The Early Edition: April 8, 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

The United States yesterday recorded its highest coronavirus death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 virus-related fatalities, bringing the nation’s death toll to almost 13,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. now has almost 400,000 of the world’s 1.4 million reported COVID-19 cases. BBC News reporting.

President Trump yesterday threatened to withhold money from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), criticizing the organization as slow to respond to the crisis and being “very China-centric.” Speaking about the W.H.O.’s response to the new coronavirus, Trump said, “They could’ve called it months earlier … They would have known and they should have known … So we’ll be looking into that very carefully.” Trump at one point said “we’re gonna put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O.,” before backtracking later in the briefing and saying “we’re going to take a look at it.” The W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on Jan. 30 and a global pandemic on March 11. David Smith reports for The Guardian.

The President yesterday denied that he had ever seen January and February memos, written and passed round the White House by his top trade adviser Peter Navarro, that warned the virus could put millions of Americans at risk and cost trillions of dollars. During a coronavirus task force news briefing yesterday, Trump sad he had not seen the memos at the time but did “more or less” what his trade adviser suggested by imposing travel restrictions on China. Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

Trump yesterday removed a top Pentagon official leading the committee tasked with overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that passed Congress with bipartisan support, instead tapping the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) inspector general to act as the temporary Pentagon watchdog in addition to his other responsibilities. The move comes as Trump’s critics take aim at a wave of presidential actions challenging the authority and independence of agency watchdogs overseeing his administration, including Trump’s late Friday firing of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general whose handling of a whistleblower report ultimately led to the President’s impeachment. Kyle Cheney and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned yesterday, a day after he insulted and then apologized to a captain he had fired for raising concerns about a coronavirus outbreak on his ship. Modly offered his resignation to Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a meeting yesterday morning. In a statement posted to Twitter, Esper said Modly had “resigned on his own accord,” and briefed Trump on the move. Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne report for CNN.

The Navy has announced more than 200 coronavirus cases aboard the Roosevelt since the outbreak began in late March. Justine Wise reports for the Hill.

COVID-19 seems to be infecting and killing black people in the U.S. at disproportionately high rates, according to a Washington Post analysis of initial data from jurisdictions across the country. The emerging statistics led the surgeon general yesterday to admit in personal terms the increased risk for African Americans amid growing calls for public-health officials to publish more data on the race of those who are sick, hospitalized and dying. Reis Thebault, Andrew Ba Tran and Vanessa Williams report for the Washington Post.

A crucial White House coronavirus task force has been directed to leave its war room and start working remotely after a “partner” of the group tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) sent to staff members late Monday. “Until further notice, all personnel in the Supply Chain Resilience task force” on a particular floor of one of F.E.M.A.’s sites “and the F.E.M.A. Conference Center are required to telework,” the email said. Jonathan Allen and Pete Williams report for NBC News.

U.S. Army researchers at Fort Detrick in Maryland have started testing possible vaccines for the new coronavirus on animals, officials said. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick is trialling on “non-human primates,” Jonathan Hoffman, the assistant to the secretary of Defense for public affairs, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. Kaelan Deese reports for the Hill.

California’s court system, the country’s biggest, announced a series of emergency measures this week to deal with vulnerabilities linked to the current public health crisis. The 11 emergency measures include “temporarily eliminating bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies, conducting pretrial hearings remotely, and placing new limits on evictions and foreclosures.” Eric Westervelt reports for NPR.

New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown has resulted in just one death in the country so far, data showed as of this morning. New Zealand imposed a strict lockdown last month, beginning on March 25, set to last four weeks with the goal of eliminating the virus rather than containing it. Less than two weeks in, the number of new cases per day has fallen two days in a row. Justine Coleman reports for the Hill.

Saudi Arabia could see up to 200,000 cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks – the country’s health secretary Tawfiq al-Rabiah warned. Al Jazeera reporting. 

