The Early Edition: April 12, 2019

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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.

JULIAN ASSANGE

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested yesterday in London, bringing to an end his seven-year hideout in the Ecuadorian embassy. In the U.S., the Department of Justice (D.O.J.,) announced that Assange had been indicted in federal court on a computer-hacking conspiracy charge in connection with what prosecutors described as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” Paul Hannon, Margot Patrick and Aruna Viswanathain report at the Wall Street Journal.

Assange was initially arrested yesterday for failing to surrender to the court and was found guilty of that charge, with the consequence that he now faces up to 12 months in a U.K. prison. Later in the day, Assange was further arrested at the request of the U.S. – seeking his extradition over allegations he conspired with former US military analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases, Caroline Davies, Simon Murphy and Damien Gayle report at the Guardian.

“Manning … who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst … was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks,” the D.O.J. alleged in its indictment, adding that “cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures,” Caitlin Oprysko and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

The Ecuadorean government suspended the citizenship it had granted Assange and evicted him yesterday, clearing the way for his arrest. Assange’s Ecuadorian hosts had grown increasingly impatient with Assange, citing grievances including recent WikiLeaks releases they allege interfered with other states’ internal affairs as well as Assange’s own personal discourtesies during his stay, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan report at the New York Times.

Assange may risk torture if he is extradited to the U.S., Assange’s attorney Baltasar Garzon said in Madrid yesterday following his client’s arrest. Garzon claimed further that the justifications put forward for ending Assange’s stay in the embassy were false, and that an extradition process was now set to begin, Reuters reports.

A man linked to Assange has been arrested in Ecuador for “investigative purposes,” Ecuadorian Interior Minister Maria Romo announced in a message on Twitter sent yesterday. An unnamed Ecuadorian official told reporters that Swedish software developer Ola Bini – living in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito – was arrested as authorities try to dismantle a blackmail ring that in recent days had threatened to retaliate against Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, Al Jazeera reports.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions Agnes Callamard claimed that Ecuador had taken Assange “one step closer to extradition,” adding that through “arbitrarily” detaining Assange, the U.K. had possibly endangered his life, making the comments in a message sent on Twitter. The U.N. News Centre reports.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks … it’s not my thing and I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange,” President Trump told reporters yesterday when asked whether he still “loves” WikiLeaks as he said in 2016. “I’ve been seeing what’s happened with Assange, and that will be a determination … I would imagine mostly by the attorney general, who is doing an excellent job … so he’ll be making a determination … I know nothing really about him … that’s not my deal in life .. I don’t really have an opinion,” Trump continued, Allie Malloy reports at CNN.

A roundup of reactions to Assange’s arrest from his foes and allies is provided at AFP.

A timeline of Assange’s seven-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy is provided at Ben Kesslen at NBC; a timeline of WikiLeaks’ operations over 12 years is provided by David Welna at NPR.

JULIAN ASSANGE: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

The exclusion for “political offenses” in the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty “helps explain the rifle-shot nature of the Assange indictment,” Josh Gerstein explains in an analysis at POLITICO, writing that the exclusion could heighten Assange’s prospects in court.

“Assange could also make a serious argument that he would face inhumane conditions in U.S. custody,” Kevin Poulsen writes in an explainer on the legal arguments Assange may be able to put forward at The Daily Beast.

Assange’s indictment “treats ordinary news gathering processes as elements of a criminal conspiracy,” Michele Goldberg comments at The New York Times, arguing that even if Assange personally deserves jail – we should be concerned that “any legal theory that Trump’s Justice Department uses against Assange can also be used against the rest of us.”

“Mr. Assange is not a free-press hero,” the Washington Post editorial board comments in its Op-Ed, writing that personal accountability is long overdue in his case.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yesterday defended Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. Barr is “being as forthcoming as he can, and so this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think, is just completely bizarre,” Rosenstein said in the course of an interview, Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Former F.B.I. director James Comey said yesterday that he knew of no electronic surveillance aimed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, defending the bureau after Barr asserted Wednesday that it spied on the campaign as part of the Russia probe. “When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the F.B.I., the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance,” Comey stated, adding “I have never thought of that as spying,” Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.

