The Early Edition: December 13, 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

The Office of the Director of National Intellgence (ODNI) has not endorsed the CIA’s analysis of Russia’s hacking operations because of a lack of conclusive evidence that it intended to give Trump an advantage over his opponent Hillary Clinton, three US officials told Reuters’ Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay yesterday.

More information on ongoing investigations into President-elect Trump’s relationship with Russia by US intelligence officials has been requested by ten Electoral College electors, the Hill’s Jennifer Calfas reports.

Trump will not try to interfere with any congressional investigation into reports of Russian interference in the election campaign, his top adviser Kellyanne Conway said last night, the Hill’s Cyra Master reports.

Reasons why the CIA’s conclusions differ from those of the FBI include the fact that FBI agents are trained to develop evidence that will be presented in court, where the burden of proof is higher than a typical intelligence assessment, Carrie Johnson explains at NPR.

“High confidence” is not just hyperbole, retired Adm. James Stavridis, the fomer Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said yesterday, defending the CIA’s assessment of Russia’s interference in the elections, the Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.

What is known so far about this election-hacking story that seems to compliment the current state of politics and a national mood that is tense, paranoid and subjective? Philip Ewing sets out the facts at NPR.

We have to demand that President Obama declassify as much intelligence as possible that Russia may have intervened in the presidential election if we’re serious about being a self-governing republic, write Jeremy Scahill and Jon Schwarz at The Intercept.

If Russian President Putin actually helped elect a US president more favourable to Russian interests, that is “surely the largest intelligence coup since the cracking of the Enigma code during World War II,” writes Michael Gerson at the Washington Post.

The new president’s relationship with the intelligence community will be affected a lot, and not well, by Trump’s reaction to reports of the CIA’s belief that Russia interfered with the election, predicts Michael V. Hayden at the Washington Post.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson has been named secretary of state by President-elect Donald Trump, Lauren Gambino reports at the Guardian.

The choice of Tillerson sets up a potential confrontation with Trump’s own party members in the Senate who are concerned about his years of work in Russia and the Middle East on behalf of his multinational petroleum company, Steven Mufson, Philip Rucker and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

While he’s an able executive, Tillerson has cut enough deals with Russia over the last 20 years to be awarded its Order of Friendship and  has been a staunch opponent of sanctions against Russia – coupled with the lack of transparency over Donald Trump’s own relations with Russia, senators are right to be wary of the Tillerson nomination, suggests that Washington Post editorial board.

Any attempts to damage China’s core interest would be self-detrimental to the US, China’s foreign minister said late yesterday following Trump’s suggestion that he may use US-Taiwan relations as a bargaining chip against China, Nomaan Merchant reports at the AP.

“Pride goes before a fall.” China’s state-controlled newspaper the Global Times delivered this warning to President-elect Donald Trump last night, adding that Trump’s remarks demonstrate that he “despises China strategically.”

What is the One China policy? Tim Mitchell at the Financial Times explains the policy at the heart of Sino-US relations since 1972 that President-elect Trump suggested he may scrap.

Trump’s suggestion that he may use America’s recognition of Beijing as leverage for trade and other deals puts him dangerously close to touching China’s bottom line, writes Christopher Bodeen at the AP, who takes a closer look at the sensitive issue of Taiwan in US-China relations.

Donald Trump signalled an approach to the Middle East that includes an end to efforts to remove Syrian President Assad, a partnership with Russia in the region, a warmer relationship with Egypt and a hostile approach to Iran in his speech in Cincinnati a few days ago, observes Gerald F. Seib at the Wall Street Journal.

Pakistan is preparing for an unpredictable new phase in its “wary but enduring” partnership with the US with the impending Trump presidency, writes Pamela Constable at the Washington Post.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to meet Donald Trump at any time, he said today. [AP]

Both Trump and Putin use denial as a tactic, treating reality as something that can be moulded or dismissed, Liz Wahl writes at The Daily Beast, with examples.

Republican lawmakers are increasingly against Trump on a number of important domestic and national security issues, Karoun Demirjian, Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe calling it a sign that the GOP-led Congress may resist some features of his agenda at the Washington Post.

Fears that Trump’s prolific tweeting could pose a genuine national security threat are growing as he prepares to take on the presidency, POLITICO’s Nahal Toosi reports.

