Early Edition: September 11, 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 ELECTION SECURITY AND INTERFERENCE

Russia, China and Iran have “stepped up” their attacks on the upcoming presidential election, Microsoft’s vice president of customer security and trust, Tom Burt, wrote in a blog post yesterday, indicating that targets include the campaigns of President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, political parties, consultants and think-tanks. Burt identified a number of hacking groups that were attempting to carry out cyberattacks. Russian hacking group “Strontium,” also dubbed “Fancy Bear,” responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee networks in 2016, has apparently targeted over 200 organizations, political campaigns and parties over the past 12 months. Regarding China, Burt said hacking group “Zirconium” has attempted “thousands” of attacks between May and September, with close to 150 near successful compromises. It also targeted an unnamed former Trump administration official. Iran’s cyberattack group “Phosphorus” has also targeted the personal and professional email accounts of Trump’s campaign staffers. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The Treasury Department yesterday added Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who was linked to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to discredit Biden, to its specially designated nationals list, accusing him of being an “active Russian agent” supporting the Kremlin effort to interfere in the 2020 presidential election campaigns. The department accused Derkach of being “an active Russian agent for over a decade,” further adding to an assessment made last month by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, that Derkach was spreading disinformation to “undermine” Biden. The department found that “Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.” Also, three Russians — Anton Andreyev, Darya Aslanova and Artem Lifshits — were sanctioned by the department for their link to cryptocurrency accounts of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian group previously sanctioned for interfering in U.S. elections. Kyle Cheney and Natasha Bertrand report for POLITICO.

Leaders on the Senate Intelligence Committee have rejected a call to share its documents and information with GOP Senators leading investigations into the Obama administration, with Sens. Ron Johnson (WI), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Chuck Grassley (IA), chair of the Senate Finance Committee and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stating that it is unlikely they will get access to the intelligence panel’s transcripts related to the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which they say would ensure their own investigations do not duplicate work already done by the intelligence panel. Johnson and Grassley sent a joint letter to leaders of the Intelligence Committee Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA) last month but have yet to receive any requested documents. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

Social media giant Twitter has expanded its rules against spreading misinformation or disinformation about voting and elections, it confirmed in a blog post yesterday, stating it would require users to remove tweets that “may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process” such as voting. Twitter acknowledged the changes in how people will vote this year and made clear they would try to protect voters against being misled. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.39 million and killed close to 192,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 28.18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 909,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Senate yesterday failed to pass it’s $300 billion GOP-led coronavirus relief package after Democrats blocked the scaled-down measure, lessening the chances that Congress will be able to pass another package before the upcoming November election. The vote was 52-47 — all but one Republican voted in favor, with all Democrats voting against — and so did not meet the required 60 votes to advance the partisan bill to its next stage. Andrew Duehren and Kristina Peterson report for the Wall Street Journal.

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

The four former police officers charged with the killing of George Floyd are turning on each other and have offered very different accounts of what happened on May 25 when Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes. Court documents reveal that the officers disagree on who was in charge that day, with some pointing to Chauvin as the leading officer, although he states he was simply assisting officers in an arrest that was already taking place. Lawyers for the officers have argued that their trials should be separate due to competing stories, with a court set to decide their request today. Holly Bailey reports for the Washington Post.

Portland, OR, Mayor Ted Wheeler has instructed the city’s police to “end the use of CS gas for crowd control” with immediate effect, introducing a new policy that seeks to address the highly-criticized use of the chlorine-containing compound. Wheeler called on the community to work collaboratively to address violence, stating: “Arson, vandalism and violence are not going to drive the change this community needs,” adding, “I call on everyone to step up and tamp down the violence … “I’m acting. It’s time for others to join me.” Bill Chappell reports for NPR.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A New York federal court yesterday blocked a July memorandum signed by President Trump that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from census data when reapportioning congressional seats in the House of Representatives. The special three-judge panel ruled that all U.S. residents must be counted for the purposes of apportionment regardless of their legal status, and to exclude migrants would violate both the 14th Amendment, which requires House seats to be apportioned to each State based on “counting the whole number of persons in State,” and federal law, which requires the Commerce secretary to include census data in their report to the president. The ruling is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. Hansi Lo Wang reports for NPR.

The UK, France and Germany have agreed to reject the US’s demands to “snapback” UN sanctions on Iran, following a meeting between the three nations’ foreign ministers yesterday. Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian.

India and China have agreed to “quickly disengage” their troops from a controversial border standoff, after the nations’ foreign ministers met yesterday to discuss the highly-disputed border, dubbed the “Line of Actual Control,” which both countries have maintained is within their state territory. In a joint statement, the nations said the “current situation is not in the interest of either side” and so troops should “quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.” AP reporting.

Violent protests erupted in Bogota, Colombia Wednesday leaving at least seven dead and hundreds injured after a video was released of a man pinned to the ground and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police officers for two minutes as he pleaded, “please, no more.” Javier Ordóñez, 46, was allegedly breaking coronavirus social distancing rules when police apprehended him. Protestors have taken to the streets since Wednesday night, setting fire to buses, vandalizing police stations and clashing with police officers. AP reporting.

AFGHANISTAN     

Taliban leaders and the Afghan government are set to begin peace talks in Doha, Qatar this weekend, after the release of six controversial Taliban prisoners was yesterday resolved. The prisoners will be placed under temporary house arrest, according to two officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha for the talks, President Trump said yesterday. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.

Trump has announced his plan to nominate William Ruger, a Naval reserve officer and Charles Koch Institute senior researcher, as the new US ambassador to Afghanistan, a role not filled since January. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill. 

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)