Fdd's overnight brief

May 15, 2019

In The News


Iran vigorously denied a U.S. claim that it was behind attacks on four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf that set the Middle East on edge, as the Trump administration confronted mounting skepticism from allies abroad and Democrats at home. Iran accused officials in the Trump administration of trying to pull it into a war with the U.S. and its regional allies. – Wall Street Journal

As the Trump administration draws up war plans against Iran over what it says are threats to American troops and interests, a senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria. – New York Times

Ali Al-Ahmed is a veteran critic of the Saudi government, so late last year he was not surprised to receive a Twitter message purporting to be from an Egyptian woman living in London who said that she, too, was a Saudi opponent. – New York Times

The Trump administration is discussing a range of options for using military force against Iran, officials said Tuesday, as lawmakers from both parties complained that the White House has not fully briefed them on the escalating tensions. – Washington Post

Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, amid a war of words with Washington over sanctions. – Reuters

U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have attacked four tankers off the United Arab Emirates rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran does not seek war with the United States despite mounting tensions between the two arch-enemies over Iranian nuclear capabilities and its missile program. – Reuters

Iran has officially stopped some commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers following an order from its national security council, an informed official in the country’s atomic energy body told the ISNA news agency on Wednesday. – Reuters

The tanker attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were “Israeli mischief,” an Iranian parliamentary spokesman said on Tuesday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, says a different attack on its oil interests was conducted using drones launched by Iranian-backed group. – Ynet

Coalition forces in Iraq and Syria sent conflicting signals Tuesday over Iran’s alleged threat, with a British general appearing to take issue with Washington’s alarms over an imminent danger posed by Tehran to the US and its allies. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s supreme leader issued a veiled threat in the same speech in which he stated that “no one is seeking war,” saying it wouldn’t be difficult for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels amid rising tensions with the U.S., state media reported Wednesday.- Associated Press

International worries that the Trump administration is sliding toward war with Iran flared into the open amid skepticism about its claims that the Islamic Republic poses a growing threat to the U.S. and its allies in the Persian Gulf and beyond. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump is dismissing a report that the U.S. is planning for a military conflict with Iran. – Associated Press

When an attractive young Middle Eastern woman contacted Saudi dissident Ali AlAhmed over Twitter last November, he was immediately suspicious. AlAhmed’s radar was up because he had previously been targeted by hackers posing as a female journalist. But this turned out to be part of a different operation. – Associated Press

The Iranian ambassador to the UK has warned Europe it has 60 days to ease Iranian oil sales or else see the end of the nuclear deal as tensions rise with the US. – The Guardian

Yaakov Katz writes: Now, it seems increasingly likely that Israel might once again bear the burden, this time in Iran, to neutralize a potential nuclear threat, using the same approach that was used 12 years ago. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Apparently “Death to America” should be taken seriously but not literally. At least that’s the implication of the quote that Iran’s supreme leader gave to state media on Tuesday: “There won’t be any war,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “We don’t seek a war.” – Bloomberg

Noah Rothman writes: Those who accuse the Trump administration of engineering a military confrontation with Iran are asking you to ignore your own eyes and ears in service to their conspiracy theory. No president would disregard an imminent threat to U.S. interests and personnel. The attack on four ships in the UAE suggests that threat is real and urgent. It more than justifies the White House’s efforts to deter further provocations of the sort the West would have no choice but to respond to with proportionate force. – Commentary Magazine


Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart discussed ways to reduce tension in Syria’s Idlib province, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, after the biggest military escalation in northwest Syria in nearly a year. – Reuters

East Ghouta, a region to the east of Damascus in Syria, is a dark example of the reimposition of the Assad regime’s authoritarian rule over a community once controlled by the opposition. […]This paper, produced in association with ETANA Syria, shines a light on what the regime’s military rule looks like on the ground and the resulting human rights violations against the population, and details the scale of the Iranian presence in key strategic locations around Damascus. – Middle East Institute

Fabrice Balanche writes: These failures also stem from the fact that President Vladimir Putin treated the Sochi agreement not as a genuine accord to be honored for the long term, but rather as a temporary means of keeping Turkey on his side at a time when Erdogan was feeling especially vindictive toward Washington for supporting the YPG. Moreover, Putin might believe that attacking Idlib and stoking potential refugee/jihadist flows toward Turkey could pressure Ankara on other bilateral imperatives, such as completing its controversial purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems. – Washington Institute


A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Tuesday released an early version of a spending bill that seeks to prevent the shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, as U.S. officials press Turkey not to buy a Russian S-400 air defense system. – Reuters

