Fdd's overnight brief

March 22, 2019

In The News


Iran is determined to boost its defense capabilities despite mounting pressure from the United States and its allies to curb its ballistic missile program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday. – Reuters

Just like every other year, people across Iran this week prepared to mark Nowruz – the millennia-old Persian New Year celebrations – by thoroughly cleaning their homes, going shopping and planning big family visits. But under harsh circumstances created by reimposed US sanctions and exacerbated by local mismanagement, some aspects of Nowruz were markedly different as Iranians celebrated on Thursday. – Al Jazeera

Afghan migrants and refugees living in Iran have grown accustomed to humiliation, blamed for the country’s ills rather than celebrated for their contributions. But Tehran Mayor Piroz Hanachi has attempted to change that narrative, becoming what Iranian media claim is the first senior official to honor the positive impact of Afghan migrants during a special ceremony in Tehran marking Norouz, the ancient Persian new year. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday dismissed a trade mechanism launched by European countries to bypass renewed US sanctions as a “bitter joke” and said Europe could not be trusted. – Agence France-Presse

France told Iran on Thursday that European efforts to keep a nuclear deal alive did not mean Tehran had a blank check to violate the human rights of its citizens, after lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh received a long prison sentence. – Reuters

Mohamed Maher writes: Egypt’s tone towards Iran is particularly surprising given the Gulf’s increasingly intense rhetoric against the Islamic Republic. Paradoxically, it seems that the Gulf States’ deep concern over the Muslim Brotherhood—in particular its relationship with Iran—has given the current Egyptian regime some leeway in its approach to Iran. […]Thus, though combating Iran is one of the Gulf States’ top priorities, officials seem to have accepted Egypt’s lackluster involvement in these efforts. For Cairo, this arrangement seems to be the best of both worlds: while remaining a Gulf ally, Egypt is able to preserve an attitude towards Iran’s actions in the region that reflects some of Cairo and Tehran’s shared strategic interests.- Washington Institute


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday described the heavily armed Hezbollah group as a risk to their fellow Lebanese and conferred with Israel about the Iranian-backed militia ahead of a trip to Beirut. – Reuters

U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah are harming Lebanon as a whole, President Michel Aoun said on Thursday ahead of a visit to the country by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Reuters

Matthew Levitt writes: Hezbollah has long prioritized its weapons and technical procurement efforts, but with the group’s heavy deployment in the war in Syria, its procurement officers have taken on even greater prominence within the organization. Today, in the context of the war in Syria, some of Hezbollah’s most significant procurement agents have teamed up with Iran’s Quds Force to develop integrated and efficient weapons procurement and logistics pipelines that can be leveraged to vastly expand Hezbollah’s weapons procurement capabilities. – Washington Institute

C. Jacob writes: Once the government was formed, members of the March 14 camp feared that it would act to circumvent the sanctions on Iran and Hizbullah – which would be met with a harsh response against Lebanon from the U.S. They are presenting Lebanon as a country that has lost its sovereignty to Hizbullah and its allies, who, they argue, now control it through Hizbullah’s weapons and the support it receives from Iran. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Asmar al-Bahr says he saw scores of bodies strewn across ISIL’s last encampment in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz and stockpiles of weapons. However, it was the “suffocating smell of death” that he worries he may never forget. Bahr is a photographer with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed group fighting ISIL in Baghouz. – Al Jazeera

U.S.-backed Syrian forces were sweeping on Thursday through the final enclave that had been held by Islamic State fighters, and said they would declare the group defeated once a search for hidden mines and jihadist holdouts was complete. – Reuters

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled Islamic State militants holed up in the Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the SDF said, seeking to defeat the last pockets of jihadist resistance. – Reuters


Turkey has called an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss the New Zealand mosque attacks and “increasing violence based on Islamophobia”. – Al Jazeera

The United States’ top military officer said on Thursday he was hopeful that Washington would find a way to resolve a dispute with Turkey over its decision to acquire Russia’s S-400 air defense system but cautioned: “It is a tough issue.” – Reuters

