The Early Edition: March 22, 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.

ELECTRONICS BAN

The UK joined the US in banning laptops on flights from specific countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and Turkey, though the countries and airlines under the UK ban differ from those under the American, with a number of British airlines affected by the UK ban, the BBC reports.

Both bans are asserted to be a response to the threat of terrorism to global aviation, US officials saying that the executive order was not a response to a specific threat but to general intelligence about the enduring desire of terrorists to attack America, Susan Carey, Robert Wall, Shane Harris and Margherita Stancati explain at the Wall Street Journal.

Recently obtained intelligence footage shows an al-Qaeda affiliate is trying to perfect techniques for concealing explosives in the batteries of electronic devices, a discovery that prompted the US and the UK to impose the electronics ban, report Barbara Starr and Rene Marsh at CNN.

The intelligence was collected during a US raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen in January, three intelligence sources told The Daily Beast’s Jana Winter and Clive Irving.

Concerns about the risk assessment authorities made in formulating the details of the order have been prompted by the requirement on passengers under the US ban to place larger electronic devices in their checked bags, Robert Wall reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Who is affected, why are larger devices banned, and what should passengers do? Brian X. Chen provides all the information he has so far at the New York Times.

“Weaponizing interdependence.” Critics are suggesting that the electronics ban is not about security at all, but part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

The “confused” House Intelligence Committee is trying to find evidence to support its preconceived beliefs about Russian interference in the US presidential election, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday. [AP]

Partisan lines around the matter of possible Russian collusion have hardened in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s testimony this week, casting doubts on the congressional intelligence committees’ ability to conduct their own investigations, Shane Harris reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s legislative agenda will not be slowed by the FBI investigation, Republican Senators insist. Katie Bo Williams and Jordan Fabian report at the Hill.

A delay of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation vote while the Trump campaign is under FBI investigation was called for by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Fresh corruption allegations in Ukraine against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have pushed him back to the forefront of the ongoing inquiry into possible Trump-Russia coordination, Rosalind S. Helderman, Andrew Roth and Tom Hamburger write at the Washington Post.

Trump’s tweets about being wiretapped by Obama were used by Democrats at Monday’s House Intellgience Committee hearing to distract from the fact that they have nothing to substantiate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, writes Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. at the Wall Street Journal.

What happens now? Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian explains what’s next for the inquiries and the FBI investigation, and the consequences for détente with Russia, following Comey’s Monday disclosures.

Will Trump be impeached? Tom McCarthy considers the processes involved if the “murmurs” surrounding President Trump come to a head at the Guardian.

TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS

Some GOP lawmakers continued to defend President Trump’s wiretapping claims even after they were debunked by FBI Director James Comey Monday, Austin Wright and Martin Matishak report at POLITICO.

False statements by Trump are part of a “disturbing pattern of behavior” that presents a real danger to US national security, former national security adviser Susan E. Rice writes at the Washington Post.

Public trust – at home and a broad – is being eroded by Trump’s “seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

President Trump will reaffirm his commitment to NATO during a May 25 trip to Brussels to meet with other NATO heads of state, the White House stressed in a statement released last night, Cristiano Lima reporting at POLITICO.

The US renewed a demand for Cambodia to repay a “dirty” war debt of $500 million, Vannarith Chheang at Al Jazeera warning that US-Cambodian relations will further deteriorate if President Trump insists on recouping debt incurred by an illegitimate regime.

This week’s summit of the coalition fighting the Islamic State offers the Trump administration a chance to make a positive impression on its allies about its plans to defeat the terrorists in Iraq and Syria, Nahal Toosi writes at POLITICO.

Alternative dates for a possible meeting of NATO foreign ministers have been suggested by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after he was criticized for his plan to skip a formal NATO meeting while arranging a trip to Russia, Julian E. Barnes and Felicia Schwartz write at the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson’s rejection of “ineffective traditions” is prompting criticism from the left and the right, writes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.

That Tillerson is under no illusions about the threat posed by North Korea was made very plain during his recent trip to Asia, but he failed to provide a clear picture of how he means to proceed and in what way the Trump administration’s approach would depart from that of the previous administration, writes the New York Times editorial board.

My wife made me do it. Tillerson said he never wanted the job of Secretary of State and had to be convinced by his wife to do it, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explains how he is translating “America First” into foreign policy to Erin McPike at the Independent Journal Review.

