Security Brief

Security Brief: Constitutional Crisis Over Trump’s Wall; India, Pakistan on Edge

States sue to block construction of border wall; India, Pakistan military tensions ramp up following Kashmir attack.

People gather on the U.S.-Mexico border barrier on the beach at the Pacific ocean on February 15, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
People gather on the U.S.-Mexico border barrier on the beach at the Pacific ocean on February 15, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the latest twist in the saga of President Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a coalition of 16 states, including California and New York, filed a lawsuit on Monday over the commander-in-chief’s plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on the project.

Trump set off a constitutional confrontation on Friday when he declared a national emergency to circumvent Congress’ decision to limit funding for the wall, writes the New York Times. The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing the wall because it is Congress that controls spending

Although many critics have challenged whether an emergency truly exists on the Southern border that a wall would solve, the lawsuit is far from a slam dunk. Legal specialists told the Times they expect the Justice Department to urge a court not to consider facts about the border or Trump’s words, but rather to defer to the president’s decision. The courts have historically been reluctant to substitute their own judgment for the president’s about a security threat.

Two other cases have already been filed after Trump’s announcement, and at least two other lawsuits are expected later this week, including one from the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile Congress is on its own separate track to challenge the president’s declaration.

Flashpoint. Tensions are rapidly escalating between India and Pakistan, with reports of Indian forces readying a strike across the Line of Control following an attack last week that killed 44 Indian soldiers.

“To the people who have gathered here, I would like to say the fire that is raging in your bosoms is in my heart too,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday during remarks at the opening of a public works project.

Indian security forces saw action again Monday in a gun battle in Kashmir that left two alleged militants dead. The clash took place in Pulwama, the site of Thursday’s suicide bombing on a convoy of Indian paramilitary troops. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Media reports indicate Pakistani commanders are considering stand-off airstrikes across the Line of Control, a move analysts caution could quickly lead to a cycle of escalation between the nuclear powers.

The crisis also threatens to derail peace talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban militants, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan warned on Tuesday.

U.S. Military

Pentagon chief on national emergency. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said, beginning Sunday, he will start studying which projects military money may come from to shift funds toward a border wall following Trump’s national emergency declaration. Shanahan has yet to say definitively which projects would be impacted, or whether the wall is necessary at all, but he did say military housing is likely safe.

The new guy. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to Patrick Shanahan, the acting U.S. defense secretary, staying on in a permanent capacity.

Space Force downgraded. President Donald Trump will sign a directive on Tuesday to establish a new branch of the military dedicated to space but instead of being a fully independent department, it will remain part of the Air Force to assuage concerns in Congress, a senior administration official told Politico.

Overdose. A U.S. Army medic who appeared in an iconic photograph carrying an injured Iraqi boy died of an apparent overdose. Joseph Patrick Dwyer was 31.

Vindicated. Jessica Sunderland began her gender transition during a tour of Iraq. But in the Suffolk County Correctional Facility on charges of burglary, jail doctors denied her medication and her body turned on her. After a legal battle, she’s been awarded $355,000.

Fitzgerald report. The Navy’s top officer Friday defended the decision to keep from the public eye a damning internal report on the 2017 warship Fitzgerald collision that killed seven sailors. Speaking to reporters after his appearance at the U.S. Naval Institute’s West 2019 conference here, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said much of the report overlapped with what the service publicly released.

Washington

CyberCom. Senators on Capitol Hill heaped praise on NSA Director and head of Cyber Command Gen. Paul Nakasone for his apparently successful effort to defend the American midterm election from foreign hackers, the Washington Post reports.

Nanny issues. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew her name from consideration to become the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. over the weekend, citing family concerns. “Behind the scenes, her nomination faced complications because Nauert hired a foreign-born nanny about 10 years ago who didn’t have the proper work visa and Nauert didn’t pay proper taxes on time,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reports.

Running interference. Department of Homeland Security officials are disputing a Daily Beast report that the department is scaling back its work to counter foreign meddling in U.S. elections.

Inhofe vs. Shanahan. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe on Saturday sought to counter speculation that he opposes Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s nomination as permanent defense secretary, saying his previous remarks were misinterpreted as an attack.

Speaking with reporters earlier in the week in Washington, Inhofe said he did not expect President Donald Trump would nominate Shanahan as a permanent replacement for popular former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Inhofe also praised Mattis’s humility, but said Shanahan did not share that quality.

Europe and Russia

Doh. American intelligence agencies concluded that a Russian press conference in January during which officials showed off a disputed cruise missile was mostly a hoax. Russian officials claimed the missile was an update on an older variant, but “Almost nothing Russia showed off to support its claims at that press conference had anything to do with the missile the U.S. is most interested in, according to an assessment briefing put together by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency,” the Daily Beast reports.

