Fdd's overnight brief

April 26, 2019

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


David Albright, Frank Pabian, and Andrea Stricker write: After Western intelligence discovered the Qom site, Iran declared it to the IAEA. Iran subsequently told the IAEA that it had not started construction of the plant until 2007, claiming to have repurposed an existing military underground site on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) base. The archive information proves this claim to be false. – Institute for Science and International Security

Iran’s foreign minister said a small group of Middle Eastern and U.S. officials is trying to steer President Trump into a conflict with Tehran in the hope of undermining Iran’s influence in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Britain has rejected a prisoner-swap proposal by Iran’s foreign minister, calling it a “vile” diplomatic maneuver. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, says Iran’s offer of prisoner exchange with the United States is “serious and with precedent.” Meanwhile he charged that the United States “lacks a proper understanding of the concept of negotiations.” – Radio Farda

Director-General of Intelligence Ministry’s Office in East Azarbaijan province, northwest Iran, says sixty individuals, who had contacts with the dissident group Mojahedin Khalq Organizations (MKO), have been arrested in the past year. – Radio Farda

A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in a shootout on April 24 in the Kurdistan province, Mehr news agency reported. Iran’s military often clashes with dissident Kurds in the west and northwest of the country. Several Kurdish armed groups, opposed to the Islamic Republic or advocating outright secession for Kurdish-populated areas, have sanctuaries in neighboring Iraq. – Radio Farda

Iran’s foreign ministry has said that Tehran will not allow any country to take away its share of the global oil market. – Radio Farda

Iran’s foreign minister has warned of “consequences” if the United States continues efforts to prevent Tehran from selling oil on international markets. – Radio Farda

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif does not believe US President Donald Trump wants war with Iran, but Trump could be lured into a conflict by his Israeli counterpart and anti-Iran advisers, he said in an interview on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States and Iran came one step closer to war this week after the Trump Administration announced it would not renew waivers on sanctions against importers of Iranian oil. […]alami is a “absolutely obedient commander and a vocal advocate of aggressive military diplomacy and Iran’s missile program,” Iran expert Reza Haqiqatnezhad told Radio Farda. Salami’s appointment makes a military confrontation with the US more likely, experts think. – Arutz Sheva

Washington DC-based law firm Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner LLP announced that it is filing a $360 million lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic for the countries’ support of the 2015 murders of members of the Henkin family. – Arutz Sheva

Editorial: Israel has always believed that in the absence of a credible threat, the Iranians will not back down from their continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon, which almost all intelligence agencies across the globe agree is the true objective of Iran’s nuclear program. […]Just like you don’t send a fox to guard the hen house, a democracy doesn’t let a criminally suspect leader revamp the relationship and separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary, the same bench that could one day hear his own appeal. This is not just unhealthy for Israel, it is potentially disastrous. – Jerusalem Post

Alireza Nader writes: More persistent, robust and revealing journalism from foreign based Farsi media including US international broadcasters, regular outreach to the Iranian democratic opposition, and targeting of regime lobbies and former officials in the West are likely to be steps welcomed by Iranians seeking freedom. The message: Iran may be occupied now, but it won’t be occupied forever. – Radio Farda


Intensive US-led coalition bombardment on the Syrian city of Raqa killed more than 1,600 civilians over four months in 2017, according to a report released on Thursday. The findings were compiled after months of field research and extensive data analysis, including via a project that saw 3,000 digital activists scan satellite imagery online. – Agence France-Presse

