Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Friday, January 6, 2017, 2:01 PM

President-elect Donald Trump today received an intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the U.S. election by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, and FBI Director James Comey. Trump kept busy in the hours preceding the briefing, demanding (via Twitter) a congressional investigation of leaks to The Washington Post yesterday that U.S. intelligence intercepted celebrations among Russian officials in response to Trump’s victory, which information is included in the briefing Trump will receive today. In an interview with The New York Times three hours before the briefing, the President-elect also declared that investigations into Russian election interference constituted a “political witch hunt.”

Both Clapper and Rogers testified on Russian hacking yesterday in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reiterating their confidence in the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding the Kremlin’s involvement and their concerns over Trump’s routine dismissals of these conclusions. The two will testify again on Tuesday afternoon in an open hearing convened by the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with Brennan and Comey.

Meanwhile, internal disagreements continue to roil the presidential transition. The Post reports that former CIA Director James Woolsey resigned from his position as senior advisor on the Trump transition team yesterday over disagreements with Trump’s reported plans to restructure the intelligence community and frustration that he was not being consulted on major decisions. And tension is growing between the transition team and General James Mattis, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, over Mattis’s rejection of many of the transition team’s suggestions for Pentagon staffing and his push to allow anti-Trump Republicans to serve at DOD. Mattis reportedly only discovered that Trump had appointed Vincent Viola as Secretary of the Army from news reports.

Trump is set to name former Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) as Director of National Intelligence, the Times writes. Coats, who sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and served from 2001 to 2005 as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is known as an establishment Republican figure who takes a hard line on Russia, putting him in conflict with the President-elect’s position on the Kremlin. Reuters tells us that intelligence officials are hopeful that Coats’s appointment will represent the possibility of warmer relations between Trump and the intelligence community.

The Kremlin will withdraw its aircraft carrier and the ships deployed along with it from the Mediterranean, where they had been deployed in support of the Syrian regime, The Wall Street Journal reports. It remains unclear whether Russia will continue to scale back its presence in Syria elsewhere or whether the ships will be redeployed.

Militias backed by the United States have recaptured a citadel from ISIS in their advance toward the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Reuters writes. The victory is strategically significant, as the citadel is located near an ISIS-held dam on the Euphrates River that coalition forces hope to capture soon.

Iraqi counterterrorism forces pushed into eastern Mosul in the coalition’s first nighttime raid, driving back ISIS fighters. Though the offensive has slowed in recent weeks, officials now say that the coalition forces are gaining momentum against the Islamic State. Reuters has more.

The Post reports that the attacker who drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market last month was highly familiar to German intelligence officials, who discussed him repeatedly in the months leading up to the attack. Despite surveilling Anis Amri for half a year, German officials felt that they did not have enough evidence to detain him. The case has become a flashpoint for those who feel that European intelligence services have failed to adequately prevent a spate of terrorist attacks. On that note, the Journal also examines a new report detailing the numerous failures of Belgian police to catch the attackers involved in the November 2015 attacks on Paris and Brussels.

South Korea’s finance minister announced that China is engaged in retaliation against its neighbor for Seoul’s decision to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system, Reuters tells us. The minister accused Beijing of “indirect action,” though he did not clarify further. China has denied the accusations. The THAAD system is set to be deployed later this year.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic posted video from yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States.”

Benjamin Wittes posted Rational Security, the “New Year/New Tweets” Edition.

Kemal Kirişci examined the changing shape of Turkish society in light of the New Year’s attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Quinta flagged documents related to the motion by counsel for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to preserve a copy of the SSCI report under seal with the D.C. District Court.

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