Showing posts with label Analysis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Analysis. Show all posts

Feb 18, 2020

Analysis | The Energy 202: No 2020 Democrat wants to store nuclear waste under Nevada's Yucca Mountain

By Dino Grandoni


People leave the south portal of Yucca Mountain during a congressional tour near Mercury, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
There has been a lot of head-butting in Nevada over unions, health care and civility in politics ahead of the Democratic caucuses on Saturday.
But the White House hopefuls vying for votes in the early caucus state have shown a rare bit of unity over what may be the biggest energy and environmental issue in Nevada.
Every major candidate for president has joined Nevada's crusade to stop the completion of a long-delayed nuclear waste storage site under Yucca Mountain some 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The nation's ever-growing pile of radioactive waste from years of building nuclear weapons and producing electricity at nuclear power plants needs to be sequestered permanently somewhere. But, according to the Democratic candidates, just not at the spot in the rural highlands of Nevada that Congress designated three decades ago.
The issue has become a crucial box to check for Democrats in the state, which has only gotten increasingly left-leaning and important to the national fortunes of the Democratic Party with each presidential election cycle.
“It's not a surprise that no one would support Yucca” said Rodney Ewing, a professor of nuclear security and geological sciences at Stanford University.
The candidates, though, largely still don't have an answer to the question of where to put the nation's over 90,000 tons of nuclear waste, if not under Yucca.
The three senators still fighting for the nomination — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — each backed a bill last year that would bar the federal government from moving the waste into Nevada without permission from the governor. The Sanders campaign featured Yucca in its first campaign video in Nevada in May.
Trump is proposing to send our nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. That would be a disaster. We must stop building new nuclear power plants, and find a real solution to our existing nuclear waste problem.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 16, 2019
The two billionaires funding their own campaigns, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, also oppose using Yucca as a dumping ground for nuclear waste without the state's consent.
Joe Biden, noting his opposition to the Yucca project during his time as senator and vice president, said in a statement "there would be absolutely zero dumping of nuclear waste in Nevada.”
And the campaign of Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said he wants to ensure Nevadans “have a voice in choosing storage sites.”
“If Nevadans oppose storing waste at Yucca Mountain,” Buttigieg spokesman Chris Meagher added in a statement, “Pete’s administration will not support it.”
The one, lonely supporter of the project in the Democratic field, Andrew Yang, just dropped out of the race last week.
Nevadans who balk at burying waste in their own backyard — and outsiders who want to be in their good graces — argue the mountain's rock is too porous and the area is too volcanic and earthquake-prone to suit such long-term storage.
Yet without a place to permanently store it, the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel has been left to linger at sites scattered across 35 states. It can't stay in those spots forever. Some of the waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.
And there's the rub: No Democrat has named another specific spot to permanently put the waste.
The campaign of former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to bring together nuclear scientists, geologists and other experts "to find alternatives for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel." Biden wants to establish a new agency to incubate technology startups and other projects that look into the issue of nuclear waste storage. And Warren has proposed studying how to safely and cheaply store waste as part of a $400 billion clean energy program.
The opposition to Yucca among Democratic White House hopefuls is nothing new. "The Democratic position starts at 'no" and goes to 'hell no'" on the Yucca repository, said Erik Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Republicans tend to be more supportive of the project.
The issue isn't always a dealbreaker for presidential candidates. George W. Bush, who wanted to put the waste at the Nevada site, won the state in 2000 and 2004 against Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom opposed the project.
Congress first approved of using Yucca as a nuclear waste repository back in the 1980s, but Nevada lawmakers — most notably former Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) — made careers out of stalling the project. Ever since then, the fate of the project has pinballed from administration to administration, with Bush in support and Barack Obama in opposition to entombing the waste in Nevada.
“This issue just will not die,” Herzik said.
After years of his administration throwing its weight behind the Yucca project, President Trump himself just switched positions, too. In a single tweet this month, Trump said he no longer wants to put the waste in Nevada. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton four years ago by only a 2.4-point margin.
Those wild swings between presidential administrations mean the problem needs a different sort of solution, according to Ewing, the Stanford professor. He led a 2018 study that recommended moving responsibility for disposing of the nuclear to an independent not-for-profit corporation.
Ewing, that is, says we need “to remove the federal government" from the job.
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The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant in Winfield, W. Va., was retrofitted to comply with a rule on mercury enacted under President Barack Obama. (Stacy Kranitz for The Washington Post)

— Thanks, but no thanks: The nation’s power generation sector has pushed back against the Trump administration’s effort to change a rule cutting emissions of mercury and other toxins. It’s a slight departure from the usual course of business, where the Trump administration has had industry support for easing burdensome environmental regulations, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report.
  • Not this time: Exelon, a top utility, told the EPA the latest rollback is an “action that is entirely unnecessary, unreasonable, and universally opposed by the power generation sector.” Kathy Robertson, a senior manager for environmental policy at Exelon, told The Post the rule works. “The sector has gotten so much cleaner as a result of this rule,” she said.
  • Who else is against the plan?: Unions, business groups and electric utilities. Still, the EPA is preparing to finalize its proposal. It plans to declare that it’s not “appropriate and necessary” for the federal government to place a limit on pollutants from power plants.
— “We can save Earth”: The world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, announced the creation of a new $10 billion fund toward tackling climate change. The funding is meant to provide grants to scientists, activists and NGOs and “builds off prior commitments that Bezos has made in recent years to reduce Amazon’s impact on the environment, including signing a ‘climate pledge’ last year that commits the company to operate on 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030,” The Post’s Kimberly Kindy reports. Bezos, who founded the online retail giant Amazon and also owns The Washington Post, said grants will be doled out this summer.
  • Activists at Amazon cautiously optimistic: Members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice — a group of workers concerned about Amazon’s ties with oil and gas companies as well as its environmental footprint — responded by saying they “applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away.” “The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?,” the group asked as part of a series of tweets responding to the news.
  • The caveats: The announcement, posted on Bezos’s Instagram, does not include details such as when and in what way scientists and activists can apply for grants.

