Early Edition: September 3, 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 GENERAL ELECTION

President Trump yesterday called upon North Carolina voters to vote twice in the upcoming presidential election, once by mail and once in-person, despite it being illegal and, in some states, a felony to vote more than once. The president’s encouragement was in response to a reporter asking if he had confidence in the voting system, which Trump has maintained is at risk of widespread fraud if mail-in voting is allowed. Colby Itkowitz reports for the Washington Post.

Senate Intelligence Committee Interim Chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said yesterday that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will continue to provide in-person election security briefings to his committee, notwithstanding a recent announcement by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe that confirmed all future briefings would be in writing. Rubio told reporters that Ratcliffe had confirmed that the Senate panel would continue to receive in-person briefings, despite the House’s equivalent committee expected to only receive written briefings moving forward. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr yesterday claimed that Trump was correct in his assertion that he can deploy federal agents to polling stations, asserting that the Department of Justice has long sent agents to enforce civil rights. Barr, speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, justified the deployment in circumstances where there “was a specific investigative danger,” and pointed to past examples where agents were deployed to ensure “there was no suppression of vote against African Americans.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Senate Democrats yesterday expressed concern about the ability of Americans living overseas to vote in the November election, citing issues with mail delays and coronavirus interruptions. Three ranking members of Senate committees – Senate Rules Committee member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations member Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) – sent a letter to over 20 U.S. embassies voicing their worries about overseas U.S. voters being able to participate in the election. Their concerns follow reports by the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) which found that of the 3 million Americans living overseas and eligible to vote, only 7 percent successfully voted in the 2016 presidential election. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

A state-by-state guide for voting by mail and voting in person is provided by NBC News.

PROTESTS AND RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORM

The White House has ordered a review of how cities respond to law enforcement, with the intention to block federal funding to places that the administration considers “anarchist jurisdictions,” a memo released yesterday revealed, indicating that President Trump directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to provide guidance to federal agencies on restricting federal funding to cities that “disempower” or “defund” its police department. The memo, which makes specific reference to Seattle; Portland, OR; New York; and Washington, DC, also asks the Department of Justice to publish on its website a list of jurisdictions that have “permitted violence and the destruction of property.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr yesterday said that anti-fascist group Antifa is the “ramrod for the violence” seen during nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Barr said that the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the situation and those who have been accused of stoking violence and unrest. “We see some of the purchases they are making before the riots of weapons to use in those riots,” Barr said. “So, we are following them.” Reuters reporting.

Barr also rejected arguments that the US justice system is affected by systemic racism, stating that he does not believe there are “two justice systems,” responding to questions that drew a marked difference in how law enforcement agencies police and handle Black people compared to White people. Barr noted that “there are some situations where statistics would suggest” ethnic minorities are treated differently than White people, but disagreed with accusations of police excessive force being motivated by racism. Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Democrats yesterday called for answers on a report that found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld the publication of a July intelligence bulletin by the Office of Intelligence Analysis (I&A) that warned of a Russian effort to promote “allegations about the poor mental health” of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and chair of the committee’s subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism, Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), yesterday wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Chad Wolf that the decision to not release the bulletin was an attempt to “skew” the intelligence analysis process, and demanded that Wolf hand over all documents related to the decision not to release the bulletin, any relevant intel raised in the bulletin, and details on any other publications that have been withheld by the department. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday defended his recent appearance from Jerusalem at the Republican National Convention (RNC), which attracted much backlash, stating that he had appeared in his personal capacity and that the State Department had reviewed the matter and determined it to be lawful. Pompeo’s appearance has been criticized by many who say that he had clearly breached protocol and State Department rules, and possibly even the law, which prohibits senior U.S. officials from partaking in clearly partisan events. Reuters reporting.

