Early Edition: September 21, 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.

US DEVELOPMENTS

The Republican-led probe by Sens. Ron Johnson (WI) and Chuck Grassley (IA) into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings is set to be released this week, an investigation that has been criticized as attempting to discredit Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and which many lawmakers have stressed should not release its findings until after the November election. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

A woman suspected of sending a letter containing the poisonous substance ricin to the White House, addressed to President Trump, was arrested as she attempted to enter the US from Canada, U.S. law enforcement have confirmed. The woman, who has not been named, was reportedly carrying a gun when she was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents as she attempted to enter the U.S. at the Peace Bridge border crossing near Buffalo. She is expected to face federal charges. AP reporting.

Trump offered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a pardon if he revealed the source for hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails prior to the 2016 presidential election, Assange’s lawyer submitted to a London court Friday. Al Jazeera reporting.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has halted contempt proceedings against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the State Department finally handed over key documents the panel has been requesting as part of its investigation into Pompeo’s “transparently political misuse” of the State Department’s resources. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Trump said Saturday that he has given his “blessing” to a deal struck between ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of video sharing app TikTok, Oracle and Walmart for the purchase of the US branch of TikTok. Trump told reporters that he had approved the deal “in concept,” although he left open the possibility that the deal could fall through. Ana Swanson, David McCabe and Erin Griffith report for the New York Times.

A federal judge yesterday blocked Trump’s executive order aimed at banning Chinese messaging app WeChat, issuing a temporary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs who argued that the order violated their First Amendment rights as WeChat is an essential communication method for Chinese speakers. “The prohibited transactions burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security, especially given the lack of substitute channels for communication,” wrote Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in her ruling. Steven Overly reports for POLITICO.

US SUPREME COURT NOMINATION

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, sadly passed away Friday, serving 27 years on the U.S.’s top court, leaving behind an unrivalled legacy of advocating for and advancing women’s rights. Ginsburg’s passing opens the doors for a highly-contentious battle for the next Supreme Court justice pick. Linda Greenhouse reports for the New York Times.       

President Trump said he plans to announce his Supreme Court nomination this week, who is likely to be a woman, speaking to reporters Saturday at the White House. He indicated that the process is excepted to be “very quick” and “without delay.” Sam Gringlas reports for NPR.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AR) said yesterday that she does not support filling Ginsburg’s vacancy before the upcoming November presidential election, the second Republican senator to oppose a speedy nomination, complicating a process that was expected to breeze through the Senate. Emily Cochrane reports for the New York Times.

Trump’s top picks for the Supreme Court are set out by the Wall Street Journal, which include: Amy Coney Barrett; Barbara Lagoa; Allison Rushing; Thomas Hardiman; and Amul Thapar.

Who Amy Barrett, the top potential pick for Trump, is, is explained by Brent Kendall for the Wall Street Journal.

US-IRAN SANCTIONS

The 75th session of the UN General Assembly will take place, virtually, this week, with President Trump expected to address the assembly tomorrow on the U.S.’s plans to impose new sanctions on Iran in an effort to deter arms sales to the nation; and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expected to speak to the assembly later that day. Michael R. Gordon, Laurence Norman and Courtney McBride report for the Wall Street Journal.

The US announced Saturday night that all UN sanctions against Iran had “snapped-back,” despite global denunciation that the US-move is unlawful due to America no longer being a participant of the 2015 nuclear agreement. France, Britain and Germany released a joint statement yesterday that again stressed that the United States had relinquished its say on U.N. sanctions when it withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump is expected to announce an executive order today that will detail how he will go about enforcing sanctions and punishing any violators. Carol Morello reports for the Washington Post.

Over two dozen individuals and entities will be sanctioned by the US today for their involvement in Iran’s nuclear arms program, a top U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said. The expected announcement will surely complicate the highly-contentious debate between world leaders about the U.S.’s ability and right to enforce sanctions, with businesses from European countries, China and Russia expected to feel the wrath for violating them. Reuters reporting.

The UN will offer no support for re-imposing sanctions on Iran, U.N. chief Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council’s president. AP reporting.

FINCEN FILES

Thousands of secret government “suspicious activity reports” (SARs) have revealed how the world’s largest banks moved over $2 trillion in suspicious transactions, allowing terrorists, kleptocrats and drug lords to continue to move their money through accounts, all of which US government law enforcement agencies have allowed to continue. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is responsible for fighting against money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes, and receives millions of SARs that it makes available to law enforcement agencies. However, FinCEN rarely instructs banks to close down, instead relying on the use of “deferred prosecution agreements,” which include fines but no high-level arrests – even then, reports show prosecutions or fines against banks for financial misconduct did little to deter banks from continue to allow criminal to move money. BuzzFeed News’ investigations reveal that: Standard Chartered moved money on behalf of a Dubai-based company that was later accused on laundering money for the Taliban; HSBC allowed WCM777, a Ponzi scheme, to move over $15 million although it was banned from operating in three U.S. states; and Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and American Express processed transactions for the former mayor of Kazakhstan’s most populous city, even though Interpol issued a Red Notice for his arrest. Jason Leoold, Anthony Cormier, John Templon, Tom Warren, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Scott Pham, Richard Holmes, Azeen Ghorayshi, Michael Sallah, Tanya Kozyreva and Emma Loops report for BuzzFeed News.

The Central Bank of the UAE failed to act on intel that pointed to a local firm, Gunes General Trading, helping Iran to evade sanctions. U.S. prosecutors have said that Gunes General Trading was part of a network controlled by Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab that took part in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government and other Iranian bodies that were under US sanctions. Ahmed Elshamy and Owen Pinnell report for BBC News.

North Korea laundered over $170 million through US banks over several years using shell companies and assisted, at times, by Chinese businesses. Andrew W. Lehren and San De Luce report for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.81 million and killed very close to 200,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 31.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 961,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday reversed a highly-criticized recommendation that those who had been exposed to Covid-19 but who showed no symptoms were not required to be tested, now stating that anyone who has been exposed for more than 15 minutes is required to be tested. Apoorva Mandavilli reports 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.

SYRIA

The US has ramped up its military presence in Syria, with six Bradley Fighting Vehicles and round 100 troops deployed to north-east Syria, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) announced Friday. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Dutch government has said it intends to hold Syria to account under international law for its “gross human rights violations,” citing the U.N. Convention against Torture as a possible route for holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government responsible for committing serious crimes against its own citizens. Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Afghan government airstrikes killed 24 civilians and injured a number of others Saturday, including children, two witnesses told The Associated Press yesterday. The airstrikes targeted the village of Sayed Ramazan in the northern Kunduz province, which is controlled by the Taliban. However, the Afghan Defense Ministry said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters, but did say they it would investigate claims that civilians had been killed. AP reporting.

Bahrain prevented a plot by Iran-backed militants to launch attacks on diplomats and foreigners, Saudi state TV reported yesterday. However, Bahrain’s government has yet to confirm reports. 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)