The Early Edition: June 15, 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. 

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

The fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Atlanta on Friday has led to a fresh round of protests against police violence and the resignation of the southern city’s police chief. The death of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was ruled a homicide by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office yesterday, a day after the Wendy’s restaurant where he died was set on fire and hundreds of people marched to denounce the killing. Felicia Sonmez, Hannah Dreier, Brittany Shammas and Haisten Willis report for the Washington Post.

The U.S. Secret Service has admitted that an agent did use pepper spray to clear protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of President Trump’s controversial photo op, reversing a previous statement claiming that no one from the agency had done so. “On June 5, the U.S. Secret Service released information that the agency had concluded that no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park on Monday, June 1, based on the record and information available at that time,” the Secret Service said in a statement shared on Twitter. “Since that time, the agency has learned that one agency employee used capsicum spray (i.e., pepper spray) during that effort,” the statement continued. Lauren Egan reports for NBC News.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law on Friday an extensive package of police accountability measures, including one permitting the release of officers’ long-withheld disciplinary records, that received new support following protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last month after a white police officer was recorded kneeling on his neck during an arrest. Additionally, Cuomo signed an executive order making state funding to police conditional on New York agencies developing a plan by April 1 — to be enacted into law after consultation with the community — to “reinvent and modernize police strategies,” including use of force guidelines. Lauren del Valle, Ray Sanchez and Brian Vitagliano report for CNN.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed support for renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders in a recent interview, citing the killing of George Floyd. “The events since the killing of George Floyd present us with an opportunity where we can move forward to change those bases,” he told The New York Times in an interview published yesterday. “It’s always puzzled me that we don’t have a Fort George Washington or a Fort Ulysses S. Grant or a Fort Patton or a facility named for an African-American Medal of Honor recipient … I think the time has come, and we have a real opportunity here.” Peter Baker reports for the New York Times.

A breakdown of the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields officials from abuse allegations, is provide by Nimra Azmi for Just Security, who notes the doctrine has attracted criticism recently — including legislative proposals for its repeal — in the wake of widespread protests following the killing of George Floyd.

Live updates on the protests available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now over 2.09 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 116,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7.92 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 433,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Republican mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, Lenny Curry welcomed Friday the Republican Party’s decision to move the majority of its election convention business to his city. Curry said it was too early to consider the necessary coronavirus-related health and safety measures for the convention, due to take place from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27, but did seem to allude to and welcome the possibility that the convention will attract masses of people, stating: “Clearly the [Republican National Committee] R.N.C. wants a large event with a lot of people … I want that too… If Covid-19 presents challenges, we will put the safety of people first.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

President Trump plans to resume his campaign trail Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma but health experts have expressed great concern over its implications for Covid-19 cases. Tulsa has seen relatively low Covid-19 cases; however, the city’s health department director Dr. Bruce Dart has said he had hoped the event would be a few weeks later because of a recent significant increase in the county’s coronavirus case trends, adding: “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.” AP reporting. 

China fears a second wave of the new coronavirus after Beijing recorded 36 new cases on both Saturday and Sunday, a drastic turn after the city had reported no new cases for over 50 days. The outbreak has been connected to the largest wholesale market in the city and has spurred China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunlan to urge officials to take “decisive measures.” BBC reporting. 

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. 

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has further denied any wrongdoing in President Trump’s ousting of State Department inspector general (I.G.) Steve Linick, after Linick gave evidence to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (H.F.A.C.) last week and claimed officials close to Pompeo were not only aware of the watchdog’s investigations into Pompeo but had attempted to intimidate him. In a letter dated June 11 and sent to H.F.A.C. Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Pompeo accused Engel of providing “a clearly misleading narrative to the American people” and denied the “nasty insinuation” that Linick’s firing was linked to the ongoing investigation. Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun also sent a letter to Engel, stating: “We can confirm unequivocally that, to the extent that any of us were made of any ‘investigation’ of this nature, none of us briefed Secretary Pompeo on, or otherwise discussed with him, this purported ‘investigation’.” Abigail Williams and Haley Talbot report for NBC News. 

A public statement by the Director of Voice of America (V.O.A.) on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.)’s policy banning the federal government-run news outlet from covering its activities is available at VOA.

A critical analysis of the U.S. intelligence community, threats to national security and the importance of transparency is provided by retired C.I.A. officer Douglas London for Just Security. London points out that: “The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was meant to protect the U.S. ability to identify and evaluate threats from the dangers of external denial and deception campaigns, poor Intelligence Community collaboration, and lack of transparency that contributed to the 9/11 intelligence failure. But the law’s drafters did not anticipate having to protect us from our own leaders.”

AFGHANISTAN

An explosion in a mosque during Friday prayers in the western part of capital Kabul has killed at least four people and injured at least eight, Afghanistan’s interior ministry said. A statement issued by the ministry said that the mosque’s prayer leader Azizullah Mofleh was among those killed. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Islamist Taliban group killed or wounded over 400 Afghan security personnel last week, the interior ministry said, accusing the group of escalating attacks in the lead-up to anticipated peace talks. Violence decreased across much of Afghanistan since the Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire on May 24 to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebration, but officials have accused the group of stepping up attacks in recent days. Al Jazeera reporting.

Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban have agreed that Qatar’s capital, Doha, will be the venue for the first meeting in their peace talks, both sides said yesterday. The talks, known as the intra-Afghan dialogue, will be the first high-level meeting between the two sides after years of battling. No date has been fixed for the meeting, but it is expected to occur after the two sides settle differences on the release by the Afghan government of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which could be as soon as the end of next week. Reuters reporting.

The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) oversight chief “deeply regrets” the decision of the United States Government to sanction I.C.C. officials investigating Afghanistan war crimes and their family members. O-Gon Kwon, President of the Assembly of States Parties, the body that supervises the I.C.C., responded to the announcement Thursday made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr, condemning the measures which, he said, undermine the “endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities.” The U.N. News Centre reporting.

Details on the intelligence community’s plans to cope with an early U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan are provided in a Q&A with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter, at Foreign Policy.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

South Korea called an emergency security session yesterday after the sister of North Korea’s leader threatened military action against South Korea in the latest intensification of tensions between the two neighbors. Kim Yo-jong, a trusted aide to her brother, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, said she would defer the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea to North Korea’s military in a statement carried Saturday by the state news agency, K.C.N.A.. Kim, who has gained new fame in North Korea’ power structure, did not lay out what the next action could be or when exactly it would be taken, but she added: “I feel it is high time to surely break with the South Korean authorities … We will soon take the next action.” Stella Kim and Yuliya Talmazan report for NBC News.

Russia and Turkey have delayed ministerial-level talks that were expected to focus on Libya and Syria, where the two countries back opposing sides in long-standing conflicts. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov decided to put off the talks during a phone call yesterday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Al Jazeera reporting.

Ex-U.S. marine Paul Wheelan who was convicted by Russia on espionage charges was sentenced today to 16 years in a Russian prison. Whelan was arrested 18 months ago in a hotel in Moscow and was found with what security officers claimed was a USB stick with state secrets on it. The trial has added to the growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and has been criticized by many as a “sham,” “an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms” and a “political charade.” His lawyers say they intend to appeal. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports for 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).

Siven Watt

Assistant 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)