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, coming to the end of his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is wrestling with one of the most vexing problems of his almost 42 years in uniform: how to save the crucial U.S. alliance with Turkey when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems intent on killing it. – Washington Examiner


President Trump endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights on Thursday, marking what would be a sharp U.S. policy shift over the disputed territory decades after Israel seized the land from Syria in the Six Day War. – Wall Street Journal

With a midday tweet on Thursday, President Trump voiced his support of Israeli control over the Golan Heights, reversing decades of American policy. The move thrust the Golan Heights — a fertile plateau beside the Sea of Galilee that has been one of Israel’s quieter frontiers for a half-century — back into international headlines. – New York Times

Syria slammed President Donald Trump’s abrupt declaration that Washington will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, saying Friday the statement was “irresponsible” and a threat to international peace and stability. – Associated Press

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it is “certainly” possible that President Donald Trump may be the modern-day savior of the Jewish people. Speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network in Jerusalem on Thursday, Pompeo said Trump may be poised to defend against forces that want to “eradicate the Jewish people” in the Middle East. – Business Insider

Israel and the U.S. have successfully intercepted a series of medium- to long-range ballistic missiles in a joint drill. – Associated Press

The Syrian government vowed to recover the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Friday as its allies and enemies alike condemned U.S. President Donald Trump for moving to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory seized in war. – Reuters

Israel said on Thursday a U.N. report critical of its use of lethal force during Palestinian protests on the Gaza border was biased and should have included a demand that the enclave’s dominant Hamas group take action to stop anti-Israeli violence. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied Israel’s prime minister on a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday in the first such gesture since Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, angering Palestinians. – Reuters

At a moment when both Israeli and U.S. politics are swirling at a furious rate, Mark Mellman finds himself in the eye of two storms. At a moment when both Israeli and U.S. politics are swirling at a furious rate, Mark Mellman finds himself in the eye of two storms. The veteran D.C. pollster currently serves in dual roles that no single figure has occupied at the same time before. He is both a key campaign strategist for a major Israeli political party — Kahol Lavan — and at the helm of a new American pro-Israel organization: the Democratic Majority for Israel. – Haaretz

Britain’s top diplomat won plaudits from pro-Israel and Jewish organizations on Thursday after announcing that the UK would support the Jewish state in the face of “Agenda Item 7” — the UN Human Rights Council’s notorious procedure reserved for Israel alone that annually unleashes a series of condemnatory resolutions. – Algemeiner

China’s investment in Israel could undermine intelligence-sharing and other cooperation between the United States and the major Middle Eastern ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Thursday. – Washington Examiner

After a civil war that has managed to shake up the whole region and the rise of US President Donald Trump which has done much the same, Netanyahu is on the cusp of what was likely unthinkable in 2010: international recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the strategic plateau, at least in Washington. Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the Crisis Group, argued that a formal US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan could weaken the administration’s ability to oppose other instances of countries acquiring territory by force, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea. – Times of israel

Editorial: Recognizing the Golan sends a message to Russia, Syria’s patron, that the U.S. recognizes that the civil war has changed Syrian reality. There is no returning to a nonexistent status quo ante. It also tells the Palestinians that a return to pre-1967 borders is no longer realistic. They will have to allow some Israeli security presence in what they call the “occupied territories” if they want a two-state solution in Palestine. – Wall Street Journal

Lou Weiss writes: Some admire Israel as a plucky democracy standing up for deeply American values of liberty and pluralism. For others it’s Israel’s progressive treatment of women and gays. Some see Israel on the front lines of the war on terror and want to help it fight back. Others admire Israel because the Hebrew Bible states that those who bless Abraham and his great nation will themselves be blessed. Is it purely a coincidence that America, the most successful country in history, treats its Jews better than any other nation ever has? – Wall Street Journal

