Early Edition: August 14, 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 INTERFERENCE INVESTIGATIONS

Attorney General William Barr confirmed yesterday that he may release before the November election some of prosecutor John Durham’s findings into the CIA’s and FBI’s investigations into Russian interference. Barr confirmed Durham’s investigation “is moving along purposefully … we’ll use our prudent judgment to decide what’s appropriate before the election and what should wait until after the election.” He also added that a development in the case would be revealed today – “It’s not earth-shattering development, but it is an indication that things are moving along at the proper pace as dictated by the facts in this investigation,” he said. Sadie Gurman reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is currently conducting a probe into Obama-era intelligence agencies, said yesterday that his investigations would help President Trump win the re-election, sparking severe backlash from Democrats who have long insisted that the investigation is being used to damage presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s chances of winning the election. “The more that we expose of the corruption of the transition process between Obama and Trump, the more we expose of the corruption within those agencies, I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden,” the committee chair said during an interview with Minneapolis-based radio hosts Jon Justice and Drew Lee. Johnson has recently made similar comments, in which he said his committee’s investigations had uncovered “outrageous” evidence that “should completely disqualify Biden from president.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said yesterday that FBI Director Christopher Wray “is committed to being helpful” to the committee panel’s investigations into the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The appraisal came hours after Trump had indicated he was stepping away from Wray. Graham said that Wray had insisted he was committed “to holding accountable those who may have committed violations of law or policy.” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he and the Pentagon warned Russia against paying bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing US troops, the first senior member of the administration to acknowledge discussing the issue with Russian officials. Pompeo said during an interview with Radio Free Europe that he had told Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov that there would be “an enormous price to pay” if the intel was true, a transcript published on the State Department’s website confirms. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

The Secret Service had planned to protect the White House during the height of protests and unrest in Washington by using surveillance aircrafts and a Blackhawk helicopter, newly obtained government correspondence has revealed. The Secret Service asked U.S. Customers and Border Protection (CBP) to provide an aircraft that would facilitate a rapid-response to growing concerns about violent protests outside the White House. Carol D. Leonnig and Nick Miroff report for the Washington Post.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, offers a glimpse into his upcoming tell-all book on Trump — “Disloyal: A Memoir. The true story of the former personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.” In an early release of the book’s foreword, Cohen made clear that he knows where the president’s skeletons are because he himself helped to bury them. “Trump had cheated in the election, with Russian connivance, as you will discover in these pages, because doing anything — and I mean anything — to ‘win’ has always been his business model and way of life,” excerpts from the book reveal. Doha Madani and Tom Winter report for NBC News.

The US National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI released a report yesterday that exposes an advanced Russian hacking tool code used to break into Linux-based computers, an operating system used “throughout National Security Systems, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Industrial Base” Keppel Wood, chief operations officer in the NSA’s Cybersecurity Directorate told reporters. Reuters reporting.

Protesters blocked a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus yesterday in Oregon,sparking a prompt and forceful response by federal agents. Federal officers wore tactical gear and used pepper spray to disperse protesters that stood for hours blocking the ICE vehicle, which held two people detained by immigration officers. Mike Baker reports for the New York Times.

US ELECTIONS AND ELECTION INTERFERENCE 

President Trump made clear yesterday that although he still opposes funding the US Postal Service (USPS) due to its implications on mail-in voter fraud, he would not attempt to veto the bill. The announcement follows a tirade of warnings by Trump, insisting that mail-in voting will lead to fraud. He initially told reports Wednesday that he would refuse to sign a $25 billion emergency funding for USPS. During an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) said: “The president’s family was all out in California urging absentee ballot during the special election in the spring, so this is, nonetheless, yet again, shall we say, another contradiction.” Lauren Egan and Dartunorro Clark report for NBC News.

Although against mail-in voting, Trump has requested an absentee ballot to allow him to cast a Florida primary ballot through USPS, confirmed White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere. “The President supports absentee voting, not universal mail-in voting, which contain several safeguards that prevent fraud and abuse,” Deere insisted in an email. Kristen Welker reports for NBC News.

A federal court in Pennsylvania yesterday ordered the Trump administration to produce by today evidence they have of mail-in voting fraud in the state. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan said: “The Court finds that instances of voter fraud are relevant to the claims and defenses in this case” and made clear that the administration would need to substantiate its claims. The president “should not be permitted to raise such spectacular fraud related claims, particular in this national climate,” lawyers representing Democrats in the legal battle wrote. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.25 million and killed over 167,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 21 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 760,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

California becomes the first US state to report over 600,000 coronavirus cases, data from the Times reveals. The state has the third highest death toll in the country, close to 11,000 fatalities. The New York Times reporting.

Russia offered to help the United States with developing a Covid-19 vaccine but was rejected, Russian officials told CNN. Russia apparently offered support to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the U.S. multi-agency tasked with pressing forward on developing a vaccine, but was turned down on its offer. Matthew Chance, Zahra Ullah and Vivian Salama report for CNN.

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.

ISRAEL-UAE ACCORD

Israel and the United Arab Emirates yesterday reached a historic peace deal that will “normalize” diplomatic relations between the two countries, an agreement finalized during a morning call with President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, U.S. officials confirmed. The agreement has been reported to have been agreed on the proviso that Israel suspends its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, and would mean the UAE will be the third Arab state to have full diplomatic ties with Israel.  Peter Baker, Isabel Kershner, David D. Kirkpatrick and Ronen Bergman report for the New York Times.

Iran and Turkey have both condemned the peace agreement. Iran’s foreign ministry said the deal was a “dagger that was unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims.” Turkey’s foreign ministry said that the peoples of the region “will never forget and will never forgive this hypocritical behavior” by the UAE. AP reporting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “rejects and denounces” the U.S.-brokered agreement,confirmed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior adviser to Abbas. Reuters reporting.

Israel is the “biggest victor” in the newly formed relationship with the UAE, argues Bilal Y. Saab for Foreign Policy, adding that: “Saudi Arabia may well stand to lose the most.”

Five key takeaways from the new diplomatic relationship are provided by Laura Kelly for The Hill.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the final 400 Taliban prisoners, a move that has been long anticipated as the final hurdle of peace talks. A group of 80 prisoners were released yesterday, Afghanistan’s National Security Council confirmed in a post on Twitter, stating that the release will “speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Afghan authorities ordered an investigation yesterday after a video surfaced online that appears to show a group of Afghan troops mutilating the bodies of alleged Taliban fighters. Mujib Mashal reports for the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The United States yesterday seized four fuel-carrying Iranian vessels heading to Venezuela, the first time ever that the U.S. government has actually seized Iranian vessels that violate U.S.-imposed sanctions. Benoit Faucon and Aruna Viswanatha report for the Wall Street Journal.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen said it had intercepted and shot down an armed drone and two ballistic missiles that were launched in the direction of a southern region of Saudi Arabia. Reuters reporting.

The FBI will join investigations into the recent massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, which has killed over 170 and left thousands more injured, confirmed U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hal. 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)