Early Edition: August 20, 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 found in its most recent report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that the FBI’s Hurricane Crossfire investigation into Russian interference relied on disinformation from the “Steele dossier” that accused President Trump of being compromised by Russia. The Senate probe concluded that many of the allegations in the dossier, written by former British spy Christopher Steele, were “uncorroborated” and fell below U.S. intelligence standards. The report also raised issues with how the bureau notified the Democratic National Committee that it had been hacked by Russians in summer 2016. Dustin Volz and Alan Cullison report for the Wall Street Journal.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, worked with a Russian employee based in Ukraine on a narrative that accused Ukraine of interfering in the US election, not Russia, and of framing Manafort in order to help Democrats. Rosaline S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith yesterday pleaded guilty in a federal court to falsifying a document as part of the bureau’s probe into possible collusion between the President Trump campaign and Russia. Clinesmith admitted during the virtual hearing in the U.S. District Court in Washington that he changed a CIA email used by the bureau in its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew its application to secretly wiretap Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page. Clinesmith’s case is the first that stems from U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the bureau’s probe of Russia interference. J. Edward Moreno reports for The Hill.

Pressure from the White House on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to focus on immigration enforcement at the border kept them away from focusing on other national security issues, Miles Taylor, a former DHS employee has said. Taylor told POLITICO that Trump often ordered former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to attend to issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. “‘Get your ass on TV at the border, what are you doing, what the hell are you doing?’” the president told Nielsen, according to Taylor. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.

The Army has launched an investigation into two uniformed personnel assigned to the 9th Mission Support Command that were present at yesterday’s Democratic National convention, which could violate Department of Defense (DOD) policies that forbid military service members from wearing uniform at political events. An official from the Democratic convention said that the officers who wore their uniform were an “oversight.” Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

The US will not seek the death penalty of two British members of an Islamic State execution group, dubbed the “Beatles,” who are accused of killing American citizens in Syria. Attorney General William Barr said in a letter to British Home Secretary Priti Patel that if British authorities promptly sent over important evidence that would assist with the prosecution then America would not transfer the two accused men to the Iraqi government. Ellen Nakashima and Rachel Weiner report for the Washington Post.

Former US President Barack Obama, during his speech at the Democratic National Convention yesterday, condemned Trump’s handling of nationwide protests in response to racial injustice and police brutality. Obama said: “In this democracy, the commander in chief does not use the men and women of our military – who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation – as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil.” Zack Budryk reports for The Hill.

US ELECTIONS AND POSTAL SERVICE

House Democrats yesterday introduced new legislation that would give the US Postal Service (USPS) $25 billion in funding, require same-day processing of mail-in ballota and remove changes brought in by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. The bill will be voted on this weekend, although it is unlikely to be successful if it reaches the Republican-led Senate. Reuters reporting.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) yesterday further called for USPS’s Board of Governors to hand over information about the selection of DeJoy as the service’s postmaster general. Schumer, in a letter sent to Robert Duncan, chair of the USPS Board of Governors, said that the search firm that selected DeJoy had refused to cooperate with Schumer and his request. The letter also asked the board to give a “complete and fulsome explanation” of what role President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had in DeJoy’s selection. Marianne Levine and Melanie Zanona report for POLITICO.    

A New Jersey judge yesterday ruled that the municipal elections in May were irreversibly tainted, ordering a new vote to take place in November. The May election votes were cast entirely via mail-in votes and raised huge suspicions when hundreds of ballots were bundled together, prompting an investigation that led to charges of voter fraud being brought against two local elected leaders. Judge Ernest Caposela of the Superior court in Paterson, N.J. said that the election “was not the fair, free and full expression of the intent of the voters.” Trot Closson reports for the New York Times.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.53 million and killed over 173,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 22.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 788,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Beijing officials were kept in the dark by local officials in China over the potential harms of the coronavirus, according to officials who have seen a new internal report by U.S. intelligence officials. The report concludes that officials in Wuhan and in Hubei, where the outbreak started last year, repeatedly attempted to cover up information from Chinese leaders for fear of reprisal. Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report 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.

US-IRAN RELATIONS       

President Trump announced yesterday that he would trigger a “snapback” provision that would reimpose all UN sanctions on Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also travelling to New York tomorrow to discuss further with a number of key U.N. figures Trump’s demands. “I’ll meet with the Security Council president, and then the secretary general will provide notification of the snapback and then 30 days from now, all the sanctions that were in place will resume,” Pompeo told Fox News during an interview. Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

The US will “absolutely” impose sanctions on Russia and China if they refuse to allow UN sanctions on Iran, Pompeo said during Fox News interview yesterday. “We have already done that, where we have seen any country violate … the current American sanctions, we’ve held every nation accountable for that. We’ll do the same thing with respect to the broader U.N. Security Council sanctions as well,” Pompeo said. Reuters reporting.

Iran yesterday announced a newly made surface-to-surface ballistic missile that has a range of 1,4000 milometers and a new cruise missile, further adding to tensions between the United States and Iran. “The surface-to-surface missile, called martyr Qassem Soleimani, has a range of 1,400 km and the cruise missile, called martyr Abu Mahdi, has a range of over 1,000 km,” Iran’s defense minister, Amir Hatami, said. Reuters reporting.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the Trump’s plan to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran is absurd, stressing that the United States has no legal or political ground to carry out its plan. Reuters reporting.

RUSSIA

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is currently in a coma due to allegedly being poisoned, according to his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh. Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main opposition, reportedly took ill during a flight today where he lost consciousness after drinking a cup of tea in the airport. His flight made an emergency landing in Serbia, where he is currently in hospital on a respirator. BBC News reporting.

Russia has reported intercepting two US spy planes above the Black Sea that were approaching the Russia border, Interfax reported. The U.S. planes retreated before reaching the border, the Russian defense ministry reported. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump’s administration yesterday suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with Hong Kong related to extradition and tax exemptions after Beijing recently imposed new national security laws on the semi-autonomous territory. The announcement follows an order by Trump last month that ended Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law. The State Department said that the agreements ended included “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships.” The Hong Kong government said the decision by the administration showed “disrespect for bilateralism and multilateralism under the current administration and should be condemned by the international community.” Pranshu Verma reports for the New York Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that US will provide nearly $204 million in additional humanitarian aid for Iraqis, Iraqi refugees and other communities hosting them. “This assistance will provide critical shelter, essential healthcare, emergency food assistance, and water, sanitation, and hygiene services across Iraq. It will also improve access to civil documentation and legal services, the capacity of health care facilities and increase access to education and livelihoods opportunities,” Pompeo said. Reuters reporting.

Trump said yesterday that he expects Saudi Arabia to join the newly-formed agreement between Israel and the UAE that has normalized diplomatic relations between the nations. Reuters reporting.

The US has imposed sanctions on two UAE-based companies for allegedly providing support to Iranian airline Mahan Air, the U.S. Treasury Department said yesterday. Mahan Air, which is blacklisted under US measures aimed at halting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, has been receiving assistance from UAE companies Parthia Cargo and Delta Parts Supply FZC, prompting the United States to take action. Reuters reporting.

A Sudanese ministry spokesperson has been fired after he made unauthorized comments yesterday that Sudan was in the process of reaching a peace agreement with Israel. Sudanese acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din said he had dismissed Haidar Badawi, the spokesperson in question, for his comments, which were received “with astonishment.” 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)