News Sips 3/8: Breaking: Huge Jobs Gain… Vault7 Leaks, THAAD in South Korea, Obamacare Drama, and Rosenstein on the Hill

Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 8, 2017 edition:

BREAKING: US Companies added Jobs at a HUGE rate in February. Analysts expected 190,000 jobs and they got 298,000.

The Vault7 Leaks

In what’s being billed as the largest leak of secret information since Edward Snowden, Wikileaks dropped thousands of documents yesterday related to the hacking and technological spying capacity of the CIA. While these leaks were condemned by hawks and proponents of the clandestine surveillance state (dissent is unpatriotic!), they were welcomed by civil libertarians and open-government advocates (sticking it to the man!). Wikileaks has named the disclosure Vault7.

The big headlines from the leak have to do with exploitation of technology, including the co-opting of hardware for surveillance and not revealing to tech companies about software problems. Basically, under the Obama Administration, the government agreed that if it found parts of software code that could be exploited by potential hackers, that they would inform the companies so those problems could be fixed. It makes a lot of sense. Sure, the CIA might want to exploit software backdoors, but, if we could find it, so could other countries and non-state actors. Thus, it made sense to “white hat” and let the companies know. Well, it turns out the CIA wasn’t doing that (at least there was no evidence released that they were). Ooops.

The hardware exploits are “scarier” for the cable news crowd. Basically, the CIA has pieces of code that can allow for the activation of webcams, smart televisions, car computers, and basically anything connected to a network that has a computer. Sure, people were weirded-out when they saw Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, had put a piece of tape over his laptop’s webcam, and this revelation generally confirms that fear (if you believe the government actually cares enough to do it).

There was also a revelation in the documents that the CIA routinely masked its hacking operations to look like they were originating from other sources. This, without more information, made some conservatives uneasy thinking about whether alleged “Russian hacking” surrounding the election, was actually done domestically.

The long-story-made-short here is that America’s clandestine services are more intertwined with our technology that we’d probably give them permission to be. It’s also still unanswered as to the level of warrantless surveillance is taking place against Americans or whether these efforts are focused overseas. Here’s the problem with Wikileaks: it’s controlled by Wikileaks. Like everyone, everywhere, there’s a narrative that the disseminator of information wants to push. In this case, it’s that the CIA is spying on Americans and that Americans shouldn’t trust their government. This has been a long-running trope of Wikileaks even before the election and Russian allegations. They’ve been a “chaotic neutral” anti-government, open-society group for a decade. But, remember, yes, they have an agenda. So do the statists on the right rushing to condemn the leaks. The leaks are, certainly, illegal. However, they will, most likely, continue, as long as people in the US government fear that the same has gone too far in the invasion of private citizens’ lives.

 

THAAD and North Korea

With news breaking today that North Korea appears ready to test-fire more missiles, the United States has deployed its advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system to South Korea. Though South Korea already possesses Patriot missiles and Aegis destroyers with the capacity to target incoming missiles from North Korea, the deployment of American defensive capabilities further reinforces the idea that the United States is taking the provocation of North Korea very seriously.

The deployment of the missile defense system is sure to anger China, which has expressed its concern that the United States is merely using the danger posed by North Korea as a pretense for undermining Chinese warmaking capacity. However, given both the back-channel negotiations between the Trump Administration and Beijing as well as North Korea’s insistence on continuing missile tests, the United States is poised not to burn very much diplomatic capital in getting the system deployed. The real question is whether the United States will attempt to shoot down any provocative future launches from North Korea.

 

Obamacare Repeal Drama

This is going to be a constant narrative over the coming months: GOP infighting and Democrat sniping over moving forward on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal. Conservative think tank and advocacy groups have urged Congressmen not to support the current version of the repeal legislation. Democrats have howled that the proposed legislation goes too far. The Administration is urging that something needs to get done, and that the proposed bill is a good enough start.

As we’ve discussed before, it really just boils down to the fact that the law is collapsing and Democrats want Republicans to be held responsible in next year’s midterm elections. Republican leadership understands this and wants a win, even if it’s symbolic. Republican rank-and-file members are split between a true desire for reform and pragmatic power retention. The White House wants a few key points, but is otherwise looking to use the President’s political capital to push a reform or replacement through.

Beyond merely having to please competing Republican factions in the House, there is the further complication that, because of the manner of replacement, certain pieces of the legislative process will need Democrats in the Senate to get over procedural hurdles. While the majority of the rollback can be done with a simple majority, certain “non-budgetary” provisions will not be able to be accomplished this way. This will be the second, or third, phase of the replacement process. Conservatives are calling that unacceptable.

In the end, the smart money is on the pragmatists to prevail (the argument will be something like: if you actually want to repeal and replace, you need to vote for the milquetoast version now so that we don’t get voted out in 2018, then we can do something better). However, this is bound to be a top headline for weeks and months to come.

 

Maryland’s Rosenstein on the Hill

Maryland’s long-serving United States Attorney, Rod Rosenstein, was on Capitol Hill yesterday to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein has been appointed by President Trump to be Deputy Attorney General under Jeff Sessions. Rosenstein, a Bush appointee, had his career derailed by Maryland’s liberal Senators when they blocked his appointment to be an appellate judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, Rosenstein proved to be a neutral, diligent, and competent US Attorney and was retained in his job through the entire Obama Administration.

The significance of Rosenstein’s hearing was that it was coming on the heels of Democratic outrage over Jeff Sessions’ meeting with a Russian diplomat in Sessions’ capacity as a Senator on the Armed Services Committee. Democrats allege that, because then-Senator Sessions was a supporter of Donald Trump, he was, somehow, being compromised by meeting with a Russian. Sessions failed to disclose the meeting when asked whether Trump campaign members had met with Russians. So, Democrats, predictably, have gone ballistic.

Rosenstein was asked repeatedly about whether he would undertake to have a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Russian allegations. He demurred given that he has not been privy to the information that he would need to make that determination and because there was already a person with the necessary information whose decision that appointment would be. The Attorney General, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, has recused himself from Russian-Trump collaboration investigations.

 

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Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.

 

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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