with Yun’s thinking” told the Post that the special representative’s decision reflects broader frustration within the State Department at diplomats’ lack of say in policy and affairs under the Trump administration. Yun’s retirement will add to the already gaping void in administration staffing on Korean issues, underscored by the absence of any nominee for the post of ambassador to South Korea during a time of acute tension on the peninsula. In his time at the State Department, Yun has consistently supported engagement with North Korea and met frequently with Japanese and South Korean officials to coordinate U.S. policy with these allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “reluctantly accepted” Yun’s decision to retire, and added that the department would continue to exert maximum diplomatic pressure on North Korea.

Later this week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry will meet with Saudi Arabian officials in London to discuss a nuclear cooperation agreement, the Post . The Gulf kingdom intends to build two nuclear reactors and insists that it should be permitted to enrich the uranium it has “as a matter of national sovereignty.” Some nonproliferation policymakers warn that the construction of nuclear facilities in the kingdom could further destabilize an already unstable Middle East. Others note that if U.S. companies are unable to compete for the contracts to build Saudi reactors because of the absence of a nuclear cooperation agreement, Russian or Chinese firms might win the contracts instead. This could lead to a more lenient regulatory regime governing the reactors and the enrichment process, whereas the presence of U.S. firms would theoretically guarantee a stricter regulatory regime under the framework of a nuclear cooperation agreement. 

Russian airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta continued on Tuesday despite Vladimir Putin’s call for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting and the creation of an evacuation route for civilians, the Wall Street Journal . Russia denies carrying out airstrikes during the time of the pause—9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. local time—and instead blames rebels in the area for preventing the evacuation of civilians. 2018 marks the fifth year of the Syrian government’s siege of Eastern Ghouta, a region composed of 400,000 residents spread across three cities and 14 towns. Last weekend, the U.N. passed a resolution demanding an immediate end to the siege and an opening to deliver sorely needed humanitarian aid. Russia voted for the resolution but has since refused to implement it.

U.N. experts claim that North Korea has been sending the Assad regime supplies that it could use to manufacture chemical weapons, the New York Times . According to an unreleased report written by the experts, the supplies from Pyongyang include “acid resistant tiles, valves, and thermometers.” The report also noted the presence of North Korean missile technicians working in “known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria.” This type of arrangement between Damascus and Pyongyang could provide the former with the ability to sustain and develop its chemical weapons arsenal while providing the latter with money to finance the expansion of its nuclear arsenal and missile programs.

Chinese authorities in Xinjiang are using a cutting-edge, “predictive policing” platform to identify and imprison possible “troublemakers,” the Journal . The policing platform synthesizes prodigious amounts of data gathered from surveillance cameras, personal phones, travel records, and religious orientation; analyzes the data; and subsequently identifies individuals the state might consider problematic or suspicious. The platform is the latest in a series of technological and surveillance innovations tested by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, a tense region home to many ethnic Uighurs. The government justifies these invasive technological experiments, such as facial recognition software at security checkpoints, by citing the need to uncover extremist beliefs and nascent terrorist threats among Muslims in the region, most of whom are Uighur.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

In preparation for Tuesday’s oral arguments in United States v. Microsoft, Matthew Kahn the the lower court rulings, each side’s argument, and what Lawfare’s writers have said.

Robert Chesney that the government should prosecute terrorists in civilian Article III courts rather than at the military commissions.

Keith Whittington that the New York district court’s order on President Trump’s suspension of DACA points to the importance of departmentalism and the dangers of judicial supremacy.

Robert Williams that the broad conception of national security espoused by two new Commerce Department reports carries risks when considered in the context of U.S.-China relations and American trade policy.

Eliot Kim the Second Circuit’s ruling in Linde v. Arab Bank.

Susan Landau that we should consider data breaches threats to national security because personal information about private individuals can be weaponized against the state.

Evelyn Douek that new European regulations targeting Facebook underscore the need to consider social media platforms in their global context.

Williams his latest essay for the Aegis Paper Series, “The ‘China Inc.+’ Challenge to Cyberspace Norms.”

Stewart Baker the Cyberlaw Podcast, which consisted of a news roundup. 

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