The Early Edition: June 17, 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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump’s administration yesterday filed a lawsuit against Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton in an attempt to stop the publishing of his White House memoir, which is expected to reveal secret information about and a damning picture of the White House. The lawsuit, filed by the Department of Justice (D.O.J.), argued that the book breached non-disclosure agreements and said that “[The White House National Security Council (N.S.C)] has determined that the manuscript in its present form contains certain passages – some up to several paragraphs in length – that contain classified national security information,” adding that publication of the book “would cause irreparable harm, because the disclosure of instances of classified information in the manuscript reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage, or exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States.” David Shortell, Kaitlan Collins and Jeremy Diamond report for CNN.

The Pentagon’s budget chief Elaine McCusker, who last year questioned the Trump administration’s efforts to freeze military aid to Ukraine, has submitted her resignation effective June 26, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced yesterday. McCusker’s resignation comes three months after the White House said it was withdrawing her nomination to continue as the Pentagon’s comptroller. Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.

Two D.O.J. career prosecutors – including Aaron Zelinsky, former special counsel to Robert S. Mueller and one of the four prosecutors who quit the case against Trump’s longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone – will testify under subpoena next week before the House Judiciary Committee regarding “unprecedented politicization” of the D.O.J. under Attorney General William Bar. Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Barr has refused to testify and so the committee would press on: “The attorney general — who cites his busy schedule as a basis for refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee but has made time for multiple television interviews — may have abdicated his responsibility to Congress, but the brave men and women of our civil service have not … The committee welcomes the testimony of current and former department officials who will speak to the lasting damage the president and the attorney general have inflicted on the Department of Justice.” Mattathias Schwartz and Charlie Savage report for the New York Times.

An unclassified C.I.A. report by the agency’s 2017 WikiLeaks Task Force was released yesterday and found that failings by the agency’s own Center for Cyber Intelligence (C.C.I.) had allowed classified information to be passed on to WikiLeaks. The report, released by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blamed the agency’s insecure systems for enabling one of its staffers to steal approximately 34 terabytes of classified information, equal to 2.2 billion pages, and send this to WikiLeaks. The report said: “In a press to meet growing and critical mission needs, C.C.I. had prioritized building cyber weapons at the expense of securing their own systems … Day-to-day security practices had become woefully lax,” and added: “C.C.I. focused on building cyber weapons and neglected to also prepare mitigation packages if those tools were exposed. These shortcomings were emblematic of a culture that evolved over years that too often prioritized creativity and collaboration at the expense of security.” Maggie Miller reports for the Hill.

Chair of the House Oversight Committee’s national security subpanel Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) has requested information from the C.I.A. about whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an outside advisory board to “curry favor for his political ambitions” whilst he was head of the agency. In a letter sent yesterday, Lynch addressed a previous report by POLITICO that revealed Pompeo had an undisclosed board of external advisers that was unfairly weighted towards the rich and politically well-connected. “To date, the C.I.A. has refused to identify the individuals selected by Mr. Pompeo to serve on the External Advisory Board during his tenure, as well as the role of his wife, Susan Pompeo, a private citizen, in organizing these events,” said the letter addressed C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel. “It is imperative that the C.I.A. remains independent of undue influence from partisan political interests.” Natasha Bertrand reports for POLITICO.

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

President Trump yesterday signed an executive order introducing several police reforms while rejecting calls to defund or dismantle the police after weeks of nationwide unrest over police killings of unarmed black Americans. Trump’s order would leverage federal grant money to encourage police departments to meet a set of standards, including a ban on chokeholds — a particularly controversial tactic that has led to the high-profile deaths of numerous African-American men —“except if an officer’s life is at risk.” The order also creates a federal database of police officers with a history of using excessive force. Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will introduce the Senate G.O.P.’s police reform bill this morning. A copy of the proposed legislation is available at CNN.

Differences in how white U.S. troops and service members of color are treated in the military justice system have carried on for years and new efforts are needed to understand racial bias and its consequences, senior officers told a congressional panel yesterday. The officers, all military lawyers, acknowledged years of statistics showing that black service members have faced probes, courts-martial and other forms of discipline more often than white service members in a system in which commanders have the power to decide how to prosecute. “We must understand that how preconceptions and prejudice can affect both the investigation and disposition of misconduct,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Pede, the Army judge advocate general. Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.

Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo who is suspected of killing a Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy on June 6 had a deep hatred of law enforcement and was tied to a right-wing Boogaloo group that believes a second American Civil War is coming. By Maura Dolan, Richard Winton and Anita Chabria report for the Los Angeles Times.

The Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the links between racism and authoritarianism, write Oona Hathaway and Daniel Markovits in an analysis for Just Security.

Five takeaways from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on policing reform, including changing qualified immunity, are provided by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

Live updates on the protests are available at CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 2.1 million coronavirus infections in the United States and nearly 117,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Over 8.1 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including at least 444,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Fresh coronavirus infections have climbed to record highs in six American states, marking a rising spate of cases for a second consecutive week. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas all reported their greatest ever new cases yesterday after all-time highs last week and as they continued to reopen their economies. Nevada also recorded its highest one-day tally of new cases yesterday, up from a previous spike on 23 May. Martin Farrer reports for The Guardian.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert and leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has called on states including Arizona, Texas and Florida to act aggressively to prevent recent spikes in cases from turning into “a real surge.” The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued his plea after Vice President Mike Pence, head of the task force, played down the prospects of a “second wave” of Covid-19 cases, saying in a Wall Street Journal column that “such panic is overblown.” Hannah Kuchler reports for the Financial Times.

