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The Early Edition: January 6, 2017

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

“Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry … they would exploit it.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to Congress yesterday that Russia’s interference with the US election went beyond hacking to include disinformation and the dissemination of “fake news,” Erin Nakashima, Karoun Demirjian and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.

Clapper was “even more resolute” in his belief that Russia conducted cyberattacks on Democrats during the 2016 election, he said, rebuking President-elect Donald Trump’s publicly-expressed skepticism over the claims. Patricia Zengerle and Dustin Volz report at Reuters.

Communications in which senior Russian government officials congratulated themselves on the outcome of the presidential election were intercepted by American intelligence agencies, US officials said, Adam Entous and Greg Miller reporting at the Washington Post.

The intermediaries Russia used to deliver hacked documents to WikiLeaks have been identified by US intelligence officials in a classified report delivered to President Obama yesterday, officials told CNN’s Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto and Pamela Brown.

“Who gave them this report and why? Politics!” Donald Trump questioned the motives behind NBC News’ report confirming leaked details of the intelligence briefing given to President Obama in a tweet yesterday, Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

The FBI repeatedly requested access to D.N.C. servers during its investigation, only to be rebuffed, a senior law enforcement officials said in response to the D.N.C.’s assertions that the FBI never requested access to its servers, the Hill’s Jessie Hellmann reports.

The outgoing Obama administration and the CIA want to publicize Russia’s hacking of the US election as a warning to other countries, especially in Europe, CIA Director John Brennan said at an event yesterday. Brennan is due to brief President Obama on his agency’s evidence concerning Russian interference today, reports Shibani Mahtani at the Wall Street Journal.

We know what Russia did, but we need to understand why it interfered with the US election, writes Fareed Zakaria at the Washington Post.

“What’s the deal with Trump and Russia?” Trump’s “infatuation” with Russian President Putin is most recently demonstrated by his refusal to accept the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow interfered with the presidential election campaign, writes Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI’s “Joint Analyses Report” on Russia’s hacking is “worse than useless” according to industry experts and undermines the clear public evidence of Russian interference while allowing Trump-friendly conspiracy theorists to explain away that evidence, Kevin Poulsen write at The Daily Beast.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are readying a new sanctions bill along with Democratic allies in an attempt to punish Russia for its alleged hacking, its unveiling next week having the potential to cause a rift in the GOP conference as Republicans are forced to choose between support of their party’s traditional hardline attitude to Russia and Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, Austin Wright writes at POLITICO.

Trump, Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity’s shift to embrace WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the victory of “political tribalism” over “every other principle or commitment,” Michael Gerson observes at the Washington Post.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

All politically appointed ambassadors installed by President Obama must leave their posts by Inauguration Day according to a blanket mandate issued by Donald Trump’s inauguration team, the US ambassador to New Zealand told Reuters today.

Former CIA director and veteran of four previous administrations R. James Woolsey Jr. quit Donald Trump’s transition team over growing tensions over Trump’s national security plans and his public comments undermining the intelligence agencies, the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports.

Moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a “red line” for Jordan and would be a “gift to extremists,” Jordan’s government spokesperson told the AP’s Karin Laub.

A retreat from the UN will harm US national security interests, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power warned in her exit memo, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reporting.

The next administration should remain committed to NATO, hold Russia accountable for its actions and ensure local forces take the lead in defeating the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in his exit memo to President Obama in which he also recapped the Pentagon’s accomplishments over the past eight years. The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Donald Trump at the White House “in the spring” and possibly as early as next month, a UK government source said. [BBC]

Trump’s chaotic, off-the-cuff tweets “unnerve” lawmakers, government officials and lobbyists who are appalled that they are beholden to a single leader’s whims, write Eli Stokols and Josh Dawsey at POLITICO.

The Trump team will inherit the “mess” of US policy toward Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and it arrives with seemingly conflicting views: Defense secretary nominee James Mattis is a strong supporter of US military alliance with the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors, which Trump has been criticizing since the 1980s. The Washington Post editorial board suggests that the “instinct” to reverse the previous administration’s policies – and a “wilful disregard for human rights” – might compel the Trump administration to renew full support for the Saudi’s bombing of Yemen.

Donald Trump has made it clear that he intends to break with the notion of promoting America’s “democratic faith” or an America that maintains a special relationship with “free states and free peoples” – principles that have led to the formation of a host of transatlantic and European institutions – unlike every president before him since Harry S. Truman. Anne Applebaum considers this “existential moment” for US-European alliance at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Russia has begun withdrawing forces from Syria and its aircraft carrier group will go first, Russia’s armed forces chief said. [BBC]

A strategic rebel-held suburb of Damascus was bombed by Assad regime forces yesterday as the offensive on Syria’s capital escalates despite the week-old ceasefire, Noam Raydan reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Over 5.5 million people have been left with only minimal access to water in the Damascus area as a result of fighting between Assad regime forces and rebel groups, the UN said, warning that deliberately targeting water supplies constitutes a war crime. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

Dehydration is Assad’s latest tactic in the war on his own people, his forces bombing a millennia-old aquifer in Damascus, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem writes at The Daily Beast.

