Fdd's overnight brief

June 14, 2019

In The News


The U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, saying the 0assaults were the latest in a series of hostile actions meant to disrupt the flow of oil. – Wall Street Journal

Attacks on two tankers carrying Saudi and Emirati oil products are jacking up insurance rates for ship operators in the region, and forcing some captains to forgo setting sail—threatening one of the biggest disruptions to crude trading in the Strait of Hormuz in years. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s accusation on Thursday that Iran was behind an attack on two oil tankers forces President Trump to confront a choice he has avoided until now: whether to make good on his threat that Tehran would “suffer greatly” if American interests were imperiled. – New York Times

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked Iran’s leaders to release several U.S. citizens being held in that country during his visit to Tehran this week, the official Kyodo News agency reported Friday, citing a government official . The Iranian response is not known. At least five American citizens have been imprisoned or are awaiting trial in Iran. – Washington Post

The U.S. military on Friday released a video it said shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene. Iran denies being involved, accusing the U.S. instead of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” against it. – Associated Press

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Iran’s president on Friday that China will promote steady development of ties with Iran no matter how the situation changes, Chinese state media said. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister said on Friday that the U.S. allegations against Iran over the Gulf of Oman tanker attacks were part of “sabotage diplomacy” adopted by a so-called B Team, which he has said includes U.S. national security adviser John Bolton. – Reuters

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East but will defend American interests including freedom of navigation, the U.S. military said on Thursday as it directed a destroyer to the scene of an attack in the Gulf of Oman. – Reuters

President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his attempt to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran but said the time wasn’t right for diplomacy. The rebuff came moments before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran for what appeared to be attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. – Politico

Editorial: It would send the worst possible signal if in the aftermath of these attacks the Europeans buckled to Iran’s military pressure. The Iranians routinely send out Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the face of sweet reason before the world when their foreign policy, executed by Revolutionary Guards leader Qasem Soleimani, is to hit opponents militarily and repeatedly until they bend. – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: But as long as Khamenei is alive, his voice is decisive. And it couldn’t have been clearer Thursday, as he rejected Abe’s mediation: “I do not consider Trump, as a person, deserving to exchange messages with. We will not negotiate with the United States.” You could almost hear, in the supreme leader’s voice, an echo of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who said during the Iran hostage crisis, “America can’t do a damn thing against us.” That Iranian overconfidence is what makes this confrontation so dangerous. – Washington Post

Kathy Gilsinan writes: Iran, meanwhile, has the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at its disposal; proxies operating in numerous countries, including Yemen, on Saudi Arabia’s border; and the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. The administration has cited intelligence saying that Iran was preparing attacks […]. There will doubtless be a partisan battle over whether the latest suspected attacks are proof that the threat was real all along, or proof that the administration’s purportedly deterrent and defensive moves could provoke a wider conflict. – The Atlantic

Jim Hanson writes: There is a saying that “rubble don’t make no trouble.” Since the U.S. has made good-faith efforts to deal with Iranian attacks via nonviolent means, it may be a good time to turn some of Iran’s military equipment into smoking wreckage. This could be the wakeup call Iran needs to hear to curb its dangerous behavior. – Fox News

James Jay Carafano writes: At the same time, however, the Trump administration sent multiple signals that it remains perfectly willing to undertake unconditional talks if and when Tehran calms down. True to form, Tehran has responded stupidly. Yet rather than freak-out, Pompeo firmly and calmly responded that the U.S. will continue to “stand with its partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability.” That is exactly the kind of responsible, steady leadership the world needs. Steady as you go, Mr. President. Stay the course. – Fox News

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: These methods of “hybrid” attack can be carried by individual ships and shows that are not part of Iran’s armed forces, that do not have Iranian flags or operators wearing Iranian uniforms, and that cannot be directly tied to actions by the Iranian government. They can be operated by proxies like the Houthis or “false flag” groups made up for the occasion, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) have established a growing presence in the Gulf of Oman based at Chabahar – to “prevent smuggling” – and in the Gulf of Aden and near Yemen to “deal with Somali pirates.” – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A cease-fire negotiated between Syrian rebels and government forces in the country’s war-battered northwest was on shaky ground after intermittent bombing and shelling resumed overnight Thursday in Idlib Province, the country’s last piece of rebel-held territory. – New York Times