Mandy Gunasekara had left the EPA a year ago to start what she called a “pro-Trump nonprofit” group in her home state of Mississippi. (Courtesy of Mandy Gunasekara)

— One of the EPA's first Trump appointees poised for a comeback: Mandy Gunasekara, who pushed Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, is set to return to the EPA as its next chief of staff, Eilperin and Dennis report. Gunasekara was previously the EPA’s top air policy adviser, and left the agency a year ago to start a “pro-Trump nonprofit” in Mississippi.
  • Her background: “After joining the EPA in March 2017, Gunasekara oversaw the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation on an acting basis for nearly eight months under then-Administrator Scott Pruitt. Trained as a lawyer, she played a key role in working to scale back federal rules aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution, including replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and federal gas-mileage standards.”
  • You may also remember: Gunasekara also worked for Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has been a vocal critic of climate change regulations. In 2015, Gunasekara handed Inhofe a snowball on the Senate floor so he could mock global warming.
The United States is fighting for sovereignty and freedom. We should have confidence in the transatlantic alliance. The free West has a brighter future than illiberal alternatives. #TheWestIsWinning – and we’re doing it together.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 15, 2020
— A pledge from Pompeo: Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would dole out $1 billion to help European allies move toward energy independence.
  • What he said: “As a brand new statement today of our support for sovereignty, prosperity, and energy independence of our European friends, today I want to announce that through the International Development Finance Corporation, and with the support of our United States Congress, we intend to provide up to $1 billion in financing to Central and Eastern European countries of the Three Seas Initiative,” Pompeo announced, according to the Hill.

Water surges from the reservoir dam as the Pearl River continues to rise in Brandon, Miss. (Cam Bonelli/Hattiesburg American/AP)
— Officials bracing for devastating floods in Mississippi: Days of heavy rainfall already fueled flooding across Jackson and surrounding areas. On Saturday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) declared a state of emergency and at a Sunday news conference he warned not to let a brief reprieve from stormy skies “lull you into a false sense of hope,” NPR reports. “This is a precarious situation that can turn at any moment,” Reeves said. “It will be days before we're out of the woods and the water starts to recede.”
  • By the numbers: Reeves said 1,000 homes and 3,000 people are expected to be hit by flooding. Officials had distributed 146,000 sandbags throughout central Mississippi. “The expected inundation could be the worst flooding in Jackson since 1983, when the Pearl River rose to 39.58 feet. The all-time record was set in 1979, which saw the river crest at 43.28 feet, according to the National Weather Service.” 

A man stands on the rubble of his home in the Haitian Quarter, after the passing of Hurricane Dorian in Abaco, Bahamas. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
— How Dorian affected reefs: Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the northwest Bahamas at the early end of its two-week trail of destruction, ruined about 30 percent of the coral reefs around the islands, the New York Times reports. A report from the Perry Institute for Marine Science found reef structures — some already at risk — were dislodged or buried. The storm also brought rainwater that altered sea salinity and changed water temperature, possibly shocking coral reefs.
  • Now what?: “Some of the fragmented corals could be regrown in nurseries and then reattached to dead pieces to replenish them. But that would take time, as some species take many years to grow.”

A flooded street in Tenbury Wells, in western England, after the River Teme burst its banks Sunday. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)
— Historic bomb cyclone churns thorough U.K.: It’s the second-strongest nontropical storm ever recorded in the North Atlantic Ocean. Storm Dennis has produced up to 80-foot waves, poured more than five inches of rain in South Wales and fueled widespread flooding across parts of the United Kingdom, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports.
  • It also waylaid a youth climate strikers conference: The youth activists’ first-ever national conference was canceled because of the extreme weather. "There's a bleak irony in our being beaten back by climate change," a 15-year-old from London said in a statement released by the U.K. Student Climate Network, per CBS News.

Plastic bottles of water are seen for sale at a store in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/AP)
— States want bottling firms to stop tapping local groundwater: The state of Washington could become the first in the country to stop water-bottling companies from extracting from spring-fed sources, Alex Brown reports for The Post. Activists say such companies are depleting springs and aquifers.
  • Efforts elsewhere: “Elsewhere, lawmakers in Michigan and Maine also have filed bills to restrict the bottling of groundwater or tax the industry,” Brown writes. “Local ballot measures have passed in Oregon and Montana to restrict the industry, although the zoning change in Montana’s Flathead County remains tied up in court.”

Pacific Gas & Electric crews work on restoring power lines in a fire-ravaged neighborhood in an aerial view in the aftermath of a wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
— No guarantee California takeover of PG&E would solve problems: That’s what the Los Angeles Times explores in this deep look at the ideas behind and the implications of public ownership of the power grid. 
  • What some are calling for: “Nobody has ever transferred a utility as large as PG&E from private to public ownership. But a growing number of state and local lawmakers are calling for a public takeover of the sprawling company, which serves as the power provider for 16 million people across a vast territory stretching from Redding in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south,” per the L.A. Times.
  • What to know: PG&E would fight the takeover. Some organized labor groups are skeptical, fearing members’ pensions would be negatively affected by the transfer. Customers served by Trinity Public Utilities District, which serves as a precedent for public takeover in Trinity County, pay half as much as PG&E customers, but the utility still faces lawsuits and millions in claims over a wildfire. “Although the potential benefits are significant, there’s no guarantee a government entity could provide safer, cleaner or cheaper electricity than the reviled company it replaces,” the L.A. Times writes.

