Fdd's overnight brief

March 9, 2020

In The News

Iran

Iranian authorities warned Friday they may use “force” to limit travel between cities and announced the new coronavirus has killed 124 people amid 4,747 confirmed cases in the Islamic Republic. – Associated Press

A senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Farhad Dabirian, was “martyred” in Syria on Friday, Fars news agency reported, without giving details of how he died. – Reuters

Enraged by the Islamic Republic’s lack of enthusiasm in containing the novel coronavirus, people of Mazandaran province, northern Iran, have threatened to step in and close the roads to a multitude of non-residents escaping from the highly contaminated regions further south. – Radio Farda

On February 23, 2020, Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh was interviewed by Iranian TV host Alireza Pourmasoud on Ofogh TV (Iran). Pourmasoud said that the mainstream media in the United States consists of six corporations that are run by Zionist Jews who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany and the USSR and who have complete control over what news items are published. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Iranian researcher Dr. Sam Mehdi Torabi, the Director of the Risalat Strategic Studies Institute, said in a February 11, 2020 interview on Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh’s show on Ofogh TV (Iran) that American soldiers are committing suicide because they served in an oppressive army, because they have killed innocent people, and because the wars they have fought in, such as Vietnam and the Second World War, are unjust. – Middle East Media Research Institute

On March 5, 2020, it was announced that senior Iranian official Hossein Sheikholeslam has died of the coronavirus. He served as secretary-general of the Tehran-based Committee for Support for the Palestinian Intifada and advisor to the Majlis speaker, and was formerly advisor to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian ambassador to Syria. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Iran’s Press TV, which represents the regime’s English-language propaganda, has been pushing antisemitic conspiracies about the coronavirus to distract from the mullah regime’s mishandling of the pandemic. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh expressed his condolences to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on the passing of Iran’s former foreign affairs minister Hossein Sheikholeslam, who died of coronavirus on Thursday, according to the Abu Ali Express Telegram channel. – Jerusalem Post

Tehran’s nuclear program is back under the spotlight after the UN’s nuclear watchdog revealed the extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment drive and reprimanded it for denying access to two locations. – Agence France-Presse

The spread of coronavirus around the globe is raising questions about how the United States should help its adversaries mitigate the disease. The Trump administration has sent a message to Iran, via the Swiss, offering to help with the disease, while also criticizing Tehran for suppressing information about its spread. – The Hill

Kamiar Alaei and Arash Alaei write: The United States must overcome its belligerent posture toward Iran, provide the medical and technical support that could save lives and ease the difficulties American and European companies face in supplying medicines and medical equipment to Iran. The most important lesson of the coronavirus crisis in Iran is that health policy must never be politicized, especially in terms of emergency medical response. – New York Times

Jason Rezaian writes: Many of the current problems could have been avoided. Yet, by downplaying the crisis, Iranian officials have actually managed to aggravate the public panic they wanted to avoid — and have undermined their own legitimacy in the process. People are terrified, and they have no trust in the state’s ability to manage the crisis. It’s hard to blame them. – Washington Post

Daniel Jafari, Reza Behrouz, and Shervan Fashandi write: In short, a proactive humanitarian policy by the U.S. would further discredit the regime’s campaign of disinformation and propaganda and protect the lives of Americans here and abroad. It would emphasize that the current maximum pressure campaign is intended to target the criminal regime and not the people of Iran. – Washington Examiner

Charles “Sam” Faddis writes: In the recent elections, it was Iran’s poor who participated least. Precisely those individuals who the regime claims to represent were least interested in another sham. Those same people, the great mass of Iranian society, are now the ones dying and being buried in hastily dug graves without ever having seen a doctor. Yet it may be that this horrifying epidemic will bring with it a silver lining. By showing the true face of Iran’s leaders, the coronavirus may finally lead the Iranian people to rise up and end their 40-year nightmare. – The Hill

