The Early Edition: December 19, 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

Donald Trump could accept that Russia interfered in the election if there was a unified presentation of evidence from the FBI and other agencies, a senior Trump aide said yesterday, Damian Paletta and Kate O’Keeffe reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

CIA Director John Brennan leaked Russian hacking information to the press, according to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who called for an investigation into the “hit job” he says Brennan is conducting against President-elect Donald Trump, reports Mallory Shelbourne at the Hill.

Top Senate Democrat Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined calls for a special Senate committee to investigate alleged Russian hacking of the election, the Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.

The FBI did not inform Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta about the Russians hacking his email account until two days after WikiLeaks began publishing the stolen contents online, he said yesterday. The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann reports.

Podesta doesn’t believe that Trump himself colluded with the Russian’s to interfere with the election, but some of his associates may have done so, he said yesterday, insisting that Electoral College electors have the right to know the extent of the Trump campaign’s involvement. Ian Kullgren reports at POLITICO.

Is Podesta telling the truth on Russia? Linda Qui and Aaron Sharockman fact-check the Clinton campaign chairman’s claims about WikiLeaks and Russian interference at The Daily Beast.

The Obama administration and congressional leaders’ “somewhat laid back” response to reports of the Russian hacking of the presidential election was criticized by former CIA director and defense secretary Robert Gates yesterday, the Guardian’s Joanna Walters and Martin Pengelly report.

What does Donald Trump’s reaction to intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia hacked the election portend for the relationship between the executive branch and the intelligence community? Marcy Wheeler, author, Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA analyst, and Vicki Divoll, former CIA legal adviser, debate this issue at the New York Times.

A major reconfiguration of opinion on foreign policy lies behind the controversy over Russia’s alleged efforts to help Donald Trump win the presidential election, many Republicans aligning themselves with Trump’s more sympathetic views on Russia where once they were deeply critical of President Putin, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes at the Washington Post.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Trump “bears no sense of how to lead a superpower,” Chinese state media accused today after he again took to Twitter to berate China’s leaders following the taking of a US Navy drone by China in the South China Sea last Thursday, the Guardian’s Tom Phillips reports.

The President-elect has unwittingly opened the gates to a new cold war in which the US’s hand will be less strong than it was last time, when one of the reasons it won was its skill in breaking China – with which Trump has surprisingly decided to pick a fight – away from the soviet bloc, Edward Luce writes at the Financial Times.

Congress is trying to give Donald Trump more leverage to pressure the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments to stop their attacks on Syrian civilians and possibly strike a deal on a political settlement, Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

Iranian officials threatened to claw back any money lost if the multi-billion dollar deal to buy dozens of Boeing jets is scrapped after the inauguration of Donald Trump, Aresu Eqbali and Robert Wall report at the Wall Street Journal.

Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the Bahamas, leaked documents reveal, Luke Harding and Hannes Munzinger at the Guardian suggesting this will raise further questions about his suitability for the post.

Trump’s nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel indicates that the next administration is going to have a pro-settler agenda, which could mark a seismic shift in the “special relationship” between America and Israel, writes Jonathan Cook at Al Jazeera.

Donald Trump once donated $10,000 to institutions in Israeli West Bank settlement Beit El, one of the community’s founders said on Israeli radio yesterday, Ruth Eglash reports at the Washington Post.

Trump’s promise to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem poses enormous challenges, some experts anticipating demonstrations in Arab cities and capitals throughout the Middle East and beyond as a likely outcome, write NBC News’ Alexander Smith, Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari.

SYRIA

Evacuations of eastern Aleppo restarted late last night and are picking up pace, the BBC reports.

Around 350 people were able to leave a rebel-held part of Aleppo yesterday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that the evacuation was possible after Russia and Turkey urged the Syrian regime to allow the convoy of buses to pass its final control point, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reports.

An attempt to evacuate the sick and injured from two government-held villages in Idlib province failed because the buses were stopped and set alight by rebels, the BBC reports.

The evacuation of eastern Aleppo will be monitored by the UN after the Security Council reached an agreement on a resolution yesterday, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

France reached a compromise with Russia yesterday on the UN resolution after more than three hours of closed consultations, the Security Council voting on the resolution at 9 a.m. EST this morning. [AP’s Karin Laub and Edith M. Lederer]

The fall of Aleppo is a huge boost for the Islamic State, the contrast between the fall of that city to Iranian-built militias backed by Russian airstrikes and special forces and the Islamic State’s own surprise attack on Palmyra a vindication of the terrorists’ long-running propaganda trope: that the Islamic State is the only real defender of the Sunnis. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write at The Daily Beast.

