The Early Edition: July 20, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

PORTLAND PROTESTS

Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon, yesterday called for federal officers policing the protests to leave the city, denouncing their tactics as “abhorrent.” Portland has seen growing protests in the area in response to police brutality, racial injustice and, more specifically, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In response to President Trump’s tweets yesterday which called the unrest a national security threat involving “anarchists and agitator,” Wheeler said: “the president has a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect … What’s happening here is, we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city. And what they’re doing is, they are sharply escalating the situation.” He further added: “Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism … And it’s not helping the situation at all. They’re not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.” Allan Smith reports for NBC News.

Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), yesterday rejected calls to reduce federal troop presence in the city, maintaining that their presence is necessary in responding to recent protests. Cuccinello said the DHS have deployed troops from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to help protect federal buildings and officers. “You can expect that if violence continues in other parts of the country, the president has made no secret of the fact that he expects us where we can cooperate or have jurisdiction to step forward and expand our policing efforts there to bring down the level of violence,” the Homeland Security leader said. Marissa J. Lang, Maria Sacchetti and Emily Gillespie report for the Washington Post.

Federal troops deployed to quell protests and alleged unrest were not trained in riot control or mass demonstrations, an internal DHS memo has revealed. The memo, dated July 16 and drafted by Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, stated: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.” Sergio Olmos, Mike Baker and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report for the New York Times.

Three House Democratic chairs have called for government watchdogs to investigate federal forces’ involvement in protests in the US. The chairs, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter yesterday to Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz and Homeland Security IG Joseph Cuffari calling for them to crackdown on federal law enforcement in many cities across the U.S.. “The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appear to have increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly,” the trio said, adding: “Reports from Oregon this week make clear that this misuse of resources and personnel remains a growing threat. Accordingly, we write to request an investigation by your offices into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, D.C., Portland, and other communities across the United State.” Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill.

“Attorney General Barr has been building his playbook for using federal forces against an unwilling state for decades,” write Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin for Just Security. They note that back in 2001, Barr boasted his strategy for sending federal troops into the Virgin Islands amid unrest following devastating hurricanes in 1989.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released Friday declassified documents linked to investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election which indicate the FBI was skeptical from early 2017 about a dossier drafted by Christopher Steele, ex-British spy, against President Trump and his contact with Russian intelligence officials. The documents include: a 57-page memo of three days of interviews with a source of Steele’s, which reveals the source had told Steele that information on Trump was “rumor and speculation;” and a note from former FBI agent Peter Strzok who wrote that Steele “may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his subsource network.’’ Alan Cullison reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Top State Department officials enabled Secretary of Statement Mike Pompeo to continue in his misconduct, a whistle-blower’s complaint reveals. A redacted version of the complaint filed with the agency’s Office of the Inspector General, which was retrieved by American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group, indicates that the whistle-blower had witnessed and been told about “firsthand accounts” of misconduct by Pompeo, but holds that they were blocked by top officials from taking their complaints further. Edward Wong reports for the New York Times.

The effects of the now extinguished fire aboard US Navy warship USS Bonhomme Richard may be “felt across America’s Pacific Fleet for years,” according to a CNN report. The true extent of the blaze, which was put out Thursday, is not yet known; however, Adm. Mike Gilday said Friday that there will be an official Navy investigation. John Kirby, a CNN military analyst and former U.S. Navy admiral, said: “As tensions mount with China in the South China Sea, as well as with North Korea, the loss of this ship and her capabilities will make it more difficult for the Navy to meet all its war-fighting requirements.” Brad Lendon reports for CNN.

In a Fox News interview yesterday, Trump also weighed in on race relations and appeared flustered as he was fact-checked on election polling by the host, Chris Wallace. Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.

John Lewis, civil rights activist and Democratic congressman, sadly passed away Friday, a passing that has sparked tributes from leaders worldwide and across the political spectrum. James Politi reports for the Financial Times.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected 3.7 million and killed more than 140,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there were 14.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 606,000 deaths. The World Health Organization said 7,360 new deaths were recorded worldwide on Saturday, the biggest daily rise since early May. The WHO also reported a record total of nearly 260,000 new global coronavirus cases on Saturday. Rachel Treisman reports for NPR.