Zvi Bar’el writes: In the face of the government’s argument that the sanctions are the direct reason for the shortage, Iranian experts say that Iran’s policy of “standing strong” against sanctions is what could lead to a high number of deaths. It seems that the regime can now only thank the virus for preventing the masses from taking to the streets. – Haaretz

Ron Ben Yishai writes: Israeli officials now believe the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ abilities were not affected by the assassination of its top commander, Qasem Soleimani, by the U.S. last January, despite hopes that his death would hinder Iran’s expansionist efforts in the region. – Ynet

Syria

A ceasefire in northern Syria agreed between Russia and Turkey came into force on Friday, aiming to halt intense fighting that has sparked a humanitarian disaster and raised fears of their armies clashing. – Agence France-Presse

The agreement, announced Thursday after a six-hour meeting between the Turkish and Russian presidents in Moscow, essentially froze the conflict lines in Idlib. It does not force Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to roll back significant military gains made in Russian-backed offensive for the past three months — a key Turkish demand prior to the talks. – Associated Press

Nicole Tung writes: Among those most vulnerable, both now and through the course of the war, are young Syrians.[…] For Nadra, her husband, and millions of other Syrians here in Turkey, life is a quotidian struggle—whether material, psychological, or emotional. Separation from home has created an inconsolable anguish for these young adults, and they carry scars (mental as well as physical) and the weight of an uncertain future. – The Atlantic

Turkey

Turkey isn’t ready to let go of its threat to unleash a migration crisis on the European Union as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to hold high-level meetings in Brussels on Monday. – Bloomberg

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Greece on Sunday to “open your gates” to refugees trying to enter the European Union from Turkey and said he hoped to win more help from the EU at talks on Monday. – Reuters

Turkish police used tear gas to disperse a few dozen women who were still in central Istanbul after trying to march on Sunday evening to celebrate International Women’s Day. – Reuters

Israel

In recent months, hundreds of booby-trapped balloons — sometimes bearing the messages “I Love You” and “Happy Birthday” along with small improvised explosives dangling by a string — have descended on this and other communities downwind of the nearby Gaza Strip, according to Israeli police. – Washington Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with US Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday to discuss the escalating spread of the coronavirus. The two leaders spoke about US-Israel “technological and scientific” cooperation in order to fight the virus, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. – Algemeiner

A senior Fatah official who called into question the mental health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been arrested by the Palestinian security forces. – Jerusalem Post

The Defense Ministry green-lighted planning for what it called a “sovereignty road” that would allow Palestinian traffic to by-pass Israeli settlements in the E1 area of the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post

Despite a refusal by the Palestinians to be involved in any negotiations and a lack of government in Israel, US President Donald Trump’s administration will push forward with the “Deal of the Century” peace plan, including giving White House approval to Israeli annexation, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner told US senators in a closed-room meeting last Wednesday, Channel 13’s diplomatic correspondent reported through Axios. – Jerusalem Post

As 39 Israelis were diagnosed with coronavirus Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the country is considering requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers entering the country. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday he was seriously considering completely shutting off all Palestinian Authority-governed portions of the West Bank as part of Israel’s ongoing effort to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Times of Israel

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s Twitter account was hacked early Saturday, posting an image of a Palestinian flag and the lyrics to Turkey’s national anthem. – Times of Israel

An Israeli delegation traveled to the United States this week for talks on coordinating a joint US-Israeli campaign against the International Criminal Court, Israeli television reported Friday. – Times of Israel

Editorial: That’s an exhausting prospect for the country’s politicians and voters, and it would mean the political rudderlessness would stretch past a year. But continued stasis would be preferable to actions that would make the eventual creation of a Palestinian state — and peace between it and Israel — all but impossible. In that sense, the curdling of Mr. Netanyahu’s “victory” should be welcomed by Israel’s friends. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian authorities detained two of the kingdom’s most prominent figures for an alleged coup attempt, further consolidating the power of the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and clearing away once-formidable rivals to the throne, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Two senior princes detained in a crackdown against potential rivals of Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince are being held in private villas and have been allowed to call their families, according to a person with ties to the royal family. – Washington Post

