The Early Edition: October 11, 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.

NORTH KOREA

Suspected North Korean hackers stole classified military documents when they broke into South Korea’s defense data center in September 2016, a South Korean lawmaker Rhee Cheol-hee said in an interview published yesterday, the information included a U.S.-South Korea blueprint for a possible war with North Korea and details about a decapitation strike targeting leader Kim Jong-un and top Pyongyang officials. Kwanwoo Jun and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.

Rhee received information about the suspected hacking incident from defense ministry officials, South Korea’s defense ministry has not responded to his comments and the Pentagon has similarly declined to comment on the specific reports. Zachary Cohen reports at CNN.

The U.S. and South Korea began joint military exercises over the Korean peninsula last night amid heightened tensions, the drills consisting of strategic bombers, fighter jets and an air-to-ground missile drill off South Korea’s coast. The BBC reports.

The U.S. military conducted drills with Japanese fighter jets after the exercise with South Korea, the U.S. military said in a statement, marking the first time that the U.S. has conducted drills with both the Japanese and South Korean military at night. Christine Kim and Eric Beech report at Reuters.

Trump met with his top national security advisers yesterday to discuss “a range of options” to deal with the North Korea threat, the White House said in a statement, the president receiving briefings from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford during the meeting. Jesse Byrnes reports at the Hill.

Trump may visit the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) between the two Koreas during a forthcoming trip to South Korea, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported yesterday. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

The Trump administration has made progress in its attempts to contain North Korea and, despite the president’s bluster and the general pessimism about the administration’s strategy, there are reasons to be “cautiously optimistic” about the U.S.’s efforts to economically and diplomatically isolate the regime. Adam Taylor provides an analysis of the administration’s policies and the reaction of the international community to the U.S. pressure campaign at the Washington Post.

TURKEY

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass should have resigned or been recalled after making the unilateral decision to suspend visas for Turkish citizens, Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday. The State Department responded that the decision was cleared at the highest levels of the U.S. government and emphasized that Ambassador Bass has the full backing of the State Department and the White House. Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

Turkey does not see Bass “as the representative of the United States in Turkey,” Erdoğan added; the dispute about the suspension of visas following Turkey’s arrest of an employee in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul last week providing the latest incident in the deteriorating U.S.-Turkey relationship. The AFP reports.

Bass expressed hope that the dispute could be resolved quickly and noted that close security cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey has helped to reduce attacks by Islamic State militants in Turkey. The AP reports.

The U.S.-Turkey diplomatic dispute has not impacted military operations, Pentagon spokesperson Col. Robert Manning told reporters yesterday, stating that Turkey remains a close N.A.T.O. ally. Reuters reports.

A Wall Street Journal reporter was sentenced to prison in Turkey for engaging in terrorist propaganda in support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.), demonstrating the Turkish government’s aggressive policies to repress critical reporting under the state of emergency imposed since last year’s failed coup against Erdoğan. Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The conviction of the reporter confirms to the world that Erdoğan has turned Turkey into an “authoritarian state,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

Erdoğan’s tactic of arresting U.S. citizens is an attempt to bully America and the Trump administration must make it clear that Turkey cannot carry on its actions without “risking a rupture of relations.” The Washington Post editorial board writes.

IRAN

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal is “vitally important for regional security,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a phone call to Trump yesterday, urging the president to recertify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. The BBC reports.

Trump misleadingly blamed Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) for the Iran deal. Linda Qiu explains the passage of a bipartisan bill in the spring of 2015 to provide the appropriate context at the New York Times.

The future of the deal would be uncertain should Trump decertify Iran’s compliance before the Oct. 15 deadline and put the issue of sanctions on Iran into Congress’s hands – likely leading to a partisan battle and complicating the issue for the other countries party to the agreement. Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour explain at the Guardian.

The Trump administration, Congress and European allies could save the deal and address its shortcomings even if Trump decides to decertify Iran’s compliance with the agreement by drawing on the relationship with international partners, using existing sanctions authorities and measures to counter Iran’s actions in the region, developing a common strategy with European allies, and Congress using its powers to counter the “constant cycle of deal crisis.” Ilana Goldenberg and Elizabeth Rosenberg write at Foreign Policy.

Iran’s interest in the Middle East’s affairs are not “malevolent,” its actions ensure stability in the face of Western-backed Arab interference. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif writes at the Atlantic, also defending the nuclear deal.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued subpoenas on Oct.4 to employees at the Fusion GPS research firm, which worked with former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile a salacious dossier about the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia. Evan Perez, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

Nunes issued the subpoenas without consulting Democrats on the Committee, three sources told NBC News, according to the Committee’s rules Nunes did not need approval from minority Democrats to sign-off on the subpoenas. Ken Dilanian and Alex Moe report at NBC News.

