Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Christiana Wayne
Friday, September 17, 2021, 1:22 PM

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

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The Food and Drug Administration’s independent panel on vaccines is meeting today to discuss booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the New York Times. The panel will vote on whether the FDA should approve the additional doses for people 16 and older. The administration’s top health officials have argued for the booster shots, saying that immunity is waning among vaccinated people and that protection against the most severe forms of coronavirus might be diminishing. There has been resistance to the booster shots from some vaccine experts, including two FDA regulators who said that there is no evidence to suggest the additional shots are needed for the general public. The agency does not have to follow the panel’s decision, but it often does.

Special counsel John Durham, appointed by former President Trump to investigate the FBI’s role in the 2016 election, charged attorney Michael Sussmann with lying to the bureau when he shared damaging information about then-candidate Donald Trump without disclosing his ties to the Hillary Clinton campaign, according to the Washington Post. The 27-page indictment accuses Sussmann of having “lied about the capacity in which he was providing the allegations to the FBI” by secretly acting on behalf of Clinton’s team when he testified. Sussmann is expected to make his first court appearance today. Sussmann’s charge is the second criminal case made by Durham during his two-year investigation.

President Biden signed an executive order allowing the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction Ethiopian leaders and groups if they do not take steps to end the ongoing violence in the northern region of Tigray, according to Al Jazeera. The White House said Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces, the resistance Tigray People’s Liberation Front and regional government forces have all been accused of human rights abuses during the conflict that erupted more than 10 months ago. Biden said in a statement, “The Executive Order I signed today establishes a new sanctions regime that will allow us to target those responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict in Ethiopia, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire.”

Google and Apple have removed jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s tactical voting app from their app stores as Russians vote in parliamentary elections today, according to Reuters. Allies of Navalny had planned to use the app to organize a tactical voting campaign that would deal a blow to United Russia, the country’s ruling party. Last month, Russia accused U.S. tech companies of meddling in his nation’s elections and demanded they remove the app from their stores.

Hong Kong authorities forced a prominent activist group to delete its online presence, according to the New York Times. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has organized annual vigils commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre for decades, and its social media pages openly criticize the Chinese government. Its Facebook page says the group is dedicated to “striving for democracy, freedom and human rights” in China. The country’s new national security law gives officials authority to order the removal of online content deemed to endanger national security. In a statement, Hong Kong police declined to comment on the case but said, “[t]he public can continue to use the internet lawfully and will not be affected.” The order is not the first invocation of the law to force online content removal, but it is the highest profile case in the city’s broad effort to crack down on free expression and political dissent.

Facebook has built a program that allows its highest profile users to be exempted from most or all of its rules, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal. The program, known as “cross check,” was originally meant to be a quality-control measure for actions taken against high profile accounts. In practice, some users are immune from enforcement measures and others are allowed to post restricted material pending Facebook employee reviews which often never come. Public figures have been allowed to post materials including harassment or incitement to violence. A 2019 internal review found the practice to be both widespread and “not publicly defensible.” The confidential review said, “We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly.” In a written statement, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said criticism of the program is fair but that the company has “identified the issues with cross check and has been working to address them.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Judd Devermont and Erol Yayboke explained why African governments are accepting Afghan refugees.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast in which Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic speak to Shoshana Wodinsky, a staff reporter at Gizmodo, about online advertising in this week’s Arbiters of Truth.

Rohini Kurup posted the Fourth Circuit’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Wikimedia Foundation that challenged parts of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program.

Kurup also posted special counsel John Durham’s grand jury indictment against Michael Sussmann.

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.

Christiana Wayne is a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studying history and English. She is an intern at Lawfare.

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