Police in Turkey have detained two suspected left-wing militants who tried to enter the country’s parliament with sharp objects and a hoax explosive device, officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

For eight years, Turkey’s public enemy number one, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), had not been allowed to meet his lawyers. Hundreds of other Kurdish inmates went on hunger strike in late 2018 to demand an end to his isolation. – The Economist

Ali Bakeer writes: Furthermore, Turkey also needs to overcome a growing list of challenges, including brain drain, the need for new markets and massive investment, political factors, dependence on foreign components, and the depreciation of the local currency. The last two issues are closely related, as many key components on which the industry relies are sourced from abroad and priced in foreign currency, increasing costs for local producers. – Middle East Institute


Israel is hosting the popular Eurovision song contest just over a week after the deadliest clashes with Gaza in years, presenting a test of the country’s allure as a tourist destination amid a period of volatile relations with Palestinians. – Wall Street Journal

The regulars at Tel Aviv’s Banana Beach had a clear view of the pyrotechnics when Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system fired at many incoming rockets in the dusk sky. – New York Times

The United States ambassador to Israel, a driving force in crafting the Trump administration’s long-awaited proposal to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declared Tuesday that Israel was “on the side of God.” – New York Times

The IDF and the defense establishment were deploying troops reinforcements in key trouble spots Wednesday, in anticipation of violent riots along the Gaza Strip border as Palestinians mark Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which mourns the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. – Ynet

Qatar will continue providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip for another six months, including paying for electricity and helping poor families, Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi said on Tuesday, according to the Xinhua news agency. – Arutz Sheva

A Palestinian Arab delegation arrived this week for a meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in an attempt to reach understandings that would allow the transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Kan 11 News reported. – Arutz Sheva

Saeb Erekat, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said on Tuesday that the policies and measures of the Israeli “occupation”, which are manifested in attacks by “settlers”, assassinations, arrests, sieges and closures, will not lead to peace, security and stability. – Arutz Sheva

Pro-Palestinian hackers on Tuesday evening broke into the website of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation Kan during the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Instead of the live broadcast on the site, a video of missiles landing in Israel was shown for a few minutes, along with the message: “Risk of Missile Attack, Please Take Shelter”. – Arutz Sheva

Israel may take a look at the new top-secret American “Ninja Bomb,” designed to minimize bystander casualties and to take out a single terrorist target by replacing an explosive warhead with knife-like blades. – Jerusalem Post

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, said he was attacked Tuesday afternoon by a man in the street near the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv. Magierowski told the Ynet news site that he was outside the embassy building on Soutine Street when a man suddenly physically assaulted him and shouted at him. – Arutz Sheva

President Donald Trump celebrated via Twitter on Tuesday the one-year anniversary of the move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “Our beautiful embassy stands as a proud reminder of our strong relationship with Israel and of the importance of keeping a promise and standing for the truth,” Trump wrote. – Algemeiner

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman write: Virtually every nation cited U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which outlined a framework for achieving peace in the Middle East. The preamble speaks of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Yet President Trump’s Golan proclamation is entirely consistent with Resolution 242. – Wall Street Journal

Mark Mellman writes: Israel’s left collapsed as a direct result of national disappointment and, indeed, anger at Palestinian responses to what Israelis regarded as major concessions. Some may bemoan or bewail these attitudes, but there is no grasping Israeli politics today without understanding the power the intifada and the Gaza disengagement exert over the public mind. – The Hill


The U.S. ordered all its nonemergency staff to leave Iraq immediately, amid heightened tensions with Iran over recent attacks against oil tankers and facilities in the Persian Gulf region. Normal visa services will be temporarily suspended both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, according to a brief statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq, it noted. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military on Tuesday reaffirmed its concerns about possible imminent threats from Iranian-backed forces to its troops in Iraq, who were now at a high level of alert. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources. – Reuters

Farhad Alaaldin writes: For their part, the Iraqi leadership is deeply concerned about the current state of affairs between the United States and Iran; the government needs both countries, as they are both partners who play different roles for Iraq. They also believe that the state of Iraq itself is fragile. The security, economic, and military situations inside the country are not stable, and any war or military conflict between Iran and the United States could consequently have a devastating result on Iraq. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

Recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil tankers and pipelines are set to increase the cost of insuring and securing crude shipments in the Persian Gulf region, added expenses that will likely lead to higher oil prices, industry executives said. Armed drones damaged a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia Tuesday, in the latest assault on the kingdom’s energy infrastructure. The attack came after two Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged near the Strait of Hormuz this past weekend. – Wall Street Journal