A car bomb killed ten people in the government-held town of Jableh in Latakia province yesterday, Philip Issa reports at the AP.

Ongoing violations of the ceasefire are the main obstacle to conducting peace negotiations later this month, Turkey’s foreign minister said yesterday, calling on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on those continuing to use violence. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Turkey is bearing the brunt of the US decision to partner with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia against the Islamic State, though it would be to go too far to say that the US is deliberately giving weapons to the YPG in order to trigger terrorism in Turkey, Turkey’s defense minister said today. [Reuters]

Former British prime minister David Cameron and the British Parliament were responsible for disrupting President Obama’s plan for military intervention in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed yesterday, a link that has often been suggested by Obama and others but not explicitly stated until now, David Smith reports at the Guardian.

IRAQ

Elite Iraqi troops made advances against the Islamic State in Mosul in their first night-time raid in the city last night, a spokesperson confirmed yesterday. [Reuters]

An Islamic State attack on an Iraqi army outpost and a police station close to the city of Tikrit killed at least four soldiers today, Reuters reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 4. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A resolution denouncing the Obama administration’s abstention from an important UN Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements was passed by the House yesterday, the Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.

Nationalist Israeli politicians are openly disagreeing with army commanders and quarrelling with the security establishment following the manslaughter verdict against Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, even before he has been sentenced, “uncharted waters” for a military that sees itself as being above politics and as the country’s most trusted institution, Josef Federman writes at the AP.

Grounds for imposing a lenient sentence later this month are certain to be found by the Israeli military court that found solder Elor Azaria guilty of manslaughter Wednesday for the shooting of an unarmed and wounded Palestinian man in occupied West Bank, writes Jonathan Cook at Al Jazeera.

TURKEY

The chief suspect for the New Year’s Eve attack on a nightclub in Istanbul is a Uighur – a member of a mainly Muslim, Turkic-speaking group – Turkish officials claim – a claim that deserves to be taken seriously, explains Jason Burke at the Guardian.

Jordan will prosecute 12 of its citizens on suspicion of hate speech against victims of the New Year’s Eve nightclub shooting in Turkey, in which two Jordanian citizens were killed, according to Jordanian state media. [AP]

Militants exchanged gunfire with Turkish police outside a courthouse in western Turkey yesterday, killing at least two people are setting off a car bomb, Erin Cunningham and Brian Murphy report at the Washington Post.

Turkish authorities detained 18 people in relation to the attack, which Justice Minister Bekir Bozday said was undoubtedly the work of PKK militants. [Reuters]

Two military officers were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in the July 15 failed coup, yesterday, the first sentences to be handed down in relation to the coup, Emre Peker reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The eight Turkish officers who fled to Greece after the coup attempt deserve Europe’s protection, argues Apostolos Doxiadis writing at the Wall Street Journal.

EUROPE

Berlin truck attack suspect Anis Amri had lived under 14 aliases and was so well-known by German officials that a counterterrorism committee had discussed his case seven times, Anthony Faiola reports at the Washington Post.

Belgian authorities missed numerous opportunies to reveal the Islamic State terror cell that went on to carry out the Paris and Brussels attacks, a confidential report prepared for Belgium’s parliament states. Valentina Pop and Mark Maremont report at the Wall Street Journal.

The UK’s Ministry of Defense awarded at £30 million contract to assess the potential for UK forces to be armed with laser weapons, it was announced yesterday. Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Former Sen. Dan Coats is reportedly Donald Trump’s pick for director of national intelligence, NPR’s Brian Naylor reports. Coats is a veteran Washington establishment figure with the rare distinction of being banned from Russia.

The potential nomination comes amid reports that Trump is planning to overhaul US intelligence to diminish the role Coats is said to be tapped to fill, the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman writes.

The intelligence agencies should not be immune from bureaucratic shakeup, especially at the White House, argues the Wall Street Journal editorial board, providing some suggestions for incoming president Donald Trump about how to do it.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A man the US State Department claimed was killed in a targeted drone strike that killed an American teenager in 2011 in Yemen is still alive, the State Department confirmed yesterday, Jeremy Scahill reports at The Intercept.

China is taking indirect action against South Korea for its deployment of the US anti-missile system THAAD, South Korea’s finance minister said. [Reuters]

The son of Osama bin Laden is actively engaged in terrorist activities and has been designated a terrorist by the US State Department, it confirmed yesterday, Ben Kesling reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

Police have shot dead one of the suspected masterminds of the café attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which 20 hostages died last July, the BBC reports.

North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons because it sees them as the ultimate guarantee of regime survival, and while every kind of inducement has been offered since the early 1990s to get them to do so, they have been steadily advancing their efficacy, writes Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post.

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About the Author

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