Fdd's overnight brief

November 30, 2018

In The News


Three former executives linked to one of the largest U.S. wartime contractors were charged on Thursday with a scheme to defraud the Pentagon and engage in illicit trade with Iran, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

Special Iranian anti-corruption courts established this summer have in recent weeks handed down harsh sentences, including the death penalty, against businessmen who allegedly took advantage of worsening economic conditions caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran. – Washington Post

The Trump administration on Thursday accused Iran of stepping up violations of a U.N. ban on arms exports by sending rockets and other weaponry to rebels in Afghanistan and Yemen. – Associated Press

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen on Thursday accused Iran of “throwing gasoline on the fire” of conflicts across the Middle East, vowing that America will defend its regional interests and not “shy away when the problems get difficult.” – Associated Press

Iran’s navy has acquired two new mini submarines designed for operations in shallow waters such as the Persian Gulf, the Iranian state TV reported on Thursday. – Associated Press

An Iranian cargo plane allegedly transporting advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group was spotted flying directly from Tehran to Beirut on Thursday morning, hours before Israel allegedly conducted airstrikes on pro-Iranian targets in Syria. – Times of Israel

David Albright, Olli Heinonen, Frank Fabian, and Andrea Stricker write: Israel learned that Iran had disposed of radioactively contaminated material stored at this site in the metropolitan area of Tehran. If true, by releasing the radioactive material, albeit likely low-level radioactive material, into the public domain, rather than disposing of it in an official nuclear waste site, Iran likely disregarded its own national nuclear waste disposal practices. Iran has a regulated nuclear waste disposal site in the vicinity of Tehran, […]. – Institute for Science and International Security


Syria’s warring sides and the mediators meeting in Kazakhstan failed to agree on the formation of a committee meant to draft a new constitution which is key to ending the seven-year civil war, the U.N. special envoy to Syria said Thursday, calling it a “missed opportunity.” – Associated Press

Syrian air defenses shot down “hostile targets” on Thursday, state media said, in an area regional intelligence sources said contains Iran-backed assets, while Russian media said no Israeli jet had been downed as earlier reported. – Reuters

Prachi Vidwans writes: With Raed’s death, Syrian civil society lost an extraordinary leader and role model. But Raed had built a strong foundation for the free Syria he envisioned and there are many activists in his community that are dedicated to continuing what he started. We must support them, because, as Raed put it, “enduring peace depends on the existence of a vibrant civil society and free political discourse, a marketplace of ideas where new voices can challenge dictatorship and terrorism.” – TIME


Eight weeks since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, U.S. President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for the kingdom’s powerful crown prince has left Turkey in a bind. – Reuters

Drillship Stena IceMax entered Block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ and began drilling a couple of days ago. So far, there has been no actual response from Turkey, even though the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said that it would “react” to any kind of exploration activity in the Cypriot EEZ. – Forbes

Gonul Tol and Birol Baskan write: The Turkish brand the AKP has promoted as a model to the rest of the region is badly tarnished as well. Turkey has gone from a “Muslim democracy” to a populist autocracy. Erdogan, once hailed as a reformer who led his country forward, has consolidated power in his hands. Turkey’s relationship with the West, which was once an inspiration to the peoples of the region, is in tatters. – Middle East Institute


CNN dropped commentator Marc Lamont Hill on Thursday after he made remarks in support of Palestinian rights that some interpreted as calling for the elimination of Israel. – Politico

Israeli officials have long warned the threat posed by Gaza’s Hamas rulers pales in comparison to that of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group — a heavily-armed mini-army with valuable combat experience and an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly every part of Israel. – Associated Press

The European Union agreed to support a US-sponsored United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Hamas, following negotiations with Washington, diplomats said Thursday. – Times of Israel

A group of Americans has filed a civil rights lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against home-sharing company Airbnb over its decision to ban listings from West Bank settlements. – Associated Press

