Fdd's overnight brief

August 14, 2020

In The News


The Trump administration has for the first time confiscated cargo in vessels allegedly loaded with Iran fuel in violation of sanctions, U.S. officials said, as it steps up its campaign of maximum pressure against Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela, Hojad Soltani, pushed back on what would appear a victory for the U.S. sanctions campaign, saying Thursday on Twitter that neither the ships nor their owners were Iranian. – Associated Press

The US ambassador to the UN has appealed to France, Germany and the UK to put forward a compromise measure to secure an extension of an arms embargo on Iran, saying her “patience is running very thin”. – Financial Times

The United Nations Security Council started voting on Thursday on a U.S. bid to extend an arms embargo on Iran, which is opposed by veto-powers Russia and China, and the result will be announced at a meeting on Friday, diplomats said. – Reuters 

Iran criticized a historic agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, calling it a “dangerous move” and a “foolish mistake” that could lead to the escalation of tensions in the region. – Bloomberg

A campaign on a rare scale uniting activists and personalities inside Iran and out is pressing Tehran not to execute men detained over anti-government protests, but faces an uphill struggle. – Agence France-Presse 

A British-Iranian man held in Iran’s Evin jail on trumped-up charges has appealed to the leaders of his two countries to release him from his “hellhole” before he succumbs to the coronavirus after a spike of cases in the notorious prison. – The National

Henry Romes writes: Whether to negotiate with the United States is ultimately a political, not economic, decision. Tehran will be highly averse to talking if the attitude from Washington is one of unremitting hostility. Still, if the U.S. president in January 2021 decides to consider a credible diplomatic path with Tehran, he will find significant economic leverage at his disposal. – Foreign Policy

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: He has his coalition partners – Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi – to thank after they had established an alliance with Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner to block the move, allowing the prime minister to reevaluate his plans and be well awarded by this agreement that could not have come at a better time for him politically. However, the specter of another election still looms but no longer seems imminent, for the time being. – Ynet


The throngs of antiestablishment protesters marching in Beirut after last week’s devastating explosion have turned their sights on one group above all: Hezbollah, the powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite political party and militia that has in recent years become a nearly untouchable force in Lebanon. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday warmly praised Lithuania’s decision to blacklist Hezbollah — the Tehran regime’s Shi’a proxy in Lebanon — as a terrorist group. – Algemeiner 

The military has carried out about 1,000 airstrikes in Syria since 2017, most of them against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, as part of a campaign to hinder the establishment of Iranian strongholds in Syria and Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile project. – Haaretz


The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday that history and the conscience of the region’s people will not forget and never forgive the “hypocritical behaviour” of the United Arab Emirates in agreeing a deal with Israel. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that any attack on a Turkish ship exploring for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters would incur a “high price” and suggested Turkey had already acted on that warning. – Reuters

The French military conducted training exercises with Greek forces off the southern island of Crete on Thursday, defence sources said, as tension persisted with Turkey over disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean. – Reuters 

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said that Turkey has “legitimate security interests” in fighting back against the Kurdistan Workers Party, but said that Turkish military operations have caused “friction.” – The National Interest 

Tom Rogan writes: Of course, Macron’s intent here is not to start a fight with Erdogan. Instead, his focus rests in offering Erdogan a “bad cop” counterpart to Merkel’s “good cop” push for renewed Greek-Turkish diplomacy. The bad cop element is critical in that while Erdogan has said diplomacy is his preference, he risks being caught up in his own nationalist whirlwind. […]Macron’s intent, then, is to suggest that a war between Turkey and France is equally ludicrous, just in the opposite direction. And that Merkel thus deserves Erdogan’s sympathetic ear. – Washington Examiner 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The only other leader likely to be discomfited by Macron’s muscle-flexing is Merkel, whose already difficult task of calming the troubled waters will be made harder still by the French intervention. – Bloomberg


Israel and the United Arab Emirates moved Thursday to establish formal diplomatic ties after Israel agreed to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in a dramatic U.S.-backed shift that signaled Israel’s warming ties with Gulf Arab states. – Wall Street Journal 

An announcement Thursday by the United Arab Emirates that it was pursuing formal ties with Israel was condemned by Palestinians as a betrayal by a putative Arab ally and a crushing setback to their national aspirations. – Washington Post

