The Early Edition: November 5, 2018

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) on Friday activated his state National Guard’s cybersecurity teams to be on standby for tomorrow’s midterm elections. Amidst some warnings that the U.S. remains subject to outside election interference, experts have commented that states have been working to improve cybersecurity ahead of the elections; Maj. Donald Donbar commented in the Guard’s announcement of the move that “Wisconsin voters should feel confident that the Wisconsin National Guard’s team is ready if needed to provide assistance on Election Day … the governor’s executive order simply allows us to deploy those resources quickly,” Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

Ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said yesterday that he believes Americans will be able to “vote with confidence,” and that the midterms will be secure from potential foreign threats. “I think we’ve made great progress, particularly at the individual polling stations and with the tabulations of votes. So I think people should vote with confidence,” Warner commented on C.B.S.’s “Face the Nation,” crediting the Department of Homeland Security with coordinating state and local officials to improve defenses, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Office of Georgia Secretary Brian Kemp (R) yesterday claimed that Democrats are under investigation for hacking his state’s election system. A spokesperson for Kemp — who is running for governor against Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams — provided no evidence for the allegation made to the AP that “the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cybercrimes;” Democrats have labeled the claim as “a reckless and unethical ploy,” Scott Neuman reports at NPR.

Twitter has deleted thousands of automated accounts posting tweets encouraging voters not to turn up for tomorrow’s elections, with many of the accounts posing as Democrats. Media reports cited a Twitter statement Friday as saying the social media giant had “removed a series of accounts for engaging in attempts to share disinformation in an automated fashion — a violation of our policies;” CNN reported that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was responsible for alerting Twitter to the accounts’ existence, AFP reports.

Several U.S. officials and tech companies claim that Russian agents are continuing online activity targeting voters ahead of tomorrow’s election, while Russia has denied any such interference. Angela Charlton provides an analysis at the AP, noting that while “it’s hard to judge whether the more recent Russian actions have any link to the Kremlin or will have any electoral impact … dozens of Russians suspected of meddling in 2016 have been hit with U.S. charges or sanctions, including well-placed magnates.”

An analysis of what the midterms mean for U.S. cybersecurity, with a focus on election security, supply chain threats and encryption, is provided by Jacqueline Thomas and Olivia Beavers at the Hill.

Over 4,000 examples of election-related misinformation have been submitted by readers, following an appeal from the New York Times. Kevin Roose provides an explainer, grouping the examples into: hoax floods after major news events; poorly labeled campaign ads; Russian Reddit manipulation; voter suppression attempts; deceptive claims about candidates; sketchy text messages; and Committee-sponsored “attack pages.”

Fear of Big Brother-style “authoritarianism” in the U.S. is overstated, Andy Kessler argues at the Wall Street Journal, contrasting China as an example of a society where “authoritarian disregard for property rights and privacy is a fuse already lit.”

IRAN

The U.S. has re-imposed oil and financial sanctions against Iran – significantly increasing pressure on Tehran in order to curb its alleged missile and nuclear programs. Today’s move will restore sanctions that were lifted under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and add 300 new designations in Iran’s oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors, Al Jazeera reports.

Trump has put Tehran on notice that today’s intended crippling sanctions are merely the start of an ambitious strategy to compel Iran to retreat from its assertive stance in the region or risk collapse. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster,” Trump said in a statement Friday night, Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration announced that it will grant temporary waivers to eight “jurisdictions” allowing them to buy Iranian oil beyond today, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating Friday that the exceptions would be “critical” in allowing the unnamed countries to import Iran’s oil at “greatly reduced levels,” with the ultimate goal of “zero” purchase from Tehran. Ted Regencia reports at Al Jazeera.

European officials condemned the imposition of sanctions, with foreign and finance ministers from the European Union (E.U.), United Kingdom, France and Germany rallying against the plans. “We deeply regret the further re-imposition of sanctions by the United States, due to the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.o.A),” the officials wrote in a joint statement, adding “the J.C.P.o.A. is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and of multilateral diplomacy, endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council through Resolution 2231 … it is crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the entire world,” Tal Axelrod reports a the Hill.

“I announce that we will proudly bypass your illegal, unjust sanctions because it’s against international regulations,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded in a televised speech. Rouhani added: “we are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power … I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” AFP reports.

Iran’s response included launching military maneuvers across a vast tranche of the country’s north today, with state television airing footage of air defense systems and anti-aircraft batteries. The drills – expected to continue through tomorrow – included surface-to-air missiles shooting down a drone, Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat report at the AP.

Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran yesterday, many burning U.S. flags and mocking Trump with cardboard effigies and caricatures. Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammad Ali Jafari took the podium in front of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, promising the crowds that Iran will overcome the sanctions and the U.S.’s “psychological warfare.” Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

The U.S. and Turkey Friday lifted mutual sanctions against top officials, in a sign of warming diplomatic relations between the two N.A.T.O. allies after last month’s release of detained U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. The Trump administration had imposed financial penalties on two Turkish officials in August to punish Ankara for Brunson’s two-year imprisonment; in turn, Turkey placed its own sanctions on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Eileen Sullivan and Carlotta Gall report at the New York Times.

Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said Saturday that Turkey has received initial indications that it will be among eight “jurisdictions” to be granted a waiver from U.S. sanctions against Iran, but is awaiting clarification today. Reuters reports.

President Trump is to hold meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris as world leaders arrive in western Europe for ceremonies on Nov. 11 to mark 100 years since the end of the first world war. The expected Trump-Erdoğan meeting will be the first since Turkey accused U.S. ally Saudi Arabia of killing Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, with the kingdom itself not expected to be represented in Paris, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

“Saudi Arabia still has many questions to answer about [Wahsington Post columnist] Jamal Khashoggi’s killing” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan writes in an Op-Ed at the Washington Post. Erdoğan stresses that relations between Ankara and Riyadh are still friendly, but claims “we were shocked and saddened by the efforts of certain Saudi officials to cover up Khashoggi’s premeditated murder” – and challenges the kingdom to answer the following unanswered questions: “where is Khashoggi’s body? who is the “local collaborator” to whom Saudi officials claimed to have handed over Khashoggi’s remains? who gave the order to kill this kind soul?”

Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and put into five suitcases after he was strangled upon entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2., according to a report by a Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah yesterday. The report suggests that the suitcases were then taken to the Saudi consul-general’s residence near the consulate that day, Al Jazeera reports.

Saudi Arabia deployed a chemist and toxicology expert to Istanbul after Khashoggi’s murder in an attempt to cover up evidence of the killing, a Turkish newspaper reported today. AFP reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged Sunday to hold accountable all those responsible for Khashoggi’s death, while maintaining the important “strategic relationship” between Washington and Riyadh. Pompeo made the comments on “Fox News Sunday,” highlighting that “we’ve revoked visas from 16 individuals that we have been able to identify so far that were in fact connected to [the killing],” David Beavers reports at POLITICO.

Khashoggi’s sons Salah and Abdullah issued an appeal for the return of their father’s body Sunday and said they wanted to return to Saudi Arabia to bury him. “It’s not a normal situation, it’s not a normal death at all … all what we want right now is to bury him … I talked about that with the Saudi authorities and I just hope that it happens soon,” Salah Khashoggi told CNN, NBC reports.

“The murder of Khashoggi is an opportunity … a martyrdom in fact … that should be pressed into the service of highlighting the callous and consistent brutality of the Saudi government towards its own people and its adversaries,” Nesrine Malik comments at the Guardian

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S. and South Korea will begin small-scale military exercises today, according to a spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Defense. Yonhap news agency reported that 500 American and South Korean troops will participate in the exercises, which have been delayed since June amid denuclearization talks with Pyongyang, Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

An official with the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a caution Friday – warning that Pyongyang could restart “building up nuclear forces” if the U.S. does not ease crippling sanctions levied on Pyongyang. The comments come ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’’’ meeting with his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong-chol in New York this week, with Pompeo claiming to be unconcerned by the development and labeling Friday’s commentary as “stray voltage,” Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

North Ogden mayor and Utah National Guard maj. Brent Taylor was killed Saturday in an insider attack in Afghanistan. Julie Turkewitz reports at the New York Times.

Fighting has escalated around Yemen’s key port city of Hodeidah, with more than 150 combatants from both the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement and the government-backed forces killed over the weekend, officials said Sunday. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

A low-flying Soviet Union-era war-plane made an uninvited appearance at N.A.T.O.’s war games last week – the alliance’s biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. “All flights by the Russian fleet’s maritime planes are carried out strictly in accordance with international airspace regulations,” the Russian Ministry of Defense commented Saturday, AFP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 188 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 21 and Oct. 27. [Central Command]

“China will respond only to compulsion,” the Washington Post editorial board comments, advocating a strong U.S. stance on alleged espionage attempts from Beijing. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).