The Early Edition: December 15, 2016

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in interfering with the US presidential election, senior US officials told NBC News’ William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian and Cynthia McFadden.

The Intelligence Community refused to provide the House Intelligence Committee with a requested briefing on Russian interference with the US election, referring to the ongoing review of the issue requested by President Obama, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

Donald Trump may have known that Russia was behind the hacks on the presidential election when he invited Russia to uncover Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, the White House suggested yesterday, Nolan D. McCaskill reporting at POLITICO.

“The Russians” hacked into US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s campaign trail account, he said. [BBC]

The claim that Russia interfered in the election has been repeated so often it’s easy to forget that no one has actually truly proven that the group behind the attacks was the Russian government or its agent, Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept.

President-elect Donald Trump’s vilification of US intelligence agencies risks having a discouraging effect on American spies and undermining the moral authority of their leaders, former CIA director Michael Hayden said yesterday, Julian Borger reporting at the Guardian.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson has said he does not support sanctions “generally,” not just against Russia, signalling a deeper change in US foreign policy, points out Daniel W. Drezner at the Washington Post.

National sovereignty is not a bargaining chip, the Chinese ambassador to the US said yesterday in what David Lawder at Reuters suggests was a veiled warning to incoming President Donald Trump.

China should plan to take Taiwan by force and begin preparations for a military incursion, was the message from state-controlled newspaper the Global Times following Trump’s recent breach of diplomatic protocol in the region. Benjamin Haas reports at the Guardian.

The EU is ready for a more deal-oriented relationship with the US under President Trump which will not prevent cooperation on a wide range of issues including the Iran nuclear deal, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday, Laurence Norman and Julian E. Barnes reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is confident that the US will stay central to the coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under President Trump, he said today, Robert Burns reporting at the AP.

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric was “positive regarding terrorism,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Russian state television aired yesterday, Ishaan Tharoor reports at the Washington Post.

Trump made it clear he wants to join the Russian side in the Syrian war, and that he is resolutely opposed to the Iranian side – but the central contradiction lying at the heart of Trump’s foreign policy goals is that Russia and Iran are on the same side, Michael Weiss writes at The Daily Beast.

A review of the security clearance of Trump’s incoming White House security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn by the Obama administration was requested by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Jeanne Shaheen on account of Flynn’s reported record of “mishandling classified intelligence,” Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.

Flynn “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign military officers in Afghanistan according to a secret military investigation in 2010, Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

Flynn’s career has involved multiple violations of rules intended to protect national security, Tim Mak and Asawin Suebsaeng at The Daily Beast writing that this exposes both Flynn’s own hypocrisy – he was fond of chanting “Lock her up!” at Trump campaign rallies, referring to opponent Hillary Clinton – and the double standards of a system that overlooks security breaches by high-ranking individuals while punishing those lower down.

The breakdown of US-Russia relations under President Obama could pose a nuclear risk and will be an early test for Donald trump’s aspirations for friendly ties to Moscow, Robert Burns writes at the AP.

Members of Trump’s campaign entourage are turning up in Moscow, Lucian Kim observes at NPR.

Trump’s stated intention to protect US infrastructure from cyberattacks in his 100-day plan is a good start, but there are five other cybersecurity priorities his administration must deal with, according to Carl Herberger writing at the Hill.

Deal-by-deal negotiator Donald Trump may prefer to run a case-by-case foreign policy, an approach that puts at risk the US’s foreign policy framework, writes Robert Zoellick at the Financial Times.

SYRIA

The Syrian army prepared for the evacuation of the last rebels in Aleppo today, an operation the AFP says seals Assad’s victory in Syria’s second city.

A new cessation of hostilities was agreed to late yesterday, after the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey collapsed under disagreements over the terms and the Assad regime’s resumption of airstrikes on the last of the rebel-held parts of Aleppo, Raja Abdulrahim and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.

Residents in eastern Aleppo are beginning to board buses and ambulances that crossed over from government territory just after midday today local time, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AP]

Syrian government soldiers shot at ambulances attempting to evacuate people from eastern Aleppo today, killing at least one person, Laila Bassam, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Tom Perry report at Reuters.

A fake photo was presented to the UN Security Council by the Syrian ambassador to the UN in an attempt to positively portray Assad regime forces in Aleppo, Al Jazeera reports.

The US will strike the Islamic State in Palmyra if Assad regime forces fail to retake the city, the commander in charge of the US-led coalition Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said. Paul Sonne reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkish and Syrian demonstrators gathered outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul to lay the blame on Tehran for the breakdown of the initial Aleppo ceasefire deal last night, the AP reports.