Israel said on Thursday it would stop shipments of fuel into Gaza in response to Palestinians in the enclave launching incendiary balloons that have torched tracts of farmland on the Israeli frontier. – Reuters 

An interministerial committee is reevaluating the effectiveness of a law that bans BDS activists from entering the country, Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Blue and White) said Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

Senior Israeli officials reportedly said Thursday that they are in advanced talks with Bahrain about normalizing ties with the Gulf state, hours after the historic announcement on Israel’s establishment of ties with the United Arab Emirates. – Times of Israel 

Dennis Ross writes: Arabs states can build on this agreement and support Palestinians by making it clear that they will follow suit if Israel curtails its settlement activity and expands the territory in which Palestinians can exercise authority. But Palestinian leaders should also be mindful that if the Israelis take positive steps and they don’t respond, Arab leaders might still proceed with normalizing moves. At a partisan time, this is one issue that should be seen for what it is: an unexpectedly positive move. – Washington Post 

Noa Landau writes: In more normal times, Israel would have preferred for an improvement in the UN voting pattern as its reward. But in a less-than-best-case scenario, it will also take a distraction by the government, which is throwing tiny treats to Israelis trapped this summer in a country in crisis. It would have been preferable to receive applause for the tourism plan to the picturesque Greek isles, rather than a conversation on the implications of Israel entering into the worsening confrontation between two enemies in the Mediterranean Sea. – Haaretz

Bilal Y. Saab writes: As praiseworthy as this deal is, the ultimate challenge and most valuable achievement for the Middle East remains the significant reduction of tensions with Iran. If relations between Abu Dhabi and Tehran don’t blow up as a result of it—and lately they’ve been pretty good—the Emiratis will be able to more effectively mediate between the Israelis and the Iranians, a role the Omanis have historically played. Tehran’s hard-liners might never make peace with Israel, but they sure have an interest in stopping a large-scale war. Abu Dhabi’s clever and opportunistic diplomacy with Israel could contribute in that regard and indeed change the region forever. – Foreign Policy  

Yossi Melman writes: On the face of it, the answer is clear, and when the day comes, Israel will be forced to denounce China’s nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia, because the program poses serious danger to its national security. Crown Prince bin Salman will be peeved, of course, but if Israel stays mum, it is likely to find itself facing yet more entitities – not to mention Jihadis – playing with nuclear toys. – Haaretz


The assessment adds to the emerging picture of what caused the Aug. 4 blast that killed more than 160 people, with at least 60 others still missing. The explosion has stoked public outrage toward Lebanon’s government, with many protesters demanding justice after the explosive material was stored for years in the port adjacent to the heart of Beirut, and calling for their country’s leaders to be held accountable for years of poor governance and corruption. – Wall Street Journal

A top U.S. diplomat said on Thursday the FBI would join a probe of the massive Beirut explosion that killed at least 172 people, urging change in Lebanon to “make sure something like this never happens again”. – Reuters  

Lebanese officials knew that more than half the bags of a 2,750-tonne stockpile of ammonium nitrate that caused a deadly explosion in Beirut were damaged six years ago, but took no action to dispose of the chemical. – Financial Times

Zvi Bar’el writes: The problem in Lebanon is that the port of Beirut was run like a private estate by interest groups that made a fortune from it – many of which are quite well connected to the political power centers, including Hezbollah. […]Lebanon, which is unable to handle the huge number of injured along with its COVID-19 patients, will find itself at the center of an international battle that will probably not benefit the hundreds of thousands of victims.  – Haaretz

David Gardner writes: The outgoing government was set up to fail by the sectarian power brokers who appointed it. They sided with the banks, in which they almost all have an interest, to oppose that government’s IMF-backed recovery plan. Lebanon broke last week. But the sectarian nomenklatura is still at it. Gebran Khalil Gebran, Lebanon’s iconic poet, said it all a long time ago: “pity the nation”. – Financial Times

Gulf States

The surprise move of the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with Israel piles pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow suit—at the risk of inflaming public sentiment and breaking from the monarchy’s track record of promoting the Palestinian cause. – Wall Street Journal

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen said it intercepted and downed an armed drone and two ballistic missiles launched towards a southern part of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, in a statement carried by state news agency SPA. – Reuters 

A prominent rights group Thursday accused Yemen’s Houthi rebels and rival Saudi border guards of killing several dozen Ethiopian migrants in an incident at the border earlier this year. – Associated Press 