In an extraordinary interview with Fox News yesterday, President Trump called Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, “an alarmist” and when asked about the country’s daily coronavirus death toll of around 1,000, said: “It is what it is.” The president also said that the increase in testing in many states was behind the surge in new cases, ignoring the fact that many people are asymptomatic carriers and unknowingly spread the virus without taking a test or being reported. Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez report for the Washington Post.

The capital of Xinjiang went into “wartime mode” on Saturday, with no mass gatherings allowed and residential communities sealed off, as authorities introduce strict and widespread measures to curb a spike in infections. The city of Urumqi reported 17 fresh coronavirus cases yesterday, meaning that 47 cases have been confirmed since last Wednesday. Before that, it had not recorded a single case in almost five months, according to the Xinjiang health authorities. Nectar Gan reports for CNN.

A New York Times visual investigation has found that some Chinese companies are using Uighur labor to produce personal protective equipment for domestic and global consumption through a controversial government-backed program that experts say often puts people to work against their will. The program assigns Uighurs and other ethnic minorities to factory and service jobs. Now, their toil is part of the PPE supply chain. Muyi Xiao, Haley Willis, Christoph Koettl, Natalie Reneau and Drew Jordan report for the New York Times.

The US faces a double-dip coronavirus recession if the national spread of the virus is not brought under control soon, Gavyn Davies, former head of the global economics department at Goldman Sachs and economic policy adviser in No 10 Downing Street, predicts in an op-ed for the Financial Times.

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.

SYRIA

A car bomb attack last night in northwestern Syria’s Azaz region killed five people and wounded 85 others, Turkish state media said. The incident took place near the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with Turkey. Al Jazeera reporting.

Syria held a parliamentary election yesterday amid a coronavirus outbreak and a deepening economic crisis worsened by new US sanctions. More than 1,650 government-approved candidates will compete for 250 parliamentary seats, Syria’s state-run SANA News Agency said yesterday. AP reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

The US-Taliban peal deal last week reached the 135-day mark, the point by which the U.S. military needed to draw down to 8,600 troops and pull out from five bases. Both targets were met, the Pentagon said. A day after the 135-day mark was met, the top U.S. general in the region set out a bleak picture of prospects for further progress. “We expected to see a reduction in violence,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told Voice of America last week. “And while the Taliban have been scrupulous about not attacking U.S. or coalition forces, in fact, the violence against the Afghans is higher than it’s been in quite a while. It’s one of the highest, most violent periods of the war that we’ve seen today.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

President Ashraf Ghani has promoted a notorious warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, to the rank of marshal as part of his power-sharing agreement with rival Abdullah Abdullah, revealing a larger pattern of war crimes and impunity in Afghanistan. Emran Feroz reports for Foreign Policy.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The leaders of four German states have appealed to members of the US Congress to block plans to withdraw American troops from Germany, according to letters seen by Reuters. President Trump last month said he would reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany by 9,500 to 25,000, criticizing the fellow NATO member for failing to meet the North Atlantic alliance’s defense spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of America on trade. The prime ministers of the four southern states, all home to American bases, addressed the letters to 13 members of Congress including GOP senators Mitt Romney (Utah) and Jim Inhofe (Okla.). Reuters reporting.

The Trump administration is considering reducing US troops in South Korea after growing disagreement about how much the country should pay the US, an American military official told the Wall Street Journal, adding the Pentagon’s Joint Chief of Staff has reviewed the 28,500 troop-strong presence in the country. Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold report for The Wall Street Journal.

Britain’s government is expected to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong later today amid heightening tensions between London and Beijing. The move comes after China imposed a controversial national security law on the territory, introducing new crimes with harsh penalties. The U.K. has already announced it would open up a special route to citizenship for three million Hong Kongers. BBC News reporting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will officially restart in January with witnesses being heard three times a week, a court decided yesterday, as mounting protests continued over his handling of the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Paul Goldman and Isobel van Hagen report for NBC News.

Neo-Nazi and Islamic extremist groups share terrorism tactics and attract the same people, writes Max Kutner for Just Security. He highlights that the similarities transcend ideology, including recruitment methods and violence tactics. 

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).