Armed drones, allegedly dispatched by Yemeni rebels, struck two oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, spiking tensions in the region and potentially disrupting international efforts to end the civil war in Yemen. – Washington Post

Spain has withdrawn a frigate from a U.S.-led naval group in the Gulf because it was now focusing on alleged threats from Iran rather than an agreed objective to mark an historic seafaring anniversary, the Spanish government said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: Attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and Saudi Arabia’s main internal pipeline have accelerated the emerging Gulf crisis and could cause prices to spike worldwide. – Washington Institute


The United Nations said on Tuesday a withdrawal by Yemen’s Houthi movement from three Red Sea ports had been carried out “partly as agreed” by warring parties under a peace deal that it hopes will pave the way for wider peace talks. – Reuters

In Yemen, the high-pitched whine of drones has been a part of life for over 15 years, ever since the first U.S. drone strike here targeting al-Qaida in 2002. But now, Iran-backed Houthi rebels increasingly deploy drones in Yemen’s brutal civil war. – Associated Press

Residents in Hodeidah are cautiously hoping that the Yemeni city will be spared future bloodshed as a long-awaited withdrawal by Houthi rebel forces appeared to be proceeding according to plan. – The Guardian

Middle East & North Africa

President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied a New York Times report that U.S. officials were discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran. – Reuters

Despite the destruction of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in March, thousands of its fighters have simply gone underground and remain a significant threat, carrying out deadly attacks, a senior coalition military officer said Tuesday. “It has been reorganizing itself into a network of cells and intent on striking key leaders, village elders, and military personnel to undermine the security and stability in Iraq and Syria,” British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a senior spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, said from Baghdad in a briefing for Pentagon reporters. – Washington Examiner

Ahmed Marwane writes: Against this backdrop, some are wondering whether and how the protests have changed Algeria, whether this popular mobilization would help Algerians achieve their goals in the long run, and whether the movement could pave the way for the constitutional measures necessary to overhaul the government. The answers to these questions are not immediately clear considering the secretive nature of the Algeria regime. Nevertheless, its reaction to the protests since their inception does make it clear that the regime is interested in containing the public’s mobilization. – Washington Institute

Caroline Alexander writes: The U.S. has dusted off plans to add the Muslim Brotherhood to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Officials said a designation was being prepared after President Donald Trump in April hosted his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who as army chief in 2013 evicted the group from power and then cracked down on Islamists. – Bloomberg

Dan De Luce writes: Trump eventually pulled the plug last year and took the U.S. out of the agreement. Now with Mattis and Tillerson gone, the balance in Trump’s White House has shifted. Influential figures, including Bolton, favor a more aggressive line on Iran, and their views are echoed by leaders in Israel and Gulf Arab states. – NBC News


China amped up its rhetoric in a tariff battle with the U.S., playing to nationalistic sentiment with strident state-media criticisms aimed at Washington, even as Beijing reiterated its preference for a negotiated resolution. – Wall Street Journal

Beyond tariffs, trade hawks within the Trump administration are pursuing what they call decoupling, or breaking up a relationship that they now feel poses a long-term strategic threat to the United States. The trade hawks hope to get American companies to shift their factories to friendlier countries. They are pushing to restrict Chinese investment in the United States and cut academic and other bonds. – New York Times

The trade dispute between the United States and China is escalating — and so is the war of words between the two countries. Nationalism has surged in China in recent days as the government seeks to portray China as a victim of American bullying. – New York Times

China has glorious history of being open to the world and the country will only be more open, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, in his first public address since trade tensions with the United States spiked last week. – Reuters

Neil Irwin writes: Just two weeks ago, the United States and China seemed to be gliding toward a trade deal meant to resolve tensions between the world’s two largest economies. But the breakdown in talks since — the United States raised tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion of Chinese imports, for example, and is threatening to tax an additional $300 billion — worries people who study international economic diplomacy. – New York Times

Adam Taylor writes: Meanwhile, China’s unfair trade policies, egregious human rights abuses and worrying geopolitical ambitions pose a problem for countries all over the world. The United States is also the larger economic power, and most experts say Washington can inflict far more pain on the Chinese economy than Beijing can deal to the U.S. economy in retaliation. – Washington Post

Audrey Jiajia Li writes: When social media emerged in my country almost 10 years ago, my peers and I were excited. Here was a space where Chinese people like us could share everything, we thought, from bits of daily life to our unvarnished views on public affairs. We were naïvely optimistic back then about the prospect, as a famous phrase at the time put it, of “onlookers changing China.” – New York Times