Saudi authorities began releasing officials and royal family members questioned in a security clampdown, as the government sought to end speculation about the health of King Salman by publishing photographs and video of the 84-year-old monarch. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia plans to boost oil output next month to well above 10 million barrels a day, as the kingdom responds aggressively to the collapse of its OPEC+ alliance with Russia. – Bloomberg

Bobby Ghosh writes: Given their reduced circumstances, these men would have required a sizeable cohort of co-conspirators to attempt an overthrow of King Salman and his heir. It’s conceivable that the arrests of the weekend were a precursor to a wider crackdown. Transparency may not be his modus operandi, but it’s in MBS’s interest — as well as Saudi Arabia’s and the world’s — to make the process open. – Bloomberg

 

Yemen

U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths on Saturday called for an immediate end to military action by Yemen’s warring parties as renewed violence between the Houthi movement and a Saudi-led coalition threatened peace efforts. – Reuters

The Saudi-Led coalition fighting in Yemen carried out an operation against Iran-aligned Houthi targets in Yemen’s port district, Salif, Saudi state TV reported late on Saturday, citing the coalition. – Reuters

Alex Almeida and Michael Knights write: A renewed Emirati role is even more desperately needed. In addition to bolstering the air campaign, the UAE should be encouraged to augment Saudi air defenses with top-tier PAC-3 missile systems in Marib—a low-risk, high-payoff mission that could reassure the local military leadership while protecting the province’s major oil and gas infrastructure. None of these steps would place U.S. troops in harm’s way. Rather, they provide a thrifty way to stop Iran from giving the Houthis more battlefield victories. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon said it would default on its dollar-denominated debt, intensifying the Middle Eastern state’s financial turmoil and setting up a possibly messy negotiation with foreign investors. – Wall Street Journal

The U.N. migration agency said Friday that a shipwreck off Libya and other recent maritime incidents have raised its estimated death toll among migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean past the “grim milestone” of 20,000 deaths since 2014. – Associated Press

Brandon Wallace and Katherine Lawlor write: Iraq’s newly designated prime minister (PM), Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, withdrew his nomination after failing to gain parliamentary approval for his cabinet appointments despite U.S. support for Allawi’s candidacy. Allawi’s withdrawal at this point in the government formation process is unprecedented. – Institute for the Study of War

David Petraeus and Vance Serchuk write: This may be unwelcome advice for those eager to see a U.S. extrication from Iraq or the greater Middle East, by way of replacing U.S. forces with those from NATO or other partner countries. But if there is one lesson that the Trump administration should draw from the experiences of its predecessors, it is that there have never been any shortcuts to success in the Land of Two Rivers. To pretend otherwise is the road to tragedy. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

Troy Collings, whose tour-guide company specialized in taking young budget travelers to forbidding places like North Korea, where one of his clients, the American Otto F. Warmbier, was imprisoned and fell into a coma, died last week, the company said on Friday. He was 33. – New York Times

North Korea launched multiple projectiles off its east coast on Monday in the country’s second weapons test in a week, the South Korean military said. – New York Times

A special North Korean flight carrying presumably dozens of diplomats and other foreigners arrived in Russia’s Far East on Monday, as the North tightens a lockdown intended to fend off the coronavirus. – Associated Press

North Korea accused European nations of “illogical thinking” on Saturday after they called a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting to condemn missile launches by the reclusive state earlier this week. – Reuters

China

Chinese Communist Party officials have begun to cast doubt on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, which generated backlash from Washington. – Washington Examiner

The connection between OFILM, the supplier that owns the Nanchang factory, and the tech giants is the latest sign that companies outside China are benefiting from coercive labor practices imposed on the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, and other minorities. – Associated Press

