Early Edition: August 7, 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.

US ELECTIONS AND ELECTION INTERFERENCE

A memorandum sent around the Census Bureau exploring ways to tally estimates of people who are illegally living in the US raises concern, particularly in relation to its ramifications for the reapportionment of the House of Representatives. The memo also states that it aims to carry out President Trump’s directive to exclude undocumented immigrants from population totals, a directive which is currently being challenged in the courts. Michael Wines reports for the New York Times.

A number of Iranians and Russians have received texts seeking their assistance in US election hacking and interference, with some being offered up to $10 million for information. The texts started to surface this week; their sender is unknown. Reuters reporting.

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the US would offer a $10 million reward to anyone who could provide “information leading to the identification or location of any person who, acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government, interferes with U.S. elections by engaging in certain criminal cyber activities.” The reward is part of the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program, which has paid over $150 million in rewards to more than 100 people globally for providing information on terrorism and national security-related concerns. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Federal district court Judge Rudolph Contreras yesterday dismissed House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s lawsuit which sought to block the House’s adoption of proxy voting. Contreras concluded that courts have no ability to review and make decisions on purely legislative functions, ultimately confirming the House has the power to set its own rules and procedures, which should not be interfered with by the executive branches. “The dismissal of the House GOP lawsuit is welcome news and hopefully the end of this sad Republican effort to obstruct the House from meeting the needs of the American people during the coronavirus crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) said in the statement yesterday. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

US Attorney John Durham’s review of the Justice Department’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election risks undermining democracy if his report is released prior to the November election, writes Fred Wertheimer for Just-Security in an open letter to Durham. Wertheimer makes clear that if Durham decides to release his finding pre-election, he would be acting in direct contravention of the Department’s long-standing non-interference policy.

US DEVELOPMENTS

US special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, is resigning from his position at the State Department, the agency announced yesterday, an announcement that comes in the midst of the U.S. signalling it plans to soon move forward with a United Nations arms embargo against Iran. Laura Rozen writes for Just-Security.

US senators have introduced a bill aimed at preventing Trump from bypassing a ban on large armed drone sales. The bill, which was introduced yesterday by both Democrats and Republicans, proposes banning the sale of advanced armed drones to any nation not considered a close ally of the U.S. and will halt the Trump administration from bypassing the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an arms control pact established in 1987 with the support of the United States. Edward Wong reporting for the New York Times.

The Justice Department yesterday accused a Ukrainian oligarch, and ally of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, of stealing billions of dollars from a bank he once owned, PrivatBank, which was then laundered through US companies. The department alleged Ihor Kolomoisky and his business partner had stolen so much from the bank that the Ukrainian national bank had to provide a $5.5 billion bailout. Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind S. Helderman report for the Washington Post.

Several former Trump advisers have said they were wary to alert the president to US military operations over fears he could cause a war, CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported yesterday, with further details expected in Sciutto’s upcoming book, “The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on The World”, due to be published next week. Jim Sciutto reports for CNN.

An insightful and practical “rethink” of the United States’ foreign policy approach with Russia and others is provided by Rose Gottemoeller, Thomas Graham, Fiona Hill, Jon Huntsman Jr., Robert Legvold and Thomas R. Pickering for POLITICO.

TIKTOK

President Trump yesterday issued an executive order banning any US company from dealing with the Chinese parent company of short-video App TikTok. The order will take effect in 45 days and bars Americans and U.S. companies from being involved in any transaction with Chinese tech giant ByteDance, raising “national security” concerns. A separate but substantively similar order was issued to WeChat, another Chinese-owned messaging App. Rachel Lerman reports for the Washington Post.

The US Senate yesterday unanimously voted in favor of a bill that would prohibit federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. The bill was primarily led and sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rick Scott (R-FL). The final version of the bill, incorporating both the House’s and the Senate’s versions, would need to be approved by President Trump before it become law. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

China strongly opposes Trump’s executive order and will defends the rights and interests of Chinese business, the country’s foreign ministry confirmed today. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 4.88 million and killed more than 160,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there are over 19.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 715,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Negotiations between lawmakers and President Trump’s administration over the much-anticipated new coronavirus relief package have made some progress, confirms House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY), although key issues, including unemployment benefits, continue to cause much disagreement. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (NY) told reporters that they did not think Senate Republicans fully appreciated the gravity of the damage being caused by Covid-19. Reuters reporting.

More than 1 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Africa, with the World Health Organization warning that figures are likely the tip of the iceberg, with the true numbers predicted as much higher. African Union’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 700,000 people have recovered from the virus, with 22,000 deaths. Jason Burke reports for The Guardian.

Asymptomatic people – those who are showing no signs they have the coronavirus – carry just as much of the virus in their nose, throat and lungs as those with symptoms, a new study by a South Korean medical research group, JAMA Internal Medicine, said yesterday. Apoorva Mandavilli reports for the New York Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US 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.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 42 pro-government forces and 41 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in August, Fahim Abed writes in a war casualty report for the New York Times.

An Afghan council has gathered today to decide whether 400 Taliban prisoners will be released as part of the peace agreement plans between the Afghan government, the US and the Taliban. The meeting serves as a critical step in the negotiation for peace in Afghanistan; however, the Taliban rejected the gathering today, stating it has no legal status. AP reporting.

BEIRUT EXPLOSION

Civil unrest and rage surge in Beirut in response to dire concerns over the country’s leadership, with Lebanese security forces firing teargas at demonstrators yesterday. The National News Agency (NNA) has reported that some protestors have been injured, with many gathering outside parliament buildings. Alison Rourke and Michael Safi report for The Guardian.

The Pentagon is set to send three cargo planes over to Lebanon to help support a country in crisis following an explosion that has so far killed over 150 people and injured thousands upon thousands more. The U.S. military has already sent one Aire Force C-17 plane to Beirut, with the other two expected to land today. The planes are packed with food, water and medical supplies. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The US imposed sanctions on three individuals and a Malta-based company over allegations they have supported a network of smugglers and contributed to instability and conflict in Libya. Reuters reporting.

The Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists plan on exchanging 100 prisoners, chief of staff to the Ukrainian president confirmed yesterday. Reuters reporting.

The US will potentially sell at least four sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time, multiple sources have said. The SeaGuardian surveillance drones have a range far greater than any currently operating Taiwanese drone, which will provide the country with a stronger and more effective arsenal of military technology – to the dismay of China. Reuters 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)