Early Edition: October 7, 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.

RATCLIFFE: DECLASSIFICATION OF CIA DOCUMENTS

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe yesterday declassified documents that revealed former CIA director John Brennan had briefed former President Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton’s alleged attempt to link President Trump, then the presidential candidate, to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server” ahead of the 2016 presidential election, and revealed a CIA memo that shows officials referred the issue to the FBI to potentially investigate. The documents, which include handwritten notes from Brennan, were released to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees yesterday “at the direction of” Trump, Ratcliffe said in a statement to Fox News. Brennan’s notes were, however, written prior to his briefing with Obama on the matter, a source familiar with the documents said. “We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED],” Brennan notes read, adding: “CITE [summarizing] alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.” Most of the detail was redacted, but in the margins is stated: “JC,” “Denis,” and “Susan,” which some have said could be referring to, respectively, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security advisor Susan Rice, and Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough. Brooke Singman reports for Fox News.

Brennan yesterday accused Ratcliffe of selectively declassifying the documents and memo “to advance the political interests” of Trump and close Republican allies, speaking in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “These were my notes from the 2016 period when I briefed President Obama and the rest of the national security council team about what the Russians were up to and I was giving examples of the type of access that the US intelligence community had to Russian information and what the Russians were talking about and alleging,” Brennan made clear. He also pushed back on the CIA memo revealed, which claimed that Clinton’s actions were “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server,” stating that “If, in fact, what the Russians were alleging that Hillary was trying to highlight the reported connections between Trump and the Russians, if that was accurate and a big if, there is nothing at all illegal about that.” He also added: “John Ratcliffe and others are trying to portray this as unlawful activity that deserves follow-up investigation by the FBI. No. It was a campaign activity,” he added. Zachery Cohen and Alex Marquardt report for CNN.

US DEVELOPMENTS

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s “2020 Homeland Threat Assessment” has warned that White supremacy is the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland” and that Russia is the primary threat to spreading disinformation, an assessment which follows a recent whistleblower complaint from top department official Brian Murphy which accused the department of withholding key information and directing officials to downplay the threat posed by White supremacists and Russian attempts to delegitimize the November election. The report also warned of cyberattacks by Iran and China, and pointed to an expected influx of migrants across the Mexican border. Zolan Kanno-Youngs reports for the New York Times.

Top Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were “a driving force” behind the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy which resulted in thousands of children separated from their parents for illegally crossing the US border, a draft report by Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz has revealed. The policy, which was announced by Sessions Apr. 18, was pushed back on by a number of top prosecutors from states along the Mexican border; however, the report suggests that Sessions was adamant that all those who cross the border must be prosecuted, with former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressing that the age of the child was irrelevant. “We need to take away children,” Sessions told prosecutors in a conference call, according to participants’ notes. One participant added in shorthand: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids,” the report noted. The report also notes that the policy resulted in Border Patrol officers missing serious felonies as they were too tied up in detaining and prosecuting the misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Michael D. Shear, Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt report for the New York Times.

John Bash, the US attorney for the Western District of Texas, is set to resign at the end of the week, according to a statement Monday by the Justice Department. Bash was tapped by Attorney General William Barr earlier this summer to investigate the Obama administration over allegations of “unmasking” the names of officials whose communications had been intercepted as part of investigations into Russian election interference. Bash is reportedly taking a position in the private sector, and Gregg Sofer, a former counsellor for Barr, has been named as Bash’s successor. Stacy Fernández reports for the Texas Tribune.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google enjoy a “monopoly power” and have stifled competitors from entering the market, Democrats on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee have said in a 449-page reportreleased yesterday, which recommends huge structural change to antitrust laws. Following a 16-month investigation that probed into the practices of the companies, Democrats have set out a number of recommendations that attempt to prohibit major mergers and force industry giants to breakup. Cristina Lima reports for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 7.5 million and has now killed close to 211,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been close to 35.85 million confirmed coronavirus cases and now over 1.05 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several other military officials are currently quarantining at home after Coast Guard vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray tested positive for Covid-19 Monday, following a Joint Chief of Staff meeting at the Pentagon Friday. Milley and the others “all have been tested with no positive results to report and none are exhibiting any symptoms,” a senior defense official said. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

President Trump yesterday confirmed that he has ordered all negotiations with Democrats on a new round of Covid-19 economic relief aid to be halted until after the November election, blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) unwillingness to negotiate “in good faith” as the reason for rejecting Democrat’s most recent $2 trillion package. “Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19. We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their … request, and looking to the future of our Country,” Trump said in a tweet yesterday following a phone call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). John Bresnahan, Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris report for POLITICO.

The White House yesterday reversed its decision to block the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s strict new standards on emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine — however, only after the FDA unilaterally published the guidelines on its website. The FDA’s guidelines will hold companies trialing vaccines to a higher standard of safety and effectiveness, and ultimately push back the clearance of any vaccine until after Election Day. Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Carolyn Y. Johnson report for the Washington Post.

Top Health and Human Services (HHS) official and whistleblower Dr Rick Bright has resigned, with his lawyers stating that he “can no longer countenance working for an administration that puts politics over science to the great detriment of the American people.” Bright filed his 89-page complaint May, accusing the department of “an abuse of authority or gross mismanagement.” He has said that his complaint resulted in him being removed from his position as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response and his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). An amended complaint has said that Bright was transferred to the National Institute of Health, where he was sidelined and “has been idle for weeks.” Dareh Gregorian and Sarah Fitzpatrick report 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 Taliban and Afghan government negotiators have agreed on an outline for a code of conduct aimed at advancing peace negotiations between the two sides, three officials said yesterday. “Firming up code of conduct was extremely crucial as it proves that both sides are willing to continue talks even as we see that violence has not reduced on the ground,” said one senior Western diplomat on the condition of anonymity. Another official, Nader Nadery, said the rules and procedures still need finalizing, with more work needed to be done. Reuters reporting.

Turkey and the UAE are responsible for carrying out regular and clear violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, fueling a conflict between the country’s internationally-recognized government and Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander of the Libyan National Army, a joint investigation by the Guardian has found. The investigation found that both countries are using huge military cargo planes to send in goods and fighters to supports forces or proxies. Ruth Michaelson reports for The Guardian.

The UN Human Rights Council has extended by two years its investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed by the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Council also urged Maduro to cooperate with preliminary investigations being carried out by the International Criminal Court. Reuters reporting.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov yesterday stepped down after the Central Electoral Commission annulled the results of the country’s parliamentary elections following accusations of vote-rigging, spiraling the ex-Soviet republic into political disarray. During an emergency session yesterday, the country’s parliament elected Sadyr Zhaparov, a founder of the opposition Mekenchil party, which had lost the election, as acting prime minister. Al Jazeera 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)