The Trump campaign’s former foreign policy adviser Carter Page will not testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Page informed the committee yesterday, a source familiar with the matter stating that Page would rely on the Fifth Amendment. Ali Watkins reports at POLITICO.

The House Intelligence, Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees are competing in their efforts to pursue the allegations made in the Steele dossier, with the members of the congressional panels taking various positions on the dossier. Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay report at Reuters.

Special counsel Robert Mueller “cannot and will not save us,” Mueller’s elusive qualities stand in stark opposition to the president’s bombastic style, but the reality is that his investigation may take years to complete, Trump’s actions may not amount to legal wrongdoing and the questions about the president’s moral authority would remain. Quinta Jurecic writes at the Washington Post.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The Israeli intelligence service hacked the Russia-based Kaspersky Lab cybersecurity firm and informed the U.S. about Russian intrusion through Kaspersky software, including classified documents that were stolen from a National Security Agency (N.S.A.) employee. Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane reveal the Israeli operation at the New York Times.

The Kaspersky Lab “does not possess any knowledge” of Israel’s hack, the firm said in a statement responding to the reports. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Syrian Army and Syrian Kurds are competing for control of oil-producing areas, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said today, warning that Syria would “not allow its sovereignty to be violated under any conditions.” Reuters reports.

Raqqa’s Civil Council “is leading discussions to determine the best way to enable civilians trapped” by Islamic State militants to exit the Syrian city ahead of the impending defeat of the militants, U.S. Centcom have said in a statement.

An overview of the parties to the Syrian war and the various alliances is provided by Samer Abboud at Al Jazeera.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 9. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

The Islamic State’s fight to take over Iraqi territory has displaced 5.4 million civilians, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq said yesterday, expressing deep concern for the civilians who have fled the fighting. The BBC reports.

Although the Islamic State group has lost significant territory in Iraq, it has not been fully defeated. John Beck explains where the militants still hold territory and influence at Al Jazeera.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans for 3,736 units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank yesterday, with activists stating that the Israeli government has been spurred by the Trump administration’s accommodating stance. Ruth Eglash and Loveday Morris report at the Washington Post.

The Egyptian military expanded the buffer zone along the Gaza Strip border, bulldozing at least 140 homes and more than 200 acres in an attempt to prevent Palestinian Hamas militants from using underground tunnels to evade Israel and Egypt’s blockade of the Strip. Sam Madgy reports at the AP.

The Obama administration’s policies pushed Israel and Arab nations closer together as they realized they shared similar concerns about Obama’s approach to the Arab Spring uprising, the Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s expansionism in the region. Haisam Hassanein and Wesam Hassanein write at the Wall Street Journal.

LEBANON

The Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group aspire to attack the U.S. homeland, senior U.S. officials have said. Elise Labott and Laura Koran report at CNN.

The “Lebanese army has become an integral part of Hezbollah,” Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday, claiming that the militant group controls the Lebanese army. The AP reports.

The SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court dismissed a travel ban case from Maryland yesterday but took no action on a separate case from Hawaii that concerns the travel ban and the refugee ban, the AP reports.

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to review the conviction of a war criminal held in Guantánamo Bay and serving a life sentence. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Trump does not plan to fill many positions across federal agencies because they are “totally unnecessary,” the president told Forbes yesterday, suggesting that the many vacancies in the State Department, including ambassadorships, will remain unfilled. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The Trump administration’s lack of clear foreign policy plans may be a bigger issue than the president’s heightened rhetoric, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russia may order the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 people or below, Russia’s R.I.A. news agency quoted a Russia’s foreign ministry official as saying today. Reuters reports.

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea yesterday, with the Chinese defense ministry saying today that the U.S. maneuvering operation was a “provocation.” Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

The collision involving the U.S.S. John S. McCain and a civilian tanker on Aug. 21 was “preventable,” the U.S. Navy said yesterday, adding that its investigation is still ongoing. Jake Maxwell Watts reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Yemen’s warring leaders “are not interested in finding solutions, as they will lose their power and control in a settlement,” the U.N. special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said yesterday, urging the Security Council to “use all of its political and economic power to exert pressure on all parties to commit to a pact of peace.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The Trump administration intends to relax domestic rules on U.S. military drone sales to allies as part of an overhaul of U.S. arms export protocols. Matt Spetalnick and Mike Stone report at Reuters.

Trump was joking when he challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to an IQ test, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, the president’s latest comments having reinforced impressions that Trump and Tillerson have a tense relationship. Louis Nelson reports at POLITICO.

The allegations that Cuba used a “sonic weapon” to attack U.S. diplomats in Havana are not backed up by evidence and it is unfortunate that Trump has used the unspecified threat and amplified reports to undermine relations with Cuba. Lisa Diedrich and Benjamin Tausig write at the New York Times. 

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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