The Early Edition: March 24, 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

The Senate Intelligence Committee has not seen the information that Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) says reveals the incidental surveillance of the Trump campaign, panel members Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Angus King (I-Maine.) confirmed yesterday, Katie Bo Williams reporting at the Hill.

Nunes apologized to House Intelligence Committee Democrats yesterday for his handling of revelations about possible surveillance of the Trump campaign, Karoun Demirjian and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post.

Nunes will not reveal the source behind his claims that Trump’s transition team were incidentally surveilled to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he told reporters yesterday, Brooke Seipel reporting at the Hill.

“I had a duty and obligation to tell him” because “he’s taking a lot of heat in the media.” Nunes explained his decision to inform the President about the reported surveillance to Fox News yesterday. Nikita Vladimirov reports at the Hill.

Nunes’ Committee’s investigation should be halted immediately, and Nunes himself deserves to be subject to the same leaking probe he advocated in relation to the previous disclosures, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

The raw transcripts of Trump staff conversations making their way to the Obama White House is very unlikely unprecedented, but the thing that keeps former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra awake at night is the possibility that the mighty powers of the US intelligence community have been corrupted for political purposes, he writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Nunes’ used his position as committee chairman to distract attention from the important question of whether Trump’s election was aided by collusion with Russia when he should have been carrying out responsible oversight of intelligence matters, writes the New York Times editorial board.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

A select committee to investigate Trump-Russia ties was called for by former vice-president Joe Biden yesterday, echoing the sentiments of Rep. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Nolan D. McAskill reports at POLITICO.

FBI Director James Comey avoided a question about any political motive behind the timing of his announcement that his agency is investigating the Trump team’s ties to Russia at a national security symposium at the University of Texas yesterday, Kelsey Sutton reports at POLITICO.

ELECTRONICS BAN

An assessment of the US and UK bans on larger electronic devises on flights from some Middle Eastern and north African countries will be made by European security experts next week in Brussels in response to a call from the European Commission for more information on the intelligence underpinning the British ban, Jennifer Rankin reports at the Guardian.

Drop the “exaggerated” electronics bans on flights from some Turkish airports, Turkey’s President Erdoğan urged the US and the UK yesterday. [AP]

Turkey is negotiating with international aviation authorities on relaxing the conditions of the bans, according to Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan today. [Reuters]

The MUSLIM BAN

Arguments on the validity of President Trump’s revised travel ban was set for May 8 by a federal appeals court, but before that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals suggested it may rule on the federal government’s request for a stay of a Maryland-based federal district court’s order halting the order’s ban on the issuance of visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries after it set a schedule to complete filings on the stay request by April 5. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Pro-settlement David Friedman was confirmed as the US ambassador to Israel by the Senate yesterday, the BBC reports.

Tennessee businessman Bill Hagerty is President Trump’s nominee to become the US ambassador to Japan, Nikita Vladimirov reports at the Hill.

A Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing for Air Force secretary pick Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) could be held as early as next week, Joe Gould reports at Defense News.

The Pentagon could dock the retirement pay of former national security adviser Michael Flynn because he did not seek permission from the US government to work as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests, US defense officials told Dan Lamothe at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The latest round of UN-brokered talks between opposing sides in the Syrian war resumed in Geneva today, the prospects for a breakthrough still slim as violence across the country continues, Al Jazeera reports.

The battle to oust the Islamic State from the city of Raqqa will likely begin in the coming days, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today, Reuters reporting.

IRAQ

My country needs more help from the United States, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi explains at the Washington Post.

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

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Talks with senior Israeli officials in Washington ended yesterday with a joint statement explaining that the two governments had been unable to agree on a settlement policy that could pave the way to the resumption of peace talks, the White House expressing its “concerns” with settlement construction following the talks. Carol Morello and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about Israel’s settlement building in the occupied West Bank today, Reuters reports.

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli troops in the West Bank yesterday, the Israeli military saying that he and his companions exited the car they were driving and “hurled fire bombs.” The AP reports.

