Early Edition: September 24, 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.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY AND FOREIGN INTERFERENCE

President Trump yesterday nominated Allen Souza, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), to serve as the new Inspector General of the US Intelligence Community (IGIC), replacing former IG Michael Atkinson who was fired April by Trump after he revealed to Congress a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment proceedings. Souza, who currently works for the National Security Council (NSC) as a principal deputy senior director for intelligence programs, yesterday had his nomination sent by the White house to the Senate. Kaitlian Collins, Jeremy Herb and Zacahry Cohen report for CNN.

The Intelligence Community (IC) is considering whether to reveal further information on foreign government attempts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, and is this time much more prepared to fight against efforts to meddle in the election than they were in 2016, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the acting chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have said. The lawmakers’ comments followed a two-hour committee briefing with Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe and William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

Democrats have called for additional information on foreign threats to the election to be made publicly available, following a Senate Armed Services Committee briefing by Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), and Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, on the Pentagon’s efforts to ensure the election is secure. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

US DEVELOPMENTS

A New York state judge yesterday ordered Eric Trump, the son of President Trump, to answer questions under oath by early October as part of the New York attorney general’s civil fraud investigation into the Trump Organization’s business practices. Trump’s son has long sought to have his deposition delayed until after the election, arguing that he has an “extreme travel schedule and related unavailability between now and the election,” also stressing the need “to avoid the use of his deposition attendance for political purposes.” “The court’s order today makes clear that no one is above the law, not even an organization or an individual with the name Trump,” said New York Attorney General Tish James, whose office is investigating whether the Trump organization misrepresented its assets in order to receive more favorable loans and tax benefits. Nick Niefzwiadek report for POLITICO.

White House officials improperly tried to block Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, from publishing his tell-all book, making false claims that it contained classified information, a 17-page letter filed with a federal court in Washington by Kenneth L. Wainstein, the lawyer of former National Security Council (NSC) official Ellen Knight, the career official who led the prepublication review of Bolton’s book. Wainstein said that White House lawyers had had an unusual degree of involvement in the review process, withheld information, and conducted a second review in an effort to justify the lawsuit brought against Bolton to block the book’s publication. Aruna Viswanatha reports for the Wall Street Journal.

US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigations by the CIA and FBI is also looking into the FBI’s investigation into allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. Durham was initially asked by Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate concerns with federal investigations into Russian interference in 2016, however, according to people familiar with internal probe, Durham has also requested documents related to the bureau’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation that started five years ago. Durham’s team have indicated that they are comparing the FBI’s investigation into Russia and into the foundation, although the rationale behind this is not clear. It is also not clear whether Durham’s team are actually looking into potential violations by the foundation. Adam Goldman, William K. Rashbaum and Nicole Hong report for the New York Times.

Trump yesterday refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the upcoming presidential election. When asked whether he would commit to a cornerstone of American democracy, ensuring a peaceful transition of power from himself to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump said: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” adding, “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.” Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.

PROTESTS AND POLICE INJUSTICE

Pro-President Trump activists in Portland, OR, plotted and prepared themselves for extreme confrontations with left-wing Portland activists in a series of contentious rallies that have taken place across the city, with one scheduled for this weekend, leaked chat logs of conversations between members of the Patriots Coalition have revealed. Antifacist group Eugene Antifa shared conversation histories from messaging app GroupMe that indicate pro-Trump supporters were planning and training for violent encounters, sourcing weapons, arms and ammunition, and even suggested political assassinations. There is evidence that specific attacks witnessed during protests had first been discussed in chats revealed. Jason Wilson and Robert Evans report for The Guardian.

A Kentucky grand jury yesterday indicted one police officer for wanton endangerment over the March killing of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman — however, those charges relate to officer Brett Hankison recklessly shooting into a neighbor’s apartment, not Taylor’s death. The charges for first-degree wanton endangerment relate to Hankison firing blindly into multiple apartments and therefore recklessly endangering neighbors, but no charges were brought against either of the three officers for shooting Taylor. Rachel Treisman, Brakkton Booker and Vanessa Romo report for NPR.

Two Louisville police officers were yesterday shot during violence and unrest over the grand jury decision to indict only Hankison, although neither officers’ injuries are life threatening, interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said at a news conference yesterday. Chloe Atkins and David K. Li report for NBC News.

What wanton endangerment in the Taylor case means is explained by Theresa Waldrop for CNN.

CHAD WOLF CONFIRMATION HEARING

Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was yesterday grilled by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Wolf rejected a recent whistleblower complaint that accused him of doctoring intelligence reports for political purposes, and stated that Russia, China and Iran all pose a particular threat to the U.S. election. Wolf also said that white supremacist groups have for the last two years posed “the most pertinent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists,” echoing similar comments made by FBI Director Christopher Wray. Rachael Levy reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International USA yesterday said Wolf’s nomination hearing should be suspended, citing “serious human rights violations”. The organization admitted that it’s announcement was rare, but added that it “takes no position on the appointment of particular individuals to government positions, unless they are reasonably suspected of crimes under international law and could use their appointment to the position in question to either prevent accountability for these crimes or to continue their perpetration.” Amnesty’s main concern focused on Wolf’s involvement in implementing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. It also took issue with the response of federal agents to recent protests in the country. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.93 million and has now killed close to 202,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is over 31.92 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 977,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Trump yesterday denounced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for playing politics with developing a Covid-19 vaccine, after the agency announced yesterday that it was tightening its guidelines for an emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine. Trump said the White House may not approve the FDA’s announced guideline changes. Lauren Morello and Adam Cancryn report for POLITICO.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson yesterday announced it has started its phase 3 trials for a COVID-19 vaccine, with preliminary results not expected for at least two months. The vaccine differs from other currently being trialed in that it requires only one dose, the others requiring two, addressing concerns that those involved in the trial may not return for the second dose. The vaccine also only requires basic refrigeration compared to other vaccines. Erika Edwards reports for NBC News.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US no longer recognizes Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of the country, the State Department said in a statement yesterday, following a similar announcement by E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in response to the secret inauguration ceremony of Lukashenko yesterday. A spokesperson for the department said: “The United States cannot consider Aleksandr Lukashenko the legitimately elected leader of Belarus. The path forward should be a national dialogue leading to the Belarusian people enjoying their right to choose their leaders in a free and fair election under independent observation.” Dave Lawler reports for Axios.

The Taliban killed 20 Afghan police officers at security checkpoints in southern Afghanistan Tuesday night, Zelgai Ebadi, a spokesperson for the Uruzgan governor said yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting.

China has vastly been expanding its detention camps for Muslims in the Xinjiang region, with over 380 camps built since 2017, 100 more than previously thought, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has found, releasing satellite imaging that shows centers are still under construction. ASPI’s findings point to a continued effort by China to expand its detention camps that target Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities, and contradict claims by China that the camps are vocational training centers. Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report for the New York Times.

North Korean troops yesterday shot dead a South Korean official who went missing earlier this week, dousing his body in oil and setting it alight, South Korean military officials confirmed today. Justin McCurry reports for The Guardian. 

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)