Foreign fighters. American and European officials are increasingly divided on whether to repatriate citizens of their countries that traveled to Iraq and Syria, the Washington Post reports.

The issue is coming to a head as thousands of fighters are piling up in Kurdish-controlled camps as the Islamic State is being pushed out of its last territory. President Donald Trump took to Twitter over the weekend to urge European states to “take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial.”

E.U. foreign ministers bristled at that demand on Monday. “It is surely not as easy as imagined in America,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Meanwhile in Munich. Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden delivered dueling addresses at the annual Munich Security Conference, where a divided America was apparent for all to see, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Pence in Europe. Vice President Mike Pence received an unenthusiastic reception on his weekend swing through Europe. Bringing greetings from President Donald Trump and a plea for European allies to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, Pence was greeted by silence in moments captured in a pair of viral videos, Vox reports.

European leaders brushed off Pence’s calls to isolate Iran, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Cyber sanctions. European officials are finalizing a sanctions policy that would allow the EU to target foreign hackers attacking elections on the continent, Politico reports. The policy could be ready in time for European Parliament elections in May.

Skripal. Investigators at the online outlet Bellingcat identified a third suspect in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. He is “Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a high-ranking GRU officer and a graduate of Russia’s Military Diplomatic Academy,” Bellingcat reports.

The Novichok saga. A Russian scientist who helped develop the Novichok nerve agent, which was alleged to have been used in the Skripal poisoning, has become the target of a leaflet campaign in his hometown accusing him of being a pedophile, the BBC reports.

Spy saga. Belgian authorities are investigating a senior intelligence official suspected of spying on behalf of Russia and have suspended the country’s counterintelligence chief amid accusations he shredded sensitive documents, the Guardian reports.

The last bull. A prominent American investor in Russia is behind bars, in what may provide a chill to the Russian investment climate. Michael Calvey, who hails from Oklahoma and has spent 25 years working in Russia, has brought major investors to the country, but now faces a possible 10-year jail term on accusations of fraud, the Financial Times reports.

Cyber/tech

The big picture. Chinese and Iranian hackers are stepping up their attacks on American business and government agencies, the New York Times reports.

The claims of increasing Iranian hacking activity refer in part to a recently disclosed campaign targeting the domain name system, and security journalist Chris Krebs has a new deep dive on that hack.

Charming Kitten. When American prosecutors last week indicted the Air Force counterintelligence officer Monica Witt last week, they alleged that she had helped Iran carry out cyberespionage on U.S. officials. That campaign appears to be linked with the well-known Iranian hacking crew dubbed “Charming Kitten,” which has carried out a wide range of attacks targeting human rights activists, journalists, and government officials, FP’s Elias Groll reports.

Big brother. A Dutch security researcher discovered a massive database open to the internet containing data from a Chinese state facial recognition system deployed in the Xinjiang region.

The German front. Authorities in Germany said the country’s critical infrastructure systems saw an increase in security incidents, some stemming from cyberattacks, in the past year, Reuters reports.

Active measures. Researchers at NATO created fake Facebook profiles and groups in a bid to determine whether they could track troop movements and influence their behavior using open source material as part of an information operation.

“The researchers discovered that you can find out a lot from open source data, including Facebook profiles and people-search websites. And yes, the data can be used to influence members of the armed forces. The total cost of the scheme? Sixty dollars,” Wired reports.

The disinformation beat. Facebook suspended on Friday three viral video channels owned by a subsidiary of Russian state broadcaster RT. The channels, run by Maffick Media, did not disclose their ties to RT but maintain they are editorially independent.

Tech politics. Facing mounting skepticism in Europe and the United States over its ties to the Chinese state, Huawei is continuing its charm offensive by rolling out founder Ren Zhengfei for a broadcast interview with the BBC.

“There’s no way the US can crush us,” he told the network. “The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit.”

‘Digital gangsters.’ A scathing UK parliamentary report concludes that Facebook deliberately violated British privacy laws, describes an urgent need to regulate the tech sector, and denounces the platform as run by “digital gangsters,” the Guardian reports.

The 5G race. The chief executive of Ericsson, the Nordic telecom supplier, warned that a focus on the risk posed by Chinese telecom giant Huawei risks delaying European efforts to adopt 5G technology.

Middle East

SDF commander speaks out. The commander of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces is asking the US and its coalition partners to provide air support and keep up to 1,500 troops in Syria as part of an effort to stabilize the country, CNN reports.