In a scathing column published April 22, 2019 in the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Rif’at Ibrahim Al-Badawi accused Syria allies Russia and Iran of individually pressuring Syria politically and economically to accept political proposals leading to the actualization of each of their interests – even if it means suffering for the Syrian people. Al-Badawi argued that the once-hidden Russia-Iran disagreements are now out in the open, and that the two countries are now in a frantic race to convey messages promoting divergent initiatives to the Syrian leadership. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Robert S. Ford writes: Eight years on, the Syrian civil war is finally winding down. The government of Bashar al-Assad has largely won, but the cost has been steep. The economy is shattered, there are more than 5 million Syrian refugees abroad, and the government lacks the resources to rebuild. Any chance that the Syrian opposition could compel the regime to negotiate a national unity government that limited or ended Assad’s role collapsed with the entry of the Russian military in mid-2015 and the Obama administration’s decision not to counter-escalate. – Middle East Institute

Erica Hanichak and Jameson Cunningham write: There is plenty more to be done to secure U.S. national security interests and moral leadership in Syria, troop withdrawal or not. Congress has a unique role in shaping foreign policy, and both Senate and House must work together in standing up to murderous dictatorships and holding the U.S. government accountable. – Washington Institute


A last-ditch effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party to annul the election for mayor of Istanbul has opened wide divisions in the party’s rank and file and with its nationalist allies, as even the president has come under unusual attack. – New York Times

Six people who worked for Turkey’s oldest independent newspaper were returned to prison on Thursday on terrorism-related charges, in a court case widely considered to have grave implications for press freedom in the country. – New York Times

The United States and Turkey are negotiating a plan for their troops to jointly patrol a safe zone about 20 miles wide along Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey, according to officials from both countries. – Washington Post


The armed wing of Hamas is using increasingly complex methods of raising funds via bitcoin, researchers say, highlighting the difficulties regulators face in tracking cryptocurrency financing of outfits designated by some as terrorist groups. – Reuters

The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday stating that Israel will participate in World Expo 2020 to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. – Jerusalem Post

Douglas Bloomfield writes: While US President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his “deal of the century,” which is likely to be dead on arrival, his frenemy Russian President Vladimir Putin is moving in to fill the Middle East power vacuum left by the past two American administrations. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

A UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon Thursday confirmed that a tunnel discovered earlier this year by Israel had crossed the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the third such breach of a ceasefire resolution. – Agence France-Presse

Eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar has thrown much of his military forces into attacking Tripoli, but the outcome of the offensive could be determined by a separate battle — to keep open the parallel finance system that funds his soldiers. – Reuters

Muneer Binwaber writes: There are some reports that are optimistic regarding Yemen’s economic future, suggesting that Yemen’s economy will grow for the first time in six years in the second two quarter of 2019 at a rate of 2.9%. However, these potential long-term gains will do nothing to help Yemenis preparing for a Ramadan and two Eids this year, which will be more expensive than in previous years, even as they navigate the everyday economic challenges within Yemen. – Washington Institute

Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas Heras and Kaleigh Thomas write: Since 9/11 the United States has struggled with how to respond to the challenges posed by ungoverned spaces in the Middle East, from which terrorist attacks and destabilizing mass refugee flows emanate. […] The question facing the United States and other Western allies is how to deal with these challenges without getting sucked into complex and costly civil wars that the United States has little ability to end on its own. – Center for a New American Security

Korean Peninsula

Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from his first summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday saying that North Korea needs international security guarantees, not just U.S. pledges, to consider giving up its nuclear arsenal. – Washington Post

North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student home from Pyongyang in 2017. – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un paid his respects at a ceremony honoring the war dead Friday before wrapping up a brief and generally successful visit to the Russian Far East for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin. – Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing to brief Chinese leaders on his just-concluded summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said he is also willing to share details of the talks with the United States. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after holding his first face-to-face talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday that U.S. security guarantees would probably not be enough to persuade Pyongyang to shut its nuclear program. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin says he’s willing to share details with the United States about his summit on Thursday with Kim Jong Un, potentially raising Russia’s influence in the stalemated issue of North Korean denuclearization. – Associated Press

