Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 14 November 2017: Direct contact between Wikileaks and Donald Trump Jr., cyber-attack group targets individuals and organisations critical of Vietnamese government, Iraqi forces launch offensive to recapture remaining territory held by Islamic State

The weekly briefing, 14 November 2017: Direct contact between Wikileaks and Donald Trump Jr., cyber-attack group targets individuals and organisations critical of Vietnamese government, Iraqi forces launch offensive to recapture remaining territory held by Islamic State

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Chris Abbott

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Opposition groups lament further delays to presidential election in DR Congo; Self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland holds presidential election.

Americas: Magazine reveals direct contact between Wikileaks and Donald Trump Jr. in lead up to 2016 US presidential election; Venezuela’s credit rating downgraded and declared in default on debt interest payments.

Asia-Pacific: Vietnam-based cyber-attack group targets individuals and organisations critical of Hanoi.

Europe and Central Asia: Human Rights Watch accuses Russian authorities of significant abuses against Crimean Tatars in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi forces launch offensive to recapture remaining territory held by Islamic State in Iraq; Lebanon’s prime minister says he will return to the country from Saudi Arabia following his surprise resignation.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Opposition groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have raised concerns about further delays in the presidential election. The incumbent, Joseph Kabila, confirmed on 12 November that the vote will take place on 23 December 2018, which would feasibly allow him to remain in power for another 14 months despite his term expiring in November 2016. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi called for protests shortly after the announcement. It appears that pressure from the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is what forced Kabila to announce a date in 2018, despite the electoral commission stating that they would need more time to arrange voter registration and guarantee a successful election.

Somaliland

Polling stations opened on 13 November for the third presidential election since 2003 in the unrecognised and self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland. The election was due to be held on 27 March, but it was postponed for six months due to drought, voter registration and lack of funding. International observers will oversee the vote alongside over 600 domestic observers. A new bio-metric iris scanning system should have significantly lowered the possibility of multiple registrations. There were three candidates vying to replace the current head of state, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, who did not stand for a second term. Voters elected the members of the house of representatives on the same day as the presidential election.

Americas

United States

On 14 November, the Atlantic magazine revealed that Donald Trump Jr., the US president’s son, had been in direct contact with Wikileaks in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election. Trump Jr. quickly released a transcript of the private Twitter exchanges in an attempt to paint the allegations as taken out of context. However, the revelations add to the already considerable evidence that external actors with close ties to the Russia government likely interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. Although the released exchanges between Wikileaks and Trump Jr. are mainly one-sided, they do expose Wikileaks’ continued attempts to lobby Donald Trump Jr. This includes the organisation’s suggestion that Julian Assange should be nominated as Australia’s ambassador to the United States after Donald Trump’s election. In another Twitter direct message, Wikileaks advised Trump Jr. to tell his father to release his controversial tax returns before a ‘biased source’ like the New York Times did so. Although these new revelations do not prove collusion between the Trump’s campaign team and Russia through Wikileaks, it adds to the suspicion surrounding the president in the context of ongoing FBI and congressional investigations.

Direct contact between DonaldTrump's son and Wikileaks in lead up to 2018 US presidential electionClick To Tweet

Venezuela

On 14 November, S&P Global Ratings gave Venezuela an SD credit rating and declared it in default after failing to settle two interest payments on its debts. Moody’s also indicated that it expects Venezuela to miss more debt payments, which will put the country in a situation of default within the next three months. This amplifies Venezuela’s reputation as one of the world’s riskiest credits. The country previously benefitted from a grace period of 30 days for reimbursing its investors, to whom it owed around $200 million. The country has been struggling with meeting payment deadlines, and has had low liquidity. In addition, US sanctions have further reduced the country’s ability to meet interest payments on time. Venezuela has experienced relentless political and social turmoil that has involved violent and sometimes deadly protests. The government’s questionable reforms have left many Venezuelans and much of the international community concerned about Caracas’s ability to weather the storm. It is likely that Venezuela’s government will attempt to renegotiate the country’s global debt in the coming months.

Asia-Pacific

Vietnam

On 6 November, the US cyber security company Volexity released a report on a sophisticated and widespread mass digital surveillance and attack campaign it has been tracking since May. The campaign has targeted ASEAN, several Asian countries, and hundreds of individuals and organisations linked to media, human rights and civil society causes. The overwhelming majority of the websites that have been compromised belong to Vietnamese individuals and organisations that are critical of the Vietnamese government. Volexity has linked the campaign to a Vietnam-based advanced persistent threat (APT) group called OceanLotus. The group, also known as APT32, has been operating largely unnoticed since late 2016, but has become increasingly sophisticated in its attack techniques. Volexity believes that the Vietnamese group is now one of the more sophisticated APT actors currently in operation, capable of carrying out attacks of a size and scale only previously achievable by Russian state APT groups.

Vietnam-based cyber-attack group targetting individuals and organisations critical of HanoiClick To Tweet

Europe and Central Asia

Ukraine

Human Rights Watch released a report on 14 November documenting Russian authorities’ significant abuses against Crimean Tatars in Russia-occupied Crimea. The report warns of the increased persecution of the Turkic ethnic minority, which opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Human Rights Watch reports that the Crimean Tatar community and its supporters have been purposefully targeted, threatened and harassed. This has also reportedly involved members of civil society, such as journalists and activists, being subjected to unlawful home searches and even physical attacks. Russia has continuously portrayed politically-active Crimean Tatars as terrorists, a characterisation that advocacy groups have intensely criticised. However, given current tensions with Russia and the absence of real leverage, it is unlikely that Western governments will take any concrete measures to support Crimean Tatars in the next few months.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

Iraqi forces launched an offensive to recapture the town of Rawa from Islamic State on 11 November. The town and surrounding area is the last territory under ISIS control in Iraq after the Iraqi military reclaimed neighbouring al-Qaim on 3 November. It is thought that around 10,000 civilians are being held hostage in the town. As a border town, Rawa has been used by Islamic State to transport fighters, weapons and goods between Iraq and Syria. Iraq government has now reclaimed 95% of the territory previously held by Islamic State. Baghdad is confident that the Rawa and the surrounding area will be liberated in a matter of days.

Lebanon

In his first public comments since he announced that he would be stepping down, Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, has said that he will return to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia shortly. Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh on 4 November stating that he feared for his safety and that he was concerned about Iran and Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon. Under Lebanese law, Hariri must submit his resignation directly to the president, which he has not yet done. Hariri’s surprise resignation will create deep uncertainty and potentially instability in Lebanon, and throws into doubt parliamentary elections scheduled for early next year.

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