The Early Edition: March 9, 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 CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wants to speak to the British author of a dossier alleging the Russian government has compromising material on President Trump, he said Tuesday, Karoun Demirjian at the Washington Post anticipating that he could be one of those invited to testify at the Mar. 20 hearing along with the FBI Director, the director of national intelligence, and the former heads of the CIA and the Department of Justice.

US and Ukrainian authorities are interested in Kiev-based operative Konstantin Kilimnik suspected of ties to Russian intelligence who had regular contact with Paul Manafort last year while he was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Kenneth P. Vogel reports at POLITICO.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s trip to Moscow last summer on the proviso that he would not be a formal representative of the campaign, Josh Meyer and Kenneth P. Vogel report at POLITICO.

“You’re stuck with me for another six and a half years.” FBI Director James Comey told a conference yesterday that he was not about to quit his job, Katie Bo Williams at the Hill suggesting the remark provides an insight into Comey’s mindset as he takes fire from all sides over his bureau’s reported investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Ten “crucial dots” to be connected in establishing the Trump administration’s ties to Russia are examined by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times.

TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS

President Trump is not the target of any investigation, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday after initially refusing the refute Trump’s claim that his predecessor ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower, Mark Lander reports at the New York Times.

Vice President Pence sidestepped a question from News 5 on whether he believed the President’s claims that he was wiretapped by former president Obama during his campaign, Madison Park reports at CNN.

A responsible Congress would accept its duty to demand that Trump provide proof for his “outlandish” allegation that the former president committed a felony by having him wiretapped, or apologize, writes E. J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

A resumption of weapons sales that have been linked to Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilians in Yemen was approved by the State Department, reversing an Obama administration decision, Missy Ryan and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

The State Department is unable to handle its workload and is being left out of key foreign policy decisions, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $350,000-worth of pre-Election Day lobbying that may have benefited Turkey, the AP reports.

The fates of at least seven people imprisoned in Iran, five of them American citizens, are uncertain under President Trump, who made a campaign promise to resolve the prisoner issue but has said little about it since the inauguration, writes Rick Gladstone at the New York Times.

The MUSLIM BAN

Hawaii became the first state to file a lawsuit against President Trump’s revised travel ban yesterday, arguing that the order will harm its Muslim population, foreign students and tourism, Oliver Laughland reports at the Guardian.

The first hearing in the in the Hawaii lawsuit was set for Mar. 15, a day before the ban is due to take effect, Lydia Wheeler reports at the Hill.

Those Iranians who are critical of the country’s regime will be punished by Trump’s travel ban, academics and analysts have warned, Saeed Kamali Dehghan reporting at the Guardian.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION NOMINATIONS

Jon Huntsman accepted the offer to be ambassador to Russia yesterday, NBC News tweeted yesterday.

Huntsman’s long record in politics and diplomacy will likely assure him of an easy confirmation in Congress, anticipate Alan Cullison and Peter Nicholas at the Wall Street Journal.

Democrats at pick for deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein’s confirmation hearing made demands of him that no one in his position should agree to, delaying the confirmation of “another adult” in the Trump administration, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

DEFENSE BUDGET

A fiscal 2017 defense spending bill that would provide $577.9 billion for the Pentagon was easily passed by the House yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

NORTH KOREA

Both the US and South Korea rejected China’s proposal of a simultaneous suspension of North Korea’s nuclear missile program and US-South Korean military exercises a few hours after the suggestion was made yesterday, the New York Times’ Chris Buckley and Somini Sengupta report.

“All options are on the table” to deal with North Korea, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.

At the center of this complex and evolving conflict are questions about China’s ties to North Korea and the role of the US in East Asian affairs, especially under Trump, Emily Rauhala writes at the Washington Post.

North Korea tried to sell a key material for developing miniaturized nuclear weapons to unidentified international buyers last year, according to UN investigators, Jay Solomon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Diplomatic tensions between North Korea and Malaysia appeared to relax slightly today, North Korea saying it guaranteed the safety of Malaysians banned from leaving the country, Rozanna Latiff reports at Reuters.

Kim knows what he’s doing. The North Korean leader is mischaracterized as eccentric and irrational, when in fact he is well aware of what he’s doing – and his policies are working, Andrei Lankov writes at Al Jazeera.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI and the CIA have launched a coordinated criminal investigation into the unauthorized release of over 8,000 pages of documents by WikiLeaks that the group says show how the CIA breaks into computers, smartphones, messaging applications and television sets, a leak that may constitute the largest breach of classified information in the agency’s history, the BBC reports.