For Tehran, allowing civilians to leave Aleppo is a potential loss of leverage at the exact moment Iranian influence on the battlefield in Syria started to overtake that of Russia, Martin Chulov writes at the Guardian.

The Assad regime is preparing to either remove or disarm rebels in Eastern Ghouta, a once-powerful rebel bastion close to Damascus, according to analysts. Tom Rollins reports at Al Jazeera.

Russian state media – as well as museums and videogames – is projecting the message that only the Kremlin can solve the Syrian conflict, showing images of laughing, healthy children in Aleppo and Russian military vehicles driving unhindered through the desert, Amie Ferris-Rotman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAQ

The hundreds of thousands of people still in Mosul are struggling to find food and safe water as the long-running offensive against the Islamic State there continues, Mustafa Salim and Loveday Morris report at the Washington Post.

Doctors working out of an array of medical facilities around Mosul are struggling to cope with demand as the offensive continues, more than a third of civilians fleeing the crowded neighborhoods requiring trauma care, Missy Ryan and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.

The US and the UK have hugely differing estimates of the number of Islamic State soldiers killed in Iraq and Syria since the international coalition began attacking them in 2014, CNN’s Ryan Browne reports.

YEMEN

The Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide bombing outside a military base in Aden which killed at least 48 people, Saleh Al-Batati and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.

UK-made cluster bombs were used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen according to government analysis seen by British defense secretary Michael Fallon, sources have told the Guardian’s Rowena Mason.

CHINA

China will return the unmaned underwater vehicle it seized in the South China Sea from the US, an episode China said the US had “hyped,” the Pentagon confirmed, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.

“Unimpeded” talks about the return of the drone are taking place between the Chinese and US militaries, China’s foreign minister said today, Ben Blanchard reporting at Reuters.

China’s theft of a US Navy drone in front of the USNS Bowditch last Thursday was a deliberate provocation designed to test the US’s resolve to maintain freedom of navigation patrols in the region, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Washington must impose costs on Beijing for what constituted an act of piracy – and an act of war – after the drone is returned, suggests Gordon G. Chang at The Daily Beast.

TURKEY

A car bomb in Turkey killed at least 13 soldiers in the city of Kayseri Saturday, the second major attack targeting the country’s security forces in a week, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Kareem Fahim reports at the Washington Post.

Hardliners both in the PKK and the AKP government are benefiting from the polarization resulting from terror attacks by the PKK and vindictive, divisive language from the AKP in response, observes Elif Shafak writing at the Guardian.

JORDAN

Seven police officers and three civilians including a Canadian tourist were killed when gunmen attacked police patrols and a castle in the southern Jordanian city of Karak yesterday, Taylor Luck reports at the Washington Post.

At least four of the gunmen were killed by Jordanian security forces in an operation to free tourists trapped in the castle, where the armed men had taken shelter after a series of shootouts with police, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

EUROPE

Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the latest clashes with pro-Russian separatists, officials said. [AP]

At least seven militants were killed in two attacks in and around Grozny in Chechnya, Ivan Nechepurenko reports at the New York Times.

A Danish woman who fought against the Islamic State alongside Kurds in Iraq and Syria was taken into custody in Copenhagen, prompting accusations of hypocrisy over her treatment compared with that of returning Islamic State fighters, Lara Whyte reports at the Guardian.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The USS Cole death-penalty trail could begin in 2018, the lawyer representing accused Abd al Rahim al Nashiri said Friday, Carol Rosenberg reporting at the Miami Herald.

Former Guantánamo Bay captive Abu Wa’el Dhiab has returned to Uruguay having failed yet again to find a home elsewhere, this time by boarding a flight to South Africa, where he was denied entry. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

It’s time to rethink what’s classed as “top secret” in the Internet age, writes vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dianne Feinstein at the Washington Post following the finding that improper classification markings were found on half of all classified documents following the most recent review by the Information Security Oversight Office.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An Islamic State suicide bomber killed eight Libyan army troops near the eastern city of Benghazi, Libyan security and health officials said today, Rami Musa reporting at the AP.

Jewish settlers have agreed to relocate from homes built on Palestinian land to another part of the West Bank just one week before the deadline for eviction, the BBC reports.

Afghan forces have shown “promising but inconsistent” progress in defending their country from the Taliban insurgency in the second half of this year, according to a Pentagon report released Friday. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

The leader of a Pakistan-based militant group and three others have been charged for an attack on a military air base in northern India that left several Indian soldiers dead in January, Rupam Jain reports at Reuters.

There are still plenty of repressive regimes thriving around the world 25 years after the fall of the U.S.S.R., but the difference now is that the citizens of the free world don’t care about dictatorships or the 2.7 billion people living in them, writes Garry Kasparov at the Wall Street Journal. 

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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