Fdd's overnight brief

September 11, 2019

In The News


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump could meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations meeting, with “no preconditions.” – Reuters

Britain’s foreign minister on Tuesday said Iranian tanker Adrian Darya had sold its crude oil to the Assad regime in Syria, breaking assurances it had given not to sell crude to the country. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday said it was “totally unacceptable” for Iran to drag its feet in cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which is seeking answers to issues that diplomats say include the discovery of uranium traces at an undeclared site. – Reuters

Three Australian citizens – two of whom also hold British passports – have been arrested and detained in Iran. […]The arrests come amid increasing tensions between Iran and a small US-led coalition – whose only other members are the UK, Australia and Bahrain – which will send naval warships to patrol the Strait of Hormuz. – The Guardian 

The United States on Tuesday joined Israel in alleging “possible undeclared nuclear activities” by Iran, further straining European-led attempts to salvage a multinational deal. – Agence France-Presse

Iran said on Wednesday the firing of John Bolton as U.S. national security adviser will not push Tehran to reconsider talks with the United States. – Reuters 

Jason Rezaian writes: The only thing that can be said for Bolton’s position on Iran was that it was clear, but he was a liability from the moment he joined this administration. The ways in which his ouster might change the direction of Trump’s Iran policy will prove it. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Now it appears that Trump has buyer’s remorse. While he would never acknowledge it, Trump is basically pushing for a bargain very similar to the one that he criticized Obama for negotiating. Trump is free to appoint a national security adviser who shares his new position — and whoever takes the job will be safe until the president inevitably changes his mind. – Bloomberg


Hezbollah’s leader said on Tuesday his Iran-backed movement had shot down an Israeli drone in Lebanon for the first time to strengthen deterrence against attack by arch-foe Israel. – Reuters

A U.S. official visiting Beirut to mediate between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute is a “friend of Israel,” keen to defend its interests, the leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group warned on Tuesday. Hassan Nasrallah urged Lebanese officials to negotiate from a point of strength with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker over the nearly 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea claimed by both countries. – Associated Press

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the IDF a “Hollywood army” on Monday, and challenged Israel’s military to perform more Hollywood shows. – Jerusalem Post 


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pushing a radical solution — resettling refugees in a swath of Syrian territory controlled by the United States and its Kurdish allies. If that does not happen, he is threatening to send a flood of Syrian migrants to Europe. – New York Times  

Jordan, which borders southern Syria, became a popular destination for refugees after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. While Jordan hosts two camps near the Syrian border, most refugees have moved to cities, where they are permitted to work in menial jobs. But the crisis has dragged on for much longer than anticipated, particularly as Western countries have slowed or halted programs to take in refugees. – Associated Press 

David Rosenberg writes: The Syrians sitting in camps won’t be fully integrated into their host countries any more than the Palestinians who fled in 1948 and 1967 were. If anything, the Syrians may face bigger obstacles because of their bigger numbers, the dire economic state of their hosts and (in Europe), growing hostility to outsiders. Under the circumstances, an SLO or something like it seems inevitable. – Haaretz 


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday repeated his vow to extend Israeli sovereignty to large portions of the occupied West Bank if he is reelected, the latest in a string of campaign promises aimed at winning the support of right-wing voters. – Washington Post

Arab leaders may also avoid denouncing Mr. Netanyahu and his plans because they are unwilling or unable to confront him. […]That does not mean that the Arab public does not care, he said. Support for the idea of a Palestinian state remains a rare issue that still generates broad consensus across the Arab world, even if people are not out protesting about it. – New York Times 

Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza on Wednesday hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave triggered sirens that forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the stage at an election rally in Israel. – Reuters

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visited the rocket-battered southern Israeli border city of Sderot on Tuesday, telling residents that America was not preventing Israel from acting against terrorist groups in the neighboring Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. – Algemeiner 