With Assad’s recapturing of Aleppo marking the latest horrific chapter for Aleppo, the AP takes a look at key events in the city since March 2011.

Assad’s recapturing of Aleppo serves as a stark example of the US’s pullback in the Middle East while Russia and its partners intervened to drive forward events in the now almost six-year war, US, European and Arab officials said. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Maria Abi-Habib]

The Syrian conflict is not a “civil war,” as the UN, Western governments and media and the EU repeatedly refer to it, granting the Assad regime a veneer of legitimacy in doing so, writes Hanin Ghaddar at the Washington Post.

The battle of Aleppo represents a meltdown of the West’s moral and political will and a humiliating display of American weakness that will haunt humanity, writes the Washington post editorial board.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 13. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

LIBYA

Libya’s Sirte is a test of how the Islamic State will react – and possibly adapt – when it loses its remaining territory in Iraq and Syria, suggests the Economist.

YEMEN

US cluster bombs continue to be used in Yemen despite being banned by 119 countries, Alex Emmons and Mohammed Ali Kalfood report at The Intercept.

RUSSIA

Russia and Japan agreed to resume “2-plus-2” ministerial talks on defense and diplomacy following a meeting between President Putin and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Nagato city in Japan today, the AP reports.

The US accelerated the deployment of troops to Poland, the Baltic states and Romania as part of an effort to raise security in the region, officials confirmed. Though NATO and the US insist the military presence is not aimed at anyone in particular, Russia threatened measures in response. [Al Jazeera]

Russia will expand its missile patrols in the European part of Russia and will double its number of missile tests next year, Russian state media cited Col.-Gen. Sergei Karakayev as saying today. [Reuters]

The EU will reach an agreement that deals with the Netherlands’ concerns over a deal establishing closer ties with Ukraine, bloc leaders said today, mindful of the fact that failure to do so would hand a victory to Russia. Gabriela Baczynska and Robert-Jan Bartunek report at Reuters.

Sweden is likely to reject a Russian request to rent harbor space on Gotland, Sweden’s militarily strategic island in the Baltic Sea, over concerns that it may harm its defense and political interests, David Keyton reports at the AP.

The Cold War notions of “fake news” and “Soviet-style propaganda” are back on the table, and whether or not the Kremlin is doing all the things the West says it is, Russia’s reputation as a “master purveyor of geopolitical disorder” is a win for Putin, writes David Filipov at the Washington Post.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China installed antiaircraft and other weapons on all seven islands it has built in the South China Sea according to the US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which said late yesterday that satellite imagery showed that the installations took place in recent months. Jeremy Page reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Such defenses represent a serious deterrent against attack by the US or another nation and undermine earlier assurances by Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing does not intend to militarize the islands, Ben Bland writes at the Financial Times.

COLOMBIA

Five mid-level FARC commanders were expelled from the rebel group for refusing to demobilize and join the peace deal, Sibylla Brodzinsky reports at the Guardian.

The FARC urged its other members not to pursue the “futureless path” pursued by the commanders, one of whom took part in the peace negotiations in the Cuban capital Havana for almost four years. [BBC]

GUANTANAMO BAY

A request to order four key CIA officers to testify in relation to alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s waterboarding was made by defense lawyers representing him at pretrial hearings, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

As President Obama’s term comes to an end, his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay will almost certainly not happen, leaving the men still held there uncertain as to their futures, and the military in an awkward position, writes Ben Fox at the AP.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Data from over 1 billion Yahoo customers was compromised in Aug. 2013, Yahoo confirmed yesterday, making it the largest breach in history. The Guardian’s Sam Thielman reports.

Washington must help the private sector to resist cyberattacks, argues Andrea Limbago at POLITICO.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has kept a classified blog called “Intercept” during his tenure that is only accessible to those within the intelligence community with clearance to access the government interlink site, Jeremy Scahill writes at the – entirely unconnected – Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama declined to sign a renewal of sanctions against Iran but allowed it to become law anyway, Josh Lederman reports at the AP, suggesting the move was an attempt to alleviate Iran’s concerns that the US is backing off from the nuclear deal.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren will joined the Armed Services Committee in 2017, a boost to her foreign policy and defense credentials, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.

Afghan torture victims who gave evidence against notorious warlord Faryadi Sarwar Zardad were put at risk after UK authorities failed to warn them or offer protection on his release and deportation to Afghanistan yesterday, Human Rights Watch said. The Guardian’s Sune Engel Rasmussen and Emma Graham-Harrison report.

Teenagers have become some of Boko Haram’s deadliest weapons, last Friday’s attack by two girls on a crowded market in Madagali, which hilled 56, a prime example, Philip Obaji Jr. writes at The Daily Beast. 

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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