Fdd's overnight brief

November 6, 2019

In The News


Two men have pleaded guilty to acting as illegal agents of the government of Iran on charges stemming from monitoring a Jewish center in Chicago and Americans who are members of an exiled Iranian opposition group, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI announced Tuesday. – Washington Post

Iran plans to start enriching uranium at an underground facility Wednesday, Tehran officials said, in a significant step away from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal that could raise pressure on Europe to take action. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s expansion of uranium enrichment activities in defiance of key nuclear commitments is “a big step in the wrong direction,” a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday, after Tehran announced it would start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordow enrichment facility. – Reuters

Iran’s decision to take a new step to reduce commitments to a landmark 2015 nuclear deal is a concern, putting the accord at risk, the European Commission said on Tuesday. – Reuters

France called on Iran to reverse its latest decisions to reduce commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal which contravene the accord and Paris said it was now awaiting a report from the international nuclear watchdog on the issue. – Reuters

Iran’s intelligence ministry on Tuesday said any cooperation with the British Council was banned and would result in prosecution, the ministry’s website reported. – Reuters

The United States accused Iran on Tuesday of “nuclear extortion” and vowed no let-up in pressure after the clerical regime said it would resume uranium enrichment at the key Fordo plant. – Times of Israel

Now protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square are using their shoes again — slapping them against banners depicting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. More violent demonstrations of their fury have erupted in southern Iraq, where protesters have torched the headquarters of parties and militias linked to Iran and thrown firebombs at an Iranian Consulate. – Associated Press

Simon Henderson writes: But then in September, Iran launched a wave of cruise missiles at the Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia’s greatest concentration of oil processing infrastructure. To the astonishment of allies, there was essentially no response from the U.S. Perhaps it is grasping at straws, but might it be that the lack of a forceful response could change the way that Tehran defines its antipathy to America? – The Hill


The investigation team in charge of identifying perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria will produce its first report “in the next few months,” the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Senators from both parties are demanding answers from the Trump administration about how many ISIS detainees have escaped from Kurdish-run detention centers in Syria after the president cleared the way for Turkish military action in the region. – NBC

Turkish and Russian troops on Tuesday began their second joint patrol in northern Syria near Kobani, under a deal that has forced a Kurdish militia away from Turkey’s border, while local media released footage of angry crowds pelting a convoy with stones. – Reuters

A Burmese combat medic and cameraman killed in Syria on Sunday traveled there out of a sense of duty to serve others, his friends and family said, days after the 39-year-old was fatally struck by shrapnel from a mortar shell. – Reuters

President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether U.S. troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, U.S. officials said. – Associated Press

In his last months on the run, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants. Associates paint a picture of a man obsessed with his security and well-being and trying to find safety in towns and deserts in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border as the extremists’ domains crumbled.  – Associated Press


Regional allies Qatar and Turkey plan to scale up their cooperation into a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, Qatar’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, as Doha deals with a prolonged boycott by fellow Gulf Arab states. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Kurdish YPG militia had not withdrawn from some Syrian border areas and that U.S. forces were still carrying out joint patrols with the group, contrary to an agreement between them. – Reuters

The former Fatah lieutenant, who is close to the ruling family of the UAE, Mohammed Dahlan, launched a fierce attack on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Middle East Monitor

Turkey has announced back-to-back airstrikes on positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq, claiming to have inflicted casualties on the outlawed group as Ankara faced setbacks in its ongoing offensive against Kurdish fighters across the border in Syria. – Newsweek

A Turkish bank charged with evading U.S. sanctions on Iran sent its lawyers into a New York courtroom with a seemingly impossible task Tuesday: Defend us, as best as you can. But don’t acknowledge that you represent us. Don’t say we are aware of the charges. And don’t enter a plea on our behalf. – Associated Press



The two Jordanian citizens detained in Israel at the center of a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Amman were handed to the IDF at the Allenby border crossing ahead of their release back to Jordan on Wednesday, according to the Shin Bet. – Jerusalem Post