A former Saudi intelligence czar’s lawsuit in the US courts makes a host of incendiary claims, including that the powerful crown prince tried to have him killed, and threatens to spill more royal secrets. – Agence France-Presse

The UAE recently attained two significant achievements in the fields of science and technology. On July 19, 2020, it launched the Hope probe, an unmanned spacecraft to Mars, from a Japanese launch center, in collaboration with foreign research centers. Some two weeks later, on August 1, it inaugurated the Barakah nuclear power plant, built by a South Korean company. […]Echoing the same sentiments, Qatari users on social media expressed contempt for the UAE’s achievements. Emirati users responded, claiming that Qatar, lacking comparable achievements of its own, is acting out of envy and malice.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Eli Lake writes: This is something Arab leaders in the region understand better than many advocates for Palestinian sovereignty in the West. As Osama bin Laden once observed, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” In assessing the region, the UAE’s leaders have seen one state thrive as its neighbors burned. They have chosen the strong horse. – Bloomberg 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The overall question now in the Gulf is how Qatar will react and whether there will be grumblings of pushback among any elites, whether religious officials or influential sheikhs. […]There is always opposition to closer ties to Israel and there are those who want to exploit these moves to try to undermine the leadership of these states. Observing the next weeks of discussions and media reactions from Baghdad to Amman and Kuwait, across to Oman and the Gulf, will be key to understanding the broader implications on the region. – Jerusalem Post 

Graeme Wood writes: And yet one notices a shift in the past decade or so, since roughly the end of the second intifada, in 2005. Conversations with Arabs about Israel once characterized by vitriol now much more often begin and end with shrugs of resignation. I have never met a Saudi or an Emirati who has confessed—even privately—a desire to visit Israel and make friends with Israelis. But not many seem to have the desire to throw a rock into an Israeli sergeant’s face, either. Perhaps that’s what peace looks like, at the beginning anyway. – The Atlantic 

Middle East & North Africa

Israel and the United Arab Emirates moved Thursday to establish formal diplomatic ties, after Israel agreed to halt plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The deal was reached with U.S. backing, and President Trump has hailed it as historic. Here is a look at what the pact involves and what it means for the broader Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

In a video he published on social media, he lashed out against Assad’s “inhumane” state security forces. “Mr President, the security forces have started attacking people’s freedoms,” Makhlouf said. The outburst shocked Syrians, and exposed a rift at the heart of the ruling elite. Never before had such a senior figure spoken out against the regime from within Damascus. – Reuters

 Jordan said that the deal announced on Thursday between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could push forward stalled peace negotiations if it succeeds in prodding Israel to accept a Palestinian state on land that Israel had occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. – Reuters

An agreement on normalising relations reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday is an “enormous” step forward on the “right path”, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters with him on a trip to central European countries. – Reuters

The Trump administration is in talks with additional Arab countries in the Middle East and there is a chance that the deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates will lead to the normalization of ties between Israel and other countries, senior US officials said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: Yet the coterie of anti-Israel and Iran-friendly Democratic foreign-policy hands may soon find their influence reduced. The UAE deal strengthens the anti-Iran coalition and withdraws an excuse—annexation—that the left could use to attack Israel. Whoever wins in November, the breakthrough leaves the U.S. in a better position in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: Kushner’s peace plan, when it was finally announced, seemed stillborn. But Kushner argued that if he could peel off several countries that were ready to make a pragmatic deal, the process of Arab normalization with Israel — a dream since the Jewish state was founded — might finally get some traction. Trump’s surprise announcement might be an “August surprise” in the presidential campaign. But it’s welcome news for Israel, the Arabs and the United States. – Washington Post 

Richard Grenell writes: President Trump has now proven that not starting new wars, bringing U.S. troops home, and signing peace deals is only possible when an outsider ignores the Washington foreign policy establishment. – The Hill

Matthew Petti writes: But the appearance of progress has already helped ingratiate Israel and the UAE with both parties in Washington—both Republicans looking to salvage the Trump peace plan, and Democrats uneasy with prior Israeli plans to annex Palestinian territory. – The National Interest 

Bobby Ghosh writes: Those able to clutch at straws might hope that the UAE will wield more influence on Israel when the two countries have stronger diplomatic and economic ties. But that is a very thin reed. For the U.S., there is almost no risk at all: Two allies collaborating openly can only serve American interests. Even if this matters little to Trump, future American leaders will appreciate the agreement he announced. – Bloomberg

