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
Former British intelligence officer with MI6 Christopher Steele is said to be the author of a dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump, Bradley Hope, Michael Rothfeld and Alan Cullison report at the Wall Street Journal.
Steel is now in hiding, the BBC reports.
The intelligence community did not leak the dossier, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Trump last night, and expressed his “profound dismay” at the leaks, with both men agreeing that the dossier is “extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security,” Clapper said in a statement.
Trump was never briefed on the dossier, Trump’s transition team insisted. The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
A shaky truce between Trump and the intelligence community broke down when the President-elect wrongly accused it of leaking the dossier at a press conference yesterday, an earlier compared them to “Nazi Germany,” experts warning that his transition from measured tone to “hysterical hostility” could destroy his relationship with US intelligence completely. Spencer Ackerman reports at the Guardian.
The FBI’s reported investigation into allegations concerning Trump’s connections to Russia is routine and the counter-intelligence agency “would not be doing its job” if it did not investigate, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) insisted yesterday. The Hill’s Mark Hensch reports.
The intelligence agencies’ decision to brief Trump of Russian hacking of the 2016 election forced them to disclose the dossier as to ignore the existence of it at that point would only make the supposed “guardians of the nation’s secrets” seem uninformed, officials told Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.
The consequences of the sensational, unverified dossier’s disclosure will be incalculable and will play out long past Inauguration Day, predict Scott Shane, Nicholas Confessore and Matthew Rosenberg at the New York Times.
Gathering “kompromat” – or potentially embarrassing information that can be used as leverage – has been a tactic in Russian politics since Soviet days, David Filipov and Andrew Roth write at the Washington Post.
One obvious and so far insufficiently explained fact remains after the dossier’s contents are dismissed as “silly:” “Trump favors Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Putin favors him,” writes Charles Lane at the Washington Post.
Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community will make most observers focus on the damage he is doing to the institutions that house the US’s spies and analysts, sabotaging his own presidency before it has started, Daniel Benjamin writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The Deep State is using classic Cold War dirty tactics in engaging in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked President-elect, Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept.
It is worrying that BuzzFeed chose to published the unverified dossier, ignoring the journalistic practice of checking and corroboration, not least because the material may be used to impugn the integrity of the US intelligence community even though it was not the source, Max Boot writes at the New York Times.
DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY
Several matters of real importance were raised at Trump’s press conference yesterday, including his transition from disbelief to disregard over allegations of Russian interference in the US election, write Robert MacKey and Sam Biddle at The Intercept.
An annotated transcript of everything Trump said at the press conference is provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.
The Kremlin hopes that Putin and Trump will get along and that there will be more mutual respect between the two nations, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Reuters in response to questions on how Moscow assessed Trump’s news conference yesterday.
Do not invest money in “nuclear buildup,” Viv President Joe Biden warned the incoming Trump administration yesterday, recalling relations with Russia during the Cold War. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
Palestinian leaders have asked mosques worldwide to pray that Trump does not move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, William Booth and Carol Morello report at the Washington Post.
Mexico “of course will not pay” for Trump’s wall along its US border, Mexico’s president said yesterday, Eli Watkins reporting at CNN.
“Russia first.” Whether or not Russia has the potential to blackmail the future US President, Tump and his incoming administration are already doing exactly what Russian President Putin wants, writes Dan Milbank at the Washington Post.
Obama nominee David Shulkin is Trump’s pick for head of the Department of Veteran Affairs, Trump announced yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reporting at the Hill.
House Democrats are threatening to revolt against the waiver needed to allow retired Gen. James Mattis to take up the post of defense secretary after Trump’s transition team blocked him from testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, a hearing that was scheduled for today following Mattis’ Senate confirmation hearing, Jeremy Herb and Connor O’Brien report at POLITICO.
The Iran nuclear deal may not survive the Trump administration, which is expected to take a more confrontational and intolerant approach with Iran, suggests Carol Morello at the Washington Post.
President of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman has been invited to the White House in April. Anthony Faiola at the Washington Post interviews the leader who is against Western sanctions on Russia, does not believe there is such a thing as a “moderate Muslim,” hates “political correctness” and was the only European head of state to publicly support Trump during his campaign.
SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS
It is a “fair assumption” that Russian President Putin was behind the hacking of the US election, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said during his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday. [BBC]
The US needs to aggressively confront President Putin while also negotiating with his government, Tillerson said, but refused to commit to maintaining or significantly increasing sanctions against Russia, Felicia Schwartz, Jay Solomon and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.
Tillerson also set the stage for a major diplomatic clash with Beijing with comments that China should not be allowed access to islands it built in the South China Sea, the construction of which was akin to “Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine, during the hearing yesterday, Charles Clover and Ed Crooks write at the Financial Times.
China-US relations are based on “non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said today in response to Rex Tillerson’s statement that the Trump administration would block Chinese access to its fortified manmade islands in the South China Sea. [AP]
The US will maintain its “longstanding friendship” with the Philippines despite leader Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign, Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, CNN’s Justin Heifetz reporting.