A federal appeals court yesterday found that a National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program which collected data on American telephone calls, and which was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, was illegal and potentially unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the program, which ended in 2015, violated U.S. surveillance legislation and possibly the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. However, the court upheld the convictions of four appellants who tried to challenge the program after being convicted in 2013 of sending money to the terrorist group al-Shabaab. Reuters reporting.

DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) yesterday issued a directive ordering all federal agencies to develop and publish policies on cyber vulnerability disclosure by the public. The directive is the finalized version of a November draft order and requires agencies to make easier the process of reporting cybersecurity vulnerabilities. “Cybersecurity is strongest when the public is given the ability to contribute, and a key component to receiving cybersecurity help from the public is to establish a formal policy that describes how to find and report vulnerabilities legally,” Bryan Ware, assistant director for CISA said in a statement. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The Census Bureau’s decision to end the decennial census count four weeks earlier than planned has increased the risk of “serious errors” in the count, according to an internal bureau document obtained by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The document, dated Aug. 3 and marked “Not for Public Distribution,” warned that “serious errors discovered in the data may not be fixed — due to lack of time to research and understand the root cause or to re-run and re-review one or multiple state files.” Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.11 million and killed close to 186,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 26 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 863,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Trump administration is set to refuse to pay its remaining dues to the World Health Organization (WHO) and will instead redirect the $62 million it owes the body to other UN-led initiatives that focus on health-related issues, State Department officials said yesterday. The plan follows an announcement the day before that confirmed the United States would not participate in a global effort, led by the WHO, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. A “one-time disbursement” of $68 million will, however, be paid by the United States Agency for International Development to the WHO to support its humanitarian health assistance in Libya and Syria and its work focused on ending polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports for the New York Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield has asked states to prepare to distribute a potential Covid-19 vaccine as soon as Nov. 1, a letter from Redfield to state governors has revealed. The CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “are rapidly making preparations to implement large-scale distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines in the fall of 2020,” Redfield’s letter read, further adding that the CDC had joined forces with pharmaceutical distributer McKesson Corp. However, the announcement seems to be at odds with the progress currently made by vaccine-makers. Sarah Owermohle 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.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

The Trump administration has sanctioned two officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the Head of the Jurisdiction Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko, over their investigations into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday. The decision follows an executive order issued June by President Trump that allows “the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General” to designate foreign individuals and bodies to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List if they “have directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States.” Laurel Wamsley reports for NPR.

Why the US chose to sanction Bensouda and Mochochoko specifically is explored by Haley S. Anderson writing for Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS          

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent similar to Novichock, the Germany government said yesterday, which further bolsters claims that the attack was Kremlin-led due to Novichock previously being used by Russia. Philip Oltermann and Shaun Walker report for The Guardian.

The US and EU are working together in an effort to pressure Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and prompt a new election in the country following the highly-disputed vote last month which has led to nationwide protests in Belarus, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said yesterday. “We are coordinating closely with our transatlantic partners, including reviewing significant new targeted sanctions to hold accountable anybody who is involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus,” Biegun told reporters. David M. Herszenhorn reports for POLITICO.

The State Department has imposed new restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed yesterday. Pompeo said the new measures are a direct response to restrictions on American diplomats in China, and will require Chinese diplomats to seek approval from the State Department to visit American college campuses or to meet with local government officials. Restrictions will also require approval for cultural events of more than 50 people. He added that Beijing has employed “a system of opaque approval processes designed to prevent American diplomats from conducting regular business, attending events, securing meetings and connecting with the Chinese people,” which is in direct contrast with Chinese diplomats in the United States, who have “open access to American society.” Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.

The presence of thousands of Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey to fight alongside Libya’s internationally-recognised government will “negatively affect the overall security situation in Libya,” a report released Tuesday by the Department of Defense’s inspector general has found. The report states over 5,000 Syrian mercenaries, who previously worked with Turkey in Syria’s civil war, have been sent to Libya to assist its government in the conflict with Khalifa Haftar the renegade military commander of the Libyan National Army. 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)