The Russian military said on Thursday that Syrian rebels had attacked a Turkish observation point in Syria’s Idlib province, a version of events at odds with Ankara which said the attack was mounted by the Syrian army. – Reuters

Belgium has taken back six orphaned children of Islamic State members from Syria, the U.S.-backed militia which is holding thousands of militants and their family members said late on Thursday. – Reuters

Nick Grinstead writes: As Bashar tries to battle rebels and internal opponents alike, he is also struggling to balance the interests and objectives of his foreign backers, Iran and Russia, both of which have been instrumental in defending the regime. Their support, however, has come at a price. The regime has been forced to make economic concessions such as oil and gas exploration rights, preferential trade agreements in sectors such as agriculture, and contracts for reconstruction of war-ravaged areas. – Middle East Institute


Turkish prosecutors launched a criminal probe against 38 individuals, including economists and two Bloomberg reporters, for allegedly disseminating fake news and causing chaos in financial markets last summer, raising fresh concerns about free speech under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey will “take reciprocal steps” if the United States imposes sanctions over its purchase of Russian S-400 defenses, the Turkish foreign minister said on Friday, marking the latest step toward a standoff between the NATO allies. – Reuters

Turkey will not back down from its decision to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems despite U.S. warnings that it will lead to Ankara’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday. – Reuters

Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday he spoke on the phone with President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton to discuss a letter sent by the Pentagon about Ankara’s removal from the F-35 jets program. Washington has warned Turkey against buying and installing Russian S-400 missile defense systems. – Reuters

Melvyn Ingleby writes: Turns out he meant it, quite literally. Ahead of the rerun of the mayoral election on June 23, İmamoğlu has taken to the streets of Istanbul, cuddling up with voters and uniting them around a slogan of disarming optimism: “Everything will be fine.” While the AKP and the media outlets that support it accuse him of being an imported Greek backed by terrorists, the new star of the Turkish opposition has taken the lead in the polls by eschewing that confrontational approach. – The Atlantic


The Israeli government conveyed a message to the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip saying that it will transfer Qatari funds by the end of next week, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said on Friday. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF is gearing up for violent protests along the Gaza Strip border on Friday, one day after Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip following the launching of a rocket towards border communities. – Jerusalem Post

Israel planes carried out multiple airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Friday, hours after a rocket hit a religious school in southern Israel. The Israeli military said in a statement that fighter jets and other aircraft attacked “several terror targets, including terror infrastructure in military compounds.” – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

A Libyan man was found guilty on Thursday on two terrorism-related charges arising from the attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 that killed two Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, and became a political flash point. – New York Times

Japan’s defense minister says he has no intention of sending Japanese troops to respond to attacks on a Japanese-operated oil tanker in the Middle East. Takeshi Iwaya told reporters at a Friday news conference that the situation is not considered an imminent threat to Japan. – Associated Press

Egyptian security officials are saying that six policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol vehicle in the restive northern Sinai province. – Associated Press

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih condemned on Thursday the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, saying Riyadh would take all necessary measures to protect its ports and regional waters, state news agency SPA reported. – Reuters

Governments and maritime agencies urged an abundance of caution Thursday for ships operating in the Persian Gulf region after two oil tankers were damaged in suspected attacks near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. – Associated Press

Simon Henderson writes: Israel is also looking for companies that can explore its waters for more gas. Although a deadline for bids on nineteen offshore blocks has been pushed back to mid-August, perhaps reflecting a lack of investor interest, Israeli officials are reportedly still hopeful that ExxonMobil will bite. For now, the U.S. company has shown more interest in Cypriot blocks, as have European companies like Total of France and Eni of Italy. The latter two companies are also interested in exploring Lebanon’s waters, despite the country’s dysfunctional government, broken electricity supply network, and intrusive Iranian influence – Washington Institute

Ola Salem and Abdullah Alaoudh write: The outside world should see the crown prince’s policies in context. What Mohammed bin Salman has been doing for the past two years has little to do with fighting religious extremism. He is targeting critics and weakening independent discourse that historically pushed back against terrorism, all the while empowering extremist clerics who legitimize his repressive campaign. This policy may temporarily silence critics, but it is creating an environment where extremism is likely to grow in Saudi Arabia. – Foreign Policy