Kathy Gilsinan writes: Following the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem last May, this was the second time that Trump reversed long-standing U.S. positions on Israel, appearing to offer a major gift to the Israeli prime minister without any obvious concessions in return. Yet the push for Trump to make such a move has been going on for more than a year, due to parallel efforts by Israeli officials and members of Congress. – The Atlantic

Middle East & North Africa

From the start of the administration, Mr. Kushner has argued persistently that Prince Mohammed can become a vital ally, especially in bringing the Palestinians into agreement with a promised American peace plan. He pushed past the objections of cabinet members and senior officials to persuade Mr. Trump to visit Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad as president. – New York Times

Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, proposed to set up an assassination programme targeting top Taliban leaders during a meeting with the top US diplomat earlier this year, the Middle East Eye (MEE) news website has reported. – Al Jazeera

The head of the U.N.’s World Food Program says progress has been made in Yemen, months after he accused Houthi rebels of stealing food from the hungry by diverting aid. – Associated Press

The US ambassador to Yemen blamed the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on Thursday for the stalling of a UN-led peace deal in the main port of Hodeidah and said the group’s weapons pose a threat to other countries in the region. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

The Trump administration took its first steps to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea since last month’s summit meeting in Vietnam on Thursday by listing two Chinese shipping companies as sanctions violators. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, issued an unusual appeal for “urgent” food assistance last month. North Korea blames the shortfall on a combination of bad weather and “barbaric” international sanctions. – Associated Press

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford says he has no idea if North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is serious about the promises he has made to President Trump, including his pledge to continue a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests while talks over denuclearization continue. But Dunford told a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., Thursday that from his perspective, it doesn’t really matter. – Associated Press

North Korea successfully evaded sanctions to import as much as seven-and-a-half times the allowed amount of refined petroleum last year, according to the U.S. government. – Bloomberg

North Korea has yet again slipped through the United Nations sanctions net designed to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile testing. The UN measures are aimed at restricting the DPRK’s access to world energy markets. – Forbes


A Chinese education company backed by U.S. investors including Kobe Bryant is cracking down on how its Western teachers cover politically fraught topics. – Wall Street Journal

At the heart of Chinese President Xi Jingping’s visit to Rome that started Thursday is a key prize: a deal to make Italy the first major democracy to join China’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. – Associated Press

The United States warned in a report on Friday that increased meddling from China in Hong Kong had adversely impacted the city, straining international business confidence in the Asian financial hub. – Reuters

U.S. officials are downplaying the prospect of an imminent trade deal with China as President Donald Trump’s top negotiators prepare to head to Beijing for a fresh round of talks next week, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

For its part, the U.S. military is increasingly concerned not just about China’s efforts to modernize its military, but also about what it sees as Beijing’s underhanded economic practices. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, China is developing infrastructure and investing financially in countries across the world, particularly in its Pacific backyard. But the investment has come with strings attached for some countries, including unsustainable debt, decreased transparency, and a potential loss of control of natural resources. – Foreign Policy

China has made no secret of its intention to eventually declare straight baselines around the rest of its claimed features in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. The 1996 baselines declaration ended with, “The Government of the People’s Republic of China will announce the remaining baselines of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China at another time.” – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Sadanand Dhume writes: Beijing may believe it is keeping India off balance, but its policy also carries costs. By poking a finger in India’s eye, China is turning a potential friend into a sworn enemy. It should not be surprised if the development of the U.S.-India military relationship accelerates. […]Since 9/11, China has framed its oppression of the Uighurs as part of its own war on terrorism. This has long been a smokescreen. But given how cavalierly China takes the rest of the world’s concerns about terrorism, the smoke may be about to clear. – Wall Street Journal

Olaf Groth and Mark Nitzberg write: We need to define the new American model of engagement with China as one that designs and navigates these key alliances flexibly. We need to maintain both engagement with and vigilance against China in the dozens of worldwide research centers for artificial intelligence and other new advanced technology. We should train a new guard of “deep technology” diplomats who can safeguard our projects and ensure compliance with guidelines for mutual safety – The Hill

