Today's Headlines and Commentary

Alex Potcovaru
Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 5:21 PM

A senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security testified that Russian government-affiliated hackers attempted to infiltrate election-related computer systems in 21 states.

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A senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security testified that Russian government-affiliated hackers attempted to infiltrate election-related computer systems in 21 states. The Washington Post reports on the statement from Jeanette Manfra, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee alongside cybersecurity and counterintelligence officials from DHS and FBI. Simultaneously, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in the election. In his opening statement, Johnson said: "In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election — plain and simple.” Johnson testified that the hacking attempts did not alter any ballots, but emphasized the need to take steps to prevent the problem in the future. The Committee asked Johnson pointed questions about the government’s public response to the Russian hacking attempts. The recording of the testimony is here, and Johnson’s prepared statement is here.

U.S.-China relations may take a turn for the worse, the New York Times reports. Yesterday, President Trump took to Twitter to criticize China for failing to stop North Korea’s aggressive behavior. The Times notes that Trump is considering options that China opposes to address the crisis on the Korean peninsula, including sanctioning Chinese companies that do business with North Korea or possible military intervention. According to Bloomberg, China argues that its actions have been “indispensable” despite the failure to produced a breakthrough.

Top U.S. and Chinese foreign policy officials are meeting in Washington today, the AP reports. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are hosting State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Chief of Joint Staff of the People’s Liberation Army Gen. Fang Fenghui. Officials have said that the North Korean question will get “top billing.” The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the EU is engaged in discussions with China and South Korea about a possible role in brokering negotiations with North Korea.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn continued to receive daily CIA intelligence briefings despite concerns among senior career officials at CIA, DOJ, FBI, and ODNI that Flynn was at risk of blackmail by Russian operatives, reports the Times. CIA Director Mike Pompeo is under increasing scrutiny for continuing to deliver briefings to Trump while Flynn was present. Last week, Pompeo refused to tell senators on the Intelligence Committee if he had known about CIA concerns regarding Flynn and said that he continued to include Flynn because he remained the National Security Adviser. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in April that she told the White House on January 26 that was concerned Flynn had been compromised by the Russians.

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department expanded sanctions against individuals and groups spurring the conflict in Ukraine. The move was intended to exert pressure on Russia to agree to a diplomatic solution to the three-year old civil war, reports the Journal. Treasury also said that Crimea-related sanctions would remain in effect until Russia withdraws from its occupation of the region. The sanctions expansion coincides with a White House visit by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. In response, Russia has said that “various options are being formulated and proposed at the expert level” but did not give specific plans. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov canceled a meeting with the third-ranking official at the State Department. The State Department hit back in a statement, reiterating that the sanctions are a response to by Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.

The Post reports that a NATO jet approached a plane carrying the Russian defense minister over the Baltic Sea after NATO says three Russian aircraft did not identify themselves or respond to air traffic control. It is the latest in a series of tense exchanges between Russia and the west driven by incidents in Syria and a close call between two aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

The Times obtained and published recordings of depositions of John Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the psychologists alleged to be the architects of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. The two men are defendants in a lawsuit brought in federal court by two former detainees and the estate of a third individual who died in custody. The trial is set for September 5.

Deputy Defense Secretary nominee Patrick M. Shanahan, a Vice President at Boeing faced a difficult confirmation hearing yesterday, the Post reports. Senators grilled Shanahan about his lack of Defense Department experience and his potential conflicts of interest. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized him for an uninformed response to a question about providing arms to Ukraine on a questionnaire.

Belgium is increasing its security in the coming days after a Moroccan national attempted to detonate a nail bomb in Brussels Central Station late Tuesday night, the AP reports. The bomb did not fully detonate and police killed the attacker.

Islamic State-linked militants have attacked a new village in the Philippines, reports the Journal. The site of the attack is about 50 miles south from Malawi City, where the government has been engaging the militants over the past month. Those in neighboring areas fear that the conflict will spread, as the latest attacks signal that militants have escaped the city of Malawi where the fighting was believed to be contained.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

After the U.S. downed a Syrian jet on Sunday, Bobby Chesney analyzed what authority might provide a domestic legal justification to use force in defense of a third party.

J. Dana Stuster addressed the conflict in Syria, the crisis in Qatar, and the U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia in an update in the Middle East Ticker.

Ben Freeman discussed how Congress should combat foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Elsa Kania looked at the strategic implications of China’s growing competitiveness in the artificial intelligence field.

Chesney and Steve Vladeck published this week’s edition of the National Security Law Podcast.

Paul Rosenzweig argued that Trump probably would not be notified if he were under investigation.

Alex Loomis posted a summary of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Ziglar v. Abbasi.

Ashley Deeks wrote that Congress has a growing role as a defender of international law.

John Bellinger reflected on yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on new proposals for an AUMF against ISIS, at which he was a witness.

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Alexander J. Potcovaru is a former National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. A senior in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, he studies International Politics with an International Security concentration. He is particularly interested in the interaction of law, security, and religion.

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