The Early Edition: January 11, 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.

The TRUMP DOSSIER

Allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on President-elect Donald Trump were included in a classified report delivered to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week, Greg Miller, Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Steven Mufson report at the Washington Post.

The series of reports on Trump’s relationship with Moscow were drawn up by a former western counter-intelligence official and passed to FBI Director James Comey by Sen. John McCain last month, the Guardian’s Julian Borger reports.

The unverified reports were published in full by BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs last night.

Russia denies the claim, calling the report’s contents an “absolute fabrication” and an attempt to damage US-Russia relations, Laura Mills reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT.” Future president of the United States Donald Trump tweeted his response to intelligence officials’ reports outlining allegations that Russia could possess compromising information about him, published last night, POLITICO’s Eli Stokols, Shane Goldmacher, Josh Dawsey and Michael Crowley report.

The publication of the report comes as Trump is due to hold his first press conference for six months later today. This and other live updates on the “Trump dossier” are being provided at the Guardian.

These unconfirmed allegations that Russia possesses compromising information on Trump potentially leave the new administration exposed to Russian interference, observe Tim Mak, Asawin Suebsaeng and Micahel Weiss at The Daily Beast.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s recognition of Israel is in danger of being revoked if Donald Trump pursues his plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, senior Palestinian officials warned. The PLO’s recognition of Israel is one of the key pillars of the Oslo peace agreements, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

“Unfettered support” for Israeli settlements would lead to a “worsening situation” over time, President Obama warned in an interview broadcast by Israeli TB program “Uvda” yesterday, the AP’s Tia Goldenberg reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s delegation is open to meeting with President-elect Trump’s team at next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland, an official said today, Louise Watt reporting at the AP.

Stand behind Ukraine in its struggle against Russian oppression, ex-leaders, politicians and pro-democracy advocates from across Europe have urged President-elect Donald Trump in an open letter dated Monday, Alex Johnson reports at NBC News.

Several senior Pentagon officials have been asked to stay on temporarily in the first few weeks of the Trump administration to ensure the US military can react immediately in response to any crisis, the Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.

Secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson will face questions on his ties to Russian President Putin at his confirmation hearing today, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zangerle anticipate at Reuters.

Tillerson will say he thinks Russia is “a danger” and that NATO allies are right to be alarmed by its aggression, but he will not make mention of Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election, in an opening statement before the Senate this morning, Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

ExxonMobil PAC under Rex Tillerson gave generous campaign contributions to all of the Republican Senators and one of the Democrats who will consider Tillerson’s nominations as secretary of state today, Patricia Murphy reports at The Daily Beast.

Let’s knock down some of the “obvious nonsense” about former ExxonMobil head Rex Tillerson and his relationship with Russia ahead of his grilling on Capitol Hill today, suggests Holman W. Jenkins Jr. at the Wall Street Journal.

Senators should demand that Tillerson demonstrate his understanding of recent developments regarding three issues to Senators today: the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, suggests David Satter at the Wall Street Journal.

Key moments from the Sessions confirmation hearings so far have been compiled at POLITICO.

An absence of immediate results may tempt President-elect Trump to scrap Obama’s opening in Cuba, but he should instead improve it by freezing contacts with the Cuban regime’s security agencies and predicating any further economic concessions on an increase in political freedom, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

The GOP was also a Russian hacking target but none of the information obtained – unused emails from old domains – was leaked, FBI Director James Comey told a Senate panel yesterday, CNN’s Nicole Gaouette reporting.

Republican Sens. pressed intelligence officials on the security of the DNC’s servers in an attempt to follow Trump’s lead and deflect focus away from the broader Russian influence campaign, write the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams and Joe Uchill.

Ukraine also tried to interfere with the US presidential election – by helping Hillary Clinton, writes Kenneth P. Vogel at POLITICO.