Wendy Cutler writes: Each country could prioritize those products where tariff rollback would help get needed products to their citizens grappling with the existing or potential fallout of the virus, such as medical, health or cleaning products, as well as items that would help workers and companies weather the impacts. Relief should particularly be geared toward small and medium-sized businesses, which already are disproportionately hurt in China and likely to also bear the economic brunt in the United States as the virus spreads. – The Hill

Afghanistan

In a secure facility underneath the Capitol, members of Congress stopped by all last week to review two classified annexes to the Afghan peace accord with the Taliban that set the criteria for a critical element of the agreement: What constitutes enough “peace” for the United States to withdraw its forces? – New York Times

Two gunmen opened fire on a crowded event in Kabul attended by the opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah on Friday, and officials said at least 32 civilians were killed and dozens wounded. The attackers struck Afghanistan’s capital less than a week after the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the 18-year-old war. – New York Times

Afghanistan’s capital was under lockdown early on Monday, with commandos posted at every road leading toward the presidential palace, as marathon overnight talks to prevent the formation of two clashing governments in Kabul appeared to have brought no breakthrough. – New York Times

The two men claiming to have won Afghanistan’s presidential election are planning to hold parallel inaugurations in Kabul Monday. Both ceremonies are set to begin at around the same time and will occur just yards apart in two different compounds. – Washington Post

As U.S. and Taliban negotiators celebrated the signing of a peace deal in Doha, for many in Kabul, the agreement felt like a betrayal. After more than 18 years of a U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the document seeking to end it made no mention of any of the ideals once touted by the conflict’s supporters and architects. – Washington Post

American officials said intelligence shows that the Taliban does not intend to follow the strictures of the recently signed peace deal. – Washington Examiner

Afghan President-elect Ashraf Ghani on Monday delayed his planned inauguration ceremony until the afternoon, as his rival Abdullah Abdullah also postponed a scheduled competing swearing-in ceremony. – Reuters

Some political leaders joined foreign envoys in Afghanistan in offering assurances of support for women’s rights on International Women’s Day, but the Taliban did not join in the global commemoration. – Reuters

Federico Borello writes: Afghans have been through more than enough and their protection must top the agenda. When the time comes for intra-Afghan talks, meaningful participation of affected communities will be vital to their success. However, ongoing violence not only would jeopardize the peace process, it also would give Afghan civilians another legitimate reason to lose faith that they ever will get what they desperately need: safety for them and their families.  – The Hill

Eric Lebson writes: Failure to bring the cases of Overby and Frerichs into the peace accord deprives American officials of their greatest possible leverage to resolve these cases. As the dust settles on the peace accord and both sides monitor each other’s implementation, the Taliban once again have an advantage and two American families have lost an opportunity. – The Hill

Melanne Verveer and Carla Koppell write: A newly-formed bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Caucus, led by Representatives Lois Frankel and Michael Waltz, further underlines Congressional commitment to advancing women’s role in peacebuilding. This is a moment for outspoken leadership by all those in Congress who care about peace in Afghanistan.  The United States must explicitly and decisively stand with Afghan women. It is the right thing to do, and it is in our strategic interest. – The Hill

Asia

Islamists pelted campaigners with stones, shoes and sticks as they marched through Pakistan’s capital on Sunday to mark International Women’s Day. – Reuters

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin’s Twitter account has been locked, limiting his access to the social media platform, according to an activist group whose members he said should be shot. – Bloomberg

Hong Kong police arrested 17 people in connection with suspected homemade bombs that have been discovered over the past two months. – Bloomberg

Taiwan’s Kuomintang selected a reform-minded chairman to rebuild the beleaguered opposition party, a decision that could upend Beijing’s decades-old framework for building ties with Taipei. – Bloomberg

Malaysia’s new prime minister will announce his cabinet on Monday, a week after he was appointed amid political turmoil, with a technocrat or technocrat-turned-politician expected to be drafted into the crucial finance ministry as the economy slows. – Reuters