Secretary of State Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ advice on three main matters of war and peace will be crucial for a struggling president with big plans but limited experience, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

Is there a “pay to play” atmosphere in Washington? Ethics experts have raised this question over a three-day event due to be co-hosted this spring by the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. and a business group whose chair paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lobbying work that may have benefited the Turkish government, write Marilyn Geewax and Jackie Northam at NPR.

Ryan Dean Newman is Trump’s pick to serve as General Counsel of the Department of the Army, the White House announced yesterday, along with other key administration posts.

NORTH KOREA

Another attempted missile launch by North Korea failed this morning when it reportedly exploded within seconds of launch, reports Jonathan Cheng at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea does not fear any move by the US to broaden sanctions against it and will pursue “acceleration” of its nuclear program including the development of a “pre-emptive first strike capability” and an inter-continental ballistic missile, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the UN said yesterday. [Reuters]

North Korea’s provocative actions, whatever they are, often seem like “more than coincidence,” Rick Gladstone demonstrates with a sampling from the past decade at the New York Times.

SYRIA

At least 33 were killed in an airstrike on a school in a village near the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered both saying they believe the raid was carried out by US-led coalition jets. The BBC reports.

Rebel fighters continued to pursue their most aggressive attack on Damascus in recent years yesterday, where days of heavy fighting have left dozens of rebels and government troops dead, Noam Raydan reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The rebel push on Damscus shows that the war in Syria is far from over, observes Liz Sly at the Washington Post.

Turkey shelled Syrian villages in the mainly Kurdish border region of Afrin this morning, wounding ten civilians, the Kurdish YPG militia reported. [Reuters]

Russia’s personnel losses in Syria are more than three times higher than the official stats suggest, Maria Tsvetkova reports at Reuters.

Last year’s death of a top Hezbollah commander in Syria was an inside job, the chief of Israel’s armed forces said. Al Jazeera reports.

IRAQ

Fighting between Yazidis and Peshmerga forces in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, liberated from the Islamic State two and a half years back, presents a challenge to the US, which has a role supporting both sides, and bodes ill for the prospects of peace after territory is taken back from the Islamic State, writes Loveday Morris at the Washington Post.

Iraqi Christians are still waiting for meaningful action after then-secretary of state John Kerry announced on Mar. 17, 2016 that the Islamic State was committing genocide against them, Carl Anderson writes at the Washington Post.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 22 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

PAKISTAN

Pakistani troops clashed with militants during a raid in a tribal region near the Afghan border today, a local Pakistani Taliban commander among those killed, the AP reports.

A bill to reinstate secret military courts criticized by human rights activists will go to the Pakistan Senate for approval today after it was passed by the lower house, the BBC reports.

EUROPE

The prospect that a major figure behind the 2016 Brussels bombings is planning another terror attack is causing increasing concern among US and Belgian officials, Julian E. Barnes and Natalia Drozdiak report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Much more aggressive” behavior by Russia in recent years justifies the need for a strengthened and updated nuclear deterrent force in the US, Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein of the Air Force told the New York Times, Rick Gladstone reports.

Around 20 militants were arrested for attempting to fuel unrest in Belarus, Belarus’ president saying that the militants had undergone training in Ukraine and received money from Poland and Lithuania. Yuras Karmanau reports at the AP.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine is the root of much of the tension between Russia and the west, yet that move was precipitated by President Putin’s own fears of growing western influence in eastern Europe, writes Sophie Pinkham at the Guardian.

GUANTANAMO BAY

An investigation into whether government spy agencies are eavesdropping on them and their confidential conversations with their clients was requested by lawyers representing those charged in the 9/11 plot trial, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Islamic State leaders are already regrouping in Libya after the loss of the group’s stronghold Sirte at the end of last year, exploiting the chaos and political vacuum gripping the country, Eric Schmitt warns at the New York Times.

Turkey has become America’s “most dangerous ally,” writes Christopher Dickey at The Daily Beast.

Multiple suicide bombings at a refugee camp near the Nigerian city of Maiduguri have left at least three people dead this morning, Al Jazeera reports.

Israeli shelling killed one person and wounded two others near the Gaza town of Rafah early this morning, according to Palestinian officials. [AP]

China is not building a monitoring station on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, its foreign ministry said today, after the Philippines sought clarification of remarks made by a local official last week. [AP] 

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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