Robert D. Atkinson writes: We are starting to see the first signs of an important sea change in the Washington policy establishment’s view of America’s economic relationship with China.  Where once there was an ironclad consensus that U.S. interests are best served by embracing China and welcoming it into the global trading system in order to open up its vast market to American exports, there is now a stark realization, shared by a growing number of experts across the ideological spectrum, that China is not interested in a warm embrace or even in playing by the basic rules of global trade. […]New times require new thinking, and that is what Sen. Rubio and an increasing number of Republican members of Congress are providing. – The Hill

John Lee writes: Dubbed the “Djibouti strategy,” Beijing is now executing this tactic across the South Pacific, one of the most aid-dependent regions of the world. China, one of the highest contributors to Official Development Assistant (ODA) in the South Pacific, uses that tool at first under the guise of aid while actually employing it to shape the islands’ infrastructure to its own strategic military advantage. […]If the U.S. doesn’t counter China’s military mission creep with its own whole-government approach to economic aid in the South Pacific, America and its allies will cede commercial access, military freedom of navigation, and strategic influence across the world’s largest bodies of water. – Hudson Institute


Two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan on Friday, the U.S. and NATO forces said without providing any other details on the combat deaths. – Associated Press

A new book on the elusive former leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, revealed that the one-eyed rebel chief has not been hiding in Pakistan, as US officials and many in Afghanistan and beyond had said. – Al Jazeera

Multiple explosions have killed at least six people and wounded 23 near a Shi’ite shrine in Kabul, Afghan officials say. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Jonathan Schroden writes: While there have been numerous attempts at negotiations throughout the war in Afghanistan, these talks have made by far the most progress to date. […]One aspect of these talks that seems to be missing is a discussion of the continued costs of war versus the costs of peace. In other words, a dispassionate rendering of what it means for these talks to fail, versus what it might mean for them to succeed. While such discussion is inevitably fraught with challenges since there is no way to calculate such costs with absolute accuracy, let’s nonetheless press ahead and see what we can learn. – War on the Rocks


Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte said Manila’s relations with Beijing will not be jeopardised despite two former officials filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court over China’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea. – Reuters

Authorities in China and Myanmar are failing to stop the brutal trafficking of young women, often teenagers, from the conflict-ridden Kachin region for sexual slavery, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. – Associated Press

The Trump administration has given tacit approval to Taiwan’s request to buy more than 60 F-16 fighter jets, according to people familiar with the matter, a policy reversal likely to provoke China’s ire amid the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing. – Bloomberg

According to Baunov, Nazarbayev’s resignation is a “dress rehearsal” for the transfer of power that will take place in Russia in 2024. More specifically, the Kremlin will be able to observe in practice what proportion of power Nazarbayev will retain after leaving his post, and for how long. It is worth noting that Nazarbayev relinquished the presidency but not power, since he will continue to chair Kazakhstan’s Security Council and will retain his position as leader of the Nur Otan party. –  Middle East Media Research Institute


The Kremlin on Thursday complained that flights by U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers across the Baltic Sea near Russia’s borders were creating tensions in the region, but Washington said they were needed to deter potential adversaries. – Reuters

A Russian court has sentenced 20-year-old Ukrainian citizen Pavlo Hryb to six years in prison on a charge of “promoting terrorism” which he denies. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian hackers have targeted European government systems ahead of the EU parliament election, cybersecurity firm FireEye said Thursday. – CNBC


European leaders on Thursday seized control of Britain’s break with the European Union, sparing British Prime Minister Theresa May the economic earthquake of an uncontrolled departure from the bloc next week but demanding that she pass a deal or come up with an alternative by April 12. – Washington Post

Unwaveringly confident in its fellowship of nations, Interpol was slow to recognize an era in which autocrats and strongmen wield increasing power over international institutions. Today, Interpol is scrambling to bolster oversight across 194 countries and review tens of thousands of red notices that have accumulated over the years. Nobody knows how many are tainted by political influence. – New York Times