Nikos Tsafos writes: The point is not that the Chinese tariffs do not matter—everything else being equal, they do. But the impact of the tariffs should be understood in a hierarchy. They affect the ability of the two sides to transact directly, a risk that has existed for a while, and which companies have learned to manage. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shullman write: China, for its part, very well may seek to shake Russia off down the line. But for now the Chinese leadership appreciates Putin’s support in countering Washington, reforming global governance, and questioning the values that underpin the liberal order. Although China may be warier of antagonizing the United States than Russia is, Beijing benefits from Putin’s ability to expose the cracks in Washington’s alliances and distract the United States from China’s rise.  – Foreign Affairs

Bradley A. Thayer and Lianchao Han write: For China, yielding to these demands is only taking China down the road toward political liberalization, and it will embolden the U.S. to push for additional demands, including advancing internet freedom and human rights concerns over the treatment of Chinese citizens. – The Hill


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he came to this Black Sea resort city on Tuesday on a mission for President Trump: Improve U.S. ties with Russia. – Washington Post

Russia and the United States remain far apart on Iran, election interference and a host of world crises, the nations’ top diplomats made clear Tuesday, despite President Vladimir V. Putin’s expressed hope that the end of the special counsel’s investigation would clear the way for fully restored relations. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his first diplomatic trip to Russia on Tuesday to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and President Vladimir V. Putin. – New York Times

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday it was time for Moscow and Washington to put aside years of mistrust and find a way to work together constructively. – Reuters

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) said Tuesday that Russian hackers successfully gained access to voter data in two counties during the 2016 presidential election. – The Hill

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday praised special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as “objective.” – The Hill

Attorney General William Barr is stepping up the probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, naming a U.S. attorney to oversee the investigation and working with intelligence chiefs to see how surveillance was conducted. – Associated Press

Vladimir Putin told the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on Tuesday that he hoped the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation would make possible a revitalisation of US-Russian relations. – The Guardian

The US attorney general is stepping up inquiries into the origins of the Russia investigation, working with intelligence chiefs to see how surveillance was conducted and naming a US attorney to oversee the investigation. – The Guardian

Bruno Maçães writes: It finally happened, at the beginning of May president Vladimir Putin signed a bill that seeks to establish Russia’s “internet sovereignty.” The law’s explanatory note bluntly asserts that it was prepared taking into account the aggressive nature of the U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy adopted in 2018. – Moscow Times


The U.S. has readied sanctions against close associates of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán amid worries the Central European state is a growing liability for Western interests, people familiar with the matter said. But the administration is choosing to stand pat for now in the hopes it can still persuade Mr. Orbán to deliver on longstanding security promises and remain in the Western fold, those people said. – Wall Street Journal

Senior British lawmakers from opposing sides of the political aisle were downbeat about the prospects that bipartisan talks would spark a breakthrough in resolving a longstanding impasse over Brexit. The remarks, at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council in London on Tuesday, reinforce expectations that a Brexit plan that can command majority support in the U.K.’s fractious House of Commons remains a distant prospect, almost three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc in a referendum. – Wall Street Journal

Financial regulators in eight Nordic and Baltic countries have agreed to share more information about money-laundering threats in an effort to fight financial crimes. Regulators said they plan to develop a coordinated process for exchanging information across Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. A formal agreement among the agencies is being drafted, the regulators said. – Wall Street Journal

Anti-Semitic crime and hate crime targeting foreigners each increased by almost 20 percent in Germany last year, according to official figures published on Tuesday. – New York Times

A hero to many far-right nationalists in Europe and the United States, Mr. Orban won a major public relations prize on Monday: an Oval Office meeting with President Trump. The two men gushed over each other. Mr. Trump described the Hungarian leader as “controversial,” but he clearly meant it as a compliment — Mr. Trump said some people considered him controversial, too. – New York Times

The European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia warned the Serbian representative on Bosnia’s presidency on Tuesday against saying anything to weaken the country’s multi-ethnic armed forces after he made comments widely seen as divisive. – Reuters

A new European Union military pact risks shutting American companies out of defense contracts and undermining NATO, the United States has told the bloc, hinting at possible retaliation. – Reuters

The government of Norway has no immediate plans to call for more U.S. Marines to train alongside its troops in the high north after asking for an increase last year, according to officials in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. – Military.com

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for British defense spending to be “decisively” increased over the next decade to help protect the country from possible changes to the global balance of power. – Defense News

