Early Edition: September 29, 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 FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) yesterday warned that foreign actors and cyber criminals are spreading disinformation, particularly around alleged successful cyberattacks that have compromised election security, through online platforms in an effort to sway public opinion and undermine the election process. In a joint public service announcement, the agencies said malicious actors could use online platforms to suggest to voters that cyber operations have succeeded in infiltrating the election infrastructure and “facilitated ‘hacking’ and ‘leaking’ of U.S. voter registration data.” The statement went on to say that neither the FBI or CISA have “information suggesting any cyberattack on U.S. election infrastructure has prevented an election from occurring, compromised the accuracy of voter registration information, prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, or compromised the integrity of any ballots cast.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Amy Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, will today meet face-to-face with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the first of many meetings scheduled with senators before her confirmation hearing next month. She is also set to meet with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Lee (UT) and Mike Crapo (ID). Marianne Levine reports for POLITICO.

The Trump Administration “likely” exceeded its legal authority when it ordered a ban on downloads of video sharing app TikTok in the US, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in a legal opinion disclosed yesterday, following Nichols’ block of the ban Sunday. Nichols noted that although Trump has “broad” authority to prohibit business dealings that pose a national security threat, TikTok may be exempt from such an order as a “personal communication” service that oversees “informational materials.” The legal teams for the administration and TikTok are expected to meet by tomorrow to set out the next steps in the case. Cristiano Lima reports for POLITICO.

A Washington Post review of 90 state and federal voting lawsuits has found that judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have been “broadly skeptical” of arguments before the courts that point to voter fraud, with no judge endorsing Trump’s argument that voter fraud poses a significant risk to the credibility of the November election. Elise Viebeck reports for the Washington Post.

As part of a strategy to pressure Russia into renegotiating a more favorable New START nuclear arms control treaty with the US prior to the November election, the Trump administration has asked the US Strategic Command in Nebraska to assess how quickly it could assemble its nuclear arsenal should a new deal not be struck, with the treaty set to expire in February. The request came from the National Security Council and State, Defense and Energy departments, and the assessment will look into how long it would take to load nuclear weapons now in storage onto bombers and submarines, in the hope that such will pressure Moscow into agreeing to the U.S.’s proposals of a new treaty. Daniel Lippman, Bryan Bender and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.

Universal Health Services (UHS), a large hospital chain, has been reportedly targeted by hackers in what looks like one of largest cyberattacks on a US medical network infrastructure in history. UHS, which has over 400 facilities across the United States, the U.K. and Puerto Rico, began to crash over the weekend, with some locations having to file patient information with pen and paper, according to a number of people familiar with the matter. A source said the issue appears to be a ransomware attack, in which hackers use malicious software to take over computer systems and demand payment for systems to be handed back. UHS released a statement on its website, stating the network “is currently offline, due to an IT security issue.” Kevin Collier reports for NBC News.

TRUMP TAXES

Rep. Kevin Brady (TX), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, yesterday called for a probe into the sources of the New York Times’ story that revealed President Trump’s tax and financial records, stating a “felony crime was committed” when records were given to the Times. “While many critics question the article’s accuracy, equally troubling is the prospect that a felony crime was committed by releasing the private tax return information of an individual – in this case the President’s,” Brady said, adding, “To ensure every American is protected against the illegal release of their tax returns for political reasons, I am calling for an investigation of the source and to prosecute if the law was broken.” Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

Former CIA chief says Trump’s tax evasion and foreign financial dealings pose an “outrageous vulnerability” to US national security. Larry Pfeiffer, the former CIA Chief of Staff, who now serves as the director at the Hayden Center for Intelligence at George Mason University, said that if his own financial records were even a fraction as damning as Trump’s, there would be no question that his security clearances “would be pulled.” Greg Miller and Yeganeh Torbati report for the Washington Post.

Ten key takeaways from the New York Times’ report on Trump’s financial records are helpfully provided by Professor Daniel Shaviro, New York University, one of the nation’s top tax law experts, writing for Just Security.

How Trump’s taxes compare to previous US presidents is revealed by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post, who reports that in their first year in office, Barack Obama paid $1.8 million in federal income tax and George W. Bush paid over $250,000. Previous presidents have all been reported to have paid significantly more than Trump.

How Trump was able to use the US tax code to significantly lower the taxes he paid, or to make the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refund him millions in taxes he had already paid is explained by David A. Fahrenthold and Joshua Partlow for the Washington Post.

Trump has claimed that he cannot release his tax records while they are being audited by the IRS however, this is not true, writes Jake Horton for BBC News, who explains there is no legal authority prohibiting the release of presidents’ tax records during an ongoing IRS review.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 7.15 million and has now killed over 205,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and now over 1 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

House Democrats yesterday revealed a new scaled-back $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the latest effort by the House to reach a bipartisan deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The legislation is slated to possibly be voted on this week, and includes: $436 billion in emergency aid for state and local governments; $225 billion for schools and child care; a further round of $1,200 stimulus checks for many Americans; funds to restore $600 weekly jobless benefits until January; $75 billion for testing, contact tracing and other health care measures; and billions for housing support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke with Mnuchin yesterday evening and the pair agreed to talk again this morning, Pelosi’s spokesperson said on Twitter. Natalie Andrews and Kristina Peterson report for the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration is planning to ship over 150 million rapid coronavirus tests to states by the end of the year, with 6.5 million tests scheduled to be sent out this week. The number each state will receive is based on population data. David Lim reports for POLITICO.

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.

BREONNA TAYLOR CASE

The former police officer indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment following the killing of Breonna Taylor, the unarmed Black woman that was shot and killed by police officers March, yesterday pleaded not guilty, local media has reported. Former police officer Brett Hankinson was indicted last week by a grand jury on charges accusing him of endangering Taylor’s neighbors when some of the bullets he fired entered neighboring apartments. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron yesterday agreed to release a recording of the grand jury deliberations in the Taylor case, after a judge ordered the release following an anonymous juror who filed a court motion criticizing Cameron’s recent statements and demanding that details of the juror’s deliberations be revealed so that “the truth may prevail.” Doha Madani reports for NBC News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The UN Security Council has said it will hold emergency talks on the clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, after close to 100 people have now been killed, 11 of which are civilians. Michael Safi reports for The Guardian.

Amnesty International has said it is halting all its work in India over the government’s “continuing crackdown” and “harassment” of the human rights watchdog, who reported that the bank account of its India branch had been frozen by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, forcing it to let go of staff and suspend its research and campaigning in the country. Yogita Limaye reports for BBC News. 

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)