At least four members of Congress have gained in some way from the half-trillion-dollar small-business loan program they helped set up — and the full extent is unknown. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Roger Williams (Texas) and Vicky Hartzler (Mo.) and Democratic Reps. Susie Lee (Nev.) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Fla.), have acknowledged close links to firms that have received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program — businesses that are either run by their families or employ their spouse as a senior executive. Some G.O.P. lawmakers who benefited from the program also resisted legislation requiring lending transparency. Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona and Zachary Warmbrodt report for POLITICO.

An Oklahoma judge yesterday refused to issue a court order to suspend a campaign rally for President Trump in Tulsa until the rally’s organizers imposed social-distancing guidelines to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Earlier in the day, two Tulsa organizations — The Greenwood Cultural Centre and the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation — along with two immunocompromised residents of the city, had sued the administrators of the BOK Center, where the rally is set to take place. The plaintiffs argued that the raucous rally, with crowds of people shouting in close proximity, would be an incubator for a further coronavirus outbreak. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Scientists at the University of Oxford said yesterday that an inexpensive and widely available drug reduced deaths in patients with severe Covid-19, in an unexpected sign of hope amid the growing pandemic. If the finding is substantiated, the medicine, a steroid called dexamethasone, would be the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients. Had doctors been utilizing the drug to treat the sickest Covid-19 patients in Britain from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 deaths could have been prevented, the researchers estimated. Benjamin Mueller and Roni Caryn Rabin report for the New York Times.

Brazil recorded its worst day yet for new cases yesterday — almost 35,000 in a single day — as the virus continued to spread rapidly in Latin America’s biggest and most populous country. The health ministry also declared 1,282 additional Covid-19 related deaths, bringing the total to more than 45,000 since the pandemic began. Scott Neuman reports for NPR.

Authorities in Beijing said another 31 people had been infected in a fresh outbreak in China, prompting a new round of restrictions for millions living in the city. BBC News reporting.

New Zealand has recorded its first new Covid-19 cases in more than three weeks after two people who arrived in the country from Britain were found to be infected. Laurel Wamsley reports for NPR.

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.

IRAN

U.S. Special Iran envoy Brian Hook yesterday called for an in-person meeting with Iran to discuss prisoner releases and for the U.N. Security Council to impose an indefinite arms embargo on the country. Al Jazeera reporting.

Russia pledges to stand by its ally Iran and do “everything” to preserve the 2015 nuclear arms deal, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said after meeting with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif. Al Jazeerareporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Germany and N.A.T.O. have highlighted the importance of U.S. troops in Germany for security on both sides of the Atlantic after President Trump said he would slash the number stationed in the European country. The comments opposing Trump’s position were made separately yesterday by German foreign minister Heiko Maas during a visit to Warsaw and N.A.T.O.’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. Al Jazeera reporting.

A Russian disinformation group that targeted the 2016 U.S. presidential election is using sophisticated new techniques to avoid detection and target American officials and other governments, according to a new report from information research firm Graphika. The findings could suggest how Russian efforts to sow confusion online have changed in the face of attempts to thwart them. The group of hackers, active since 2014, was still able to operate as recently as this year, sharing content such as accusing the U.S. of creating the coronavirus in a secret weapons lab, Graphika said. Robert McMillan reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Critical reasons to extend the New START nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia, including intelligence capability, Russian arms expansion and Minuteman missile replacement, are explained by former arms negotiator and congressional commission director Bruce MacDonald in a piece for Just Security.

Ukraine has received $60 million in military aid from the U.S., including Javelin anti-tank missiles, the U.S. embassy confirmed today. The decision comes after an initial shipment of aid worth over $45 million sent to Ukraine in April 2018 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the conflict in the Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Reuters reporting.

The U.N. General Assembly is to elect five new Security Council members for two-year terms today,which will include a battle for two Western seats between Canada, Ireland and Norway, and an African seat between Kenya or Djibouti. India is running unopposed for the Asia-Pacific seat and so is Mexico for the Latin America and the Caribbean seat. AP reporting.

China and India have agreed to de-escalate the situation at their disputed border as soon as possible following a bloody brawl between their troops yesterday that resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers, the Chinese foreign ministry said today. The border clash was the first deadly confrontation between India and China since 1975. Reuters reporting.

North Korea threatened today to beef up its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone,a day after blowing up its liaison office with the South, prompting sharp disapproval from Seoul. In a series of denunciations of South Korea, the nuclear-armed North turned down an offer from President Moon Jae-in to send special envoys for de-escalation talks. AFP reporting.

The U.S. will impose sanctions on Syria today aimed at stifling revenue for Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government and forcing the country back into U.N.-led peace talks. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft told the Security Council that the U.S. aims “to deprive the Assad regime of the revenue and the support it has used to commit the large-scale atrocities and human rights violations that prevent a political resolution and severely diminish the prospects for peace … and prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory.” Reutersreporting.

“The upshot of [Trump’s] ill-advised [executive order on the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.)] will be a delegitimization of U.S. sanctions programs in general, from those that aim to stop nuclear proliferators to those that protect human rights,” comments Rob Berschinski for Just Security.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a limited initial annexation of the occupied West Bank, an Israeli newspaper confirmed today. The recent decision of a phased annexation process has been met with skepticism; Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, argues that a potential phasing of the annexation will make no difference, adding: “Netanyahu is trying to confuse the international position which rejects annexation and the world will not be fooled by such a proposition.” Reuters reporting.

Turkey deployed special forces in northern Iraq today in a mission against Kurdish rebels backed by air and artillery support as the conflict continues to increase. Warplanes hit more than 150 Kurdish targets in northern Iraq’s Haftanin region, 15km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, the defense ministry said. It was the second such operation initiated against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) in recent days. 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).

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)