Elana DeLozier writes: Even though the Houthis have crafted narratives rooted in specific grievances, many outside observers instead interpret the recent Houthi attacks as part of a series of Iran-driven disruptions in the Arabian Peninsula. The Abha attack occurred just a day before two ships were attacked in the Gulf of Oman; similarly, the pipeline attack happened one day after four ships in the Gulf of Oman were struck in an operation widely attributed to Iran. – Washington Institute

Matthew Levitt writes: Hezbollah plots have been foiled over the past few years in Peru and Bolivia, but the revelation that Hezbollah conducted extensive surveillance activity in the United States and Canada over the past few years—explicitly tied to the group’s intent to exact revenge for the death of Mughniyeh—is deeply disturbing. Hezbollah has crossed a threshold and is, at a minimum, developing North American networks capable of executing attacks should the group’s leadership deem them necessary. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

The speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly apologized for comments he made concerning Japan’s emperor earlier this year that caused a diplomatic fight between the neighbors and made their already troubled relations even worse. – Bloomberg

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been briefed on contents of the recent letter sent from North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un to President Donald Trump, and he said Thursday that there was something missing from the public reports. – Newsweek

Josh Rogin writes: If there is still some hope of making a deal, Trump can justify keeping the North Korean negotiations alive despite no progress and dim prospects. But the talks can’t stay on life support forever. At some point, it will be necessary to pull the plug. Let’s hope Team Trump has a strategy for what happens next. – Washington Post


President Trump could take further action against China if President Xi Jinping doesn’t agree to a meeting at the Group of 20 summit of leading economies in Japan later this month, the White House’s top economic adviser said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

The recent U.S. move to blacklist Huawei Technologies Co. mainly targets the Chinese giant’s market-leading telecommunications-equipment business. But Huawei is also one of the world’s biggest smartphone makers, and the U.S. export ban now threatens to cut off its access to crucial phone components and software for devices used by millions of people world-wide. – Wall Street Journal

A key figure in one of China’s best-known churches was released on bail this week, six months after she and dozens of other members of the congregation were detained and their church was closed. – New York Times

For most of the last six years, Xi Jinping has been largely free to define the terms of his rule. But with challenges piling up from the U.S. trade war to mass protests in Hong Kong, his presidency is increasingly being dictated by events. – Bloomberg

Beijing has found its villain in its multi-fronted conflict with the United States: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The former CIA chief has been singled out for scorn, in Chinese state media and even at the foreign ministry, over his criticism of everything from Chinese tech giant Huawei to its record on human rights. – Reuters

China’s envoy in Geneva said on Thursday that he hoped U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet would visit China, including Xinjiang, where he said “education training centers” were helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. – Reuters

A planned visit to China’s Xinjiang province this week by a Russian national who serves as the United Nations’ top counterterrorism official has infuriated human rights advocates and some Western governments, who fear Beijing will use the trip as propaganda. – Foreign Policy

Dinny McMahon writes: There’s a good reason why China’s banking regulator just issued a statement insisting its small and mid-size banks were stable: Investors don’t believe the numbers that are telling them the same thing. In this particular case, though, bad data may actually be good policy. – Bloomberg

Salvatore Babones writes: Given Beijing’s bluster, it can be easy to forget that China is still a relatively poor country with a GDP per capita less than one-sixth the U.S. level. Compared to the America’s, China’s economy is relatively inefficient and undifferentiated, and its markets are poorly developed. The simple fact is that China needs the United States more than the United States needs China. In itself, that’s no reason to start a trade war. But if the trade war really does heat up, there’s little doubt who will win. – Foreign Policy


Two years ago, Pentagon officials said that American forces in the remote reaches of Afghanistan could defeat the Islamic State’s offshoot here by the end of 2017. This month, American Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan were still fighting, with no end in sight. – New York Times

In a confusing and deadly battlefield incident Tuesday, a firefight between two groups of Afghan and American security forces, followed by U.S. airstrikes, left six Afghan army soldiers dead and seven wounded, U.S. military officials here said Thursday. No Americans were reported harmed. – Washington Post

A suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint Thursday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing at least 11 people and wounding 13 others, an official said. – Agence France-Presse


