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The Early Edition: March 23, 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.

TRUMP’s WIRETAP CLAIMS

President Trump or his associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Emmarie Huetteman report at the New York Times.

President Trump feels “somewhat vindicated” by Nunes’ revelation, he said yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.

Is Nunes a “surrogate of the White House?” The Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff questioned yesterday following Nunes’ surprise news conference and subsequent briefing of President Trump on apparent evidence of incidental surveillance, Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.

The timing of Nunes’ disclosures was politically advantageous for Trump, and the fact that he refused to say how he obtained the evidence, which he withheld from other committee members and instead rushed to present to the White House, suggests Nunes’ actions were engineered to assist the Trump administration, write Greg Miller, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett at the Washington Post.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

There is “more than circumstantial” evidence suggesting collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.

The FBI has information pointing to Trump associates’ complicity with Russian operatives to release information intended to damage the campaign of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, US officials told CNN’s Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Jim Sciutto.

Congress no longer has the credibility to independently investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election or the President and his aides’ ties to Moscow, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday after House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes claimed that he had seen evidence of the incidental surveillance of members of Trump’s transition team. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

All documents from the White House and several agencies related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interactions and payment from foreign sources including Russia were requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it announced yesterday. Nikita Vladimirov reports at the Hill.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to assist Russian President Putin with a strategy for quashing anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics a decade back, the BBC reports.

Manafort’s long-time business associate Rick Gates remains a part of President Trump’s operation even if the White House has distanced itself from Manafort, under renewed scrutiny over his connections to Russian business interests, himself, Tom Hamburger points out at the Washington Post.

“What the hell are we doing?” Former vice-president Joe Biden condemned the Trump administration’s “romance” with Russia, criticizing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to visit Russia before NATO in particular, Brooke Seipel reports at the Hill.

The Obama administration started the “nightmare” that is the tale of Russian interference in the US presidential election, suggests Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal.

Collusion with Russia by a presidential campaign would be treason, writes Nicholas Kristof, examining the facts at the New York Times.

FBI Director James Comey and DNC Chairman Mike Rogers’ testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Monday was a great moment for American – and Russian – intelligence, according to former NSA and CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden writing at the Hill.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

US diplomatic mission have been ordered to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny” and toughen screening for visa applications in those groups by Secretary of State Tillerson, Yeganeh Torbati, Mica Rosenberg and Arshad Mohammed report at Reuters, citing diplomatic cables.

NATO will reschedule a semiannual meeting of its foreign ministers so that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can attend, NATO’s head said yesterday, Matthew Pennington reporting at the AP.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi will meet with President Trump at the White House on April 3, Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration was slammed by North Korea for adopting the same policies against it as the former administration despite Rex Tillerson’s tough talk during his recent trip to Asia, Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

The Trump administration appears to have properly focused on what may be the biggest single national security threat it inherited: North Korea, even if its other foreign policy decisions have been inept or incoherent, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

The Trump administration must articulate a clearer policy in Russia to dispel lingering questions about its connections to Moscow, and the easiest way to do this is to devote more attention to solving the Ukraine war, suggests Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ISLAMIC STATE STRATEGY

“Degradation of ISIS is not the end goal.  We must defeat ISIS.” Tillerson detailed the Trump administration’s anti-Islamic State strategy at the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS summit yesterday. Michele Kelemen reports at NPR.

“Interim zones of stability” will be established by the US to protect refugees in Syria and Iraq, Tillerson explained yesterday, Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s work-in-progress plans to defeat the Islamic State closely parrot the strategy of former president Barack Obama, despite President Trump’s previous attacks on Obama for “not getting it,” observes Gardiner Harris at the New York Times.

ELECTRONICS BAN

Other European countries will not follow the US and the UK in adopting rules barring most electric gear from cabins on flights on some airlines from certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa, leaving a split among Western security authorities over airplane safety, write Robert Wall and Laurence Norman at the Wall Street Journal.

The electronics ban came without warning, leaving affected airlines like Emirates scrambling to ensure it was complying, the president of Emirates said yesterday. Adam Schreck reports at the AP.

What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban? There are many good questions that should be asked, and which the Trump administration should answer, around the electronics ban, writes Thomas Joscelyn at POLITICO MAGAZINE.

The MUSLIM BAN

Should judges consider statements from Trump and his surrogates in assessing the legality of the travel ban? David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU which is jointly representing the plaintiffs in the Maryland case challenging the ban, examines this issues at the Washington Post.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

An email criticizing lawyers who were representing Guantánamo detainees while working at the Justice Department was “not my finest hour,” Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch admitted during his last day of Senate questioning yesterday, Mark Sherman and Erica Werner report at the AP.

SYRIA

For the first time US helicopters landed behind enemy lines in Syria in support of an offensive to retake a vital dam near Raqqa from the Islamic State, a US official told Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne at CNN.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance were dropped behind Islamic State lines close to the Tabqa dam, West of Raqqa, the BBC reports.

“Tough decisions” on how much support it should lend to Kurdish fighters in the offensive to retake Raqqa are facing the US-led coalition in Syria, with the Kurds’ involvement on the one hand likely to speed up the battle, but on the other guaranteed to enrage Turkey, Sen. John McCain said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

Fighting between Assad regime forces and rebel groups continued in the Syrian capital Damascus today, underscoring the bleak prospects for peace talks set to resume later today. [Reuters]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 21. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ATTACK ON UK PARLIAMENT

The individual behind yesterday’s attack on Westminster in London yesterday that has so-far left five dead was British-born and known to the police and intelligence services, but was “not part of the current intelligence picture,” Prime Minister Theresa May revealed today. [BBC]

The latest updates on this story are provided at the BBC and the Guardian.

President Trump was among world leaders who voiced solidarity with the UK following the attack, the BBC reports.

Donald Trump Jr. took it upon himself to criticize London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan via twitter barely two hours after yesterday’s attack, drawing criticism from many in Britain, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports at the Washington Post.

Yesterday’s attack fits an “increasingly familiar pattern:” an attacker uses a car to mow down pedestrians and a knife to assault police, writes Sam Jones at the Financial Times, recalling previous, Islamic State-claimed attacks in Berlin and Nice.

The Westminster attack is not a threat to democracy unless politicians’ overreactions provoke counterproductive, ill-judged responses, writes Simon Jenkins at the Guardian.

CHINA

A US military aircraft flying near South Korea over the weekend was warned by Chinese officials that it was illegally operating in Chinese airspace and ordered to leave, Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

Chinese firms have become significant investors in US start-ups building cutting-edge technologies with potential military applications, causing concern at the Pentagon, Paul Mozur and Jane Perlez explain at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The strategic district of Sangin in Afghanistan’s Helmand province has been captured by the Taliban after an offensive that lasted for years, Taimoor Shah and Rod Nordland report at the New York Times.

Pakistan’s president said his country was ready to hold talks with India on all issues including Kashmir when he opened an annual military parade today, in which China also participated as a show of its strong friendship with Pakistan, the AP reports.

An Arab delegation protested against the “bullying tactics and intimidation” that caused a UN withdrawal of a report accusing Israel of apartheid against Palestine at a meeting with the UN secretary-general yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Norway granted political asylum to a group of Turkish military officers who fled their country after the failed coup attempt last July, Jan M. Olsen reports at the AP.

Sri Lanka’s government was condemned by the UN for its failure to investigate civil war-era atrocities, Al Jazeera reports.

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About the Author

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE