Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Emily Dai
Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 3:45 PM

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

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On Tuesday, President Biden used his debut address to the U.N. General Assembly to call for “relentless diplomacy” on global challenges including climate change, the pandemic and countering China, according to the Financial Times. Biden’s address came as he contends with strained diplomatic relations with western powers following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the creation of a security partnership with the U.K. and Australia that cut France out of a submarine deal. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley met with his Russian counterpart Wednesday, against the backdrop of U.S. struggles to get military basing rights and other counterterrorism support in countries bordering Afghanistan, a move Russia has opposed, according to AP News. Milley and Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov agreed to not disclose details of their discussion, but Milley described the meeting as “productive.” Milley had been focused on the issue when he met with NATO leaders over the weekend. Following the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. officials wanted to establish a presence in nations close to Afghanistan, such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, to conduct counterterrorism operations. The Russian government is unwilling to support the U.S. endeavor and opposes a Western presence in Central Asia. However, Russia shares the U.S.’s concerns that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could destabilize Central Asia. 

The Secret Service, FBI, and Department of Defense all purchased surveillance drones from DJI, a Chinese company the Pentagon has deemed a potential national security threat, according to Axios. This purchase occurred despite recent efforts to minimize the use of potentially compromised Chinese technology in the military and law enforcement agencies as well as long-standing concerns about the company’s products being used to further the Chinese government’s interests. DJI has pushed back on what it calls unfounded security concerns based on misunderstanding, and insists that the company does not deliberately compromise its customer’s data.

The Department of Justice has raised national security concerns over Zoom’s plan to buy Five9, calling for additional review of the company’s nearly $15 billion deal due to Zoom’s ties with China, according to The Wall Street Journal. The review comes as advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services recommended last week that Five9 shareholders vote against the acquisition in part because of the political risk associated with Zoom’s “substantial operations in China.” In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Justice Department requested the FCC defer action on the application until an interagency committee, Team Telecom, finishes reviewing whether the deal “poses a risk to the national security or law enforcement interests” of the U.S. This review by Team Telecom is the latest example of U.S. officials taking a tougher stance on Chinese connections to American telecommunications infrastructure.

Hong Kong expanded the scope of what it uses to describe national security in an effort to further suppress dissent, according to Bloomberg. Authorities in Hong Kong have recently started using the phrase “contrary to the interests of national security” to describe violations of the law rather than the more narrow term“endanger national security.” The new term first started to appear prominently last month, when the government proposed amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance stating that censors must “consider whether the exhibition of a film would be contrary to the interests of national security.” The new language could allow the government to expand the definition of violations.  

Iranian officials said Tuesday that they expect talks with world powers on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal to resume in a few weeks, according to NBC News. Nuclear negotiations have been halted since June after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected as president. Before Raisi’s election, U.S. and Iranian negotiators appeared close to reaching an agreement on how both countries can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, but this collapsed under the Trump administration. A senior Biden administration official said that Iranian officials were planning on restarting negotiations in a matter of weeks, but Raisi’s new team declined to commit to a time to resume discussion. Raisi has criticized the U.S. for failing to live up to its commitments under the 2015 deal while Iran carried out its end of the agreement. “We want nothing more than what is rightfully ours. We demand the implementation of international rules,” Raisi said. “All parties must stay true to the nuclear deal.”

Biden announced on Wednesday that the U.S. will buy another 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to donate to low-income and lower-middle-income countries, according to Bloomberg. The vaccines will be shipped through the global vaccine sharing system Covax next year. Biden also pledged an additional $370 million in U.S. funding to support vaccine administration abroad. And he called on other high-income countries to increase their pledges of shots and to donate vaccines rather than selling them. He emphasized the importance of taking aggressive measures to beat the pandemic, saying “[W]e’re not going to solve this crisis with half-measures and middle-of-the-road ambitions. We need to go big and we need to do our part.”


ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast in which David Priess sat down with a group of civil-military relations experts to discuss controversial actions by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

Amit Dadon and Janna Ramdan covered the Moroccan government’s crackdown on Sahrawi activists. 

Nicol Turner Lee posted a TechTank episode covering remote learning options as schools reopen.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of The Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring interviews with Jordan Schneider to discuss recent Beijing tech policy, Michael Weiner to unpack FTC v. Facebook, Pete Jeydel to talk about Project Raven, as well as a series of shorter updates.

Bryce Klehm announced this week’s Lawfare Live in which Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes will join Managing Editor Jacob Schulz to discuss the indictment of 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.

Emily Dai is a junior at New York University studying Politics and Economics. She is an intern at Lawfare.

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