Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Elliot Setzer
Wednesday, March 18, 2020, 3:36 PM

Lawfare’s daily roundup of national security news and opinion.

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A 100-page internal report for the Department of Health and Human Services warned last week that “the pandemic will last 18 months or longer and could include multiple waves of illness,” reports the New York Times. The options for President Trump listed in the plan included invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a law that authorizes the president to force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies.

The White House is contemplating an approximately $800 billion relief package that would include sending as many as two $1,000 checks directly to individual Americans and providing as much as $250 billion in emergency loans for small businesses hit by the economic downturn, writes Politico. Senate Majority Whip John Thune said Tuesday there is a “high level of interest” among Republicans for the Trump administration proposal.

Citing the threat posed by the novel coronavirus to detention facilities and Border Patrol agents, the Trump administration plans to immediately turn back all asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants attempting to illegally cross the southern border, according to the Times. Ports of entry would remain open to American citizens, green card holders, commercial traffic and some foreigners with proper documentation.

Canada and the United States are working through the details of a mutual ban on nonessential travel between the two countries, reports the Washington Post. Both countries seek to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus without impairing their economic relationship.

An EU document states that Russian media outlets have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” in the West to aggravate the public health crisis, spread panic and generate distrust about information related to the coronavirus, reports Reuters. The document said the Russian campaign—which pushes fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French—uses contradictory and malicious reports to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to COVID-19.

The U.S. government is in active talks with Facebook, Google and other tech companies about how they can use geolocation data from Americans’ phones to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, writes the Washington Post. The Post explains that one goal for the data is to track whether people are remaining at safe distance from one another. Additional reporting suggests that public health experts are exploring the possibility that companies could provide them with anonymous, aggregated data to map the spread of infection. Data-mining firm Palantic Inc. is currently working with the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention to model the virus outbreak, and other companies that scrape public social-media data have contracts with the CDC and National Institutes of Health, report the Wall Street Journal.

The State Department is encouraging Iranians to share information with the Trump administration about the coronavirus pandemic currently affecting Iran—using both an encrypted tip line and an online survey—according to CNN. The U.S. imposed further sanctions on Iran yesterday, maintaining its economic pressure campaign despite an appeal from China that it ease sanctions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Reuters.

A team of hundreds of scientists has identified 50 drugs that may potentially be effective treatments for people infected with the novel coronavirus, reports the New York Times. The scientists are seeking drugs that attack the virus itself, and are preparing to release their findings at the end of the week.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that the Pentagon will provide 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators to civilian health authorities, writes the Associated Press. U.S. officials have raised concerns about a shortage of ventilators to treat patients with the novel coronavirus. Additionally, new analysis from the Harvard Global Health Institute estimates that many parts of the United States will have insufficient hospital beds if COVID-19 continues to spread and nothing is done to increase hospital capacity, according to the Times.

China will revoke the press credentials of Americans working for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reports the Journal. The move comes amid tensions with the Trump administration over media operating in the two countries. The affected journalists have been ordered to turn in their press credentials within 10 days. China today defended its decisions to bar the Americans even from working in Hong Kong, saying the measure is within Beijing’s diplomatic authority and purview over foreign affairs, according to Reuters.

In an attempt to end months of political deadlock, Iraq’s president Barham Saleh has named Adnan al-Zurfi as prime minister-designate, writes the BBC. Zurfi, a member of the small Nasr parliamentary group, was nominated after larger groups could not agree on a successor to Adel Abdul Madhi, who has served as caretaker prime minister since formally resigning in November. At least three rockets hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone near the American Embassy late Tuesday, according to Politico. It was the fourth attack on the area in the past week.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the U.S. believes Russia has killed dozens of Turkish military personnel in the course of military operations in Syria, reports Reuters. Pompeo stated that Washington continues to offer support to Turkey, its NATO ally.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Margaret Taylor noted that the Senate punted on the issue of reforming FISA on Monday—a sign of just how dysfunctional Congress and the executive branch have become.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring an interview with Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. The pair discussed global health security and the coronavirus response.

Trey Herr argued that it is better to be realistic about the security opportunities of cloud computing.

William Ford summarized a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on states’ readiness for and response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Josephine Wolff argued that it is time for regulators to take cyber insurance seriously.

Justin Sherman wrote that U.S. diplomacy is a necessary part of countering China’s digital authoritarianism.

Karman Lucero analyzed China’s mixed response to the Coronavirus crisis.

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Elliot Setzer is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford Law School and a Ph.D student at Yale University. He previously worked at Lawfare and the Brookings Institution.

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