Kenneth Pollack writes: It is about the deepening of ties between Israel and the UAE to more closely band together to fight Iran and, secondarily, various extremist Islamist groups. If recent history is any guide to future developments, we should expect this budding alliance to brawl more with Iran and its other adversaries, raising the risk of escalation — and the likelihood that the US might get sucked back in by a wider war. So let’s not dislocate our shoulders patting ourselves on the back. This is a positive move born of negative circumstances, and whether it leads to a more or less stable Middle East remains very much in doubt. – American Enterprise Institute  

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, says the nation is facing “two crises at the same time” — fighting the spread of the coronavirus and coping with extensive flood damage. But Mr. Kim has ordered his country not to accept any international aid for fear that outside help might bring in Covid-19, the state news media reported on Friday. – New York Times 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced the premier he named about a year ago and lifted a lockdown on the border city of Kaesong put in place on concerns a former defector who crossed back from South Korea brought coronavirus with him. – Bloomberg

A cyber-attack targeting Israeli defense industry employees which was foiled by the Ministry of Defense was found to be part of an ongoing offensive campaign by the Lazarus Group. The group’s activities are linked to the North Korean government and many cyber experts have for years been treating it as a branch of the rogue state’s spy agency. – Algemeiner 


The State Department announced on Thursday that it was designating the U.S. headquarters of a Chinese government educational organization as a diplomatic mission, in the latest action by the Trump administration to limit official operations by China in the United States. – New York Times 

U.S. companies whose fortunes are linked to China are pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to restrict business transactions involving the WeChat app from Tencent Holdings Ltd., saying it could undermine their competitiveness in the world’s second-biggest economy. – Wall Street Journal 

The intensifying U.S.-China rivalry, in particular, has cast a cloud over Beijing’s economic outlook despite better-than-expected export data in recent months, as economists question how long the resilience in outbound shipments can continue amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections and a more hostile business environment for Chinese companies in many developed Western countries. – Wall Street Journal 

China will be able to maintain steady economic growth this year although the tensions between China and the United States will negatively impact the two countries and the world, China’s National Bureau of Statistics spokesman Fu Linghui said. – Reuters 

American academic leaders need to take “a hard look” at Chinese state-backed educational programs, State Department officials said while identifying the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission. – Washington Examiner  

The U.S.-China trade deal is more than just about buying more American goods, said a former top White House trade negotiator on Friday. – CNBC

Jude Blanchette writes: Huang expounds with great directness some of the key messages the senior Party leadership aims to disseminate amongst lower-level cadres and government officials. In contrast to Beijing’s external messaging—which emphasizes peace and cooperation with the United States—internal discourse is imbued with a much darker view of China’s relationship with the outside world. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he warned Russia against offering bounties for killing American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, even as President Trump has denigrated as a “hoax” a C.I.A. assessment that Russia carried out such a covert operation. – New York Times

Afghanistan’s defense ministry said it was investigating a video circulating on social media Thursday that showed men in Afghan army uniform mutilating bodies of purported Taliban fighters. – New York Times 

The Afghan government has begun releasing the last Taliban prisoners from a final batch of 400 who the militants want freed before they agree to start peace negotiations, a security agency spokesman said on Friday. – Reuters

South Asia

Militants attacked a police team in Kashmir on Friday, killing two officers and wounding one despite tight security in the disputed Muslim-majority region ahead of India’s Independence Day. – Reuters  

India announced a $500 million package to fund a project in the Maldives on Thursday to help it connect the capital Male to three nearby islands, stepping up New Delhi’s diplomatic efforts in a region China has also been focusing recently. – Reuters

Jeff M. Smith writes: The point of the Quad is not to launch a Soviet-era containment policy. It is to present a more united front of well-armed, highly capable, largely aligned democracies that can have a deterrent effect on Chinese adventurism and efforts to upset the status quo. The more the Quad and like-minded partners speak with a united voice, and the more clearly they articulate their core interests, the costlier it becomes for China to test or cross them. The goal is to win without fighting. The success of the Quad makes that more likely. – War on the Rocks


This city’s leaders have insisted repeatedly that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China. They’ve banned school students from singing Hong Kong’s protest anthem. They’re implementing patriotic education to force youngsters to love the “motherland.” A new national security law sets heavy penalties for anyone advocating Hong Kong’s separation from the People’s Republic. – Washington Post 