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday the European Union should cut funding and impose sanctions on members which pass laws that contravene core EU principles such having an independent judiciary and freedom of the press. – Reuters

Emmanuel Macron will host Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as the leaders of Germany and the European Union’s executive arm at a March 26 meeting to discuss multilateral relations between Europe and China, a French presidency official said. – Reuters

More than 300 U.S. soldiers arrived Thursday in Germany from their base in Texas in the first test of a new American strategy to rapidly deploy U.S.-based troops to Europe to bolster the NATO deterrent against possible Russian aggression. – Associated Press

Four mosques in the English city of Birmingham were damaged overnight, police said on Thursday, in the latest in a spate of Islamophobic attacks in Britain since the murder of 50 people by a white supremacist at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. – Al Jazeera

A British petition to cancel Brexit and remain in the European Union is drawing too much support for the U.K. government’s website to handle, with the petition site crashing repeatedly on Thursday. More than 1 million people have signed the petition to revoke the triggering of Article 50 — blowing past the 100,000 signatures needed to compel a debate in Parliament. Article 50 is the EU treaty’s exit clause. – NPR

U.S. authorities have moved to seize a French painting that was seized by Nazi forces from a Ukrainian museum near the end of World War II. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The U.S. State Department has denied an explosive claim by Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko that U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Marie Yovanovitch gave him “a list of people whom we should not prosecute” during their first in-person meeting. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Editorial: EPP membership hasn’t pushed Mr. Orban in a more responsible direction, but it has damaged the credibility of mainstream politicians. The EPP deserves credit for finally standing up to Mr. Orban. – Wall Street Journal

Mikheil Saakashvili writes: But instead of fighting back, the Moldovan, Georgian and Ukrainian elites are doing Putin’s work for him. This may come as a surprise, since all three governments are ostensibly pro-Western. They make up the European Union’s Eastern Partnership and contribute troops to NATO missions. […]By ensuring the correct use of aid, sanctions on informal power brokers would defend the interests of U.S. taxpayers while strengthening democracies in Eastern Europe. Only by breaking the oligarchs’ stranglehold to build strong democracies from within can the people of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova defeat Putinism. This victory will be felt the world over. – Washington Post

Garvan Walshe writes: It would be far better for Britain, which is not currently comfortable in the EU’s political and economic arrangements, to leave and find itself a new role, while continuing to support the Western alliance as an independent (if somewhat small) pillar of its own—perhaps through a European Security Council or similar arrangement. Better for it to be a good neighbor than a recalcitrant, unhappy member. – Foreign Policy


The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three senior officials from Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission, accusing them of corruption and obstructing December’s presidential election. – Reuters

Megan Doherty and Bill O’Keefe write: Cuts to foreign aid jeopardize hard-won gains and threaten American safety, values, and leadership. Foreign aid is not a hand out; it’s a hand up. The millions of people who receive U.S. humanitarian and development assistance each year are active partners trying to help their families and communities. Aid works. Hunger has been cut in half in developing countries in the past two decades, and global poverty is at an all-time low. Ethiopia’s current prosperity would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. – The Hill

Michael Rubin writes: To counter the militia problem, the U.S. spends billions of dollars worldwide with little to show for its efforts. But while the rest of Somalia descended into political chaos and gang warfare, Somaliland successfully folded various regional militias into a single cohesive army. How they did so can provide a roadmap for permanent solutions elsewhere. It’s long past time that defense and diplomatic metrics be measured in results and successes rather than dollars spent. – Washington Examiner

United States

The Florida man who authorities say mailed bombs to prominent critics of President Trump, leading to a five-day nationwide manhunt, pleaded guilty to 65 felonies Thursday before a federal judge in New York. – Wall Street Journal

