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.
Russia’s military executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to over 100 local election officials days before last year’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept’s Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle and Ryan Grim.
A federal government contractor was charged with removing classified information describing some of Russia’s election-related hacking activities from her secure workplace and sending it to a news organization, the Justice Department confirmed yesterday.
Reality Leigh Winner’s is the first criminal leak case under President Trump, the 25-year-old’s arrest announced about an hour after The Intercept published its report, Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.
The White House will not seek to invoke executive privilege to bloc former Former F.B.I. director James Comey from testifying before Congress this Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed yesterday, Byron Tau and Erica Orden reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Comey will be able to discuss his conversations with President Trump during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reporting.
Things to look out for during Comey’s testimony Thursday are identified by David J. Lynch at the Financial Times.
Comey should also speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Minority Leader and ex-officio member of the panel Charles Schumer (D –N.Y) said yesterday, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
President Trump has instructed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to look past the political turmoil over possible Russia-Trump ties and try to rebuild the U.S. relationship with Russia, Tillerson said from New Zealand today, Nick Perry reports at the AP.
White House officials were considering unilaterally easing sanctions against Moscow even after the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russia, writes Kimberly Dozier at The Daily Beast.
The White House appears to have killed its Russia investigation “war room” plans before the battle started, President Trump deciding that all inquiries related to the investigations should be handled by his outside lawyer in New York rather than a White House-based team, and that his former deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski would not join the administration to handle the Russia crisis for the time being, write Tara Palmeri, Josh Dawsey and Eliana Johnson at POLITICO.
Other countries including Yemen – which is home to a forward base for the U.S. military’s Central Command – joined Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt in severing ties with Qatar yesterday in what Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post write is the most serious feud among the Persian Gulf monarchies in decades.
Kuwait is attempting to mediate the Gulf crisis, Qatar’s foreign minister said this morning, Jon Gambrell reporting at the AP.
The U.A.E. demanded “a roadmap to rebuild confidence after our covenants were broken” before it would mend ties with Qatar today, Al Jazeera providing this and other live updates on this story.
Qatar “expressed its deep regret and surprise” at the decision to close borders and airspace and sever diplomatic relation with it on the part of other Gulf states “bearing in mind that these measures are unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.” Qatar’s foreign ministry posted a statement online yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S. military said it has “no plans to change our posture in Qatar” amid the crisis yesterday, the AP reports.
Egypt is closing its airspace to Qatari airplanes with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain expected to follow suit today, while Qatari nationals have been given two weeks to leave Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., the BBC reports.
The Gulf crisis could negatively affect the fight against the Islamic State for the U.S., which is running its efforts largely out of its base in Doha, Qatar, which will make for complicated relations even though the Saudis and others will not interfere directly, national security experts are warning. Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell report at the Hill.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch a feud with Qatar in the immediate aftermath of hosting President Trump and 40 other world leaders stems from a deliberate calculation that now is the time to consolidate its status in the region, with Trump’s visit marking a return to business as usual for its relationship with the U.S. after former president Barack Obama, writes Martin Chulov at the Guardian.
The Gulf crisis is about the “strategic duplicity of the West” intensified by the “childlike idiocy of the U.S. president,” and it repercussions will be felt on every street in Britain, write Paul Mason at the Guardian.
Qatar’s relationship with Iran is being put to a new test by fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) members who accuse Qatar of undermining regional security by siding with Iran, among other actions, despite the fact that the U.A.E. also maintains diplomatic relations with Tehran, with some speculating that Saudi and its allies are more interested in reining in Qatar’s independent foreign policy than demanding its allegiance. Ted Regencia analysis the Gulf crisis at Al Jazeera.
The breakdown in relations between Qatar and other Gulf nations is a G.C.C., and more importantly, an Arab affair, and not down to Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Theodore Karasik writing that the list of sanctions being put into place against Qatar are based on a list originally drawn up in 2014 and are being implemented to “tutor” Qatar on what it means to be part of the G.C.C. at Al Arabiya.
TERROR ATTACK in LONDON
The third London Bridge attacker was named as Moroccan-born Youssef Zaghba who was intercepted by authorities in Italy last year as he tried to travel to Syria, Fiorenza Sarzanini reports at Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The two other attackers were identified by British police yesterday as Khuram Shazad Butt – who was known to security services and featured in a documentary on Islamic extremism in the U.K. called “The Jihadis Next Door” – and Rachid Redouane, Georgi Kantchev, Riva Gold, Mike Bird and Margot Patrick report at the Wall Street Journal.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan offered a “pathetic excuse” in response to President Trump’s tweet accusing him of informing the British public that there was no reason to be alarmed in the wake of the terrorist attack in London, Trump said yesterday in another tweet, the BBC reports.
Khan called on the U.K. government to cancel a planned state visit by President Trump after Trump’s criticisms of his response to the terror attack via Twitter, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May should make clear to President Trump how offensive and unhelpful his “extraordinary” Twitter-based intervention in the London terror attack was and rescind the invitation to visit the U.K. later this year, writes the Guardian.
Donald Trump appears to be doing his best to ruin the U.S.’ relationship with its closest ally, indulging in rhetorical incitement to the recent terrorist attack in London, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The fact that attacker Khuram Butt was a known member of a British extremist Islamist group raises questions about how the U.K.’s security services – who dropped their investigation of Butt after concluding that “there was no intelligence to suggest an attack was being planned” – monitor potential threats, writes the Financial Times.