ATTACK ON UK PARLIAMENT

London police revealed further details about Islamic State-claimed Parliament attack suspect Khalid Masood – born Adrian Russel Ajao – and announced two further “significant” arrests yesterday, Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless report at the AP.

Live updates on this story continue to be provided at the BBC and the Guardian.

EUROPE

A man who attempted to drive through a crowd in Antwerp in a vehicle containing weapons was stopped and arrested by Belgian security forces, officials confirmed yesterday, Natalia Drozdiak reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The driver has been charged with attempted terrorist murder, Belgium’s federal prosecutors said today. [Reuters]

UK government evidence in a rendition case will be heard in secret for the first time after a high court ruling on a rarely-used provision of the Justice and Security Act, Owen Bowcott reports at the Guardian.

President Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department would make the job of NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe more difficult in the face of escalating Russian threat, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.

A breakup of the EU could trigger war in the western Balkans, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warned President Trump in response to his enthusiasm for Britain’s departure from the bloc. Lionel Barber reports at the Financial Times.

Turkey may review its “political and administrative” ties with the European Union, Turkey’s president said, amid escalating tensions between Turkey and EU nations. [AP]

Armed militants attempted to break into a National Guard base in Chechnya this morning, the ensuing firefight leaving six militants and six Russian soldiers dead, the AP reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Russia is “perhaps” supplying the Taliban’s fight against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Army General Curtis Scaparrotti told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

Scaparrotti’s allegation was dismissed as a “lie” by Russia today, Reuters reports.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea is ready to conduct a new nuclear missile test at any time, according to a South Korean military official, Ju-min Park reporting at Reuters.

North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch was condemned as a “grave” violation of UN sanctions by the UN Security Council yesterday, the AP reports.

The UN will boost its investigation into human rights violations in North Korea with a view to documenting alleged crimes for future prosecution, it agreed today. [Reuters]

International sanction on North Korea are taking a serious toll on humanitarian aid efforts there, according to a UN-led report. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A CIA tool to spy on Mac computers is revealed in the latest cache of classified government documents leaked by WikiLeaks yesterday, Vindu Goel reports at the New York Times.

None of its security gaps revealed in CIA documents leaked by WikiLeaks are still active, Apple believes, Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.

An American-Israeli teenage hacker was arrested in Israel on suspicion of orchestrating a wave of bomb threats against US Jewish community centers yesterday using an array of technologies, the AP’s Josef Federman reports.

Suspect Michael Kaydar’s oversight in failing to route his Internet connection through a proxy server on one occasion was the mistake that led to his eventual discovery, Kevin Poulsen providing the details at The Daily Beast.

The installation of video recorders in airliner cockpits to assist investigations of serious incidents and crashes is being pushed by the UN’s air-safety branch, a move that has been opposed by pilots for decades and which “puts safety gains above privacy drawbacks,” writes Andy Pasztor at the Wall Street Journal.

The leaks received during Watergate by former Chicago Tribune editor James Squires taught him the value of leaks and the reporters willing to take the risk of publishing them, he explains at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks wants to testify at the 9/11 trial at Guantánamo Bay and has written to the judge offering his services, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Beijing’s deployment of military gear to artificial islands in the South China Sea was defended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a visit to Australia, Rob Taylor reports at the Wall Street Jounral.

The UN’s blue helmets are facing a significant overhaul in the wake of Trump administration threats to cut funds to the UN and reconsider the value of peacekeeping, Somini Sengupta reports at the New York Times.

Legislation tightening sanctions against Iran was introduced by a bipartisan group of Senators yesterday, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The Yemeni National Commission must fulfil its mandate of investigating all alleged violations of international and domestic law in Yemen, the UN human rights deputy chief told a UN Security Council session yesterday. [UN News Centre]

Al-Shabaab claims it killed 17 soldiers in an attack in southwestern Somalia yesterday, the AP reports.

Lawyers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl filed a motion asking the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to toss out their client’s case on account of the “unprecedented circumstances” of President Trump repeatedly calling him a traitor and calling for his execution, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Individual and collective reparations to victims of war crimes were awarded for the first time by the International Criminal Court today, to victims of war crimes committed by former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, 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