Warren Kozak writes: Sept. 2 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. That happened without an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Imagine Iwo Jima times 100 or even 1,000. At least a million American servicemen and many more millions of Japanese lived full lives thanks to the terrible and tragic—but necessary—events that began on March 9, 1945. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph Bosco writes: An immediate China-centric crisis should not distract the international community, particularly the United States, from other dangerous situations created by Beijing’s communist government.[…] But neither the coronavirus — Communist China’s gift to the world — nor partial agreement to trade reciprocity should prevent Washington from paying attention to what is happening in Hong Kong. – The Hill

Russia

Just as the coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on the oil market, Russia has spotted an opportunity to hurt rivals in the US shale patch. Moscow’s partners in Opec now are collateral damage, and a price-sapping war for market share may follow. – Financial Times

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday victories in 10 out of 14 state primaries caused shock waves not only in the United States, but in Russia.[…] Joe Biden’s win in South Carolina gave those Russian media pause, but his buoyant resurgence on Super Tuesday left the Kremlin’s mouthpieces nearly speechless. – The Daily Beast

William Courtney writes: Deeper reforms and lower geopolitical tensions could help Russia unleash more of its potential. Whether or not coronavirus brings substantial harm to the economy, investors are hoping for a wake-up call that spurs the Kremlin to elevate economic priorities. – The Hill

Europe

The Italian government is locking down 17 million people—more than a quarter of its population—including in Milan, the surrounding Lombardy region and 14 neighboring provinces, in the most sweeping steps any European country has prepared to take against the coronavirus epidemic. – Wall Street Journal

European countries on Sunday increased checks on travelers from Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus epidemic, but have so far resisted closing their borders on a continent where freedom of movement remains largely unrestricted. – Wall Street Journal

Rows of white chairs were placed in front of Russia’s embassy in The Hague on Sunday in a quiet protest by families of those who were shot down with Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, on the eve of the trial – in absentia – of four men accused of murder for their involvement. – Reuters

Anti-Jewish incidents in Italy climbed sharply in 2019, the latest report from the country’s main antisemitism monitor revealed on Friday. – Algemeiner

Poland’s dispute with Europe over the country’s political purge of judges has turned into a game of chicken. The European Union’s top court will hold a hearing on Monday as part of a bid by the European Commission to suspend Poland’s disciplinary regime for judges, which EU regulators have said undermines democracy. A decision could come within days. – Bloomberg

Nearly five-and-a-half years after one of the deadliest aircraft incidents in modern history, three Russian nationals will stand trial in the Netherlands alongside one Ukrainian citizen for their role in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Bhd Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. – Bloomberg

It seemed Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy could breathe a sigh of relief as Donald Trump’s impeachment ended with his acquittal by the Senate. […]On the domestic front, a cabinet revamp irked voters and sent foreign investors already spooked by the coronavrius dashing for the exits. In the U.S., the Super Tuesday comeback by Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden trained the Republicans’ spotlight back on the former vice president’s dealings with Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Greeks in the border region rallied behind the expanding border force, collecting provisions and offering any possible contribution to what is seen as a national effort to stop a Turkish-spurred incursion. – Associated Press

A group of migrants on Saturday tried to bring down a fence in a desperate attempt to bust through the border into Greece while others hurled rocks at Greek police. Greek authorities responded, firing volleys of tear gas at the youths. – Associated Press

British police shot dead a knifeman in central London late on Sunday but the incident is not being treated as terrorism. – Reuters

The Sea Venom missile being jointly developed by France and the United Kingdom under the 2010 Lancaster House treaties has successfully completed its first qualification firing trial. – Defense News

Several migrants attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece told CNN over the past week that Greek security forces took their documents, money, phones and clothes before sending them back to Turkey in their underwear. – CNN

This week’s clear-out of Ukraine’s government barely six months after it took office has raised fears among investors and political reformers that President Volodymyr Zelensky has abandoned his efforts to overhaul the economy and tackle corruption. – Financial Times

