Early Edition: August 10, 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

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), warned Friday that Russia, China and Iran will all try to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, noting in particular that Russia is attempting to “primarily denigrate” presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Evanina said that the three accused countries were seeking to “sway voters’ preferences and perspective” and “undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.” Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security advisor, said yesterday that China is targeting the US’s election infrastructure by cyberattacks ahead of the 2020 election, a comment that goes beyond that of Evanina’s Friday. “China – like Russia, like Iran – they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites and that sort of thing,” O’Brien said. Reuters reporting.

Intelligence detailing Russian efforts to influence the 2020 election “should be declassified immediately,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote in an op-ed Friday for the Washington Post.  “I believe the American public needs and deserves to know” the “chilling” facts, Blumenthal added.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) yesterday criticized Republicans’ and Trump’s response to reports that Russia is interfering in US elections. “Why does Donald Trump not want to stop Russia from interfering in this election? You have to ask that question. It’s the wellspring of our democracy,” Schumer said ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. Allie Bice reports for POLITICO.

The Trump administration’s decision to end the decennial census count four weeks earlier than planned will result in a significant undercount of Black and Latino communities across the US, severely impacting on federal funding and political representation in their neighborhoods. Jose A. Del Real and Fredrick Kunkle report for the Washington Post.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected two subpoenas by the House Foreign Affairs Committee which called for him and the State Department to testify over the ousting of former inspector general Steve Linick and to provide information and documents on the probe into the Bidens. In letters sent Friday to the House panel, Pompeo and the State Department’s acting head of legislative affairs, Ryan Kaldahl, said they had no intention on complying with the subpoenas, as they were politically motivated, without merit, and unnecessary, as the information requested could be obtained via alternative routes. AP reporting.

Pompeo warned Russia’s foreign minister against bounty pay-outs to Taliban-linked groups for killing US service members, U.S. officials familiar with the matter have confirmed. Pompeo spoke to Sergey Lavrov on July 13 about reports and intelligence that pointed to Russian bounties being paid, a move that signals Pompeo took the matter serious and believed it must be addressed with Russian officials. Edward Wong and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Friday against President Trump’s administration’s efforts to block a House committee’s subpoena of former White House lawyer Donald McGahn to testify. The court ruled that the House Judiciary Committee had legal justification in trying to enforce the subpoenas. However, the court left unanswered a number of legal issues and so it is expected that litigation will continue. Reuters reporting.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called Thursday for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate an investigation into the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its ties with “key non-governmental organizations driving the ICC’s investigations of the U.S. and Israel; and U.S.-designated foreign terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” Biggs sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr Thursday, stating that a report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) shows “troubling parallels between the ICC’s investigation of the U.S. and that of Israel.” Juliegrace Brufke reports for The Hill.

The bodies of seven Marines and a Navy sailor who died last week during a training exercise off the coast of California have been recovered, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force confirmed Friday. Marty Johnson reports for The Hill.

A small group of protestors in Portland, Oregon set light to a police station union building Saturday, prompting police officers to declare the situation a riot and use flashbang grenades and smoke canisters to disperse hundreds from the area. The Guardian reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5 million and killed nearly 163,000 people in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been more than 19.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 732,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Close to 100,000 children in the US tested positive for coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association revealed in a new report, an announcement that comes amid growing concern from parents about their children returning to school in the autumn. The report also makes clear that close to 340,000 children have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, meaning over a quarter of those who tested positive were from the last two weeks of July. The New York Times reporting.

President Trump signed four executive orders Saturday for coronavirus economic relief, after negotiations between lawmakers failed to reach a deal on the matter Friday. The orders include support for those unemployed, a suspension of payroll tax and an extension of student loans. BBC News reporting.

Trump’s four executive orders explained in detail by Heather Long for the Washington Post.

Several Democrats have lambasted the orders as “unconstitutional and unworkable.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said yesterday that Trump’s actions are “meager” and “weak” and urgently require a compromise to be struck in Congress.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described Trump’s orders as “paltry” whilst speaking on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. Schumer added that the orders are: “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.” Nolan D. McCaskill reports for POLITICO.

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

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to officially sign the release of 400 Taliban prisoners after the government accepted the advice of a grand assembly of elders prompting the release. “We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready,” Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, told Reuters today. Reuters reporting.

US troops will be reduced to less than 5,000 in Afghanistan by end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed yesterday during an interview. The U.S. currently has approximately 8,600 troops in the country. Justin Wise reports for The Hill.

CHINA

The US Treasury imposed sanctions Friday on Hong Kong chief execurtive Carrie Lam and ten other top officials from Hong Kong and China, a measure that was taken to target those undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.

China retaliates to sanctions by threatening their own sanctions on 11 Americans, although the list does not include any Trump administration officials. Those sanctioned include: Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA); Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ); Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth; National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman; and Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House. Bloomberg News reporting.

BEIRUT             

More than 200 people have been killed by the massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, the capital’s governor, Marwan Abboud, confirmed. Since the explosion, the city has seen an upsurge in riots and violence, with three members of the country’s cabinet resigning. BBC News reporting.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper made clear Saturday night that officials are still unclear as to what caused the explosion in Beirut. “The bottom line is we still don’t know,” Esper told Jeanine Pirro on Fox News’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine.” Kyle Balluck reports for the The Hill.

World leaders agreed at a virtual summit yesterday to provide close to $300 million in aid to Lebanon. However, John Barsa, the acting administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said yesterday that the agency would offer money directly through the Lebanese government, instead pledging $15 million, which will go through universities that the U.S. trusts. Jason Slotkin reports for NPR. 

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)