Costa Constantinides, a progressive candidate for Queens borough president, is prioritizing climate issues in his platform.

The two sprawling metro areas — one rich, one poor — offer a vision of what could be a watery future for 600 million coastal residents worldwide.
New York Times

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: The Huawei fight is getting a Trumpy spin.

By Joseph Marks

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. (Thomas Kienzle//AFP/Getty Images)
The Trump administration’s pressure campaign on allies to break ties with Huawei is taking a very Trumpian turn with bombastic and neck-wrenching tweets replacing private diplomatic warnings.
Trump’s Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell tweeted out of the blue on Sunday that President Trump had called him from Air Force One “and instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share Intelligence and information at the highest level.”
That marked a major reversal from just two days earlier when U.S. officials assured an audience at the Munich Security Conference the United Kingdom's decision to allow Huawei to build parts of its next-generation 5G wireless network would not affect intelligence sharing.
The tweet came as Germany, France and Canada all appear likely to follow the United Kingdom in allowing Huawei to build portions of their 5G networks. And, in typical Trump fashion, it threw allies who are mulling multibillion-dollar 5G decisions into a new phase of uncertainty, wondering whether the pronouncement represented an actual shift in policy or just presidential bluster.
U.S. officials have long warned that Huawei is too dependent on China’s Communist Party and can’t be trusted not to aid Chinese spying — especially if it has access to nations’ 5G systems, which will carry far more data than earlier generations of wireless networks. But they’ve stepped back from threats to cut off intelligence sharing as more nations sign on with Huawei.
If the United States did halt sharing intelligence with key allies — especially among the Five Eyes alliance including the United Kingdom and Canada — it would be a momentous move with dramatic national security consequences.
China punched back on Twitter, where Foreign Ministry representative Hua Chunying argued the United States could be just as great a threat to Germans' privacy as Huawei. She referred to a story leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden that U.S. spies listened in on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, which caused a major rift between the nations in 2013.
The social media sniping comes as time is running out for the United States to convince allies to bar Huawei from their networks entirely. Only a handful of nations have followed the United States' lead in implementing a full ban, including Australia, New Zealand and Japan. And U.S. leaders are bringing out their biggest rhetorical guns.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed Huawei at the Munich Security Conference, saying there was bipartisan U.S. agreement about the telecom’s dangers and that nations contracting with Huawei for 5G are choosing “autocracy over democracy.”
“It is about putting the state police in the pocket of every consumer in these countries,” she said.
That drew swift pushback from Chinese state media. Here’s China Daily E.U. Bureau Chief Chen Weihua:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also described Huawei and other Chinese tech firms as “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence," and Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned “reliance on Chinese 5G vendorscould render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation and espionage.”
But Europeans are starting to push back. Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves challenged Esper during the conference, asking whether the United States would put its money where its mouth is by subsidizing Huawei’s 5G competitors Nokia and Ericsson. Those European companies’ 5G services are much more expensive than those from Huawei, which is helped by Chinese state subsidies.
“Many of us in Europe agree that there are significant dangers with Huawei, and the U.S. for at least a year has been telling us, do not use Huawei. Are you offering an alternative?” he asked, as reported by NPR.
German lawmaker Alexander Lambsdorff also complained on Twitter the United States is spending more time complaining about Huawei than suggesting viable alternatives.
The verbal assaults come as U.S. officials are also exploring less drastic measures to weaken Huawei, including imposing new hurdles before Chinese companies can use U.S. components for computer chips, the Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Bob Davis report.
They’re also mulling expanding restrictions on U.S. companies shipping components to Huawei from their overseas facilities, as my colleagues Ellen Nakashima, Jeanne Whalen and David J. Lynch report. The government placed Huawei on a trade blacklist last year that barred such shipments if a product contains at least 25 percent U.S. parts. But officials are now considering reducing that limit to 10 percent U.S. parts – a move the Pentagon previously opposed because officials feared it would make U.S. companies less competitive.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) also introduced legislation that would mandate the new limit.
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Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price speaks to members of the media on Feb. 10 in Des Moines. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
PINGED: The Iowa caucus night debacle when an app malfunction delayed the vote-counting by days was the result of years of mismanagement and inattention to technology and cybersecurity, my colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. Based on internal documents and interviews with 54 people, Isaac paints a portrait of miscommunication between the state party and national Democrats, compounded by poor planning, that left significant concerns about election security unaddressed as the caucuses approached.
Among the problems: A contracting request for technology products didn't go out until May 2019 — less than a year before the caucuses. Plans for a virtual caucus using secure teleconference lines, which Iowa Democrats say the DNC initially approved, were scrapped in August, leaving the party scrambling for an alternative.
And once Democrats settled on buying a vote-tallying app from Shadow Inc., launched by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, it was never clear whose responsibility it was to vet security for it. The DNC initially took a greater role in vetting the app and paid for a security audit of the software but later expressed concerns about its use, DNC officials said. It's not clear if the party recommended not using it, though.
Those problems were amplified by Insufficient resources to test how the app would work on caucus night, Isaac found. While Nevada conducted a dry run of two similar apps, nothing similar took place in Iowa. Even a week after the caucuses, recently departed Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price was unable to answer how many precinct chairs had downloaded the app or when training had begun, Isaac reports.