It’s the CIA’s job to “be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defense in protecting this country from enemies abroad,” the CIA said in a statement yesterday in response to WikiLeaks’ release regarding its hacking programs. Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

The CIA scrambled to assess the damage caused by the release, much of which may have come from a server outside of the CIA managed by a contractor, according to an intelligence official. Matthew Rosenberg, Scott Shane and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

“There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America,” FBI Director James Comey said following the disclosure of the CIA’s hacking tools, Julian Borger reporting at the Guardian.

WikiLeaks’ assessment of the data it released may have been intentionally misleading, experts said, Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.

It’s “interesting how there’s sort of a double standard with when the leaks occur, how much outrage there is,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, drawing parallels between the WikiLeaks dump and the President’s allegations that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during his campaign, Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN.

Apple has already fixed many of the security flaws mentioned in the released documents, the tech giant said yesterday, Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.

A view of the vast scale and structure of CIA digital operations is revealed by the release documents, write Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate at the Washington Post.

“Can the intelligence community keep a secret?” The CIA’s seeming inability to keep secret the tools and methods by which the US collects intelligence against foreign targets is an issue that will not receive enough attention in the coming days, Gary Schmitt suggests at the Hill.

The NSA collected American data in bulk; the CIA targets foreign individuals. Significant differences between the latest WikiLeaks release and the 2013 episode when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided a trove of documents from that agency’s surveillance programs are explained by Camila Domonoske and Greg Myre at NPR.

The targets of the hacking methods in the documents – and therefore the prime beneficiaries of their release – will be Islamic State terrorists, North Korean bombmakers, foreign spies and other US enemies, concludes the Washington Post editorial board.

No administration has been as marred by accusations that it has tried to politicize and marginalize intelligence gathering as Trump’s, observes Michael V. Hayden at the New York Times.

Encryption apps like Signal and Wickr stopped the FBI accessing almost half the devices they were legally permitted to search last year, FBI Director Comey said yesterday. Sarah Betancourt reports at The Daily Beast.

SYRIA

The Trump administration is weighing sending up to 1,000 US soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a “reserve” force to support the US offensive against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Reuters’ Phil Stewart reports.

US Marines deployed to Syria, establishing an outpost from which to fire artillery guns to support the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, Dan Lamothe and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the Washington Post.

US’ drawing on Kurdish allies in the assault on Raqqa has caused Turkey to lose momentum in the war for northern Syria, but it is still pressing Washington for a deal that allays its fears concerning Kurdish ascendancy, Orhan Coskun, Tulay Karadeniz and Tom Perry report at Reuters.

Airstrikes targeting an Islamic State-held village in northern Syria killed 14 people this morning, the AP reports.

The next round of Syria talks will start Mar. 23 in Geneva, the UN special envoy for Syria said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

Islamic State leaders are fleeing Raqqa as US-backed fighters close in on the city, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times, citing an American defense official.

The US is getting dragged into a deepening struggle for areas of Syria and Iraq liberated from the Islamic State, risking prolonging its involvement long after the jihadists are defeated, writes Liz Sly at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

Suicide bombers at a wedding party in a village close to the Iraqi city of Tikrit killed at least 26 people yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting that there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Iraqi forces intend to drive the Islamic State out if west Mosul within a month, the head of the Counter Terrorism Service told Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison today.

The Iraqi government must act quickly so as not to squander its recent victories against the Islamic State, suggests the Economist.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 7. Separately, partner forces conducted 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Experts are scouring the site of yesterday’s daytime attack on a military hospital in Kabul for evidence that the Islamic State was responsible, Amir Shah reports at the AP.

Pakistani authorities have once again closed the country’s border with Afghanistan after a temporary two-day opening, the AP reports.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel’s decision to bar entry to any foreigner who supports the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against it for its occupation of the West Bank is a strong statement by the right wing intended to characterize those foreigners as enemies of Israel, but it has little practical effect, concludes the New York Times editorial board.

EUROPE

Russia deployed a banned cruise missile, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva told Congress yesterday, the first public confirmation of the deployment by the US since it was reported last month. Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.

US cash to Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders’ political campaign has been mostly shut off, according to a campaign disclosure report, Danny Hakim and Christopher F. Schuetze report at the New York 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