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.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION NOMINATIONS
President Trump intends to nominate Noel Francisco to permanently fill the position of solicitor general, the White House announced last night, also confirming that Courtney Simmons Elwood will take up the post of general counsel for the CIA, while John Sullivan will be general counsel at the Department of Defense, Ariane de Vogue and Dan Merica report at CNN.
The Senate Intelligence Committee postponed its vote on Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence Dan Coats until Thursday yesterday, the delay caused by the fact that lawmakers had more questions than expected, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
The focus was on the Trump cabinet’s involvement with Russia and how to deal with his potential future boss Jeff Sessions at pick for deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Carrie Johnson reports at NPR.
A tracker on how many key positions Trump has filled so far is provided at the Washington Post.
The MUSLIM BAN
Hawaii is reportedly planning to file the first lawsuit against the revised travel ban today, Laura Jarrett reports at CNN.
The Trump administration withdrew its appeal to a ruling halting the first travel ban, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Concern at President Trump’s revised travel ban was voiced by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein today, who also condemned Trump’s immigration policies as a potential breach of international law, Reuters reports.
TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS
President Trump has yet to speak to FBI Director James Comey about his allegation that former president Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of his phones, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted yesterday, despite earlier reports that Comey has already rejected the claims. The BBC reports.
Top Republicans refused to support Trump’s wiretapping claims yesterday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) both saying they had not seen any evidence to back them up. Sabrina Siddiqui and David Smith report at the Guardian.
The House Intelligence Committee will use its first open hearing in its investigation into Russian interference in the US election to probe President Trump’s allegations that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower, ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters last night. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
Allegations like this “weaken” the office of President, former CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday, Paulina Firozi reporting at the Hill.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
The first public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will be on Mar. 20, Chairman Devin Nunes announced yesterday, Katie Bo Williams reporting at the Hill.
The CIA is now providing raw intelligence documents to Committee members as the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation moves from its “initial” stages to a new phase, report Austin Wright and Martin Matishak at POLITICO.
It is US policy “to sanction entities and individuals within Russia or associated with the Russian Government engaged in hacking, cyber-attacks, and propaganda campaigns with the intention of interfering in democratic elections.” A bipartisan bill targeting Russia for its role in hacking the US election will be announced today, Ben Jacobs reports at the Guardian.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions perjured himself during his confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said yesterday on CNN’s The Lead.
There is “no recollection” about who Donald Trump met at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. last year attended by the Russian ambassador to the US, the White House said after a May 2016 Wall Street Journal article reporting that the President met with the Russian ambassador there resurfaced, Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.
A delegation from the National Rifle Association met with US government-sanctioned deputy to Russian President Putin Dmitry Rogozin last year, Tim Mak at The Daily Beast adding the encounter by Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the election to the web of connections between the Russian government and Team Trump.
Top US military officer Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. discussed how to avoid an unintended confrontation on the increasingly crowded battlefield of northern Syria when he met with his Russian and Turkish counterparts in Turkey’s Antalya yesterday, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
Warplanes bombed a rebel-held area east of Damascus today where Russia declared a ceasefire less than 24 hours earlier, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. [Reuters]
Turkey ordered the immediate shut-down of the Oregon-based Mercy Corps’ Turkish operation, putting an end to a program that regularly assists hundreds and thousands of Syrian civilians and refugees, Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe report at the Washington Post.
The extent to which the Assad regime controls the roughly 35 percent of Syrian territory it holds is moot, manpower shortages making it dependent on Russia, Iran and paramilitaries such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. David Gardner explains why Assad is a long way from victory in Syria at the Financial Times.
Islamic State fighters ambushed US-backed Iraqi forces who took over Mosul’s municipal complex hours after it was declared liberated yesterday, moving out of un-cleared surrounding buildings to cut off the routes the Iraqis used to enter it, Susannah George and Andrea Rosa report at the AP.
Iraq will continue to target militants in neighboring countries as it did last month with airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said today. [AP]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 or 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 6. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“Two accelerating trains” racing toward a “head-on collision.” The simultaneous suspension of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and US-South Korean joint military drills was proposed by China as a way to pave the way for recommencing talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Chun Han Wong reports at the Wall Street Journal.
China’s suggestion is not new – North Korea has pitched it many times and the US has balked – but this is the first time it has been raised under President Trump, Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post exploring the potential for a different response on this occasion.
Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders praised the commencement of the deployment of a THAAD missile defense system to South Korea yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Japanese lawmakers are pushing for Japan to develop the ability to strike pre-emptively at North Korea’s missile facilities in the wake of the recent ballistic missile tests, Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo report at Reuters.
North Korea’s latest missile launches were condemned by the UN Security Council yesterday as a “grave violation” of its sanctions resolutions, the AP reports.
Tensions between China and the US over the deployment of THAAD serve as an early test for the Trump administration and its allies South Korea and Japan, suggest David E. Sanger, Choe Sang-Hun, Chris Buckley and Michael R. Gordon at the New York Times.
After this week, it looks as though North Korea will be President Trump’s first national security crisis, agrees the New York Times editorial board.
There are three options for the US for dealing with North Korea: cut a deal, impose further sanctions, or launch a pre-emptive strike, suggests Bryan Harris at the Financial Times.
China must do more to contain Pyongyang, but it cannot do so without help, mainly from the US, according to the Financial Times.
China’s real fear over THAAD is that it will deepen the US-South Korea alliance, an outcome it apparently considers worse than North Korea’s continued nuclearization and threatening behavior, observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
A US Navy ship changed course toward Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels in the Strait of Hormuz yesterday, causing the incident the US says was an act of aggression by Iran, Iranian guard commander Mehdi Hashemi reportedly said today. [Reuters]
Key dates in the disappearance of former FBI agent Robert Levinson while he was on an unauthorized CIA mission in Iran are examined at the AP.
At least thirty people have been killed in ongoing clashes between gunmen and Afghan security forces after Islamic State militiamen stormed a military hospital in capital Kabul, the BBC providing updates on this developing story.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
A “budding political symbiosis” has formed between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, observes Mark Landler at the New York Times.
Israel has granted itself almost complete immunity from paying compensation in cases where its soldiers have killed or injured Palestinian civilians, according to a report by human rights group B’Tselem, which called the move a violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. Jonathan Cook reports at Al Jazeera.
Israel’s Parliament passed a law blocking entry to foreigners who have publicly criticized it or its settlements in the West Bank Monday, a move that has since caused alarm in the US, where critics and supporters alike have warned that it will further isolate Israel from the international community. Laurie Goodstein reports at the New York Times.
The Senate was urged not to dispense with non-military efforts to influence Moscow yesterday by eastern and central European countries threatened by Russia, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
“Foreign interference in our democracy.” American conservatives are funding the Dutch parliamentary election campaign of far-right leader Geert Wilders, attracted by his anti-European and anti-Islam views, report Danny Hakim and Christopher F. Schuetze at the New York Times.
Former president Barack Obama was incorrectly blamed by President Trump for the release of 122 “vicious” Guantánamo Bay detainees considered recidivists by US intelligence agencies via Twitter yesterday morning, the release of most of whom was actually ordered by the Bush administration, reports Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald.
The judge in the USS Cole bombing case ordered that defense attorneys could call former CIA officials as witnesses, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A huge trove of documents purportedly exposing how the CIA hacks smartphones, computer operating systems, message applications and internet-connected televisions was released by WikiLeaks yesterday, Shane Harris and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.
The CIA was undermining efforts to protect the cybersecurity of Americans by developing such intrusive technology instead of helping tech companies mend flaws in their products, WikiLeaks said on the release of redacted lists of CIA surveillance targets, Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post.
The disclosure has once again broken the trust between intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley, with major tech companies trying to assess how badly their products have been compromised in its wake, write Vindu Goel and Nick Wingfield at the New York Times.
An American CIA worker is the most likely source of these latest leaks, though Russia – behind the last breach last August – is certainly taking advantage of it, writes Kevin Poulsen at The Daily Beast.
WikiLeaks’ release of the CIA’s “hacking arsenal” ought to be an eye-opener for anyone who still believes that Julian Assange or former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden are not out to weaken the United States, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
South Africa reversed its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court citing a recent court ruling that declared the move “unconstitutional and invalid,” Norimitsu Onishi report at the New York Times.
The Trump administration is considering major cuts to the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies focused on national security threats to fund the planned wall along the US’ border with Mexico, Dan Lamothe, Ashley Halsey III and Lisa Rein report at the Washington Post.
Libya’s eastern parliament voted to withdraw its support for a UN peace deal and Government of National Accord yesterday, Rami Musa reports at the AP.
Suspected Islamic State militants were behind an attempted attack on Saudi royals during their recent trip to Malaysia, Malaysian police confirmed, Ben Otto and Yantoultra Ngui reporting at the Wall Street Journal.