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.
REX TILLERSON in ASIA
Negotiations with North Korea to freeze its nuclear program were ruled out by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, who said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action if North Korea elevates its program to an unacceptable level. David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.
TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS
“He stands by it.” President Trump refused to back down from his claim that his predecessor had Trump Tower wire tapped during the 2016 presidential campaign despite a bipartisan statement from Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirming they had seen no evidence to support it, Byron Tau and Michael C. Bender report at the Wall Street Journal.
A statement denying it wiretapped President Trump in the weeks after he won the election was issued by Britain’s communications intelligence agency GCHQ after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited claims yesterday originally made on Fox News earlier in the week, the BBC reports.
A spokesperson for the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed back on claims that the panel has yet to be briefed on information regarding the alleged wiretapping made by Spicer yesterday, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
An annotated transcript of Spicer’s “angry, lonely” defense of Trump’s wiretapping claim is provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.
A resolution requesting evidence from President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions supporting Trump’s wiretapping allegation was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) yesterday, the Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.
FBI Director James Comey will have the opportunity to put this episode to bed during a public hearing next week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters yesterday, Katie Bo Williams reporting at the Hill.
The MUSLIM BAN
A federal judge in Maryland issued a second injunction blocking enforcement of one of the main sections of President Trump’s revised travel ban yesterday, again using Trump’s own comments to come to the decision that the order was likely unconstitutional, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.
A request to apply his order blocking the first travel ban to the revised order was denied by a Seattle-based federal judge yesterday, who instead will rule later on a separate request from the states to impose a fresh restraining order on the revised ban. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The courts in Hawaii and Virginia tried to read the President’s mind in blocking the travel ban, gleaning a malicious intent behind the order from comments by Trump and his aides, an abandonment of their traditional role, Josh Blackman argues at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Trump’s furious reaction to the blocking of his revised ban Wednesday is just one of many examples of his and his team’s habit of pushing incendiary language and unfounded claims, even in the face of opposition from federal judges and senior lawmakers, Josh Wagner and Matt Zapotosky write at the Washington Post.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was paid over $50,000 by Russian companies shortly before he became a formal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee show. Shane Harris, Paul Sonne and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
NATO ties will be high on the agenda when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump meet in Washington today, anticipates the BBC.
Whatever her personal views of Trump, Merkel is not going to Washington to confront him, points out Matthew Karnitschnig at POLITICO.
“Awkward” questions Trump should be asked when he stands next to Merkel are suggested by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Turkey on Mar. 30 according to Turkey’s foreign minister. [AP]
Trump’s summit with his Chinese counterpart at his Mar-a-Lago resort next month could mark the beginning of a handover of power from the US to China, suggests Fareed Zakaria at the Washington Post.
Rex Tillerson’s conduct so far suggests that “all is not normal,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, denouncing the Secretary of State’s silence on American foreign policy as counterproductive and conducive to reducing the role of the US in the world.
Some of President Trump’s closest allies in Congress heavily criticized his first budget Thursday, some saying the proposed increase in Pentagon spending wasn’t big enough, Kelsey Snell and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.
More details about Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border are needed before Congress will appropriate significant funding for the project, Republican leaders in Congress said yesterday. Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill.
The Congress-created US Institute of Peace whose purpose is to engage in conflict resolution around the world is one of over a dozen independent agencies slated for scrapping under Trump’s budget blueprint, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
Abruptly cutting funds to the UN may “force the adoption of ad hoc measures that undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned yesterday. [Al Jazeera]
The relationship between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is awkward, but – as the US stands poised to slash funding to the UN, critical, Somini Sengupta reports at the New York Times.
A $30 billion increase in defense spending for fiscal year 2017 was requested by the White House yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
An airstrike on a mosque in a rebel-held areas of northern Syria yesterday has killed at least 42 people, mostly civilians, the BBC reports.
