Early Edition: October 9, 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 Pentagon has expressed confusion over President Trump’s recent announcement that he plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by Christmas, with a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity stating that the Pentagon had not received any order to change or speed up policy plans that centered a withdrawal on certain conditions being met. Critics have said a rushed withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from the country could impact on current peace negotiations between the country’s government and the Taliban, with Laurel Miller, a former top diplomat now serving as director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia program, arguing that a sudden withdrawal “makes no sense in terms of U.S. national security or good negotiating practice. It only makes sense in a political context if you think that’s a selling point to voters.” Missy Ryan, Karen DeYoung and Susannah George report for the Washington Post.

Devon Archer, the business partner of Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, has had his fraud conviction reinstated by a federal appeals court following a lower court’s decision to grant a retrial. Although Biden was never implicated in the scheme that defrauded the Oglala Sioux India tribe our of proceeds for bond sales, evidence presented at trial did suggest that those guilty used Biden’s name to help legitimize their actions. Ben Schreckinger reports for POLITICO.

Elliott Broidy, a longtime GOP and Trump fundraiser, has been charged with violating foreign lobbying laws, according to a court filing revealed yesterday, which accuses the Broidy of illegally lobbying the Trump administration to drop its investigation into the Malaysia 1MDB corruption scandal and deport an exiled Chinese billionaire. A federal court in Washington charged Broidy with one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent. The indictment reveals that in 2017 he was recruited by an unnamed foreign national, which is understood to be Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, to influence the government into halting its investigations into Malaysia’s $4.5 billion scandal. Court documents and people familiar with the matter indicate that Broidy directly appealed to Trump’s then-chief of staff, Reince Priebus, his former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, and the president himself. According to court documents, Broidy also tried to set up a meeting with China’s former vice minister of public security, Sun Lijun, and former U.S. Attorney General, Jess sessions, although his plan was unsuccessful and it is unclear if Sessions ever received the memo requesting the meet. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

Democrats will today reveal a bill intended to create a commission that will assess whether a US president is fit for office. The bill will be announced this morning by Rep. Jamie Ruskin (MD), a constitutional law expert, at a news conference on Capitol Hill, the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) announced yesterday. The bill will be similar to that introduced by Raskin in 2017 which centered on presidential removal procedures set out in the Constitution’s 25th Amendment. Raskin’s initial proposal touted a “body” made up of physicians, psychiatrist and former public officials chosen by congressional leaders. Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.

Trump has this week castigated his administration for not acting against his political rivals, speaking during a pair of telephone interviews with Fox News and Fox Business as well as a video and a string of posts on Twitter. Trump said, among other things, that: Attorney General William Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama; he was not happy with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for not releasing Hillary Clinton’s emails; and FBI Director Wray had been “disappointing.” Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.

The Justice Department is appealing a federal court’s recent injunction that prevented the Trump administration from banning new downloads of Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok. The department filed court papers before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington requesting that the Sept. 27 order by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the DC circuit be reviewed. Katy Stech Ferek reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) released guidance Monday prohibiting the use of agency fund grants to purchase drones from foreign groups thought to be a threat to the US. The guidance was announced yesterday and bans purchasing drones and other unmanned aerial systems from foreign entities “determined or designated, within the Department of Justice, to be subject to or vulnerable to extrajudicial direction from a foreign government.” The guidance does not however refer to any particular foreign group or country. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The Justice Department yesterday published the “Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework,” developed by the attorney general’s Cyber Digital Task Force, which sets out the current threats and law enforcement challenges the US faces with the growing use of cryptocurrency, and details law enforcement strategies aim to combat those threats. “Despite its relatively brief existence, this technology already plays a role in many of the most significant criminal and national security threats our nation faces,” Sujit Raman, the chair of the task force, wrote in the report’s introduction. The framework has been welcomed by Barr and Wray. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Retired Navy captain, John R. Nettleton, the former commander of the Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been sentenced to two years in prison for attempting to cover up a drunken fight with a commissary worker who was later found dead in the area. The case started nearly six years ago, with U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan this week sentencing Mettleton to two-years’ imprisonment and a further one year of supervised release and court fees. Carol Rosenberg repots for the New York Times.

