Fdd's overnight brief

November 14, 2018

In The News


A secret Iranian archive seized by Israeli agents earlier this year indicates that Tehran’s nuclear program was more advanced than Western intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency had thought, according to a prominent nuclear expert who examined the documents. – Foreign Policy

Despite the mullahs’ misrule, they are aging fast. Iran’s young people are clearly not following in the former’s medieval footsteps. The time is coming when young Iranian women and men will be able to dance in the streets and celebrate the end of a long, dark, oppressive night. – Washington Examiner

Iran has executed two men convicted of illegal currency trading, as Tehran steps up its crackdown on alleged financial crimes in the face of economic hardships heightened by U.S. financial sanctions. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran’s inflation rate will jump to over 40 percent by the end of the year even as its economy sinks into a deep recession, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A prominent think tank has criticized the report published this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirming the Tehran regime’s continuing compliance with the JCPOA — the watershed nuclear deal on the country’s illicit nuclear program reached in July 2015, but decertified by the US in May this year as part of President Donald Trump’s new offensive against Iran’s Islamist rulers. – Algemeiner

Iraq has agreed with Iran to exchange Iraqi food items for Iranian gas and energy supplies, two Iraqi government officials said on Wednesday. Baghdad is now seeking U.S. approval to allow it to import Iranian gas which is used in its power stations, and needs more time to find an alternative source, they said. The sources are a senior government official and a member of Iraq’s ministerial energy committee. – Reuters


The Trump administration on Tuesday targeted Iran-backed Hezbollah with fresh terrorism-related sanctions, as the U.S. moves to keep up pressure on Tehran and its tools of foreign-policy abroad despite resistance from European allies. – Wall Street Journal

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of hindering the formation of a new government six months after parliamentary elections were held, a reflection of growing tensions amid serious concerns over the country’s faltering economy. – Associated Press

The US State Department has announced a $5 million reward for information which would lead to the capture of Deputy Hamas Politburo Chairman Saleh al-Arouri and two senior Hezbollah members. – Jerusalem Post


Egypt has mediated a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, according to Hamas officials, as an intense exchange of fire between the two sides halted Tuesday amid hopes that a wider war between them could be averted. – Wall Street Journal

An Israeli military victory in Gaza is a loss for Israel because it would either have to rule the enclave or risk a more radicalized group like ISIS taking over, former US negotiator Dennis. Ross told The Jerusalem Post, adding that an extended period of calm at this point is the best outcome for both Israel and Hamas. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas “begged” for a cease-fire, and “they know very well why,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday morning, in his first public statements since the government agreed to a cease-fire in the South that went into effect on Tuesday evening. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday announced a special faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at noon, after which he is expected to deliver a statement to the media, sparking rumors he could resign over the reported ceasefire with Hamas. – Times of Israel

Saudi Arabia

President Trump announced Tuesday that he will nominate retired Army Gen. John Abizaid to become the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, filling a vacancy that was spotlighted by the difficult diplomacy between the United States and Riyadh over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The post has been vacant throughout Trump’s presidency. – Washington Post

Luggage carried by a 15-member Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul included scissors, defibrillators and syringes that may have been used against journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate, a pro-government Turkish daily said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. lawmakers said on Tuesday the Senate could vote within weeks on legislation to punish Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen and the death of a journalist at its consulate in Istanbul. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly told a pro-government newspaper on Tuesday that the Saudi personnel involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s death may have been on heroin. – The Hill

A former CIA case officer and intelligence analyst for CNN claimed the Trump administration is helping the Saudis cover up Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday, Bob Baer, who worked at a CIA case officer primarily in the Middle East, said the US has purposely muted its response to journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. – Business Insider

Michael P. Dempsey writes: This is the moment for Western leaders to join together to reaffirm their commitment to the core democratic values and accepted rules of international conduct that were established after World War II, and to reaffirm the principle that violating these norms will carry serious and lasting consequences. Thankfully, the West still has a powerful set of policy options available to employ in this pursuit, including secondary economic sanctions and robust democratic promotion tools. The only question now is whether the West has the will to act. – The Hill  


House Republicans on Tuesday blocked any quick vote on a Democratic bill that would have ended U.S. support in the civil war in Yemen. – Washington Examiner

Diplomatic efforts to end fighting in Yemen’s Hodeida intensified Tuesday, as Britain said the Saudi-led coalition had agreed to the evacuation of wounded rebels from the country ahead of proposed peace talks in Sweden. – Agence France-Presse

The United States has waged a drone war in Yemen for 16 years, trying to suppress al-Qaida’s branch here. But the campaign has had a hidden cost: civilians cut down by the drones’ missiles. – Associated Press

Editorial: Two weeks ago, the Trump administration took a first step toward reining in the reckless Saudi regime under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, calling for a cease-fire in the war Saudi Arabia has been waging in Yemen — a military failure that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. – Washington Post

Middle East

The U.S. envoy for hostage affairs Tuesday called on Iran and Russia to use their influence in Syria to help free Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist who was taken captive there six years ago. Robert C. O’Brien, the point man trying to secure the release of about 20 Americans held unjustly around the world, said some countries are being “very helpful” in trying to get Tice freed.  – Washington Post

