The Early Edition: July 6, 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

The National Intelligence Council (NIC), which reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe, produced a three-page Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM) dated July 1 acknowledging the assessments put forward by the CIA and National Counterterrorism Center that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militant groups to kill US soldiers but also pointing out uncertainty and gaps in evidence. The memo emphasized that the information was credibly sourced and believable but fell short of near certainty, which has prompted some to accuse the NIC’s memo of serving to justify the Trump administration’s inaction on assessments. Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Rukmini Callimachi and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.

An “unpacking” of the SOCM is provided by Nicholas Rasmussen and Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman for Just Security, who note that the memo “may seek to cast doubt” on assessments “to serve the White House’s political purposes.”

A Timeline of Trump’s acts of accommodation to Russia while US intelligence agencies reported Putin was paying militants to kill American troops, with an examination into how a president would ordinarily be directly involved in a coordinated interagency response, is provided by Joshua Geltzer, Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin at Just Security.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 200 scientists from over 30 countries are calling for greater acknowledgement of the role of airborne spread of Covid-19 and the need for governments to implement control measures as case numbers climb around the world and surge in the United States. In a forthcoming paper titled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19,” 239 signatories attempt to raise awareness about what they say is growing proof that the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that remain in the air and can be infectious even in smaller quantities than previously thought. Until recently, most public health guidelines have focused on social distancing measures and frequent hand-washing, advising that the virus is transmitted primarily between people through respiratory droplets and contact. But the signatories to the paper say the potential for the virus to spread through airborne transmission has not been fully recognized even by public health institutions such as the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). James McAuley and Emily Rauhala report for the Washington Post.

Nearly 130,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus and more than 2.8 million Americans have been infected, including over 49,000 fresh infections yesterday. In hard-hit states such as Texas, Arizona and Florida, hospitals have been overburdened in recent days as infections continue to rise. In Arizona, almost 90% of the state’s ICU beds are in use, according to the state’s Department of Health, an increase from between 60% and 70% throughout March and April; some Florida hospitals also recorded near-full intensive care units, state data show. David Hall reports for the Wall Street Journal.

At least 11.4 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including at least 534,500 global deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

New federal data — made available after The New York Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — shows that Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a far-reaching manner that stretches over the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age categories. Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times more likely to become infected with Covid-19 than their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides specific characteristics of 640,000 infections uncovered in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. And Black and Latino people have been almost twice as likely to die from the virus as their white counterparts, the data reveals. Richard A. Oppel Jr., Robert Gebeloff, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Will Wright and Mitch Smith report for the New York Times.

President Trump on Saturday signed a bill to extend the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses through Aug. 8. House lawmakers approved the extension unanimously last week — less than a day after the program expired. Matthew S. Schwartz reports for NPR.

Dr Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), declined yesterday to correct Trump’s “dangerously” inaccurate assertion that 99 percent of Covid-19 cases “are totally harmless” in “a stunning breakdown of the government’s core duty to keep Americans safe and protect the public health,” writes Maeve Reston in an analysis for CNN.

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.

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Officials from the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) will conduct interviews with political appointees at the Pentagon this week, U.S. officials told Foreign Policy, and will be an opportunity for noncareer officials to prove their worthiness and credentials for a position in a potential second term for President Trump. The White House liaison office sent emails to the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) officials Wednesday, scheduling meetings with P.P.O. staffers John Troup Hemenway and Jordan Hayley. Concern has been expressed that the interviews will be used as an opportunity to weed out any officials not deemed to be sufficiently loyal to the president. Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.

Trump’s speech Saturday that marked US Independence Day has been called “deeply divisive” after he made comparisons between the US’s fight against Nazis and his attempts to defeat “the radical left.” Trump, speaking from the White House, said: “American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the communists, saved American values, upheld American principles and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the earth … We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing.” Jeremy Diamond and Jason Hoffman reports for CNN.

One of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who had officers kneel on his neck for over eight minutes, has been released from jail on a £750,000 bond. Tou Thao was released with conditions Saturday and faces charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence. He is expected to appear in court on Sept. 11. Rachel Treisman reports for NPR.

IRAN

Iran admitted yesterday that a fire that broke out last Thursday at the underground Natanz nuclear site hit a new centrifuge assembly center and caused “significant damage” despite initially claiming that the damage was “limited.” A spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, confirmed the center was completed in 2018 and “more advanced centrifuge machines were intended to be built there,” adding that the damage would “possibly cause a delay in development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term.” AP reporting.

Israel’s defense minister said yesterday that the country is not “necessarily” behind every incident in Iran, after the fire at the Natanz site had some Iranian officials say Israel was to blame. Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

Tehran has built underground “missile cities” along the Gulf coastline, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy chief confirmed yesterday. Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri said: “Iran has established underground onshore and offshore missile cities all along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that would be a nightmare for Iran’s enemies.” Reuters reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israel has said it conducted fresh air raids on the Gaza Strip in response to three alleged rockets launched from the besieged Palestinian enclave.  No casualties were reported in the attacks late yesterday that occurred amid rising  tensions over Israel’s widely criticized plan to illegally annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera reporting.

Israel today launched a new spy satellite that it said would collect high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence. Israel has been ramping up its surveillance capabilities to monitor adversaries like Iran, whose nuclear program it sees as a major threat. Reuters reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S.’s envoy to Afghanistan indicated Saturday that Washington intends to continue pursuing a peace agreement with the Taliban despite recent reports of its involvement in carrying out Russian bounties on U.S. and coalition soldiers in the country. Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been conducting negotiations with the militant group and has pushed for the implementation of a peace deal signed in February, was completing a week-long visit to Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Qatar, where the Taliban negotiation team is based. Khalilzad posted a series of tweets Saturday touting the economic benefits of the February accord, saying all parties would gain from implementing the deal. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Two missiles targeted American diplomatic and military sites last night in Iraq, Iraq’s security forces confirmed. Iran-backed forces, who had 14 of its fighters arrested at the end of June by Iraqi troops, have denied responsibility for the attack and numerous preceding attacks. Al Jazeera reporting.

A top North Korean diplomat said Saturday that the nation does not “feel any need” to start negotiations with the US, brushing off speculation that President Trump could meet with Kim Jong-un ahead of November’s presidential election. Stella Kim and Adela Suliman report for NBC News.

For the first time in six years, two US Navy aircraft carriers are conducting exercises in the South China Sea, the latest show of military strength from Washington as it pushes back against China’s sweeping claim to much of the contested area. The two American carriers arrived in the region as China concluded its own set of naval drills near a disputed island chain, hyped up by Beijing’s state media as a show of the country’s preparedness to repel any U.S. attempt to challenge its claims. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.

A Hong Kong court denied bail today to the first individual charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under the city’s new national security law after he bore a sign saying “Liberate Hong Kong” and drove his motorbike into police. Reuters reporting.

Libya’s UN-backed government yesterday denounced overnight airstrikes against a recently recaptured airbase in the west of the country saying the attack was carried out by a “foreign air force.” Al Jazeera 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).