The Early Edition: October 25, 2018

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.

EXPLOSIVE DEVICES SENT TO DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL LEADERS

Law enforcement officials are investigating pipe bombs that were sent to several prominent Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, along with others who have been critical of President Donald Trump and have, in turn, been vilified by the right. Many of the explosive devices, sent in manila envelopes, were discovered Wednesday, but the FBI warned additional packages could have been mailed to other locations. So far, no one has been injured and none of the bombs exploded on their own, and it’s not immediately clear whether they could have, reports  William K. Rashbaum for the New York Times.

So far the target list includes people Trump frequently criticizes, including Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters and former CIA Director John Brennan, reports Faith Karimi for CNN.

The New York City Police Department is investigating another suspicious package this morning, this time at the address of a restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro in lower Manhattan, report Jason Hanna and Shimon Prokupecz for CNN.

The device sent to CNN featured a parody ISIS flag, with the inscription “Get ‘Er Done.” The package was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, who is not a contributor to CNN but NBC News. The image of the flag is “a meme that has been circulating on right-wing corners of the internet since 2014,” reports Ben Collins for NBC News.

The targets had something in common, but the political motives of the perpetrator are still unknown. “What is known is that all of the packages were sent to critics of President Trump, or people criticized by the president. But no one knows at this point the political leanings, if any, and motivations of the person who sent them,” writes Dan Balz for the Washington Post.

Explosive device delivered to George Soros was likely delivered by hand to his mailbox, law enforcement officials told reporters. Soros, the billionaire financier, philanthropist and political activist, is frequently the target of right-wing attacks and conspiracy theories, including from Trump. The explosive device found at his suburban New York home on Monday was “constructed from a length of pipe about six inches long filled with explosive powder, and it was ‘proactively detonated’ by bomb squad technicians,” William K. Rashbaum reports for the New York Times.

On Wednesday night, Trump attended a political rally, where he refrained from his usual personal attacks but scolded the media and Democrats for contributing to the lack of civility in the country, reports Jonathan Allen for NBC News.

And in a tweet Thursday morning, Trump largely blamed the “Anger we see today in our society,” on the “purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media.”

TRUMP CONTINUES USING AN UNSECURED PHONE LINE

Despite being warned that his cellphone calls are not secure, Trump continues to use his personal iPhones, allowing Russian and Chinese intelligence to listen in to his conversations. A big part of Trump’s presidential campaign was attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for her use of an unsecured email server. Some of his aides say they’re confident Trump is not divulging classified information on his calls because he’s not interested in the details of his intelligence briefings. But it is clear to U.S. intelligence that the Chinese, especially, are using what they learn from their eavesdropping to help craft their approach to Trump and learn how to influence him.

“American spy agencies, the officials said, had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials,” reports Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times.

On Thursday morning, Trump pushed back against the story on Twitter, calling it “soooo wrong!”

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE

In its latest reversal, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said Thursday that Khashoggi’s killing was “premeditated.” This contradicts earlier statements from the Saudi government that claimed Khashoggi had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul unharmed on Oct. 2, and more recently, that he’d been killed after an impromptu fistfight, according to a report from the Washington Post.

CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly listened to the audio of Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate during her trip to Istanbul this week. This increases the pressure on Trump to respond, and it will likely lead to Congress summoning Haspel to Capitol Hill to share with lawmakers what she learned, report John Hudson, Souad Mekhennet and Shane Harris for the Washington Post.

Haspel is expected to brief Trump today on the investigation today, reports Nicole Gaouette for CNN.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since Khashoggi’s killing on Oct. 2. Neither side provided details of the conversation, report Erin Cunningham and Loveday Morris for the Washington Post.

In Washington, lobbyists for the defense industry are working behind the scenes to save current arms deals with Saudi Arabia from being canceled. The Aerospace Industry Association, a defense industry group, “circulated talking points to industry executives, focusing on the importance of arms sales to U.S. allies,” report Mike Stone, Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick for Reuters.

Erdogan’s tough stance on Khashoggi’s killing belies his sweeping crackdowns on Turkish journalists. “Though journalists in Turkey have long faced risks, they say Erdogan’s tactics in recent years have all but eliminated coverage that the government might dislike while pushing the country closer toward authoritarian rule,” reports Chico Harlan for the Washington Post.

IMMIGRATION

The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services were given no advance notice of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and were therefore unprepared to deal with family separations, according to a new government report. The Government Accountability Office also found that “neither DHS nor HHS initially had computer functionality that allowed staff to indicate whether a child had been separated from a parent,” report Ted Hesson and Lorraine Woellert for POLITICO.

A federal judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for the Trump administration to withhold federal grant funding from “sanctuary cities,” specifically Seattle and Portland, Avery Anapol reports for The Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike at a fruit-and-vegetable market near Yemen’s port of Hodeida killed at least 19 civilians, including children, on Wednesday, according to Yemeni officials, report Ahmed El-Haj and Samy Magdy for the AP.

After two “insider” shooting in the last week, the U.S. is scaling back its face-to-face contacts with Afghan security forces, reports Pamela Constable for the Washington Post.

UN investigators say genocide is still taking place against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. “It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment,” Marzuki Darusman, chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said Wednesday, reports Edith M. Lederer for the AP.

On Wednesday, the Israeli air force bombed a position in Gaza that’s been used to launch kites and balloons equipped with rudimentary incendiary devices into Israeli territory, according to a report from AFP.

Putin said Wednesday that if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, the countries that host them will be exposing themselves to the possibility of a retaliatory strike from Russia. “NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the Western military alliance’s members blame Russia for developing a new missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but he doesn’t expect them to beef up nuclear arsenals in Europe in response,” reports Vladimir Isachenkov for the AP.  

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).