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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.
Top US General Frank McKenzie said yesterday that although Russian bounty intelligence was “very worrisome”, he found no “causative link” that the payments had resulted in the death of US troops,according to a transcript released by U.S. Central Command. McKenzie, who is in charge of Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Central and South Asia, is the first senior military official to comment on the recent intelligence, and when asked by reporters during an interview if he thought the bounties had resulted in U.S. deathds, he responded: “No, I’m not convinced of that. I’m just not.” Reuters reporting.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said China is the “greatest threat” to the US. Wray, speaking to the Hudson institute in Washington, said that, “China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary,” pointing to numerous Chinese interferences, including economic espionage, cyber theft and blackmail, all attempts to attack the U.S. as the world’s dominant power. Stressing the threats of espionage, the F.B.I. Director said: “We are conducting these kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices, and over the past decade, we have seen economic espionage cases linked to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent … The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American businesses and the economy as a whole almost defies calculation,” adding that his agency opened a new Chinese counterintelligence investigation “about every 10 hours.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The House Appropriation Committee proposed in its annual spending bill yesterday that $500 million would be used to improve election security. The committee’s fiscal 2021 Financial Services and General Government bill, which was rolled out by the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, would allocate the money to the Election Assistance Commission (E.A.C.) to “enhance election technology and make election security improvements.” The bill makes clear that states can only use the proposed funds to replace “direct-recording electronic” voting equipment, which has been criticized by experts, with a system that uses some kind of paper ballots. The bill will be debated by the subcommittee today. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The House Appropriation Committee’s annual fiscal bill has also proposed to stop President Trump’s earlier plan to appropriate $3.8 billion from national security and weapons programs and other Pentagon accounts to pay for his US-Mexico border. The bill would require the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) to return any money transferred February back to its original account if it has not been spent by the time the bill becomes law. “We have the most capable and advanced military in the world, and this bill honors their mission by adequately funding programs to care for servicemembers and their families, and by including provisions to end the Trump administration’s theft of defense funds to pay for a wasteful border wall,” committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the Trump administration provide details of any “side deals” that are connected with US arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Led by Rep. Katie Porter of California, the lawmakers are demanding that information be disclosed on deals between the two allies that have allowed Riyadh to independently ramp up its manufacturing and technology in an effort to strengthen its defense industry. The demands come following claims by the Trump administration and a report by the Center for International Policy that arms sales to the Gulf nation had created between 20,000 to 40,000 jobs for Americans, a claim that has been questioned. “We write to you because we believe that the Trump administration has grossly exaggerated the economic benefits of arms exports, particularly to Saudi Arabia,” Democrats wrote in a letter to Cordell Hull, the acting undersecretary of commerce for industry and security, adding: “Further, we believe that the extraordinary transfer of military technology to Saudi Arabia as part of recent arms sales may undermine the American defense industrial capacity and fuel violence in the Middle East.” Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.
More than 131,000 people in the United States have died from the new coronavirus and nearly 3 million Americans have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, over 11.8 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including at least 544,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson, report for CNN.
The US has initiated a formal process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO), after President Trump’s administration sent a notice of withdrawal, effective July 6, 2021, to the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. Under the joint resolution passed by Congress in 1948, the U.S. cannot leave the W.H.O. unless it gives a year’s notice and pays off any remaining debts; a spokesperson for the Secretary General confirmed Guterres was “verifying with the World Health Organization whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met.” The move has attracted much criticism, as it did on previous occasions Trump threatened to withdraw, with some lawmakers questioning its legality. Emily Rauhala, Karoun Demirjian and Toluse Olorunnipa report for the Washington Post.
The WHO yesterday acknowledged that there is “emerging evidence” of Covid-19 being capable of spreading more widely in the air than had been previously suggested, which comes a day after a group of leading scientists condemned the agency for downplaying the risk of airborne transmission between people. Benedetta Allegranzi, the W.H.O.’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said yesterday while speaking at a media briefing in Geneva: “The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings – especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out … However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.” Martin Farrer reports for The Guardian.
Trump yesterday promised to “pressure” school governors to reopen schools in the fall despite growing concern over rising coronavirus case numbers. Speaking at a White House roundtable discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and the First Lady, the President said: “We want to reopen the schools … We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep schools closed. No way,” adding that in-person education was essential for student well-being, parents and America as a whole. Barbara Sprunt reports for NPR.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned yesterday that it was a “false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” a narrative that Trump and White House officials have supported. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking at an event yesterday with Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), said that “by allowing yourself to get infected because of risky behavior, you are part of the propagation of the outbreak … There are so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency.” New York Times reporting.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for coronavirus, he revealed yesterday during a televised conference. The leader, who has consistently downplayed the dangers and risks of the virus, said to reporters from behind a mask: “It came back positive.” He added: “There’s no reason for fear. That’s life … Life goes on. I thank God for my life and the role I’ve been given to decide the future of this great nation that is called Brazil.” Tom Phillips reports for The Guardian.
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.
The UK is to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite international concerns that the sales could be used in the war in Yemen. Sales were suspended last year following a legal challenge by campaigners, who have condemned the resumption as “morally bankrupt” and “nmorally indefensible.” However, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told the U.K. Parliament yesterday that a government assessment suggested, “There is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of [international humanitarian law].” Al Jazeera reporting.
Germany, France, Egypt and Jordan have warned Israel against annexing the West Bank, denouncing the plans as harmful to peace in the region. In a joint statement, the four countries said: “We are unanimous in our view that any annexation of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be contrary to international law and would jeopardize the foundations of the peace process,” further adding: “We also agree that such a move would have serious consequences for the security and stability of the region and would constitute a major obstacle to efforts to achieve a comprehensive and just peace.” Laurenz Gehrke reports for POLITICO.