The Early Edition: June 4, 2019

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Federal antitrust enforcers and lawmakers are set to scrutinize technology giants – including Facebook and Google – for potential anticompetitive practices. “The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans … but there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content and communications,” Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) commented, Brent Kendall and John D. McKinnon report at the Wall Street Journal.

The probe is expected to be far-reaching and marks a new and unprecedented antitrust threat for the tech industry. Leader of the House’s top anti-trust subcommittee Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told reporters that the investigation would not target one specific tech company, but would focus on the broad belief that the “Internet is broken,” Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report at the Washington Post.

The Senate passed a bill yesterday evening to block individuals who “meddle” in U.S. elections from being able to enter the country. The legislation, known as the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act (D.E.T.E.R. Act), passed the Senate by unanimous consent and would include violating voting or campaign finance laws or trying to interfere in elections or a campaign while under the direction of a foreign government, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The House Intelligence Committee will examine “deepfake videos” – which have been manipulated by artificial intelligence (A.I.) to look real – in a congressional hearing on June 13. Deepfake technology is growing more sophisticated and prevalent, and poses a major disinformation threat, according to experts and lawmakers, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Tech giant Apple yesterday launched an anonymous login system which will allow people to log into apps without revealing any personal information. The company announced the move at its annual software developer conference in California, explaining that users would be able to generate automated and random email addresses provided by Apple rather than provide their own – in contrast to rivals Facebook and Google web login accounts, Tripp Mickle reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Apple is also tightening controls on location tracking, announcing it would stop apps from scanning Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks to guess a user’s location – even when the user has disabled tracking, Stephen Nellis reports at Reuters.

Russian authorities have ordered dating app Tinder to share user data and messages with government and intelligence agencies, as part of a wider Russian drive to regulate the internet. Russia’s telecoms and media regulator Roskomnadzor at the end of last month added Tinder to its special register of services obliged to share requisite information with the government, Reuters reports.

“Authorities want to control everything that happens online – even dating,” representative of Internet rights group Roskomsvoboda Alexander Isavnin commented, adding “it’s like in Soviet times.” The recent increased regulation on online services such as Facebook and Twitter is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks and cyberattacks, according to Russian authorities. Georgi Kantchev reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The personal information of 11.9 million patients – including Social Security numbers and financial information – has been breached, according to a statement made yesterday by blood testing group Quest Diagnostics. The company announced that an “unauthorized user” gained access to the American Medical Collection Agency (A.M.C.A.) system, explaining that while it had not yet received “complete information” on the details of the breach it is “taking this matter very seriously and is committed to the privacy and security of our patients’ personal information,” Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

The “big challenge” for policy makers is policing U.S. tech giants, Jacob M. Schlesinger writes at the Wall Street Journal, explaining the latest signs of escalating scrutiny.

Google and Facebook stole our data and made a “ton” of money from it, Roger McNamee writes at the New York Times, urging government to ban third-party exploitation of consumer data and arguing that “for consumers, the time has come to say ‘no more.’”

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee yesterday announced a series of hearings on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference for the purposes of further examining President Trump’s conduct as well as meddling by Moscow. Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced that the next hearing, titled “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes,” will take place on June 10, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

“We have learned so much even from the redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report,” Nadler said in a statement yesterday, adding that “these hearings will allow us to examine the findings laid out in Mueller’s report so that we can work to protect the rule of law and protect future elections through consideration of legislative and other remedies.” Reuters reports.

The House plans to vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt of Congress for refusing comply with a subpoena for Mueller’s full unredacted report and underlying evidence. The Judiciary Committee voted last month to advance a measure holding Barr in contempt after President Trump asserted executive privilege over the unredacted report, Alex Moe and Dareh Gregorian report at NBC.

The resolution would clear the way for the House Judiciary Committee to take Barr and McGahn to court to enforce their subpoenas and serve as a “crucial” step for Democrats seeking to advance their obstruction of justice investigation against the president. “This Administration’s systematic refusal to provide Congress with answers and cooperate with Congressional subpoenas is the biggest cover-up in American history, and Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight on behalf of the American people,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement, John Bresnahan and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate will get an election security briefing, indicating that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had agreed to his weeks-long call for all senators to receive a briefing in the wake the Mueller probe. “I have some positive news … I have spoken to the Republican leader about that request … he has assured me we will have a briefing,” Schumer said, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The option of providing a specific base for impeachment was simply not open to Mueller, as it was for independent counsel Ken Starr when completing his report on former president Bill Clinton, Michael Zeldin and Julian Zelizer seek to explain at CNN.

“With the Mueller fiasco … the damage to the idea of a special counsel is complete … and that is a good thing,” Hugh Hewitt comments at the Washington Post.

Can the president rely on his decades-old tactic of suing his opponents to get out of trouble? Michael Kruse provides an analysis at POLITICO Magazine.

Barr has yet to disclose his analysis as to why he believes Trump did not commit an indictable offense, “and his vague accounts of it to date are strikingly incomplete, and sometimes highly implausible,” David R. Lurie comments at Just Security.

