The Early Edition: December 16, 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

Russian President Putin supervised the hacking of the US election and rerouted it from a general effort to undermine American democracy to a specific attempt to help Donald Trump win, three US officials told Reuters yesterday.

President Obama will “take action” against Russia for its alleged hacking of the US presidential election campaign “at a time and place of our own choosing,” he said, adding that “some of [the retaliation] may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.” [Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin]

The Obama administration did not react forcefully to alleged Russian hacking before because it did not want to appear to be interfering in the election and it thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win, numerous government officials told NBC News’ William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian, Robert Windrem and Cynthia McFadden.

US accusations that Russia interfered with the presidential election are “unseemly” in light of the lack of evidence, President Putin’s spokesperson said today. [AP]

Russian hackers attempted to hack the computer networks of the Republican National Committee but failed to breach security defenses, according to US officials. Shane Harris, Devlin Barrett and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Hacked DNC documents sent by WikiLeaks to reporters at Gawker and the Hill may have come from Russia, but he is confident that the emails he received did not come from the same source, founder Julian Assange said, Sean Hannity reporting.

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council is facing scrutiny over a tweet she sent suggesting the Russian president hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, CNN’s Daniella Diaz reports.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest is a “foolish guy,” President-elect Donald Trump declared yesterday following Earnest’s criticizing of him for refusing to accept intelligence that Russia interfered in the presidential election, Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.

The hacking of John Podesta and other Democratic figures seems to be the latest manifestation of a disturbing new trend of states combining the techniques of hackers and whistleblowers in a new kind of information warfare, Ian Katz observes at the BBC.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

New York bankruptcy lawyer and West Bank settlement supporter David M. Friedman is Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

Trump’s apparent pick for deputy secretary of state John Bolton is arguably the person most responsible for concealing the truth about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, rendering Trump’s reaction to the Russian election hacking news from “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” “obviously and ludicrously insincere,” suggests Jon Schwarz at The Intercept.

Trump’s approach to Syria may be a viable alternative to the Obama administration’s failed strategy, argues Michael O’Hanlon at the Wall Street Journal.

Will Trump move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Unlike previous presidents who have threatened to do so, Trump emphasized the issue “loudly and proudly” even after his campaign was over, write Andrew Hanna and Yousef Saba at POLITICO.

European leaders approved plans to increase military spending, partly in response to pressure from the incoming Trump administration to take more responsibility for the EU’s defense, Julian E. Barnes and Laurence Norman report at the Wall Street Journal.

Defense contractors have been put on notice that the incoming administration means to put new emphasis on cutting costs at the Pentagon by Trump’s criticism of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, write Kristina Wong and Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.

US allies who depend on America for security and prosperity are shaken by Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Trump doing little to allay their fears, writes the Economist.

Whether Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric extends to protecting American citizens who are persecuted by supposed US allies will be tested by the case of  American Aya Hizaji currently imprisoned in Egypt despite calls from the White House and State Department for her release, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

SYRIA

The Syrian government suspended civilian evacuations from eastern Aleppo today, blaming rebels for breaking the terms of the ceasefire by opening fire on buses carrying people out of the area, the BBC reports.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all parties in Syria to resume evacuations from Aleppo via Twitter today, the AP reports.

Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdoğan are attempting to broker a new round of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan, Putin said today. [AP]

Secretary of State John Kerry maintained the US position that a diplomatic resolution is the best way forward in Syria yesterday, accusing the Assad regime of carrying out a “massacre” in Aleppo. Nolan D. McCaskill reports at POLITICO.

Kerry called for President Assad to participate in negotiations to end the massacre, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reports.

Russia hailed a “victory over terrorism” following Aleppo’s recapture by Assad’s forces, dismissing accusations of war crimes as “terrorist propaganda,” while Russian state television is portraying the evacuation of civilians from eastern parts of the city as a humanitarian act, reports Sarah Rainsford at the BBC.

Russia is likely responsible for 304 attacks in Aleppo that violate international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes, four Syrian organizations wrote in a letter to the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, obtained last night by Edith M. Lederer at the AP.

The Obama administration’s inaction in Syria has turned America into nothing but a bystander to the greatest atrocity of our time, writes Leon Wieseltier at the Washington Post.

The US decision to pursue a “dual-track, halfway approach” meant it was bound to fail in Syria, suggests David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

An “addiction to diplomacy” has led to the failure of US goals in Syria and other conflicts in recent years, suggests Seth J. Frantzman writing at Al Jazeera.