The attack in London Saturday reminds Europe that it is time for the region to take its defense and security into its own hands, this week marking a step in the right direction with a meeting of European Union leaders in Prague at the Defense and Security Conference where they will set a course of action, write the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the prime minister of the Czech Republic Bohuslav Sobotka at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) launched an operation to capture the de facto capital of Islamic State in Syria Raqqa, they announced today, coinciding with the U.S.-backed operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State. Rodi Said reports at Reuters.
S.D.F. fighters have attacked Islamic State positions on the edge of Raqqa at three points, according to the S.D.F.’s political official, the AP reports.
“Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete, in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition,” a spokesperson for the S.D.F. said today, ahead of a battle in Raqqa that is expected to be long and bloody, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.
Syrian government forces have continued their offensive on Idlib province in spite of recent U.S. airstrikes and the creation of “de-escalation zones,” forcing civilians into a crowded corner of northwest Syria and prompting fears that this tactic will allow the regime to wipe out the opposition more efficiently, Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 3. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
The Senate voted 90-0 on a resolution to call on President Trump to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as per his campaign promise yesterday, Elana Schor reports at POLITICO.
Israel will maintain security control over all of the West Bank with or without a peace agreement with Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared yesterday, Ilan Ben Zion reporting at the AP.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct talks on a two-state solution that would bring an end to Israeli occupation in a statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the six-day war, which he said had resulted in generations of Palestinians living in refugee camps with little hope and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank which fuels “recurring cycles of violence and retribution,” the AP reports.
Afghan leaders and foreign officials met in Kabul today to launch the Kabul Process, which aims to set the stage for peace talks and establish an international agreement to end “cross-border terrorism,” Josh Smith and Mirwais Harooni report at Reuters.
“If Taliban wants to join peace talks, the Afghan government will allow them to open an office, but this is their last chance,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at the opening of peace talks in Kabul today, the AP reports.
At least ten people have reportedly been killed in an explosion close to police offices and a mosque in Afghanistan’s Herat province this morning, with no immediate claim of responsibility, Al Jazeera reports, citing police officials.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul last week that has now killed more than 150 and injured more than 300, the AP reports.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack by an Australian man in which he killed a hotel clerk at a serviced apartment building in the Victoria suburb Brighton and took a woman hostage yesterday before being killed by police, an attack which Australian authorities say they are treating as an act of terrorism, David Winning reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The gunman responsible for the attack had been acquitted of plotting a terror attack at a Sydney army base years earlier, police said today, adding that the attacker appeared to have been acting alone and not as part of any ongoing plot or threat. Rod McGuirk reports at the AP.
The MUSLIM BAN
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Trump tweeted today, deriding his own Justice Department’s handling of the case against the ban and potentially damaging the administration’s legal efforts to reinstate it, Matt Zopotosky writes at the Washington Post.
The Department of Justice should have pushed through with the initial executive order rather than the revised “watered down, politically correct version,” Trump tweeted today, contending that the travel ban is necessary to protect U.S. citizens, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.
The travel ban is not an effective way to protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks as the majority of attacks in the West have been carried out by native-born citizens rather than recent immigrants and refugees: it would be better to support Muslim communities in their anti-radicalization efforts, Peter Bergen writes at the Washington Post.
President Trump has demonstrated an increasingly negative attitude toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions, blaming him for the blocked travel ban in a series of tweets yesterday, among other things, including Session’s decision to recuse himself from an investigation into possible Russian interference in the presidential election. Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman observe at the New York Times.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Formal notice that it is reviewing its participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council on account of what it said is its “chronic anti-Israel bias” was given by the Trump administration today, Reuters reports.
“I’ve never seen so many flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received a cold reception at the start of his brief visit to New Zealand today, Prime Minister Bill English paying the U.S. a backhanded complement, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate accord, the Guardian reports.
If Trump keeps his campaign promise to return to a more hard-line approach to Cuba after former president Barack Obama opened a dialogue with the Caribbean island after more than 50 years of constant hostility he will further isolate the U.S., hurt its business interests and potentially obstruct progress on greater democracy in Cuba itself, warns the New York Times editorial board.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Former George W. Bush administration official and author of legal memos authorizing “enhanced interrogation techniques” since regarded as torture Steven Bradbury has been nominated to be General Counsel of Transportation, Rebecca Morin reports at POLITICO.
The Senate is being turned toward passing tougher sanctions against Iran by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, potentially reawakening a fight over financial penalties against Russia, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
Saudi Arabia spent over a quarter of a million dollars at President Trump’s Washington hotel as part of its lobbying efforts against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (J.A.S.T.A.) which would allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments for terrorist attacks, Byron Tau and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.
The latest flurry of leaked emails of the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the U.S. reveal repeated criticism of President Trump in communications with officials close to then-president Obama, Al Jazeera reports.
Russia “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures” for Montenegro’s accession to N.A.T.O., the Russian Foreign Ministry warned yesterday as Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic visited Washington for a ceremony marking the occasion, David Brunnstrom reports at Reuters.
Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi rebels and their allies rejected the U.N. special envoy to the country as a peace negotiator, saying he was biased, the AP reports.
The European Union will outline plans tomorrow for the creation of a €1 billion defense fund to pool research into new military technology, including drones and cyber-defense systems, and will say that no European country can afford to develop the most costly military equipment alone – an implicit challenge to Britain as it heads for Brexit, suggests Jennifer Rankin at the Guardian.
Islamist militants who have taken parts of the Philippine city of Marawi have prepared for a long siege by stockpiling food and weapons in tunnels and basements, Philippine military officials said, the BBC reporting.