U.S. MILITARY

Lead prosecutor in the court-martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher – Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak – was removed from Gallagher’s case yesterday, marking a “significant setback” for the prosecution just a week before the war crimes trial was set to begin. The ruling by a Navy judge at a hearing in San Diego came after revelations that Czaplak was involved in efforts to covertly track the communications of defense lawyers and a journalist reporting the case; it is unclear if Chief Gallagher’s trial will be rescheduled or will begin June 10, Dave Philipps reports at the New York Times.

The Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee’s iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) would prohibit funding to deploy low-yield nuclear warheads, committee staffers said yesterday. The inclusion of the provision is “unsurprising,” given that Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has previously stated he wants to “kill” the low-yield warhead, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The Committee’s version of the N.D.A.A. would also block funding for the Navy to go below 11 aircraft carriers after the Trump administration floated the idea of retiring the Truman aircraft carrier early. “That really just reiterates current law that you need to maintain 11 carriers and Truman will be part of that,” a committee staffer told reporters yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A Pentagon request to make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the military justice system came too late for the House Armed Services Committee to include it in the N.D.A.A., committee staff claimed yesterday. “We got the request a little late for our process,” one committee staffer told reporters, adding “if something comes later on, then we’ll look at it as it happens,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

Mexico has warned President Trump that his promised tariffs on Mexican goods could worsen illegal immigration to the U.S. and end up hurting both countries. Speaking in Washington D.C. yesterday, Mexican officials insisted they were acting to stem the flow of people, with Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard telling reporters that the country remained committed to tackling the issue, the BBC reports.

An account of the attempts made in recent weeks by the Mexican administration to crack down on migration is provided by Kirk Semple at the New York Times.

District Court Judge Trevor McFadden of the District of Columbia yesterday rejected a lawsuit by House Democrats seeking to block Trump’s plan to divert funds to help build a border wall. McFadden ruled that the House lacked legal standing to sue Trump for using money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that was appropriated by Congress for other purposes, Reuters reports.

“While the Constitution bestows upon Members of the House many powers … it does not grant them standing to hale the Executive Branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress’s legislative authority,” McFadden wrote, adding “the Court therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear the House’s claims and will deny its motion.” Ted Hesson reports at POLITICO.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday called on China to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising today by releasing all prisoners detained for fighting human rights abuses. Pompeo said in a statement that the move would “begin to demonstrate the Communist Party’s willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” adding “we call on China to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression.” Al Jazeera reports.

China hit back at Pompeo for “vilifying” its domestic and foreign policies. In a post on the website of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., a spokesperson wrote that Pompeo’s statement “grossly intervenes” in China’s internal affairs and is “an affront to the Chinese people and a serious violation of international law,” The Daily Beast reports.

President Trump – currently in Britain – looks likely to demand that outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s successor ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from 5G networks. Huawei will be top of the agenda for talks in London, after the British government appeared to defy Trump administration demands and allow the firm a limited role in building 5G networks, Reuters reports.

Britain has not made a final decision on whether to use Huawei technology, U.K. Security Minister Ben Wallace said today.  “The government hasn’t yet reached a conclusion on how to deal with infrastructure that is potentially weak or indeed could be exploited by foreign states to spy on us, that is ongoing … we listen to our allies in the Five Eyes [and] we listen to our European partners,” Wallace said during an interview this morning, Reuters reports.

U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chines Defense Minister Gen Wei Fenghe “used highly anticipated speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to lob allegations of deceit … subversion and mistrust at each other,” Brad Lendon and Ivan Watson write in an analysis of current Beijing-Washington relations at CNN.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister – Kim Yo-jong – attended a public event yesterday in Pyongyang for the first time in 50 days, casting doubt on media speculation that she was ordered by Kim to keep a low profile over the failed nuclear summit with Washington, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.

North Korea’s special envoy to the U.S. Kim Hyok-chol – who had reportedly been executed by firing squad – is alive and in state custody. The fate of Kim – who is being investigated for his part in the failed Hanoi summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un – has “not been determined,” according to an anonymous source, but he could still face “heavy punishment,” Will Ripley reports at CNN.

SUDAN                    

Sudan’s military council (T.M.C.) today canceled a power-transfer agreement with protesters and called for snap elections within nine months, a day after forcefully breaking up a weeks-long sit-in in violence that left more than 35 people dead.  Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced in a televised statement the plan for three-year transition period to a civilian administration had been shelved and an election would take place under “regional and international supervision,” AFP reports

“We reject all that was stated in [al-Burhan’s] statement,” Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces opposition alliance leader Madani Abbas Madani said in response to the announcement. Individual pro-reform leaders have indicated that they will escalate a campaign of civil disobedience in response, Jason Burke reports at the Guardian.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemns the violence … [and] the use of force to disperse the protestors at the sit-in site,” Guterres’ spokesperson announced in a statement, adding that Guterres was also alarmed at reports that “security forces have opened fire inside medical facilities.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

Streets in the Sudanese capital Khartoum were empty today following yesterday’s violence. Bassam Hatoum and Samy Magdy provide an account at the AP.

