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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.
U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
President Trump yesterday said the media had fabricated his conflict with top intelligence officials, and that the officials had been “misquoted” by the press after a public congressional hearing that was broadcast live on television. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel and others had testified Tuesday about worldwide threats to U.S. national security, revealing a gulf between the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community and the White House, Shane Harris reports at the Washington Post.
“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office,” Trump stated yesterday in a message on Twitter that included a picture of Haspel, Coat and others seated around the Resolute Desk. The officials “told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media – and we are very much in agreement on Iran, I.S.I.S., North Korea, etc.,” Trump continued, adding “their testimony was distorted press … I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday … a false narrative is so bad for our Country … I value our intelligence community … happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!” Matthew Choi reports at POLITICO.
Trump had conveyed a different message earlier yesterday when asked if he had confidence in the assessments he receives from Haspel and Coats. “No, I disagree with certain things that they said … I think that I’m right but time will prove that, time will prove me right probably … I think Iran is a threat … I think it’s a very big threat … and I think I did a great thing when I terminated the ridiculous Iran nuclear deal … It was a horrible one-sided deal,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with manufacturers at the White House, Dareh Gregorian reports at NBC.
The White House “abruptly” canceled Trump’s daily intelligence briefing on Wednesday, the morning after the intelligence officials testified before Congress. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders simply said, “It was moved,” without providing further details, Betsy Woodruff and Asawin Suebsaeng report at The Daily Beast.
“The president continues to impair the confidence the [Intelligence Community] deserves,” John Sipher and Benhamin Haas comment at Just Security, arguing that Trump’s behavior is a “real danger to the national security of the U.S. and our allies.”
Federal investigators investigating longtime Trump associate Roger Stone have seized multiple hard drives containing years of communication records from cellphones and email accounts, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office announced yesterday. Mueller’s prosecutors – investigating Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign – have issued a new court filing, that describes the evidence as “voluminous and complex,” and asks the judge to delay Stone’s trial so as to allow more time to sift the devices, Julia Ainsley and Charlie Gile report at NBC.
Trump has claimed that he will “think about” asking the F.B.I. to review its tactics, following Stone’s early morning arrest last week at his Florida home. “I’m speaking for a lot of people that were very disappointed to see that go down that way … to see it happen, where it was on camera, on top of it, that was a very, very disappointing scene,” the president said during an interview with The Daily Caller on Wednesday, NBC reports.
U.S. RUSSIA RELATIONS
Russia has expanded its deployment of a missile system the U.S. claims violates the 1987 Intermediate-ranged Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty, according to Western officials, in a development that could further widen the Washington-Moscow rift over the issue. The U.S. recently informed Western allies that Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729 cruise missile – an increase from the three battalions Russia was said to have a few months ago – according to a senior Western official familiar with U.S. intelligence reports, Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce today that the U.S. will withdraw from the I.N.F. for 180 days, according to one person familiar with the move. The suspension, slated to take effect from Saturday, comes after U.S. and Russian officials failed to find a compromise during months of negotiations and amid concerns that China is not a signatory, Demetri Sevastupolo, Henry Foy and Kathrin Hille report at the Financial Times.
President Trump stated yesterday that he has all but given up on negotiating with Congress over his promised border wall and will build it on his own. In an interview in the Oval Office, Trump described talks over the wall as “a waste of time” and indicated he will most likely take action on his own when the talks officially end in two weeks; “I think [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she’s doing and, ultimately, I think I’ve set the table very nicely,” Trump said, adding “I’ve set the table … I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do,” Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.
Trump provided commentary throughout yesterday relating to the border wall, taking to Twitter to describe the ongoing debates regarding the distinction between fencing and a wall as “political games,” and insisting that “A WALL is a WALL!” He later told reporters in the Oval Office that Pelosi would be “begging” for a wall if it were removed on the California border, Burgess Everett, Caitlin Oprysko and Eliana Johnson report at POLITICO.
Five takeaways from Trump’s Oval Office Interview yesterday are explored by Annie Karni, Katie Rogers and Michael Tackett at the New York Times.