The IDF spokesperson’s Unit confirmed that Israel’s air defense system identified a one Syrian surface-to-air missile projectile fell in open territory in the Golan Heights after the Syrian regime said it had downed “hostile targets” over the southern part of the country on Thursday night. – Jerusalem Post

The United Nations General Assembly is set to disavow Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and ignore Jewish ties to its most holy site, the Temple Mount in a highly publicized debate set to take place in New York late Thursday. […]UN member states are also expected to call on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights and boycott settlement activity. – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: On Wednesday, CNN contributor and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill spoke at the United Nations to offer his support to the Palestinian people. Regrettably, Lamont Hill’s argument was built on a river or even a sea of falsehoods. […]Here’s my critique of the five biggest fallacies in his argument. Note that these are not Lamont Hill’s only misleading points – most of Lamont Hill’s speech is delusional – but simply the ones I decided to focus on. – Washington Examiner

Saudi Arabia

President Trump will confront a rivalry that has pitted Turkey and Saudi Arabia against each other when the leaders of the three countries convene in Argentina, gathering for the first time since the killing of a Saudi journalist. – Wall Street Journal

Canada on Thursday imposed sanctions against 17 Saudi Arabian officials it says are responsible for and complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month. – Wall Street Journal

International leaders arriving at an economic summit meeting in Buenos Aires confronted the delicate question Thursday of how to approach Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, whom American intelligence agencies and other Western officials have blamed for the killing of a Saudi dissident. – New York Times

The upcoming Group of 20 summit in Argentina will mark the re-emergence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – commonly referred to as MBS – on the global stage for the first time since the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi. […]Simon Henderson, of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he would be “astonished” if President Trump and the crown prince did not meet at the confab, likely for informal talks or a photo opportunity. – Washington Examiner

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder. The whereabouts of his body are still unknown. – Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia continues to hold more than a dozen women rights activists in jail, months after a crackdown on dissent intensified in May. […]These are some of the prominent women dissidents jailed for demanding basic rights. – Al Jazeera

Denis Ross writes: Rather than producing a stalemate, Congress should be asking what we should be trying to achieve. Two goals are essential: First, send a message that like the Russian poisoning of a former agent in Britain, the Saudi killing of a dissident journalist is unacceptable; global norms matter, and when they are violated, the offending party must pay a price. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: It’s important to remember why the U.S. is aligned at the moment with Saudi Arabia: It is on the American side in a regional war against Iran. That does not mean the crown prince has permission to send hit teams abroad to murder his critics. If the Senate wanted to be clear about that, it could easily have passed a resolution saying so. Threatening to cut off U.S. support for a war against Iran’s proxies in Yemen punishes America for the crime of its ally. – Bloomberg


Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired a barrage of missiles into Saudi Arabia, the armed group said, strikes that could threaten to derail the U.S.-backed peace efforts that have raised fresh hopes to end a catastrophic, nearly four-year war. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s ambassador to Yemen said Thursday he has spoken with representatives from the country’s warring sides and that he expects them to attend peace talks that are to begin next week in Stockholm. – Associated Press

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday played down hopes for an imminent breakthrough on ending Yemen’s brutal war, saying he hoped talks would start by the end of the year. – Agence France- Presse

Middle East & North Africa

Qatar is adding new jet fighters, enhancing missile defenses and recruiting more soldiers to buttress its armed forces in a standoff with a bloc of neighboring states led by Saudi Arabia. – Wall Street Journal

Tunisia said on Thursday it had broken up four Islamist militant cells and seized explosives, poisonous gas and drone aircraft. – Reuters

Victoria Toensing writes: Increasingly, regimes are acting boldly, even crossing international borders to quash political adversaries. In the last year, Iran attempted to assassinate opposition activists in Denmark and France. China sent death threats to 20 activists and journalists living in countries as far afield as the U.S., Australia, and Canada. North Korea assassinated Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in a Malaysian airport. – Washington Examiner

Korean Peninsula

A resurgence in frictions between South Korea and Japan, the U.S.’s two closest allies in East Asia, is testing the united front Washington wants to present against threats from North Korea and China. – Wall Street Journal

