Early Edition: October 20, 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

President Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department will today appear before the US Court of Appeals for the DC to attempt to stop House Democrats from enforcing a subpoena for Trump’s tax and financial records. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform wants eight years of Trump’s information and has urged the court to “end the delay.” Ann E. Marimow reports for the Washington Post.

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it had indicted six Russian hackers over a four-year long hacking operation that included attacks on the 2017 French elections and the 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as US businesses and hospitals. All six are members of the GRU, Russian’s main intelligence unit, which was responsible for the hacking the U.S. election infrastructure during the 2016 election. Their indictments state that they “knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury to deploy destructive malware and take other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia, through unauthorized access to victim computers.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced yesterday that Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones muted during Thursday’s presidential debate to ensure each candidate can speak without interruption. The measure follows last month’s presidential debate that saw Trump, mainly, interrupting Biden. Microphones will be muted for the first two-minutes of each candidate’s 15-minute debate segment. Matthew Choi and Alex Isenstadt report for POLITICO.

The Supreme Court yesterday permitted Pennsylvania election officials to continue to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, rejecting a GOP request to stop the procedure. The court offered no explanation for its decision. Josh Gerstein and Zach Montellaro report for POLITICO.

The Supreme Court confirmed yesterday it will consider two lawsuits that challenge Trump’s immigration policies: his diversion of military funds for building the US-Mexico border wall and also his “Remain in Mexico” policy. The court will not consider the cases until next year, by which time there may have been a change of administration and therefore no need for the challenges to go ahead. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) have entered a public spat, accusing each other of politicizing intelligence, over emails allegedly recovered from a laptop belonging to Biden’s son, Hunter. Their public battle relates to the recent New York Post stories that revealed emails and documents claimed, although much-disputed, to belong to Hunter, and which embroil both Bidens into an alleged long history with a Ukrainian energy company. Ratcliffe accused Schiff of suggesting that the story was prompted by Russian disinformation, which the intelligence chief states is not substantiated by evidence. Olivia Beavers and Joe Concha report for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 8.21 million and now killed over 220,00 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 40.46 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 1.12 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.

US RELATIONS

Kash Patel, President Trump’s deputy assistant and the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council (NSC), and US Ambassador Roger Carstens, an envoy for hostage affairs, both visited Syria in August to discuss missing US journalist Austin Tice, sanctions, and US military presence in Syria. Following on from a story by Wall Street Journal yesterday, Al Watan newspaper said that this was not the first high-level meet – apparently, there had been three similar visits to Damascus in 2020. Sarah Dadouch reports for the Washington Post.

Russia today indicated that it was willing to freeze its total number of nuclear warheads if the US did the same, further attempting to extend the New START arms agreement between the counties which is expected to end February. A statement today by the Russian Foreign Ministry said “Russia is proposing to extend New START by one year and is ready together with the United States to make a political commitment to ‘freeze’ the number of nuclear warheads held by the parties for this period.” Reuters reporting.

The Trump administration yesterday imposed sanctions on Australian-based businessman Ahmed Luqman Talib and his gemstone company for assisting al-Qaeda “move funds internationally.”Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that terrorist organizations continue to use financial facilitators to help carry out their operations. The sanctions have frozen Talib’s assets that he holds in the United States and also prohibits U.S. companies or individuals from doing business with him. Pranshu Verma reports for the New York Times.

The State Department said yesterday that it has blacklisted two Chinese individuals and six Chinese entities for helping Iranian shipping company Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines avoid US sanctions. Reuters reporting.

Indonesia this year refused the US’s request to allow American P-8 Poseidon spy planes to land and refuel in the country, four senior Indonesian officials familiar with the matter said. The United States made a number of “high-level” attempts in July and August, but the country’s president, Joko Widodo, continued to reject the request, officials said. Al Jazeera reporting.

US-SUDAN RELATIONS

President Trump announced yesterday that he intends to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism following a year of negotiations, but the country must first pay $335 million to US terror victims and families who were killed or injured in the 1998 twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. John Hudson and Max Bearak report for the Washington Post.

Trump’s Sudan announcement is part of a wider agreement that is expected to see Sudan move towards normalizing ties with Israel, with further details about next steps expected to be announced this week. Once Sudan has transferred the $335 million to the United States, Trump is expected to sign an executive order to confirm the move, followed by a bipartisan announcement by senators about a bill to protect Sudan from future lawsuits by American terror victims. An aid package for Sudan is also expected to be announced by Trump, including financial aid, medicine and oil shipments. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region confirmed yesterday that there have been a further 43 casualties among its military, upping the military death toll to 772 since the conflict between Armenian and Azeri forces broke out Sept. 27, Interfax news agency reported. 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)