The Early Edition: October 3, 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.

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

At least 59 were killed and more than 520 injured in a mass shooting by suspected gunman Stephen Paddock on Sunday night at a country music festival in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, which President Trump described as an “act of pure evil.” Dan Frosch, Jon Kamp and Ian Lovett report at the Wall Street Journal.

The police found at least 23 firearms in Paddock’s hotel suite, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, and Paddock used multiple rifles during the attack. The New York Times reports in rolling coverage.  

Despite presenting no evidence to support its claim, the Islamic State group stated that the attack was carried out by one of its “soldiers” through its Aamaq news agency, authorities have cast doubt on the assertion and have yet to identify Paddock’s motive. Sam Magdy reports at the AP.

The F.B.I. does not believe the attack was connected to an international terrorist group and Islamic State’s claim of responsibility may reflect its increasing unreliability when making such statements. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

America’s irrational gun laws demonstrate the “worst kind of exceptionalism” and political will and leadership is needed to tackle the scourge of gun violence. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

NORTH KOREA

“We’ve been clear that now is not the time to talk,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters yesterday, reiterating Trump’s comments in tweets on Sunday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts to engage in dialogue with North Korea were futile. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The U.S. will hold “no conversations with North Korea at this time” apart from discussions on detained U.S. citizens, Sanders added yesterday. Reuters reports.

The White House and the State Department sought to downplay any apparent gaps in Trump and Tillerson’s statements on negotiation with North Korea, the State Department emphasizing that Tillerson has means of communicating with Pyongyang rather than actively trying to communicate with the regime. Felicia Schwartz and Louise Radnofsky report at the Wall Street Journal.

Australia plans to boost its navy’s defensive capabilities in the face of the North Korea threat, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said today, reflecting increasing concern that North Korea could hit Australia and the U.S. with long-range missiles. Rob Taylor reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s mixed messages about willingness to negotiate with North Korea reveal the difficulty of reaching an agreement and the obstacles faced by Tillerson, who has to appease a president utilizing bellicose rhetoric and deal with an unpredictable North Korean leader. Motoko Rich explains at the New York Times.

The increasing tension on the Korean peninsula has undermined the role of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the North has failed to respond to communication from the South for more than 18 months and the election of liberal President Moon Jae-in has not increased the possibility of dialogue. Kim Tong-Hyung explains at the AP.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Russian operatives set up an array of Facebook accounts with differing ideologies to sow division and spread disinformation, including social media pages ranging from gun-rights supporters to gay rights activism; federal investigators and Facebook officials now believing that the accounts were part of a coordinated campaign and Facebook’s disclosure of Russia-linked ads form part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mike Isaac and Scott Shane report at the New York Times.

The Russian-operated accounts used a Facebook “Custom Audiences” tool to target certain voting demographics, according to anonymous sources familiar with the investigation, the operatives using tactics to further a campaign of disinformation. Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Adam Entous reveal at the Washington Post.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) intends to make a “representative sampling” of Russian-bought Facebook ads available to the public later this month, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said yesterday, adding that the “American people deserve to see the ways that the Russian intelligence services manipulated and took advantage of online platforms.” Kyle Cheney and Elana Schor report at POLITICO.

Approximately 10 million Facebook users saw Russian-bought ads around the time of the 2016 election, the social media company said yesterday, Ali Breland reports at the Hill.

The elusive nature of special counsel Robert Mueller demonstrates his efforts to eschew the limelight and avoid compromising the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, revealing a secretive style that may frustrate reporters but is appropriate – especially as the president has publicly criticized the probe. Darren Samuelsohn explains at POLITICO.

Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort is not a victim of the “deep state” in relation to the Russia investigations, although there are good reasons to be cautious about some reports – especially the F.I.S.A. warrant to wiretap Manafort before and after the 2016 election – there are real reasons to be concerned about Manafort’s conduct. Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes write at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

At least 17 civilians police officers were killed by two suicide bombs on a police station in the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday, the Islamic State group today claimed responsibility for the attack. Reuters reports.

