Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore
Wednesday, September 30, 2020, 3:06 PM

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

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The head of Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical company, has drawn widespread skepticism for his plan to release a coronavirus vaccine by late October, reports the New York Times. Analysts worry that the perception of a rushed experimental process may dissuade Americans from getting the vaccine. There are significant financial incentives, to the tune of billions of dollars, for the first drug-maker that can market and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to the American public. The Times notes that Pfizer’s clinical trial will still be happening in October, but it’s possible that an outside board of experts may approve the vaccine early.

According to researchers at Stanford and the University of Washington, a newly released video purporting to show Rep. Ilhan Omar’s staff encouraging voter fraud is “a domestic, coordinated elite disinformation campaign.” The Stanford Election Integrity Project notes that Project Veritas, a controversial right-wing group, may have shared its misleading video with the Trump campaign before releasing it online. Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have not removed the video from their platforms, and TikTok is the only major social media site to have immediately taken the video down.

The White House blocked an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today that would have prevented Floridian cruise ships from sailing until February, reports the Times. The ships will now be allowed to leave port beginning on Oct. 31. CDC Director Robert Redfield had recommended the extension of the “no-sail” policy until cruise ships could prove they were safe for passengers, because early in the pandemic cruise ships were virus hot spots. According to the Times, the Trump administration overruled Redfield’s guidance, perhaps in part to please the powerful tourism lobby in Florida ahead of the presidential election.

Hours before last night’s presidential debate, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released unverified rumors claiming that Hillary Clinton created a scandal against then-candidate Trump by tying him to Russia's disinformation campaign, writes the Times. Ratcliffe conducted a declassified briefing yesterday evening as well, but only Republican lawmakers were allowed to attend. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was blocked from the briefing in what analysts like former CIA Director John Brennan have called a startling politicization of intelligence.

Azerbaijan is employing heavy-duty weapons against Armenia as the two countries fight for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a long-disputed region which is ethnically Armenian but landlocked within Azerbaijan. The Times reports that yesterday–only the second day of fighting—the Armenian government accused its rival of using a Turkish F-16 jet and Soviet-made flame-throwers, and Armenia threatened to use weapons with a “large radius of destruction.” Dozens of soldiers and one Armenian civilian have died in the recent fighting.

The New Humanitarian has uncovered a ring of sex crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo by men involved with the World Health Organization and other aid groups. Fifty-one women in Beni, an eastern city hit hard by Ebola, have described being propositioned, raped in exchange for a job or fired when they refused. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called yesterday for the allegations to be “investigated fully.”

France’s highest appeals court agreed yesterday to extradite Félicien Kabuga, an alleged financier of the Rwandan genocide, to stand trial in Tanzania. BBC News writes that Kabuga is accused of sending money and arms to Hutu militias, who murdered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. He’s also accused of helping to establish a radio station which encouraged people to kill their Tutsi neighbors. Although Kabuga was charged by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda with genocide and crimes against humanity, he has evaded capture for 23 years by switching aliases, addresses and countries.

China has launched its largest and most advanced vessel so-far to patrol the disputed South China Sea, writes The South China Morning Post. Ben Ho, a researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, says that the Haixun09 vessel is ideal for provoking and monitoring other countries while not quite prompting a conventional military response.

Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that he suspects President Trump is compromised by the Russian government, writes tThe Washington Post. “It’s difficult to explain his conduct, his statements, in any other way, especially his refusal to criticize Vladmimir Putin even in public,” he testified to the committee. Comey was also excoriated by Senate Republicans for approving flawed applications to surveill Carter Page, a former campaign advisor to Trump.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is increasing its oversight of Chinese investments in American start-ups, the Post also reports. The government has sent national security officials to warn companies in Silicon Valley about accepting money from China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greece yesterday amidst the country’s growing tensions with Turkey about oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to the Washington Post. Both Greece and Turkey have deployed warships into a region where Greece holds exclusive claims. Analysts say U.S.-Greek relations are at a high point, with Pompeo calling the country a “pillar for stability and prosperity” in the region and expressing “[deep] concern” about Turkish aggression.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Anna Salvatore and Benjamin Wittes explained yesterday’s hearing in the Michael Flynn case. And Tia Sewell shared the dial-in information for listening to the hearing.

Jacob Schulz and Margaret Taylor discussed the recent Johnson-Grassley Senate report on Hunter Biden and Burisma.

Bradley A. Brooker, Sujit Raman and James M. Sullivan analyzed a recent government paper about information flow from the European Union to the U.S. after a major court ruling, Schrems II, in the European Court of Justice.

Pete Pedrozo wrote about China’s threatening presence in the Taiwan Strait.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast featuring David Priess’s interview with Peter Baker and Susan Glasser about their new book, “The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III.”

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Anna Salvatore is a rising freshman at Princeton University. She previously served as the editor in chief of High School SCOTUS, a legal blog written by teenagers. She is now a fall intern at Lawfare.

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