Russia has been invested in Syria for a long time, and would not have relinquished its foothold there easily even if the West had done more to restrain it, writes Nick Paton Walsh, explaining how Russia’s playbook has transformed the Syrian war at CNN.

The defeat of the rebels in Aleppo is also a blow to the Western conviction that “values matter as well as interests” in foreign policy, writes the Economist.

IRAQ

The Islamic State has intensified counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the offensive to recapture the city enters its third month, Maher Chmaytelli reports at Reuters.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 14. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

More needs to be done to curb US involvement in the Yemen civil war, a bipartisan quartet of senators said, applauding the Obama administration’s decision to stop some arms sales to Saudi Arabia but urging it to do more – specifically to stop refuelling Saudi planes involved in the bombing of Yemen. The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

CHINA

China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier battle group carried out its first exercises with live ammunition as a show of strength in the face of escalating tensions with the US and Taiwan, AFP reports.

The Philippines will not protest China’s militarization of its man-made islands in the South China Sea, the Philippine’s Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said today. [Reuters]

RUSSIA

The EU extended sanctions against Russia for six months over its annexation of Crimea, the BBC’s Laurence Peter reports.

President Putin ceded little to Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in talks on the joint economic development of four islands claimed by Japan but administered by Russia since World War II, the resulting plans falling far short of promises made by Abe for a breakthrough on ownership of the islands, Alastair Gale and Mitsuru Obe report at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian hackers took total control of an unclassified email system in the Pentagon in 2015 in revenge for US sanctions, causing chaos inside the Pentagon, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told CBS News’ David Martin.

That the US will simply relinquish to Moscow its desired “sphere of influence” is striking fear into the hearts of Russia’s neighboring states, the first to show their nerves in public being Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko – Putin’s closest ally – who is threatening to jail anyone who insults Belarusian identity or suggests that Belarus should merge into the Russian state, writes Anna Nemtsova at The Daily Beast.

EUROPE

The US began restocking a Cold War storage facility in the Netherlands with tanks yesterday as part of an effort to return heavy weaponry to Europe to serve as a deterrent to Russia, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The EU will hold a summit next month with Turkey to discuss the fraught relationship between the two, EU President Donald Tusk said yesterday. [AP]

The chief suspect in an Aug. 2015 attack on a train in northern France was instructed by the same Islamic State cell that orchestrated the Nov. 2015 Paris attacks, his lawyer said yesterday. James McAuley reports at the Washington Post.

A 12-year-old boy suspected of having links to the Islamic State attempted to detonate a bomb at a Christmas market in the German town of Ludwigshafen, German magazine Focus reported today. [Reuters]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The US is building an $8.4 billion medical clinic at Guantánamo Bay detention center and a $12.4 million dining facility for troops working at the prison, revamps which raise the prospect that the prison will not shut, writes Al Jazeera.

Media organizations are challenging an order that the testimony of USS Cole bombing accused Abd al Rahim al Nashiri will be heard in a closed session – originally planned for yesterday – without factual findings explaining why a closed session is essential. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI is investigating the hack of 1 billion Yahoo customers’ user accounts in 2013, the White House confirmed yesterday, Sam Thielman and David Smith reporting at the Guardian.

Data beaches have grown to affect millions of people since 2005, Larazo Gamio and Chris Alcantara explaining how at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Boeing’s sale of 80 passenger jets to Iran which Iran will use to supply Syrian President Bashar al-Assad highlights the ethical and strategic hazards of the Iran nuclear deal, writes Sohrab Ahmari at the Wall Street Journal.

Recent wildfires that swept across Israel and the West Bank were “pyro-terror” by Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli government said, yet only a handful of Palestinians have been arrested so far, observes William Booth and Ruth Eglash at the Washington Post.

The UN mission in South Sudan supplied weapons to a rebel general James Koang just weeks after the civil war began there three years ago, and his forces went on to carry out a massacre that stands as one of the war’s worst atrocities, a report released by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey yesterday reveals. Jason Patinkin reports at the Washington Post.

The threat of hacking attacks on nuclear power plants’ computer systems causing the uncontrolled release of radiation is growing, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the Security Council yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

Traces of explosives were found by investigators examining the remains of those killed when EgyptAir flight MS804 crashed into the Mediterranean sea in May, prompting Egypt’s civil aviation ministry to announce the launch of a criminal investigation, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

“Everything in the room became an instrument of torture.” Witnesses appearing before a Truth and Dignity Commission looking into abuses committed during nearly six decades of authoritarian rule in Tunisia are revealing the brutal treatment they received before the Arab Spring in 2011, Naveena Kottoor reports at the Washington Post. 

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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