Coffee mugs with the agency logo at the CIA gift shop in McLean, Va. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

 far more aware then previously known about a wave of violence backed by military dictatorships across South America in the 1970s a result of secret access to encrypted communications systems those governments used, my colleague Greg Miller and documentary filmmaker Peter F. Mueller report
The CIA’s secret knowledge about the military crackdowns dubbed Operation Condor highlights a key ethical question of intelligence work: When is it worth burning the secret sources and methods of intelligence to prevent atrocities and other mass violence? It’s also likely to raise concerns among contemporary cybersecurity and privacy advocates as the Justice Department pushes for greater access to encryption systems used by U.S. companies.
The story follows Greg’s blockbuster report last week with the German public broadcaster ZDF that the Swiss company Crypto AG — which governments around the world relied on for decades to keep their communications confidential — was secretly owned by the CIA, which was capable of spying on many of those conversations.
“The U.S. spy agency was, in effect, supplying rigged communications gear to some of South America’s most brutal regimes and, as a result, in a unique position to know the extent of their atrocities,” Greg and Peter write. But “what the documents don’t show is any substantial effort by U.S. spy agencies, or senior officials privy to the intelligence, to expose or stop human rights violations unfolding in their view.”
Those dilemmas also spread far beyond South America. “The list of countries targeted in the Crypto operation suggests that U.S. spies would have had extensive insight into turbulent developments across multiple continents and decades — massacres in Indonesia, abuses under apartheid in South Africa and violent crackdowns against dissidents waged by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat,” Greg and Peter report.

An Israeli soldier stands guard. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
PWNED: The Israeli military exposed a scheme by the Palestinian militant group Hamas to hack into soldiers' phones by posing as attractive women on social media and convincing the interested soldiers to download malware, Josef Federman at the Associated Press reports. The hackers infiltrated the phones of dozens of soldiers but didn’t steal any important information, an Israeli military spokesman said. 
The Hamas operatives targeted soldiers on apps including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Telegram. Once they built a relationship, they urged soldiers to download a malware program disguised as a Snapchat-like app. This was the third time Hamas hackers attempted such an operation and  by far the most sophisticated effort, Israeli officials said.
Soldiers alerted Israeli army officials to the suspicious messages and the army linked the malware to Hamas servers. There was no immediate comment from Hamas to the AP.


The door is held for a women on her way in to vote on election Day. (Photo by Tom Lynn/For The Washington Post)
— Microsoft will test its ElectionGuard technology, which gives voters an encrypted code to verify that their votes were counted accurately, in Fulton, Wis., today. The pilot will happen during a primary election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court where only a few hundred people cast votes. But Microsoft is touting it as the first major test of the software, which it hopes will one day help verify election security across the nation.
The official vote count will be tallied with paper ballots printed by a machine, but the ElectionGuard system will provide an encrypted, verifiable digital tally as well.
— More cybersecurity news from the public sector:

The Pentagon, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security plan to publicly identify a North Korean hacking campaign, CyberScoop has learned.

The attorney who organized Reality Winner’s clemency petition was introduced to her by another client who met the NSA whistleblower behind bars.
The Intercept

Web-services provider Micfo and founder Amir Golestan face 20 counts of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, a case showing how internet hackers and spammers are able to cloak their identities.
The Wall Street Journal


Cybersecurity news from the private sector:

Dell Technologies is nearing a deal to sell its RSA cybersecurity business to a private-equity firm for more than $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
Wall Street Journal

Hacks of private email and other accounts of two Washington figures were routed through web-services provider Micfo, illustrating the difficulties of tracing and identifying cyber intruders.
The Wall Street Journal

The encryption app is putting a $50 million infusion from WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton to good use, building out features to help it go mainstream.

Google had quietly reinstated it in January
The Verge


Cybersecurity news from abroad:

Twitter (TWTR.N) said on Saturday that an official Twitter account of the Olympics and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) media Twitter account had been hacked and temporarily locked.

Malaysia’s communications minister said the country will choose partners for its rollout of 5G based on the country’s own standards and not U.S.
The Hill

Federal departments or agencies have mishandled personal information belonging to 144,000 Canadians over the past two years, according to new figures tabled in the House of Commons — and not everyone who was swept up in a privacy breach was told about it.

Jan 5, 2020

How history, and Trump, affect Iowa Democrats' war fears

By David Weigel David Weigel National 

In this edition: How war fears are (and aren't) affecting the race in Iowa, how impeachment could affect the next Democratic debate, and how two conservative Democrats are making life easier for left-wing challengers.

First, I'd like to thank the Hollywood foreign press, and this is The Trailer.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a rally at West Delaware High School in Manchester, Iowa, on Saturday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