Trump’s appointments, tweets and phone calls can only hint at future changes to America’s relationship with the world, which will only happen once he is actually sworn into office, writes Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times, in the meantime identifying five big choices that face the President-elect.

Before Trump dispenses with daily intelligence briefings, he should remember Oct. 19, 1962, when they helped Kennedy avoid a nuclear war, writes Josh Zeitz at POLITICO.

SYRIA

The Assad regime took full control of all districts of Aleppo formerly held by rebels today, a Syrian military source confirmed. [Reuters’ Laila Bassam]

Government forces entered homes in the remaining rebel strongholds in eastern Aleppo and killed civilians on the spot, the UN has said, confirming it has received reports that 82 civilians had been killed. Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that mass atrocities have already begun in the city, including the immolation of citizens, Michael Weiss, Roy Gutman and Alex Rowell report at The Daily Beast.

Thousands of civilians fled the front lines of fighting in Aleppo today with Turkey and Russia due to meet to attempt to set up an exit corridor according to a senior Turkish official. [Reuters’ Laila Bassam and Orhan Coskun]

The international community and aid agencies appealed for the lives of the thousands of civilians who have “nowhere safe to run” in Aleppo as Syrian government forces prepared to take the last rebel holdouts in the besieged city this morning, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

Air strikes and a suspected gas attack near the Islamic State-controlled city of Palmyra have killed dozens of people, the BBC reports.

A lack of cooperation between Western allies, particularly the US, led to the defeat in Palmyra, the Kremlin said yesterday. [AFP]

Putin lets Palmyra fall to the Islamic State while helping Assad take Aleppo. The two events are related, and not in a good way, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Iran and Turkey held secret talks on peace options for Syria this year and back in 2013, but they broke down under the pressure of mutual suspicions, according to a report on the Iran-Turkey relationship by the International Crisis Group to be published today, Julian Borger reporting at the Guardian.

IRAQ

The people of Mosul lived in darkness and dread under the Islamic State, reports Lori Hinnant at the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 11. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

There is a chance to resolve a 70-year territorial dispute that has prevented Russia and Tokyo from signing a treaty formally ending World War II, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists today. [AP]

Sanctions imposed by the West after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea stand in the way of talks on a peace treaty with Japan, Russian media reported Putin as saying today. [Reuters]

Sanctions against Russia over Crimea must be extended, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today. [Reuters]

The US’s failure to provide vital aid to the Soviet Union as it broke up 25 years ago wasted an opportunity to build a safe world, former and last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev told the AP’s Kate De Pury and Vladimir Isachenkov.

TURKEY

Turkish counterterrorism police detained two lawmakers of the People’s Democratic Party today in the wake of the twin suicide bombings in Istanbul on Saturday, the AP reports.

Erdoğan’s all-out military drive against the Kurdistan Workers Party could aid his efforts to consolidate power since it leaves little political space for a national debate on constitutional reform and will likely lead to greater repression of the media, Roy Gutman writes at POLITICO.

EUROPE

UK counterterrorism investigators believe they prevented a “significant plot” to attack the UK that was influenced by the Islamic State when they arrested six people this week, the Guardian’s Vikram Dodd reports.

Neo-Nazi group National Action has become the first extreme far-right group to be outlawed under antiterrorism laws introduced in the UK sixteen years ago, Nicholas Winning reports at the Wall Street Journal.

THE SENATE TORTURE REPORT

President Obama is archiving his copy of the Senate Torture Report on CIA interrogations in secret overseas prisons, suggesting it will be made public in 2028, a letter disclosed Monday reveals, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

A comprehensive chronicle of abuses committed by the US government following 9/11 should be declassified, argues the New York Times editorial board.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A second set of records relating to human rights abuses committed during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship was declassified by the US government yesterday, the AP reports.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani ordered the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin planning the development of nuclear marine propulsion today in response to what he called America’s violation of the nuclear deal, Reuters reports.

The US, South Korea and Japan promised to implement new sanctions against North Korea in an effort to stop its nuclear weapons program today, the AP reports.

Declaring the Islamic Movement of Nigeria an insurgent group is a dangerous move that could turn into a security nightmare in Nigeria, and is reminiscent of how the Nigerian government deals with Boko Haram when it was in its infancy in Maiduguri, Thembisa Fakude writes at Al Jazeera. 

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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