The Early Edition: April 6, 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 1.27 million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus worldwide with 69,000 total deaths, according to a tally updated by Johns Hopkins University. The United States has now recorded more than 337,000 cases of the virus and the country’s death toll crept toward 10,000, with more than 9,600 deaths recorded as of today. Amy Woodyatt, Helen Regan, Jessie Yeung, and Adam Renton report for CNN.

The rapidly spreading new coronavirus is “almost certainly” killing Americans who are not included in the nation’s official count, according to public health experts and government officials involved in the tally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) includes only deaths in which the presence of the coronavirus is verified in a laboratory test, while funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives have acknowledged certain individuals who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested. “We know that it is an underestimation,” C.D.C. spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said. Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard and Aaron C. Davis report for the Washington Post.

President Trump has warned Americans to prepare for the “toughest week” of the coronavirus pandemic yet, predicting a spike in deaths. At his daily briefing Saturday, Trump took swipe at governors over their requests for medical equipment — most notably, ventilators — accusing them of “playing politics” and said worries of a shortage have led to “inflated” requests. At the same time, the president stressed the U.S. cannot remain shut down forever, adding that the White House would review its social distancing guidelines. Jason Slotkin and Barbara Sprunt report for NPR.

The president announced Saturday that the U.S. military would be sending 1,000 personnel to New York, the current epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, to help the city deal with the pandemic. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Saturday said deaths in the state had topped 3,500, a devastating jump of 630 in one day; he also reported 10,841 new coronavirus cases since Friday, a record one-day rise, bringing the total number of positive cases to 113,704. J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill.

The growing number of cases prompted Trump to once again promote the use of hydroxychloroquine,an anti-malarial drug that is being tested as a possible coronavirus treatment. The president, who has been criticized for overstating the effectiveness of the drug, claimed that “there are some very strong, powerful signs” of the medicine’s potential. Health experts, however, have warned that the data is “extremely limited” and that more study of whether the drug is an effective COVID-19 treatment is needed. Michael Crowley, Katie Thomas and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who was in the center of the impeachment controversy earlier this year, has been praising the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and has handed himself a new role: as personal science adviser to a president keen to find ways to short-circuit the coronavirus pandemic. Giuliani said he now spends his hours on the phone with doctors, coronavirus patients and hospital executives promoting the treatment, which Trump has also publicly touted. Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey and Jon Swaine report for the Washington Post.

Trump in mid-March personally pushed federal health officials to make malaria drugs available to remedy the novel coronavirus, though they had not yet been tested for COVID-19, two sources told Reuters. Shortly afterward, the federal government released highly unusual guidance telling doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with crucial dosing information based on non-credited anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science. Reuters reporting.

The nation’s leading infectious disease specialist said last night that as many as half the people infected with the virus may not exhibit any symptoms, a much higher estimate than the director of the C.D.C. gave last week. “It’s somewhere between 25 and 50 percent,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said during a briefing by Trump and members of his coronavirus task force. He warned, however, that it was only a prediction, adding that even the scientists leading the nation’s fight against the virus, “the friends that we are, we differ about that.” The New York Times reporting.

The Pentagon yesterday tightened its policy on face masks to stem the spread of coronavirus, issuing new guidance that requires all military and civilian personnel, along with family members, contractors and guests on military installations, to wear “cloth face coverings” if they are unable to stay at least six feet away from others. In a memo sent to Defense Department staff, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the new protocol is designed to bring the Pentagon in line with C.D.C. recommendations that people wear masks when out in public to prevent transmission of the virus. Barbara Starr, Devan Cole and Ryan Browne report for CNN.

Esper yesterday defended the dismissal of the Navy captain who warned about a coronavirus outbreak on board an aircraft carrier, describing the commanding officer’s expulsion as an “example of how we hold leaders accountable.” Esper told C.N.N.’s “State of the Union” that Navy Secretary Thomas Modly had “made a very tough decision” in deciding to fire Capt. Brett Crozier from his command of the U.S.S. Roosevelt, but the Pentagon chief added that it was a move he supported. Pressed on whether there should have been a completed inquiry into Crozier’s performance before his dismissal — in the same way other relieved Navy commanders had been investigated — Esper said “there is an investigation ongoing” and that it “is not unheard of” to fire a commander without the benefit of a full review. Quint Forget reports for POLITICO.

