Fdd's overnight brief

April 1, 2020

In The News


Faced with a shortage of medical supplies and a worsening coronavirus outbreak, Iran’s government has cracked down on hoarders stockpiling masks and disinfectant. Yet, on Sunday, a youth arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it was ready to dispatch a cargo of those badly-needed supplies as humanitarian aid for people in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s president said on Wednesday the United States had missed a historic opportunity to lift sanctions on his country during the coronavirus outbreak, though he said the penalties had not hampered Tehran’s fight against the infection. – Reuters

A U.N. human rights expert called on Tuesday for lifting international sanctions against countries ranging from Iran to North Korea and Venezuela to ensure that food supplies reach hungry populations during the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the possibility on Tuesday that the United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus epidemic but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so. – Reuters

France, Germany and Britain have exported medical goods to Iran in the first transaction conducted under a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food after the U.S. withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal, Germany said on Tuesday. – Reuters

In a tweet on Monday, the U.S. Department of State spokesperson replied to Iranian authorities’ allegations that the United States has waged a war of “medical terrorism” against Iran and said the regime could access the billions in Khamenei’s “tax-free hedge fund” to fight the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. – Radio Farda

Editorial: Meanwhile, the mullahs remain hell-bent on building up their nuke program. They’ve violated the 2015 nuclear deal by tripling their uranium stockpile and have blocked International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from assorted sites. Relaxing sanctions now would take the pressure off to negotiate a new nuke deal to rein them in. – New York Post

Katherine Bauer and Dana Stroul write: The international community is rightly focused on taking all necessary steps to respond to COVID-19, while also taking steps to prepare to respond to the next wave. In the case of Iran, there are a range of actions that the United States can and should take — it is both a security issue and a moral imperative to do so. But sanctions relief should not be at the top of the list of these remedial actions. – The Hill


Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank pleaded not guilty Tuesday to U.S. charges that the bank helped Iran evade sanctions on billions of dollars in oil funds. – Bloomberg

Anger is growing in Turkey that while the government is preparing to grant amnesties to up to one third of the country’s prison population in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic, jailed human rights activists, journalists and opposition politicians will not be among those considered for early release. – The Guardian

Asli Aydintasbas writes: The Turkish case violates what political scientists call “the authoritarian bargain.” Authoritarian regimes can sustain power not only through repression but because, like the Gulf countries, they distribute resources to citizens. In Turkey, we seem to get neither the money nor the democracy — which is why the current model is not sustainable. Our society is far more advanced than this outdated system. – Washington Post


A service member with the international coalition to defeat ISIS was killed in a noncombat incident in northern Iraq Monday. – The Hill

As Baghdad and commanders of Iran’s close ally, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) warn of an imminent U.S. attack on Iran’s Shi’ite militia proxies in Iraq, some top military and political figures in Tehran are warning Washington against the move. – Radio Farda

Editorial: Systematically deterring and degrading such groups will require a more comprehensive campaign than the current tit-for-tat retaliation cycle. Washington killed Kataib Hezbollah’s founder with Soleimani, and it should make a promotion to the militia’s highest echelons a de facto death sentence. […]Do the President’s war-power critics want to deter Iranian attacks on Americans? Or is their real goal to cripple executive action so the only alternative is to abandon Iraq to Iran’s control? – Wall Street Journal

Bobby Ghosh writes: While Iran benefits from having Sadr in its tent — or at least pleading to be allowed in — its political interests in Iraq are already well served; the ragtag Peace Companies are of little use to Tehran. It is unlikely to value Sadr above Amiri — a man so loyal, he fought on Iran’s side in the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Nor is the mercurial cleric-politician a candidate to fill the shoes of Muhandis. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Syrian air defences have intercepted “hostile targets” over the city of Homs, state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday. State television said the air defence system had downed Israeli missiles. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. – Reuters

PA security officials said a special anti-riot force has been dispatched to the village of Kafr Akab, north of Jerusalem, where armed clashes erupted on Monday night between local residents and activists from the nearby Kalandiya refugee camp, south of Ramallah. – Jerusalem Post

The European Union announced Tuesday the launch of a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at enforcing the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, after Italy blocked a previous operation claiming that the warships attracted migrants to Europe’s shores. – Associated Press

Hanin Ghaddar writes: Alternatively, if the LAF stays on the sidelines during the pandemic, then Hezbollah’s camp will continue caulking up the holes in it domestic legitimacy by attempting to address the crisis itself—perhaps with help from foreign institutions that are willing to hold their noses and assist the group’s efforts given the dire circumstances inside Lebanon. Washington has rightly urged the LAF to protect Lebanese protestors in recent months. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The U.N. Security Council didn’t issue a statement after discussing North Korea’s latest missile tests but six European nations on the council are condemning Pyongyang’ repeated launches, saying they illustrate its ongoing efforts to develop its ballistic missile programs and expand its arsenal. – Associated Press

The U.S. and South Korea have tentatively reached a military cost-sharing agreement, the Yonhap News Agency reported, potentially ending months of bickering over the Trump administration’s demands for a massive increase. – Bloomberg