Simon Denyer writes: North Korea has long maintained that it needs security guarantees before it would consider surrendering its nuclear weapons. Indeed, in a midnight news conference directly after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said that was Pyongyang’s main goal, rather than sanctions relief. […]Like it or not, Washington’s credibility isn’t high. Diplomats from other nations complain that President Trump has reneged on a perfectly good deal with Iran, just because it was agreed to by his predecessor. Any deal Trump signs with Kim could easily be rejected by his successor as U.S. president. – Washington Post

Kim Gamel writes: The U.S. and South Korea have canceled some annual military exercises and changed the names of others. Commanders no longer publicly profess their resolve to confront the growing nuclear threat from the North. The allies have drastically altered the way they train to avoid provoking the communist state since President Donald Trump announced plans to suspend “the war games” after his first summit with Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore. – Stars and Stripes


China’s President Xi Jinping signaled a recalibration of his global infrastructure-building program as he sought to assuage foreign critics who blame Beijing for pushing excessive lending onto developing economies. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China after bristling at the cost of a 21st-century nuclear arms race, according to administration officials. – Washington Post

Who owns Huawei? As the Chinese smartphone and telecommunications equipment giant battles the United States government over whether it should be allowed to build the world’s mobile networks, the company has been going to great lengths to present itself as open, transparent and trustworthy. It has not always worked out. One reason is that certain simple questions about Huawei do not have simple answers. – New York Times

China’s powerful military is considered to be a master at concealing its intentions. But there is no secret about how it plans to destroy American aircraft carriers if rivalry becomes war. – Reuters

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office warned Thursday that China had to do more to prevent intellectual property theft, stating that country has not implemented any reforms and remains a “hazardous and uncertain environment” to operate in. A USTR official indicated that the Trump administration could pursue additional tariffs against China if reforms don’t happen. – Washington Examiner

China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure program should only go where it is needed and where the debt it generates can be sustained, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Friday. – Reuters

Michael Schuman writes: The next summit for China’s grandiose Belt and Road Initiative, beginning on Thursday in Beijing, will host one especially welcome guest: Italy. […]No official from Washington will be attending Xi’s Belt and Road bash. Perhaps, though, the U.S. would have greater success influencing China’s actions on the world stage by whispering from the inside, rather than barking from the outside. – The Atlantic

Daniel Kliman writes: When initially unveiled in 2013, the Belt and Road met with a warm reception across large parts of the globe. For many developing countries eager for new sources of investment, it held significant appeal. Yet the reality of the Belt and Road has differed sharply from the beneficent vision advanced by Beijing. – Center for a New American Security


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is accelerating a plan to cut up to half of the workforce at the U.S. embassy in Kabul starting at the end of next month, sparking concern it will undermine the fragile Afghan peace process, U.S. officials and congressional aides said. – Reuters

The United Nations’ top official in Afghanistan met the Taiban’s chief negotiator in Qatar on Thursday, the movement’s chief spokesman said, as moves continue to try to start full peace negotiations to end more than 17 years of war. – Reuters

Opium now accounts for around a third of Afghanistan’s GDP, he says. It is by far the country’s biggest cash crop and provides almost 600,000 full-time jobs. This, despite the fact that the US military has spent $1.5m a day on counter narcotics since the invasion in October 2001, or almost $9bn. – BBC News

South Asia

The attack was among the deadliest ever carried out by Islamic State acolytes outside Iraq and Syria. That the group responsible for it existed so far below the radar of international intelligence agencies troubles counterterrorism officials, who wonder how many similar groups are active or operating surreptitiously in North Africa, South Asia and elsewhere. Current and former counterterrorism officials warned that the Sri Lanka bombings may be a harbinger for a new phase of ISIS attacks. – New York Times

Five days after coordinated bombings on Easter Sunday killed at least 250 people, this shellshocked tropical nation and its capital remained on edge Thursday, as officials warned of new possible attacks and religious leaders canceled services around the country. – Washington Post