The US Army has revealed trials for augmented reality goggles for military combat dogs, enabling the dogs to receive instructions from long distances away. The new technology is made by a company called Command Sight and is managed by the US Army Research Laboratory. BBC News reporting.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER

13 militia members were yesterday charged in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), an FBI’s affidavit yesterday revealed, in which the men stockpiled weapons, ammunition and explosives, and surveilled her vacation home. The affidavit reveals that: the men had been plotting for many months attacks on a Michigan State Police facility, under the secret watch of the FBI; federal agents were first aware of the plot through informants who pointed to social media conversations and encrypted messaging apps used to discuss their plans; six of the men will be charged with federal crimes, which if found guilty carries a sentence of life imprisonment, and the remaining seven will face state charges; and a number of the accused are linked to a militia group dubbed “Wolverine Watchmen,” who are tied to the “boogaloo” movement. “The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using ‘Molotov cocktails’ to destroy police vehicles,” the affidavit indicates, adding, “The attendees also discussed plans for an additional meeting during the first weekend of July when they also would conduct firearms and tactical training.” Kyle Cheney and Nick Niedzwiadek report for POLITICO.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had said White supremacist groups were involved in the plot to kidnap Whitmer: “there are multiple white supremacy groups and militia groups that have been acting in accordance with one another,” Nessel said in an interview with NPR. Vanessa Romo reporting for NPR.

Whitmer yesterday denounced President Trump for encouraging domestic terrorists: “When our leaders meet with, encourage and fraternize with domestic terrorists they legitimize their actions, and they are complicit,” Whitmer said speaking at a news conference. Reuters reporting.

More on the men’s links to “Wolverine Watchmen” and the “boogaloo” movement is provided by Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, Tom Winter and Corky Siemaszko reporting for NBC News.

TRUMP’S HEALTH CONDITION AND DR SEAN CONLEY

The experimental antibody cocktail President Trump touted using as part of his treatment for Covid-19 is developed by using the cells of aborted babies, a material the Trump administration has long opposed. The monoclonal antibody cocktail is made by Regeneron, and an 8-gram infusion was administered to the president under a “compassionate use” exemption. BBC News reporting.

White House physician Dr. Sean Conley yesterday confirmed that Trump would be able to make a “safe return” to public events on Saturday, issuing a memo that said the president had overall responded “extremely well” to treatment. “Since returning home, his physical exam has remained stable and devoid of any indications to suggest progression of illness. Overall he’s responded extremely well to treatment, without evidence on examination of adverse therapeutic effects,” Conley wrote, adding, “Saturday will be day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the President’s safe return to public engagements at that time.” However, his assessment has been met with skepticism, with many health experts stressing that Covid-19 patients can remain infectious for longer than ten days. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.

Citing Dr. Conley’s memo, Trump yesterday suggested that he plans on restarting in-person rallies this weekend, speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. However, Frank Fahrenkopf, the Commission on Presidential Debates’ co-founder and Republican co-chair, made clear when speaking to The Associated Press yesterday night that there was absolutely no way the second debate would be in-person, regardless of Trump’s wishes. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Dr. Conley failed “to extend truth telling” in his “obvious prevarications in his updates on the president’s medical condition,” writes Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Stephen Xeakis, MD, and Professor Jonathan Morena for Just Security. The author’s note that although Conley only disclosed information expressly authorized by Trump – and rightly so – he went further than that, “intentionally and knowingly” misrepresenting the president’s health and treatment.

US RELATIONS

Ukraine has deported two US members of neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, who attempted to join a far-right military unit, Ukrainian security officials said. The men “tried to join one of the Ukrainian military units in order to gain combat experience, which the representatives of the group planned to use in illegal activities,” the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has said. Christopher Miller reports for Buzzfeed News.

Why a group of lawyers and professors of law are suing the “the president, his secretaries of State and Treasury, his attorney general, and the departments they head” over sanctions and asset freezes placed on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is explained by Diane Marie Amann, Margaret deGuzman, Gabor Rona and Milena Sterio for Just Security, all of whom are plaintiffs to the lawsuit filed last Thursday.

US ELECTIONS

A US appeals court yesterday blocked a federal court’s order that extended Wisconsin’s absentee ballot casting deadline until six days after the election. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, blocked a federal judge’s earlier decision that would have allowed for absentee ballots to be counted after Nov. 3, meaning any ballots received after this date will now be disregarded. The court also blocked a week-long extension of the state’s online and mail-in registration deadline. Al Jazeera reporting.

“Six disinformation threats in the post-election period” that the US should be aware of are comprehensively detailed by Justin Hendrix, cofounder and CEO of Tech Policy Press, writing for Just Security.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 7.61 million and has now killed nearly 213,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 36.56 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.06 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

At least 53 pro-government forces and 37 civilians have been killed this month in Afghanistan, Fahim Abed writes in a war casualty report for the New York Times.

Israel’s Parliament will ratify its deal with the UAE on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday. Reuters 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)