Hong Kong’s security forces faced widespread criticism on Thursday over the tear gas and rubber bullets that local police used a day earlier to suppress tens of thousands of people demonstrating against an unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. – New York Times

Since he took power seven years ago, President Xi Jinping has faced a growing din of foreign condemnation over his government’s human rights record, a trade war that has sapped China’s strength and now, for a second time, mass protests in the streets of Hong Kong. – New York Times

The Australian man accused of killing 51 people and wounding dozens more as they worshiped at two mosques in New Zealand in March pleaded not guilty to scores of counts — including murder and a terrorism charge — in a brief court hearing on Friday. – New York Times

The city’s legislature postponed debate on a contentious extradition law, as opponents called for another mass demonstration this weekend to keep up pressure against a measure that would expose residents to Chinese law. – Wall Street Journal

The Philippines wants China to take action after it says a Chinese fishing vessel hit an anchored Philippine boat in the disputed South China Sea and abandoned the nearly two dozen men on board as it sank. – Wall Street Journal

It was a scoop that shook Australia’s political and military worlds to the core: a leaked report in 2017 about possible unlawful killings by soldiers in Afghanistan. Two years later, the story and its fallout are part of a case that has ignited a furious debate in Australia about media freedom, protections for whistleblowers and the extent of laws that claim to safeguard national security. – Washington Post

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen successfully fended off a surprise primary challenge from her former premier Thursday, giving a boost to her policies to counter China going into January’s election. – Washington Post

Hong Kong authorities were bracing Friday for more protests by demonstrators trying to prevent Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam from pushing through a bill that would allow suspects from the territory to be tried in mainland Chinese courts. – Associated Press

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a prison riot in Tajikistan last month in which 32 people were killed, the militant group’s online publication said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has begun a summit in Bishkek that brings together leaders of the Eurasian political, economic, and security grouping. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and the leaders of other SCO member states […] were meeting behind closed doors on June 14 at Kyrgyzstan’s official presidential residence for what Bishkek has described as “narrow format” talks. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed former Air Force General David Stilwell to be the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia, a post that had remained unfilled for more than two years despite major challenges in the region. – Reuters

Editorial: The world owes these people its attention. The State Department and some in Congress have spoken up. But Donald Trump has so far said nothing, though the U.S. has considerable investment in Hong Kong. Speaking the truth about Hong Kong won’t jeopardize a trade deal with Mr. Xi, who will only sign something in his own interests. Mr. Trump might even improve the chances of a good deal by calling out China’s failure to keep its commitment to Britain and Hong Kong. – Wall Street Journal

Bret Stephens writes: The world continues to endure a democratic recession, made worse by the surly ignorance of an American president. It won’t last forever. The efficient authoritarianism that is supposed to be the secret to China’s global ascendancy is being exposed for what it is — a state whose greatest fear is the conscience of those marching in Hong Kong’s streets. – New York Times

Isabella Steger writes: Tsai’s outspoken stance on the extradition law also came at an opportune time for her, politically speaking. Today, she won the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s primary, meaning that she’ll stand for re-election in January. Austin Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tweeted that Tsai’s firm resolve to reject the Hong Kong model as an option for Taiwan, as well as the recent legalization of gay marriage, helped rally support among core supporters in her party. – Quartz

Gary J. Schmitt writes: Both Republican and Democratic administrations have interpreted these words to avoid a finding that Hong Kong no longer deserves special treatment. And there is an argument that making a negative determination would not bother Beijing in the least and would only hurt the citizens of Hong Kong. But, at some point, one would think that the accelerating pace of China’s efforts to undermine the principle of “one country, two systems” is just too blatant to ignore. – American Enterprise Institute


The U.S. military intelligence agency stepped up its accusations against Russia over low-yield nuclear testing on Thursday, saying that the country has conducted nuclear weapons tests that resulted in nuclear yield. – Washington Post

