Lebron to Miami; The NSA Speaks; Cyber Advances; SWIFT Justice
The Night Beat pauses to note that LeBron James is joining the Miami Heat.
BULLETIN: A ruling on California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, is expected shortly from Judge Vaughn Walker. Today, the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Massachusetts. Short term: good for gays. Long term: "the kindling is there" for a backlash, says Jonathan Capehart. Americans accept civil unions; the courts won't go far ahead of the public.
THE BURNS BRIDGE: Hours after Russia officially denied accusations that it had run a network of illegals in the U.S., members of its national security cabinet opened the door to a potential spy swap with the U.S. Negotiations began almost immediately, according to U.S. officials. The "swap" -- a relic of the Cold War -- involves the 10 arrested last week and four Russians who allegedly spied for Western powers and had been imprisoned in Russia, including former Russian intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal, who had been recruited by Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, Igor Sutyagin, and Gennady Vasilenko, each of whom allegedly spied on Russia on behalf of the U.S. The Russian spies pled guilty in court today and began to leave the country. Vicky Pelaez, a U.S. citizen, agreed to leave the U.S. forever unless the attorney general agrees to let her back in. The U.S. made sure to include a proviso requiring the Russian spies to hand over any profits they make from selling the rights to their stories.
NSA SPEAKS!: The National Security Agency responded, on the record, to a story in today's Wall Street Journal about its "Perfect Citizen" industry assistance program. From spokesperson Judith Emmel:
Today's Wall Street Journal article by Siobhan Gorman, titled "US Plans Cyber Shield for Utilities, Companies," is an inaccurate portrayal of the work performed at the National Security Agency. Because of the high sensitivity surrounding what we do to defend our nation, it is inappropriate to confirm or deny all of the specific allegations made in the article. We will, however, provide the following facts: PERFECT CITIZEN is purely a vulnerabilities-assessment and capabilities-development contract. This is a research and engineering effort. There is no monitoring activity involved, and no sensors are employed in this endeavor. Specifically, it does not involve the monitoring of communications or the placement of sensors on utility company systems. This contract provides a set of technical solutions that help the National Security Agency better understand the threats to national security networks, which is a critical part of NSA's mission of defending the nation. Any suggestions that there are illegal or invasive domestic activities associated with this contracted effort are simply not true. We strictly adhere to both the spirit and the letter of U.S. laws and regulations.
CYBER ADVANCES: Some news and nuggets out of today's Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's cyber conference in Washington:
-- The Department of Homeland Security is still finishing its national cyber incident response plans. That means, in essence, that if there's an attack tomorrow, there's no formal checklist in place to determine who responds and how.
-- The Center for Strategic and International Studies, which produced a very influential report on cyber security two years ago, will soon release an update. According to someone who has been briefed on its content, it will include a recommendation that internet service providers start to segregate users who bring malware and viruses onto their networks.
REID'S THE HERO: Discussions between the staffs of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee continue in the hopes of coming to an agreement about a unified cyber security bill. Prodding these staffs along: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has asked each committee chair to figure out what the bills have in common, where they differ, and what problems need refereeing. Reid's influence has been enormously gratifying to members of the committees. How did Reid get interested in cyber security? It's not entirely clear, but he did read an early draft of Richard Clarke's latest book on the topic. I'll have more on the cyber legislation tomorrow.
OVERLOOKED: In February, the European Union rejected a new Terrorist Tracking Program Treaty, cutting off U.S. access to the SWIFT banking transaction system in Brussels on the grounds that the U.S. needs to do more to protect the financial privacy of European citizens. Five months' worth of intense negotiations conducted at high levels of government produced a breakthrough: on August 1, the U.S. will regain its SWIFT access, albeit with new privacy protections. European courts will get some veto power over the use of SWIFT evidence, and the EU will send an official to Washington to monitor the U.S.'s use of the data. The U.S. was represented primarily by John Brennan, the President's chief counterterrorism adviser, and
Stuart Levey, the undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial crimes. Also, according to an administration official, VP Joe Biden's May speech to the European Parliament was critical in convincing its members that the U.S. understood the privacy issues and was committed to working out language that resolved them.
PROP. POLLS: The Atlantic.com's Chris Good reports that, tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. EST (6 a.m. Pacific), Field Research Corporation releases its first round of polling on four California ballot initiatives: Prop. 19, allowing counties to legalize marijuana; Prop. 23, preventing cap-and-trade or any law requiring the monitoring and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; Prop. 25, allowing budgets to pass the state legislature with only a simple majority, rather than two-thirds; and Prop. 18, an $11-billion water bond measure to overhaul the state's water system. The marijuana initiative has polled well this year, with an automated SurveyUSA poll showing 56 percent support to 42 percent opposition in April. Prop. 23 is heavily funded by the oil industry, though the opposition coalition includes big-name Silicon Valley players as well as Governor Schwarzenegger. California's always been ahead of the curve on climate, so watch to see if voters buy the oil industry's argument that the state can't afford to reduce emissions right now, and that doing so would only amount to a drop in the bucket, reports Nicole Allan.
COOK PRE-PORT: The first paragraph from Charlie Cook's latest column, out tomorrow on National Journal.com:
The pain and hardship experienced by Americans weathering the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression undoubtedly muted last weekend's Independence Day celebrations. Unemployment and underemployment are weighing heavily on people, as are worries about depleted savings for retirement and education and anxieties about their future and their children's future. Early positive signs -- "green shoots," in economic parlance -- turned out to be premature, and it now looks more likely that the U.S. economy is in for an excruciatingly slow return to normalcy. Here's hoping that the most recent batch of bad economic news is just a soft patch, a typical occurrence in frustratingly long recoveries, and not an indication that economic growth is so weak that we may be sliding back into recession. Though no one is content with these tough economic times, Democrats have the most to lose politically if things don't turn around soon. Democratic fortunes this November are inextricably linked to the economy. When one party controls government, voters view the midterm elections more as a referendum on the party in power than as a choice between candidates. Any notion to the contrary is wishful thinking, or even fantasy.
-- This weekend, the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets and might vote on changing superdelegate rules and finalizing its primary calendar.
-- 58 percent of Republican political insiders surveyed by National Journal believe there's a "high" chance that the GOP takes control of the House in November. 49 percent of Democrats believe there's a "moderate" chance.
-- Next Tuesday, the White House releases its National HIV/AIDS Strategy, focused on 1) "reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV, 2) increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes for people living with HIV, and 3) reducing HIV-related health disparities."