Google will stop responding directly to data requests from Hong Kong authorities, according to a person familiar with the matter, treating the territory effectively the same as mainland China in such transactions. – Washington Post 

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday criticized the arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai this week under China’s new national security law. – Reuters

Japan’s foreign minister said on Thursday the arrests of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow and media tycoon Jimmy Lai raised questions over freedom of speech and the press in Hong Kong and Tokyo’s concerns over the situation were growing. – Reuters

Taiwan unveiled a T$42.1 billion ($1.4 billion) increase for next year’s planned defence spending on Thursday, as China announced details of its latest combat drills near the democratic island. – Reuters 

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was released on bail Wednesday after being arrested and held by authorities on suspicion of conspiring with a foreign country or entity, a move he said aimed to stoke fears among those supporting pro-democracy efforts. – The Hill

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has expressed concern that Russia has provided military supplies to Armenia in the weeks following deadly clashes along the border between the two South Caucasus countries in July. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Kyrgyz authorities not to extradite detained Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev to Uzbekistan after he was arrested in Bishkek at Tashkent’s request. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Daniel F. Runde writes: The PRC’s historic error in responding to the Coronavirus offers Taiwan a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Not since Tiananmen Square has global sentiment turned so sharply against Beijing. By contesting China’s growing role in the development sector, Taiwan can show the world that a well-governed democracy is the strongest engine for global prosperity. – The Hill


The U.S. National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation have exposed a sophisticated Russian hacking tool, they said on Thursday in a rare public report offering new insight on Russia’s arsenal of digital weapons. – Reuters 

Russia said on Thursday it was concerned by the situation in Belarus and said there were attempts by outside forces to meddle in and destabilise the country following Sunday’s contested election. – Reuters

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Putin clearly wants a win against a virus that spoiled his 2020. The landmark constitutional plebiscite intended to cement his leadership was delayed by the pandemic, as was a Victory Parade marking the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, which few world leaders attended. […]In the end, a historic space exploit may not have been the best metaphor to choose. These days Russia’s program faces setbacks, including competition from private companies such as billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Tripping up in the vaccine race will be costlier. – Bloomberg

Henry Foy writes: Over the past decade, western trust in Russia has plunged. Factual evidence of Russian meddling in the US election, involvement in the assassination attempt on double agent Sergei Skripal or the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has all been blithely denied by Moscow. Those denials have eroded trust in the word of the Kremlin. Most Russian initiatives are met with suspicion in the west. […]To prove the global detractors wrong, Mr Putin now needs millions of ordinary Russians to be similarly willing. – Financial Times

Zachary Greenhouse and George Barros write: This campaign supports the Kremlin’s strategic goal of subverting Western global influence via nontraditional means. The Kremlin will likely use these deals to increase its cyber-attack capabilities and expand influence in key regions. The Kremlin may additionally use these deals to garner support for a Kremlin-friendly resolution on ICTs in the UN to shape international norms in cyberspace. – Institute for the Study of War

Nikolas K. Gvosdev writes: Certainly, countries like India or Korea or Saudi Arabia are not going to abandon their ties to the United States nor cease their cooperation with American and European entities seeking a cure for coronavirus, nor is Russia demanding any sort of exclusivity. But these states—including those with close political and security ties to the United States—also see no need to continue to uphold any sort of U.S. preference for isolating or containing Russia. – The National Interest


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo carried his campaign against the Chinese Communist Party to Eastern Europe on Thursday, proclaiming that “the tide is turning” against the government in Beijing and its efforts to control information. – Washington Post 

Hungary wants the European Union to pursue dialogue with Belarus and avoid ostracising it, its foreign minister said on Thursday, after days of violent protests in Minsk where President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory. – Reuters

New powers allowing British police officers to stop, question and detain people at the borders on suspicion of espionage or foreign interference came into force on Thursday in a response to a 2018 chemical attack blamed on Russian agents. – Reuters

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo will try to resolve their longstanding dispute at the White House next month, a Trump administration official said on Thursday night. – Bloomberg

Twenty-four European countries lodged a complaint with the U.S. State Department this week over President Donald Trump’s expansive use of sanctions to help influence American foreign policy goals, according to a European diplomat familiar with the communication. – Bloomberg

