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.
The federal probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller has been expanded to include President Trump’s firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey and whether Trump tried to influence the Russia probe in a manner that obstructed justice in doing so, a person familiar with the matter told Del Quentin Wilber, Shane Harris and Paul Sonne at the Wall Street Journal.
Mueller has requested interviews with the director of national intelligence Dan Coats, the head of the N.S.A. Adm. Michael S. Roger, and the former N.S.A. deputy director Richard Ledgett, none of whom were involved in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign but who may have been enlisted by Trump in trying to get Comey fired as several recent news reports have suggested, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo report at the New York Times.
The meetings with the three current or former intelligence officials will take place as early as this week, though it is unclear whether they will describe in full their conversations with President Trump and other top officials or will be instructed by the White House to invoke executive privilege – experts adding that it is doubtful that the White House will ultimately be able to rely on executive privilege to block them from speaking to Mueller’s investigation. The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz report.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) met with special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday, the panel leaders saying afterward that the meeting had been “constructive” but giving no indication of what was discussed. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
Obama-era Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson will testify before the House Intelligence Committee next Wednesday as part of its investigation into Trump-Russia collusion, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is beginning a probe into the circumstances leading to Comey’s firing and any attempts to influence F.B.I. investigations under the Obama administration, chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated in a letter published yesterday in response to requests from Democrats to investigate possible obstruction of justice around Comey’s dismissal by President Trump, Seung Min Kim reports at POLITICO.
The U.S. military maintains strong links to Qatar despite its current diplomatic crisis with other Gulf nations, as demonstrated by a deal for F-15 fighters and a visit to Doha by two U.S. warships today, the Qatari defense minister stating that military cooperation is based on the “effort to eradicate terrorism and promote a future of dignity and prosperity,” Jon Gambrell reporting at the AP.
The $12bn sale of up to 36 Boeing-made F-15 fighters to Qatar was completed yesterday and was made in spite of Trump’s accusation that Qatar funds extremism and his celebration of Qatar’s isolation by Arab nations, Ellen Mitchell observes at the Hill.
Two U.S. Navy ships arrived in Qatar today to participate in joint exercises with the Qatari Emiri Navy, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage of this story,
“We do not want any differences between our brothers in the G.C.C. (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said upon arrival in Qatar yesterday where he is seeking to resolve the dispute between Arab nations and Qatar through its close relationship with Qatar and its relations with Saudi Arabia. Ece Toksabay and John Davison report at Reuters.
The Gulf crisis can be resolved through “peace and dialogue,” Çavuşoğlu said following meetings with top Qatari officials in Doha yesterday to discuss the ongoing diplomatic row in the region, the Hürriyet Daily News reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Morocco to discuss the dispute between Arab nations and Qatar today, highlighting the need for stability as “these states are stakeholders in the crises in Syria and Libya,” Al Jazeera.
Al Qaeda’s former Mufti Abu Hafs al-Muritani condemned Arab nations for their actions against Qatar and expressed support for the isolated country, Al Arabiya reports.
The Trump administration’s approach the Gulf-Arab dispute has been confused and President Trump’s comments contradicts those of his lieutenants, demonstrating an indelicate navigation of relationships in the Middle East, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.
The Gulf crisis is the latest in a cycle of tension and escalation in a region characterized by dictatorships, pushing the Middle East further toward conflict due to complex regional relationships and demonstrating that dictatorship is anathema to stability, Iyad El-Baghdadi and Maryam Nayeb Yazdi write at Foreign Policy.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will address South Korea’s concerns over the U.S.-built T.H.A.A.D. missile defense system deployed there after the recently-elected South Korean president suspended additional deployments of the system last week, Mattis told lawmakers yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
North Korea released student Otto Warmbier imprisoned there since March last year on a 15-year sentence on “humanitarian grounds,” it said yesterday, the day after Warmbier was evacuated on a U.S. military medical plane in a coma. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
The three U.S. citizens still being held in North Korea were allowed to meet with the State Department’s top official on North Korea Joseph Yun in Pyongyang last week and are in a fairly healthy condition, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
The physical abuse suffered Warmbier at the hands of his North Korean captors marks his case out as unusual – the Pyongyang regime as generally refrained from such brutal treatment of its American prisoners – the question being, why? Choe Sang-Hun, Austin Ramzy and Motoko Rich write at the New York Times.
The reasons why the U.S. should ban travel in the wake of Warmier’s release as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said was being considered yesterday are fully explicated by Jonathan Cheng writing at the Wall Street Journal.
Proposed new U.S. sanctions against Russia are a sign of internal political struggle in America, Russian President Putin suggested today, Reuters reporting.
The Senate voted 97 to 2 to allow Congress to block any efforts by the President to roll back sanctions against Russia and to strengthen sanctions in relation to alleged interference with the 2016 presidential election and actions in Syria yesterday, defying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning that the bipartisan bill would damage efforts to “maintain a constructive dialogue” with Russia. Karoun Demirjian and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.
The Senate bill codifies Obama-era sanctions on Russia and compels the White House to consult Congress on efforts to ease or eliminate sanctions, a move that has caused consternation in Russia, Demetri Sevastopulo writes at the Financial Times.
The bipartisan bill is the right move against Russia but will lead to future regrets by tying the Executive’s hands, making lifting sanctions at a later stage very difficult and handing power to Congress over certain foreign policy issues – over which it has little expertise, Daniel W. Drezner writes at the Washington Post.
The U.S. military deployed a truck-mounted missile system to eastern Syria, giving the U.S. military the ability to protect U.S. advisers and rebels from Iran-backed pro-government forces near the Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq, Philip Issa and Sarah El Deeb report at the AP.