Tillerson showed considerable independence from Donald Trump on numerous issues during the hearing, including Russia and the ban on Muslim immigration, conclude Ricky E. Sanger and Matt Flegenheimer at the New York Times.
The top takeaways from Tilerson’s “rocky” hearing performance have been compiled by Burgess Everett and Andrew Restuccia at POLITICO.
Trump’s picks to run the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department also broke away from his campaign promises during their Senate confirmation hearings, CNN’s Eric Bradner reports.
CIA head pick Mike Pompeo’s Senate confirmation hearing today will be the first test of whether he can successfully balance keeping the confidence of the Trump administration over Russia while winning over the CIA, writes Matthew Rosenberg at the New York Times.
Pompeo is expected to be grilled on CIA independence and whether he can end the war of words between the agency and Trump, his boss, Josh Gerstein writes at POLITICO.
Trump’s pick for secretary of homeland security retired Marine Corps Geeral John F. Kelly failed to disclose his position as vice chairman at lobbying firm the Spectrum Group on his federal ethics form, a failure that could run afoul of a federal law requiring Senate-confirmed nominees to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, writes Lee Fang at The Intercept.
RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION
Intelligence officials are due to brief members of Congress in both parties on Russia’s alleged interference in the election today and tomorrow, with Senators scheduled to hear from them at 3p.m. today and the House receiving their briefing tomorrow morning, Elana Schor and Austin Wright report at POLITICO.
President-elect Trump said for the first time yesterday that he believes Russia was behind the interference in the US election, Carol E. Lee, Michael C. Bender and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.
The House Intelligence Committee voted to allow all House members to see the classified report on Russian hacking Tuesday, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
Trump should welcome a bipartisan and transparent investigation into how Russia was able to interfere with the presidential election, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Rebels in an area near Damascus deny a provincial governor’s claim that a deal has been reached for Assad regime forces to enter the area and restore the Syrian capital’s water supply, Al Jazeera reports.
Russia has begun altering the makeup of its strike force in Syria as part of the previously announced partial drawdown, Russian news agencies report. [Reuters]
Russia-Turkey brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan have been confirmed for Jan. 23, Russia reportedly confirmed. [Al Jazeera]
Turkey is caught up in an unexpectedly bloody clash with the Islamic State in its last stronghold in northern Syria, al-Bab, forcing it to funnel in troops, take the lead in the battle over its Syrian allies and request aerial support from Russia, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.
If Assad has won the Syrian war, what exactly is left for him to govern? David W. Lesch and James Gelvin consider this question at the New York Times.
Iraqi special forces drove back the Islamic State in southeastern Mosul today, an area where making gains has been particularly tough, the Iraqi military said in a statement. [Reuters]
The situation in Mosul is explained by the Economist, as the battle to oust the Islamic State from the city, having lasted three months already, is expected to continue for at least as long again.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 10. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
A video purportedly depicting two Western hostages including an American pleading with President-elect Donald Trump to negotiate their release was released by the Taliban yesterday. Sayed Salahuddin and Erin Cunningham report at the Washington Post.
A joint US-Afghan operation in Kunduz Province last year left 33 civilians dead and 27 others wounded, a US military investigation into the incident has found. Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
SEAL team six undertook “revenge ops,” unjustified killings, mutilations and other atrocities in a pattern of violence that emerged soon after the war in Afghanistan began and was then tolerated and concealed by the command’s leadership, writes Matthew Cole at The Intercept.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Militant Palestinian group Hamas used fake Facebook accounts to connect with young Israeli army recruits to gain access to sensitive information, Israel’s army said yesterday, Ruth Eglash reporting at the Washington Post.
Israel is conducting smear campaigns against activists who question its occupation of Palestinian land by helping to construct racism cases against them, according to an investigation by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.
US tanks and armored vehicles arriving along with over 3,000 US soldiers in Poland threatens Russia’s interest and security, President Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the BBC.
Two suspected accomplices of the Islamic State cell that attacked Paris and Brussels were charged by Belgian authorities with having provided one of the suicide bombers with fake papers, Valentina Pop reports at the Wall Street Journal.
An Army judge ordered that a letter written by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed to Barack Obama in 2014 be sent to the President by the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which originally declined to deliver it, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Chelsea Manning is on President Obama’s “shortlist” for a commutation of her sentence for leaking state secrets in 2010 while serving in the army, Ed Pilkington reports at the New York Times.
The first two deadlines in the Colombia ceasefire process cannot be met, the head of the UN mission in Colombia said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
Sanctions on seven North Korean government officials and two government agencies were imposed by the US Treasury Department yesterday afternoon in response to North Korea’s missile testing and threats, the Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports.
The US nuclear triad needs upgrading, retired four-star US Air Force and Navy officers write in an open letter published at the Wall Street Journal.