The Early Edition: April 13, 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 has surpassed Italy for the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in the world, reporting more than 20,000 fatalities, a figure experts have called “an underestimation.” Much-smaller Italy has still lost more people per capita — approximately 31 of every 100,000 citizens have been killed by the virus. Globally, the number of deaths related to the novel coronavirus has topped 114,000, with more than 1.8 million confirmed cases, according to an updated tally run by Johns Hopkins University. Meryl Kornfield reports for the Washington Post.

Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared yesterday to confirm a stunning New York Times report which said he and other Trump administration officials recommended the implementation of social distancing measures to battle the coronavirus in February, but were snubbed for almost a month. Asked on C.N.N.’s State of the Union why the administration did not start mitigation when he and other public health officials advised, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said: “as I have said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint … We make a recommendation …Often, the recommendation is taken … Sometimes, it’s not … It is what it is … We are where we are right now.” Fauci admitted that lives could have been saved had President Trump made the call to shut the country down sooner as the novel coronavirus began to spread throughout the United States. Martin Pengelly reports for The Guardian.

Trump later signaled his disproval with the interview by sharing a message on Twitter about firing Fauci. Trump retweeted a post yesterday from former Republican congressional candidate for California, Deanna Lorraine, that said “Time to #FireFauci” as he rejected criticism of his slow initial response to the pandemic. “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives,” the message read. “Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large.” Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Public health experts yesterday discussed the question of when to reopen parts of the U.S. economy, closed down because of the coronavirus pandemic, with multiple Trump administration officials warning that a target date of May 1 — floated by Trump, among others — may not be realistic. “It is a target, and, obviously, we’re hopeful about that target, but I think it’s just too early to be able to tell that we see light at the end of the tunnel,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on A.B.C. News’s “This Week.” “I think it’s just too early for us to say whether May 1 is that date.” Felicia Sonmez, Taylor Telford and Elise Viebeck report for the Washington Post.

Aides to Trump are weighing some potentially far-reaching moves to “punish” the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) amid the coronavirus pandemic, including attempting to form an alternative institution. Officials have started preparing a letter that — if the decision is made — will announce a stoppage of U.S. funding to the W.H.O. and a related body, the Pan American Health Organization, according to a person familiar with the issue. Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said yesterday that the state is seeing a “flattening” of the rate of new coronavirus cases and deaths, but warned that the death toll remains “at a terribly high level” as it approaches 10,000. New York has recorded over 188,694 virus cases and 9,385 deaths so far. The New York Times reporting.

Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) are challenging each other over who has the authority to shut the city’s schools. De Blasio announced late Friday New York City’s 1,800 public schools would remain closed through the end of June, but the announcement was soon undermined by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who disputed de Blasio’s authority to order the schools closed for the rest of the term. New York City’s is the largest school district in the United States. Jesse McKinley, Eliza Shapiro and Jeffery C. Mays report for the New York Times.

China today reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in almost six weeks, more than 90% involving people returning from other countries. The uptick prompted fears of a second wave of Covid-19. Reuters reporting.

China has introduced restrictions on the publication of academic research on the origins of the novel coronavirus, according to a central government directive and online notices published by two Chinese universities, that have since been taken off the web. Under the new policy, all academic papers on Covid-19 will be subject to additional scrutiny before being lodged for publication. Studies on the origin of the virus will receive extra vetting and must be sanctioned by central government officials, according to the now-deleted posts. The increased scrutiny seems to be the latest effort by the Chinese government to have charge of the narrative on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Nectar Gan, Caitlin Hu and Ivan Watson report for CNN.

Covid-19 poses a uniquely high risk for Yemen, according to a risk report published last week by A.C.A.P.S., a nonprofit project of the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children that publishes projections on the world’s most vulnerable communities. “Despite precautions issued by Yemeni national authorities and W.H.O. to minimize the risk of the virus transmission, there is a high risk that COVID-19 spreads rapidly throughout Yemen,” the new report warned, as the Middle East’s poorest country recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus. Colum Lynch reports for Foreign Policy.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson left the hospital yesterday to continue his recovery from coronavirus after having spent a week in the hospital and three nights in the intensive care unit last week. The prime minister departed from St. Thomas Hospital in London to recover at Chequers, the prime minister’s country estate. Frank Langfitt reports for NPR.

A look at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) can do to curb the pandemic is provided by Tom Frieden, former director of the C.D.C., at the New York Times, who argues: “The C.D.C. has the knowledge and expertise to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but it needs the authority and voice that’s been withheld from it the past three months.”

An advanced surveillance system could help stop the pandemic right now — if we change our concept of personal privacy, Bruno Maçães argues at Foreign Policy, assessing the advantages and concerns with using big data.

Congress should demand full access to the classified documents that contain the emergency powers at Trump’s disposal — known as “presidential emergency action documents” — to ensure that they are in accordance with the Constitution and basic principles of democracy, Elizabeth Goitein and Andrew Boyle argue at the New York Times, stressing that the documents could make their first appearance in the Covid-19 crisis.

“Trump, having weaponized a public health crisis to ignore long-established statutes, rules and procedures, has finally managed to crush [40 years of U.S. asylum and immigration law],” the Washington Post editorial board comments.

A lawsuit accusing Fox News of broadcasting false coronavirus information, though appealing, would likely be counterproductive, media law expert Erin Carroll explains in a piece for Just Security, exploring what other legal mechanisms might be used to hold the network accountable.

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.

ARMS CONTROL

President Trump has officially tapped Marshall Billingslea as his special envoy for arms control, a role expected to lead efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Russia and China. Billingslea’s appointment — which comes as the United States’s pact with Russia, known as the New START Treaty, expires in under a year — was announced in a White House news release Friday. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

The case for extending New START as the world fights the coronavirus pandemic is made out by Kingstoxn Reif and Shannon Bugos at Just Security, who set out the security benefits and argue that “prolonging the treaty would buy five additional years with which to pursue negotiations on more ambitious nuclear arms control measures.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Supporters of a treaty intended to reduce the risk of an accidental war between the west and Russia are warning President Trump could pull out from the agreement as the world’s attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic. The Open Skies Treaty allows for unarmed, observation flights over the territory of the pact’s 35 signatories with the intention of providing transparency about military activities to avoid misjudgments that could lead to war. Administration officials maintain a review is ongoing as four senior Democrats warned last week that withdrawing “in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

A Justice Department (D.O.J.) internal investigation has found “material errors or omissions” in two surveillance warrant applications in 2019, according to a newly unsealed court filing. In the filing to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.C.) last week, the department also gave an explanation of how it is working to address concerns about its surveillance warrant process. AP reporting.

The coronavirus pandemic will delay the probe into the downing of a Ukrainian international flight over Iran, after Canada asked Tehran to hold off downloading data on the black boxes due to travel restrictions. AFP reporting.

New air defense systems are now shielding American and allied forces at military bases in Iraq where soldiers have been attacked by Iranian-backed insurgents in recent months, according to U.S. officials. Patriot missile launchers and two other short-range systems are now operating at al-Asad Air Base, where Iran conducted a massive ballistic missile attack against U.S. and coalition troops in January, and at the military base in Irbil, officials said. A short-range rocket defense system was positioned at Camp Taji. AP reporting.

Israel’s president has refused a request from Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz for a two-week extension to create a new coalition government. The announcement by Reuven Rivlin means that Gantz and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have a midnight deadline today to reach a power-sharing accord. If they fail, the country could have no option but to hold a fourth consecutive election in just over a year. AP reporting.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has carried out a major overhaul of his State Affairs Commission, official media reported today, replacing more than a third of its members. The rubber-stamp parliament gathered yesterday, a day after Kim presided over a governing party politburo meeting where he urged strict measures to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Taliban will release 20 Afghan government prisoners it was holding, a spokesperson of the Islamist militant group said yesterday, the first handover by the insurgents since the beginning of a peace process. The announcement follows a series of releases of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government and came after the head of U.S. and N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan met Taliban leaders to talk about a reduction in violence in the war-torn country. 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).