MANCHESTER, Iowa  On Friday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota spoke to Iowans for 21 minutes before she mentioned the targeted U.S. killing of Iran's Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont kicked off the day with a speech opposing "this dangerous path to war with Iran," but by the end of the day, only one voter had asked him about it.
Here, during Sen. Elizabeth Warren's first visit to Iowa in the new year, no voters asked about Iran at all. It was up to Warren, in a back-and-forth with reporters, to clarify her position: She would not have ordered the killing, which she called an "assassination," and would never have quit the Iran nuclear deal in the first place.
"We don't need more war in the Middle East," the senator from Massachusetts said. "We need to stop endless war in the Middle East. We have been at war in this region for 20 years now, and it has meant thousands of American lives lost and huge costs imposed on our country, both domestically and around the world."
Yet at Warren's next stop, in Dubuque, no voter asked about Iran. One of the most potentially significant developments of the Trump presidency, the sort of event his opponents had warned about for years, has yet to dominate the conversation in the first voting state. In the first 48 hours after the killing, many voters said they were nervous about the risk of a wider war but not following every detail of the story. Rather than sparking a debate among Democrats, President Trump was giving them another reason that just one action — replacing him with one of the Democratic candidates — would let them stop worrying all the time.
"With this constant cycle of retributions, and retaliations, and revenge, it's never going to end," said Dennis Geesaman, 71, as he waited for Warren to speak in Manchester. "All kind of [terrorists] have targets on their back, but in the past, when something like this was done, it was acknowledged quietly. Trump is making a big show of it."
The story from Iran and Iraq was moving fast, all weekend — faster than candidates could respond to, and far too fast for voters to quickly process. Further escalation could reshape the Democratic race, orienting it around the role of American power for the first time. If that were to happen, polling has consistently found that the party's voters trust former vice president Joe Biden on foreign policy writ large. Sanders and Warren have overlapping anti-interventionist stances that have rarely been debated in this primary. Until Friday, national security issues were so absent from the race that pollsters with CBS/YouGov, the first to conduct a survey of the caucuses since November, did not even ask about them.
Sanders, more than Warren, has tried to pick a fight with Biden. In two of the Democrats' six televised debates, he pointedly referred to his vote against the Iraq War and contrasted it with Biden's vote to support it. "Joe, you're also the guy who helped lead us into the disastrous war in Iraq," Sanders said at the last Democratic contest, in Los Angeles. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg also has criticized Biden's Iraq vote and said he would seek congressional approval before any military intervention, though it's unclear how a focus on war would affect the campaign of a veteran with only municipal government experience.
But Biden's support for the Iraq invasion has not alienated Democratic voters like Hillary Clinton's identical vote did in 2008 and 2016. In conversations this weekend, even at a rally for Sanders, voters said they were aware of what Biden had done but did not see him as a hawk.
"I don't think Biden's said much about when he'd use our troops," said Bill Iverson, 64, at Sanders's rally in Decorah. "So many senators were squeezed in that direction politically, to vote [to invade] Iraq. One of the ones who didn't is in this room, and that's good. But it was 18 years ago."
Biden, the only one of 14 Democrats who voted for the Iraq invasion, has occasionally dissembled about why. (He and Sanders are the only current candidates who were around for the vote.) On Saturday, after telling Iowans that he would put his foreign policy record against "anyone in public life," Biden claimed that he opposed the military invasion "from the very moment" it began, a statement at odds with his record. With former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg recanting his own support for the war, no Democratic candidate for president now supports the 2002 decision that destabilized the Middle East.
Yet despite widespread Democratic opposition to the Iraq War, the party has twice handed its presidential nomination to candidates who supported it. One of them, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, is set to campaign for Biden in Iowa next week. Many Democrats shared Biden's and Kerry's journey on the war, if not their rationales, and that made them uninterested in a purity test from 18 years ago.
"From the information we had at the time, I think I was for it," said Art Lupkes, 72, as he waited for Biden to arrive at a campaign office in Waterloo. "But it turned out that it was blown out of proportion, that there were no weapons of mass destruction. I feel like we really got swindled."
This weekend, the mood was not recrimination, but caution, with voters still processing the news and the risks of another war. While Saturday brought at least 70 impromptu antiwar rallies across the country, Iowa saw just one of them, a 100-person march in liberal Iowa City. At some of those rallies, activists criticized Democrats for calling Soleimani a murderer as they condemned the attacks, accusing them of feeding into the mind-set that led to war in the first place.
For many Democratic voters, it was more complicated. While Warren and Sanders criticized the very act of killing an Iranian official, voters tended to say that the problem was with the president. They had trusted President Barack Obama's judgment when he carried out 540 drone strikes without new congressional authorization.
"This smacks of more of a political assassination than a casualty in war," said Rory Baratta, 67, who had backed Sanders in 2016 but planned to support Biden in 2020 because of his perceived electability. "That's qualitatively different, no matter how bad the guy is. Now, if you asked me, had drones existed in 1939, should we have taken out Adolf Hitler? I'd say yes. But this is probably something which previous presidents have considered and decided against for good reasons."
Obama won the Democratic nomination despite making some calls that hawks considered naive, from his initial opposition to the Iraq War to a promise he made good on: diplomacy with Iran and no threat of "regime change." The debate about the Obama-Biden administration's use of drone warfare has led to Warren, Sanders and others supporting the end of the 2001 authorization of force that allowed that tactic in the first place.
But that debate has not gripped Democratic voters, who remember the Obama years as a time when they felt safe. Jan Bingham, 64, who has lived in Cedar Rapids for the past two years, said that her son was active duty in the military and that her first thought when hearing about possible escalation was about a president who might send him to war.
“He knows I keep up with the news and he texted me this morning and asked, ‘Are we going to be in war with Iran?’ " said Bingham. “I believe [Soleimani] is a horrible person, but then I read that Bush and Obama both had an opportunity to do the same thing and didn’t. I don’t believe anything [Trump] says. You’ve given me no reason to believe your credibility.” 
Bingham's worries had led her to Obama's partner in office, Biden, and away from a candidate who might dramatically change American foreign policy. "He’s got the experience," she said. "He’s got the relationships with leaders in the world. It’s got to be somebody that’s not so extreme.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed reporting.


