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Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tia Sewell
Friday, August 14, 2020, 3:48 PM

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

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Today, an independent watchdog that works for Congress reported that the two top officials at the Department of Homeland Security, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Kenneth Cuccinelli, are not legally eligible to serve in their current roles, according to the Washington Post. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that the officials’ appointments violated the Vacancies Reform Act, which governs how temporary appointments to positions within the executive branch that require Senate confirmation.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deployed surveillance aircraft to monitor crowds protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Washington D.C. earlier this summer, reports the Post. In a letter on June 5, a top Secret Service official asked CBP to share live video feeds from the surveillance planes so the protection agency could track protestors’ movements around the city.

The explosion in Beirut on August 4th was likely sparked by maintenance work occurring near a large collection of ammonium nitrate, writes the Wall Street Journal. Since the blast, which killed over 160 people, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned amid allegations of widespread corruption and negligence.

President Trump clarified that because of his stance against mail-in voting, he opposes Democratic demands for additional post office funding and election security measures, according to the New York Times. The president has repeatedly advanced the baseless claim that mail-in voting will result in a fraudulent election. Democrats and voting rights advocates cite health concerns with in-person voting during the pandemic and express increasing concern that Trump will attempt to contest the legitimacy of the upcoming 2020 election in November.

Top U.S. and Chinese officials are expected to cooperate on a Phase 1 trade deal on Saturday, reports Reuters. Experts note that the deal is now the two nations’ strongest economic link amid tit-for-tat sanctions and escalating conflict over disagreements between Washington and Beijing ranging from human rights issues to territorial claims.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced that it has seized $2 million in cryptocurrency meant for terrorist groups, writes the Post. U.S. officials claim they have seized funds and cryptocurrency accounts from online fundraising for extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation yesterday to provide $28 billion in federal aid to state and local governments to strengthen information technology systems which have been made more vulnerable by the pandemic, according to the Hill. The bill was introduced following recommendations by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission to secure U.S. platforms against cyberattacks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he and U.S. military leaders warned Russian officials that if Moscow was offering bounties to militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan, there would be “an enormous price to pay,” reports Politico. His comments mark the first time a senior White House official has publicly acknowledged discussing the alleged bounty program with the Russian government.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko blamed what he labeled as foreign-backed revolutionaries for protests demanding his resignation, writes Reuters. The protests have gone on for the past few nights and present one of the most significant challenges to Lukasheko’s authoritative rule in his 26 years in power.

For the first time, the Trump administration has confiscated cargo in vessels allegedly full of Iranian oil, according to the Wall Street Journal. The administration expects that such seizures will deter shipping companies from doing business with Iran and Venezuela in the future, and marks the latest escalation in its maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.

A new poll suggests that nearly one in three Americans will opt not to get a coronavirus vaccine once one becomes available, explains The Hill.

American tech companies Oracle and Salesforce face class-action lawsuits in the U.K. and the Netherlands over alleged violations of the General Data Protection Regulation, the European Union’s legal framework governing data privacy, reports Techcrunch.

Yesterday, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced they are establishing full diplomatic relations, writes the Associated Press. The deal delivers a foreign policy victory to U.S. President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Kenneth Propp and Peter Swire proposed a tweak to fix problems in U.S. surveillance law identified by the European Court of Justice in its recent Schrems II decision.

Tatyana Bolton and Chris Inglis suggested that university cybersecurity clinics could help bolster talent development in the field.

Rachel Bercovitz and Charlotte Butash summarized a recent en banc ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals about whether a committee in the House of Representatives had standing to sue in federal court to enforce a subpoena it issued to Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Arbiters of Truth series on the Lawfare podcast featuring an interview with Shane Huntley, the director of Google’s Threat Analysis Group.

Colin Clarke and Mollie Saltskog discussed the relationship between China and Iran.

Jordan Schneider discussed what a change in U.S. administration would look like for China and analyzed what Chinese President Xi Jinping may prefer in President Trump or 2020 candidate Joe Biden.

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Tia Sewell is a former associate editor of Lawfare. She studied international relations and economics at Stanford University and is now a master’s student in international security at Sciences Po in Paris.

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