Companies based in Singapore, Hong Kong and China helped launder more than $3 million on behalf of blacklisted North Korean banks, U.S. authorities have said in a civil lawsuit they filed, seeking to seize the funds. – Wall Street Journal

A South Korean train rolled across the heavily militarized frontier into North Korea for the first time in a decade on Friday, as Seoul pushed ahead with a plan to reunite the two railway networks despite heavy U.N. sanctions. – Washington Post

Fifty-eight young men who had been imprisoned for refusing to serve in South Korea’s military were released from prisons across the country on Friday, after a landmark court ruling that supported the rights of conscientious objectors. – New York Times

French authorities Thursday filed preliminary charges against a civil servant in the nation’s legislature for allegedly spying for the North Korean government. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea sent some 50 tons of pesticides to North Korea on November 29 to help the North’s struggle against the spread of pine tree diseases. – Telegraph


The U.S. and China, looking to defuse tensions and boost markets, are exploring a trade deal in which Washington would hold off on further tariffs through the spring in exchange for new talks looking at big changes in Chinese economic policy, said officials on both sides of the Pacific. – Wall Street Journal

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said it has made clear to American officials its unease about passage through the Taiwan Strait of two U.S. Navy warships this week. – Washington Examiner

China is focused on revamping its own air force so that it could challenge the U.S. Air Force and defeat the U.S. “without actually fighting,” according to a report. – Washington Examiner

President Trump said Thursday that he may walk out on a potential trade deal with China, saying he is just not satisfied with what they may be offering. – Washington Examiner

Chinese media on Friday hit back at a U.S. academic report which urged the United States to engage in “tit-for-tat” retaliation to counter what it said was China’s widening campaign for influence which threatened to undermine democratic values. – Reuters

Taiwan’s policy of maintaining the status quo with China won’t change despite a drubbing at local elections for the ruling party, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday, adding democracy was the biggest difference with China. – Reuters

The commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific said China’s “pernicious approach” to its Belt and Road initiative and increased militarization of the South China Sea is heightening tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. – Bloomberg

For the near-term future of the global economy, which is already running into serious headwinds due to a year of rising trade tensions, the biggest question is whether Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will call a truce or double down on their trade war. – Foreign Policy

Editorial: As they contend with Mr. Trump now, Chinese policymakers must understand that he won the presidency in large part because of American dismay — especially in the industrial heartland — with the results of China’s behavior, and what the public perceived as a failure of U.S. leadership to check it. For his part, Mr. Trump should understand that he has a mandate for a smart course correction, not an aimless, blunt-force exercise in “America First.” – Washington Post

James Freeman writes: If Beijing will not respect basic liberties, including the right to property, the U.S. will suffer more intellectual property losses in China but can create more of it here at home—by importing China’s intellectual potential. – Wall Street Journal

Matthew P. Goodman writes: Failure of the G20 to issue a communiqué would not be the end of the world but would be a missed opportunity. Moreover, since the likely fault lines would run between the United States and China, it would not augur well for the broader direction of U.S.-China relations. – Center for Strategic & International Studies

South Asia

The US and its coalition partners have dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in the first ten months of 2018 than any year in the past five years, the US military revealed Thursday. – Business Insider

But in a goodwill gesture on Wednesday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan broke ground on a corridor allowing Indian Sikhs visa-free access to the gurdwara. It will be part of a broader complex known as the Kartarpur Crossing. – NPR

Sadanand Dhume writes: For many Indian citizens, Pakistan’s failure to deliver even a modicum of justice for Mumbai’s victims proves that Islamabad has neither the intention nor the will to act against Islamist terrorist groups, which the army uses to destabilize India and Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal


President Trump on Thursday canceled a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, a decision he announced just hours after the Kremlin had publicly confirmed the time and date. – Washington Post

The Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, argued in an interview in the German newspaper Bild on Thursday for a more forceful response from the West, including for NATO warships to be sent into disputed waters in the Sea of Azov. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin will probably retaliate after President Trump canceled a weekend meeting in Argentina over Russia’s detention of Ukrainian sailors, Russia veterans said after the surprise announcement Thursday. – Washington Examiner

Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships has served up a new test for President Trump. The issue is looming over the Group of 20 (G-20) summit this weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Trump will be under pressure to deliver a firm response to Moscow. – The Hill

A woman charged with working secretly for the Russian government to sway politicians in Washington appears to be moving toward a settlement of her case with U.S. prosecutors, according to her family and court documents. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine has barred Russian male nationals between 16 and 60 from traveling to the country, President Petro Poroshenko announced on November 30. […]The move comes amid escalation tensions between the two countries after Russian border guards on November 25 opened fire and captured three Ukrainian naval vessels and their 24-member crew off Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Tom Rogan writes: Trump’s decision to pull out of his meeting with Putin is a good first step. It will embarrass and infuriate the Russian government by being seen for what it is: a total rejection of their claim to a moral right of control over Ukraine. We must remember here that Putin’s Ukraine policy is rooted in particularly passionate Russian nationalist narratives. Correspondingly, by rejecting those narratives for what they are: a false moral cover for blatant imperialist aggression, Trump’s personal rebuke of Putin offers a powerful political message. As I say, Trump deserves credit for his action here. – Washington Examiner


The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to convince European allies that its looming withdrawal from a landmark arms-control treaty on account of Russian violations is the right course of action. – Washington Post

European Union officials attending the Group of 20 summit in Argentina this week indicate they will likely be taking pains not to draw President Trump’s ire. One topic they would like to avoid discussing is the EU’s growing trade surplus with the U.S – Wall Street Journal

Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, has angered Polish officials by sending a letter to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressing concern over the treatment of a U.S.-owned television station that operates there. – Washington Post

European leaders rebuffed calls from Ukraine for greater support against Russia on Thursday, after Kiev urged NATO to send ships into waters disputed with Moscow. – Agence France-Presse

Adding to her EU divorce dramas, Prime Minister Theresa May is on a landmark visit to Argentina for the G20 summit where her hosts are using Brexit to advance their claim on Britain’s Falkland Islands. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: Trump is far from perfect, but the U.S.-led international order remains stable. Indeed, NATO is now stronger than under former President Barack Obama. […]This speaks to something important. Macron and Merkel might talk a good game. But when it comes to upholding liberal order and Ukrainian sovereignty, their game is worthless. – Washington Examiner


Islamic extremists in Nigeria have begun using drones, the country’s president says, opening a worrying new front in the region’s nearly decade-long fight against Boko Haram and an offshoot linked to the Islamic State. – Associated Press

A wildlife park in eastern Congo that is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas says a park ranger has been killed after an attack by armed militia at a ranger post on Lake Edward. – Associated Press

Nigeria’s military finally revealed a death toll of 39 from a new series of extremist attacks on soldiers, while President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday declared that Boko Haram and Islamic State-linked fighters should be wiped “from the surface of the earth.” – Associated Press

The Americas

This Friday morning, Mr. Guajardo, Ms. Freeland, and their American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, are scheduled to reunite to sign that pact, rebranded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. – Wall Street Journal

When plans were first made for Argentina to play host to the heads of state of the world’s top economies at this week’s Group of 20 summit meeting, the government saw the gathering as a golden opportunity to portray Argentina as a prosperous, stable nation. […]But when the world leaders arrive in Buenos Aires on Friday, they will find a country reeling from a severe recession and rattled by a recent string of security incidents. – New York Times

An American Nazi sympathizer was driven by “anger” when he plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, prosecutors argued Thursday, as survivors recounted harrowing stories of “bodies flying everywhere.” – Agence France-Presse

Hate crimes in Canada increased 47 percent in 2017, primarily targeting Muslims, Jews and black people, according to figures released by the country’s statistical agency on Thursday. – Reuters

