Early Edition: September 17, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

POLICING RACIAL INJUSTICE PROTESTS

Top military police officers considered using devices that cause “targets to feel an unbearable heating sensation” while clearing protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House in June, D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco said to lawmakers in written testimony last month. DeMarco said that he had received requests by top Department of Defense (DOD) officials asking if the Guard had sound cannons or a nonlethal heat ray, called Active Denial System, or A.D.S. According to the top Guard official, DOD officials said: “The A.D.S. can immediately compel an individual to cease threatening behavior or depart through application of a directed energy beam that provides a sensation of intense heat on the surface of the skin. The effect is overwhelming.” Marissa J. Lang reports for the Washington Post.

Attorney General William Barr instructed prosecutors to be aggressive when charging alleged violent protesters and to also consider sedition charges, those familiar with the instruction have confirmed, stating that in a call between Barr and top U.S. attorneys, Barr stressed the need to use federal charges against protesters even when state charges could apply. He also asked prosecutors in the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s civil rights division to consider if criminal charges could be brought against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing residents to set up police-free protests zones in the area. Aruna Viswanatha and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal.

US DEVELOPMENTS               

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe yesterday said he would reinstate in-person election security briefings for the Senate and House intelligence committees while maintaining that the intelligence community (IC) will predominantly provide lawmakers with written intelligence updates, following a letter sent to Congress, Aug. 28, by Ratcliffe, which said all said all future briefings would be in writing. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) noted yesterday that although an agreement has been met for in-person updates to continue, “these briefings for the intelligence committees must not obviate the need to keep all Members and the American people appropriately and accurately informed about the active threats to the November election.” Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Top aides to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to testify about the May decision to fire State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick while he was investigating arms sales to Saudi Arabia and allegations that Pompeo misused department funds. Brian Bulatao, a top adviser to Pompeo, maintained that Linick’s ousting was not related to his investigation as Pompeo was never briefed on the details of that probe, and that failure to properly perform his job as IG was the reason for Linick’s dismissal. Caitlin Oprysko and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday voted and authorized its chair to issue multiple subpoenas and depositions against around 40 peoples as part of the panel’s investigation into the FBI’s Russia probe and the Obama administration. The 8-6 vote gives chair Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) the power to compel testimony from former FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr yesterday berated Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors for “headhunting” high-profile targets and involving themselves in politics, speaking at an event hosted by Hillsdale College while responding to allegations that Barr himself was interfering in politically sensitive cases. Barr said that too much deference is given to career prosecutors, and stressed that he has the ultimate decision on how cases should be dealt with. Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report for the Washington Post.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday announced huge plans to expand the US Navy to include a fleet of unmanned and autonomous ships, submarine and aircrafts to address growing power and challenge by China’s presence in the seas. Esper said that he had a “game-changer” plan that would see over 80 new ships built. The Guardian reporting.

The Trump administration is appealing to the Supreme Court to challenge a knockback to Trump’s July memo that sought to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census count used to determine each state’s share of House seats in Congress. Following a New York court’s ruling that the memo overstepped the president’s authority, the DOJ yesterday filed a notice of its intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. Hansi Lo Wang reports for NPR.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has opened an investigation into an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia which allegedly subjected immigrants to “jarring medical neglect” and carried out high numbers of hysterectomies, after a whistleblower complaint was filed Sept. 14 by Dawn Wooten, a nurse that works at the Irwin County Detention Center, the department confirmed in a statement yesterday. Caitlin Dickerson reports for the New York Times.

US Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recently implemented and highly-contentious policies changes delayed seven percent of the US’s first-class mail, or 350 million pieces of mail, a report released yesterday by the office of Sen. Gary Peters (D-MN), the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, revealed. The report states that over 90 percent of first-class mail was delivered on time before DeJoy’s operational changes. Jacob Bogage reports for the Washington Post.

John James, the former executive director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), sexually harassed two women in his office for seven years before finally retiring when an official complaint was filed August last year, the Department of Defense (DOD)’s inspector general said in a report date July 13. The report states James “engaged in a pattern of misconduct in which he sexually harassed” the two women from 2012 until last year. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

CYBERSECURITY AND HACKING

Chinese and Malaysian hackers broke into over 100 companies in the US and worldwide, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday announcing that five Chinese and two Malaysia individuals were indicted on charges of targeting a breadth companies, foreign governments, think tanks and social media platforms. Also, the D.C. Attorney’s Office has issued warrants to take control of hundreds of accounts, servers and domain names used by those indicted. Katie Benner and Nicole Periroth report for the New York Times.

Two Iranian nationals have been indicted for allegedly carrying out cyberattacks on a host of bodies, including US and foreign universities, a Washington-based think tank, a defense contractor and an aerospace organization, the DOJ said in statement yesterday. Hooman Heidarian and Mehdi Farhadin have been accused of stealing massive amounts of sensitive data on issues including national security, foreign policy intelligence, nuclear information — and of sharing this information with Tehran. The two men have not yet been apprehended, but have each been indicted on ten counts to commit fraud, access to unauthorized computers and of identity theft. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted “highly successful” test hacks of the agency’s networks as part of a security audit to address cybersecurity failings. The audit consisted of OIG employees conducting penetration testing on the agency’s networks including intercepting and decrypting network traffic, accessing internal networks at two Interior Department bureaus, and stealing the credentials of an agency IT employee which the office reports were successful and allowed sensitive information to be accessed; worryingly, both the IT team and security were unable to detected the testing. “We used the same tools, techniques, and practices that malicious actors use to eavesdrop on communications and gain unauthorized access,” the OIG wrote in a report setting out the security audit results. “Many of the attacks we conducted were previously used by Russian intelligence agents around the world.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.63 million and killed close to 197,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is more than 29.89 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 941,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said a Covid-19 vaccine may not be generally available to the public until at least summer next year. Redfield said he expects a vaccine to be available and rolled out between May and September 2021. This prompted a rebuke by President Trump, who said the CDC chief was incorrect. Amy Goldstein and Sean Sullivan report for the Washington Post.

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 SANCTIONS

The Trump administration yesterday threatened to impose sanctions on anyone who sells arms to Iran in a move that indicates the United States intends to try and enforce U.N. sanctions on Iran that are due to expire next month. U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela and Iran Elliott Abrams told reports that the sanctions “will have a very significant impact” on weapons manufacturers and traders who do business with Iran, with the details set to be announced Monday. Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The US intends to “snapback” all UN sanction on Iran from this Saturday, Abrams confirmed, although the such a move has been denounced by other U.N. Security Council members. AP reporting.

Lawyers for the Iranian government yesterday argued before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that US sanctions were “ruining millions of lives” in the country, the latest in a potential legal battle before the United Nations’ top court. This week the ICJ is dealing with jurisdictional matters only, deciding whether it can in fact hear the case. Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS          

The US will soon sell over $7 billion in arms to Taiwan, including drones and cruise missiles, a move that will certainly add to tensions with China. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.

Turkish and Russian officials are close to reaching an agreement on a ceasefire and political negotiation in Libya, after the latest peace negotiation meeting took place in Ankara, Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters yesterday. 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)