SYRIA

Russia yesterday blocked the U.N. Security Council from issuing an “alarmed” statement over the increased fighting in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian crisis, according to a council diplomat. The draft statement called for humanitarian access, safe return for refugees and for following international humanitarian law on protecting civilians, Jennifer Peltz reports at the AP.

Fighters have set fire to thousands of acres of “vital crops and farmland” in northwestern Syria, turning food supplies into a “weapon of war,” and forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee, the U.N. stated today. “Crops such as barley, wheat and vegetables have been destroyed … destruction to farmland and the agricultural sector is unacceptable,” The U.N.’s World Food Program (W.F.P.) spokesperson Herve Verhoosel told a news briefing in Geneva, Reuters reports.

The Kremlin yesterday snubbed criticism from President Trump of Russian and Syrian government military action in Idlib, stating that it was needed to “shut down rebel attacks being launched from there.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that “of course strikes by militants from Idlib are unacceptable and measures are being taken to neutralize these strike positions,” Reuters reports.

Even hospitals are not safe in Syria, Janine di Giovanni writes at the New York Times, describing the recent multiple attacks on medical facilities and noting that hospitals were once “off-limits” for strikes.

IRAN

Iran yesterday described U.S. sanctions as “economic war,” claiming that there could be no talks with Washington until sanctions are lifted, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested Washington could hold talks “with no pre-conditions” if Tehran changed its behavior. “#EconomicTerrorism against Iran targets innocent civilians … like this little boy, whose heartbroken mother can’t get him prosthetic legs as he grows …they’re sanctioned,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated in a message on Twitter, with a video clip of a woman saying the prosthetic leg her son needs is sanctioned. Reuters reports.

The carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln – sent to the Middle East amid tension with Iran –has reportedly not yet entered the Persian Gulf. The carrier was reportedly 200 miles off the Oman coast in the Arabian Sea yesterday; the Navy would not comment on why it had not entered the Persian Gulf and would only say it is ready to launch any mission, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

IRAQ

At least four force members were killed and four more wounded in a shooting in the Iraqi town Tarmiya, 15 miles north of Baghdad, according to a statement made today by Wecurity Media Cell. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, Reuters reports. 0

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq between April 21 and May 4 [Central Command].

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) yesterday gave a demonstration of the inside of a “sophisticated” underground tunnel leading from Lebanon into northern Israel, claiming it was intended for use by Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militants. The I.D.F. claimed that the tunnel came to light earlier this year during an army operation in which a number of attack tunnels dug by the militants were discovered and sealed off, Reuters reports.

U.S. President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner will meet with the European Union’s (E.U.) chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker this afternoon in Brussels. “They will discuss the Middle East situation and other geopolitical issues,” a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters at a daily briefing, Reuters reports.

“There are already intensifying calls to scrap the rollout” of Kushner’s long-awaited Middle East Peace Plan, Nahal Toosi writes at POLITICO, noting that “prominent conservative and pro-Israel voices close to the White House” are amongst those concerned about the plan.

VENEZUELA

“Russia has informed [the U.S.] that they had removed most of their people from Venezuela,” according to a message sent on Twitter yesterday by President Trump. The president did not elaborate on the reported decrease in Russian personnel and the White House National Security Council declined to comment, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The 12-nation Lima Group and E.U.-led contact group on Venezuela have urged the international community to play a more active role in “supporting prompt return to democracy” in the country. The two groups issued a joint statement yesterday which was read out at a news conference by Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio: “while the solution needs to be a Venezuelan one … the regional impact of the crisis requires the region and the international community to play a more active role in supporting a prompt return to democracy,” Al Jazeera reports.

Legal cases – in the form of indictments – would be a significant step in the efforts to remove President Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan regime, Fernando Cutz comments at the New York Times, arguing that the U.S. judicial systems should hold to account members of the regime “who have kept themselves rich and powerful at the expense of their suffering citizenry.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Swedish court yesterday rejected a request to detain Wikileaks Co-Founder Julian Assange over a 2010 rape case, complicating the prosecutor’s efforts to request his transfer from the U.K. The court said it shared the prosecutor’s opinion that Assange was suspected of rape and “that there is a risk that Julian Assange will fail to appear or in some other way avoid participation in the investigation,” AFP reports.

Canada is complicit in a “race-based genocide” against indigenous women, a government inquiry has found. The report cited research finding indigenous women were 12 times more likely to be killed or to disappear than other women in the country, the BBC reports.

“Trump’s visit to Britain will be remembered as a low moment for a ‘special relationship’” the Washington Post editorial board comments.

A cartogram that depicts which countries Trump has mentioned the most on Twitter, based on an analysis of 8,000 of the president’s tweets, is provided by Worldmapper on behalf of the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Senior Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).