Early Edition: October 14, 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

Federal prosecutor John Bash, who was tapped by Attorney General William Barr to look into whether Obama administration officials improperly revealed the names of those who were redacted in intelligence reports and documents, a process known as “unmasking,” has completed his probe but has found no evidence of substantive wrongdoing, people familiar with the matter have said. Bash resigned from the department last week; however, there has not yet been any public release of Bash’s conclusions, which is likely to rile Republicans who have long argued that the “unmasking” of individuals by Obama-era officials was highly politicized. Matt Zapotosky and Shane Harris report for the Washington Post.

President Trump yesterday asked the Supreme Court to block a lower court’s ruling that allowed Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to enforce a grand jury subpoena for Trump’s tax records and other financial records. Following a decision last week by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that unanimously allowed Vance access to the records, Trump’s lawyers filed an emergency application for stay with the nation’s top court while it considers his request. “The decision is indisputably wrong,” yesterday’s filing argued. “Allowing this deeply flawed ruling to stand, especially given the prominence of this case, will needlessly sow confusion where none presently exists.” Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.

After Trump last week ordered the “total declassification” of all Russiagate documents and Hilary Clinton’s emails, the Justice Department yesterday made clear that this is not the case and that it will continue to redact and release documents as it decides appropriate. After Trump last week said on Twitter he had authorized all documents to be revealed with “no redactions,” Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer wrote in a court filing that the White House Counsel’s Office told the Justice Department to disregard Trump’s tweets which weren’t accompanied by any actual declassification order. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

The Supreme Court yesterday denied a long-standing request by democratic lawmakers to review Trump’s continuing control of his businesses which they argue may have violated the US Constitution’s emoluments clause, which effectively prohibits office holders from accepting anything of value from foreign states or actors without first seeking permission from Congress. The lawsuit was bought by over 200 democratic members in 2017 but was rejected by an appeals court that ruled the lawmakers lacked standing to bring the case. The Supreme Court ruling therefore leaves the appeal court’s decision in place. Byron Tau reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has instructed its employees to report their fellow colleagues if they suspect them of sharing sensitive internal information or if they request information that goes beyond their daily duties, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News. The instruction came from Randolph D. “Tex” Alles, a senior DHS official, who yesterday warned department officials to be careful when handling “all classified, controlled unclassified, and draft information” and that unauthorized disclosures, deliberate or otherwise, risk breaching the department’s policy and potentially federal law. The email was reportedly sent after “sensitive but unclassified” information was shared with “external entities,” although those entities were not specified. Hamed Aleaziz reports for BuzzFeed News.

The Trump administration can end the 2020 census count on Oct. 15, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled yesterday, suspending a lower court’s recent order that allowed counting to be extended until Oct. 31. The court’s ruling comes after the Justice Department made an emergency request to the court last week, and means that those who have not yet completed the census online have until 6 a.m. ET Friday to do so, and until Thursday by phone or mailed paper response. The judges offered no explanation for granting the order. Zach Montellaro and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.

Mexico’s foreign minister yesterday confirmed the country has identified two women who may have been subject to nonconsensual surgeries while they were detained by a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia. The announcement follows a whistleblower complaint last month that alleged that ICE’s privately-run Irwin Country Detention Center conducted hysterectomies and improper medical procedures on detained migrant women. The country’s statement said that two women had received “a surgical intervention” that they did not consent to or receive after care for, although it stated the procedure was not a hysterectomy. Natalie Gallón reports for CNN.

The Supreme Court yesterday heard submissions in a dispute over how rape committed by US military members is prosecuted and punished, namely whether a five-year statute of limitations applied to prosecutions. The court is tasked with deciding whether the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces made the correct decision last year when it overturned the rape conviction of three male Air Force members because the allegations were over five years ago, a move that many, including the Justice Department, have argued broke with a long-standing precedent. Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

Two men involved in the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) also discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), it was revealed in court yesterday during an FBI agent’s testimony. “They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” special agent Richard Trask reportedly said during a court hearing yesterday that was to review investigators’ evidence against the accused group of men. AP reporting.