A spokesperson for the United Nations secretary-general stated on Tuesday that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to follow through with his promise to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, the move would not have any international legal effect. – Jerusalem Post 

Arab foreign ministers condemned a plan by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the occupied West Bank as “aggression” undermining any chances of a peace settlement with the Palestinians. – Reuters

The White House responded Tuesday to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that he will apply Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley “immediately” after the elections. An administration official said Tuesday, “There is no change in the United States policy at this time. We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long-sought security, opportunity, and stability to the region.” – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. Treasury and State Department blacklisted dozens of people, currency-exchange houses and companies allegedly associated with U.S.-designated terror groups, including Hamas, al Qaeda, Islamic State, Hezbollah and the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. – Wall Street Journal 

Lebanon’s president said he hopes the United States will resume mediation efforts to resolve a land and sea border dispute with Israel, after the man who had been leading them changed jobs. – Reuters

Libya is enduring its worst violence since the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of Moammar Qaddafi, which ushered in years of instability that allowed Islamist radicals to thrive and turned the country into a hub for migrants destined to Europe. Haftar had launched the war as the United Nations was laying the ground for a political conference to unite the country. It is now more divided than ever. – Bloomberg

U.S. F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and F-15 Strike Eagles dropped nearly 80,000 pounds in weapons Tuesday on Islamic State targets on Qanus Island in central Iraq as part of a larger coalition operation against the extremist group, according to a news release. The U.S.-led international coalition said it targeted ISIS militants on the island, located in the Salah ad Din Province along the Tigris river, to “deny safe haven” for the group, officials said in the release. – Military.com 

Simon Henderson writes: Abdulaziz’s main task will be to handle the politics of the OPEC cartel and deal with other major oil exporters such as Russia. […]Moreover, his appointment comes against the backdrop of Vision 2030, the crown prince’s signature policy initiative for developing the kingdom’s economy and reducing its reliance on huge oil reserves. The initiative contains a fundamental contradiction: in order to fund the supposed transformation away from oil, the government will need to focus more on oil in the short term. Additionally, the planned Aramco IPO essentially argues that investing in Saudi oil is a good long-term bet. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Japan says it has been able to confirm that 17 of its nationals, including 13-year-old schoolgirl Megumi Yokota, were abducted by North Korea between 1977 and 1983, but says hundreds more missing people may also have been kidnapped. The issue has become something of a national obsession, and a personal crusade for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Officials say the conservative leader has raised the matter in every one of the 40-odd meetings and telephone conversations he has had with President Trump, pressing the U.S. leader to bring it up with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. – Washington Post

Seven months after the U.S. and North Korea walked out of nuclear talks at a summit in Vietnam, the two sides appear ready again to work toward a deal that trades Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons for a loosening of U.S.-led economic sanctions. – Wall Street Journal 

Having once branded John Bolton a “war maniac”, North Korean officials could see U.S. President Donald Trump’s removal of his national security adviser as a chance to resume denuclearization talks without facing an unyielding hawk on the other side. – Reuters

South Korea and North Korea have continued to pour resources into modernizing their militaries despite a frenzy of diplomacy since 2018, data shows, creating a point of tension that has sharpened as talks have stalled. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw the testing of a super-large multiple rocket launcher on Tuesday, North Korean state media KCNA said on Wednesday. – Reuters

South Korea said Wednesday it will initiate a complaint to the World Trade Organization over Japan’s tightened export controls on key materials South Korean companies use to make computer chips and displays. – Associated Press 


American companies are downshifting in China as its economy slows and trade tensions with the U.S. persist, according to a new survey that highlights softening revenue, reduced investment and job cutbacks. – Wall Street Journal 

More than two months after President Trump agreed to ease export restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co., the U.S. has yet to green-light any sales to the Chinese telecom giant—frustrating U.S. chip makers that stand to lose billions of dollars in revenue. – Wall Street Journal 

