Early Edition: August 19, 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.

SENATE REPORT: TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday released its fifth report on Russian interference in the 2016 US election and laid bare a web of links between President Trump’s campaign advisers and Russian intelligence officials. The close to 1,000-page report pointed to a concerted effort by Russia to interfere in the election and assist Trump in becoming president; however, it did not go as far as to say the Trump campaign engaged in a coordinated conspiracy effort with Russia, but does make clear the campaign was more than open to receiving help. It did reveal significant evidence of close ties between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin-linked officials, including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, identified as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Mark Mazzetti reports for the New York Times.

Manafort “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” due to his links with Kilimnik, whom may have been involved in the hacking and release of Democratic emails. The report said that both Manafort and Kilimnik “formed a close and lasting relationship that would endure to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond” and that “Kilimnik likely served as a channel to Manafort for Russian intelligence services, and that those services likely sought to exploit Manafort’s access to gain insight [into] the Campaign.” However, again, the report makes clear that: “the committee did not obtain reliable, direct evidence that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed the GRU hack-and-leak operation.” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

Trump discussed hacked emails with his longtime friend and confidant Roger Stone, despite him telling special counsel Robert Mueller that he hadn’t. The report said Stone was the middleman between the campaign and WikiLeaks, which received hacked emails from Russian intelligence officials, and that: “Despite Trump’s recollection, the committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.” Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

Who Konstantin Kilimnik is why he appears 800 times in the Senate’s fifth report is explained by David L. Stern for the Washington Post.

Five takeaways from the Senate report are provided by Olivia Beavers, Morgan Chalfant, Jordain Carney and Laura Kelly for The Hill.

US DEVELOPMENTS

The US Postal Service (USPS) has suspended its new highly-controversial operational policies, USPS’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has confirmed, canceling proposed service reductions, reauthorizing staff overtime and halting the removal of mail-sorting machines and public collection boxes. The announcement comes hours after multiple states had announced plans to sue USPS and DeJoy and days before DeJoy is set to address the Senate on current issues. Zach Montellaro and Daniel Lippman report for POLITICO.

Joe Biden yesterday secured the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 election, after an unusual roll call vote of party delegates from across the United States. Toluse Olorunnipa, Chelsea Janes, Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.

State Department Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna, top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has ordered State Department officials to gather evidence for Republican senators investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigations and Biden’s relationship with Ukraine, according to an internal memo, date Aug, 17. The memo was in response to a request from Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (WI) and Chuck Grassley (IA) for additional information and documents on the bureau’s probe, which prompted Kenna to specifically request that all communications evidence be handed over that was from 2016 and 2017 between Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and other State Department officials. Natasha Bertrand, Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

The State Department has canceled a briefing set for this week with the House Foreign Affairs Committee about counterterrorism concerns and the closure of a US consulate in China due to growing tensions between Pompeo and Democrats on the House panel. The State Department canceled the meeting Monday and made reference to a letter sent by Pompeo to the Committee some weeks before that rebuked the panel’s invetsigations into the ousting of former inspector general (IG) Steve Linick. Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch report for Foreign Policy.

The US and Russia are still at loggerheads over a new nuclear arms treaty following two days of negotiations that led to no firm agreement, particularly on the question of whether China should be included in discussions and the treaty. The pair’s current nuclear treaty, the New START deal, expires next year and so has prompted debates over what a new treaty would look like and who it would include. AP reporting.

President Trump expresses support for tech giant Oracle to take over short-video App TikTok, following recent demands by the president for TikTok’s owner Byte Dance to sell its U.S. business within 90 days or face being shut down. Trump’s rubber stamp, in which he said Oracle would be a “great company” to take over TikTok, comes after Oracle confirmed they were seriously considering the purchase of the company. Aaron Tilley and Georgia Wells report for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump confirmed yesterday he will posthumously pardon American social reformer and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony who was fined in 1872 for voting illegally. Max Cohen reports for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.48 million and killed close to 172,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 22.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 781,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday warned that young people are becoming the main spreader of coronavirus in many countries, a concerning trend that experts fear will go on to affect the United States, particularly with many colleges and schools set reopen in the coming months. The WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai, said: “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread … The epidemic is changing.” William Wan and Moriah Balingit report for the Washington Post.

The US’s first coronavirus vaccine trial, Moderna Phase 3, is progressing at good speed, but officials are still “very concerned” and make clear that more ethnic minorities are required to enrolled in order for the trials to succeed, officials tell CNN. Black and Latino people account for more than 50 percent of Covid-19 cases but make up only 15 percent of participants in new trials, which could result in a delay in a vaccine being rolled out. Elizabeth Cohen reports 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.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

Protests in Portland turned violent yesterday as demonstrators set fire to governments building, prompting the police to declare a riot in the area, following a substantial period of peaceful anti-racist demonstrations. Protestors set government buildings alight and threw stones and bricks at windows. Reuters reporting.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for the Justice Department to prosecute a group videoed beating and kicking a man who crashed his truck near Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. “This shocking attack by a mob against a young man in the streets of Portland is beyond the pale,” Graham said. Reuters reporting.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Iranian officials say the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers rests on the result of the 2020 US election and not on the US’s plans to use “snapback” provisions to force sanctions on Iran. “Right now the decision is to remain in the deal even if Americans make their biggest mistake of triggering the snapback mechanism,” said a senior Iranian official, on condition of anonymity. Reuters reporting.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to travel to New York tomorrow to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other UN officials in a bid to push forward on returning to all UN sanction on Iran. Reuters reporting.

ISRAELI RELATIONS

Israel’s head of foreign intelligence service visited the UAE for discussions on “cooperation in the fields of security,” days after the two countries reached a ground-breaking diplomatic relationship. Israel’s Mossad chief Yossi Cohen discussed security issues with the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, news outlets reported. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Israel-UAE agreement was the product of many years of peace negotiations centered on a mutual opposition to Iran. AP reporting.

Israel and Sudan are close to reaching a peace agreement, officials from both countries said yesterday. A Sudanese foreign ministry official said the country’s government is “looking forward to concluding a peace agreement with Israel.” AP reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS          

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon yesterday found that Salim Ayyash, a member of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, was guilty of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a huge bomb blast in Beirut in 2005. However, three others charged of committing crimes were acquitted. The Tribunal also found that the attack was politically motivated in an “act of terrorism designed to cause fear in the Lebanese population’, but concluded that it was not possible to conclude who ordered Hariri’s death. Liz Sly reports for the Washington Post.

EU leaders are to tighten sanctions on Belarus at a conference scheduled for today, the E.U. Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said. “It is clear that (the outcome of the Belarus presidential election) is not in line with the wish of the people, there has been unacceptable violence, and the rule of law is not respected. Sanctions have already been taken and will no doubt be reinforced this afternoon,” Breton told a news radio channel. 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)