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó yesterday laid out his vision for the country and claimed that the opposition is determined to end the country’s “tragedy.” Addressing a packed theatre at the Central University of Venezuela, Guaidó summoned new protests for Saturday in an effort to increase pressure on incumbent president Nicolas Maduro’s embattled regime, telling supporters: “the dictatorship believes it can scare us … [but] it isn’t through … repression that they will manage to tame a brave people that seeks freedom, democracy, food, medicine and above all a better future for their children,” Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.
Guaidó claimed that the country’s F.A.E.S. security forces had been to his home to threaten his family. The opposition leader said he had a 20-month old daughter at home and would be holding F.A.E.S. accountable for “whatever they do to my baby,” adding “do not cross the red line,” AFP reports.
The European Parliament voted yesterday to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, bolstering his claim to leadership. The vote is nonbinding, but indicated overwhelming support for Guaidó, with 439 members voting in favor to 104 against, with 88 abstentions, Rafael Bernal reports at the Hill.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are planning on meeting in Vietnam in late February, according to a source familiar with the matter. A senior administration official and a second source with knowledge have disclosed that the current plan is for the leaders’ second summit to be held in the Vietnamese coastal city of Da Nang, although the plan is still being finalized, Pamela Brown and Kate Sullivan report at CNN.
U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun has said that President Trump is willing to offer diplomatic relations and economic aid in return for progress towards “closing the door on 70 years of war and hostility” on the Peninsula. Biegun warned that Washington has “contingencies” in place if denuclearization talks fail, but he also claimed that “President Trump is ready to end this war … it is over … it is done … we’re not going to invade North Korea,” Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
Biegun said Washington would have to have expert access and monitoring mechanisms of the North’s nuclear and missile sites, and that for progress to be made it would ultimately have to “ensure removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of ‘mass destruction,’” Al Jazeera reports.
The Senate yesterday voted overwhelmingly to advance legislation drafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to express strong opposition to President Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan. In a strong bipartisan rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy, the 68-to-23 vote to cut off debates ensures that McConnell’s amendment will be added to a broader bipartisan Middle East policy bill expected to easily pass the Senate next week, Catie Edmonson reports at the New York Times.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 645 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Jan. 13 and Jan. 26. [Central Command]
CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY
Tech giants Facebook and Twitter have reportedly removed thousands of fake accounts originating from Iran, after collaborating to combat disinformation. Facebook claimed yesterday that it had removed 783 pages, groups and accounts from its Facebook and Instagram platforms engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior . . . directed from Iran;” in a separate announcement, Twitter claimed to have suspended 2,617 accounts it believed originated from the country, as part of its review into the U.S. midterm elections – also announcing it had taken down accounts directed from 418 accounts from Russia and 764 accounts from Venezuela, Hannah Murphy reports at the Financial Times.
Facebook is facing renewed scrutiny for its data-privacy practices. The Economist explains.
The U.N. investigator leading the inquiry into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – Agnes Callamard – said yesterday that she has not yet received all the information she is seeking during her trip to Turkey, but still hopes to conduct a successful probe, Al Jazeera reports.
U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said yesterday that the main negotiators for the warring parties were continuing to demonstrate the “necessary flexibility and good faith” to move forward, despite delays in implementing the pact that paves the way for a lasting peace deal, brokered in Sweden last December. Griffiths has been talking with the Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebel leadership in the capital Sana’a “to discuss the rapid and effective implementation of the Stockholm Agreement” the U.N. stated in a briefing note, the U.N. News Centre reports.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan has failed to protect the country’s women, Sophia Jnes and Christina Asquith argue at Foreign Policy.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trump’s transgender ban in the military – implementation of the ban will be mired in uncertainty, Samantha Allen writes at The Daily Beast.
Students at U.S. military academies experienced unwanted sexual contact nearly 50% more often compared to last school year, despite Defense Department attempts to stamp out the issue, according to survey released yesterday by the Pentagon. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.