China extended an olive twig, rather than a branch, to the United States in their trade war Wednesday, announcing it would exempt 16 American-made products from tariffs as a sign of goodwill ahead of talks scheduled for next month. – Washington Post

Canada has sailed a warship through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the Canadian government said, three months after a similar operation and amid strained ties between Beijing and Ottawa. – Reuters

Thomas L. Friedman writes: But now that China is becoming a technological powerhouse of its own, it wants to sell us “deep technologies” — like 5G networking that gets embedded deep into our basements, bedrooms, factories and communications infrastructures. That’s why American officials are asking: How can we let Huawei place its 5G technology in our cities and homes? Can’t it be used by China to spy on us or turn off our electricity in a war? And China asks the same about us. – New York Times

Lyle J. Goldstein writes: Why highlight China’s growing hospital ship program and its improving ASW capabilities in the very same article? This is done here in order to illustrate two simultaneous, if somewhat contradictory, trends in China’s rising power: Beijing’s apparently improving military capabilities, but also the Middle Kingdom’s steadily increasing abilities to render assistance to the world community in critical international situations. – The National Interest 


A rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan just minutes into Wednesday, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States, but officials at the compound declared all-clear about an hour later and reported no injuries. – Associated Press 

The U.S.-Taliban negotiations, which were taking place in Doha, Qatar, were the topic of a September 1 editorial by the London-based online daily Rai Al-Yawm. The editorial stated that the U.S., recognizing its defeat and wanting a withdrawal from Afghanistan at any cost, is the weak side in the talks, whereas the Taliban has emerged as a strong and unbending rival able to reject the American demands. The daily therefore assessed that the Taliban’s Islamic emirate in Afghanistan is likely to reemerge. The following is a translation of the editorial. Middle East Media Research Institute

Husain Haqqani writes: By pulling the plug on the ongoing talks with the Taliban, US President Donald Trump has pre-empted a bad deal that was unlikely to bring peace to Afghanistan. All accounts of the tentative agreement negotiated by special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, indicated that it was heavily focused on giving the Taliban what they most want – a timetable for withdrawal of American troops. A genuine peace deal would prioritise ceasefire, not US withdrawal. – The Print

Daniel L. Davis writes: Though it is a distasteful reality, we must honestly acknowledge that the Taliban will not disappear from Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, particularly after they withstood then-President Barack Obama’s 2010–11 surge. The Taliban cannot be forced into an agreement that they don’t want, and Washington cannot allow the Taliban to thus obstruct our exit. It would be foolhardy to base any outcome on trusting the Taliban to keep promises. Though they have a tactical military advantage on the ground in Afghanistan, we still hold the more powerful strategic cards. – The National Interest


The Philippines will not allow visits by the United Nations to investigate its bloody war on drugs, its foreign minister said on Wednesday, calling its human rights experts “bastards” who had already demonstrated prejudice. – Reuters

A group of U.S. senators asked President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday to assess U.S. export rules for Hong Kong, expressing concern China could acquire sensitive technologies because of the city’s special treatment under U.S. law. – Reuters

Hong Kong activists called off protests on Wednesday in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and denounced a Chinese state newspaper report that they were planning “massive terror” in the Chinese-ruled city. – Reuters

Comparing the struggle of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters to the role of Berlin during the Cold War, activist Joshua Wong told an audience in the German capital that his city was now a bulwark between the free world and the “dictatorship of China”. – Reuters

Pakistan’s foreign minister told the United Nations human rights forum on Tuesday that India’s military presence in the disputed Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir raised the specter of genocide. – Reuters

India and Nepal officially opened South Asia’s first cross-border oil pipeline on Tuesday, a project seen as part of New Delhi’s efforts to increase its influence in the Himalayan nation where China is also making deep inroads. – Reuters

China has detained a Taiwanese man on state security charges after he reportedly distributed photos of Chinese troops massing equipment on the Hong Kong border. – The Guardian 


