The Early Edition: October 23, 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.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE

In his much-hyped speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushed back strongly against the Saudis’ recent account of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, saying it was a “planned” murder, but Erdogan offered few new details on the plot to kill him. “Erdogan urged the Saudi authorities to reveal whether senior officials had been involved in planning the killing, suggesting Turkey was unsatisfied with the explanations that Saudi authorities had so far provided,” reports Kareem Fahim for the Washington Post.

Erdogan’s speech raised more questions than it provided answers. “‘On whose orders have these people come?’ he said. ‘We’re seeking answers. Why has the consulate general building not been opened right away but days after? We’re seeking answers. When the murder was so clear, why have so many inconsistent statements been made? Why has the body of someone, the killing of whom has been officially admitted, not been found?’” reports Richard Pérez-Peña for the New York Times.

CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives in Turkey to work on the Khashoggi investigation. “The arrival of the director suggests an effort by the U.S. intelligence community to assess the information the Turks have, including what Turkish officials have said is audio that captures the killing,” report John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey for the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Monday in Riyadh. Mnuchin canceled his attendance at this week’s Saudi investment conference, which begins today, but still had a private meeting with MBS, who is suspected of playing a role, if not orchestrating, Khashoggi’s killing, reports Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times.

On Monday, President Donald Trump said he wasn’t satisfied with the Saudi response to the killing, but repeated earlier statements about how he was unwilling to risk U.S. arms sales to the Kingdom, reports Conor Finnegan for ABC News.

Germany is halting its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and is calling on other European countries to do the same to send a message to Riyadh. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Peter Altmaier, the German economics minister, said on Monday, reports Guy Chazan and Laura Pitel for the Financial Times.

Canada has also raised the prospect of freezing arms export permits to Saudi Arabia. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under political pressure to do more in response to Khashoggi’s killing, reports Ryan Maloney for Huffington Post Canada.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Trump threatened a new nuclear arms race on Monday. Speaking to reporters, he said the U.S. would build up its nuclear arsenal until other nations “come to their senses.” His remarks came the day after he announced the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia after it accused Moscow of violating the deal, report Eli Watkins and Maegan Vazquez for CNN.

In response, Russia said it would be forced to do the same to restore military balance if the United States took this step, according to a report from Reuters.

RUSSIAN ELECTION INTERFERENCE AND INVESTIGATION

U.S. Cyber Command has begun a campaign aimed at deterring Russian operatives from spreading disinformation on social media to interfere in U.S. elections. “The campaign, which includes missions undertaken in recent days, is the first known overseas cyberoperation to protect American elections, including the November midterms,” reports Julian E. Barnes for the New York Times.

National Security Adviser John Bolton told the Russian government on Monday that he didn’t think its interference in the 2016 election had any effect, but that it caused Americans to distrust Russia, reports Maxim Rodionov and Yara Bayoumy for Reuters.

Former White House lawyer Ty Cobb said he did not think the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt.” Cobb also praised Special Counsel Robert Mueller as an “American hero,” citing his service as a Marine in Vietnam, reports Dan Merica for CNN.

Joseph Mifsud, who reportedly told Trump adviser George Papadopoulos in April 2016 that he could provide him “dirt” on Hillary Clinton collected by the Russian government and act as a go-between with the Kremlin, has a history of disappearing acts and financial problems.

“The AP has documented at least three previous efforts by Mifsud to drop out of the public eye after being caught up in controversies. Laris Gaiser, a Slovenian crisis consultant who was brought in to investigate Mifsud’s tenure at the Euro-Mediterranean University, said that going off the grid is Mifsud’s modus operandi,” reports Raphael Satter for the AP.

IMMIGRATION

Trump claimed that the caravan of migrants that recently crossed into Mexico includes “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” It was Trump’s latest attempt to “stoke fear about the caravan and urge voters to blame Democrats — even as his own party, Republicans, controls the House and the Senate,” reports Eileen Sullivan for the New York Times.

Stoking fears about the migrant caravan is part of Trump’s strategy to help Republicans win the midterm elections. “The president believes his best contrast with Democrats is on immigration and is looking for a way to keep the issue in the news until the midterms, advisers said …The overall strategy, Trump advisers and political operatives said, is to paint a portrait of a chaotic, dangerous world — with Trump and Republicans as the panacea,” report Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey for the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

The brother of General Abdul Razeq, the powerful police commander in Kandahar who was killed last week, has been chosen to take over his post. President Ashraf Ghani’s government’s initially rejected the selection of Razeq’s brother, but finally acquiesced following “heavy pressure from powerful tribal elders,” Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi report for Reuters.

A series of lapses led to the recent death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. “The death of the soldier, Specialist James A. Slape, casts an unwelcome spotlight on the United States’ prolonged presence in Afghanistan,” report Thomas Gibbons-Neff and John Ismay for the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters that Al Tanf garrison, the U.S. base near Syria’s eastern border with Jordan, is being used as part of “a defeat ISIS mission,” not a “counter Iranian mission.” “‘But I do recognize that our presence, our development of partners and relationships down here does have an indirect effect on some malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue down here,’” Votel said, reports Courtney Kube for NBC News.

A comprehensive Army study of the service’s performance during the Iraq war has yet to be published due to concerns about the impact its criticisms could have. The study was commissioned in 2013 by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who wanted to capture the war’s lessons while memories were still fresh.

“Some Army officials foresaw trouble if the study wasn’t published before Gen. Odierno retired, which he did in August 2015. Conrad Crane, chief of the historical services division for the Army Heritage and Education Center, a branch of the Army War College, wrote to the team in July 2015 after viewing a draft, saying: ‘You need to get this published while you still have GEN Odierno as a champion. Otherwise I can see a lot of institutional resistance to having so much dirty laundry aired,’” reports Michael R. Gordon for the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an opinion Monday that upends a settlement in a document-access fight over records about Operation Fast and Furious, reports Josh Gerstein for POLITICO.  

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About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).