The Early Edition: March 22, 2018

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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.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

“We also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” the Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement yesterday, responding to the revelation that the firm Cambridge Analytica harvested information of 50 million Facebook users to promote political campaigns, including Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Sheera Frankel and Kevin Roose report at the New York Times.

“This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg said in an interview yesterday, adding that he would be “happy” to testify before Congress over the data breach “if it’s the right thing to do.” Seth Fiegerman reports at CNN.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook would take a number of measures to improve data security, including investigating apps that had access to large amount of information before 2014, audits of apps and informing users affected by apps that had misused personal information. The BBC reports.

“I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” Zuckerberg said, explaining that the “question is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no.” He also that Facebook is committed to stopping election interference in the upcoming U.S. midterms and in elections in Brazil and India, David Ingram reports at Reuters.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been examining the Trump campaign’s links to Cambridge Analytica, sources familiar with the matter have said. Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, Megan Christie and Benjamin Siegel report at ABC News.

Cambridge Analytica was offered hacked personal emails when it was working on election campaigns in Nigeria and in St Kitts and Nevis, according to witnesses, explaining that executives of the firm directed their employees to search the emails for damaging material, with one witness saying that they believe the hacked information included the medical records of the now Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari. Carole Cadwalladr reports at the Guardian.

A feature on the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chirstopher Wylie is provided by Craig Timberg and Karla Adam at the Washington Post, which includes a discussion of the fears that the harvested data may have ended up in Russian hands and Wylie’s contact with Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

An explanation of the legal questions surrounding Facebook’s agreement with the U.S.’s Federal Trade Commission (F.T.C.), and what the fallout could be following the revelation that the information of 50 million users’ was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, is provided by Kadhim Shubber at the Financial Times.

Cambridge Analytica has arguably had a bigger impact in elections outside of the U.S., including in Kenya, where the manipulation of voters led to violence. Ishaan Tharoor writes at Washington Post, providing an analysis of what the firm’s actions mean for democracy in the U.S. and across the world.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The recently fired F.B.I. deputy director Andrew McCabe authorized an investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year to determine whether Sessions lacked candor when he testified before Congress and said he had no contacts with Russian operatives, according to sources familiar with the matter. Sessions told Congress during his confirmation process in January 2017 that he had not had any contact with individuals linked to the Russian government, but it was later found that he had had met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Mike Levine reports at ABC News.

“The Attorney General is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related submissions to Congress,” a lawyer for Sessions said in a statement yesterday responding to the ABC report, the statement also suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team – which has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump-Russia connections – have been interested in Sessions beyond him being a witness in the investigation. Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

The United Arab Emirates political adviser George Nader influenced the Republican-fundraiser Elliot Broidy to help promote Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. interests in Trump’s White House, according to documents. Nader has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, which indicates that the special counsel’s probe has widened to include the influence of foreign money on the Trump administration, David D. Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti report at the New York Times.

Mueller’s team have discussed with Trump’s lawyers four main topics they would want to ask the President about, according to two sources, which are: Trump’s role in the statement about his son’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016, the circumstances surrounding the Trump Tower meeting, the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, and the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Katelyn Polantz report at CNN.

The former C.I.A. Director John Brennan yesterday suggested that Russia may have compromising information on President Trump, saying that the Russian “may have things that they could expose.” There has been speculation about whether Brennan’s remarks were based on inside information, Matthew Rosenberg reports at the New York Times.

The minority on the House Intelligence Committee intend to continue the investigation into Russia interference and to interview witnesses, the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), said yesterday, adding that they are arranging an interview with the whistleblower from the Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

“Today I can say with confidence that we know whom to contact in every state to share threat information” about election interference, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) said yesterday in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of the panel’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed concerns about D.H.S.’ readiness to deal with election interference. Nicholas Fandos and Matthew Rosenberg report at the New York Times.

RUSSIA

“Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump tweeted yesterday, defending his phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his decision to congratulate the president on his re-election, which, according to leaked reports, was against the advice of Trump’s national security advisers. Peter Nicholas and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

The White House chief of staff John Kelly has been infuriated by the leak of Trump’s briefing materials ahead of his call with Putin, according to a White House official. The briefing paper set out points that the president ignored during his call, including a recommendation clearly saying “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” and a recommendation to condemn the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury, Matthew Nussbaum and Andrew Restuccia report at POLITICO.

Trump caught White House officials by surprise when he said he would probably meet with the Russian President “in the not-too-distant future” in comments to reporters on Tuesday following his call with Putin. Karen DeYoung, John Hudson and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Russia’s “use of chemical weapons against private citizens on British soil and agreed on the need to take action to hold Russia accountable,” the White House said in a statement yesterday, following a call between the two leaders. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday compared the upcoming World Cup in Russia to the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany, drawing a furious response from Moscow. Ivan Nechepurenko and Maya Salam report at the New York Times.

If Mr. Trump isn’t Mr. Putin’s lackey, it’s past time for him to prove it,” the New York Times editorial board writes, saying that the president seems to be afraid of Putin.

SYRIA

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday condemned Turkey for its military operation in the northern Syria city of Afrin and condemned the ongoing pro-Syrian government airstrikes on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus. Turkey began an offensive in January against Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in Afrin as it deems the Y.P.G. to be an extension of the outlawed Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.), Reuters reports.

Russia yesterday brokered a deal for 1,500 Ahrar al-Sham rebel fighters and 6,000 of their family members to be evacuated from the town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta to Syria’s Idlib province. Al Jazeera reports.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have moved closer to capturing Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reports.

The U.S.’s top military officer Gen. Joseph Dunford yesterday spoke to his Russian counterpart about “Syria and other issues of mutual concern.” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between March 9 and March 15. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

At least 33 people were killed by a suicide bomb in the Afghan capital of Kabul yesterday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted a gathering of Shi’ites celebrating the Persian “Nowruz” new year. Rahim Faiez report at the AP.

Afghan security forces have planned a series of military operations to free areas of Afghanistan from the Taliban ahead of elections to be held this year, the U.S.’s top military officer Gen. Joseph Dunford said yesterday. Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“We have had constructive talks with the Europeans towards a supplemental agreement but I can’t predict whether we will reach an agreement with them or not,” the State Department policy planning director Brian Hook, who is leading the U.S. negotiations in talks with Europeans about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, said yesterday. Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton report at Reuters.

The Iraqi central government and the Iraqi Kurdish regional government yesterday announced an agreement between the two authorities on political and economic issues, with the long-term aim of normalizing relations following Iraqi Kurdistan’s decision to hold an independence referendum last year. Margaret Coker reports at the New York Times.

The Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen has deviated from its objectives, the departing Yemeni minister of state has said following his resignation, adding that Yemen’s sovereignty has been undermined. Al Jazeera reports.

At least 101 of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by militants from the town of Dapchi have been reunited with their families, officials have said. The BBC reports. 

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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