“I feel that American forces must remain inside of Syria,” General Mazloum told reporters, speaking through an interpreter, “we don’t want them to leave Syria … but in the end, it is an American decision.”

Deal reached in Yemen? The United Nations said Monday it hopes Yemen’s warring parties will immediately carry out an agreement to pull their forces out of the key port of Hodeida and two smaller ports, as well as a U.N. facility holding enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

The returnees. An American woman who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State and worked on its propaganda operations said her decision to sign up with the group was a mistake and that she hopes to return to her family in Alabama, the Guardian reports.

The narrator. A man named Mohammed Khalifa, who was captured in Syria fighting on behalf of the Islamic State, claims he is the narrator of an infamous set of propaganda videos released by the group. The New York Times has authenticated his account, and reporter Rukmini Callimachi profiles the 35-year-old Canadian citizen.

Scuttled. An offhand comment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Polish collaboration during the Holocaust appears to have scuttled a planned conference with eastern European countries, the AP reports.

The content mullahs. Twitter took down a message posted by an account belonging to Iran’s supreme leader after it tweeted that Imam Khomeini’s death sentence of writer Salman Rushdie still stands. The move is raising questions about Twitter’s enforcement of its content policies and whether abusive messages posted by other world leaders’ accounts (i.e. @realDonaldTrump) receive the same scrutiny, BuzzFeed reports.

Egypt. A suicide bombing in Cairo left three policemen dead, Al Jazeera reports.

Asia

INF expansion. A senior Chinese official shot down a proposal to expand the beleaguered Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty beyond Russia and the United States to include China.

“China develops its capabilities strictly according to its defensive needs and doesn’t pose a threat to anybody else,” Politburo member Yang Jiechi told the Munich Security Conference.  

Whoops. The latest iteration of Google’s 3-D maps have exposed the location of sensitive Taiwanese military sites, including Patriot anti-missile batteries, the South China Morning Post reports.

Drama. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would neither confirm nor deny that he nominated President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize—as the U.S. president claimed during a rambling press conference last week.

Pushed on the matter while under questioning by an opposition lawmaker, Abe said, “I am not saying it’s not true.”

An American in Pyongyang. The United States is considering opening a liaison office in North Korea, a move that would give American diplomats and possible future inspectors a base of operations in the isolated country, the Wall Street Journal reports.

On the peninsula. North and South Korea have not sustained the momentum of meetings observed in 2018, when diplomats from the two countries met frequently to sign and implement a military accord. “This year, inter-Korean consultations have rarely been held, though there have been exchanges of documents [about the accord],” a government source told Yonhap.

The great game. With the United States stepping back from Afghanistan, China is increasing its military presence in Central Asia, deploying troops to Tajikistan in an apparent bid to monitor events in AFghanistan, and perhaps even deploy troops there, the Washington Post reports.

Latin America

Whither the military. President Donald Trump delivered a remarkable plea toward the Venezuelan military on Monday, urging them to defect and back opposition leader Juan Guaido.

“You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything,” Trump said during a rally in Miami festooned with Venezuelan and American flags. “We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.”

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary delivered a threat toward the Venezuelan military: that the United States “knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”

Venezuelan security forces are currently blocking American aid shipments into the country, and Guaido’s supporters plan to run the blockade on Saturday and bring the goods into the country, raising the possibility of a violent confrontation.

Send in the C-17s. U.S. military personnel used C-17 cargo planes to transport thousands of nutritional supplements and hygiene kits from a base near Miami to Cúcuta, the main staging ground for hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that Venezuelan opposition leaders and their international backers hope to get across the border.

Protests in Haiti. In Haiti, violent protests over government corruption have left at least seven people dead and paralyzed the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Africa

Nigerian election. It had been a long election campaign, fiercely contested and marked by flashes of violence, but Nigerians were finally looking forward to casting their votes in what is the largest democratic exercise in Africa. But as they slept, the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections were abruptly postponed early Saturday, hours before the polls were due to open.

Violence a concern. Religious violence between Christians and Muslims is a concern ahead of Saturday’s vote. Officials in the northwest have discovered the bodies of 66 people killed by what they are calling “criminal elements”.

Flintlock begins. More than 30 countries kicked off a massive U.S.-led military exercise in West Africa on Monday, with the aim of boosting the ability of countries in the region to fight terrorist groups, protect their borders, and ensure public security. The annual exercise is carried out by the U.S. Special Forces Command in Africa.

But the host country, Burkina Faso’s, deteriorating security situation and spotty record of human rights raises questions about whether the exercise should be held there at all, writes Military Times.

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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