The Early Edition: December 12, 2016

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.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team released a damning and “stunning” response to the CIA Friday following reports it had concluded that Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win, CNN’s Stephen Collinson and Elise Labott report.

The Kremlin did not even bother to deny allegations that it assisted Donald Trump to presidential victory by interfering in the election campaign, instead letting the President-elect do the talking, David Filipov and Andrew Roth write at the Washington Post.

“If the US president doesn’t believe his own intelligence officials, why should anyone else?” The spy community is disturbed by Trump’s insult-leaden dismissal of the CIA’s conclusions that Russia hacked the US election to help him, some fearing his public rebukes will undermine morale and public perception, write POLITICO’s Nahal Toosi and Darren Samuelsohn.

Trump’s cavalier response to fears that Russia intervened in the US election only deepens them, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes at the Washington Post.

Trump’s comments marked an escalation of tensions between the President-elect and US intelligence services, and if he continues to shun intelligence briefings, it will amplify the importance of other administration figures such as vice-president-elect Mike Pence, Geoff Dyer writes at the Financial Times.

US spy and law enforcement agencies agreed that the Russia government had hacked the election campaign but disagreed about the specific goals of the deception, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau write at the New York Times.

The CIA was “direct and unqualified” about Russia’s intentions to help Trump, while the FBI’s official presentation to the House Intelligence Committee was “fuzzy” and “ambiguous,” the FBI uncertain whether Russia’s interference was a purposeful effort to alter the results, the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous report.

The forming of a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the US presidential election was called for by four powerful US senators – two from each side of the aisle – yesterday, F. Brinley Bruton, Matthew Johnson and Phil McCausland report at NBC News.

Members of Congress were briefed in September on the Russian threat to the election campaign, yet little appears to have been done to stop President Putin’s efforts to put Donald Trump in the White House, writes Aki Peritz at The Daily Beast.

It’s not hard to see why Russia would be tempted to interfere in the US election: Hillary Clinton’s promises to punish Moscow for war crimes in Syria and Ukraine, and others, versus Donald Trump the “malleable political novice,” writes the New York Times editorial board.

Let’s not forget that Putin believes Hillary Clinton interfered in his election in 2011, former US ambassador to the Kremlin Michael McFaul said yesterday, who believes Putin wanted to get revenge against Clinton by helping Trump. [The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann]

The accusations against Russia are based exclusively on unverified statements by anonymous officials in turn based on evidence that remains entirely secret – no substitute for actual evidence, writes Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, insisting on the importance of keeping in mind the basic facts about what is known and what is not known.

This much stronger acknowledgement of Russian interference demands a vigorous investigation by Congress and the intelligence community, and is a concern not just for the US but for all liberal democracies, according to the Financial Times.

The CIA’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election but did not ultimately place the credibility of the result in doubt may have implications for the integrity of elections in Europe and the UK’s Brexit result, suggests Simon Tisdall at the Guardian.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

China has “serious concern” about President-elect Donald Trump’s comment that he does not feel “bound by a one-China policy,” the AP reports.

China flew a nuclear-capable bomber of the disputed South China Sea, a move US officials call a warning to Donald Trump, the Independent’s Jon Sharman reports.

Trump is not the first President-elect to question the one China policy – the 44-year-old diplomatic understanding between the US and its biggest rival – but his suggestion that it could be used as a bargaining chip to correct Chinese behavior sets him apart, Mark Lander writes at the New York Times.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes his country and the US will work together to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement under Trump’s presidency, he said in an interview aired yesterday. [AP]

It is unlikely that Trump will rip up the Iran nuclear deal, Rupert Stone argues at Al Jazeera.

Syrian civilian opposition leaders quietly visited Washington to meet with lawmakers and experts connected to Trump last week to try to convince him that he needs Syria’s rebels as much as they need him, Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.

US allies in the Persian Gulf states are worried about peace in the region following Donald Trump’s election victory, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said yesterday. [Reuters]

Most participants at the mid-November Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate held by the Emirates Policy Center and the Atlantic Council were upbeat about Donald Trump’s impending presidency, repeatedly referring to the failure of President Obama to deal with the threat posed by Iran, Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby report at the Wall Street Journal.

The mayor of Jerusalem is optimistic that the US will move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to his city “sooner rather than later” once Trump becomes president, Rick Gladstone examining this “diplomatically vexing” issue at the New York Times.

Rex Tillerson, tipped to be Donald Trump’s secretary of state, run’s the world’s most valuable oil company and is known for his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, observes the BBC.