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians around the Syrian city of Raqqa and displaced another 160,000, a U.N. panel has found, reflecting fears expressed by humanitarian organizations that the greater autonomy given to military commanders by the Trump administration has led to the protection of civilians being neglected. Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.
Turkey has completed construction of a roughly 430-mile wall along its border with Syria aimed at blocking terrorist infiltration from that country, with another wall along the border with Iran planned, Nuray Babacan reports at the Hürriyet Daily News.
The U.N. will not be “engaged in any way or form” in the independence referendum in Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region to be held in September, which has attracted criticized from the Iraqi government and from several nations in the region and the West, Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 28 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 13. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Islamic State took over the former fortress of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan early yesterday, a major strategic and symbolic victory, according to Afghan officials and locals. Rod Nordland and Fahim Abed report at the New York Times.
Concerns that the few thousand additional U.S. troops expected to soon deploy to Afghanistan could be just the beginning of a new surge in the country have been raised over President Trump’s decision to delegate authority to the Pentagon to set troop levels in Afghanistan, report the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe.
Trump’s delegation of the power to determine U.S. force levels in Afghanistan to Secretary of State James Mattis is unprecedented and dangerous and comes after a decision in April reportedly to authorize the State Department to determine force levels in Iraq and Syria and means that the buck for war and peace no longer stops with the Commander-in-Chief but in the Pentagon E-Ring, writes Micah Zenko at Foreign Policy.
Yemeni rebels fired a missile at an Emirati ship as it left the strategic Red Sea port of Mokha, wounding one sailor, according to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in a statement early this morning. The AP reports.
Saudi Arabia is engaging with a $750 million training program through the U.S. military in an effort to prevent the accidental killing of civilians in Yemen, it said, promising to take steps to allay American concerns about its air campaign over Yemen which has killed over 9,000 civilians over more than two years, the additional training and safeguards effectively amounting to new conditions on the $110 billion arms deal the U.S. is preparing to seal with the Saudis. Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.
U.S. troops are on the ground in the besieged Philippine city of Marawi, though they are not engaged in combat, a Philippine military spokesperson said yesterday, the first official confirmation by the Philippines of the American military presence there. Felipe Villamore reports at the New York Times.
The extent to which the Islamic State has succeeded in the Philippines while President Duterte was busy with his brutal war on drugs is now “alarmingly evident,” the New York Times editorial board examining how the militants grew in the Philippines to become the “serious problem” they are today.
“Don’t do it.” The steady stream of advice from lawmakers, business leaders and Cuba experts to President Trump’s national security team as it worked over the past several weeks on a new Cuba policy to roll back the former administration’s diplomatic and economic advances is highlighted by Karen DeYoung and Nick Mirroff at the Washington Post ahead of the expected unveiling of the new policy tomorrow.
The autocratic Cuban regime will likely respond to roll back of Obama initiatives by clamping down on the kernels of independence and information that have taken seed in the past four years in Cuba, Christopher Sabatini offering some advice for avoiding Trump’s “imminent Cuba problem” at the New York Times.
Two Turkish men resident in the U.S. were arrested by U.S. marshals in connection with their alleged role in assaulting protesters outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., last month, Chuck Ross reports at The Daily Caller.
Charges against a dozen members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail for their involvement in the attack will be announced by Washington, D.C. law enforcement officials today, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.
Turkey and the E.U. will meet to discuss anti-terror measures with the intention of taking joint steps to combat terrorism within the month, Sevil Erkuş reports at the Hürriyet Daily News.
A U.N. judge was convicted of membership of an extremist group in a court in Ankara yesterday over his alleged ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a move that drew rebuke from the U.N. court he sits in. the AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The N.S.A. linked WannaCry ransomware to “cyber actors” thought to be sponsored by North Korea’s spy agency in a statement which is not available to the public, the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports.
Months of laboratory tests are likely needed to properly assess the potential fire hazards of placing large numbers of laptops with lithium batteries in the cargo holds of passenger airplanes, the head of the European Aviation Safety Agency said yesterday, delivering what Andy Pasztor and Susan Carey call the most explicit criticism of the proposed ban on laptops and other large electrical devices in the cabins of planes bound for the U.S. so far at the Wall Street Journal.
U.K. defense company B.A.E. has made large-scale sales of sophisticated surveillance technology across the Middle East, including the sale of decryption software to numerous repressive regimes that could be used against the U.K. and its allies, a year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper has discovered. The BBC reports.
An unknown U.S. tech company effectively told the N.S.A. to “get a warrant or get lost” according to a newly-declassified document, the first known time that a company did not comply with the N.S.A.’s exercise of its powers under the controversial legal authority Section 702, the re-authorization of which is currently being fought over in Congress, writes Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast.
An Iranian naval vessel confronted three U.S. ships and pointed a laser at a Marine Corps helicopter over the Strait of Hormuz yesterday, according to U.S. military officials, Gordon Lubold reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
An Al-Shabaab attack on a hotel and adjacent restaurant in Somali capital Mogadishu last night as killed at least 19 people, Feisal Omar reports at Reuters.
A controversial anti-terror law targeting conspiracies to commit attacks has been passed in Japan despite warnings from the U.N. that it could be employed to crack down on civil liberties, Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
China’s interference in Australia’s political system – provides a lesson for the U.S. as it grapples with an increasingly complex relationship with a rising China, which is only too glad for America to remain focused on Russia’s motives in interfering in last year’s election and not its own, writes John Pomfret at the Washington Post.