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.
SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS
Defense secretary nominee retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, even obliging lawmakers’ questions focusing on getting him to depart from Trump’s stance on Russia by agreeing that it is the “principal threat” to US security, writes Kristina Wong at the Hill.
The US must honor the “imperfect arms-control agreement” with Iran that Trump has vowed to dismantle, Mattis said at his confirmation hearing yesterday, adding to the chorus of nominees who are contradicting the President-elect. Karen Tumulty writes at the Washington Post.
CIA head pick Mike Pompeo would “absolutely not” comply with an order to use torture from the President-elect, an order he could not imagine Trump actually making, Pompeo said at his hearing yesterday. The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
Pomeo’s views on making full use of government authorities to collect and analyze sensitive personal data alarmed some members of the Senate committee yesterday, Jenna McLaughlin and Ryan Devereaux write at The Intercept.
“Back off” Russia. Trump’s CIA and Pentagon picks presented a united warning to Moscow at their Senate confirmation hearings, write Kimberly Dozier and Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.
It is notable how often Trump’s future advisers disagreed with him at their confirmation hearings, observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
A way to discourage Saudi Arabia from bombing Yemeni civilians is to provide them with additional targeting intelligence, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson suggested at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons write at The Intercept.
Tillerson doesn’t seem to realize that speaking up for human rights is part of the job, the Washington Post editorial board concludes after Tillerson’s comments Wednesday that he was not ready to judge Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government over its lawless anti-drug campaign.
THE TRUMP DOSSIER
FBI Director James Comey informed Trump of the existence of the dossier after an intelligence briefing at Trump Tower last Thursday, US officials told NBC News’ Ken Dilanian.
Vice President Biden and President Obama were briefed last week on the Trump dossier, Biden confirmed yesterday, CNN’s Evan Perez reporting.
“Both Democrats and Republicans” are to blame for compiling the dossier, Trump said today. [Reuters]
Russians named in the dossier reacted with incredulity to allegations they were connected to efforts to interfere with US elections, Nathan Hodge and Olga Razumovskaya report at the Wall Street Journal.
The dossier’s author Christopher Steele’s credibility is the reason why the intelligence agencies felt it necessary to brief the President and the President-elect on a compendium of unverified claims, write the Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and Luke Harding.
DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY
Russia never expected “simplicity in relations with the US,” a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said yesterday in response to comments made by secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reports.
Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry is confident that the Trump administration will adhere to the same principles on regional security as the Obama administration, he told a university audience in Hanoi today. [Reuters]
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta backs Trump’s pick for CIA head Mike Pompeo, he said yesterday, the Hill’s Brooke Seipel reporting.
The House Armed Services Committee passed the waiver that would allow retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
Top Democrat on the House Armed Services Commettee Rep. Adam Smith urged the full chamber to vote against the waiver in a letter sent yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
Leader of France’s far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen made a surprise visit to Trump Tower yesterday, declining to comment as to whether she was there to meet Donald Trump, the Wall Street Journal’s Stacy Meichtry and Damian Paletta report.
Will Trump join the Putin-Erdogan “party” in Syria? Henri J. Barkey at Foreign Policy examines Russia and Turkey’s remarkable pivot from foes to friends, which he argues is more a result of Turkish President Erdoğan’s pique at the US than anything Putin did, yet whether it will last “all depends on Trump.”
Mr Trump is a wealthy property-developer; Russian President Vladimir Putin is a former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service: this is not a balanced match-up, writes Philip Stephens at the Financial Times, discussing the dangers of cuddling up to a Kremlin that craves a world in which national interests replace international rules.
RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION
President-elect Donald Trump promised a report on allegations of Russian interference in the US election within 90 days, the BBC reports.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov strongly denied that Russia tried to influence the US presidential election in an effort to help Trump to victory in an interview broadcast yesterday at NBC News, Bill Neely reports.