The Head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva warned Tuesday night while asking for a budget increase that the next year will not be favorable to Israel’s security due to the increased threat posed by Iran. – Jerusalem Post

Alex Fishman writes: A few days before last weekend’s rocket barrage on Sderot, a political event occurred whose importance is difficult to overstate: Hamas responded positively to bitter rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and agreed to take part in Palestinian parliamentary elections. […]Now, with the elections on the horizon, demands from Israel will only increase. But Hamas also has a base that it relies on, and so the likelihood increases of more and more clashes along the Gaza border fence. – Ynet


At least three anti-government protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces in southern Iraq, officials said Tuesday, as authorities tried to reopen the country’s main port, which had been blocked by demonstrators for three days. – Associated Press

A loud explosion heard in the Iraqi capital Baghdad was caused by a sound bomb going off near a bridge where anti-government protesters have been amassing this week, police sources said on Tuesday. – Reuters

FIFA says Iraq is not safe enough to host World Cup qualifying games against Iran and Bahrain. – Associated Press

Two more Iraqi protesters have been killed in renewed clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, a flashpoint in weeks of anti-government demonstrations, a protester and a medic said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Mina Al-Oraibi writes: The courage of the protesters has given Iraq hope that change is possible, and the brutality of the response by the government forces and Iran-backed militias has shown that Tehran and its clients will do everything in their power to protect their interests and investments. Iran today relies on Iraq to circumvent international sanctions, sell its gas and agricultural products, and project its power in the Arab world.  – New York Times

Arabian Peninsula

A power struggle between Yemen’s government and southern separatists threatened to fracture a Saudi-led coalition battling northern rebels in Yemen. But on Tuesday, the warring sides signed an agreement in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to end their animosities. – Washington Post

Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled al-Jarallah said on Tuesday that Kuwait conveyed messages from Iran to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain regarding the situation in the Gulf region, and “until now no answers have emerged”. – Reuters

Elana DeLozier writes: Although Yemen’s increasing fragmentation lends itself to additional spoilers, their impact would be greatly mitigated if the above key players are similarly invested in successful rather than failed talks. Thus, even if the Riyadh agreement suffers the same halting implementation as the Stockholm agreement, it may still be a political win that moves the Yemen war closer to some kind of resolution. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The United States is training Gulf allies to “protect navigation” in the region’s troubled waterways, as it seeks to build an alliance to contain Iran. – Agence France-Presse

Egypt’s president lavished praise on President Donald Trump via social media, calling him a “man with unique power to confront crises.” – Associated Press

Calling them “perversion” that is contrary to human nature and the monotheistic religions, he warned that if potential Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg became president, this would lead to a campaign of pressure on Arab countries to accept the LGBTQ community as normal, as it is perceived today in the West. Expressing concern that Arab leaders would capitulate to such pressure, he underlined that Islam views homosexuality as “one of the most loathsome deeds,” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Bilal Y. Saab writes: The suspension is a bad idea all around. Despite all the political risks, the Lebanese military has chosen to be on the right side of Lebanon’s history—supporting the aspirations of free-minded Lebanese and thus indirectly undermining a political environment in which Hezbollah has thrived. Washington should reward it, not punish it. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

South Korean has offered to send a delegation to check on South Korean-built facilities at a long-stalled joint tourist resort in North Korea, Seoul said Wednesday, as the North is pushing to tear them down. – Associated Press

A senior U.S. official said Wednesday an unexpected meeting this week between the leaders of South Korea and Japan was an “encouraging sign” that the Asian U.S. allies are on track to improve a relationship strained by deep disagreements over trade and history. – Associated Press

A U.S. report calling North Korea a sponsor of terrorism shows a “hostile policy” that prevents progress in denuclearisation talks, the isolated nation said on Tuesday, as a senior U.S. diplomat was set to arrive in the neighbouring South. – Reuters


Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday inaugurated a trade fair by saying his government will strive for robust domestic growth to benefit global business activity, messages that come as China’s economy slows and trade tension with the U.S. persists. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday hailed a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron as giving a boost to multilateralism and free trade, amid ongoing economic tensions with Washington. – Associated Press

China on Wednesday sought to assure India over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), saying the trade deal could provide many opportunities for India’s exports. – Reuters

The ongoing trade war between the United States and China is harming both economies, the UN said Tuesday, with a sharp drop in exports and higher prices for consumers. – Agence France-Presse

The United States and China are working to narrow their differences enough to sign a “phase one” trade deal as early as this month, but suggestions for a signing venue range from Alaska to Greece. – Reuters

China’s defense minister defended his country’s policy on the controversial issues of Hong Kong and the northwestern territory of Xinjiang in a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart. – Associated Press

The United States is deeply troubled by reports the Chinese government has “harassed, imprisoned, or arbitrarily detained” relatives of Uighur Muslim activists and survivors of internment camps who have made their stories public, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China and France signed contracts totaling $15 billion during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron, a Chinese government official said at a news briefing on Wednesday. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday urged the re-elected Canadian government to immediately release detained Huawei [HWT.UL] executive Meng Wanzhou. – Reuters

China’s Vice Premier Han Zheng said on Wednesday Beijing supports more aggressive measures to tackle the unrest that has roiled the Chinese-ruled city of Hong Kong for more than five months. – Reuters

China will “fully respect” Taiwan’s way of life and social system once it has been “peacefully reunified”, as long as national security is protected, the ruling Communist Party said on Tuesday, in another overture to the self-ruled island. – Reuters

Thomas Parsons and Scott Michael Moore write: As long as ASF ravages China’s pork herds, American farmers will continue to be at risk from the disease. And even if, against expectations, American and Chinese officials manage to finalize a broad-ranging trade deal, their next negotiation could be even harder: figuring out how to work together to stop diseases like ASF from becoming global epidemics. – The Hill

Richard McGregor writes: Both sides have much to lose. Taiwan plays an outsize role in global technology value chains and is at the center of growing U.S.-China tensions and Xi’s long-term plans for his country’s revival as a great power. A decisive victory for Tsai in January’s election might chasten Beijing and cause it to return to a more consensual strategy. But the example of Hong Kong doesn’t so far give much hope that Xi will change course. If China continues to double down, the eventual denouement for Taiwan may be far more dangerous. – Bloomberg


A pro-Beijing lawmaker was stabbed in Hong Kong while canvassing for votes on Wednesday, the latest incident of political violence in a city convulsed by months of antigovernment protests. – New York Times

A push in the U.S. Congress for legislation to support pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and pressure China to refrain from a violent crackdown faces an array of obstacles, raising questions about the prospect it will ever become law. – Reuters

Gunmen in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand killed 15 village defense volunteers and wounded five security personnel in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on government forces since the separatist rebellion began 15 years ago. – Associated Press

Cambodia’s ambassador to Indonesia has confronted exiled opposition politicians from his country who were announcing at a news conference their plans to return to their homeland, describing them as fugitives and criminals. – Associated Press

Soldiers in the southern Philippines foiled what the army said on Wednesday was an attempted suicide bombing in an urban area, the latest in a series of attacks blamed on a group aligned with Islamic State. – Reuters

Seventeen people were killed in Tajikistan on Wednesday in an attack on a border post that officials blamed on Islamic State group jihadists who had crossed over from Afghanistan. – Agence France-Presse


Nearly 3½ years since Britain voted to leave the European Union, an unpublished report that investigates possible Russian interference in that decision is once again roiling British politics — only a little more than a month before a crucial general election that may decide the country’s future. – Washington Post

For months, Moscow has pursued what current and former U.S. law-enforcement and diplomatic officials describe as part of a stepped-up and evolving campaign to prevent Russians arrested on criminal hacking charges from being extradited to the U.S. […]In the case of Ms. Issachar, her relatives received messages suggesting a swap from a man who said he was close to Mr. Burkov, said her sister, Liad Goldberg. – Wall Street Journal