Josh Hodges was recently tapped by the White House to serve as the National Security Council (NSC)’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs and a special assistant to Trump, according to trump administration officials familiar with the appointment. Hodges, 37, started at the NSC last week but was until recently the senior deputy assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Daniel Lippman reports for POLITICO.

Five key takeaways from the second day of the Senate confirmation hearing for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett are provided by Amber Phillips for the Washington Post.

ELECTION DAY

The National Guard has received no requests from federal agencies to provide law enforcement support to quell any unrest that may follow the Nov. 3 election, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday. He also said he did not expect the military to play any role in policing any resulting unrest following the presidential election and that the Guard was only to be used in circumstances where federal properly was at risk of being damaged and to support law enforcement. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday avoided directly addressing lawmakers’ questions about any involvement the military may have during the election, particularly sending troops to the polls. When asked by Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin (MI) and Mikie Sherrill (NJ) if he would allow an order to send active-duty troops to polls on Election Day, and whether he would commit to his duty to facilitate a peaceful transition of power, he stated: “The U.S. military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” Esper’s written answers released by Slotkin and Sherrill have revealed. Connor O’Brien and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.

US RELATIONS

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov has rejected claims by the Trump administration that an agreement has been reached on extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the two superpowers, saying that a deal was not likely before Election Day. “The US position in favor of putting a freeze [on the nuclear arsenal] has long been known to us, it is unacceptable to us. Not because we are against freezing, but because we need to deal with the problems of strategic stability as a complex,” Rybakov told state run news agency RIA Novosti, according to CNN. He added, “if the Americans need to report to their superiors something about allegedly reaching an agreement with the Russian Federation before their elections, then they will not get it.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

The White House is advancing further arms sales to Taiwan, including MQ-9 drones and a coastal defensive missile system, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Sources said that the total value of arms sales to Taiwan, which includes a number of sales announced recently, is around $5 billion. Reuters reporting.

President Trump has requested his top advisers to set out plans for withdrawing US troops from Somalia, according to people familiar with the matter. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley are reportedly in conversations on the matter, with the Pentagon currently drafting plans. The withdrawal has caused some to fear that it will allow al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab to gain power in the country. There are currently between 650 and 800 U.S. troops in Somalia, according to U.S. Africa Command. “We really appreciate the U.S. support, and we are grateful for what the U.S. has done, and we would like to see the troops remain until the work is 100% accomplished,” Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi said. Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs report for Bloomberg.

AFGHAN GOVERNMENTTALIBAN RELATIONS

Afghan government forces have unleashed a counter attack on Taliban fighters in the south after the Taliban’s recent attack on Helmand Province, officials said yesterday. U.S. forces also launched airstrikes Monday against Taliban fighters in the province, marking the first big Taliban offensive since peace talks between the parties started last month. Reuters reporting.

The intensifying conflict in Helmand Province has seen over 35,000 civilians flee the area, with hundreds suffering serious injuries. Doctors Without Borders reports that among the victims was a pregnant woman who was hit by a stray bullet, killing her unborn baby. Diaa Hadid reports for NPR.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 7.86 million and has now killed nearly 216,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 38.18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.08 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.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has expressed deep concern over the collapse of the recent truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan and accused the Trump administration of being “largely passive, and disengaged,” throughout the growing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Biden said in a statement on his website that neither President Trump nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reached out to either of the warring countries’ leaders. He demanded that the administration take a firm stance against both countries’ actions and make clear to Turkey and Iran that they must stay out of the conflict.

Pompeo yesterday called for both countries to respect the Oct. 10 ceasefire agreement: “The United States calls on Azerbaijan and Armenia to implement their commitments to a ceasefire as agreed and cease targeting civilian areas, such as Ganja and Stepanakert,” Pompeo said in a post on Twitter, adding, “We deplore the loss of human life and remain committed to a peaceful settlement.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Azerbaijan today accused Armenia of attempting to attack its gas and oil pipelines and warned of a “severe” retaliation. Reuters reporting.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu today urged both warring countries to respect the ceasefire that was reached, speaking to his counterparts from the two countries. Reuters reporting

A comprehensive explainer on the current Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is provided by 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)