Four questions to dispel the rumors surrounding President-elect Donald Trump and the US intelligence agencies, getting answers to which may take months, have been suggested by David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Blocking China from its man-made islands in the South China Sea would lead to “devastating confrontation,” China’s state media warned, the Global Times threatening that such action would lead to a “large-scale war.” [BBC]
Any move by the US to separate China from its artificial islands in the South China Sea would be in its own national interests, the Philippine foreign minister said today. [Reuters]
The Syrian army has warned Israel of “repercussions” after Israeli rockets struck a military airbase outside Damascus this morning, Al Jazeera reports.
A mounting number of Assad regime airstrikes threaten the Syria ceasefire, which is currently “largely holding with some exceptions,” UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters yesterday, Philip Issa and Jamey Keaten reporting at the AP.
A flight safety agreement was signed by Russia and Turkey to ensure flight safety over Syria, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement yesterday. [AP]
The Obama administration sanctioned 18 Syrian officials in response to President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians yesterday, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration wanted a vote in the UN Security Council to “hold accountable” those behind Syria’s chemical weapons program, but Britain and France unexpectedly waivered, write Colum Lynch and John Hudson at Foreign Policy.
The US-led coalition has been targeting al-Qaeda operatives in Syria at an unprecedented rate in 2017, so far killing over 50 militants, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.
Iraqi special forces entered Mosul University today, according to senior Iraqi officers. Susannah George reporting at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 11. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Top diplomats from at least 70 countries are gathering in Paris on Sunday at the invitation of French President François Hollande to urge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hammer out a two-state solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, William Booth reports at the Washington Post.
Attendant nations are expected to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state as “the only way” to bring peace to the region, a draft statement obtained by the AP’s Joseph Federman indicating that the conference will urge Israel and Palestine to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution.”
Israel and Palestine will not take part in the main conference, but have been invited to come to France after it finishes to be informed of its conclusions, Al Jazeera reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
“HERE I AM AGAIN, MY FRIENDS!” The hacker or hackers behind the D.N.C. leaks Guccifer 2.0 returned to the internet yesterday, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
Rudy Giuliani’s role as President-elect Donald Trump’s cybersecurity adviser could bring a financial windfall for his consulting firm and legal practice, creating a potential conflict of interest that will not be subject to federal ethics laws, write Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf at POLITICO.
The “Shadow Brokers,” a hacking group that has been releasing a tranche of NSA hacking tools to the public for months, is shutting up shop just as Donald Trump prepares to enter the Oval Office, Kevin Poulsen writes at The Daily Beast.
America’s Global Positioning System is the “looming national security threat everyone keeps ignoring,” Dana Goward explains at the Washington Post.
The Department of Justice will investigate allegations that FBI chief James Comey did not follow proper procedure when he announced that the FBI would not recommend charges for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton last July in relation to her handling of classified material while in office, ABC News reports via Twitter.
The new Attorney General should request that Comey resigns for the good of the FBI, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY LEGACY
The Middle East is a more dangerous place than President Obama found it when he first took office, and Obama’s eight “disastrous” years follow eight disastrous George W. Bush years, Alan M. Dershowitz writes at the Hill.
How did President Obama end up a spectator to this century’s “greatest human catastrophe” in Syria? The BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher examines Obama’s Syria legacy of “measured diplomacy, strategic explosion.”
To visualize the NATO-Russia missile defense stand-off, the Center of Strategic and International Studies put together an interactive map showing what each side has in its arsenal, Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.
China and Russia agreed to take “further countermeasures” against a US-South Korea plan to deploy a THAAD advanced missile defense system to South Korea, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday, Christopher Bodeen reporting at the AP.
The US military conducted airstrikes on al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen on Dec. 29 and Jan. 8. [Central Command]
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vietnam yesterday for his final official trip there, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
Two people were arrested in Spain today on suspicion of having links to the Islamic State, Spain’s Interior Ministry confirmed. Ciaran Giles reports at the AP.
The humanitarian crisis caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria is worsening, the UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
There are growing fears that Russia will interfere with the agreement to reunify the island of Cyprus among Cypriot leaders, the Kremlin having plenty to gain from keeping Greek and Turkish Cypriots divided, Sara Stefanini writes at POLITICO.
Some US sanctions against Sudan will be lifted in recognition of small areas of improvement in fighting terrorism and other goals, a senior US official said yesterday. Anne Gearan reports at the Washington Post.