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.
President Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats if he could intervene with then-F.B.I. director James Comey to get the agency to step back from its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of its Russia Probe, Trump approaching Coats as a briefing at the White House on Mar. 22 came to a close, with C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo also present. Adam Entous reports at the Washington Post.
Former F.B.I. director James Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he no longer wanted to be left alone with President Trump the day after Trump asked him to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into Flynn, according to current and former law enforcement officials, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo reporting at the New York Times.
The White House refused to say whether President Tump maintains confidence in Sessions, Press Secretary Sean Spicer informing reporters that he has “not had a discussion with [Trump] about that.” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
Sessions informally offered to resign recently amid tensions with the president over Session’s decision to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will likely be asked to testify publicly by the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Trump-Russia collusion, committee leaders confirmed yesterday. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
Questions on the F.B.I.’s investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Russians and on fall out from the firing of former bureau chief Comey will be put to top U.S. officials when they appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Patricia Zengerle and Dustin Volz report at Reuters.
Sen. John MCain (R-Ariz.) will question Comey at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing tomorrow in his capacity as an ex-officio member of the panel, CNN’s Jeremy Herb reports via Twitter.
“Private citizen.” Former F.B.I. director James Comey refuses to testify before the Senate Judiciary C0mmittee and has refused to answer seven questions sent to him by letter from Judiciary on May 26 aimed at discovering how Comey’s still-private memo of his conversation with President Trump came to be widely reported in the press, insisting he was excused from doing so as a “private citizen,” something the Intelligence Committee should not let him get away with on Thursday, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Comey’s testimony tomorrow will be his chance to repudiate Donald Trump from a nationally televised platform, Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima anticipating Comey’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee at the Washington Post.
Details emerging of Trump-Russia collusion and subsequent events are now more serious than the Watergate scandal, former director of national intelligence James Clapper said today in Australia, Katharine Murphy reporting at the Guardian.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pushed for the expansion of a military communications channel intended to keep U.S. and Russian pilots safe from one another to see if the two nations could join in the fight against the Islamic State, a move that might have stepped outside the boundaries of the law had it not been quashed by opposition from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, a legal prohibition set by Congress, and ultimately Flynn’s firing, writes Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast.
President Trump took credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate Qatar in a series of tweets yesterday in which he claimed that his call for an end to the financing of radial groups during his recent trip to the Middle East prompted the Saudis and four other countries to cut off ties with Qatar, Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
“I can’t help you with that.” Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis said he was unable to square the president’s tweets with Department of Defense statements about Qatar’s enduring commitment to regional security yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Trump is not “taking sides” in the Gulf-Arab dispute despite yesterday’s tweets, Trump administration officials insisted yesterday, Karen DeYoung, Kareem Fahim and Sudarsan Raghavan reporting at the Washington Post.
Trump urged Gulf unity in a phone call with the king of Saudi Arabia today, the BBC reports.
The F.B.I. believes that Russian hackers planted a false story that led Saudi Arabia and its allies to sever relations with Qatar, officials briefed on the investigation told CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz.
There is “zero proof” that Russian hackers were involved in the Qatar crisis, Moscow said today, Al Jazeera reporting.
Kuwait attempted to mediate the dispute between Qatar and other Gulf states yesterday, the state-run Kuwait News Agency reporting that ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Sabah spoke with Qatar’s emir Monday night and urged him to give efforts aimed at easing tensions a chance, Jon Gambrell reporting at the AP.
Qatar must end its support for the Palestinian group Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister set out steps for restoring ties with other Arab Gulf states from Paris today, Al Jazeera reports.
Jordan is also cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to ensure regional stability, coordinate the policies of Arab countries and “end the crises in our region,” it announced, Al Jazeera reporting.
Turkey voiced support for Qatar today, adding that no country would benefit from a policy of isolating the oil-rich nation, this and other live updates on this story provided at the AP.
The unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) is being called into question just as it seeks to portray itself as standing up to Iran by the refusal of the key countries to back down from the diplomatic standoff with Qatar, writes Jon Gambrell at the AP.