E. Tammy Kim writes: By the end of March, the lines for masks outside South Korea’s pharmacies had become manageable. “Now that people are able to buy two masks per week, they feel reassured,” Ms. Yoo told me. “We pharmacists do, too.” “After three weeks of constant work, the fatigue has built up. I’m very tired,” she said. But she feels a duty to the public, and plans to keep the pharmacy open seven days a week until the crisis is over. – New York Times


China and Russia continue to use the global coronavirus crisis to spread false reports and other online disinformation, according to the latest update published Wednesday from the European External Action Service’s team dedicated to highlighting such digital tactics. – Politico

An impending U.S. regulation targeting Huawei could pose a mortal threat to the Chinese telecommunications giant and trigger historic economic clashes between Washington and Beijing, according to a senior executive. – Washington Examiner

Beijing will not sit and watch Huawei get “slaughtered” and could retaliate if there are further sanctions on the Chinese technology giant, a top Huawei executive told CNBC on Tuesday. – CNBC

Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono write: Wary of offending Indonesia’s largest trading partner, Indonesian officials have played down incursions by Chinese fishing boats, trying to avoid conflict with Beijing over China’s sprawling claims in these waters. But with the Chinese presence growing more aggressive, fishers in the Natunas are feeling vulnerable. – New York Times

Li Yuan writes: When doctors working with the disease tried to publicly warn China about the outbreak, they were threatened by government officials. For Mr. Ren, friends said, this confirmed his argument that a media that serves the party couldn’t serve the people. […]Three days after his 69th birthday, he disappeared. His assistant and his son have disappeared, too.  – New York Times

Gary J. Schmitt writes: In short, there are good reasons for China to lie. Ultimately, the question for the West is not whether they will get away with it; the facts will almost certainly become obvious in time. Rather, the question is, will Beijing pay any price for engaging in the lie and, in turn, should Xi himself face a counter-narrative from the West that is both accurate and aimed at the Chinese themselves. – The American Interest


A three-member Taliban team arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to begin a prisoner exchange process pivotal to starting talks between the insurgents and the government side to end Afghanistan’s 18-year-old war. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday praised an Afghan government negotiating team identified to hold talks with the Taliban as appearing to be fairly broad and inclusive. – Reuters

The Taliban has shown no interest in cooperating with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to combat the COVID-19 pandemic spreading from Iran, creating the latest obstacle to peace, four regional experts said Monday. – USNI News

More than 130,000 Afghans have fled the coronavirus outbreak convulsing Iran to return home to Afghanistan amid fears they are bringing new infections with them to the conflict-ridden and impoverished country. – The Guardian


A Myanmar court charged a journalist who published an interview with the Arakan Army rebel group under a terrorism law on Tuesday while his website and others that cover conflict in the troubled western Rakhine state were blocked in the country. – Reuters

Anger at being confused with China amid the coronavirus outbreak and Beijing’s stepped-up efforts to assert sovereignty is stirring heated debate in Taiwan about how to further distance itself from its giant and often threatening neighbor. – Reuters

Michael J. Green writes: Yet even if the pandemic is only one variable in the structure of the international relations of Asia, it is nevertheless a major shock of uncertain duration. Straight line predictions of Chinese hegemonic success are premature, but complacency about American leadership is not warranted. Leadership decisions, the outcome of U.S. elections, and the success of vaccine research could all bend the arc of history in different ways. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


U.S. President Donald Trump’s bid to end the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia is breeding cautious hopes in Moscow of a possible way out of the damaging stand-off, potentially reversing some of the collapse in crude prices. – Bloomberg

On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers began putting some teeth behind the campaign, approving fines of up to $25,000 and prison terms of up to five years for anyone who spreads what is deemed to be false information. Media outlets will be fined up to $127,000 if they disseminate disinformation about the outbreak. – Associated Press

Iain King and Rachel Ellehuus write: In addition to these efforts in the disinformation space, Russia is using the fact that the United States and its European allies and partners are preoccupied in managing COVID-19 to exercise its conventional military capabilities.[…] What this means for Russia’s polity and society, much less global stability, is far less clear. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russian and Italian generals gathered around a map of the Italian peninsula, plotting the route of a Russian convoy. Military vehicles, flying Russian flags and emblazoned with “From Russia with Love” in Italian, Russian and English, were shown driving across Italy to the northern city of Bergamo, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 11,000 Italians. – Wall Street Journal

A day after the Hungarian Parliament passed sweeping emergency measures allowing the far-right populist leader Viktor Orban to rule by decree indefinitely, ostensibly as part of the country’s response to the coronavirus, the European Commission on Tuesday reminded its members to respect rights. But it was a muted first response from the one institution that can take on Mr. Orban, and it appeared aimed at balancing the political imperative of cooperation in the era of the coronavirus with the risk of emboldening him. – New York Times

Hungary should be excluded from the European Union’s ministerial meetings because of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s move to take sole command of the nation, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. – Bloomberg

The Serbian leader, who makes dramatic daily appearances issuing new decrees, has assumed full power, prompting an outcry from opponents who say he has seized control of the state in an unconstitutional manner. – Associated Press