Pentagon plans to take money away from military construction projects to pay for President Trump’s border wall would potentially deal an outsized blow to Puerto Rico and particularly affect a program helping European allies deter Russia, according to a Washington Post analysis. – Washington Post

Two House Democrats introduced a resolution on Thursday to condemn a global boycott campaign against Israel amid recent internal divisions in the Democratic Party over relations with the top U.S. ally. – The Hill

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has warned Pentagon leaders that President Trump’s deployment of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and transferring Defense Department funds to support the administration’s border security efforts is creating “unacceptable risk” to the service’s combat readiness. – The Hill

Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas has accused the Trump administration of endangering lives with its “shameful” decision to expand the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy—which forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their asylum claims are being processed—to El Paso, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security expanded the policy, which has received widespread condemnation from immigration advocacy groups, to El Paso on Wednesday.  – Newsweek

Latin America

The chief of staff of opposition leader Juan Guaidó was detained in a pre-dawn raid on his home by Venezuela’s intelligence forces Thursday, igniting a new flashpoint in the U.S.-backed effort to drive President Nicolás Maduro from office. – Washington Post

U.S. Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn on Thursday pressed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to release six executives from Houston-based oil company Citgo Petroleum that have been in jail in the country since 2017. – Reuters

The United States on Thursday threatened to pull out of the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in China next week if Beijing refuses to allow a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to attend. – Reuters

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla arrive in Cuba on Sunday as part of a Caribbean tour, the first British royals to visit the Communist-run nation even as ally the United States seeks to isolate the country. – Reuters

South American leaders will meet in Chile this week in hopes of forming a new regional bloc to replace Unasur, which was launched by Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez but has splintered over his country’s crisis under his embattled successor, President Nicolas Maduro. – Reuters

Cyber Security

Today even the smallest countries can buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns that were once the preserve of major powers like the United States and Russia. Corporations that want to scrutinize competitors’ secrets, or a wealthy individual with a beef against a rival, can also command intelligence operations for a price, akin to purchasing off-the-shelf elements of the National Security Agency or the Mossad. – New York Times

Facebook Inc. for years stored hundreds of millions of user passwords in a format that was accessible to its employees, in yet another privacy snafu for the social-media giant. The incident disclosed by the company Thursday involved a wide swath of its users, though Facebook said no passwords were exposed externally, and it hasn’t found evidence of the information being abused. – Wall Street Journal

A top Pentagon official again raised concerns today about Google’s business operations in China and said a meeting with the tech giant is on the books for next week. – Politico

Long War

John Walker Lindh, a former American Taliban militant convicted in 2002 for supporting the terrorist organization and due to be freed in May, has obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 thanks to his family’s ancestry — and he plans to live in the country when he leaves lockup. – Fox News

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is not taking appropriate steps to review and assess potential maritime terrorism risks facing U.S. sea ports, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found. The audit, released on Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found that while top FBI officials believe the country faces a low maritime terrorism threat, that view is actually based on “incomplete and potentially inaccurate information.” – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: That said, it’s unrealistic to expect the U.S. government to treat white nationalist terrorism the same way it has treated the Islamist variety. It’s hard to imagine anyone supporting drone strikes on communities of white militias or other racist outposts, for example. Nor would it be wise to launch a diplomatic initiative to engage moderate white nationalists the way the U.S. government in the past has reached out to non-violent factions of the Muslim Brotherhood. – Bloomberg

Trump Administration

Washington is consumed with speculation that the Justice Department will announce the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in the coming days. […]Mueller has not accused any Americans of conspiring with Russians to interfere in the election, and it remains an open question whether he will. – The Hill

The White House is rejecting a sweeping request from House Democrats for documents and interviews related to President Trump’s communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin. – The Hill

For the first time in two years—and for the first time under President Trump—the U.S. is set to have a chief technology officer. On March 21 the president will nominate for the post Michael Kratsios, a former venture capitalist who now serves as deputy CTO, a White House official tells Bloomberg Businessweek. – Bloomberg