US National Security Adviser John Bolton met Thursday with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the first high-level meeting between the United States and the far-right president-elect. – Agence France-Presse

Fareed Zakaria writes: The Group of 20 summit in Argentina is taking place at a moment when the United States still stands at the center of the world. The U.S. economy is booming, the dollar is almighty, American technology companies continue to dominate the new digital economy, and the U.S. military remains the unrivaled master of land, sky and sea. But there are forces, both short-term and long-term, that are working to erode this hegemony. – Washington Post

Cyber Security

Facebook, reversing course on an earlier policy, will exempt the news media from a political ad archive that offers users more information about the purchasers of promotional spots in order to protect unwary voters from manipulation. – Washington Examiner

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is working to combat fake accounts that have been targeting journalists with fabricated news stories to try to influence the Israeli public, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday. […]For the past nine months, the Foreign Ministry’s Research and Development department has been investigating sources and tactics of fake news on social media, and has now sent a warning to many Israeli journalists who use Twitter. – Jerusalem Post

William Schneider writes: The commercial sector invests to meet the demand for its goods and services. Military readiness requirements necessitate that DoD invest in advance of the emergence of the actual demand for its services. Hence, while the defense industrial base is designed to be able to respond promptly to DoD needs, including with a workforce holding the requisite security clearances, the non-defense private sector is not. – Hudson Institute


President Donald Trump plans to go ahead with asking Congress to establish a Space Force as an independent branch of the military, according to a draft presidential directive obtained by POLITICO — committing to the biggest restructuring of the U.S. military in seven decades despite bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill. – Politico

The White House does not appear to be certain on how it will implement a new Space Force, President Donald Trump’s highly anticipated sixth branch of the military, and is still mulling the possibility of operating it under the wings of the Air Force, according to memos reviewed by Defense One. – Air Force Times

The Navy has stood up a Joint Strike Fighter Wing in Lemoore, Calif., that will oversee training, manning and readiness of all the service’s F-35C squadrons. – USNI News

The leader of the Navy’s newest numbered fleet has a tight deadline to establish a command that will be at the forefront of the U.S. and NATO mission to counter Russia’s growing and increasingly sophisticated navy – specifically its submarine force. – USNI News

The Marine Corps’ ongoing Sea Dragon experimentation campaign is working on one of the most pressing issues the naval force faces: how to incorporate the Marine Corps into the Navy’s battle for sea control. – USNI News

Jon Kyl and Michael Morell write: Successive defense secretaries from both Republican and Democratic administrations have identified nuclear deterrence as the department’s top priority. That’s because U.S. nuclear capabilities make essential contributions to the preventing both nuclear and nonnuclear aggression and to maintaining the confidence of America’s allies. These capabilities are essential to fulfilling the government’s constitutional obligations. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said, “America can afford survival.” – Washington Post

James Inhofe and Mac Thornberry write: The administration’s National Defense Strategy prioritized strategic competition with China and Russia. But to be effective, strategies must be matched with resources. America won’t succeed without sustained, sufficient, predictable military funding. – Wall Street Journal

Lou DiStasi writes: There is no simple answer for how the U.S. can regain its military dominance. Perhaps the use of prototyping can serve as a foundational tool to accelerate procurement and provide innovative solutions. History has shown that innovation and force modernization do not have to be competing philosophies. Industry partners, military operators, and members of the science and technology communities should certainly take notice — DoD leaders are increasingly placing their bets on rapid prototyping. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Michael Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller he lied to Congress to play down President Trump’s involvement during the 2016 campaign in efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, raising the pressure on his former boss as investigators probe his business relationship with Russia. – Wall Street Journal

New evidence from two separate fronts of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation casts fresh doubts on Trump’s version of key events involving Russia, signaling potential political and legal peril for the president. Investigators have now publicly cast Trump as a central figure of their probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. – Washington Post

Formal meetings President Trump had scheduled with the leaders of Turkey and South Korea at this weekend’s G-20 summit have been downgraded to informal discussions. – Washington Examiner