Russia was behind the murder last month of a former Chechen rebel in Germany, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, rekindling concerns that Moscow is ramping up an assassination campaign against the country’s perceived enemies abroad. – Wall Street Journal 

A former Russian government official thought to have spied for the United States was hiding in plain sight, living in a suburban neighborhood an hour outside of Washington. – Washington Post

In the summer, Vladimir Putin was asked about the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter last year in Britain. The Russian president denied his government was involved, but he didn’t hold back on what he thought of traitors. – Washington Post

Though some sanctions were meant to split Russia’s economic elite from the Kremlin, they have pushed sanctioned individuals closer to the Russian government—which has become the largest creditor in the country. – Wall Street Journal 

The Kremlin played down reports of a CIA spy inside Russia’s presidential administration, but said an official identified by Russian media as the likely U.S. mole had worked there although he did not have access to President Vladimir Putin. – Reuters

Bulgarian prosecutors charged the head of a non-governmental organization (NGO) on Tuesday with spying for Russia as part of a scheme they said aimed to draw Bulgaria away from its Western allies and towards Moscow. – Reuters

Samuel Bendett writes: The final version of Russia’s national artificial-intelligence strategy isn’t due until next month, but a draft prepared by the country’s largest bank appears to focus on science, academia, and healthcare. It also outlines a regulatory framework for AI development. […]help society absorb and navigate the new challenges of AI, the strategy says that legal and ethical rules should be created to govern “the interaction of an individual with AI”; determine “the distribution of responsibility between owners, developers, and suppliers of data for damage caused using AI systems”; and clarify “the regulation of the circulation of results of intellectual activity using AI.” – Defense One


The European Union official overseeing the regulatory push against Silicon Valley is poised to stay on the job for an unexpected second term—a warning that the new administration here isn’t backing down on global tech oversight. – Wall Street Journal 

The decision of a small village council in southwestern Germany to elect a candidate from a neo-Nazi party as its leader has sparked national outrage, with efforts to reverse the decision underway on Tuesday. – Washington Post

Republican and Democratic senators said on Tuesday they expected the U.S. Congress would pass legislation restoring $250 million in military aid for Ukraine if President Donald Trump goes ahead with plans to block the assistance. – Reuters

Serbian officials said China has agreed the sale of armed drones, marking the first export of Chinese remotely piloted aircraft to a European country. – Associated Press 

Serbia’s plan to join a Russian-led economic union is drawing ire from the European Union, which the Balkan nation says it wants to be part of. […]The EU has no say over which groups Serbia joins while it’s not a member, but some of its representatives indicated they would like to see greater commitment to membership, especially after an EU progress report earlier this year showed that Serbia was only partially aligning its foreign and security policies with the EU’s. – Bloomberg

William A. Galston writes: Unlike Britain’s unwritten constitution, which did not prevent Parliament from authorizing referenda, America’s articulated constitution makes no provision for a direct popular vote, and would have to be amended to accommodate the practice (as many state constitutions have been). Consequently, populism in the U.S. is expressed through another of its defining features—its preference for charismatic leaders with strong executive powers. – Wall Street Journal


The Nigerian military arrested thousands of children it suspected of involvement with Boko Haram, holding them in squalid conditions for years in some cases, according to a new report. – The Guardian 

Hundreds of African refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libyan detention centres will be evacuated to Rwanda under a “life-saving” agreement reached with Kigali and the African Union, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday. – The Guardian 

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya announced in a rare public address on Tuesday the organization of a national dialogue to solve a separatist crisis in the country’s English-speaking regions. – Reuters

Chad’s parliament voted on Tuesday to extend a state of emergency by four months in three provinces where fighting between rival ethnic groups have surged in recent weeks. – Reuters


The Trump administration has asked a federal court to reconsider a ruling that opened the door for potential payments to millions of federal employees and others due to the cybertheft of their personal information. […]One breach involved records on about 21.5 million federal, military and contractor personnel and others who had undergone background checks since about 2000, commonly to gain or renew security clearances. – Washington Post

