Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tia Sewell
Thursday, September 10, 2020, 5:06 PM

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

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In a whistleblower reprisal complaint released yesterday, Brian Murphy, who formerly led intelligence operations at the Department of Homeland Security, alleged serious misconduct by senior Trump administration officials, reports the New York Times. The complaint alleges that Murphy was repeatedly instructed by DHS officials including Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to modify intelligence in a way that suited President Trump’s political interests. Specifically, Murphy has claimed that Nielsen knowingly provided Congress with inflated numbers about suspected terrorists crossing the southern border, and that senior leaders Wolf and Cuccinelli ordered Murphy to downplay in intelligence reporting threats both from violent white supremacy and Russian election interference.

Microsoft recently alerted a firm working for the Biden campaign that Russian state hackers had unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to the firm’s networks, according to Reuters. The Kremlin denied the allegations, which it has repeatedly done when confronted with accusations of foreign election interference.

Chinese-owned ByteDance is discussing possible deals to allow it to avoid a full sale of the U.S. operations of the popular app TikTok, writes the Wall Street Journal. In an August executive order, President Trump imposed a deadline for TikTok to sell its U.S. operations to an American company or else be banned from the American market. Beijing has since announced new tech export regulations that would make such a sale more difficult.

And as tensions between Beijing and Washington remain high, the U.S. has revoked visas for over 1000 Chinese nationals deemed to be security risks, reports Reuters. The individuals include Chinese graduate students and researchers.

Reuters profiled a Guatemalan migrant mother who decided to send her disabled 12-year-old son into the United States by himself on August 24 after the pair spent months in a violent Mexican border city pending an asylum hearing. The boy effectively disappeared for a week, until a news organization posted that he was in Guatemalan government custody. U.S. immigration rights activists say this story is emblematic of problems resulting from policy changes the Trump administration says are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Customs and Border Protection officials have refused entry to thousands of unaccompanied children since the emergency health order was issued in March.

President Trump yesterday added 20 new names to his list of potential nominations to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, according to Politico. Included on the list are Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, as well as James Ho, a conservative judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Analysts say the president has used Supreme Court picks to shore up political support among conservatives since his 2016 campaign.

The city council in Portland, Ore. yesterday adopted two of the strongest bans on facial recognition technologies in the United States, writes Kyle Wiggers of Venture Beat. As protests against police misconduct and racial inequality have swept the nation this summer, an increasing number of officials in American cities have begun to express concern about government use of biometric surveillance systems.

Firefighters are stretched thin along the West Coast as wildfires have blazed through the region, reports the New York Times. The fires have killed at least seven people so far. “We expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown stated. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”

A large fire erupted in a port warehouse in Beirut today, writes the Times. Beirut’s residents are still recovering from a port explosion that devastated the city on August 4. In an investigation published yesterday, the Times examined exactly how thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, which caused the August explosion, ended up sitting in a port warehouse for years.

The Trump administration is considering moving its U.S. Africa Command military headquarters out of Germany, according to the Washington Post. Current and former defense officials say the relocation could be a costly maneuver, totalling at least $1 billion and creating new logistical and diplomatic challenges.

900,000 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded worldwide, 190,000 of which are from the United States reports USA Today. India, which has recently reported more daily coronavirus infections and deaths than any other country, has been thrown into crisis amid the pandemic and economic ruin, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Alex Engler argued that federal government institutions need access to more data in order to scrutinize big tech behavior.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring a conversation on cheapfakes and political campaigning with Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, Quinta Jurecic and Jacob Schulz, as well as Boston University law professor Danielle Citron. Last week, Jurecic and Schulz wrote a piece analyzing three different incidents of deceptively edited videos posted to social media within 36 hours.

Howell also shared an episode of Rational Security, the “Summer is Definitely Over Edition,” with commentary on the multiple scandals that the President has faced this week.

Tia Sewell posted a letter from the Senate Intelligence Committee and a related whistleblower complaint alleging wrongdoing by senior Homeland Security officials.

Orin Kerr examined how a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit appeals may articulate a new Fourth Amendment notice requirement for defendants who were prosecuted for crimes using evidence collected through government surveillance.
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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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