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday hundreds of Iraqi Islamic State militants at Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria were trying to cross into Iraq. – Reuters

Jon B. Alterman writes: Despite widespread enthusiasm, technology has not yielded much democracy in the Arab world over the last two decades. Amidst hope that a “new Arab public” would emerge, especially during the Arab uprisings of 2011, governments have stubbornly reasserted themselves. The public seems to be accepting a bargain that represses political speech in exchange for greater freedom in other aspects of life. This bargain may not endure, but it has shown surprising resilience. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

President Trump slammed The New York Times on Tuesday for its coverage of a report that said it had identified 13 of the estimated 20 previously undeclared missile operating bases in North Korea, claiming that the paper’s article was “inaccurate.” – The Hill

Editorial: After Mr. Trump’s showy June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Pyongyang’s nuclear materials production, missile operating sites and brutal concentration camps are all still grinding along. It is true that North Korea has not tested a missile or an atomic bomb lately. But nor has it been idle. – Washington Post

Adam Taylor writes: As Today’s WorldView noted last week, talks between the United States and North Korea have hit a rut. Now a new report from a respected Washington think tank that identified hidden North Korean missile bases has sparked fresh debate about Pyongyang’s trustworthiness. – Washington Post


A commission of security and economic experts convened by Congress warned that China’s technology-manufacturing strength threatens U.S. national security and advised U.S. government agencies to be mindful of Chinese attempts to compromise government systems. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. has launched a new strategy aimed at ramping up investment in Asia to vie with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s overseas infrastructure-building spree, as Beijing grapples with setbacks to its sprawling program. – Wall Street Journal

National security adviser John Bolton said the U.S. would oppose any agreements between China and other claimants to the South China Sea that limit free passage to international shipping, and that American naval vessels would continue to sail through those waters. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is fully engaged in talks with China on trade issues, a top official said Tuesday. The increase in activity comes ahead of a meeting set for next week between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina. – Washington Examiner

Xi will embark on a state visit a day before the rest of the delegates descend on this dusty sun-baked city — and host a meeting with Pacific leaders — a schedule designed to emphasise growing Chinese influence in the region. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. faces an expanding risks from China, including threats to the technology supply chain, Beijing’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region and the country’s efforts to undermine sanctions on North Korea, according to an annual report by a bipartisan congressional panel. – Bloomberg

Two prominent U.S. senators expressed alarm on Tuesday about the military and political consequences if China gains control of a port terminal in Djibouti, and said they were concerned it could further boost Beijing’s influence in East Africa. – Reuters

China is preparing to lock down potential oil and gas assets in the resource-rich, but hotly contested South China Sea by effectively banning exploration by countries from outside the region. – Business Insider

Heading into a high-stakes bilateral discussion between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the US administration is missing a concrete, unified strategy to try to end the trade war while also extracting concessions from the Chinese. – Business Insider

Josh Rogin writes: When President Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina later this month, the escalating tension between the world’s two global powers will face a crucial test. If China wants to avoid an all-out cold war with the United States and its partners, it must fundamentally change its behavior, according to Vice President Pence. The United States, he assured me, won’t back down. – Washington Post

Amy K. Lehr writes: The surveillance state in Xinjiang demonstrates the dark side of surveillance equipment, big data, and AI. It also indicates the speed at which China is developing and commercializing AI. China has a competitive advantage in this space because Chinese companies have access to a massive pool of data on which to train AI and fewer privacy laws to obey. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The country’s highest court blocked an order to dissolve Parliament and hold national elections, the latest twist in a political showdown between Sri Lanka’s president and its lawmakers. –  Wall Street Journal

After three decades of promoting free trade as a panacea to poverty, the APEC grouping of nations that includes the U.S. and China is holding its lavish annual leaders meeting in the country that can least afford it. – Associated Press

Regional security and the strengthening of ties with Japan and the U.S. will be high on the agenda for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he meets leaders from both countries amid continuing concerns about the growing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific. – Associated Press

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi rebuffed criticism from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and other leaders Wednesday over her government’s treatment of its ethnic Rohingya Muslims. In a meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Singapore, Pence told Suu Kyi that he was anxious to hear about progress in resolving the crisis, which stems from a violent military crackdown in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. – Associated Press


Russia threatened to boycott an important global meeting of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland, if the organizers didn’t reinstate invitations to three tycoons under U.S. sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

The Russian government is arguing that a federal court should dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee alleging that Moscow’s military spies, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization conspired to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. – Washington Post

President Donald Trump is expected to provide written answers to questions from the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as soon as this week, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. – Reuters


After months of struggle and delay, feints and setbacks, Brexit negotiators for Britain and the European Union have finally produced a draft agreement that sets out how the country will exit the political and economic union it helped create a generation ago. – Washington Post

When President Trump unleashed a slew of Twitter attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, Macron — like much of France — was preoccupied with something else. – Washington Post

Fresh from another strained international gathering with President Trump intended to remember the devastation of World War I, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said Tuesday that Europe’s future should include “a real European army.” – New York Times

Theresa May will ask her divided Cabinet ministers to back her Brexit deal or quit, as the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union enters its most dangerous phase yet. After negotiators secured a deal on paper in Brussels, the prime minister will try to persuade her team that the plan is not a sellout at a meeting on Wednesday — before she faces her toughest test: getting it through Parliament in the face of near impossible odds. – Bloomberg

Benjamin Haddad writes: Two years after his surprise election, Europeans are starting to take the U.S. president seriously — and literally. They’ve abandoned the hope he would represent a passing fad, or that personal relations would attenuate his policies. Instead, they’ve accepted they need to build a European response. – Politico

Heather A. Conley writes: After two years of positioning, posturing, and politicking, we are entering British prime minister Theresa May’s so-called endgame. The United Kingdom and the European Union has just announced that a provisional withdrawal agreement has been reached. The negotiating cards (all 500 pages of text) will now be placed on the table, first for May’s cabinet to approve the agreement (or resign) and then onto the House of Commons to vote. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

The CIA considered using a drug it believed would act as a truth serum when interrogating prisoners about potential terror attacks following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a recently declassified report. – Washington Examiner

Hate crimes spiked by nearly 17 percent last year and included a corresponding jump in anti-Semitic attacks, a new FBI review found. – USA Today

A D.C. man possibly linked through social media site Gab to the Tree of Life synagogue shooter was arrested on firearms charges. – Washington Examiner

Cyber Security

Facebook on Tuesday revealed new details about a batch of Russia-linked accounts on its platform and Instagram that attempted to spread politically divisive content in advance of the midterm elections. – The Hill

A top cyber official at the Defense Department on Tuesday urged companies to refrain from “hacking back” when they are the victim of a cyberattack, saying it could negatively affect the already unclear rules of engagement in cyberspace. – The Hill

Google services temporarily went down on Monday after the site’s traffic was routed through other networks, including some in China and Russia. – The Hill


The United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy. – Washington Post

The office of first lady Melania Trump is calling for the ouster of deputy national security adviser Mira R. Ricardel, amid reports of tensions between Ricardel and White House officials. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement Tuesday. – Washington Post

The amphibious force may get a massive capability overhaul, if a plan by the Expeditionary Warfare Directorate (OPNAV N95) to increase lethality and survivability of amphibious ships is accepted by Navy and Marine Corps leadership. – USNI News

The two companies responsible for producing chaff and flares for U.S. military aircraft could be poised for a major shakeup, and the Pentagon and congressional critics have begun sounding the alarm about this small, vulnerable segment of the defense-industrial base. – Defense News

Ross Marchand writes: Federal appropriations and acquisition leaders should wake up and realize that America’s national defense is too critical to design based on political clout rather than strict utility, efficiency, and merit. […]For these reasons and more, Congress should think of the hardworking American citizens that are footing the bill and begin putting country over politics. – Washington Examiner

Joe Gould writes: With the midterm elections nearly behind Congress, but looming large, lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to take up unfinished government appropriations. But that’s not everything that might come up in the lame duck. – Defense News

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: For several decades, American strategic planning has been little more than a facade for annual line item budget debates. Arguably, U.S. strategic planning peaked when Harold Brown was Secretary of Defense in 1981. From that point onwards, efforts to create and manage U.S. national security using some effective linkage between strategy and real-world planning, programming, and budgeting activity steadily declined. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

President Trump is moving toward major shuffles of his cabinet and his West Wing staff, as members of the Trump family are working to leave a mark on personnel decisions after a bruising midterm election cycle, several people familiar with the discussions said on Tuesday. – New York Times

The Trump administration will hold off for now on imposing new tariffs on automobile imports as top officials weigh revisions to a report on the national security implications, according to two people familiar with the matter. –Bloomberg

CNN said Tuesday that it is suing the Trump administration for violating the First Amendment when the White House suspended correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials, which allow him to report on site at the White House. – Washington Examiner

Marco Rubio writes: President Trump is right to embrace the label “nationalist,” because a true American nationalism isn’t about a national identity based on race, religion or ethnicity. Instead, it is based on our identity as a nation committed to the idea that all people are created equal, with a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. – Wall Street Journal

Marc A. Thiessen writes: When French President Emmanuel Macron denounced populist nationalism this week and called on world leaders to support institutions such as the United Nations that defend “the common good of the world,” liberal elites cheered. The speech was seen as a rebuke of President Trump, whose opposition to “globalism” and embrace of “nationalism” are held up as signs of the decay of American conservatism and U.S. global leadership. Sorry, but American conservatives were opposing the globalist project long before Trump arrived on the scene. – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: One of the assumptions that economists sometimes use to frame their models is to specify that some variables will be held constant, a concept that’s expressed with the Latin phrase ceteris paribus. We often make the same mistake in politics and foreign policy. We concentrate on our own domestic issues and assume the rest of the world will remain fixed while we sort them out. We’ll get back to you later — in 2021, say. – Washington Post