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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
A top-secret CIA assessment has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his tops aides are “probably directing” a Russian interference operation aimed at “denigrating” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and supporting President Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election, the first line of the assessment states. The documents also set out the CIA’s assessments of Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who has previously been linked to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to discredit Biden — however, it does not go as far as to name Giuliani, who has now been working with Derkach publicly for months, instead stating Derkach had interacted with a “prominent” person linked to Trump. Josh Rogin writes in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
Andrew Weissmann, a former deputy on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team that investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, says Mueller’s team could have done more to hold Trump accountable and “uncover the truth,” his new book, “Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation,” states, which Random House will publish next week. Weissmann’s book criticizes Mueller’s top deputy, Aaron Zebley, for halting deeper investigations into Trump’s finances, “which might have established a source of Russian leverage over Trump.” It also makes clear that Mueller had enough evidence to conclude that Trump obstructed justice, charges which could rear their head if Trump leaves office in November as he would lose immunity from criminal prosecution. Weissmann also charges Attorney General William Barr of betraying “both friend and country.” Matt Zapotosky and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., which is currently in a contentious legal battle with President Trump over obtaining eight years of his tax returns and related records, suggested yesterday for the first time specific criminal charges that may follow, including tax and insurance fraud and falsifying business records, citing news reports and public testimony that accused Trump of misconduct as justification for the grand jury investigation into possible criminal charges, court filings made yesterday by Vance’s legal team have revealed. The office’s investigation into Trump started over two years ago and is looking into alleged hush-money payments he made in 2016 to two women who claimed they had had an affair with the president, and also a “variety of business transactions,” Carey Dunne, the office’s general counsel said. Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum report for the New York Times.
The Trump administration yesterday announced an executive order and new unilateral sanctions against Iran which aim to reimpose an indefinite international arms embargo on the country, bypassing strong opposition from world leaders who dismiss the move as unlawful and ineffective.The new executive order gives the administration a “new and powerful tool to enforce the U.N. arms embargo and hold those who seek to evade U.N. sanctions accountable,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, adding that its first targets include Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, Iran’s Defense Industries Organization and its director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, many associated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and also Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who was charged with espionage after releasing classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents related to US surveillance programs in 2013, has agreed to forfeit over $5 million he earned from his tell-all book, “Permanent Record,”according to court records. Snowden’s book was published last year without approval from government, breaching contracts he signed with the CIA and NSA. The judge agreed with the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s lawsuit and ruled that Snowden must pay back the financial gains he received. A forfeiture plan has yet to be approved by the judge. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Update: After publication, Snowden disputed the CNN report’s characterization of these developments, and replied to Just Security on Twitter noting he disagreement.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 22, 2020
A New York Police Department (NYPD) officer was yesterday charged with acting as a spy for the Chinese government to provide information on the New York Tibetan community, according to a criminal complaint filed, which accused Baimadajie Angwang, 33, of working “at the direction and control” of Chinese officials at the consulate in New York. Prosecutors have charged him with acting as a foreign agent without notifying American authorities, wire fraud and making false statements, according to the complaint. Sonia Moghe reports for CNN.
District Judge Victor Marrero yesterday ruled that the US Postal Service must ensure it processes election mail on time for the November presidential election, a 87-page ruling has revealed, in which Marrero stressed that, “the right to vote is too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election.” Marrero’s judgment follows a decision by District Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, last week that ordered the USPS to end practices that were slowing down mail deliveries. In his judgement, Marrero said that: the Postal Service must treat all election mail as First Class Mail; the alleged reversal of highly-criticized operational changes were “either unenforced and not yet fully implemented or possibly insincere;” and that Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the Postal Service had “not provided trusted assurance and comfort that citizens will be able to cast ballots with full confidence that their votes would be timely collected and counted.” Marrero gave those involved in the case until Friday to settle their issues in a manner that was in-line with his findings and ruling. AP reporting.
The House yesterday unanimously approved the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act which would make hacking federal voting system as a federal crime. The Act received approval by the Senate last year July, and would make hacking any federal voting infrastructure a criminal offence under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which the DOJ often uses to prosecute hackers. The bipartisan bill will now make its way to Trump for his approval. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The Justice Department yesterday threatened to stop federal funding to New York, Portland, OR, and Seattle because of the cities’ handling of violence and unrest during protests over racial injustice and police brutality, which follows a memo sent earlier this month by the White House instructing the DOJ to identify jurisdictions it argued Democrats had permitted anarchy to persist. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement: “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” adding that he hopes the three cities would “reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.” Sadie Gurman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
House Democrats’ stopgap spending bill includes a provision for $1.6 billion for the Navy to “enter into a contract, beginning with fiscal year 2021, for the procurement of up to two Columbia class submarines,” the continuing resolution (CR) released yesterday revealed. The bill also grants the Navy authority to incrementally fund the new submarines. However, the bill is unlikely to make it through the Senate, with many Republicans expressing disdain for the bill’s silence on aid for farmers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has started an investigation into an envelope sent to the White House, addressed to Trump, that reportedly contained the highly poisonous substance ricin. The police department’s “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives team” is reportedly leading the operation, the police force said in a post on Twitter yesterday. Andy Blatchford reports for POLITICO.
Trump will announce his Supreme Court nomination by the end of this week, he said in an interview yesterday on “Fox & Friends,” adding that he is currently considering four or five women to potentially replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sadly passed Friday. Quint Forgey and Anita Kumar report for POLITICO.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.85 million and killed almost 200,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 31.35 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 965,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
When Congress passed the Cares Act earlier this year it gave the Pentagon $1 billion to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” by building medical equipment — however, the majority of this money was redirected to defense contractors and used to fund making new jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms. Even defense contractors who were protected under the Paycheck Protection Program were given some of the money, it has been revealed. Aaron Gress and Yeganeh Torbati report for the Washington Post.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suddenly removed yesterday guidance it published Friday that said that air transmission of the coronavirus might be one of the “most common” ways to spread the virus. The agency said that Friday’s guidelines were a draft and posted in error, although it did say it was updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission, which will be reposted online once reviewed and finalized. Apoorva Madavilli 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.
Afghan forces and the Taliban saw the worst night of clashes Sunday since peace negotiations between the two warring sides began in Qatar over a week ago, with at least 57 members of the Afghan security forces and 80 Taliban fighters reportedly killed across Afghanistan. The clashes took place in central province of Uruzgan, although casualties were also reported in the provinces of Baghlan, Takhar, Helmand, Kapisa, Balkh, Maidan Wardak and Kunduz, provincial officials have said. Al Jazeera reporting.