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Sky News on Thursday that the Sri Lankan government had known that Sri Lankan nationals who had joined the Islamic State had returned to the country — but that they couldn’t be arrested, as joining a foreign terrorist organization is not against the law. […]But how could Sri Lanka — a country where a U.S.-government-designated terrorist organization waged war against the state for decades — not have such legislation? – Washington Post

At least three of the suicide bombers who struck Sri Lanka on Easter belonged to the same extended family, police said. The patriarch is one of the country’s most successful spice traders. Two of his sons carried out attacks early Sunday morning, according to law enforcement. That afternoon as police entered the family residence, officials said, his daughter-in-law detonated explosives, killing herself and three officers. – Washington Post

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said on Friday intelligence failings allowed the devastating Easter attacks to take place and there would be a major reorganization of security services in the coming days. – Washington Post

Zaharan Hashim, a radical Muslim preacher accused of masterminding the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, never hid his hatred. – New York Times

The president of Sri Lanka blamed security officials for not warning him of terrorist threats and said the country’s prosecution of military intelligence officers after its long civil war left it vulnerable to attack, as he sought Friday to deflect blame from the Easter Sunday bombings. – New York Times

Sri Lanka’s prime minister said Thursday that suspects linked to the coordinated Easter Sunday bomb attacks remain at large and could have access to explosives. – Associated Press


More than two years after U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from a regional Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the U.S. and Japan — the world’s largest and third-largest economies — are negotiating a deal of their own. Both sides insist they want a “win-win” outcome, but as evidenced by the Trump administration’s tariff battles with China and the European Union, there’s also potential for serious economic damage if things go bad. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping is refashioning his country’s military into a potent fighting force that in some critical areas now surpasses the U.S. armed forces, making an American victory over China in a regional war far from assured, Reuters reports today. – Reuters

Aparna Panda writes: The US wants India to be its partner in confronting China’s rise across Asia, but the Trump administration does not seem to understand that India’s size and history make it different from other, smaller American allies. Subjecting the India-US relationship to a one-size-fits-all policy demanding conformity from allies will only hurt it more. – Hudson Institute


President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday defended his decision to fast-track Russian citizenship for some residents of separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, a move widely seen as possibly prolonging the war there and testing the mettle of the country’s novice president-elect. – New York Times

China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative meshes perfectly with the goals of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday. – Associated Press

Chinese tourists visiting Russia shouldn’t overlook the “memorable sites” of 20th century history, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Russia, those sites include communist memorials. […]The former KGB officer gave that advice in an interview with the People’s Daily, which is run by the Chinese Communist Party, pointing to what he said were more than 1.7 million tourists from China last year. – Washington Examiner

In the lexicon of U.S. counterintelligence, it’s called “spot and assess,” “access agents,” and “backchannels.” According to U.S. prosecutors, it’s also what Maria Butina, a now 30-year-old Russian graduate student, was doing during her time in United States. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

At the first Belt and Road summit in Beijing two years ago, Vladimir Putin offered little more than platitudes for Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure initiative, essentially calling China’s “project of the century” a welcome new plank in Russia’s own strategy for ending American hegemony. – Bloomberg


French President Emmanuel Macron promised to cut taxes in a long-awaited address that sidestepped demands for sweeping measures to quell months of violent yellow-vest protests. – Wall Street Journal

Far-right politicians from around Europe held a rally in a historic square here Thursday, addressing a modest crowd of a few hundred, but proclaiming a continent-sized ambition: to remake the European Union. – Wall Street Journal

Poland’s ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has denounced LGBT rights, gender theory and UN sex education recommendations as a “threat” to the devout Catholic EU country. – Agence France-Presse

A French warship passed through the strategic Taiwan Strait this month, U.S. officials told Reuters, a rare voyage by a vessel of a European country that is likely to be welcomed by Washington but increase tension with Beijing. – Reuters

President Emmanuel Macron said France and Germany are on a different page these days but believes their different views on Brexit, climate policies or on trade talks with the United States, are “fruitful confrontations.” – Bloomberg

