Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tia Sewell
Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 3:42 PM

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

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An explosion yesterday in Lebanon has devastated Beirut. The death toll has passed 100 and continues to climb, reports the New York Times. The blast was so powerful it flattened everything within a two-mile radius around the initial explosion. Lebanese officials have stated that the detonation was accidental.

Numerous Beirut officials at the port where the explosion occurred have been put on house arrest, according to the Associated Press. The arrests were made pending an investigation into the presence of 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive component of fertilizer, which was stored at a hangar in the port. The ammonium nitrate was seized from a ship in 2013 and is believed to be the source of the explosion.

Amnesty International released a report documenting 125 instances of police violence against protestors over an 11-day period earlier this summer, writes NPR. The report also alleges that since the police killing of Michael Brown five years ago, which sparked a swell of protests against racial injustice, there has been insufficient progress in deterring excessive use of force by law enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will no longer have its agents wear the military-style camouflage uniforms donned by federal agents in last month’s crackdown on protests in Portland, Oregon, reports the Washington Post. The move follows criticisms from military veterans and lawmakers who claimed the uniforms and tactical gear were inappropriate for domestic law enforcement.

Today, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Obama administration did not target the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in the transition to Trump’s presidency, writes USA Today. Speaking before the same committee three years ago, Yates expressed concern about Flynn’s contact with Russia. The former acting attorney general has expressed that the FBI’s Flynn investigation was legitimate.

Twenty federal lawsuits alleging that TikTok has collected user data and sent it to Chinese servers have been merged into one, according to NPR. Plaintiff’s lawyers will ask presiding Judge John Z. Lee in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to expand the legal action into a nationwide class action. TikTok has said that no American data goes to China, a claim contradicting the findings of experts cited in the lawsuit.

Amid these privacy woes and other concerns, Microsoft appears set to acquire TikTok U.S.A. within the next three weeks, writes CNBC. The valuation of the acquisition could be anywhere from $10 billion to $30 billion. President Trump has stated that if the Chinese company ByteDance, which currently owns TikTok, doesn’t sell its U.S. operations to an American company by September 15, he will ban the app.

An internal State Department watchdog, Stephen Akard, has resigned from his post, reports the Washington Post. Akard was installed by President Trump as inspector general following the president’s firing of Steve Linick, who had been investigating allegations against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On Tuesday, Senators introduced the City and State Diplomacy Act, a bipartisan bill that members argue would enable local officials to counter Chinese aggressions in the U.S. and abroad, according to the Post.

A recent Politico poll shows that most voters (58%) prefer voting by mail for the upcoming pandemic election. This comes amid repeated claims by President Trump that mail-in ballots will result in fraud in the upcoming November presidential election.

Novavax, which received $1.6 billion from the federal government for 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by early 2021, has announced promising results from two studies, writes the Times. Dr. John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that this is the most impressive vaccine candidate he’s seen so far. But other experts have warned that while the study results are encouraging, it’s too early to know if the potential vaccine will be safe and effective.

To date, at least 701,506 people have died from COVID-19 and 18,634,571 have been infected worldwide, reports Reuters.

The U.S.’s top health official will visit Taiwan in a rare trip likely to anger the Chinese government, according to the Times. Alex M. Azar II, the U.S. health and human services secretary, will be the highest-ranking American official to visit Taiwan since the U.S. first established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has threatened military force against any Taiwanese move toward formal independence from China.

The Trump administration has imposed its harshest sanctions yet against Syria, writes the Times. Experts have been critical of the move, saying that the punitive strategy will be ineffective in bringing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table but will worsen the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.

At least four people died on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Isais travelled up the U.S. Atlantic Cost, writes Reuters.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes detailed his adventures as a Department of Homeland Security intelligence subject.

William Ford and Margaret Taylor discussed the House Republican’s recent litigation to prohibit proxy voting, a system developed to help the chamber operate safely during the pandemic.

Herb Lin and Steven Weber imagined what foreign interference might look like in the November 2020 American presidential election, using the lens of FX’s secret-agent series, “The Americans.”

Robert S. Taylor argued that the military needs to be prepared for the possibility that President Trump disrupts or contests the 2020 election.

Nathaniel Sobel and Julia Solomon Straus summarized the latest developments in Trump V. Vance, which deals with the president’s challenge to a subpoena issued by the Manhattan District Attorney for Trump’s financial records

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring a panel discussion between Margaret Taylor, Tom Shannon, Barbara Stephenson, Bonnie Jenkins and Elizabeth Shackelford on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s recent oversight report by Democratic lawmakers.

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Tia Sewell is a former associate editor of Lawfare. She studies international relations and economics at Stanford University.

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