Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Matt Gluck
Wednesday, May 26, 2021, 3:23 PM

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

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At least eight people were killed and 12 were injured early Wednesday morning in a shooting at a Northern California railyard, reports NBC News. The alleged suspect, a public transit employee, is dead. This shooting comes amid rising gun violence across the country.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former President Donald Trump, other executives at Trump’s business or the company itself, writes the Washington Post. This step reportedly indicates that Vance believes his investigation has discovered evidence of a crime by Trump or someone connected to Trump’s company. It is unclear whether prosecutors will ask the grand jury to consider returning indictments. Vance’s probe is examining Trump’s business practices before he was elected—including the potential fraudulent manipulation of the values of Trump’s properties and illegal tax practices through the faulty valuation of assets.

The criminal indictment of Steve Bannon, former President Trump’s one-time chief strategist, was dismissed on Monday by a federal judge following Trump’s January pardon of Bannon, reports Bloomberg. Although the judge, Analisa Torres, said the pardon required the dismissal of Bannon’s case, she made clear that the pardon does not mean Bannon is innocent of the fraud charges brought against him.

Under new Biden administration regulations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers executed fewer than 3,000 deportations last month—the lowest tally on record—and are making approximately one arrest every two months, reports the Washington Post. The new rules require deportation officers to obtain written authorization from high-level supervisors to arrest individuals who are not national security threats, aggravated felons and those who did not recently cross the border. Officers must also seek permission from senior regional directors to place a “detainer” on a migrant in prison or jail—requesting another law enforcement agency detain that individual until ICE assumes custody.

Russia remains the most significant source of disinformation on Facebook, the social media giant said in a report released Wednesday, reports the Washington Post. Facebook said it has discovered disinformation campaigns in more than 50 countries since 2017, with the most disinformation operations originating in the U.S., Russia, Iran, Myanmar and Ukraine. The report shows that there are slightly more domestic disinformation operations than foreign ones, and that more disinformation appears to be financially motivated than politically driven. Russia, Iran and China all attempted to influence public debate on the platform during the period leading up to the 2020 election, but had limited success according to the report.

Moscow is ramping up its pressure on Google, Twitter and Facebook to comply with Kremlin internet directives, writes the New York Times. On Monday, Russia’s internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, demanded Google block thousands of pieces of illegal content—under the threat of slowing access to Google’s services if the company did not comply. On Tuesday, a Russian court fined Google the equivalent of approximately $81,000 for not removing another piece of content. The Russian government also ordered Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday to store all Russian users’ data within Russia by July 1 with the threat of fines for non-compliance.

Sofia Sapega, the currently detained girlfriend of prominent Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, said in a video released Tuesday that she is the editor of a television station that publishes private information about Belarusian security personnel, reports France24. Sapega’s supporters believe her confession was likely coerced by Belarusian authorities. Scholars and human rights groups said a similar video released on Monday that showed Protesevich admitting to organizing protests in Minsk was likely coerced as well.

A New York Times analysis reveals that India’s official coronavirus data may drastically understate the true destruction caused by the pandemic in the country. The most likely estimates indicate that India has had approximately 539 million infections—about 20 times higher than the reported total—and 1.6 million deaths—just over five times the official count. The disparity between the official data and the likely actual toll appears to be due to the high number of deaths that occur at homes rather than in hospitals, the lack of available coronavirus tests and unreliable record-keeping, among other factors.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday to the World Health Assembly that there must be a “transparent, science-based” probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Axios. The original investigation into this matter conducted by World Health Organization scientists and China’s government produced inconclusive results. That probe received criticism from the Biden administration. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that he believed the coronavirus was the result of a “natural occurrence,” but that he supports further investigation. President Biden said Wednesday that he has “now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report 90 days.”

A Dutch court ruled that oil giant Royal Dutch Shell must decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent before 2030, writes NPR. While Shell said its target to become “a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050” complied with the Paris climate agreement, the court ruled that Shell’s plans were not acceptable.

The messaging service WhatsApp said Tuesday that it filed a lawsuit in India to roll back new government regulations that would require WhatsApp to trace users’ encrypted messages, writes the Wall Street Journal. The company says the new regulations violate individuals’ fundamental privacy rights under Indian law. These new rules also allow the Indian government broad authority to remove content that it believes threatens national security or “decency and morality.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast, featuring discussion of the skyjacking in Belarus. Alexander Vindman, the Pritzker military fellow at Lawfare, Alina Polyakova of the Center for European Policy Analysis and Scott Anderson, Lawfare senior editor, spoke with Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes about the forced landing of the plane, who was behind it, its international law implications and what the U.S. and EU should do about it.

Bobby Chesney compared the institutional cyber initiatives in the United States and United Kingdom.

Adam Chan discussed the Al-Hela case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which concerns the claim of habeas corpus relief made by Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman Al-Hela.

Bryce Klehm announced the next edition of Lawfare Live, in which Bob Bauer, Lawfare contributing editor and professor of Practice at New York University School of Law, will join Quinta Jurecic, Lawfare senior editor, to speak about Bauer’s recent Lawfare article, “The Danger of the Moment.” In the post, Bauer examined how former President Trump and the Republican Party are working to change nonpartisan electoral processes through Republican state legislatures.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast, covering Apple’s compromises with Beijing, the global impact of ransomware attacks, cryptocurrency and the executive branch’s section 702 procedures, among other topics.

Klehm and Rohini Kurup announced that Lawfare is accepting fall internship applications.

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Matt Gluck is a research fellow at Lawfare. He holds a BA in government from Dartmouth College.

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