Editorial: The attitudes of policymakers across Europe have hardened towards migrants since the crisis of five years ago. The rise of Eurosceptic anti-immigrant movements has rocked the EU establishment. Europe is stretching its humanitarian obligations to breaking point, as Greece has by refusing all asylum applications for one month. The EU may have given up any attempt to shape the course of the war in Syria, but it cannot shield itself from the effects. Fortress Europe is an illusion. – Financial Times

Narzanin Massoumi writes: The state introduces legislation effectively targeting Muslims, which in turn encourages and emboldens the counter-jihad movement — whose policy papers, polemics and protests propel the state to extend legislation, all but criminalizing aspects of Muslims’ identity. The result is to fan Islamophobic sentiment in the public at large.[…] The line from policy to act, rhetoric to violence, is very hard to draw. And the process by which Islamophobia spreads across European society is complex, multicausal, endlessly ramifying. But that doesn’t mean it comes from nowhere. – New York Times

Africa

Armed separatists attacked a village in the African nation of Cameroon’s western French-speaking region on Sunday, killing at least seven people, according to a top official and a resident. – Associated Press

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok has survived an assassination attempt targeting his convoy in the capital Khartoum, state television and a source in the cabinet said on Monday. – Reuters

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said the death of the country’s top army spy last month was apparently due to hanging, but he did not spell out whether the military intelligence chief had killed himself. – Reuters

The Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) has appointed its first African regional director to mobilize support for Israel through faith-based diplomacy and expand pro-Israel parliamentary activity throughout the continent. – Jerusalem Post

Latin America

Critics cite another glaring similarity. As a right-wing, pro-American government represses, threatens and jails its leftist opponents, the United States has stayed largely silent — just as it did during the abuses of the Latin American dictatorships it supported during the Cold War. – Washington Post

President Trump will host Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Florida this weekend, Trump said Friday, confirming reports that the right-wing fellow populist would attend a private dinner at Trump’s resort home. – Washington Post

Over the past five years, conflicts over land and natural resources in the region have led to about 200 confrontations and the deaths of 60 Indigenous people, according to the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, a London organization. – New York Times

Guyana, the world’s newest oil producer, hurtled deeper into political crisis on Friday, a day after the electoral authorities announced the government had won the most votes in the March 2 elections, overriding objections from judges, international observers and the opposition. – New York Times

Guatemala’s new government is trying to limit the number of foreign migrants the United States sends its way under an agreement that makes the Central American nation a buffer zone to reduce U.S. asylum claims. – Reuters

President Trump wants NATO to take the next step toward partnering with Brazil as part of an effort to fortify the Western Hemisphere against Russian and Chinese encroachment. – Washington Examiner

During a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque at the White House earlier last week, Donald Trump more or less ordered Colombia to wipe out coca plants—the main ingredient in cocaine—by spraying the controversial herbicide glyphosate from the air. – Daily Beast

A group of women outside Mexico City’s main cathedral clashed on Sunday with men protesting abortion who made Nazi salutes, among scuffles that left dozens injured during a protest of tens of thousands of people on International Women’s Day. – Reuters

Venezuela’s elections council said on Sunday that a fire over the weekend destroyed most of the voting machines stored in its main warehouse in the capital, Caracas, potentially complicating parliamentary elections scheduled for this year. – Reuters

At least 38 workers from Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela’s, including the president of maritime subsidiary PDV Marina, were detained on accusations of trafficking fuel, Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on Saturday, describing the accusations as “treason.” – Reuters

A protester was shot dead as demonstrators took to the streets in Guyana on Saturday after opposition leaders and international observers accused the government of David Granger of rigging this week’s presidential election. – Reuters

Nick Butler writes: Beyond these factors, the greatest force for change in Venezuela will be the oil price. With a global surplus of supply, and more Opec cuts in the offing, Venezuelan oil is no longer needed in the market. Without substantial export earnings, the government in Caracas is unlikely to be able to provide the investment needed to maintain current production, let alone meet Mr Maduro’s target. Even the most authoritarian regimes cannot survive without revenue. – Financial Times

