The Early Edition: July 1, 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.

RUSSIAN BOUNTY INTELLIGENCE

Intercepted financial records raise further suspicion about Russia offering bounties to Taliban-linked militant groups for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, after U.S. analysts and officials confirmed that large financial transfers intercepted by the U.S. were likely bounties from Russia’s military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., to the Taliban. Analysts have also identified several Afghan businessmen who transferred money through the informal “hawala” system and acted as intermediaries for distributing the funds. Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman report for New York Times.

Top Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees have requested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to testify over reports of Russia paying bounties. Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) sent a letter to the two officials yesterday, requesting details on how and when their respective departments were first aware of the reports. “U.S. service members raise their right hands to protect and defend the United States. They deserve a Commander in Chief who will respond forcefully if bounties are put on them by enemies of the United States. Given the grave nature of these allegations, we request that you appear before the Senate this week to address these questions,” the senators wrote. Jordain Carney reports for the Hill.

The White House was aware of intelligence reports in early 2019, a whole year earlier than has previously been reported, but the information was questioned and needed further confirmation before being acted on, those familiar with the situation have said. The National Security Council (NSC) apparently held discussions about the reports, and instructions were given to the intelligence community and the U.S. Central Command to “find out more;” however, senior members of Trump’s national security team insist they were not aware of the information that early, as it was reviewed by lower-level officials instead. Karen DeYoung, Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.

Democrats and Republicans disagree over Russian bounty allegations, reaching very different conclusions at yesterday’s White House briefing. House Democrats said they were given no “substantial information” on the intelligence, whereas Senate Republicans stressed that the intelligence community has not yet reached a consensus on the matter. “Our intelligence agencies didn’t agree with each other, which is pretty well-established now … Intel was continuing to be assessed before [Trump] was brought into it,” said Senate F.R.A.S.C. Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, describing the reports as “completely false … unverified and completely not actionable.” However, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) offered a different interpretation, stating that Trump “is relying on ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I haven’t heard,’ ‘I haven’t been briefed.’ That’s just not excusable.” Heather Caygle, Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.

Schiff, Democrats and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, have called for sanctions on Russia if the reports are confirmed true. Schiff, speaking after yesterday’s White House briefing, said: “We should be considering what sanctions are appropriate to further deter Russia’s malign activities.” Bolton said if true, the action of Russia would be “tantamount to an attack on Americans directly,” adding: “That requires a very serious response … It could well be asymmetric economic sanctions.” Reuters reporting.

The Wall Street Journal’s story on the N.S.C.’s and the C.I.A.’s assessments of the reports changes dramatically, but editors keep same headline and add no editor’s note. Just Security’s Ryan Goodman reports via Twitter.

U.S. TROOPS IN GERMANY

President Trump has approved a plan to withdraw nearly 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany, Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman confirmed in a statement yesterday, stating that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had briefed Trump on plans Monday. “The proposal that was approved not only meets the president’s directive, it will also enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, reassure allies, improve U.S. strategic flexibility and U.S. European Command’s operational flexibility, and take care of our service members and their families,” Hoffman said. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

Some U.S. lawmakers intend to block Trump’s plans over fears that reducing troop numbers would threaten the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany would be a gift to Russia, and that’s the last thing we should be doing,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah), who is proposing an amendment to limit funds for the move unless Esper can show that withdrawal will not impact NATO’s security or U.S. military operations overseas the current law that will authorize the removal of troops. Top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry (Tex.), has also said his committee intends to pass similar measures, adding: “it’s totally unrealistic that you would take thousands of people out of Europe by Sept. 30.” Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.

ANTI-RACISM PROTESTS

Mississippi’s Governor has signed a bill to take the Confederate emblem off the state’s flag, the last state to have the emblem. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves yesterday signed the decision into law, as the state’s legislature voted Sunday to remove the emblem. Scott Calvert reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Garrett Rolfe, the ex-Atlanta police officer who is charged with felony murder over the shooting and killing of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot, was yesterday granted bond of $500,000. Rolfe will be required to turn over his passport, wear an ankle monitor and be subject to a home curfew, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick said. Blayne Alexander and Dennis Romero report for NBC News.

A map of statues, flags, monuments and memorials removed in the U.S. is available at NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 10.49 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 511,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now over 2.63 million coronavirus infections in the United States and more than 127,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The U.S. hit another daily record of new coronavirus cases yesterday – 48,000, with officials in eight states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas reporting record high cases. New York Times reporting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned yesterday that the U.S. could see coronavirus cases surge to over 100,000 per day, whilst responding to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Amy Goldstein reports for the Washington Post.

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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

A U.S. federal judge yesterday overturned a Trump administration policy that bars Central American migrants from requesting asylum at the southern border. U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of Washington, D.C. said in her judgement that the government had “unlawfully promulgated” the 2019 rule and failed to justify that it was in the public interest to bring the policy into place and bypass the Administrative Procedure Act. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

The Senate has removed provisions from the annual intelligence policy bill that would have required presidential campaigns to report any offers of foreign election help. Top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, said yesterday Republicans has pressured the removal the provision before the bill could be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act. Jeremy Herb reports for CNN.

A judge yesterday temporarily blocked Trump’s niece from publishing her tell-all book. New York Justice Hal Greenwald issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Mary Trump and her publisher at the request of Robert Trump, her father and the president’s brother. Mary’s attorney, Ted Boutrous, said: “The trial court’s temporary restraining order is only temporary but it still is a prior restraint on core political speech that flatly violates the First Amendment,” adding that: “This book, which addresses matters of great public concern and importance about a sitting president in an election year, should not be supressed even for one day.” BBC reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday urged the United Nations Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran, but he faced opposition from Russia, China and even European allies who share concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities. During a virtual meeting with the Security Council, Pompeo said Iran was “the world’s most heinous terrorist regime … [and] will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices.” However, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the U.S.’s strategy “a maximum suffocation policy,” and China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said: “Having quit the [The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] JCPOA, the U.S. is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger a snapback at the Security Council.” Carol Morello reports for the Washington Post.

More than 180 protestors have been arrested on the first day of Hong Kong’s newly imposed security laws by Beijing, with some protestors at risk of being extradited to the mainland. “Liberate Hong Kong!,” “Oppose the black police,” “Oppose the bad national security law,” many protestors shouted, leading to more than 30 people being arrested for “illegal assembly, violating the Hong Kong national security law, obstructing police officers from performing their duties and possession of offensive weapons.” Helen Davidson and Verna Yu report for the Guardian.

Hong Kong’s new security laws explained by Javier C. Hernández for New York Times.

  

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)