Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, April 20, 2017, 1:05 PM

Reuters reports that a pro-government Russian think tank fleshed out the strategy employed by the Kremlin to compromise the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Two confidential think tank documents obtained by U.S. intelligence agencies form the basis of these agencies’ and the Obama administration’s conclusions about the Russian government’s interference in the election. The documents, circulated within the upper levels of the Russian government, advocated for the launch of a propaganda campaign to sway U.S. public opinion in favor of a candidate disposed toward the Russian government, and to sow doubt about the integrity of the U.S. electoral system. The recommendations constituted an expansion of an approach first set forth by the Russian government in March 2016.

Meanwhile, the New York Times writes that former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page’s visit to Moscow in July 2016 generated the FBI’s investigation into links between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. It remains unclear what specifically about Page’s visit, during which he gave a talk expressing a positive view of Russia and echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criticisms of the United States, raised the FBI’s suspicions. Recent reporting indicates that the Bureau obtained a FISA warrant to monitor Page’s communications after his departure from the campaign in Stepember.

Authorities believe that CIA hacking tools obtained by Wikileaks may have been leaked by contractors with the Agency, the Wall Street Journal tells us. The ongoing leak investigation is focusing with a team of software developers who used the server from which the documents were likely taken. If confirmed, the leak would be the third major release of intelligence information in the past four years due to a government contractor.

In May, the Pentagon will conduct two previously-scheduled tests of its ballistic missile defense program in the Pacific in order to assess the U.S.’s defense capabilities against a North Korean threat, CNN reports. The first of these will test the performance of an upgraded Standard Missile in shooting down intermediate-range North Korean missiles, while the second will assess the capabilities of long-range ground-based interceptor missiles to shoot down a future North Korean ICBM. The most recent Pentagon report on weapons testing found notable weaknesses in the U.S.’s long-range system.

The USS Carl Vinson has at last been deployed toward North Korea, the Washington Post reports. Confusion regarding the aircraft carrier’s deployment has been traced to a statement by the U.S. Pacific Command that, as one defense official noted, “could have been worded a little more clearly.” The carrier is scheduled to reach the Korean Peninsula by April 25.

On the last of his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a political resolution to the civil war in Yemen but refrained from cautioning the Saudis against conducting its planned bombing campaign in the western port city of Al Hudaydah, the Times writes. The Journal adds that Mattis is weighing providing Saudi Arabia with additional support for the country’s military effort against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which would include aircraft, support for Saudi refueling, and increased advisory capabilities from U.S. special forces.

Both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had sharp words for Iran yesterday, with Mattis telling reporters that, “Everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran,” and Tillerson describing the international nuclear deal as a failure shortly after announcing to Congress that Iran had complied with the agreement’s terms. Tillerson compared the Iranian government to that of North Korea but did not call for the dismantling of the deal, leading to confusion on Capitol Hill as to the administration’s intended policy toward Tehran. The Times has more.

The Journal tells us that Turkey’s electoral board rejected petitions submitted by three opposition parties to annul the results of the April 16 referendum vote that delivered a narrow victory to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. European election observers and opposition parties have reported significant irregularities in the lead-up to and conduct of the vote. Metin Feyzioğlu, president of the Turkish Bar Association, stated that the electoral board’s decision to consider unstamped votes as valid ballots represented a breach of the country’s electoral law and undermined domestic safeguards against electoral fraud.

Members of the British Parliament voted decisively to hold early general elections on June 8, three years ahead of schedule. Prime Minister Theresa May called for the elections in an April 18 statement, citing parliamentary divisions that “risk [Britain’s] ability to make a success of Brexit” and threaten to undermine domestic stability. While opinion polls show the Tories pulling a 9 to 24 point lead ahead of Labour, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight cautions against overconfidence, pointing to the historic inaccuracies in U.K. election polls. Should the Tories obtain a majority of seats in the House of Commons, May will have the parliamentary backing to pursue Brexit negotiations without obstruction.

In The Diplomat, Ian Armstrong considers the motives and implications of China’s recently announced contract for the sale of Wing-Loong II attack drones to Saudi Arabia. While the scope of the deal remains unconfirmed, the minimum estimate of 30 (roughly one-third the number of comparable drones operated by the U.S. Air Force) would result in a notable boost to Saudi military power. The deal also suggests the proliferation of drones in the Middle East as states seek to counterbalance Riyadh.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has published a Q&A document on the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) to advocate for extension of the Act that is set to sunset on December 31, 2017, Foreign Policy reports. See here for the document.

Israeli military intelligence estimates that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a stockpile of “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons, the AP reports.

Anti-government protests in Venezuela that began in early April swelled on Wednesday into what opposition supporters are terming the “mother of all marches,” Reuters writes. Several hundred thousand people marched in opposition to the government of President Nicolas Maduro, calling for early elections and the release of jailed politicians. Three deaths have thus far been reported.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stephanie Leutert provided an update on President Trump’s executive order directing the government to begin designing and constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, outlining continuing uncertainties regarding the nature of the wall, its cost, and the legal impediments to its construction.

Barbara Keys reviewed Human Rights in American Foreign Policy: From the 1960s to the Soviet Collapse by Joe Renouard.

Kemal Kirisci assessed the deficiencies in the lead-up to and conduct of the referendum vote in Turkey and cautioned that the results threaten to further polarize relations between party loyalists and the opposition.

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