A collection of European Union initiatives for improving the bloc’s military prowess is at risk of failure unless member countries tighten the reins on how the projects are managed, a new think tank study has found. – Defense News

A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation on Tuesday seeking sanctions targeting the Nord Stream 2, a planned gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under fire from the United States and some European Union countries. – Reuters

Rafael Behr writes: Since the UK can expect no material benefits from Brexit, politicians who are wedded to that course want Brussels to be mired in crisis. It makes Britain’s choice to absent itself from the top table look less foolish. That impulse will be on display after next week’s MEP ballots. – The Guardian

Leonid Bershidsky writes: The U.S. appears to be stepping up the defense demands it makes of European allies — a development that could complicate trade talks between the U.S. and the European Union. – Bloomberg

United States

A group of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress introduced legislation on Tuesday intended to prohibit anyone employed or sponsored by the Chinese military from receiving student or research visas to the United States. – Reuters

The man suspected of killing a woman in a shooting at a Southern California synagogue pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges Tuesday. – Associated Press

Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy write:There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world, a scourge that is spreading in the Middle East, in Europe and even here in the United States. In recent months, Jewish communities in Pittsburgh and the San Diego area have been victimized by deadly shootings at synagogues. Monitors say that the frequency of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States is near a four-decade high. – Washington Post

Latin America

As Venezuelan refugees and exiles have poured into neighboring countries in South America and Latin America, Spain has emerged as a destination of choice for many Venezuelans of means, including those whose families once left to get out from under Franco. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s armed forces will either depose President Nicolas Maduro and lead a transition to democratic rule or face divisions that risk a civil war, the Brazilian government’s top security adviser said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Several activists ignored a trespassing warning and remained holed up in Venezuela’s embassy in the United States on Tuesday, highlighting a dispute over who is the legitimate leader of the South American nation. – Associated Press


Microsoft Corp. took the unusual step of warning that a computer bug it has now patched could be used by a cyber weapon similar to the WannaCry worm, which spread across the globe two years ago. The bug is one of several high-profile computer-security issues to emerge this week, though the impact isn’t yet clear. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook Inc said on Tuesday it was tightening rules around its livestreaming feature ahead of a meeting of world leaders aimed at curbing online violence in the aftermath of a massacre in New Zealand. – Reuters

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would require a cybersecurity expert from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be included on the committee tasked with developing voluntary voting system guidelines as part of the effort to make U.S. elections secure. – The Hill

Cybersecurity experts are worried about the fallout from a Supreme Court ruling allowing customers to sue Apple over the prices in its App Store, claiming it could eventually lead to more unsecured apps being sold to consumers. – The Hill

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., argued on Tuesday that the U.S. should not share intelligence or equipment with countries that use Chinese 5G technology. During Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Graham addressed the security threat posed by China. Graham said he hoped that “the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, will be that if you buy their [China’s 5G] stuff, because of the way they do business, you’re going to lose access to information and technology coming from America.” – Washington Examiner

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: For the sake of having a complete record, this column once urged a hunt for a Russian role in promoting the 9/11 truther and Obama birther conspiracies. In 2014, the head of NATO candidly accused Russia of backing the anti-fracking efforts of environmentalists. And yet does anybody think these hobby horses would not have sustained themselves without Russia’s help? – Wall Street Journal


A House defense spending bill would provide $15 million to study plans for a Space Force rather than funding the establishment of the military branch as President Trump requested. – The Hill

Houston, the Pentagon’s new space acquisition agency may have a problem. In its proposed funding bill for fiscal year 2020, House defense appropriators are seeking to cut off funding for the Space Development Agency until the Defense Department meets several conditions. – Defense News

For years, the Corps has sought ways to upgrade the capabilities of its tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey, as the lightly armed aircraft is a big target and is vulnerable to attack, especially when landing and extracting ground forces. – Defense News

In a rebuke to the Trump administration’s border wall funding maneuvers, House Democrats are proposing a Pentagon spending bill that slashes the amount of money the military can shift between accounts from $9.5 billion to $1.5 billion. – Defense News

Trump Administration

The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether lawyers for President Trump and his family sought to obstruct the panel’s Russia investigation, including by editing a false statement former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to the committee in 2017. – Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump Jr. has reached a deal with the Senate Intelligence Committee to appear for a second closed-door interview in June, according to people familiar with the matter, ending a tense standoff between the president’s son and the panel’s Republican chairman. – Washington Post

More than 20 House Democrats will stage a marathon public reading of the entire redacted Mueller report beginning Thursday at noon, and likely ending in the early morning hours of Friday. – Washington Post