The Early Edition: March 10, 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 MUSLIM BAN

New York, Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts joined Hawaii in a legal challenge against President Trump’s revised travel ban, the BBC reports.

“Blatantly discriminatory.” The revised ban seems designed to divide people into a “superior race,” Hawaii’s attorney general alleged yesterday. Alex Johnson and Ali Vitali report at NBC News.

A motion requesting that a federal judge in Seattle rule that an existing injunction against Trump’s earlier ban applies to equivalent portions of the new directive is being filed by Washington State’s attorney general’s office, he confirmed, Josh Gerstein reporting at POLITICO.

There is consensus among Democratic attorneys general that the new ban may be harder to fight in court, but states are still trying, observes Alexander Burns writing at the New York Times.

TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS

FBI Director James Comey briefed the so-called Gang of Eight members on Capitol Hill in the wake of President Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped him yesterday, Comey declining to comment after the meeting, Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.

The fact that as of today there is no evidence for Trump’s wiretap charge or the allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia won’t stop the launch of multiple all-consuming investigations, writes Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak once denied meeting President Trump or his campaign officials during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Kaczynski reports at CNN.

The “verbal gymnastics” by the Justice Department and White House aides over counterintelligence investigations into the relationship between the Russian government and President Trump’s aides are examined by Michael D. Shear and Eric Lichtblau at the New York Times.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

President Trump will speak to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time today following complaints that the Trump administration has failed to establish contact, Amir Tibon reports at HAARETZ.

David Friedman was confirmed as US Envoy to Israel by the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, his nomination now waiting the approval of the Senate, Amir Tibon reports at HAARETZ.

The President was unaware that former national security adviser Mike Flynn was a “foreign agent” when he gave him the job, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, Amber Jamieson reporting at the Guardian.

Reports of Flynn’s work for the Turkish government reaffirm President Trump’s decision to seek his resignation, Vice President Pence said yesterday, CBS News reporting.

There are increasing signs that President Trump’s central campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border is in political peril, suggest Nolan D. McCaskill and Eli Stokols at POLITICO.

Washington’s national security officials fear Trump’s next Twitter storm more than they fear Syria, Iran or North Korea, writes Kimberly Dozier at The Daily Beast.

Control of foreign policy is likely to creep over to chief White House strategist Steve Bannon if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t start to develop a stronger voice, warns David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

If Trump’s foreign policy message to the world is confusing, Rex Tillerson’s is almost non-existent. Carol Giacomo asks why the Secretary of State is in a perpetual state of “duck and cover” at the New York Times.

SYRIA

The US is sending 400 additional troops to Syria in advance of the offensive on Raqqa, American officials said yesterday, Michael R. Gordon reporting at the New York Times.

US-backed rebels have enough forces to capture the city of Raqqa with support from the US-led coalition, they said yesterday, underlining their opposition to any role for Turkey in the operation. [Reuters]

US decisions in relation to the takeover of Islamic State stronghold Raqqa may be delayed amid intense debate over strategy for the offensive, Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib explain at the Wall Street Journal.

The US is turning toward overt displays of military power in an attempt to shape the fight in northern Syria, Zeina Karam writes at the AP.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to combat jihadists in Syria ahead of a meeting between the two leaders yesterday, Thomas Grove and Rory Jones report at the Wall Street Journal.

Netanyahu sought reassurance from Putin that Russia’s presence in Syria would help stop Iran from taking advantage of the chaos in Syria to position itself permanently on Israel’s northern border, David Filipov and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

Putin will host his Turkish counterpart today for talks focusing on Syria, Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

Turkish and Turkey-backed rebels have killed 71 Syrian Kurdish fighters this week, according to Turkey’s military. [AP]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 8. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

There is no reason for further investigation of a January raid in Yemen that left a Navy SEAL and 12 civilians dead, the head of Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told a Senate panel yesterday. Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Votel takes “full responsibility” for the raid, he also said, Merrit Kennedy reporting at NPR.

Ramped-up air raids in Yemen are an indicator of a wider trend of increased US military aggression against Islamic militants, write Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary at Foreign Policy.

NORTH KOREA

All parties need to think “out of the box” to reach a solution in the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear program, China said today, Reuters reporting.