The European Union is poised to ratchet up pressure on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in response to a brutal crackdown on protests triggered by elections the bloc described as “neither free nor fair.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The Israeli Air Force will carry out a joint exercise with the Luftwaffe in Germany for the first time, including a visit to the Dachau concentration camp, the German military said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse 

However, the strategic and geopolitical implications of the changes could be even more considerable than first thought and play into a range of areas from Germany’s fighter contest to the way the U.S. Air Force trains for war, former Defense Department and Air Force officials told Defense News. – Defense News

Sophia Besch writes: With the establishment of a commission directorate-general for defence industry and space, this community will now have interlocutors in Brussels. A bit more expertise, some more money, a few more high-level discussions — the EU is moving, slowly. The hope is that it will agree on the direction of travel soon. – Financial Times

The Americas

As tensions between the United States and China rise, and as the coronavirus pandemic is forcing some U.S. companies to rethink their far-flung supply chains, Mexico has a message for the world’s CEOs: Move here instead. – Washington Post 

Venezuela’s fuel crisis is poised to deteriorate even further after one of its biggest refineries was halted over the weekend following a nearby oil spill. – Bloomberg 

The US administration has suspended all private charter flights between the United States and Cuba, to increase economic pressure on Havana. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that “the Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela”. – BBC  

A federal prosecutor who has jailed some of Venezuela’s biggest crooks is stepping down, The Associated Press has learned, leaving a void that could dampen U.S. efforts to expose criminal activity in the South American country amid rising tensions with the Trump administration. – Associated Press 


Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into the social media platform TikTok, citing concerns over alleged data collection practices by the company. – The Hill

A coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate on Thursday introduced legislation to funnel federal funds into strengthening state and local information technology systems, following increased stress on these systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.  – The Hill 

Facebook on Thursday launched its voting information center as internet platforms unveiled fresh moves to protect the November US election from manipulation and interference. – Agence France-Presse

Facebook Inc. executives are preparing for the possibility that results for the U.S. general election in November won’t be clear enough to declare winners immediately in some contests, increasing the likelihood that misinformation may spike on its social networks in the hours and days following the vote. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon on Thursday dismissed talk of potential military involvement in any post-election dispute, calling the debate “unserious thought.” – The Hill

The Pentagon is expected to unveil a task force dedicated to investigating reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) from service members led by top officials in the coming days. – The Hill 

Despite impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Air Force’s B-21 Raider program remains on track as Northrop Grumman continues production of the first B-21 bomber, the head of the service’s Rapid Capabilities Office said Thursday. – Defense News

The Army’s once-problem-plagued air-and-missile defense battle command system took out two cruise missile threat targets nearly simultaneously using Patriot missiles in a major live fire event Aug. 13, according to service officials in charge of the effort. – Defense News

Kris Osborn writes: While laser weapons are already here, the Pentagon and industry are taking new accelerated steps to prepare them for a much wider sphere of applications. For example, they want to fire them from fighter jets, burning up and disabling attacking anti-ship missiles. They even would like to put lasers in space. – The National Interest

Long War

The United States government said on Thursday that it seized about $2 million in Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency from accounts that had sent or received funds in alleged financing schemes for three foreign terrorist organizations: Al Qaeda, ISIS and Hamas’ paramilitary arm, the Al Qassam Brigades. – New York Times   

A federal judge has turned back an effort to delay an independent medical review for a Saudi citizen held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center who was so badly mistreated in American custody that he cannot be put on trial. – Associated Press

A leading terror suspect who has been linked to beheadings of hostages, including two Canadians and a Malaysian, has surrendered after being wounded in battle, officials said Friday. – Associated Press 

Terror groups based in the Middle East are targeting American first responders in an online scam, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. The groups are allegedly trying to raise money by offering bogus personal protective equipment at a time of desperate shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. – CBS News

Trump Administration

Attorney General William Barr said Thursday he could reveal before the November election at least some findings of a federal prosecutor’s examination of the Russia investigation’s origins, as President Trump expressed frustration with the probe’s pace. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump took a swing at his FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, on Thursday, expressing impatience with the bureau’s level of cooperation with inquiries into its investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016. – Washington Post 

The US intelligence community assessment that Russian interference in the 2020 election favors President Donald Trump threatens to undercut his hopes that prosecutor John Durham will discredit the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation into his 2016 campaign. – CNN