The Israeli-based NSO Group said on Tuesday it would abide by U.N. guidelines to prevent rights abuses, following accusations by cyber experts that its software was used in a number of government surveillance scandals. – Reuters

The Department of Defense wants to hear from industry leaders about the Pentagon’s proposal to grade contractors on their cybersecurity. […]DoD is rolling out what it calls the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, a framework that grades companies on a scale of one to five. A one designates basic hygiene and a five represents advanced hygiene. – Fifth Domain

The artificial intelligence community needs to put a lot more effort and money into systems protection to avoid it costing billions more down the line, according to the founding director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. – C4ISRNET

Editorial: Google’s best defense has always been the obvious one. Consumers love it, and they also love that it’s free. Certainly, free services such as Google do not inflict what modern U.S. antitrust doctrine has tended to think of as the main harm of monopolies: higher prices to consumers in the short term. The question will be whether, in an age of unchecked data collection and network effects, there are other kinds of anticompetitive behavior that are both harmful in the long run and illegal. That means these attorneys general will have to do more than show us that really big companies are making really big profits. – Washington Post


The U.S. Navy has achieved a major milestone in its efforts to autonomously combat one of the most persistent threats it faces, the service’s deputy head of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ mine warfare office said Monday. – Defense News

The Army has awarded CACI a task order worth as much as $443 million to help the service fight threats from commercial technology, such as improvised explosive devices and drones. – C4ISRNET

The Navy and Marine Corps will soon be able to train their newest pilots aboard the newest aircraft carrier, as Naval Air Systems Command makes progress integrating the T-45C Goshawk trainer with the Ford-class carrier arresting system. – USNI News

John Kroger – a former Marine, an academic, a federal prosecutor and past attorney general for the State of Oregon – has been selected to become the Navy’s first chief learning officer. – USNI News

Long War

In a video uploaded to the Internet on September 4, 2019, Sheikh Yahya Bin Taher Al-Farghali, an Egyptian member of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s (HTS) shura and shari’a councils, commented on 9/11. He said that “if additional acts [like 9/11] were to keep happening against America – another attack, and a third, fourth, and fifth attack – then America would collapse, along with its will to keep ruling the world, and it would seclude itself once again” but that after 9/11, the U.S. “caught numerous cells that could have continued to carry out attacks like 9/11 many times over.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Lauren Kay Johnson writes: My generation, the first of the post-9/11 veterans, and those who came before: We are the memory-keepers. We remember airports and mass transit and public gatherings before the see-something, say-something era. Of a time when peace was more than an ideal. When we were not so polarized by rage and fear. When tragedies such as Columbine were the unfathomable exception. My hope is that we never forget. My fear is that we already have. Washington Post

Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein write: It is long past time for the United States to recognize the rise in women’s participation in extremism over the two decades since 9/11. As terrorist groups increasingly deploy women’s participation to their strategic advantage, our government can no longer afford to ignore the ways in which women can strengthen our counterterrorism efforts. The collective security of all Americans depends on it. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Over a turbulent 17 months, President Trump and national security adviser John Bolton had disagreed on a variety of issues, from North Korea to Venezuela to Iran. But Trump finally decided to remove his top security aide on Tuesday after a heated discussion in the Oval Office, following accusations by other officials in the administration that Bolton had leaked to the news media, tried to drag others into his battles with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Afghanistan, and promoted his own views rather than those of the president, according to people familiar with the matter. – Washington Post

While Bolton tangled with the president and Cabinet officials behind the scenes, he kept a strong public show of support for the president. But the abrupt nature of his departure has raised questions about whether Bolton, a former Fox News pundit, will become a public critic of the president in his post-government life. The two men already have found one thing to disagree on: whether Bolton resigned or was fired. – Washington Post