"Killing of Iranian commander exposes Democratic divide over America’s role in the world," by Michael Scherer
How war fears are impacting the Democrats' race.
"Can the Bernie Sanders campaign alter the course of the Democratic Party?" by Ryan Grim
An incredibly deep dive into a new organizing strategy.
"Organizing for Warren in one of Iowa’s most rural counties," by Holly Bailey
What in-person voter mobilization looks like.
"The rise of a hollow political catchphrase," by John Patrick Leary
How "kitchen table issues" took over.
"Two endorsements highlight the quandary for Democrats as they look for a nominee," by Dan Balz
The two youngest members of Congress pick sides.
"The Senate is in play," by Jennifer E. Duffy
How the 2020 map changed last year.
"Crowded Democratic presidential field sprints toward ‘jump ball’ in crucial Iowa caucuses," by Michael Scherer
The big picture in the first state.


The latest on the impeachment of President Trump

Joe Biden, "Soul." The remarkably consistent Biden ad campaign continues with a spot that echoes the candidate's original announcement video, from nine months ago. "Everything that has made America America is at stake," Biden says. "We are in a battle for the soul of this nation." It closely resembles Biden's original launch video and seems to have been taken from the same session, with the former vice president wearing the same striped shirt in front of the same background.

Cory Booker, "We Will Win." Before this week, the senator from New Jersey had appeared on Iowans' TV screens only thanks to a super PAC. His first real campaign ad reintroduces him through the story of Newark, the city he ran from 2007 to 2013, arguing (as the previous PAC ad did) that he pulled a city out of recession into dramatic growth. It actually gets more into municipal experience than Pete Buttigieg's ad campaigns have, so far.
Elizabeth Warren, “Top Priority.” The last of Iowa’s four poll leaders to go on the air, Warren started running this spot over Christmas. It focuses entirely on her “anti-corruption” agenda, which (easy to forget) is slated to become her first legislative push if she becomes president. “I’m not selling  ambassadorships to donors,” she says. “I’m not cozying up to super PACs.”
Amy Klobuchar, “What It Takes.” A 60-second expansion of what Klobuchar has been saying on TV, this spot is even more direct about her make-it-all-stop appeal: “If you’re tired of the noise and the nonsense, you’ve got a home with me.”


Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Boone, Iowa, on Sunday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Iowa Democratic caucuses (CBS News/YouGov, 856 registered Democrats)
Bernie Sanders: 23% ( 1)
Joe Biden: 22% ( 1)
Pete Buttigieg: 21% ( 2)
Elizabeth Warren: 16% (-2)
Amy Klobuchar: 7% ( 2)
Tom Steyer: 2% (-)
Cory Booker: 2% ( 1)
Andrew Yang: 2% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% ( 1)
There had been no DNC-approved polling in any early state since Nov. 18, a drought that ended with CBS's first survey of Iowa for 2020. (A Des Moines Register/CNN/MediaCom poll appears to be in the field right now, release date unknown, but almost certainly before the Jan. 10 deadline for debate inclusion.) What had been happening in the meantime? Not too much, as everything visible in Iowa (crowd sizes, scrambled endorsements) was suggesting. 
The only real movement has come in candidates' favorable ratings and in how many Democrats are considering them. Two months ago, Warren trailed in Iowa, but 51 percent of Democrats were considering her and 24 percent pegged her as a second choice. Today, 46 percent of Democrats are considering her and 18 percent call her their second choice. That's really the most movement in the field; the percentage of Democrats considering Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, respectively, moved from 47 to 48 percent, 48 to 50 percent, and 48 to 51 percent.
New Hampshire Democratic primary (CBS News/YouGov, 856 registered Democrats)
Bernie Sanders: 27% ( 11)
Joe Biden: 25% ( 9)
Elizabeth Warren: 18% (-7)
Pete Buttigieg: 13% (-)
Amy Klobuchar: 7% (-)
Tom Steyer: 3% (-2)
Cory Booker: 3% ( 1)
Andrew Yang: 2% (-)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% (-)
Deval Patrick: 1% ( 1)
Now, that's movement. The last CBS polls of early states were conducted before Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California quit the race, but that alone doesn't account for the movement away from “undecided” and from Warren, who had led this poll in November. As in Iowa, she remains a popular second choice; she ties Sanders, 53 to 53, when voters are asked who they're considering. But two months ago, she led Sanders on that measure by 14 points. Here, as in Iowa, Sanders benefits from having the most excited base and from recovering “liberal” voters from Warren; she had broken away with them in November. One in four Democrats consider Sanders a “long shot” to win in November, while one in three say that about Warren.


Week by week, states are finishing up their ballot access chases, and not every Democrat is making it to the finish. In Ohio, Andrew Yang missed the ballot due to a technicality: His campaign failed to include a form "that signifies which candidate voters are providing their signatures for," according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Yang's campaign will run a write-in effort in Ohio, but the story in Illinois suggests that he may have missed a real opportunity. In that state, where Democrats are allowed to name the delegates they'd send to the convention if they win, just two candidates filled all 101 delegate slots: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden filled 98 of them, but Andrew Yang was next up, with 65 delegates, and Amy Klobuchar followed, with 63. Buttigieg filled slightly more than half of the slate, with 52 delegates. That has no bearing on the math in the coming primary; seven Democrats filed no delegates whatsoever, including Mike Bloomberg, the first candidate to advertise in the state.
Illinois and Ohio hold primaries March 17, though both have early voting underway before that.