A drone strike in eastern Syria killed at least 10 Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group fighters yesterday, according to sources familiar with the incident, it was unclear who struck the militants who are fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Philip Issa reports at the AP.

The Russian military claimed that it had killed more than 300 Islamic State militants in airstrikes over the past week outside the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry today. The AP reports.

Red Cross officials met with a U.S. citizen being held by U.S. authorities as an Islamic State fighter, the organization confirmed yesterday, the citizen having been captured in Syria around three weeks ago by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.). Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 25 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 1. Separately, partner forces conducted one strike against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CUBA EMBASSY “INCIDENTS”

The Trump administration will expel nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s diplomatic personnel in the U.S., the State Department is expected to announce today, making the move in response to the mysterious “attacks” on at least 21 U.S. diplomats and their families at the U.S. embassy in Havana that have caused symptoms ranging from hearing loss to cognitive issues. Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick report at Reuters.

U.S. intelligence operatives posted to the embassy in Havana first reported experiencing symptoms and hearing bizarre sounds, according to sources familiar with the situation, Michael Weissenstein, Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee reveal at the AP, also providing some context to the mysterious attacks.

IRAQ

Iran and Iraq held joint military exercises near the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan region yesterday, according to Iranian state media, a Kurdish official also stating that the drills included a deployment of a dozen Iranian tanks. The two forces have conducted the drills following the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s overwhelming support for independence in a referendum held last week. Raya Jalabi reports at Reuters.

The Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) plans to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Nov. 1, according to Rudaw TV, in an attempt to secure the case for independence. Reuters reports.

A member of the U.S.-led coalition was killed in Iraq on Sunday by an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.), the coalition said in a statement yesterday, a second service member was injured by a roadside bombing. The BBC reports.

IRAN

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal has a “better than 50” percent chance of surviving the next year despite Trump’s threats to the agreement, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said yesterday in a wide-ranging interview with Susan B. Glasser at POLITICO. Zarif also castigated Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly and opened the possibility of working with European countries if Trump decides to withdraw from the deal.

The Trump administration should not pull out of the Iran nuclear deal now but instead focus on other initiatives to rein in Iran’s ballistic missiles program and curb its influence in the Middle East. Max Boot writes at Foreign Policy.

The opponents to a new set of U.S. sanctions against Iran would be wise to look at past experience and note the success of previous sanctions against Tehran and the compliance of European and Asian countries. This experience should motivate Trump to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, Richard Goldberg writes at Foreign Policy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

White House officials are reviewing hundreds of emails sent from White House addresses to senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s private domain, according to three sources familiar with the matter, the existence of the domain was previously unreported and raises questions about the extent of personal email use for official government business. Josh Dawsey and Andrea Paterson report at POLITICO.

Russia threatened to retaliate in response to U.S. officials “breaking in” to its consulate in San Francisco, Russia’s foreign ministry said yesterday, referring to the order by the U.S. for Russian staff to vacate the consulate and other diplomatic properties. Reuters reports   

Conflicting portrayals of the alleged mastermind behind the attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Ahmed Abu Khattala, were offered by the prosecution and defense at the trial being held at a civilian federal court in Washington, the weeks-long trial into the events in Libya is likely to reignite the political controversy over the attack and the Obama administration’s response. The AP reports.

The details of the Trump administration’s Afghanistan strategy are set to be heard by the Senate Armed Services Committee in the coming week, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are scheduled to appear. Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell report at the Hill.

Talks between Palestinian Authority officials and Hamas officials began yesterday as the two sides attempt to reconcile after 10 years, the success of the talks depend on Hamas’s agreement to cede control of the Gaza Strip to the Authority which governs in the West Bank – the unification efforts are being watched closely by Israel and the U.S.. Loveday Morris and Sufian Taha report at the Washington Post.

The specter of deployable hypersonic missiles has prompted the research organization Rand Corporation to urge the U.S. to forge an agreement with China and Russia to regulate their use. John Kester reports at Foreign Policy.

The U.S. is unlikely to stop providing aid to Egypt despite reports of its dealings with North Korea and its human rights record because the U.S. benefits from the relationship. Farah Najjar explains at Al Jazeera. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK