The Early Edition: June 12, 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 he was working on an executive order to “encourage” better practices by police departments but he offered few details on what his order would include, as political pressure builds for police reform after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25 after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Brushing off police misconduct as the work of only a few “bad apples,” Trump strongly defended law enforcement agencies and made clear he had scant interest in broader  proposals to tackle racial injustice and police brutality in the United States being debated in Congress. At a round-table discussion he convened in a Dallas church before hosting a campaign fundraiser, the president slammed calls to “defund” or dismantle police departments. Peter Baker and Thomas Kaplan report for the New York Times.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said yesterday he was wrong to appear with the president in a photo op near the White House last week, staged after federal law enforcement dispersed peaceful protesters from Layfayette Square with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bangs. Milley was seen last week walking to St. John’s Episcopal Church with Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, among other Trump administration officials in his combat fatigues. There, Trump posed for a photo with a bible in his hand in front of the church. “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of military involvement in domestic politics,” Milley said of the controversial June 1 incident. Milley’s public apology appeared likely to further strain the already fraught relations between U.S. military leaders and the White House. Philip Rucker, Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.

Milley discussed resigning after his participation in Trump’s photo opportunity outside St. John’s last week, according to three senior defense officials. Milley spent hours trawling through social media posts and news articles and also spoke to confidants, asking them for counsel and discussing whether he should resign, the officials said. Milley reached out “to several of his longstanding mentors to discuss his situation,” acknowledging that there were disapproval and calls for his resignation, a defense official confirmed. Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report for NBC News.

Esper late yesterday declared an “After Action Review” of the National Guard’s contentious role in nationwide protests last week. The Pentagon chief named Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to spearhead the review, which is due by July 30 and will examine the Guard’s “recent efforts in support of law enforcement to address civil unrest,” specifically in the past fortnight, according to a Defense Department statement. In the statement, Esper said the Guard “has performed professionally and capably in support of law enforcement in cities across the United States.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

A U.S. senator yesterday called on Attorney General Bill Barr to give an account of how surveillance technology has been deployed against Americans during protests over the death of George Floyd. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told Barr that peaceful demonstrators “should not be subject to invasive surveillance” and asked whether the Department of Justice had sanctioned the use of “facial recognition, unmanned aircraft, or cellphone tracking technology” in connection with the rallies. Concerns have grown amid sightings of drones and other surveillance aircraft deployed over American cities and reports about government intentions to spy on protesters. Reuters reporting.

Hundreds of West Point graduates are challenging top Pentagon leaders over their failures to uphold the Constitution in their response to the nationwide protests this month, according to a letter penned by a group of concerned alumni. The letter, addressed to the school’s class of 2020, comes two days before Trump’s planned speech at the school’s commencement and commissioning ceremony. The 1,000 graduating West Point cadets were summoned back to campus for the event despite the coronavirus pandemic. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved an amendment aimed at curbing Trump’s ability to use active-duty troops against protesters. The amendment, from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), was approved in a voice vote during the committee’s private markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) on Wednesday, the senator’s office said yesterday. Kaine announced last week he would present the amendment after Trump threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that creates an exception to the general ban on using the U.S. military to enforce domestic laws. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted yesterday to remove Confederate names from military bases and other Defense Department facilities within the next three years, setting up a clash with Trump on the matter. The committee approved the measure, proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Wednesday as an amendment to the Senate version of the N.D.A.A.. If the text survives the floor vote and is also included in the House version of the bill, the president would have to veto the entire legislation in order to prevent the names from changing. Kasie Hunt and Julie Tsirkin report for NBC News.

The names of two Confederate naval figures should be taken down from campus buildings at the U.S. Naval Academy, the school’s Board of Visitors chair said yesterday. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said the Pentagon should consider removing Confederate names from all military facilities as Americans nationwide protest and demand an end to racial inequality and police brutality. “There has been discussion of renaming these buildings since at least 2017,” Ruppersberger said in a statement posted to his congressional website. “As the new Chairman, the time for discussion is over. It’s time for action,” he said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

A man sustained life-threatening injuries when protesters in Portsmouth, Virginia partially dismantled a Confederate memorial on Wednesday night, according to Virginia State Police. Portsmouth Mayor John L. Rowe, Jr. said Portsmouth Police had done the correct thing in “confining the vandalism to the one piece of public property, so as to protect lives and the remaining private property in the area.” Mallika Kallingal and Rebekah Riess report for CNN.