A group of U.S. Republican senators has introduced a bill to sanction entities involved with a Kremlin pipeline project as Washington seeks to force its European allies to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. The ESCAPE bill — if passed — would likely delay the completion of Nord Stream 2, a key Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany by sea, thus avoiding transit through Eastern Europe. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A Russian software developer charged by U.S. authorities with trying to obtain user manuals and instructional materials for F-16 fighters jets will forgo a scheduled jury trial to enter a plea. Oleg Tishchenko will be sentenced on June 19 by a Utah court immediately following his plea, according to court documents filed on June 13. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Alexander Baunov writes: Russia’s drug business has become a police extortion tool. Alleged drug possession is now a way that officials can extract a bribe, confiscate a business, force someone to emigrate or simply to keep silent. (This is not to say that drug addiction is not a serious problem in Russia—it is). In other words, Ivan Golunov’s story—with what looks like a happy ending on June 11—should not be read as another tale of Russia’s Westernized liberals fighting the regime. – Politico

Samuel Charap and Ivan Timofeev write: They explain what they see as an upsurge in “Russophobia” as a result of partisan conflict in U.S. politics. In Washington, however, the meddling episode is a serious, enduring, and bipartisan obstacle to improving U.S.-Russian relations. Washington has been consumed by the Mueller investigation and the bitter political struggle that surrounds it. Policy considerations relating to U.S.-Russian relations are at best treated as a matter of secondary importance. – War on the Rocks

Tom Rogan writes: Speaking to Mir state TV on Thursday afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that U.S.-Russia relations are “deteriorating, getting worse by the hour. In recent years, the current U.S. administration has already taken several dozen decisions on sanctions with regard to Russia …” Putin is correct about that deterioration, but he only need look in the mirror to understand why it’s happening. U.S. sanctions and broader U.S. policy toward Russia did not just spring forth from the ether without cause. They are direct responses to varied and repeated acts of Russian hostility against U.S. interests. – Washington Examiner


The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been ordered to stand trial in a criminal case involving graphic photographs of acts of violence by the Islamic State that she posted on Twitter in 2015. – New York Times

Euroskeptic and nationalist politicians who performed well in recent European Parliament elections appear unlikely to wield significant power in the legislature after they failed to organize as a single group. – Wall Street Journal

President Aleksander Lukashenko was once shunned as Europe’s last dictator. Now in his 25th year in office, he still rules Belarus with an iron fist, but is ostracized no more. As rivalries among the world’s great powers intensify, this nation of 9.5 million people at the crossroads of Eurasia is turning into the newest arena of competition among Russia, the West and China. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given his strong support to Moldova’s new coalition government, which has been locked in a power struggle with a rival administration in the former Soviet republic. – Associated Press

Europe’s Baltic states are at risk from further Russian money laundering, a top European police official said after several big banks were hit by scandals centered on the region. – Reuters

Fareed Zakaria writes: INSTEX will probably fail or prove to be wholly inadequate in the short term. The dollar’s dominance in global transactions — which has been a huge benefit for the United States — will be hard to displace, but INSTEX is a warning sign, the canary in the coal mine. The United States’ closest allies are working hard to chip away at a crucial underpinning of U.S. global power. – Washington Post

James Stavridis writes: After an extremely cordial meeting in the White House, President Donald Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday announced plans to send 1,000 or more U.S. troops from their current station in Germany to Poland. It was an important signal of U.S. solidarity with Poland – and a direct shot at Russia, which adamantly opposes the current rotational deployments of NATO and U.S. troops on its Western border. – Bloomberg


More than 80 people were killed, including 16 Cameroonian soldiers, during an attack by suspected Boko Haram Islamists in the north of the country, the defense ministry said. Eight civilians and 64 fighters also died in the pitched battle in the Darak locality of Cameroon’s Far North Region on June 9, while another eight fighters were taken prisoner, Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said in statement handed to reporters in the capital, Yaounde. – Bloomberg

The United Nations said on Thursday it had confirmed the killing of 17 people and the burning of more than 100 houses in Deleij village in the Darfur region of Sudan earlier this week. – Reuters

Sudan’s military rulers said on Thursday they had thwarted several coup attempts and that some officers had been arrested over the deadly dispersal of protesters at a sit-in in Khartoum earlier this month. – Reuters

Islamist insurgents overran a Nigerian army base in the country’s northeast, killing at least the commander, two Nigerian security sources said on Thursday. – Reuters

Steven Feldstein writes: Recent reports suggest that the protesters and the government are once again in negotiations. We can’t know whether the regime will keep relying on shutdowns. But evidence suggests that the longer Sudanese authorities maintain the country’s total information blackout, the higher the financial and political costs will be. – Washington Post