Former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig was indicted yesterday on charges that he made false statements to investigators and concealed information about his work for Ukrainian officials, the D.O.J. announced. Prosecutors said Craig – originally investigated by Mueller’s office – was indicted over statements he made to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (F.A.R.A.) Unit; he faces up to five years in prison for each of the two charged offenses, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill. 

Craig’s indictment “sent a clear signal to K Street that lobbyists who work for foreign interests without registering have reason to be afraid,” Theodoric Meyer writes in an analysis of the developments at POLITICO.

“It remains unclear whether the arrest of [Wikileaks co-founder Julian] Assange will be a key to unlocking any of the lingering mysteries surrounding the Russians … the Trump campaign and the plot to hack an election,” Mark Mazzetti and Julian E. Barnes comment at the New York Times.

BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION

White House officials tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against President Trump’s political foes, according to D.H.S. officials and email messages. The administration officials reportedly proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities on at least two occasions in the past six months — once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S.-Mexico border, and again in February, during the impasse with Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall, Rachael Bade and Nick Miroff report at the Washington Post

 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) will send about 100 agents to the Southern border to speed up crossing times, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) announced yesterday, as businesses struggle with trade delays after officers were redeployed to immigration functions. Reuters reports.

Hardline conservative policy aide Stephen Miller “is the obvious winner in the power struggle” that led to former D.H.S. Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s ouster Sunday night, Jonathan Allen comments at NBC, looking ahead to what immigration policy might look like with Miller in charge.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has held onto his most important leadership post as his parliament brought in a slew of personnel changes that has strengthened the leader’s diplomatic lineup amid deadlocked denucliarization talks with Washington. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported today that Kim was re-elected as chairman of the State Affairs Commission, the nation’s most important decision-making body, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

President Trump has said he is considering a potential third nuclear summit with Kim. “We will be discussing that and potential meetings, further meetings with North Korea and Kim Jong-un,” Trump said in the Oval Office yesterday at the start of talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, AFP reports.

Trump added that he wants to keep sanctions on Pyongyang while he works toward resuming talks with Kim. “We want sanctions to remain in place,” Trump told reporters, adding he believes that the current sanctions are set at a “fair” level; the president claimed further that while he has the choice to “significantly” ramp up penalties, he “didn’t want to do that because of my relationship with Kim Jong-un,” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban today announced their annual spring offensive, even while they are engaged in peace talks with the U.S. and ahead of planned meetings with Afghan representatives later this month. “Operation Fath” will be conducted across the country with the aim of “eradicating occupation” and “cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption,” the insurgents announced in a statement, Al Jazeera reports.

The Afghan Taliban have banned the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and the Red Cross from operating in areas under their control until further notice, a spokesperson announced yesterday, citing unspecified “suspicious” actions during vaccination campaigns. Reuters reports. 

SUDAN

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by his country’s military yesterday after 30 years of “iron-fisted” rule. The military announced that it had taken al-Bashir into custody, dissolved the government and suspended the Constitution, Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

The full text of General Awad Ibn Auf’s statement declaring al-Bashir’s overthrow and arrest is provided at Al Jazeera.

“The coming days … weeks … and months will be pivotal for Sudan’s future,” John Hursh writes at Just Security, noting that while “Bashir’s removal is a momentous occasion and victory for the Sudanese people, there is much uncertainty about what comes next.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s eastern Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) on the Libyan capital Tripoli stalled in the face of forceful resistance on the city’s southern outskirts yesterday, with the country’s internationally recognized government announcing that it had taken almost 200 prisoners. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 52 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between March 24 and April 6 [Central Command]

 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has privately urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to cut his ties to close adviser Saud al-Qahtani whom the U.S. has sanctioned for his alleged role in the murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins report at the Guardian.

Former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline will appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on April 23 as part of its ongoing probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The U.S. Navy is set to drop all criminal charges against two officers following the fatal collision in 2017 that killed seven sailors aboard the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. Vanessa Romo reports at NPR.

Strains in U.S.-Turkish relations are bringing Ankara closer to Moscow. “Averting the looming threat to the N.A.T.O. alliance will require both Washington and Ankara to recognize their past missteps and demonstrate a willingness to shift their positions,” Sinan Ulgen comments at Foreign Policy 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

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