Over a dozen Minneapolis police officers who say they represent hundreds of others denounced the former officer charged in the killing of George Floyd. And they voiced support for policing reforms in an open letter released yesterday that is addressed to “Dear Everyone — but especially Minneapolis citizens.” “We wholeheartedly condemn Derek Chauvin,” the letter said at the outset, and it went on to censure the now-fired officer’s actions. David Schaper reports for NPR.

Tech giant Microsoft yesterday said it would wait for federal regulation before selling facial recognition technology to police departments, making it the latest large company to retreat from the business following protests against law enforcement brutality and bias. The announcement came shortly after rival Amazon said it was halting police use of its “Rekognition” software for one year and International Business Machines Corp said it no longer offers the service generally. Reuters reporting.

Live updates on the protests available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now over 2.02 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 114,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7.52 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 421,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

A second wave of coronavirus is feared among many in the U.S. as numerous states see a spike in cases. Texas has seen record numbers of hospitalizations in the past three days, North Carolina has only 13 percent of I.C.U. beds available and Arizona has also seen record hospitalizations, intensifying concern that reopening states may see surges in Covid-19 cases. Reuters reporting.

Twitter announced yesterday it has deleted more than 170,000 accounts it says were linked to a “manipulative” disinformation campaign by the Chinese Communist Party. Almost 25,000 accounts deleted were labelled as the “core network”, while nearly 150,000 were “amplifier” accounts helping to further boost the core groups. “In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities,” the company wrote in a blog post. “They were Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong.” Maggie Miller reports for the Hill.

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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-Calif) “won’t object” to President Trump’s intel chief John Ratcliffe further declassifying parts of the 2018 Republican-led committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, an aide to the committee confirmed yesterday. The report has been criticized by Democrats as a whitewash, who argue that the inquiry limited its scope by refusing to subpoena key witnesses. “The Republican report was properly met with derision at the time, and conflicts not only with the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community, but special counsel Mueller’s evidence and findings, evidence presented in criminal indictments, the bipartisan findings of the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] S.S.C.I., and the report of the then-[House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] H.P.S.C.I. minority … The G.O.P. report remains a transparent effort to rewrite the history of the 2016 election by disputing the clear and proven finding that Putin preferred Trump’s election to the presidency,” a House Intelligence Committee aide said, with Ratcliffe writing in a letter Wednesday: “To ensure that the IC does not encroach on Congressional prerogatives, I have requested that the Chairman of H.P.S.C.I. share a copy of the report with me so that the IC can conduct a classification review.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) released yesterday a document declassified by Ratcliffe relating to information British spy Christopher Steele collected on Trump and Russia as part of the F.B.I. probe into interference in the 2016 elections. The report does not mention Steele by name, referring to him instead as an “executive of a private business intelligence firm,” but goes on to say: “An F.B.I. source, using both identified and unidentified subsources volunteered highly politically sensitive information from the summer to the fall of 2016 on Russian influence efforts aimed at the U.S. presidential election … We have only limited corroboration of the sources reporting in this case and did not use it to reach the analytic conclusions of the CIA/FBI/NSA assessment.” Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) misused emergency funds granted by Congress last year for humanitarian efforts at the southern border, the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) published in a report yesterday. Last June, Congress approved $4.6 billion in emergency funds to help deal with the influx on families and children at the U.S.-Mexico border; however, the report reveals that $820 million was used on its canine program, vaccines for C.B.P. staff and new transportation vehicles. “C.B.P. charged a small subset of expenses in fiscal year 2019 to the incorrect account. We are working to itemize all such expenses, and correct our accounts as recommend by the G.A.O.,” the report said, adding: “We emphasize that (and G.A.O.’s opinion does not suggest otherwise) all of C.B.P.’s obligations were for lawful objects related to agency operations and the care of those in our custody; the violations identified are technical in nature and prompt remedial action will be taken.” Michelle Hackman reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday approved its $740.5 billion annual defense policy bill. The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) received 25-2 votes in favor during a closed session Wednesday; “This year marks the 60th year in a row that the committee has fulfilled our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense by advancing the National Defense Authorization Act — once again with overwhelming support,” committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement, adding: “Building on the last two years, this year’s N.D.A.A. charts a decisive course of action to implement the National Defense Strategy, regain a credible military deterrent, and, ultimately, achieve a lasting peace, not only for us, but for our children and grandchildren.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

President Trump yesterday authorized a new executive order placing sanctions on International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) officials who are investigating the U.S.’s alleged involvement in war crimes committed in Afghanistan, which will include economic sanctions and visa travel bans, although no further details were confirmed. “The I.C.C.’s effort to target American servicemen and women and other public servants are unfounded, illegitimate, and make a mockery of justice,” said national security advisor Robert O’Brien; “We are concerned that foreign powers, like Russia, are also manipulating the I.C.C. in pursuit of their own agenda,” said Attorney General William Barr; whereas Rob Berschinski, a former State Department official during the Obama administration, who now works for the advocacy organization Human Rights First said: “Among other things, it appears to put foreign persons within human rights organizations at risk of sanctions, if those persons have conducted research and reporting on alleged criminal activity by U.S. or allied forces that is used to ‘assist’ an I.C.C. investigation.” Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch report for Foreign Policy.

The I.C.C. has denounced Trump’s move as not only an attack on the court but on the interests of the victims of atrocities. “These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the I.C.C. … These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings,” the Hague-based court said in a statement. Al Jazeera reporting.

A detailed analysis of the “self-defeating” executive order against the International Criminal Court and what to be cognizant of in the coming days is provided by Ambassador David Scheffer for Just Security.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The United States said yesterday it would withdraw troops from Iraq in the coming months as tensions between the two nations eased under a new U.S.-friendly premier in Baghdad. In a joint statement, the United States also pledged support to support the struggling Iraqi economy as the two countries held their first strategic talks in more than a decade. AFP reporting.

The Trump administration intends to reinterpret a Cold War-era arms accord between 34 nations with the goal of allowing U.S. defense contractors to sell more American-made drones to a wide host of nations, three defense industry executives and a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the policy shift told Reuters. The policy change could “open up sales of armed U.S. drones to less stable governments” like Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) that previously have been prohibited from buying them under the 33-year-old Missile Technology Control Regime (M.T.C.R.), said the U.S. official, a former U.S. official and one of the executives. It could also undercut longstanding M.T.C.R. compliance from nations such as Russia. Reuters reporting.

Cruise missiles used in multiple attacks on oil tankers and an international airport in Saudi Arabia last year were of “Iranian origin,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council yesterday. Guterres also said several pieces in U.S. seizures of weapons and related material in November 2019 and February 2020 were “of Iranian origin.” Yemen’s Houthi rebels previously claimed responsibility for the 2019 drone attacks; Iran has denied any involvement. Al Jazeera reporting.

North Korea slammed President Trump in a stinging rebuke of the United States today, the two-year anniversary of the first summit between Kim Jong-un and Trump. It was the latest in a series of scathing statements from Pyongyang aimed at both Washington and Seoul, and came a day after the North implicitly threatened to rattle November’s election if the U.S. did not stay out of inter-Korean affairs. AFP reporting.

Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarine – the Knyaz Vladimir – entered service today, the country’s defense ministry said. Reuters reporting.

Over the last decade Ankara has emerged as a “regional power” in the Middle East; but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is encountering “frustrating setbacks” both at home and abroad, David Gardner argues for the Financial Times, offering seven reasons why the Turkish leader “looks vulnerable.”

The United Nations mission in Libya said yesterday it was “horrified” by the reported uncovering of mass graves in the town of Tarhouna after the internationally recognized government regained control of it from eastern-based forces. “International law requires that the authorities conduct prompt, effective and transparent investigations,” it said in a statement. Reuters reporting. 

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).