Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore
Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 4:01 PM

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

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

President-elect Biden has tapped Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star general, to be the first Black Secretary of Defense. Politico writes that Austin has experience overseeing a theatre of operations and running U.S. Central Command. His selection has been met with concern in some circles, because national security officials worry about the implications for civil-military relations of appointing yet another general to run the Pentagon. Politico also notes that Austin has been out of the military for less than the required seven years, so he will require a waiver from Congress, which is not guaranteed. Biden explained his choice in a piece for the Atlantic. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affirmed today that Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine is 95 percent effective, as the company had previously reported. In a detailed 51-page analysis, the FDA also found “no specific safety concerns” that would prevent an emergency authorization, writes NPR. Serious reactions were rare, though side effects such as fatigue and headaches were common at injection sites. 

Thousands of people have been vaccinated for the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, reports BBC News. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said afterward that “we will look back on this day, V-Day, as a key moment in the fighback of this terrible disease.” Eight hundred thousand doses will be distributed throughout the U.K. in the coming weeks, with priority given to nursing home residents and health care workers. 

A few states, including New York and Minnesota, are balking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order to submit personal details for people vaccinated against COVID-19. The proposed registry is “another example of [the Trump Administration] trying to extort the State of New York to get information that they can use at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE that they’ll use to deport people,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. According to the New York Times, government officials say the information will not be sent to other federal agencies. They argue that a database is vital to measure the vaccine’s efficacy among different demographics and to make sure people receive follow-up doses. 

The Army announced today that it will disciple 14 officers involved in the murder of Vanessa Guillen, a 20 year-old soldier who was bludgeoned to death last year. In a report on the culture of Fort Hood’s Army base, a committee found “a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.” The report outlines specific recommendations for how to handle harassment cases and search for missing soldiers, writes CNN. 

New Zealand has released a report on how it failed to anticipate a white supremacist’s March 2019 massacres at two Christchurch mosques. According to Reuters, the report indicated that New Zealand’s government agencies focused more on threats posed by Islamic terrorism than on far-right extremism. Gun control standards were too lax as well, the report suggested, because the shooter was able to access weapons without his family vouching for his character in-person. The executive summary concludes by recommending that New Zealand establish a national intelligence and security agency devoted to counterterrorism.  

While the U.S. and the Taliban were completing their February peace deal, the Taliban was coordinating actively with al-Qaeda—even though one of the deal’s requirements was that the Taliban sever its ties with the Islamic terrorist group. The Washington Post investigated the ongoing relationship and found, in one observer’s words, “a bond that cannot be broken.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, President Trump may veto a $740.5 billion defense bill supported by many House Republicans and Democrats. The president takes issue with provisions that would rename monuments honoring Confederate soldiers and increase tech companies’ responsibilities for moderating third-party content. The bill may also slow down the president’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as it would require the Trump administration to submit a comprehensive explanation for the withdrawal before Congress provides funds. Republican and Democratic members of Congress indicate that they have enough votes to pass the bill even if the president vetoes it. 

An American with dual Saudi citizenship was sentenced to six years in Saudi prison today, writes the Washington Post. Walid Fitaihi, a doctor and popular television host, was sentenced on charges of tweeting support for the Arab Spring protests and obtaining U.S. citizenship without the Saudi government’s permission. The Trump administration has previously called for his release and decried the charges as politically motivated. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Robert Chesney described the purpose and authorities of the new National Cyber Director position. 

Kyle Langvardt suggested how the First Amendment should apply to content moderation laws for social media platforms in the first piece of Lawfare’s new paper series titled “The Digital Social Contract.”

Susan Landau analyzed a recent report showing that law enforcement officials are successfully breaking through encryption barriers to access locked devices. 

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast. Jack Goldsmith interviewed Adam Cox and Christina Rodriguez, authors of a new book called “The President and Immigration Law,” about the various ways in which Congress has delegated power to the immigration system. 

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board

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.

Subscribe to Lawfare