Early Edition: August 28, 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 DEVELOPMENTS

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday sent a department-wide email to all its employees warning them against participating in partisan politics, stressing that the agency is currently under “heightened scrutiny.” The email follows a litany of criticisms hurled at DHS’s acting secretary, Chad Wolf, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for their participation in the Republican National Convention, which many argue clearly violated provisions under the Hatch Act. Vivian Salama reports for CNN.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, who is currently mid legal battle with President Trump over subpoenas he issued for Trump’s financial records, has said the president’s relentless attempts to try and block Vance’s efforts would “significantly impair” his ongoing investigation into potential financial crimes. Vance’s recent filing to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals argued that Trump’s final efforts to block the subpoena is “unwarranted,” after a series of previous court rulings, including from the Supreme Court, ruled that Trump is not immune from state or local criminal investigations and should comply with Vance’s requests. The next stage of the drawn-out legal battle is expected to take place Sept. 1. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

The man who was recently shot by the Secret Service outside the White House was not carrying a gun, as alleged, but a comb, new court documents have revealed. Myron Berryman, 51, was charged earlier this month with assault on a police officer and was accused of potentially being armed. However, Berryman’s first court hearing on the charges yesterday revealed that no weapon was identified, except for potentially a black comb that was found at the scene. Keither L. Alexander reports for the Washington Post.

Walmart is joining the bid with Microsoft for the chance to purchase Short video app TikTok from its owners, Bytedance, the world’s largest retailer said yesterday. Bytedance is asking for around $30 billion to sell the company, although such calls have not been met with any specific offer. “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of U.S. TikTok users while satisfying the concerns of U.S. government regulators,” Walmart said. Sarah Nassauer, Georgia Wells and Cara Lombardo report for the Wall Street Journal.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday filed forfeiture charges against 280 cryptocurrency accounts it alleges North Korean hackers used to launder over $300 million it stole from cryptocurrency companies. “Today’s action publicly exposes the ongoing connections between North Korea’s cyber-hacking program and a Chinese cryptocurrency money laundering network,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Ian Talley reports for the Wall Street Journal.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 5.86 million and killed close to 181,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 24.48 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 832,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The White House yesterday announced a $760 million deal to purchase 150 million rapid Covid-19 tests from Abbott Laboratories, a move that would greatly expand the country’s testing capacities. The $5 rapid-response antigen test was granted emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday and will be able to be used by doctors and school nurses in order to test those suspected of having the virus. “This is a major development that will help our country to remain open, get Americans back to work and kids back to school,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. Lenny Bernstein and Seung Min Kim report for the Washington Post.

The Department of Homeland Security is considering collecting the phone numbers of all travelers entering the US as part of its Covid-19 tracing measures. Officials have said the department, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is thinking through plans that would require all travelers, including American citizens, to hand over their phone numbers and email addresses upon entering the country, regardless of whether they have contracted the virus. Two officials with inside knowledge of the plans said that the information could be accessed by law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley report for NBC News.

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 POSTAL SERVICE       

Customers of the US Postal Service (USPS) have been receiving notifications from the service that state their expected delivery is being held at a post office “at the request of the customer” – but customers receiving this message have never asked for their mail to be held. Postal workers have said that if a mail carrier is unable to deliver a package within their scheduled hours, the system is incorrectly generating the misleading message. USPS has been asked to clarify the matter but has not responded to such requests. Julie Zauzmer reports for the Washington Post.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy yesterday pledged to some of the country’s top election officials that mail-in ballots would be USPS’s top priority in the run up to the November election, with DeJoy promising to set up a task force to look into each mail processing plant to determine what further support and measures are needed to deal with the anticipated increase in mail leading up to the presidential election. Miles Parks reports for NPR.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

Kyle Rittenhouse, the male accused of shooting and killing protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was charged yesterday with six criminal counts, including felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, according to court documents filed by Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley. First-degree intentional homicidecarries with it a mandatory life sentence if convicted. AP reporting.

74 people have been arrested and face federal charges for their involvement in protests in Portland, Oregon, over systemic racism and police brutality, the Department of Justice announced yesterday. Charges include assaulting federal officers, destroying federal property, arson, and failing to obey lawful commands. “Violent agitators have hijacked any semblance of First Amendment protected activity, engaging in violent criminal acts and destruction of public safety,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said in a statement, adding, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners are expeditiously working with local and state law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute these individuals that are disrupting the rule of law in our communities and physically attacking our law enforcement officers and destroying property.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Hundreds of protestors gathered outside the White House last night as President Trump accepted his nomination for reelection. Demonstrations were mainly peaceful but protestors made a concerted effort to make as much noise as possible in an attempt to disrupt the Republican National Convention. However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a post on Twitter that he was “attacked by an angry mob of over 100, one block away from the White House.” Dareh Gregorian reports for NBC News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US and Russia yesterday argued over who’s to blame for a collision between two of countries’ military vehicles in Syria Tuesday. The Pentagon said in its first official statement on the matter that Russia had engaged in “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior” and breached a deconfliction arrangement in Syria, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson. However, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement that Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov had notified Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley about Russia’s patrol and “took every step necessary to prevent the incident and proceed with its mission.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Russian navy conducted one of its largest ever military exercises near Alaska, which included more than 50 warships, around 40 aircrafts and a series of practice missile launches, Russia’s navy chief, Adm, Nikolai Yevmenov, said today. AP reporting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the Russian military is ready to intervene in Belarus’s protests “if necessary.” During an interview yesterday, Putin said that there is not currently a need to get involved; however, he made clear that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had sought his assistance, if needed, and that he had accepted. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports for the Washington Post.

The Taliban’s top negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, said yesterday that no peace talks were planned wth Afghan officials for early September, contradicting a statement made hours earlier by an Afghan government official who said talks would start at the beginning of the month. Reuters reporting.

The Pentagon yesterday said that China’s recent missile launch in the South China Sea was “counterproductive” to restoring good relations in the region. The United States have argued that the action violated China’s 2002 commitment to “avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Tension between Greece and Turkey is escalating over a dispute about energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, raising concerns that a clash among NATO allies may ensue. Greece, along with France, Cyprus and Italy, have been conducting military exercises off the coast of Cyprus in the hope to deter Turkey from continuing its exploration of the highly disputed waters for energy. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that a settlement of Jewish people housed in the occupied West Bank must be removed as the area is privately-owned Palestinian land. The court overturned a 2018 ruling which it said failed to recognize the Mitzpe Kramim settlers’ right to the land. Al Jazeera reporting.

New evidence implicates the UAE in using a drone to kill 26 unarmed Libyan cadets in the capital, Tripoli, in January 2020, according to analysis by the BBC News. A Chinese Blue Arrow 7 missile struck the city and was fired by a drone called the Wing Loong II; allegedly, only the UAE supplied and operated those drones in the area. BBC News reporting.

Japan’s longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said today that he intends to resign due to his declining health. AP 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)