Chinese airlines and cruise operators were forced to cut routes to South Korea under pressure in response to South Korea’s plans to deploy a US THAAD missile-defense system today, Adam Jourdan and Cynthia Kim report at Reuters.

Pyongyang is developing an offensive doctrine for the large-scale use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict, raising the troubling prospect that the Korean peninsula will erupt into nuclear war before President Trump has time to tweet about it, suggests Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy.

AFGHANISTAN

The Islamic State is nowhere near as powerful as other terror groups in Afghanistan despite the attack on a military hospital in Kabul this week, F. Brinley Bruton and Ahmed Mengli report at NBC News, citing experts.

Trump administration officials would be well to look at the long history of deluded thinking about what the US could accomplish by sending more troops to Afghanistan before it responds to the Pentagon’s latest request for an increase in deployment, suggests the New York Times editorial board.

EUROPE

European leaders are drawing up defense plans that do not involve relying on an American President who has shown more regard for President Vladimir Putin than for NATO or the EU, writes the New York Times editorial board.

The Balkans are threatening to destabilize again under the duel threat of stepped-up Russian interference and US disengagement under the Trump administration after years of quiet progress, Laurence Norman writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TURKEY

Turkish forces were accused of grave violations against Kurds in the southeast of the country that left 2,000 dead in under 18 months by the UN, the BBC reports.

Turkey wants out of the West, and it’s time the West decided whether to uphold the fiction that it is still a reliable member of the club, writes Sohrab Ahmari at the Wall Street Journal.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

WikiLeaks is offering “exclusive access” to details of the CIA’s cyber-warfare program to Tech firms, the organization said, the BBC reporting.

Sen. Ben Sasse demanded to know if the Justice Department believes WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange should be in prison in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday, adding that he was directing the question to the Justice Department because the White House declined to answer the question directly. Seung Min Kim reports at POLITICO.

We still know Russia hacked the DNC, despite WikiLeaks’ disclosure of the CIA’s UMBRAGE program which it said collates attack techniques stolen from other states and uses them to “misdirect attribution” of a break-in, which some have said raises the possibility that the CIA created counter-espionage designed to implicate President Trump. Ben Buchanan explains at the Washington Post.

The perfect example of a country “fighting the last war.” This week saw the Trump administration roll out its travel ban, to which it has devoted weeks of energy and political capital, while its response to a “devastating barrage” of WikiLeaks disclosures was a general promise to prosecute leakers, Fareed Zakaria observes at the Washington Post.

WikiLeaks’ claims that the CIA had bypassed encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp were misleading, Zeynep Tufekci explains at the New York Times.

Is privacy really dead? Olivia Solon asks at the Guardian following FBI Director James Comey’s comment yesterday that there is “no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”

What is the “deep state?” a phrase used interchangeably by American commentators with the bureaucracies of the military and spy agencies. The Economist explains.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Guantánamo Bay is a “very fine place” and he will advise President Trump to send newly-captured terror suspects there to face prosecution rather than to a civilian court, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said yesterday, Charlie Savage reporting at the New York Times.

A prosecutor in the USS Cole case expects President Trump to honor an Obama administration plea deal to let confessed war criminal Ahmed al Darbi serve out his sentence in his home country, Saudi Arabia, he said yesterday, Carol Rosenberg reporting at the Miami Herald.

A list of the 41 detainees currently incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay and their status as of Jan. 19 is provided at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration invoked the state secrets privilege in an effort to block the testimony of several top CIA officials in a federal lawsuit against two psychologists who helped run the agency’s harsh interrogation program, James Risen, Sheri Fink, and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

Hamas’ enemies are now “Occupiers” not “Jews.” Hamas officials confirmed Thursday that they are drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Ian Fisher and Majd Al Waheidi report at the New York Times.

The UN’s International Court of Justice declined a request by Bosnia to reopen a 2007 case clearing Serbia of having an active role in the genocide committed during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s yesterday, the New York Times’ Marlise Simons reports.

A new plan to eradicate sex abuse by its peacekeepers was unveiled by the UN yesterday, Al Jazeera reports. 

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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