The Early Edition: June 11, 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.

GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS

President Trump yesterday said his administration would “not even consider” renaming U.S. Army bases and installations that bear the names of Confederate military leaders, just two days after top Pentagon officials indicated they are open to the idea. In a series of Twitter posts, Trump argued the military bases have become part of U.S. history and should not be “tampered with.” “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars … Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” the president wrote. Anne Gearan, Colby Itkowitz and Missy Ryan report for the Washington Post.

Trump’s declaration stunned senior Pentagon leaders. According to two Defense Department officials and a former Trump administration official, some in the Pentagon took the tweet as a snub to Esper, who is already treading dangerously after he publicly opposed using active-duty troops to respond to protests against racism and police brutality triggered by the killing of George Floyd in police custody. Others interpreted the message as Trump playing to a base that is fed up of politically correct culture. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

The White House will propose a series of policing reforms in coming days, a senior administration official said, adding that Trump will hold a roundtable with law enforcement and African American faith leaders in Dallas today as the White House continues to scramble with a political and policy response on the matter. The president could also unveil some measures to address the issue of race and policing in the United States that he can do on his own with an executive order, the official said. Carol E. Lee, Kristen Welker and Shannon Pettypiece report for NBC News.

Interviews with over 20 military officials as well as text messages, online chats, audio recordings, emails and records show that senior Army leaders — in an effort to avoid what they feared would be a tragic outcome if Trump directed combat troops from the 82nd Airborne Division holding just outside city limits to the streets — relied heavily on the Guard to perform aggressive tactics to prove it could “do the job” without active-duty forces. Guard leaders gave a flurry of ad hoc orders that put thousands of Guard troops in face-to-face clashes with fellow Americans. Some of the soldiers were just out of basic training or had no experience in managing disturbances in the streets and some members of the D.C. Guard — made up of more than 60 percent people of color — have not told family they were involved in the crackdown because of embarrassment. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.

National Guard troops stayed in a “supporting role” during recent demonstrations in Washington and steps to prepare active-duty forces to deploy into the nation’s capital proved to be “a precautionary measure,” Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in a letter to Congress yesterday. The Pentagon leaders were responding to a searing letter that Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, sent earlier in the day expressing his “profound frustration” that the Pentagon had not adhered to a committee-imposed deadline to provide written answers to queries about Defense Department actions as thousands of law enforcement officers and National Guard spread across Washington. Esper and Milley have come under intense fire over the past week for appearing to support Trump’s militarized response. Missy Ryan reports for the Washington Post.

Over a thousand former Department of Justice (D.O.J.) workers called on the department’s internal watchdog to investigate Attorney General William Barr’s involvement in the dispersal last week of largely peaceful protesters gathered near the White House. Roughly 1,260 former federal prosecutors, judges and department officials penned a letter yesterday asking D.O.J. Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review after law enforcement used gas and rubber bullets to scatter the crowd. John Kruzel reports for The Hill.

One of the officers attendant at the scene where George Floyd was detained by Minneapolis police shortly before his death has been released from prison on bond. Thomas Lane, who was charged along with Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, bonded out of Hennepin County Jail yesterday after posting a $1 million bail. John Bowden reports for The Hill.

Tech giant Amazon yesterday announced that it is placing a one-year ban on police use of its controversial facial recognition technology, “Rekognition,” stopping a business it long defended as many protested law enforcement brutality against people of color. The company said in a statement it has pressed for regulations to ensure the software was used ethically. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” Amazon said. The decision culminates a two-year fight between Amazon and civil liberties activists, who have expressed concern that inaccurate matches could lead to unjust arrests. Reuters reporting.

Live updates on the protests available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now over 2 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 113,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7.36 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 416,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The U.S. could hit 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths by September, warned Ashish Jha, the head of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, during an interview with CNN yesterday. Jha said that unless drastic action is taken, the numbers will continue to climb, adding: “Even if we don’t have increasing cases, even if we keep things flat, it’s reasonable to expect that we’re going to hit 200,000 deaths sometime during the month of September … And that’s just through September. The pandemic won’t be over in September.” Reuters reporting.

The White House’s coronavirus taskforce has reduced its daily meetings to just one a week, a review of the House’s publicly released schedules has revealed, attracting much concern as the U.S. sees an increase in cases across states. Kiran Stacey and Peter Wells report for the Financial Times.

$130 billion of the small business loans approved by Congress in April to help business during the pandemic – known as the Paycheck Protection Program – has not been used. What is more shocking, is that many businesses have in fact returned money they borrowed – $12 billion according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin talking at a Senate hearing yesterday – and have criticized the program’s terms for being too restrictive. Stacey Cowley reports for the New York Times.

The Department of Defense (D.O.D.) yesterday announced $135 million in deals under the Defense Production Act (D.P.A.), which will “help to retain critical workforce capabilities throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19 and to restore some jobs lost because of the pandemic,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement. The Act, which has previously been invoked by President Trump twice during the pandemic, will be used to provide: “$80 million in contracts to Spirit AeroSystems for advanced tooling, $20 million to Propulsion Defense Industrial Base to ‘sustain critical industrial base capability for highly specialized engineering resources,’ $19.5 million to Steel America for U.S. Navy shaft repair and manufacturing, $15 million to Bethel Industries for ‘laser cutting of laminated nylon fabrics’ and $500,000 to Allied Systems for manufacturing and service provisioning for cranes and davits for the Navy and Coast Guard,” J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill.

A fact check on Trump’s claim that the recent spike in U.S. coronavirus cases is due to the country carrying out “more testing,” is provided by Jane C. Timm for NBC News.

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.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

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

WATCHDOG FIRING

Ousted inspector general (I.G.) Steve Linick has accused the State Department’s top attorney, Marik String, and Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao of attempting to bully him and discourage his investigations into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, according to a transcript released yesterday of Linick’s testimony to lawmakers on June 3. The transcripts revealed that Bulatao, a close confidant of Pompeo, told Linick “that we shouldn’t be doing the work because it was a policy matter not within the I.G.’s jurisdiction,” with String mirroring this opinion. Linick was also clear that everyone was aware that he was investigating Pompeo: “I wanted to make sure everybody was aware so that they wouldn’t be surprised,” which further fuels allegations that Pompeo ordered Linick’s firing due to the investigations – something Pompeo denies. Edward Wong, Michael LaForgia and Lara Jakes report for the New York Times.

The transcript of Linick’s recent testimony also reveals he was investigating just prior to his dismissal Pompeo and his wife for alleged misuse of department resources, one of five investigations Linick’s office was conducting into Pompeo and the State Department. Robbie Gramer reports for Foreign Policy.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The retired judge John Gleeson, who was asked by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan to review the criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, yesterday submitted an 82-page legal filing to the federal court of appeals condemning the Department of Justice (D.O.J.)’s decision to drop the case against Flynn as a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power.” Gleeson’s filing said: The D.O.J. “has a solemn responsibility to prosecute this case — like every other case — without fear or favor … The facts surrounding the filing of the Government’s motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse. They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump.” He further added: “Even recognizing that the Government is entitled to deference in assessing the strength of its case, these claims are not credible … Indeed, they are preposterous.” Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

British authorities have suspended sending over any evidence to the U.S. in criminal cases, stating it has “paused transmission of all evidence to all countries that maintain the death penalty on their statute books.” The move follows a U.K. Supreme Court case in March that ruled it was unlawful for British authorities to have worked with the U.S. on a terrorism case without first being assured the suspects would not face the death penalty. “The U.S. is not, however, the only country affected by this pause, and the U.K.C.A. is mindful of the impact the decision to pause transmission might have on some proceedings. … Our policy colleagues are working through the implications, and we hope to be in a position to reconsider the transmission to third countries in cases where the death penalty is not the maximum sentence possible in due course,” the Central Authority said. Matt Zapotosky, Shane Harris and  John Hudson report for the Washington Post.

The D.O.J.’s Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco has told the department he plans to step from his position, those familiar with the matter said yesterday. Francisco’s deputy, Jeff Wall, is likely to temporarily replace him while a replacement is found. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.

Trump plans to nominate Army Brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata to be the Pentagon’s policy chief, the White House announced yesterday. Tata would step into John Rood’s old role, who was ousted as undersecretary of police in February. Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.

LIBYA

The United Nations yesterday said Libya’s warring sides were “fully” engaged in a new round of ceasefire talks, describing the virtual meetings aimed at ending the fighting in the country’s west as “productive.” The U.N. support mission in Libya, U.N.S.M.I.L., said it held a meeting with negotiators from renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based forces on June 3, and another meeting Tuesday with a delegation from the U.N.-supported government. “Both meetings — which were conducted virtually — were productive and enabled U.N.S.M.I.L. to discuss with the delegations the latest developments on the ground,” the mission said. AP reporting.

Meanwhile, Turkey has rebuffed Egypt’s proposal for a truce in Libya, saying the plan aimed to rescue Haftar after the collapse of his 14-month military push to seize the capital. “The ceasefire call to save Haftar does not seem sincere or believable to us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters. Al Jazeera reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The top U.S. general in the Middle East yesterday predicted that talks this week between U.S. and Iraqi officials will not lead to the removal of U.S. troops from the country. “It is my belief that the government of Iraq is going to want to retain U.S. and coalition forces,” U.S. Central Command head Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said yesterday during a web broadcast hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute. “And as you know, from my perspective, we’re in Iraq to finish the defeat of [Islamic State group] ISIS and to support Iraq as they finish that defeat and come to a final, final victory against it.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been actively weighing building a new D-10 group of 10 leading democracies (the current G-7 members, plus South Korea, India, and Australia) for addressing both 5G mobile communications and vulnerable supply chains. In a piece for Foreign Policy, Erik Brattberg and Ben Judah argue why “the moment is right for a summit of democracies,” noting “a limited action-oriented D-10 [would] make it harder for Washington to pursue unilateral approaches or zero-sum thinking toward China.” 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

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

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).