Today's Headlines and Commentary

Nora Ellingsen
Friday, January 13, 2017, 4:33 PM

Allegations regarding Russia’s dossier on the President-elect continues to steal the spotlight. Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that members of the Intelligence Community briefed both himself and President Obama on the contents of the dossier, CNN reports.

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Allegations regarding Russia’s dossier on the President-elect continues to steal the spotlight. Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that members of the Intelligence Community briefed both himself and President Obama on the contents of the dossier, CNN reports. According to Biden’s office, President Obama seemed at a loss as to the significance of the briefing, asking, “What does this have to do with anything?” The top U.S. intelligence chiefs provided the information to the President and Vice President after the FBI Director had a brief one-on-one conversation on the matter with President-elect Trump.

FBI Director James Comey is also back in the news regarding his handling of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department’s inspector general will open an investigation that will look into several of Director Comey’s decisions regarding that case. More specifically, the investigation will cover Director Comey’s decision to speak about the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges at a press conference as well as his public disclosure shortly before the election that the FBI had new information regarding Clinton’s emails. (ICYMI: Jack Goldsmith and Ben Wittes offered a guide to the Hillary Clinton email investigation on Lawfare.)

Confirmation hearings continued throughout the week. The Hill reports that retired Marine Gen. James Mattis sailed through his confirmation hearings. In a break with the President-elect, Mattis called Russia the “principal threat” to U.S. security. As CNN notes, in addition to Russia, Mattis flagged terrorism and Chinese actions in the South China Sea as the biggest security issues since WWII. During the hearings, the retired general also called NATO the “most successful military alliance probably in modern world history, maybe ever,” and stated that the U.S. must honor the arms-control agreement with Iran. As the Washington Post also notes that the Senate passed legislation that will allow Gen. Mattis to serve as secretary of defense, despite the fact that he has served in the military within the past seven years.

Gen. Mattis is not the first Trump nominee to break with the President-elect on policy positions. As the Washington Post notes, the President-elect may be due for a reality check. Not only did Mattis place Russia first among foreign threats and Pompeo declare that he would not reinstate enhanced interrogation techniques, but retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security nominee stated that a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border “in and of itself will not do the job.” The President-elect was seemingly unfazed by the contradictions, tweeting this morning, “All of my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

Speaking of Russia, the New York Times reports that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the President-elect’s national security advisor called the Russian ambassador to the United States the day before President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia due to the election hacking. The call, which was placed to arrange a phone call between President Putin and the President-elect did not violate the law, according to the President-elect’s spokesperson.

In other Intelligence Community news, Haaretz reports that U.S. intelligence officials have warned their Israeli counterparts not to share information with the Trump Administration and the National Security Council. The officials were reportedly concerned that any Israeli intelligence passed to a Trump White House would be leaked to Russia and onward to Iran. Ronen Bergman of Ynetnews notes that most of the U.S.-Israeli joint operations are directed against Iran.

The Obama administration has granted NSA permission to share globally intercepted personal communications with 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies prior to applying privacy protections, Wired reports. The rules do not allow the federal agencies to use NSA intelligence in law enforcement operations, restricting its use only for intelligence operations. Privacy advocates remain concerned about the relaxation of the rules just weeks before the Presidential Inauguration. (ICYMI: Jane Chong covered the changes yesterday on Lawfare.)

U.S. Central Command released a press release stating that U.S. strikes killed three al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. The two strikes were carried out on December 29th and January 8th in the al-Baydah Governorate.

Defense One offered this synopsis of drones used by ISIS for surveillances and to drop explosives.

The Chicago Tribune covered the report released today by the Justice Department on the Chicago Police Department’s use of excessive force. A federal investigation, which began over a year ago, found that the department systematically violates the rights of citizens, with officers disproportionately using force against African-Americans and Hispanics. In response, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel will enter a court-enforced pact with the Justice Department on reforms.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig covered the Washington Post’s report on how information operations work in modern conflict.

Russell Spivak analyzed the U.S.’s response to ISIL’s use of human shields in Mosul.

Ben Wittes posted the latest Rational Security Podcast: “The ‘Golden Bombshell’ Edition.

Jane Chong discussed the Obama Administration’s new raw SIGINT dissemination procedures here and here.

Jane Chong also noted the issues under review in the Justice Department’s investigation of the FBI’s actions in the runup to the election.

James Kraska reported on Rex Tillerson channeling Reagan when commenting on the South China Sea.

Susan Hennessey and Ben Wittes asked why the Trump allegations persist when they haven’t been substantiated.

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Nora Ellingsen is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years working for the FBI's Counterterrorism Division. She graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Psychology and Political Science.

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