Early Edition: September 23, 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.

RUSSIAN AND OTHER INTERFERENCE

The Republican-led probe by Sens. Ron Johnson (WI) and Chuck Grassley (IA) into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden has released its interim report — however, its findings ultimately rehash and restate information already publicly available, with little new evidence to support its claims levied against the Bidens. The 87-page report, titled “Hunter Biden, Burisma and Corruption,” has been criticized for adding nothing further to what was already unearthed during President Trump’s impeachment trial and, instead, repeats previously known allegations and news articles. The report does state that Hunter’s role in the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings “cast a shadow” over U.S.-Ukraine relations, although its claims are supported by unspecified “confidential documents.” Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

The CIA has become increasingly cautious over the intelligence it passes onto the White House about Russian interference, over fears that Trump will become inflamed and overreact, several current and formal officials have said in interviews. A former CIA official has said that CIA Director Gina Haspel’s gradual step away from detailed Russian intelligence to the White House has “been framed by some as an effort to ‘protect the building’.” Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman report for POLITICO.

Russian attempts to interfere with the 2020 presidential election have largely centered around amplifying misleading claims made by Trump, particularly regarding the alleged dangers of mail-in ballots, analysts and officials have said. Analysts and officials have said that Trump’s own posts on Twitter have helped fuel disinformation campaigns, with screenshots of Trump’s Twitter posts being a main source for Russia to use. David E. Sanger and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report for the New York Times.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) yesterday warned that “foreign actors and cybercriminals” will likely attempt to spread disinformation around the results of this year’s presidential election, including exploiting any delays in tallying votes and defacing websites to put out false election results. The joint public service announcement said that during the time it takes to sort through mail-in ballot, hackers could amplify “disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

US DEVELOPMENTS

The UK yesterday handed over to the US evidence it had regarding two accused ISIS militants, dubbed the “Beatles,” currently detained by the US military and suspected of partaking in beheadings of Western hostages in Syria, clearing the way for a criminal trial in the United States to commence, after the High Court rejected a request from one of the accused’s family members for the transfer of evidence to be blocked. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by Kurdish-linked militia in 2018 and were eventually taken into custody by the United Stated where they remain detained in a military base in Iraq. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.

The Pentagon has begun “prudent planning” for a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey told the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

President Trump yesterday issued an executive order aimed at banning military and government contractors and federal grantees from some diversity training, citing a ban on “efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies,” including that the United States is “fundamentally racist or sexist,” or that any individual bears “responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” The order requires contractor contracts to include a provision that states the federal government will not have “workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” NPR reporting.

Republicans have united behind Trump’s push to fill the recently vacant Supreme Court seat, with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) yesterday expressing support for the plan. Currently, only two Republican senators, Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK), have said they do not support the move, although such opposition would not affect the effort due to the GOP’s 53-47 Senate majority. Anne Gearan, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report for the Washington Post.

The House yesterday passed its bipartisan stopgap funding bill, averting fears of a government shutdown at the end of the month. The bill, also known as a “continuing resolution” (CR), received 359-57 votes in the Democratic-controlled House, and includes funding for nutrition benefits for families and aid for farmers. The resolution will now make its way to the Senate, although it is unclear when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will bring it to the floor. Erica Werner reports for the Washington Post.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) yesterday declared a state of emergency in anticipation of potential “civil unrest” over the soon to be announced decision on whether charges will be brought against the police officers involved in the March killing of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman. Fischer said he does not know when State Attorney General Daniel Cameron will announce his office’s decision, but stressed that the region must prepare for it. The declaration will allow Fisher to enforce curfews and other necessary restrictions, a statement said. Brakkton Booker reports for NPR.

IRWIN COUNTY DETENTION CENTER MISTREATMENT

Irwin County Hospital, which was recently accused of carrying out high numbers of hysterectomies on immigrants held at the Irwin County Detention Center, has said its records indicate only two women have undergone the procedure since 2017, Heath Clark, an attorney for ERH Healthcare, which operates the county hospital, said, denouncing the allegations as “demonstrably false.” Clark said both procedures were carried out by Mahendra Amin, the doctor accused by lawyers and advocates of carrying out the forced sterilizations, dubbed “the uterus collector” by a whistleblower complaint filed Sept. 14 by Dawn Wooten, a nurse that works at detention center. Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.

Mexico is conducting interviews with at least six women who may have been subject hysterectomies at the detention center, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said yesterday. Ebrard indicated that there could be many more women who come forward. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.89 million and has now killed over 200,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 31.64 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 971,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Democrat have called for an investigation and public hearings into reports yesterday that the Pentagon redirected the majority of its $1 billion in coronavirus-related funding it received from Congress, in which most of the money was instead funnelled to defense contractors and used to fund making new jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms. “For the Administration to choose to use funds Congress made available to fight COVID-19 on the wish lists of defense contractors, instead of first protecting troops and the general public from the spread of the coronavirus, is unconscionable and should be investigated fully and prosecuted if warranted,” Reps. Mark Pocan (WI) and Barbara Lee (CA) said in a letter to the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Armed Services Committee. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set announce this week more stringent standards for an emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine, dwindling the possibility of a vaccine being ready by the November election, in an effort to improve transparency and public trust in the agency that has received a lot of criticism for its handling of the pandemic. Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson report for the Washington Post.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced new coronavirus measures that could be in place for six months, citing the country had reached a “perilous turning point.” Starting Thursday, measures will include: new curfews on restaurants and pubs in England; a push for home working, where possible; and mandatory masks for all retail workers, taxi drivers and bar and restaurant staffs, as well as customers. Karla Adam reports 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.

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT-TALIBAN PEACE TALKS

Several Taliban prisoners who were recently released as part of ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have returned to the battlefield to fight against Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah, the chair of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said. Al Jazeera reporting.

Four issues must be resolved before peace can be reached between the Taliban and Afghanistan — a dispute over a transition of power in the Afghan government; a lack of a stable ceasefire; what a future Afghanistan looks like; and women’s rights — writes Saphora Smith and Mushtaq Yusufzai for NBC News.

CHINESE LABOR CAMPS

China has “coerced” hundreds of thousands of Tibetans into military-style training facilities that have been denounced as similar to labor camps, a report by Jamestown Foundation has found, which was based on state media reports, policy documents and satellite imagery. BBC News reporting.

The house yesterday voted and passed legislation aimed at restricting the importation of goods into the US made through forced labor in China, the most recent move by lawmakers to hold China to account for its mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. The bill was passed by 406-3 votes. The next stage is the Senate, although it is unclear whether it will be received by the GOP-led Senate. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Tensions grew between world leaders at yesterday’s United Nations 75th General Assembly. A concise summary of what world leaders had to say is provided by Al Jazeera.

China and India agreed Monday to stop sending their troops to the highly disputed border in the Himalayas that has seen growing tension and a standoff between the two nations. The announcement comes after senior military officials from both sides met Monday and discussed ways to move forward on their contested border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Steven Jiang, Philip Wang and Helen Regan report for CNN.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was yesterday discharged from a German hospital after he was poisoned August. “Based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the treating physicians believe that complete recovery is possible,” Berlin’s Charité Hospital said in statement, adding, “However it remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning.” Sebastian Shukla and Stephanie Halasz report for CNN. 

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)