“Selection of Tillerson is a sensation,” the head of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee Aleksey Pushkov tweeted on Saturday. [The Hill’s Brooke Seipel]

Does Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin know that key to US foreign policy is the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control that regulates the economic sanctions regimes against foreign governments? Pamela S. Falk at the Hill points out that little attention has been paid to what Mnuchin can do to put into effect Trump’s “repeal and replace” agenda to unwind Obama administration policies affecting Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Russia among others.

“Civilizational conflict.” President-elect Donald Trump is about to lead the West into the third and “darkest” phase of its mission to eradicate the threat of Islamist extremism, with an approach that rejects both George W. Bush’s “freedom initiative” and President Obama’s “repentful dialogue,” Jackson Deihl writes at the Washington Post.

Doubts over Trump’s foreign policy direction may act as a spur for European leaders to reassert their own value base and take on the burden of their own security, argues Dr Maxine David, Lecturer in European Politics at Leiden University. [EUROPP]

As the Trump administration prepares to take office, there is a chance to reset and also reconsider some of the US’ increasingly complicated foreign-policy relationships with Middle Eastern countries, suggest Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Jonathan Schanzer at POLITICO.

SYRIA

The Islamic State retook the ancient city of Palmyra yesterday, Maria Abi-Habib and Noam Raydan at the Wall Street Journal calling it an embarrassing setback for Syrian government troops and their Russian allies.

Syrian government troops control 98 per cent of Aleppo, they said today, Sarah El Deeb reporting at the AP.

Assad’s forces are in the “final stages” of recapturing Aleppo, a Syrian general said today, after the bombardment of rebel areas continued non-stop overnight. [Reuters’ Laila Bassam and Lisa Barrington report]

More than 10,000 civilians have left rebel-held parts of Aleppo for areas under government control in the past 24 hours, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AFP reports.

“Show a little grace” and allow civilians and rebels to safely evacuate the rebel’s fast-shrinking conclave in Aleppo, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia on Saturday. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

The US is sending 200 more troops to Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed yesterday. [The Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov]

Leaflets dropped on the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab by the Turkish army urged civilians to seek shelter as Turkish-backed rebels close in on the city, Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler report at Reuters.

IRAQ

Kurdish Peshmerga forces are making plans for a permanent presence in the town of Mosul, raising the possibility of a new battle over the region once the Islamic State has been removed, Missy Ryan and Aaso Ameen Shwan report at the Washington Post.

Mosul’s civilians continued to be killed and maimed by indirect fire, clashes and counterattacks as Iraqi forces announce daily advances into the city, reports Susannah George at the AP.

TURKEY

The little-known Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for two bombings in central Istanbul on Saturday night that killed 44 people and wounded about 150, Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu report at Reuters.

Turkish fighter jets targeted the militants around 11p.m. local time last night, hitting 12 different targets in the Zap region of northern Iraq, CNN’s Max Blau reports.

Dozens of individuals linked to a Kurdish opposition party were detained in country-wide raids in Turkey today, the AP reports.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a statement condemning the attack and expressing his condolences to the families affected, the AP reports.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The US delivered F-35 fighter jets to Israel to help boost its air superiority in the region, CNN reports.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Israel today as it prepared to receive the jets, Robert Burns reports at the AP.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Guantánamo Bay parole board approved the release of Yemeni “forever prisoner” Salman Rabeii in a Dec. 1 decision, meaning that 21 detainees could now leave the prison before President Obama leaves office, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suicide bomber at a military base in Yemen’s southern city of Aden killed at least 48 soldiers Saturday, Ali al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan report at the Washington Post.

A bomb detonated at Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral yesterday killed at least 25 people, the largest attack on a Christian house of worship in Egypt since 2011, no group claiming responsibility for the attack so far. [Wall Street Journal’s Dahlia Kholaif and Tamer El-Ghobashy]

At least 16 people were killed in a suicide truck bombing outside the Somali capital of Mogadishu yesterday, al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for the attack. [AFP]

Two girls believed to be aged seven or eight were used to bomb a market in northeastern Nigeria, killing at least one other person, the BBC reporting that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police in London arrested six people on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism today, the BBC reports.

Two British men who gave £3,000 to Brussels terrorist attack suspect “man in the hat” Mohamed Abrini are due to be sentenced today in London. [Press Association]

Former Portuguese prime minister António Gterres will be sworn in as UN Secretary-General today, succeeding Ban Ki-moon who steps down at the end of the month. [UN News Centre] 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE