Fdd's overnight brief

November 24, 2021

In The News


The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency left Iran late Tuesday after failing to reach a deal to allow inspectors access to a factory making equipment for Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats said Wednesday, casting a fresh shadow over international nuclear talks set for next week. – Wall Street Journal 

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday he wanted to deepen cooperation with Iran in his talks in Tehran, days before the resumption of negotiations between the Islamic Republic and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal. – Reuters  

United Nations nuclear inspectors ended talks with Iran’s top diplomat Tuesday that stopped short of fully resolving concerns over access to sensitive atomic sites and could weigh on the Islamic Republic’s negotiations with world powers that resume next week. – Bloomberg  

Iran is using drone attacks on Persian Gulf targets staged by its proxies as a means of pressuring the United States and others into easing demands concerning its nuclear program, Israeli government sources say. – Haaretz 

In the final month of his presidency, Donald Trump signed off on key parts of an extensive secret Pentagon campaign to conduct sabotage, propaganda and other psychological and information operations in Iran, according to former senior officials who served in his administration. – Yahoo News 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran used to brag often about its drones. Now that Israel is highlighting this issue and US officials are mentioning it, Tehran has grown more circumspect. Nevertheless, it is clear that Iran is now training more operators and trying to standardize production more, rather than just brag about exotic new drones that it created by copying ones built in other countries. Iran now wants to innovate for itself.  – Jerusalem Post 

Wang Xiyue writes: Currently, President Joe Biden is resuming the Obama administration policy of engaging Tehran on the nuclear issue and undoing the “maximum pressure” financial campaign pursued by President Trump. Washington’s signaling of its interest in relieving this pressure, however, has only emboldened Tehran to take more escalatory steps on its nuclear program and in its regional military operations in recent months. – Newsweek 


The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan will visit Doha next week for two weeks of meetings with leaders of the Taliban, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The Taliban administration has released a set of restrictions on Afghan media, including banning television dramas that included female actors and ordering women news presenters to wear “Islamic hijab”. – Reuters  

The United Arab Emirates has held talks with the Taliban to run Kabul airport, going up against Gulf rival Qatar in a diplomatic tussle for influence with Afghanistan’s new rulers, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter. – Reuters 

A former high-ranking member of Afghan special forces and commando units has issued a plea urging U.S. officials to move remaining members of the force to the United States to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Arnold L. Punaro writes: From the start, the U.S. engagements in Vietnam and Afghanistan suffered from a lack of clarity and coherent strategy. Despite the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the U.S. remained in Afghanistan, and leaders continued to misunderstand the differences between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies. We should have known better. In Vietnam we similarly lacked knowledge of the broader social, political and economic dynamics underpinning the situation and broader region. – Wall Street Journal 

Erik E. Mueller and Andrew Radin write: The recruitment of former Afghans outside of Western militaries should give policymakers pause. Turkey could enlist Afghan arrivals into proxies emulating its recruitment of displaced Syrians into forces that have deployed to fight in Syria, the Libyan civil war and in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. […]Undoubtedly the greater threat to national security comes from the recruitment of Afghans by Iran. – The Hill 


Turkey’s economic crisis entered a tumultuous new phase, with its currency plunging to a fresh record low and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan preparing to meet the leader of a regional rival in search of foreign investment. – Wall Street Journal  

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to host on Wednesday the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates in search of foreign investment that could help ease the country’s economic crisis after the local currency extended a sharp slide. – Wall Street Journal  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hosting Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Wednesday, as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates seek to repair their tense relations and increase economic cooperation. – Associated Press 

Desmond Lachman writes: Controlled macroeconomic policy experiments are rare. Yet that is what Turkish President Recep Erdogan seems to be offering with his highly unconventional economic policies amid a currency crisis. […]By alienating not only the US but also the EU, Erdogan has made it extremely difficult for his country to get IMF support. This is particularly unfortunate since an IMF-supported economic adjustment programme is likely to be the only realistic way for Erdogan to restore credibility in his government’s economic policies. – Business Day 


Apple Inc. AAPL 0.24% has sued NSO Group, an Israeli maker of surveillance software, alleging the company misused its products and services, escalating a battle over surveillance and user privacy. – Wall Street Journal 

An Israeli air strike in Syria killed two people and wounded seven others including six soldiers on Wednesday, Syrian state media said, in the fourth Israeli attack reported by Syria this month. – Reuters  

Israeli Charge d’Affaires Tal Ben-Ari to Poland is set to be returned to her post this week, after several positive steps taken by Poland, a Foreign Ministry source confirmed on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Israeli policy on Iran’s nuclear program over the last decade was decided personally by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu without consultation, the former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence indicated on Tuesday. – Times of Israel 

Editorial: If Malaysia’s decision is not rescinded, the World Squash Federation should move the tournament, just as the International Paralympic Committee did in 2019. If enough tournaments are canceled in Malaysia because of discrimination against Israeli athletes, then perhaps at some point the Malaysian government will get the message that its discrimination against Israeli nationals is a form of bigotry that is no longer tolerated. – Jerusalem Post 


Lebanon has yet to give the IMF its estimate of losses in the financial system as discussions on the issue continue, but is working hard to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Fund by year-end, governor Riad Salameh told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s interior minister said Tuesday that every delay in resolving the diplomatic crisis with Gulf nations threatens to affect the lives of more Lebanese already reeling from a massive economic crisis. – Associated Press  

The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group is trying to smuggle weapons into Israel for use by the Arab Israeli community in future clashes, a police official has said. – Times of Israel 

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen said on Wednesday it launched air strikes on Houthi drone sites in the capital Sanaa in the second such raid in as many days after earlier targeting the Iran-aligned movement’s missile capabilities. – Reuters  

On the outskirts of Riyadh, officials show visitors around one of the latest investments by the sovereign wealth fund at the forefront of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to modernise the economy of the Gulf state: a defence electronics factory. – Financial Times 

The number of displaced people in camps in Yemen’s Marib province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with over 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press an offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said on Wednesday. – Reuters 


The United Nations special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, resigned just a month before the OPEC nation is due to hold a landmark election, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. – Bloomberg 

Human rights activists sent a dossier of evidence to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday demanding an investigation into abuses of migrants in Libya that they argue “may amount to crimes against humanity.” – Associated Press 

Ahmed Charai writes: It is time to look at Libya with fresh eyes. To stop seeing it as an unstable Arab land, but instead to view it as a threat to Mediterranean security. Constant war in Libya poses a threat to Europe through migration and terrorism. […]The White House needs to drive to do big and important things in Libya. Because, if the Biden administration does nothing, we all know what happens next. – The Hill  


The United States is “turning to China for help” to cool inflation by releasing some of its oil reserves, the state-backed Global Times said in an editorial on Wednesday, adding that the move will benefit everyone but China “has the upper hand.” – Reuters  

China has warned it’s willing to sanction more Taiwanese politicians after two defiantly expressed disappointment they hadn’t been punished, as cross-strait tensions continue to escalate. – Bloomberg  

China has blocked public access to shipping location data, citing national security concerns, in another sign of its determination to control sources of sensitive information. – Financial Times  

China on Tuesday signed off on a United Nations pledge to stop artificial intelligence from wreaking havoc on societies, including by banning the use of AI for “social scoring” systems — a practice Beijing itself has popularized in recent years and currently uses to score Chinese citizens based on their perceived trustworthiness. – Politico 

Hal Brands writes: If discussions aimed at strategic stability help Washington learn more about the purposes of China’s growing nuclear arsenal, so much the better. But the administration still needs to be careful, lest its desire for stability become a hindrance to effective competition. […]The fundamental question isn’t whether the U.S. wants to preserve peace amid increasing tensions with China. The question is how best to do so while also defending American interests. Biden may have had it right the first time: “Extreme” competition now could be the best guarantee of “healthy” relations later. – Bloomberg  

Jude Blanchette writes: Xi’s sense of urgency and focus, built on a perception of domestic strength and fleeting opportunity, have proven to be his most important assets. For now, the United States still possesses a sizeable aggregate advantage over China in military, diplomatic, and economic strength. But unless U.S. policymakers and analysts develop their own sense of urgency and focus based on an accurate assessment of China’s strengths and capabilities, that lead may not last. – Foreign Affairs  

South Asia

Pakistan’s Cabinet on Tuesday granted permission to arch-rival India to use its land route to ship wheat aid to neighbouring Afghanistan where millions of people face hunger as a harsh winter sets in. – Reuters  

India and the United States agreed on Tuesday to expand trade of some agricultural products, including U.S. cherries, alfalfa and distiller dried grains as well as Indian mangoes, grapes, shrimp and water buffalo meat. – Reuters  

Myanmar’s military has arrested 18 medics for providing treatment to patients who were members of “terrorist organisations”, a state-run newspaper said Wednesday, referring to outlawed anti-junta groups. – Reuters 


Tony Chung, a young activist who called for Hong Kong’s independence from China, was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to secession activity under the city’s far-reaching national security law. – Washington Post 

Australia on Wednesday classified neo-Nazi organization The Base and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group, as terrorist organizations. – Reuters  

The Biden administration has invited Taiwan to its “Summit for Democracy” next month, according to a list of participants published on Tuesday, a move likely to infuriate China, which views the democratically governed island as its territory. – Reuters 

Armenia has reached an agreement with Azerbaijan to establish a hotline between their defense chiefs after last week’s deadly clashes on their border, the Armenian prime minister said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

The Philippine military undertook a resupply mission for its troops in the Second Thomas Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) on Tuesday, exactly one week after the mission was aborted after two Chinese Coast Guard vessels used water cannons to attack the two civilian boats bringing supplies to the soldiers. – USNI News 

Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States are conducting naval drills in the Philippine Sea off the southern coast of Japan for the next week. – USNI News  

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer moved through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, the service announced. A spokesperson for U.S. 7th Fleet confirmed to USNI News that USS Milius (DDG-69) initiated the transit on Monday and finished on Tuesday. – USNI News 

Jason Rezaian writes: Ressa understands all too well that her Nobel Prize is as much a recognition as it is a warning. She believes immediate action is required to save democracy, especially related to technology companies whose products can encourage people’s worst tendencies and harm society. […]Societies can still reverse course, but it will require urgent attention. Whether Ressa is permitted to travel to receive her Nobel Prize in person will be a good litmus test of current efforts. – Washington Post 

Shui-yin Sharon Yam and Alex Chow write: President Biden raised concerns about the Chinese government’s practices in Hong Kong in a meeting last week with President Xi Jinping. […]Those can offer shelter abroad for members of civil society. It may be hard to keep track of the many ways China is cracking down on Hong Kong. But this latest move cannot be ignored. The stakes — future leaders, freedom and accountability — are far too high. – New York Times 

Joseph Bosco writes: But Xi was yet to learn whether Biden would follow previous administrations’ preferred strategic ambiguity on the critical issue of defending Taiwan. […]At some point, Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, or Sullivan, may find it useful to end all the semantic speculation and openly declare America’s One China, One Taiwan policy. – The Hill 

Ryan Ashley writes: The most important development for Taiwan’s security might be unfolding right now in Japan. Tokyo’s strategy toward Taiwan is dramatically shifting. […]While such actions mean Japan can expect continued aggressive Chinese military actions near Japanese seas and airspace, Tokyo essentially perceives such provocations as inevitable regardless of Japan’s relations with Taiwan. Japan’s revolution on Taiwan affairs is likely to be lasting. – War on the Rocks  


Russia’s defence minister on Tuesday accused U.S. bombers of rehearsing a nuclear strike on Russia from two different directions earlier this month and complained that the planes had come within 20 km (12.4 miles) of the Russian border. – Reuters  

Russian fighter planes and ships practiced repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with air strikes during military drills in the Black Sea, Interfax reported on Wednesday, as neighbouring Ukraine also held combat exercises. – Reuters  

Ilya Sachkov, the head of a Russian cybersecurity firm, on Tuesday appealed to President Vladimir Putin to let him be moved to house arrest while he awaits trial on treason charges after his detention was extended until February. – Reuters  

Russia’s defense chief on Tuesday signed a roadmap for closer military ties with China, pointing to increasingly frequent U.S. strategic bomber flights near both countries’ borders. – Associated Press 

The top military officers of the U.S. and Russia spoke Tuesday as tensions remain high over Moscow’s deployment of about 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. – Bloomberg  

Russia has demanded that 13 foreign and mostly U.S. technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans. – Reuters 

Tom Rogan writes: Clem is right on one thing: Improved channels of de-confliction would help . But ultimately, Biden should remember that most proven of strategies for peace: Russia’s understanding that the benefits of escalation are far outweighed by the costs. – Washington Examiner  


An election this week for the new president of Interpol highlights ongoing tensions between authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies over the use of police powers, with a senior United Arab Emirates official on the cusp of winning the high-profile position despite harsh criticism from human rights groups. – Washington Post 

Two streams of migration, and two forms of human desperation, are converging in the swamps and forests of northeastern Europe. There are the Iraqis and others whom Mr. Lukashenko is channeling through Belarus into Lithuania and Poland, a migration crisis orchestrated by an autocrat eager to provoke the West. And then there are Belarusians fleeing Mr. Lukashenko, amid a wave of repression inside Belarus that has produced thousands of arrests. – New York Times 

Germany urged Britain on Tuesday to come to its senses by respecting its commitments under the Brexit divorce agreement with the European Union and resolve differences over Northern Ireland. – Reuters 

Thousands of people stranded on the European Union’s eastern border represent an attempt by Belarus to destabilize the bloc, rather than a migrant crisis, and as such call for a coordinated response, the head of EU executive said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

Ukraine has held drills of its air force, including the practice of airstrikes, on training grounds in the south of the country, the defence ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

The Indo-Pacific region will be a priority for France when it takes the presidency of the European Union next year, its foreign minister said on Wednesday during a visit to Indonesia. – Reuters  

Belarus’ oldest newspaper was banned on the 115th anniversary of its founding Tuesday, the latest move in the government’s relentless crackdown on independent media in the ex-Soviet nation. – Associated Press

Henrik Larsen and Sten Rynning write: The West may silently hope for post-Lukashenko Belarus that will be less belligerent and more responsive to its own people and perhaps even semi-democratic. […]Individual states like Lithuania and Poland, and others, may host and nourish Belarus exile opposition members, but for now, the West as a whole should wrestle with a coercive policy that demonstrates beyond any doubt to the Lukashenko regime that, unless it now backs down, it will do immense damage to itself. – The National Interest  


The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa said on Tuesday that “nascent progress” toward getting all parties to Ethiopia’s conflict into negotiations on a ceasefire risks being outpaced by an “alarming” increase in military operations. – Reuters  

West and Central Africa has recorded the highest number of children recruited into conflict of any region in the world, and the number is growing, the U.N. children’s agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

National reform consultations in Mali that were scheduled for December have been postponed to an unspecified date, organisers said on Monday, likely further delaying a much-anticipated decision on the calendar for post-coup elections. – Reuters  

A former member of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the rebels blamed for the recent suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital, says the Islamic-State linked group uses fear to keep its recruits in line. – BBC 

Terrence Lyons writes: Although the prospects for peace remain slim, there is much the United States can do to help move the various parties closer to an agreement. […]And although new actors such as China, the Gulf states, and Turkey have grown increasingly important in the Horn of Africa, Washington remains an indispensable voice in multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations whose assistance Addis Ababa will desperately need for postwar reconstruction. – Foreign Affairs  

The Americas

The Biden administration will remove a former Colombian rebel group from a list of foreign terrorist organizations, a measure intended to demonstrate American support for a fragile peace agreement with the guerrillas in Colombia, said U.S. and congressional officials with knowledge of the coming announcement. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and other countries plan to tap their national strategic petroleum reserves in an attempt to bring down gasoline prices that have become a sore spot with motorists and a big contributor to inflation, President Biden said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

The authorities in El Salvador have raided the offices of seven social service and advocacy groups in an embezzlement investigation that rights advocates charge is part of a politically motivated crackdown on independent voices. – New York Times 

Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has not made a final decision on whether to recognize China over Taiwan, a close aide said Tuesday, ahead of Sunday elections in which the question has emerged as a major issue. – Reuters 

Venezuelan regional and local elections last weekend were held under better conditions than those of previous contests, the head of a European Union’s observation mission said on Tuesday, while declining to say whether the vote was free and fair. – Reuters 

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday he celebrates the advances made to implement Colombia’s 2016 peace deal with the demobilized FARC rebels, but added efforts must be redoubled to sustain economic opportunities for ex-combatants. – Reuters 

Anthony Faiola writes: In Latin America, a region adrift in mad political swings and managed chaos, the long, thin nation that Henry Kissinger once dismissed as a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica was lucky to be politically dull. […]It happens as the polarization sweeping up much of the democratic world reaches into the Southern Cone, prompting deeply divided Chileans to give the most votes in Sunday’s first-round presidential election to two wild-card candidates. – Washington Post 


The infiltration was a signature success in efforts by authorities across the world to counter encrypted communications—a powerful new tool for criminal gangs to hide their identities and hatch plans in secret. […]This account of the international operation against Sky is based on interviews with a half-dozen officials from Belgium and the DEA, as well as public accounts from U.S., Belgian and other European officials. – Wall Street Journal 

Not content to just steal secrets, foreign threat actors targeting the defense industrial base are increasingly becoming more belligerent when encountered by incident response teams, actively engaging cyber defenders and sometimes turning to destructive attacks when pressed, according to VMware cybersecurity chief Tom Kellerman. – Breaking Defense 

Samsung Electronics has chosen the city of Taylor in Texas for its planned $17bn US chip plant as the South Korean technology group responds to the Biden administration’s push for expanding semiconductor production in the US. – Financial Times

The EU wants to force the likes of Facebook and Google to reveal how they target people with political advertising, as it tries to shine a light on the murky world of online campaigning. – Financial Times 

The Defense Innovation Unit has published new directives for how it plans to use the Pentagon’s recently adopted “Responsible AI Guidelines” in its commercial prototyping and acquisition efforts. – C4SIRNET 


More than a year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic began to rock supply chains around the world, the defense industry is still wrestling with its fallout — and figuring out how to move forward amid the turmoil. – Defense News 

In March 2020, as the coronavirus spread and millions of employees around the country were told to work from home, the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment office mobilized to figure out how they could safely keep open companies critical to national security. […]But the office has been leaderless since Jan. 19, when Ellen Lord, the Trump administration’s defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, stepped down. – Defense One 

Though they are years from being fully realized, quantum technologies are altering the U.S. cyber threat landscape in serious ways and organizations should start acting now to ensure their infrastructure and data will be protected as the field evolves, according to a new report from Booz Allen Hamilton. – Defense One 

A new report calls for a US “manufacturing renaissance” amid an intensifying economic and national security competition with China, which has openly stated it intends to displace the US as the world’s leading economy in coming decades. – Breaking Defense 

Joseph Evans and Dan Patt write: If the Pentagon wants a force that can fight jointly, it needs to abandon standards as it knows them. Since the last National Defense Strategy, senior Pentagon leaders have prioritized enhanced jointness in operations. […]This CFT has focused on establishing data standards and moving toward an implementation plan. Conventional wisdom says that unless the Joint Staff establishes common standards upfront and enforces them vigorously, service weapons systems won’t be able to collaborate in operations when they finally show up in the field. – Defense News 

Hans Binnendijk and Julian Lindley-French write: Strengthening these four elements of NATO deterrence is a needed response to Russian aggression. But Moscow may wrongly see it as further escalation of an ongoing arms race. So NATO and Washington both need to maintain a closer dialogue with Moscow and respond accordingly if Moscow changes direction. – Defense News