Cybersecurity

Amid rising calls for regulation, technology companies are pushing for laws that would restrict use of facial-recognition systems—and head off the more severe prohibitions some cities and states are weighing. – Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon hopes to have the first class of auditors to evaluate contractors’ cybersecurity ready by April, a top Department of Defense official said March 5. – Fifth Domain

The Pentagon made headlines last month when it adopted its five principles for using artificial intelligence, marking the end of a months-long effort over what guidelines the department should follow as it develops new AI tools and AI-enabled technologies. – C4ISRNET

The United States is engaged in an all-out effort to convince the United Kingdom to reject Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from the country’s fifth-generation wireless infrastructure, warning of the national security risks posed by potential backdoor access by the Chinese Communist Party. – Washington Examiner

Alina Polyakova writes: While the democratic West is fighting yesterday’s war, our adversaries are evolving and adapting to the new playing field. Innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) is enabling the creation of “deep fakes” and other “synthetic media” products. As these tools become more low cost and accessible, they will become perfect weapons for information warfare. Such technologies could drive the next great leap in AI-driven disinformation. – Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Defense

Changing how the Navy awards ship maintenance contracts could improve how private shipyards finish work on time, said the commander of Naval Sea Systems. – USNI News

The U.S. Army has ordered a halt to the movement of troops and their families into and out of Italy and South Korea as part of its response to the novel coronavirus. – The Hill

This year’s Rim of the Pacific 2020 international naval exercise be more complex and challenging than in years past, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. John Aquilino told reporters on Friday. – USNI News

SpaceX successfully launched another load of station supplies for NASA late Friday night and nailed its 50th rocket landing. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Given the ambition of the ICC to investigate and perhaps charge American service members and intelligence officers for supposed war crimes, Sanders should state clearly whether he would prioritize the court’s functions above American sovereignty and the protection of U.S. soldiers who risked everything to fight the terrorist threat in Afghanistan and elsewhere. – Washington Examiner

Alice Hunt Friend and Shannon Culbertson write: During this period of change, policy guidance on how to implement the NDS and prioritize competing demands will help the SOF community arrest negative readiness trends and help channel into new challenges the innovation and drive for which the community is well known. Policymakers should initiate a rational process to determine the right balance of missions for SOF and then estimate the steps necessary to implement needed investment changes and timelines for implementation. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Morgan Dwyer writes: Instead, DOD must leverage the Air Force’s bottom-up approach to identify weaknesses in current organizational structures and employ a top-down approach to correct them. Only by integrating bottom-up technical solutions with top-down organizational ones, can DOD truly make the most of the Air Force’s investment in ABMS and the future of JADC2. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

The United States has created a special envoy for Africa’s Sahel region, a State Department spokesman said on Friday, to counter rising violence from groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State which are expanding their foothold. – Reuters

A senior commander in Somalia’s al Shabaab group with a $5 million bounty on his head was killed in an American air strike last month, according to Somalia state media, a blow to the militants’ Islamist insurgency. – Reuters

Afghanistan’s minister of defense said on Sunday that if the Islamist Taliban did not stop attacks by the end of the week, it would switch from ‘defense mode’ to attacking the militant group. – Reuters

Editorial: Meanwhile, not all would-be domestic terrorists are influenced by foreign extremist groups such as the Islamic State. The FBI seeks to treat the risks that racist extremists pose similarly to those of homegrown Islamic State followers, which involves coordinating two separate divisions. But, again, the inspector general found that inadequate training and coordination problems stifled this effort. – Washington Post

Thomas Hegghammer writes: That Azzam and bin Laden met in America is no coincidence. They came because, unlike other countries in the Middle East, the U.S. allowed them and other Islamists to preach, fundraise, and recruit followers without interference.[…] In fact, for more than a decade, America was among the most hospitable jihadist-recruitment grounds in the world. – The Atlantic