If all goes according to plan, Democrats will gather in Des Moines in nine days for their first debate in any early-voting state. That plan was not built for an impeachment trial. There’s already chatter, but no real strategy, about moving the debate from Jan. 14 to assure that the three senators likely to qualify can still participate.
There are no good options, but a few less-bad options. The quadrennial Brown & Black Forum is scheduled to unfold on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20, and at least a few leading Democratic candidates are expected to attend. That would put them in Des Moines by midmorning on a Monday, when even an impeachment trial would probably be paused; the forum would be over hours before the debate, giving them a modicum of time to prepare. 
All of this depends on the impeachment schedule, which no one knows yet, and the DNC, which has refused to shuffle things around until and unless there's a reason to. There is no current labor dispute at Drake University, the host of the seventh debate, which makes a change from what Democrats confronted ahead of last month's debate in Los Angeles.


Joe Biden leaves a campaign field office in Waterloo, Iowa, on Saturday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Joe Biden. He's dispatching surrogates, the best-known of whom is former secretary of state John F. Kerry, for a "We Know Joe" tour of Iowa this week. He also received the endorsements of three House Democrats who picked up swing seats in 2018: Reps. Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia.
Bernie Sanders. He finished the weekend in Iowa while picking up an endorsement from New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Sanders had previously endorsed Williams's bid for lieutenant governor, while Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Williams in the heated public advocate race.
Pete Buttigieg. He held events across New Hampshire while national attention focused on the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani; on Sunday, he declined another chance (which he'd taken previously) to criticize Biden's Iraq War vote, focusing on his own "judgment" as a veteran. "My judgment is also informed by belonging to that generation that has lived through conflicts that we were told would be over in days or weeks and are continuing to this day," he said.
Elizabeth Warren. On Sunday, she made her first Sunday show appearances since the start of her campaign, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that she supports the USCMA update to NAFTA (opposed by Sanders) because of how Democrats have improved it and telling CNN's "State of the Union" that voters were "reasonably" asking whether the Soleimani strike was timed to help the president politically. While she's planning more events in New Hampshire this week, she has been advised that the impeachment trial could cancel them.
Cory Booker. He's slated to return to Iowa on Tuesday for more campaign stops, though he, too, may be at the mercy of an impeachment schedule.
Tulsi Gabbard. She's continuing to campaign through New Hampshire next week, with events through even when the House returns Tuesday. (Gabbard is retiring from the House this year.)
Andrew Yang. He'll be in New Hampshire from Wednesday through Sunday for canvass launches and town halls, one of the longest stretches any candidate has had in the state, though falling short of Gabbard's current tour.
Michael F. Bennet. His campaign made hay out of a Fox News interview that ran into an awkward "hard break," cutting off a point he was making about President Trump's "weak" foreign policy.
Deval Patrick. He's spending Monday and Tuesday in South Carolina; that state and New Hampshire have gotten the most attention from his late-starting campaign.
John Delaney. He's heavily focused on Iowa for the rest of this month, making stops in some small towns that no other Democrat has visited as part of a strategy to maximize rural votes despite falling out of the primary discussion.


In just a few weeks, early voting will begin in two closely watched battles between moderate Democratic congressmen and left-wing female challengers. And in the last few days, both of those incumbents left their left flanks exposed.
In Texas, where Rep. Henry Cuellar is fending off left-wing challenger Jessica Cisneros, the congressman praised the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Suleimani as a "necessary" step in combating Iran. That was consistent with his long-held positions, and it drew a fast rebuke from Cisneros.
“Unlike his Democratic colleagues, my opponent Henry Cuellar thinks we should be able to defy the AUMF and commit an act of war without Congressional approval,” Cisneros said in a statement to The Washington Post. “It’s not that surprising if you look closely. Rep. Cuellar is bought and paid for by the military industrial complex. He has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defense industry, including contractors like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and BAE Systems.”
In Illinois, where Rep. Daniel Lipinski is facing a rematch with activist Marie Newman, the congressman was one of two Democrats to co-sign an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to allow state abortion bans. That led to a direct attack from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lopsidedly won the part of the city in Lipinski's district — a part that the congressman won in 2018.
"I support a big tent but there's no room under the flaps for anyone who is actively seeking to deny women control over our bodies," Lightfoot tweeted. "Time to leave, [congressman]."
Texas votes March 3, while Illinois holds its primaries two weeks later.


... six days until the cutoff for the seventh Democratic debate
... 10 days until the seventh Democratic debate
... 15 days until the Iowa Brown & Black Forum
... 23 days until the special legislative election in Texas
... 29 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 37 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 48 days until the Nevada caucuses
... 56 days until the South Carolina primary

