The Early Edition: April 1, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.  

CORONAVIRUS

More than 874,000 people have been infected with coronavirus worldwide with 43,000 total deaths, according to a tally updated by Johns Hopkins University. The United States has now recorded more than 185,000 cases of the virus and the country’s death toll climbed pasto 3,800 yesterday, surpassing China’s reported fatalities. Ben Westcott, Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Tara John report for CNN.

President Trump warned America to brace for a “very, very painful two weeks” as the White House projected that the coronavirus pandemic could claim 100,000 to 240,000 lives, even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. The data released yesterday, compiled by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response, was the first time that Trump’s administration has officially estimated how many people might die in the pandemic. The two public health officials appealed for the public to take the restrictions seriously, and a mellow Trump, appearing with them, echoed that message, saying that “now is not the time to relax.” Michael D. Shear, Michael Crowley and James Glanz report for the New York Times.

A quarter of patients infected with the new coronavirus may not suffer symptoms, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) said, an alarmingly high number that muddles efforts to predict the pandemic’s course and strategies to contain its spread. In particular, the high level of symptom-free cases is leading the C.D.C. to re-examine its guidelines on face masks. Apoorva Mandavilli reports for the New York Times.

The C.D.C. is also trying to better understand the role of “silent,” or asymptomatic, transmission in the outbreak amid growing evidence that people can spread the virus even when they feel well. Lena H. Sun and Laurie McGinley report for the Washington Post.

The Pentagon has not sent out any of the 2,000 ventilators it offered to the Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) earlier this month because H.H.S. has not yet provided a shipping location, the Pentagon’s top logistics official said yesterday. Though the Defense Department had arranged to deliver an initial 1,000 ventilators, H.H.S. asked the department to hold back, Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck told reporters. “There was discussion with H.H.S. on where to send them, and then they said, ‘Hey. Wait. We’re trying to take a look at the demand that’s required,’ and so we were asked to just wait while there was just some sorting through,” Tuck said. Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.

The captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier carrying more than 4,000 crew has called for urgent help to halt a coronavirus outbreak on his ship, which is currently docked in Guam. In a memo obtained and published yesterday by the San Francisco Chronicle, Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, warned of grim consequences if the majority of the crew is not taken off the ship and quarantined. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Captain Brett Crozier wrote in his letter to the Pentagon dated March 30, explaining that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating, and stressing that with large numbers of sailors living in confined spaces on the carrier isolating sick individuals was impossible. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that states can use the National Guard to impose stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. “[T]hat would be an option for the governors,” Esper said on CBS News. “Again, the guard is active in all 50 states and territories … I’m very proud of what our guardsmen are doing, but we have a whole lot more capacity out there in the guard right now to do more.” Esper likened having the National Guard deal with the coronavirus to its duties when a hurricane or another natural disaster hits the country, saying the force would be used to mitigate the outbreak’s effects. Tal Exelrod reports for the Hill.

People who have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease and heart disease, face an increased chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with those without additional medical challenges, according to data released yesterday by the C.D.C. that is consistent with finding in China and Italy. Brianna Abbott reporting for the Wall Street Journal.

The federal Bureau of Prisons said yesterday that it would keep thousands of inmates at facilities nationwide secured in their cells with limited exceptions for the next 14 days as officials try to curb the spread of the coronavirus after one prisoner died and more prisoners and staff tested positive for the disease. Prison officials dodged calling the rare move a lockdown but said inmates would only be permitted to go out in small groups for activities such as showers, commissary and phone calls. Sadie Gurman and Deanna Paul report for the Wall Street Journal.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm yesterday on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II, tackling a pandemic threatening people in every nation, one that will bring a recession “that probably has no parallel in the recent past.” There is also a danger that the combination of the disease and its economic impact will contribute to “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict,” the U.N. chief said at the launch of a report on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, calling for a more robust global response to the pandemic and to the social and economic havoc that the disease is causing. AP reporting.

A Russian doctor leading the fight against the virus tested positive days after meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The Kremlin said that Putin was being routinely tested for coronavirus and that “everything is okay,” the R.I.A. news agency reported. Reuters reporting.

China and Russia continue to push fake news about the pandemic, according to the latest update published today from the European External Action Service’s team dedicated to exposing such digital tactics. The group, called East Stratcom and whose mandate includes debunking false reports stemming from Russia, said there had been more than 150 cases of pro-Kremlin disinformation tied to the global health crisis since late January. That includes claims that the European Union was on the brink of collapse because of national governments’ botched responses to COVID-19. Mark Scott reports for POLITICO.

France, Germany and Britain have shipped medical goods to Iran through a trading process they created to bypass Trump administration sanctions. The European nations are not acting purely to spite the Trump administration or as a favor to Tehran. They want to coax Iran to stay in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal mainly because they worry that the rapid pursuit of a nuclear weapon by an unrestrained Tehran could lead to a war between Iran on one side and Israel and the United States on the other. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.

Iran’s elected government is clashing with the country’s hard-liners, the two sides working at cross-purposes at key moments in the battle against the novel coronavirus. While the government, confronted with a shortage of medical equipment and a worsening outbreak, has cracked down on hoarders stockpiling masks and disinfectant, a youth arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it was ready to send a cargo of those urgently-needed supplies as humanitarian aid for people in the U.S.. Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. Security Council urged Afghanistan’s warring factions yesterday to give careful thought to the U.N. Secretary-General’s call for an immediate truce to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country. The council issued a press statement after a private briefing by U.N. deputy special representative Ingrid Hayden who said the country “appears to be reaching a defining moment” — whether its leaders can come together “to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban to achieve a sustainable peace.” AP reporting.

Germany hopes to launch an app within weeks that would use cellphone data to trace coronavirus infections, after deciding that it would not invade people’s privacy. Reuters reporting.

European scientists and technologists will launch a joint project today to support the use of digital Apps in the battle against coronavirus while adhering to the region’s strict privacy laws. The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) joins together 130 researchers from eight countries to devise applications that can support contact tracing efforts within countries and across borders. These will become more crucial in containing future flare-ups in COVID-19 once nationwide lockdowns have succeeded in ‘flattening’ the curve of the pandemic’s spread. Reuters reporting.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D) yesterday sharply criticized the federal government for inciting an “eBay”-style bidding war for ventilators as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies. In his daily news briefing, Cuomo said having numerous states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) simultaneously trying to obtain the crucial breathing machines was “like being on eBay.” Trump yesterday suggested that the U.S. was “holding on” to a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators, that the government would gradually and strategically dispense. David Smith reports for The Guardian.

A look at how Trump’s attitude toward the threat of COVID-19 has evolved is fielded by Harry Stevens and Shelly Tan at the Washington Post, who note the president has shifted “from casual dismissal to reluctant acknowledgment to bellicose mobilization.”

“Trump finally leveled with America about the desperate reality of the coronavirus pandemic,” CNN’s Stephen Collins writes in an analysis.

Key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing is provided in an analysis by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

The coronavirus is no reason to lift U.S. sanctions against Iran, Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg write at Foreign Policy, commenting, exploiting the coronavirus crisis to demand an end to sanctions is “fundamentally dishonest — and panders to a brutal regime.”

A thought-provoking piece on the “political manipulation” and “democratic erosion” at play with global responses to the pandemic is provided by Sarah Margon at Just Security.

The “coronavirus coup” in Hungary shows how other important matters that warrant our collective attention are “getting less of it than they otherwise would,” Daniel B. Baer agues at Foreign Policy, citing “Russia’s plans to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the pre-existing humanitarian catastrophe in Syria’s Idlib region … [and] the geopolitical and security concerns surrounding 5G digital infrastructure.”

The collection and use of individuals’ coronavirus information should be transparent to the public, Jessica Davis argues at Just Security, calling on States and their citizens to “question how much freedom and privacy should be sacrificed to limit the impact of this pandemic.”

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News.

SURVEILLANCE

A Justice Department watchdog has identified additional errors in the F.B.I.’s wiretap application process after reviewing more than two dozen Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) applications, according to a memo issued by Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The findings, which come from a follow-up audit, point to widespread problems with the bureau’s handling of national security surveillance warrants beyond the recent highly charged case of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

Senators are seething over the House’s decision to depart Washington last week without temporarily extending key domestic surveillance laws that expired in mid-March. Senators say they believed the House was going to vote by Friday to extend provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the Senate had already approved before tackling the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. House lawmakers, however, left Washington on Friday without addressing the Senate’s F.I.S.A. provisions. Marianne Levine and Martin Matishak report for POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The Trump administration yesterday unveiled a proposal for the lifting of Venezuela sanctions in exchange for the creation of a power-sharing transitional government made up of members of the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally announced the administration’s “Democratic Transition Framework” for Venezuela, which is the first road map to relief from some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed by Washington. The Guardian reporting.

U.S. air strikes in Somalia killed two civilians and wounded three others in February, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said today, in a new report that raised questions over U.S. probes into such claims. U.S. Africa Command said it was reviewing the allegations. Reuters reporting.

A three-member Taliban team arrived in Kabul yesterday to begin a prisoner exchange process, which is likely to kick-start talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government side to end the country’s 18-year-old war. The peace talks, known as the intra-Afghan dialogue, were envisaged in a deal between the United States and the Taliban, which also set out an exchange of 6,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government and the group. Al Jazeera reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).