The Early Edition: April 10, 2020

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

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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 1.6 million cases of the novel coronavirus and 95,000 deaths have been recorded globally. The U.S. has reported more than 466,000 cases, with 16,600 deaths, according to an updated tally run by Johns Hopkins University. Jennifer Calfas, Christine Mai-Duc and Stephen Fidler report for the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations Security Council met for the first time yesterday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, amid growing concern that it could lead to social unrest and political instability. The gathering of the 15-member body, via videoconference link, was not publicly exhibited on the organization’s website. However, diplomats who took part said just the convening of the meeting constituted progress compared with a week ago, when spats among its five permanent members — mainly between the U.S. and China — blocked the council from even discussing the pandemic. Inaction by the council to confront COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has led to criticism that it has become increasingly irrelevant in tackling threats to international peace and security. The New York Times reporting.

Secretary-General António Guterres warned the Security Council yesterday that the pandemic could lead to “an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.” He called for the U.N.’s most powerful body, which has been silent on COVID-19 since it started spreading around the world more than three months ago, to unite on combatting the virus, saying its engagement will be “critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic” and “would count for a lot at this anxious time.” AP reporting.

U.S. intelligence agencies were monitoring the growth of the novel coronavirus as early as November, weeks before that information was included in Trump’s daily intelligence briefing, a former U.S. military official told C.N.N.. While the precise date of the first report remains unclear, sources said that intelligence collected in November and in the weeks after offered several early warnings about the possible severity of the pandemic now surging in the U.S.. Zachary Cohen, Jim Sciutto, Alex Marquardt and Evan Perez report for CNN.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) raised the alarm about the risk of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 to the U.S. and other nations as early as Jan. 10, and urged preventative measures even though initial Chinese studies at that point had found no clear evidence of that route of infection. Technical guidance notes reviewed by the Guardian and briefings by senior W.H.O. officials warned global health leaders of possible human-to-human transmission and made clear that there was a threat of contracting the disease through water droplets and contaminated surfaces, based on the experience of previous coronavirus outbreaks, such as Sars and Mers. Trump in recent days has tried to blame the W.H.O. for the pandemic. Peter Beaumont and Julian Borger report for The Guardian.

A sailor assigned to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt has been transferred to an intensive care unit in Guam, where the ship has been docked for more than a week, officials said yesterday. So far, 416 crew members have tested positive for the virus, with 1,164 tests pending. The coronavirus outbreak aboard the Roosevelt has evolved into a political firestorm after the ship’s former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, penned a letter asking for help that leaked in the media and led to his dismissal by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who himself resigned Tuesday. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

The Pentagon expects that the new coronavirus may hit more Navy ships after the outbreak on the Roosevelt, a top general said yesterday. “It’s not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind issue,” Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a defense news conference. “We have too many ships at sea. … To think that it will never happen again is not a good way to plan.” AP reporting.

The White House is pushing to reopen much of the country next month, raising concerns among health experts and economists of a potential COVID-19 comeback if Americans return to their normal lives before the virus is truly suppressed. Behind closed doors, Trump — concerned with the slumping economy — has sought a strategy for continuing business activity by May 1, according to people familiar with the discussions, and has even considered trying to reopen much of the country before the end of April, when the current federal guidelines to avoid social gatherings and work from home lapse, the people said. Trump frequently looks at unemployment and stock market figures, complaining that they are harming his presidency and reelection prospects, the people said. Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Jose A. Del Real and William Wan report for the Washington Post.

The Trump administration has conducted almost 10,000 summary deportations or “expulsions” since March 21, using emergency public health measures during the pandemic that have given U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) wide powers to bypass immigration laws, C.B.P. officials said yesterday. The measures have allowed the agency to speedily turn away most illegal migrants — sending them back across the southern border. The moves have dramatically cut the number of detainees held in border stations, where they worry the coronavirus could spread, the officials said. Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.

Experts anticipate that COVID-19 may affect carriers of HIV and tuberculosis disproportionately, and border closures and crowded hospitals may make accessing treatment more difficult. The areas hit hardest by HIV and tuberculosis are in Africa and South Asia, where the coronavirus is spreading quickly. Max Bearak and Joanna Slater report for the Washington Post.

War-ravaged Yemen has reported its first confirmed case of Covid-19, raising fears of an outbreak in a country where conflict has shattered the health system and spread disease. The novel coronavirus case was reported today in the country’s southern oil producing region of Hadhramout, the supreme national emergency committee said on its Twitter account. AFP reporting.

The Trump administration is looking to block the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) from giving a $5 billion emergency loan to Iran for help in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, according to three administration officials. American officials believe the funds would not actually be used for the country’s public health crisis: “The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism is seeking cash to fund its adventurism abroad, not to buy medicine for Iranians,” a State Department spokesperson told C.N.N.. “The regime’s corrupt officials have a long history of diverting funds allocated for humanitarian goods into their own pockets and to their terrorist proxies.” Iran’s death toll topped 4,000 today, and the country has recorded 66,000 cases of the virus since it hit the country in February, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. Kyle Atwood reports for CNN.

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

Trump was not off the mark when he ripped into the W.H.O. at a news briefing this week, Rich Lowry argues at POLITICO Magazine, commenting, the President was immediately accused of scapegoating, but China and the World Health Organization, which are at the center of this international crisis, need to be held to account.

“The COVID-19 narrative … shows how problematic it would be to use a pathogen as a bioweapon … The attacker would be nearly as vulnerable as the target as the pandemic spread,” David Ignatius comments at the Washington Post, reflecting on how the coronavirus is changing how governments think about warfare.

The coronavirus pandemic may help end one of the world’s nastiest wars, Elana Delozier argues for Foreign Policy, explaining the threat of COVID-19 may provide “the urgency, common interest, and face-saving opportunity” for the Saudis, Houthis, and Yemeni government to agree to the U.N.-sponsored ceasefire and a shared epidemic mitigation plan — which could set the foundation for eventual peace talks.

The dangers of continuing with negotiation of the U.N.’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy Review during the pandemic are highlighted and explained by Jordan Street and Christopher Rogers at Just Security, who argue that “the best strategic decision” would be hit the pause button on such a significant, institution-shaping negotiation. 

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

Attorney General William Barr backed President Trump yesterday on his firing of the intelligence community inspector general, whose decision to notify Congress about a whistleblower complaint last year helped spark Trump’s impeachment. In an interview aired last night with Fox News, Barr said the watchdog, Michael Atkinson, had overstepped his authority by pushing to tell Congress about a whistleblower’s complaint concerning Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and that the President “did the right thing” in removing Atkinson. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

Trump is carrying out a “purge” of the intelligence community, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a letter that repeats concerns raised by his House counterpart, Adam Schiff (Calif..) In the letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) Richard Grenell, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) voiced alarm about the recent ouster of Atkinson. “You explicitly committed to us that you were undertaking a review of O.D.N.I., but that we should ‘[R]est assured that this review is not an effort to purge … the O.D.N.I., as some have erroneously suggested,’” Warner wrote in the letter, dated yesterday. “However, a mere 10 days later, that is exactly what is occurring.” A bipartisan group of eight senators led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to Trump on Wednesday demanding further explanation of Atkinson’s dismissal. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Syria denounced yesterday as “misleading” a report by the global chemical weapons watchdog blaming President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a series of attacks using sarin and chlorine on a rebel-held town in 2017 that wounded over 70 people and killed at least three. In a statement, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) contained “falsified and fabricated conclusions aimed at falsifying truths and accusing the Syrian government.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The threat from Iranian-backed militia to U.S. forces in Iraq remains “significant,” the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East said yesterday without giving more details, around a week after President Trump warned of an attack by Iran or its proxies. Reuters reports.

Iraq’s president yesterday nominated the country’s intelligence chief as prime minister, the third attempt to forge a government as political deadlock threatens Baghdad’s ability to tackle multiple crises compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Isabel Coles in Beirut and Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad report for the Wall Street Journal.

Pakistan has requested that neighbor Afghanistan extradite a leader in the local Islamic State group branch who was arrested in an Afghan intelligence mission in southern Afghanistan earlier this month. Aslam Farooqi, a Pakistani national, has been accused by the Afghan government of involvement in last month’s attack in Kabul on a Sikh temple that killed 25 worshipers. AP reporting.

The Yemen ceasefire is unlikely to last unless it is linked to a larger process aimed at addressing the many issues that have kept Yemenis fighting, Ben Hubbard writes for the New York Times. 

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).