Dec 18, 2019

Congress peels back secrecy to review Trump hacking policy

By Joseph Marks

PowerPost Analysis
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

President Donald Trump answers reporters' questions. (Photo by Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
National security-focused lawmakers won the right yesterday to review the Trump administration’s muscular new offensive hacking policy after a nine-month battle, turning the tables on an administration that has resisted oversight of its cybersecurity policy.
The shift, which comes after the policy has already been used to justify hacking operations against Russia and Iran, marks a rare win for lawmakers who have pressed the administration to open up its cybersecurity work to broader oversight.
But it also comes amid concern in Congress that overeager Trump officials might stumble into a tit-for-tat digital conflict that harms U.S. businesses or even escalates into a conventional military fight. The administration has also eliminated top cybersecurity coordinator positions at the White House and State Department that might have acted as a check on operations that were poorly thought out.
“Given the sensitive nature of cyber operations and this administration’s dramatic shift in official cyber policy, this … was necessary to ensure proper congressional oversight,” Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who helped lead the bipartisan charge to disclose the hacking policy, told me.
Langevin and other lawmakers inserted a provision allowing Congress to review the policy called National Security Presidential Memorandum 13, or NSPM 13, into a mammoth $738 billion defense policy bill that cleared Congress yesterday and that also establishes a Space Force and parental leave for federal workers. Trump has pledged to sign the bill quickly.
The secret policy had been withheld for more than a year from lawmakers — even those who regularly review classified material. In general, it loosens the reins on military hackers to engage enemies under a far simpler approval process for actions that fall beneath a level that would cause death, destruction or significant economic impacts, individuals familiar with the policy told The Post last year.
When former national security adviser John Bolton announced the policy in September 2018, he pledged the United States would no longer sit by while Russia, China and Iran pummeled it in cyberspace. “Our hands are not tied as they were in the Obama administration,” he declared.
Bolton later boasted that U.S. hacks had successfully deterred Russia from interfering in the 2018 midterms and Trump himself approved a cyberstrike that disabled Iranian computer systems used to plan attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
The Obama administration didn’t ban offensive hacking by the military, but decisions about operations went through a far more rigorous review. That policy was also regularly reviewed by congressional overseers.
The shift to a more aggressive posture was good news even for many Democratic lawmakers and cybersecurity hawks who feared the Obama administration’s cautious approach to punching back in cyberspace had emboldened adversaries and was out of step with an increasingly dangerous digital world.
But Democrats and some Republicans were also worried the administration could easily go too far — especially without congressional oversight. And an escalating hacking conflict might pose outsize dangers for the United States, which is more reliant on the Internet than many of its adversaries.
“Cyber is a rapidly evolving domain of warfare, and Congress has to understand how any president is approaching it,” a Republican aide on the House Armed Services Committee told me.
He compared it to the authority to capture and kill enemy fighters outside of active war zones — an area where Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, demanded more congressional oversight in 2016.
“[Thornberry] sees this spectrum of very dynamic domains of warfare, of which cyber is one, where they move so fast that Congress really has to stay very current on how operations are being executed,” the aide said.
Thornberry was among the lawmakers who pushed for the Trump administration to be more transparent about its hacking policy along with committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Langevin, who leads the committee’s emerging threats panel, and that panel’s ranking Republican Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).

 Carter Page. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
PINGED: A secretive federal court charged with overseeing requests for surveillance warrants against foreign terrorists and spies slammed the FBI for misleading it in an application to monitor former Trump adviser Carter Page, my colleague Devlin Barrett reports. The court ordered the bureau to explain how it will avoid misleading it in the future.
It’s a rare public rebuke from the court that oversees the country's most sensitive national security cases and could cast doubt on other FBI investigations. The four-page order details 17 errors and omissions in the bureau's application to monitor the former Trump adviser.
The condemnation follows a report issued by the Justice Department inspector general last week that found an FBI lawyer manipulated evidence to back its case to monitor Page. The IG will now audit other FBI applications for abuse.
“The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported calls into question whether the information contained in other FBI applications is reliable,” Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wrote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE)
PATCHED: German lawmakers are delaying until next year a decision on whether to bar the Chinese firm Huawei from building portions of the country's next-generation 5G wireless networks, Reuters's Andreas Rinke and Holger Hansen report. The reprieve could agitate the White House, which has pushed European allies to ban Huawei, citing national security concerns.
The delay follows months of clashes between security-minded officials who worry Huawei could assist Beijing spying and pragmatists who fear barring the company could lead to years of delays and a far higher price tag for the 5G transition. All German phone and internet operators currently rely on Huawei gear.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
PWNED: Government agencies that ask for public feedback on their policy changes may be highly vulnerable to phony comments generated by computer bots and artificial intelligence, according to a study by a Harvard University undergraduate shared with the Cybersecurity 202.
The student Max Weiss submitted over 1,000 phony comments to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services online system seeking input on an Idaho Medicaid waiver -- none of which was flagged as phony. One reason they got through is because CMS doesn’t require users to fill in a CAPTCHA phrase or use other techniques to prove they're human, he said.
The loophole could allow malicious actors to outweigh authentic voices on a number of other serious policy debates.
Weiss’s comments were particularly difficult to spot as phony because he used artificial intelligence to make sure they didn’t repeat the same text. Ultimately, the faked comments comprised over half of the total public comments submitted to CMS about the proposal, though Weiss withdrew his comments after the experiment was over.
Fraudsters have flooded public comment systems before — most notably during the Federal Communications Commission's 2017 debate over net neutrality. Researchers eventually pressured the FCC into admitting it had been duped.
CMS said that it would look into the issue after Weiss alerted it to his findings last month. The agency did not respond by publication time to the Post's request for comment.


— Cybersecurity news from the public sector:
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen came in with the potential to be the most effective cyber leader in agency history—only to be sideswiped by the president’s fixation on the Mexican border.
Snowden, who leaked details of government surveillance programs, is charged with espionage but has remained exiled in Russia since 2013.
Rachel Weiner
Aides to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have exchanged messages via Signal, an encrypted-messaging app. Good-government advocates warn such apps can be used to hide records and communications from the public.
Wall Street Journal


— The Global Cyber Alliance launched a $750,000 initiative yesterday to provide free cybersecurity tool kits to election officials, news organizations and community groups among others. It was funded by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.
— More cybersecurity news from the private sector:
Ring lacks basic security features, making it easy for hackers to turn the company's cameras against its customers.
This is only the latest controversy for the video doorbell company.
By exploiting flaws in popular video conferencing hardware from DTEN, attackers can monitor audio, capture slides—and take full control of devices.


— Cybersecurity news from abroad:
Rancor has tried to break into the network of an unnamed Cambodian government organization and deploy their custom malware, according to Palo Alto Networks.
Sacking of Dusan Navratil adds to European controversies over Chinese technology giant. 

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