Qatar is being punished for acknowledging that Iran is an important regional power and that groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have a role to play in shaping the future of the Middle East, suggests Raymond Barrett at the New York Times.
Non-G.C.C. country Egypt’s involvement in the dispute may at first seem perplexing, but a closer look at a statement by the Saudi Arabian Press Agency reveals insights into Egypt’s motivations, which are less about terrorism and everything to do with autocracy, argues Mohamad Elmasry writing at Al Jazeera.
Additional pro-Syrian regime forces advancing inside the de-confliction zone were destroyed by U.S.-led coalition forces yesterday who said they were posing a threat to coalition and partner forces at the At Tanf Garrison, according to a Coalition statement.
Direct military confrontation between U.S. and Iranian-backed forces is a possibility following the clashes over the Tanf garrison and the Tanf border crossing – which offers Iran the opportunity for a direct overland route to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, Nicholas Blanford writes at the Christian Science Monitor.
“[The] Raqqa campaign from here will only accelerate,” the U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, said today, noting the similarities between the Raqqa operation, which was launched yesterday, and the Mosul operation in Iraq. Maher Chmaytelli reports at Reuters.
What does the coming battle for Raqqa mean for the fighting on the ground and the parties to the conflict? Phillip Issa provides a breakdown at the Washington Post.
The U.S. erred in providing support to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Y.P.G.), as they are an authoritarian group with deep connections the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) and their victory would be problematic for regional alliances and the local Sunni Arab population, Kyle W. Orton writes at the New York Times.
Civilian deaths in the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have surged under President Trump, with almost 60 percent of the officially acknowledged casualties from the three-year intervention being reported in the first three months of the Trump administration, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 35 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 5. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Several people have been killed in two separate attacks in Iran’s capital Tehran today, gunmen and suicide bombers attacking Iran’s parliament and a lone suicide bomber struck the Mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini – the latter a “symbolically stunning” attack, Al Jazeera reports.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which would mark the group’s first strikes in predominantly-Shi’ite Iran, though the claim by the Sunni Islamic State did not mention a third attack which Iranian intelligence reportedly said they foiled, arresting a team. Paul Schemm reports at the Washington Post.
The attacks represent the most serious violence in Tehran since the early years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran having remained generally far more stable and safe than most of its neighbors despite its active involvement in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – though recently the Islamic State has stepped up its Farsi-language propaganda efforts, targeting Iran’s Sunni minority, and Iranian intelligence claims it has foiled number of Islamic State-inspired plots. The BBC continues to analyse the Tehran attacks.
A lone attacker struck a police officer with a hammer as he patrolled Paris’ Notre Dame square yesterday, reportedly shouting “this is for Syria” as he did so, Matthew Dalton and Nick Kostov report at the Wall Street Journal.
This was a “lone wolf” incident, a French government spokesperson said today, confirming that the suspect, who is in police custody after being shot and injured following the attack yesterday, has been identified. [France 24]
French President Emmanuel Macron will convene a special security meeting to discuss new counterterrorism measures, focusing on extending France’s state of emergency and other permanent security measures following yesterday’s attack, the AP reports.
TERROR ATTACK in LONDON
The death toll resulting from the terrorist attack in London Saturday has risen to eight following the discovery of a body in the River Thames which runs under London Bridge, the site of the attack, the BBC reports.
The international connections of the men who carried out the attacks in London last week are being investigated by U.K. and other Western intelligence agencies following revelations that one of the attackers had tried to travel to Syria from Italy and another attacker may have had links to Islamist networks in Morocco, Benoit Faucon, Laurence Fletcher and Giovanni Legorano report at the Wall Street Journal.
Italian authorities warned the U.K. about one of the attackers, Youssef Zaghba, who was a Moroccan-Italian national and was placed on a watch list shared with many countries, including the U.K., the BBC reports.
Warnings over the attackers’ extremist views were repeatedly ignored or downplayed, prompting questions about the U.K.’s counterterrorism strategy and the attention paid to concerns raised by various sources, Rukmini Callimachi and Katrin Bennhold report at the New York Times.