China has ended the 11-week lockdown in Wuhan after the country has reported only three cases since March 18. Marty Johnson reports for The Hill. 

The U.S. may block Iran’s $5 billion emergency loan request to the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) to help fight the pandemic, after the Trump administration claimed the Iranian government has billion dollar accounts it can use, and that Iranian “officials have a long history of diverting funds allocated for humanitarian goods into their own pockets and to their terrorist proxies.” Ian Talley reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Iran’s death toll has passed 4,000 and the total number of infections in the country topped 67,000 – the health ministry spokesperson confirmed. Reuters reporting.  

Russia has reported a record increase of over 8,600 cases of coronavirus since yesterday. Reuters reporting. 

The South Korean government have said today that they will be imposing new travel restrictions and have also announced $29.5 billion in business aid. “While maintaining the foundation of our openness, we will strengthen travel restrictions under the principles of reciprocity,” said the Prime Minister Chung Sye0kyun, as the country plans to temporarily suspend visa waivers for citizens of countries that have imposed travel restrictions on South Korean citizens. Reuters reporting.

Trump’s promotion of antimalarial drugs is “almost certainly about politics, not profits,” Philip Bump writes in an analysis for the Washington Post, dismissing reports that the President may be hyping hydroxychloroquine due to his personal financial interests in the drugmaker.

Trump’s reckoning with the coronavirus pandemic has inhibited the White House’s maximum-pressure campaigns, including the sanctions squeezing the Iranian regime, the efforts to eject Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the stalled push to force North Korea to denuclearize, Ishaan Tharoor writes in an analysis for the Washington Post.

South Korea listened carefully to the experts and quickly controlled the epidemic without the country as a whole needing to be closed down, Dr. Terence Kealey argues at CNN.

The Trump team squandered two critical months, broke up the National Security Council (N.S.C.) office, ignored the intelligence community’s warnings that a global pandemic was likely, and repeatedly tried to slash funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), Susan E. Rice writes for the New York Times in an assessment of Trump’s performance as a “wartime president.” 

The pandemic might trigger the kind of cooperation needed to end Libya’s civil war, after years of battling and foreign intervention failed, Edward P. Joseph and Wolfgang Pusztai argue at Foreign Policy.

A fact check of Trump’s claims yesterday during the White House coronavirus briefing is provided by Daniel Dale, Marshall Cohen, Nathan McDermott and Holmes Lybrand at CNN.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Sudan has finalized a settlement deal with the families of 17 U.S. sailors who were killed in an Al-Qaeda-claimed bomb attack whilst on board the U.S. Navy warship U.S.S. Cole attack. The deal is the most recent step taken by the Sudanese government to have the country removed from a U.S.’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, with an official from the Ministry of Justice stating: “The settlement deal … with the families of the victims of the destroyer U.S.S. Cole, who initiated judicial procedures against the Sudanese government before the US courts, has been fully completed.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

The Israeli spyware company N.S.O. Group have said that WhatsApp have “conflated” the group’s actions with the actions of its “sovereign customers,” after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the company in October 2000 for allegedly hacking 1,4000 of its users, many of whom were journalists, human rights activists and diplomats. The company, in its first substantive legal filing last week, argued that “Government customers do that, making all decisions about how to use the technology … If anyone installed Pegasus on any alleged “target devices” it was not [the] defendants [NSO Group] … It would have been an agency of a sovereign government.” Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports for The Guardian. 

An Israeli man has been charged with “infringement of the security of Israel,” accused of spying for Iran and preparing terrorist attacks in Israel. The country’s internal security official, Shin Bet, alleges the man, who was arrested last month, was found in possession of an encrypted device and computer hard drive. Court files also accuse the man of meeting with members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group and with Iranian security forces. BBC reports. 

“President Trump’s vengeful dismissal Friday of the intelligence community’s inspector general was part of a relentless campaign — waged even in the midst of the pandemic — against people and institutions that can hold him accountable,” David Ignatius argues at the Washington Post. 

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).