Hundreds of Russian mercenaries, many highly trained and well-armed, are fighting alongside renegade Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter as he seeks to oust the country’s United Nations-backed government, according to Libyan military commanders and fighters, as well as U.S. military and other Western officials. – Washington Post

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he did not support banning foreign media outlets including Germany’s Deutsche Welle from working in Russia, something that had been proposed by parliament, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Dennis Ortblad and Krishen Mehta write: It is time to improve relations between Russia and the West with a policy of realism about Russia. It will yield benefits in the long term that our sanctions will not. – The National Interest

Samuel Ramani writes: Russia’s efforts to arbitrate the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over Nile River access suggest it is possible that African security issues might become a new frontier for bilateral cooperation with Egypt. Collaboration in this area, combined with multiple other areas of interest, indicate that the Russia-Egypt strategic partnership may well strengthen in the months to come. – Middle East Institute


Britain’s two largest national opposition parties set out their electoral battle lines over Brexit on Tuesday, and there was a recurring theme: President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union has voiced regret at the U.S. government’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and expressed hopes that one of the world’s biggest CO2 emitters will backpedal on its decision and rejoin. – Associated Press

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a phone call, urged U.S. President Donald Trump to lift tariffs on goods including Scotch whisky, a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a top UK Jewish group on Monday there would be a “complete battle” within the Labour party over the issue of antisemitism ahead of the December general election. – Algemeiner

A 46-year-old Iraqi man was on Wednesday charged with spying for Iran by gathering information on Iranian refugees in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. – Associated Press

Under a soft winter sun in northern Norway, U.S. Marines train in the ice and snow as they learn how to fight in the freezing cold. […]The troops are part of a contingent of 650 Marines staging a recent joint military exercise with 3,000 soldiers from NATO-member Norway at a time when both NATO and Russia have increased their military presence in the Arctic. – Reuters


Sudan’s new prime minister has repeatedly urged the West to end his country’s international pariah status. He says it’s the only way to save the nation’s fragile democratic transition from a plunging economy. – Associated Press

French troops killed one of the Sahel region’s leading jihadists on Oct. 9, France’s defense minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

As central Mali spirals into conflict, the spotlight has turned on the Fulani ethnic group, which has been accused of carrying out jihadist massacres against other communities. […]But Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, chief Sahel expert for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, says the situation is far more complex. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Gunmen in Mexico ambushed three SUVs carrying U.S. citizens, killing three women and six children, leading President Trump to call for a war on Mexican drug cartels and ramping up pressure on Mexico’s leader to counter record levels of violence. – Wall Street Journal

Voting in U.S. state and local elections on Tuesday showed no evidence of successful tampering by any foreign government, the Justice Department and six U.S. security agencies said. – Reuters

US security officials warned Tuesday that foreign adversaries would attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections, reprising those of three years ago when Moscow is accused of helping President Donald Trump’s campaign. – Agence France-Presse

Chicago Islamic Scholar Omar Baloch said in a video he uploaded to his YouTube channel on September 11, 2019 that Islamic State (ISIS) is now fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan because “you will always find ISIS in places that are running a Zionist agenda [for] Greater Israel.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

The Trump administration on Tuesday issued licenses allowing some U.S. companies to pay taxes in Venezuela in spite of a broad U.S. sanctions regime, but also issued more sanctions on top officials in President Nicolas Maduro’s government. – Reuters

Editorial: But if Mexico can’t control its territory, the U.S. will have to do more to protect Americans in both countries from the cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration should be able to find out the identities and locations of those who ordered or carried out Monday’s murders, and ensuring their demise would be a signal that U.S. justice has a long reach. A U.S. military operation can’t be ruled out. – Wall Street Journal

Ryan Berg writes: Interestingly, despite their initial success, targeted sanctions on oil companies in Venezuela in the last several months have not forced a major drop in production. With its decision regarding Chevron, the Trump administration was right to recognize that the presence of foreign players has altered the dynamics of Maduro’s staying power. These types of moves against oil producers are no longer the kill shot policymakers once envisaged. – Washington Examiner