A network of computers in China bombarded Telegram, a secure messaging app used by many of the protesters, with a huge volume of traffic that disrupted service. The app’s founder, Pavel Durov, said the attack coincided with the Hong Kong protests, a phenomenon that Telegram had seen before. – New York Times

Facebook Inc. has signed up more than a dozen companies including Visa Inc., Mastercard, PayPal Holdings Inc., and Uber Technologies Inc. to back a new cryptocurrency it plans to unveil next week and launch next year. – Wall Street Journal

Many 2020 presidential campaigns face challenges in rebuffing cyberattacks despite taking some steps to beef up security, an issue brought into fresh focus by President Trump’s comments that he might accept information from foreign governments that was damaging to his rivals. – Wall Street Journal

Businesses and the government have spent years installing millions of surveillance cameras across the United States. Now, that technology is on the verge of getting a major upgrade, the American Civil Liberties Union warns in a new report. Advancements in artificial intelligence could supercharge surveillance, allowing camera owners to identify “unusual” behavior, recognize actions like hugging or kissing, easily seek out embarrassing footage and estimate a person’s age or, possibly, even their disposition, the group argues. – New York Times

Twitter says it has deleted nearly 4,800 accounts which it believes “are associated with — or directly backed by — the Iranian government” and archived them to its public database. The social-media company said most of the accounts were found to be spreading news stories angled to support Iranian geopolitical interests or to be fake user profiles designed to manipulate online debate. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Facebook has curbed access to a controversial feature allowing searches of the vast content within the social network — a tool which raised privacy concerns but was also used for research and investigative journalism. – Agence France-Presse

James Orenstein writes: Congress is way behind in determining how far the police can go in using technology to invade people’s privacy, and many of the legal disputes arising from this collision have not reached the Supreme Court. For the public, as a practical matter, the rules of the road are being decided by prosecutors. Your privacy is not their highest priority. – New York Times


House Democrats steered the first defense bill they have controlled in almost a decade through its final committee test without incident Thursday, but the fights that broke out along the way presage steep partisan hurdles for negotiations with the GOP-led Senate. – Washington Post

The House Armed Services Committee approved a new military branch for space early Thursday. The panel unanimously adopted the measure by a voice vote after debating for less than an hour. It was offered by Strategic Forces Subommittee chairman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who first offered the idea of a sixth branch two years ago. – Defense News

General Dynamics head Phebe Novakovic this week said she was “alarmed” by members of Silicon Valley who refuse to work with the Pentagon, in perhaps the most pointed comments from a defense company CEO toward colleagues in the tech community. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force successfully conducted a flight test of a hypersonic missile Wednesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California, according to a news release. The flight test collected data on drag and vibration impacts on the weapon and the B-52 Stratofortress carrying it. The AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon did not contain explosives and was not released from the aircraft, the Air Force said. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s latest deal with Lockheed Martin for new F-35 jets includes some for Turkey, raising the question of what will happen if the country is pushed out of the program. The handshake agreement announced Monday totals about $34 billion for 478 new F-35s over lots 12 through 14, including about five to 10 jets for Turkey per lot, one source told Defense News. – Defense News

The Navy is ready to sunset littoral combat ship production and three of four congressional defense committees appear happy to oblige through restrictive policies and funding authorizations. – USNI News

The House Armed Services Committee added several provisions to its annual defense authorization bill, but the among most contentious was if the Pentagon should develop a low-yield nuclear weapon to deploy on nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). – USNI News

Trump Administration

A government watchdog recommended that top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway be removed from her post, citing repeated alleged violations of a rule that prohibits political activity by executive-branch staff. – Wall Street Journal

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will leave her job at the end of the month to return to her home state of Arkansas, President Trump said Thursday. “She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas,” Mr. Trump tweeted. – Wall Street Journal

Mr. Trump’s defiant declaration that “I’d take it” if Russia again offered campaign help and his assertion that he would not necessarily tell the F.B.I. about it drew bipartisan condemnation on Thursday, fueling calls for legislation requiring candidates to report such offers to the authorities and emboldening Democrats seeking his impeachment. – New York Times

The House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed two former Trump officials who were key witnesses in Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, part of the panel’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation into election interference and the president’s alleged foreign ties. – Washington Post