Christina Brown and Eleanor Anderson write: A consolidated Western policy, including consistent messaging, expanded economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions on Kremlin-associated entities, and increased aid to the Ukrainian government from multinational organizations and individual allied countries are needed for the Moscow to take the West seriously. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Christopher R. O’Dea writes: Italy’s vulnerability to Chinese power raises concerns about the security of U.S. and NATO bases in Naples. […]The EU is home to extensive scientific and biotech expertise, but the main rationale for dominating the EU is that the Mediterranean is the source of the values underlying Western civilization, such as religious liberty, representative government, and respect for individuals. – The National Review


The U.S. military is facing more allegations of killing civilians with airstrikes in Somalia, and now says it will address the issue more fully in upcoming public reports. – Associated Press

Al-Shabaab executed six men it said were spying for Somali intelligence agencies, the U.S. and Kenya, according to a broadcast on Radio Andalus, which supports the Islamist group that’s linked to al-Qaeda. – Bloomberg

The Paris Club of creditor nations agreed on Tuesday to restructure Somalia’s debt, including immediately canceling $1.4 billion owed by the impoverished Horn of Africa country. – Reuters

Like many other African countries, Kenya has imposed sweeping restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The curfew, which requires people to stay in their homes from dusk to dawn, is the most stringent limitation and has led to a wave of police violence. – Washington Post

United States

The Justice Department inspector general revealed Tuesday that his investigators found errors in every FBI application to a secret surveillance court examined as part of an ongoing review — suggesting that problems exposed in the bureau’s probe of President Trump’s 2016 campaign extend far beyond that case alone. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Very little has changed in the intervening 17 years. That’s why it’s foolish to expect new and better procedures will work this time. A better approach would be an aggressive policy to prosecute FBI agents and lawyers who submit falsehoods to the surveillance court. The best way to prevent future violations is to severely punish those who commit them in the present. – Bloomberg

Eli Lake writes: After 9/11, the FBI was given broad new powers to demand data from private businesses. A dozen years later, both the ACLU and the Justice Department’s inspector general found that the use of that extraordinary power had become routine and unchecked. As Americans grapple with the current pandemic, they must be vigilant that their government not repeat the same mistake. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Guatemala’s government has asked the U.S. to stop all deportations of Guatemalans to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the impoverished Central American country, days after local authorities reported the first case of an infected deportee, a senior Guatemalan official said. – Wall Street Journal

Some families of the U.S. oil executives hope that Caracas will free their fathers and husbands soon, pointing to Iran’s recent release of an American detainee for a medical furlough on coronavirus fears. – Wall Street Journal

Major social media companies are taking aim at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s dismissal of social distancing, joining others in the country who have lined up against his controversial stance regarding the new coronavirus. – Associated Press

James Stavridis writes: The U.S. was smart to put this new deal in front of the increasingly shaky Maduro regime. The keys to executing it will be getting buy-in from the rest of the hemisphere through the Organization of American States; allowing Maduro a realistic chance for a gilded bolt-hole instead of ending up like Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi, beaten to death in a drain pipe by his own people; achieving Russian acquiescence; and avoiding putting too much of a U.S. face on the entire enterprise. – Bloomberg


Coronavirus-related fraud schemes are rising fast and have cost US consumers some $4.77 million so far, a government watchdog said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Video conferencing app Zoom, which has seen its popularity skyrocket in the coronavirus pandemic, is in hot water after users complained to the FBI of being startled by porn during meetings. – Agence France-Presse

Surveillance measures rolled out across the world as governments try curb the spread of coronavirus could cause lasting damage to the right to privacy, a United Nations expert has warned. Reuters

John Cosby writes: The Department of Defense’s CMMC will be the new standard for doing work with the Pentagon, and it mandates an outcome-based cyber approach. Beyond the basic levels, and entity must be capable of identifying and intercepting advanced per-system threat level cyberattacks, and assessing risks to emergent and anticipated threats. This is one of the purposes of outcome-based cyber. It’s a philosophy, not a toolset – a philosophy that balances risk to the enterprise, the company, and the community. – Fifth Domain


In a memo to Navy leaders, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating and that removing all but 10% of the crew is a “necessary risk” in order to stop the spread of the virus. The ship is docked in Guam. – Associated Press

Twenty-three Air Force organizations and 1,840 billets with space-related missions are slated to transfer to the Space Force within the next three to six months, service officials announced Tuesday. – Air Force Times

Oshkosh Defense has won a $346 million award to modernize the U.S. Army’s fleet of heavy tactical vehicles, according to a March 30 company statement. – Defense News

Hours after a leaked letter from the Commanding Officer of the embattled carrier Theodore Roosevelt pleading for more support from the Navy leaked to the public, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet told reporters he is working as fast as he can to get a plan in place to rotate sailors off the ship. – Defense News

The Space Force awarded L3 Technologies and Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems contracts worth as much as $1 billion for the development and production of new modems that would help with protected satellite communications. – C4ISRNET

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the Navy requires best practices not that aren’t always conducive to pilot training — training the service says it can’t afford to slow down. – USNI News