U.K. Prime Minster Theresa May will change her country’s human rights laws if they “get in the way” of fighting terrorism, she announced today, the BBC reporting.
The attack in London last week demonstrates the barriers to European security cooperation, despite efforts over decades to establish and utilise multilateral institutions and databases, Matthew Dalton writes at the Wall Street Journal.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The woman alleged to have leaked classified information about Russian interference in last year’s election Reality Winner could face up to 10 years in prison if the complaint that she violated the Espionage Act is pursued by the Trump administration, explains Amanda Holpuch at the Guardian.
The threats and vulnerabilities facing U.S. elections – and the solutions to them – are illustrated by the recently-published N.S.A. document detailing Russia attacks, writes Bruce Schneier at the Washington Post.
Once again the weaknesses of the U.S. intelligence community in the face of leaks from private contractors have been exposed by the arrest of Reality Winner, four years after former N.S.A. contractor Edward Snowden revealed the agency’s surveillance secrets and prompted what was supposed to be an overhaul of the way in which sensitive material was shared, writes Lois Beckett at the Guardian.
Congress must reauthorize foreign surveillance, writes Thomas P. Bossert at the New York Times ahead of today’s testimony before Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act part of which – Section 702 – is due to expire at the end of this year.
The politics of reauthorizing Section 702 have been scrambled by President Trump’s foundationless tweets about his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapping him, meaning that legislation that would normally sail through Capitol Hill might now meet with some resistance – good news for reform advocates, who consider the provision unconstitutional, writes Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will “deal with” Russia this month possibly by imposing new financial sanctions on Moscow, the chairman of the committee Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last night, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
There is no firm date set for the first meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, from which the media will likely be excluded, Russian media said today, Reuters reporting.
“We will never give up the cause of universal human rights,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, briefly noting Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and attacking what she called the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias before an audience at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, home to the U.N. Human Rights Council, where she also spoke yesterday, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Somini Sengupta report at the New York Times.
Canada will pursue its own foreign policy path without the U.S., moving away from its historic alignment with its neighbour, amid concerns about America’s increasing protectionism, its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and its desire to “shrug off the burden of leadership” globally, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said yesterday, Paul Vieira reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s decision to withhold the crucial sentence reaffirming U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the N.A.T.O. treaty in his speech in Brussels last month marked the point at which it became clear that the president would not be guided by experienced foreign policy advisers along more or less conventional post-war lines and will instead pursue a foreign policy that is purely transactional, writes William A. Galston at the Wall Street Journal.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Attorney Christopher A. Wray who served under former president George W. Bush is being nominated by President Trump as new F.B.I. director, the BBC reports.
“They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.” President Trump is seriously lagging behind on nominating candidates for positions in the government’s top ranks, despite his tweet Monday in which he blamed Congressional Democrats for blocking his appointments, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The deployment of a U.S.-made T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile defense system to South Korea has been suspended by newly-elected President Moon Jae-in, Motoko Rich reports at the New York Times.
Criminal charges against bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan involved in a fight outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., last month were called for by Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan urging the Turkish government to “finally accept responsibility for this egregious incident.” The BBC reports.
China will likely build more military bases, possibly in Pakistan, after establishing a facility in Djibouti in Africa, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.
A Taliban rocket struck the Kabul home of India’s chief envoy to Afghanistan yesterday without causing any injuries, the Indian embassy confirmed, Habib Khan Totakhil and Jessica Donati reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
An original plan to “spread terror” by Islamist militants currently holed up in the Philippine city of Marawi was thwarted by Philippine troops, the country’s military said today. Neil Jerome Morales reports at Reuters.
A Jordanian soldier has been charged with the murders of three U.S. military trainers at a Jordanian air base last year, Karin Laub reports at the AP.
American Scott Darden who was kidnapped in Yemen two years ago while helping coordinate aid for Unicef and the Red Cross also had a second, clandestine role: shipping materials for Special Operations Forces under a contract between his employer and the Pentagon that has never been made public, reveal Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.