A review of federal purchasing contracts shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin making mass orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other supplies needed by front-line health care workers. The review shows how the Trump administration wasted almost two months that could have been used to boost the national stockpile of urgently required medical supplies and equipment. AP reporting.

From the Oval Office to the C.D.C., political and institutional failures gushed through the system and chances to contain the pandemic were lost, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller write in a Washington Post “investigation” piece. The reporters conclude: “The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measures to contain them.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has introduced a partial curfew for those under the age of 20 and has shut the borders of 31 cities for vehicles, excluding essential reserves, as part of measures imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The mandatory confinement went into force Friday. Al Jazeera reporting.

Turkey also said it would reduce its troop movements in operation zones in neighboring Syria, as the Turkish death toll and infections continue to go up. Al Jazeera reporting.

South Korea declared fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases for the first time since its peak at the end of February as daily infections in Asia’s biggest outbreak outside China continued to shift downward. Reutersreporting.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said “low-risk” economic activities will continue from April 11amid a global pandemic in the worst-affected Middle Eastern country. “Under the supervision of the health ministry, all those low-risk economic activities will resume from Saturday,” Rouhani said in a televised session yesterday, adding that “those activities will resume in the capital, Tehran, from April 18.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Coronavirus could be “truly catastrophic” for the 700,000 refugees and migrants in Libya. The head of the Libyan National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Badereldine al-Najar, said: “In light of the lack of preparations, I now consider Libya not in a position to confront this virus.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The Trump administration’s moves to limit the export of vital medical equipment are pushing Canada to turn to China. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday that Canada is due to receive “millions” of masks from China within the next 48 hours after U.S.-based producer 3M said it got an order Friday from the Trump administration to stop shipping N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. Andy Blatchford reports for POLITICO.

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

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.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

Intelligence Community Inspector General (I.C. I.G.) Michael Atkinson was fired by President Trump Friday and says he believes his dismissal was due to his commitment to his duty as an impartial watchdog. “It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Trump has defended his decision to dismiss Atkinson. The President on Saturday stated that: “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible … He is a total disgrace.” Lauren Egan reports for NBC News.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has warned that the peace deal with the U.S. is near breaking point as it believes the U.S. is violating the agreement and the Afghanistan government is “indefensibly” delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners. In response to warnings made by the Taliban that continued violations will “create an atmosphere of mistrust that will not only damage the agreements, but also force mujaheddin to a similar response and will increase the level of fighting,” the U.S. military spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett said in a message sent on Twitter that the U.S. “upheld and continues to uphold the military terms of the U.S.-TB (Taliban) agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless.” Kathy Gannon reports for The Washington Post.

Local ISIL leader Abdullah Orokzai and 19 other fighters have been arrested by Afghan intelligence. The arrests come after an attack by the Islamic State of the Khorosan Province, led by Orokzaion, on a Sikh religious complex in Kabul, which killed 25 people. Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.C.) has ordered the F.B.I. to review 29 wiretap applications it made in terrorism and espionage investigations after a review by an inspector general revealed issues with how the F.B.I. prepared them. The court said that a memo it received from the inspector general “provides further reason for system concern [and that this] thereby reinforces the need for the Court to monitor the ongoing efforts of the F.B.I. and D.O.J. to ensure that, going forward, F.B.I. applications present accurate and complete facts … When problems are identified in particular cases, furthermore, the Court must evaluate what remedial measures may be necessary.” Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.

An ultranationalist group in Russia – The Russian Imperial Movement – are to be the first white supremacist group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.  The State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales said “These designations are unprecedented … This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat … We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat.” Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.

Iran has denied the U.S. government’s accusation that it is responsible for the killing of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Turkey last November. Following statements by senior U.S. officials and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran was to blame, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said in a Twitter post: “Undisputed fact: US “diplomats” have long been in the business of coups, arming terrorists, fueling [sic] sectarian violence, supporting narcotics cartels, bullying governments & companies, spying on even US allies, flirting with dictators, butchers and terrorists, etc.” 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).