“We did not target any mosques.” A spokesperson for Central Command said that US airstrikes had hit a nearby building but denied that US aircraft were responsible for bombing the mosque, Michael R. Gordon and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.
The Syrian army shot down an Israeli jet that breached Syrian air space this morning and attacked a military target near Palmyra, Syria’s army high command said in a statement today. [Reuters]
Israel used its Arrow anti-ballistic missile system for the first time to shoot down a Syrian missile deployed in response to Israel’s attack, Amos Harel, Gili Cohen and Jack Khoury report at HAARETZ, calling it the “most serious incident between the two countries since the outbreak of the Syrian war.”
It is “unusual” for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria, Jonathan Marcus at the BBC observes, agreeing that the incident represents a serious escalation in tensions and suggesting it was perhaps a signal that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is prepared to escalate its campaign.
Russia has forged strong operational ties with Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, but this does not extend to supporting a militant regional strategy against Israel, writes Geoffrey Aronson at Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia is considering contributing ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, the Kingdom’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense said following a Pentagon meeting with national security leaders yesterday. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 15. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
France will lead drills on and around Tinian island in the Western Pacific in a show of force aimed at China, also involving US and Japanese personnel and British helicopters, Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo report at Reuters.
China intends to build its first permanent structure on a shoal in the South China Sea at the center of a territorial dispute with the Philippines, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s main financial body was declared a terrorist organization by Israel yesterday, to the fury of Palestinians, the AP’s Ian Deitch reports.
Sirens sounded in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank this morning, the Israeli military said, though it did not confirm whether the sirens were caused by missiles or were a false alarm. [AP]
A joint statement condemning Turkey’s verbal attacks on European states, but stopping short of threatening any consequences, was issued by France and Germany yesterday, Anton Troianovski reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Russia’s military buildup should be met by an comparable US increase of both nuclear and conventional weapons, to make Moscow understand that it cannot win an arms race with Washington, just as the US and its NATO allies cannot countenance the threat of tactical nuclear conflict from Moscow, writes William Lloyd Stearman at the Wall Street Journal.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
“I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken – that was during the Obama years.” President Trump may have disclosed classified information during an interview with Fox News Wednesday night, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.
One hacker alleged to have been at the center of the 2014 attack on Yahoo has been named on two previous US federal indictments, reveals Robert McMillan at the Wall Street Journal.
Another, Dmitry Dokuchaev, has been arrested and charged with treason in Russia for passing information to the US, his case part of a mysterious spate of arrests of Russian cyber officials and experts, explains Andrew Roth at the Washington Post.
Intelligence agencies’ reliance on contractors is a liability built into the system that intelligence officials have long known of yet done nothing to correct, the latest manifestation being WikiLeaks’ release of over 8,000 CIA files, their source most likely private contractors. Tim Shorrock writes at the Washington Post.
Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun was found guilty of taking part in a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Afghanistan that killed two US servicemen and of plotting to bomb a US embassy in Nigeria yesterday, Joseph Ax reports at Reuters.
Better known as “White Rose,” Harun had demanded to be tried in a military court as “a warrior,” and hadn’t turned up to the civilian court in Brooklyn where his case was heard for almost a year, disengaging with his defense long ago, writes Katie Zavadski at The Daily Beast.
Japan carried out its first civilian missile evacuation drill today by officials nervous about the threat of North Korean missiles, Hyun Oh reports at Reuters.
An Apache helicopter near the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah area attacked a boat of Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen last night, killing 31, Reuters reporting that it was not immediately clear who carried out the attack.
A suicide truck bomber attacked a military checkpoint in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province this morning, killing one, the AP reports.
Doubts about peace efforts in Colombia are raised in a new UN report, which highlights the killings of dozens of rights activists and warns that armed groups are occupying drug territories as the FARC rebels start demobilizing, Christine Armario reports at the AP.
The Air Force wants to ensure “superiority” in new battle zone space, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein told David Ignatius, who discusses this “next big threat worrying the Pentagon” at the Washington Post.