The United States has imposed an entry ban on Muslim Khuchiyev, the prime minister of Russia’s North Caucasus Chechen Republic. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A French Jewish couple robbed in their Paris-area home may have been targeted because of their mezuzah, a watchdog group on anti-Semitism said. – Jerusalem Post

A representative for a museum in the northern German city of Bremen confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that an event with a hardcore advocate of the Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment campaign against Israel was cancelled. The anti-Israel former pastor and BDS supporter Martin Breidert was slated to speak at the city-funded Übersee-Museum on Thursday on the topic: “Is criticism of the policies of the state of Israel antisemitic?” – Jerusalem Post


The Sudanese Professionals Association, which led months of protests that eventually forced one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders from power, says its revolution is far from over. – Associated Press

Sudan could face a counter coup if military rulers and the opposition do not reach agreement on a handover of power to civilians, leading opposition figure and former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi said on Thursday. – Reuters


Twitter is adding a feature that will help users identify misleading election content as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up in the U.S. The tool will let Twitter users flag tweets containing inaccurate information about how to vote or register to vote, voting requirements, and the dates or times of elections, the San Francisco-based company said Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

Earlier this year, Congress and the White House granted the U.S. Cyber Command a range of new authorities, and, in the months since national security experts have said the Department of Defense will be more aggressive in cyberspace, leading attacks against bad actors who have stolen intellectual property or against those who are attempting to influence American elections. But a new narrative with additional nuance now surrounds that discussion. Rather than thinking of the United States as being more aggressive, national security experts and government officials say that Cyber Command has more flexibility and that the authorities allow for offensive action in the name of defensive purposes. – Fifth Domain

The New York attorney general’s office is launching an investigation into Facebook for harvesting 1.5 million users’ email contact data without their consent, after the practice was revealed by Business Insider last week. – Business Insider


The Pentagon’s watchdog office has cleared acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan of wrongdoing in an investigation examining whether he used his influence in the Defense Department to favor Boeing, his former employer. – Washington Post

Only about half of the F-35s worldwide were ready to fly during an eight-month period in 2018, with the wait for spare parts keeping jets on the ground nearly 30 percent of the time, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. – Defense News

The Marines have announced the next senior enlisted leader of the service. Sgt. Maj. Troy Black has been selected to follow Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green as the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, according to a Thursday announcement from the service. Black is currently the senior enlisted Marine for the Manpower and Reserve Affairs and will replace Green in a ceremony later this year, according to the statement. – USNI News

A secretive group of scientists who advise the U.S. government on everything from spy satellites to nuclear weapons is scrambling to find a sponsor after the Defense Department abruptly ended its contract late last month. – NPR

Leon Aron writes: Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was an attack on our sovereignty and can’t be ignored. But we shouldn’t allow it to distract us from the larger threat Russian President Vladimir Putin poses to both the United States and the world. – Los Angeles Times


Missile Defense

China is leading the U.S. in a race to deploy hypersonic missiles that would defeat existing air defense systems, according to senior U.S. officials. – Reuters

China and Russia had their money on winning asymmetric advantages in conventional and nuclear forces in the last decade, and now the United States is playing catch-up in modernizing its sea, air and land nuclear forces, the Pentagon’s top policy official said Wednesday. – USNI News

The Army has been on a path to incrementally develop an Indirect Fires Protection Capability to defend against rockets, artillery and mortars and also cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems, but it’s taking this year to experiment with the makeup of an enduring system to decide what direction it will head, according to the service’s project manager for cruise missile defense systems with the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space. – Defense News

A test announced in late March could herald an enormous change in the way the Navy modernizes its ships, while making a once prohibitive cost of maintaining older ships attainable. – C4ISRNET

United States

U.S. supporters of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were warned on Thursday to end a sit-in protest at the country’s shuttered embassy in Washington. – Associated Press

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of a Texas law that requires contractors to certify that they don’t support a boycott of Israel. – Associated Press