SYRIA

The Assad regime’s victory in Aleppo may have emboldened it to intensify its offensive on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, health workers in the area say, reporting that daily attacks by Syrian troops are stretching them to the limit. [Al Jazeera]

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused Russia of carrying out a “merciless military assault” in Syria in one of her last appearances before the UN Security Council yesterday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin responding by accusing the Obama administration of “desperately” looking for scapegoats for its own failures there and in Iraq and Libya, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

President Obama never retreated from his “red line” in Syria – his 2012 pledge to retaliate against President Assad if he used chemical weapons – Secretary of State John Kerry maintained yesterday, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reporting.

IRAQ

Iraqi special forces made further advances against the Islamic State in the city of Mosul, military officials said. [Reuters]

Iraq’s relations with neighbour Turkey could “not move forward one step” until Turkey withdraws its forces from a camp in northern Iraq, Iraq’s state media outlet quoted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as saying yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 9. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Two bombs detonated near government offices in Kabul yesterday, killing at least 38 people, the AP’s Rahim Faiez reports.

The Taliban was apparently behind the attacks, demonstrating the insurgents’ ability to infiltrate Afghan security and undermining the government’s claims that its US-supported forces are winning the fight against the Taliban, Sayed Salahuddin and Erin Cunningham write at the AP.

Five U.A.E. diplomats were killed in an explosion in Kandahar where a high-level meeting was underway between the provincial governor there and the U.A.E. Ambassador to Afghanistan yesterday, with no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Habib Khan Totakhil, Ehsanullah Amiri and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.

CHINA

Taiwan scrambled jets and Navy ships as a group of Chinese warships led by its only aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait today, Reuters reports.

The Chinese warships did not enter Taiwanese waters but did cross its air defense identification zone, the latest escalation of tensions between the neighbors, the BBC reports.

The Philippines hopes a framework code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea will be completed by the middle of this year in an effort to improve relations with China, its foreign minister said today. [Reuters]

EUROPE

Russia has been using fake news and disinformation in a coordinated campaign to influence public opinion and decision-making in Sweden, a study by the country’s most authoritative foreign policy institute claims.

The legal basis on which pre-emptive military drone strikes against overseas targets are made should be made more explicit to deal with rising threat levels, the UK’s attorney general will say today, Owen Bowcott reporting at the Guardian.

A plan making it easier for police to monitor, detain and deport asylum-seekers suspected of posing a terror threat was released by Germany yesterday in response to authorities’ failure to prevent a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market last month by a Tunisian man, Ruth Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal. The government plans to implement the plan via a series of legal changes in the ensuing weeks.

TURKEY

An offshoot of the PKK claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a checkpoint in western Turkey last week that killed two people, Reuters reports.

A suicide bomber was shot dead by Turkish police outside the main police station in the southeastern city of Gaziantep before he could detonate his weapon, while his accomplice remains at large, Turkey’s deputy prime minister said. [Al Jazeera]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Department of Defense was ordered to preserve its copy of the CIA “Torture Report” by the judge overseeing the trials of the men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks at Guantánamo Bay, but he remained undecided as to whether the attorneys for the accused will be allowed to read it. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

New intel indicates that former Guantánamo Bay detainees are attempting to return to terrorism, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce warned in a letter to President Obama yesterday, Josh Lederman reports at the AP.

Royce called on President Obama to immediately halt transfers out of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility because of the report, which he said indicated that “the country to which these detainees were transferred has little ability to prevent their return to the battlefield – a fact known to your administration prior to their transfer.” The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he is open to working with lawmakers on “the right of individuals to protect data they believe is private” under questioning during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general yesterday, a stance that should bring hope to privacy advocates, the Hill’s Ali Breland suggests.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US would not necessarily fire on a North Korean missile if it was not threatening, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. [BBC]

An Indonesian radical network behind an attack in Jakarta was designated as a terrorist group by the US, which announced sanctions against four militants in an attempt to disrupt Islamic State operations and recruitment in Australia and southeast Asia, the AP’s Stephen Wright reports.

The outgoing president’s record in the Middle East is a legacy of “trauma and volatility” that will not easily be forgotten – or, for many, forgiven – writes David Gardner at the Financial Times. 

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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