Germany could still decide to rule out Chinese telecom equipment vendor Huawei Technologies from the construction of the country’s fifth-generation data network (5G) due to security concerns, the defense minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hungary’s foreign minister opened the way on Tuesday for Chinese telecoms giant Huawei [HWT.UL] to be involved in the rollout of the country’s high-speed 5G network. – Reuters

Marine services provider James Fisher and Sons Plc (JFS) said on Tuesday that hackers had gained unauthorized access to its computer systems, sending its shares down as much as 5.7%. – Reuters

Governments around the world are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens, in a worrisome trend for democracy, a human rights watchdog said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Apple Inc. and the Chinese-owned music-video app TikTok are threats to international data security because of their business ties to China, a key Republican senator warned. – Bloomberg

With an eye on China, the U.S. Senate’s top Democrat is floating plans for a new, deep-pocketed agency to invest $100 billion into cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics and fifth-generation networking known as 5G. – Defense News

Responding to ransomware across states is a new mission for the National Guard and it doesn’t show signs of going away anytime soon. – Fifth Domain

A new bipartisan Senate bill wants to bolster the cybersecurity workforce by coordinating workforce programs and defining cybersecurity career pathways. – Fifth Domain


The JSTARS watch in the Middle East has ended. After 18 years of deployments, the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) left the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility last month, marking the aircraft’s final mission to the region, according to a recent news release. – Military.com

The U.S. military will hold limited flight exercises next month with South Korea despite suspending its larger “Vigilant Ace” exercise for the second year in a row, according to the Defense Department. – Military.com

A year ago, lawmakers proposed eliminating the Defense Information Systems Agency, but softened the language in the final bill. But in an unexpected twist, the agency’s responsibilities have grown within the past year thanks in part to a Department of Defense-wide push to consolidate redundant IT. – C4ISRNET

BWX Technologies is developing tractor trailer-sized micro nuclear reactors that could illuminate a small U.S. city, run a forward operating military base, power directed energy weapons or fuel deep-space missions. – USNI News

The Navy has modified its small boat operations following the 2018 death of a junior officer who fell from a rigid hull inflatable boat in the Red Sea during a series of high-speed maneuvers, according to a Navy memo obtained by USNI News. – USNI News

The U.S. Navy is taking offensive mining more seriously under the National Defense Strategy and is working to bring new technologies and tactics to the fleet to modernize mine warfare for a high-end fight. – USNI News

A disturbing trend related to exposure to burn pits while deployed, recently detailed in a Wounded Warrior Project survey, has been noted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But more research is needed before any changes to presumptive illnesses and benefits can be considered, according to a top VA official. – Military.com

Trump Administration

Justice Department officials are trying to release in the coming weeks a potentially explosive inspector general report about the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to multiple people familiar with the effort. – Washington Post

A diplomat who is a key witness in the House impeachment probe said he told a Ukrainian official this summer that aid to that country would remain frozen until Kyiv committed to investigations sought by President Trump, reversing earlier testimony that he didn’t know of any such link. – Wall Street Journal

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he would not be reading two newly released deposition transcripts, calling the Democratic-led impeachment probe a “bunch of BS.” Graham’s comments came hours after House investigators released transcripts of the depositions of Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. – Washington Post

With that stunning reversal, diplomat Gordon Sondland handed House impeachment investigators another key piece of corroborating testimony Tuesday. He acknowledged what Democrats contend was a clear quid pro quo, pushed by President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, with Ukraine. – Washington Post

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he might disclose the name of a whistleblower whose complaint about President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine spurred the House impeachment inquiry. – The Hill

A top diplomat appointed by President Trump revised his testimony in the House impeachment probe this week to say the president’s dealings with Ukraine likely amounted to a quid pro quo — the topic at the center of the fast-moving investigation into Trump’s dealings with Kiev. – The Hill