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 CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
The White House defended its decision to ask lawmakers and intelligence officials to rebut allegations of ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials yesterday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisting that “what we’re doing is actually urging reporters to engage with subject-matter experts who can corroborate whether something’s accurate or not,” Alan Cullison and Siobhan Hughes report at the Wall Street Journal.
There is “no evidence” of regular contact by Russian officials with anybody in the Trump administration, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reporting.
“It’s premature” to reach conclusions at a stage where no evidence has been obtained, ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) responded hours later. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
Some Democrats are concerned that Republican Sen. Richard Burr is too close to Trump to lead an impartial investigation into Russian interference in the election, particularly after his decision to help the White House rebut news reports asserting repeated contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia, reports Austin Wright at POLITICO.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is a flawed vehicle for investigating Russian intervention in the US election because it is underfunded and its Senate counterpart won’t join forces to prevent duplicating work, writes Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
China’s top diplomat State Councilor Yang Jiechi will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today having met with President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster – and, briefly, Trump himself – yesterday, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
National security adviser McMaster advised the President to stop using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in a closed-door meeting last week, but according to a White House aide the the phrase will be used the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress tonight, Eliana Johnson, Michael Crowley and Shane Goldmacher write at POLITICO.
Russia is seeking to exploit what it sees as weaknesses in Washington to bolster its own global influence, testing the “unstable” President Trump with a series of military provocations, Neil MacFarquhar reports at the New York Times.
“The alpha males are back.” This is Trump’s real philosophy of international relations, suggests Susan B. Glasser at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Foreign policy is the area where President Trump has perhaps veered furthest from his campaign promises, writes Barney Jopson at the Financial Times.
The MILITARY BUDGET
Trump intends to increase military spending by $54 billion, cutting non-military programs by the same amount, Michael D. Shear and Jennifer Steinhauer report at the New York Times.
This is the biggest expansion in military spending since the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Trump calling it a “message to the world in these dangerous times of American strength, security and resolve” ahead of his first speech to Congress tonight, Barney Jopson and Sam Fleming write at the Financial Times.
Trump’s plan to raise military spending won’t strengthen America’s security, and might actually undermine it, argues the New York Times editorial board.
Trump’s concomitant call for a cut in foreign aid including to programs military officials say contribute to global stability and are considered important in helping avoid future conflicts is attracting criticism from military spending hawks, report Helene Cooper and Peter Baker at the New York Times.
Trump’s proposed budget isn’t enough to expand the military in the way he wants, and according to some critics even falls short of plugging existing gaps, writes Philip Ewing at NPR.
If Congress follows Trump’s proposals, the US military budget could account for almost 40 percent of global military spending next year, observes Alex Emmons at The Intercept.
The MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s travel ban misses the fact that the greatest terrorist threat comes from radicalized US citizens, a point that many terrorism experts have made over the years, write former acting director and deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell, and Robert Pape, at the Washington Post.
There is simply no evidence backing up President Trump’s travel ban, however hard his administration tries to find it, observes the Washington Post editorial board.
SPECIAL OPERATIONS RAID in YEMEN
A “three-pronged” review of the death of a Navy SEAL in a special operations raid in Yemen last month will be conducted by the Defense Department, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, Ben Kamisar reporting at the Hill.
No significant intelligence has been produced from the raid last month, US officials told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Ken Dilanian.
There are broader questions about the raid that the reviews now underway are not likely to address, the most important being whether national security officials in the Trump administration considered the risks and potential benefits of the operation and explained them to the President before he authorized it, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Airstrikes on rebel-held Idlib province killed at least 11 people yesterday as the UN-brokered talks in Geneva continued, Philip Issa reports at the AP.
The main rebel group at the talks in Geneva urged Russia to put pressure on the Syrian government to shore up failing efforts to end the conflict yesterday, saying it expects to meet a Russian delegation in Geneva today, Al Jazeera reports.
Rebel delegates in Geneva are “handing victory” to the Assad regime, the leader of the Fatah al-Sham Front in Syria said in a video message posted yesterday, the AP reports.
Al-Qaeda’s number two man Abu al Khayr al-Masri was killed by a missile strike in Idlib Sunday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other sources, CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Barbara Starr report.
The Turkish army established a temporary base in newly-captured city al-Bab, the Hürriyet Daily News reports, citing anonymous military sources.
Russia will veto a UN resolution that would impose sanctions on 21 Syrians, organizations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks today, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
What is Russia’s role in Syria? Maxim A. Suchkov explains at Al-Monitor’s Russia Pulse.
US-backed Iraqi forces pushed their way to within firing distance of Mosul’s main government offices today, a major target in the effort to remove the Islamic State from the west of the city, Isabel Coles and Maher Chmaytelli report at Reuters.
Around 8,000 civilians have fled western Mosul and surrounding villages since Iraqi government forces began their push to take that part of the city last week, the UN humanitarian agency said today, Sinan Salaheddin reporting at the AP.
Counterterror experts are concerned that the Islamic State may employ “swarms” of commercially available armed drones, not only on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria but in the cities of Europe and perhaps even the US, writes Christopher Dickey at The Daily Beast.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 26. Separately, partner forces conducted ten strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Senior North Korean diplomat Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song arrived in Beijing today for talks with the Chinese Foreign Minister on “issues of common concern” following China’s veto on coal imports from North Korea, the AP reports.
The approval of a land swap with the government by South Korea’s Lotte Group that will allow South Korean authorities to deploy a US THAAD missile defense system prompted anger and threats to boycott from Chinese state media, DAWN reports.
“Collective measures” against North Korea including the possible suspension of its UN membership were called for by South Korea today, Stephanie Nebehay reports at Reuters.
Two women will be charged with the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, Malaysian officials said today, Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-Hun reporting at the New York Times.
A delegation of North Korean diplomats have been sent to Malaysia to request the return of Kim Jong-nam’s body, the AP reports.
Two North Korean companies are being struck from the Company Registry after it emerged that they involved in an arms operation out of Malaysia called Glocom, Malaysia’ police chief said today. Rozanna Latiff reports at Reuters.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
President Trump accused former president Obama and his allies of possible involvement in the leaks of information from the White House in an interview with Fox and Friends due to air this morning in the US, Lauren Gambino reports at the Guardian.
A surge in the use of scrambled-communication technology across the Trump administration is taking place as both employees and White House aides seek to conceal their communications from colleagues or the media, report Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook at POLITICO.
Lawyers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are appealing a decision not to drop the case against him for desertion and misbehavior over disparaging comments made by Donald Trump during his campaign, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
An Australian man was arrested today accused of planning to advise the Islamic State on how to develop missiles, the AP reports.
A Taliban infiltrator allowed militants to enter a police station in Lashkar Gah last night and kill at least 13 police officers, a police source told the BBC.
A German-Turkish journalist has been jailed in Turkey pending trial on charges of terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred, Die Welt reports.
A video apparently depicting the beheading of a German hostage was published online by Abu Sayyaf extremists in the Philippines, Jake Maxwell Watts reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Nigerian military is being accused of carrying out massacres as they hunt for members of Boko Haram, Dionne Searcey reports at the New York Times.
An investigation into the purchase of German submarines has been ordered by Israel’s attorney general after it emerged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer represented the German firm involved in the deal, the AP reports.
The Western view of the Iranian-Saudi Arabian conflict is oversimplified, DW explaining that it’s much more complicated than sectarian conflicts between Wahhabists and militant Shi’ites.