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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) has opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over a potential violation of the Hatch Act — which prohibits executive branch employees from participating in political activities in their official capacity and federal employees from using their position and authority to influence presidential elections — when he delivered a speech to the Republican National Convention (RNC) Aug. 25 from Jerusalem, New York Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel (NY), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote in a joint statement. This is the second investigation by the OSC into potential Hatch Act violations by Pompeo, with Engel and Lowey stating the news “comes on the heels of reporting that OSC is also looking into Secretary Pompeo’s stated commitment to rush out more of Hillary Clinton’s emails by Election Day and as the Secretary has misused State Department resources on his speech tour of swing states.” However, a spokesperson from the OSC’s Hatch Act unit confirmed only that a case file had been opened but provided no further information. Patricia Zengerle reports for Reuters.
The FBI has failed to produce a report that details the country’s domestic terrorism threats, including white supremacists, a decision that violates the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requirements for the bureau to specify not only known acts of domestic terrorism, but “ideologies relating to domestic terrorism” as well as what the bureau and its partners are doing in response to threats. The FBI should have reported on the matter in June; however, Democrats have said that a conscious decision to stall the report’s publication is likely because the “report probably would not be viewed favorably by this administration,” according to Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. An FBI official said: “The report referenced is a joint product in coordination with the ODNI [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] and DHS [the Department of Homeland Security]. NDAA language breaks the report into two parts. Due to limitations caused by COVID-19, Part 1 of the report is in the interagency review process. Part 2 is still being drafted. The FBI is committed to continuing with ODNI and DHS on the report and meeting NDAA requirements.” Spencer Ackerman reports for the Daily Beast.
The Senate has voted, in a narrow 52-48 votes, to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, putting an end to a contentious confirmation process, with Barrett being President Trump’s third successful nominee to the nation’s highest court. Seung Min Kim reports for the Washington Post.
Two civil rights organizations yesterday filed a lawsuit against New York City leaders and police officers on behalf of protesters who accuse officers of assaulting and abusing them, while the city’s leadership did little to stop the conduct, court filings have revealed. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society have accused officers of using harsh measures, including trapping protesters with a technique known as kettling, using pepper spray, and inflicting harm on them, with one protester suffering from a broken arm. The lawsuit calls for monetary damages for 11 plaintiffs, reforms, and improved training for policing protests. Al Jazeera reporting.
A status hearing for the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google has been set for Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta decided yesterday, with the department suing the trillion-dollar company for allegedly using its market power to stifle potential industry rivals. Reuters reporting.
ELECTION DAY AND ELECTION INTERFERENCE
The Supreme Court yesterday issued an order blocking Wisconsin’s plan to count mail ballots that arrive up to six days after Election Day, reaffirming a lower court decision earlier this month. In a 5-3 vote, along ideological lines, the court’s order rejected the six-day extension granted last month by a U.S. District judge, which was later rejected by an appeals court this month, and refused to accept arguments by Democrats and civil rights groups that not allowing an extension would leave thousands of ballots uncounted. “On the scales of both constitutional justice and electoral accuracy, protecting the right to vote in a health crisis outweighs conforming to a deadline created in safer days,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.
Election officials have said that they are receiving suspicious emails that could be part of a widespread malicious attack on voting, with several emails identified by the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) as appearing to impersonate state election directors, according to a private alert sent Friday. The emails instructed recipients to click on a two-factor authentication link, although EI-ISAC said in most cases it did not find malicious links or attachments, with the alert stating: “While these phishing messages appear to be part of a widespread campaign, the source and motive remain unclear,” adding that the emails could not be linked to any foreign adversaries. Further emails were identified which purported to be from disabled people who were enquiring about ways to vote from home. A source said officials first reported the emails to EI-ISAC Oct. 15. Robert McMillan and Dustin Volz report for the Wall Street Journal.
Social media giant Twitter yesterday marked a post by President Trump about mail-in ballots as “disputed” and potentially “misleading.” Late yesterday Trump said in post: “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd,” prompting Twitter to issue a disclaimer: “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about how to participate in an election or another civic process,” along with a link directing readers to page that stressed mail voting was legal and safe. Reuters reporting.
Over 63 million Americans have already cast their ballots for the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, according to data from the US Elections Project. Courtney Weaver reports for the Financial Times.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 8.7 million and now killed close to 226,00 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 43.57 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.16 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.
The Treasury Department yesterday announced further sanctions that target Iran’s oil sector, including the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company, over “their financial support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force [IRGC-QF],” adding, “The regime in Iran uses the petroleum sector to fund the destabilizing activities of the IRGC-QF.” The Iranian minister for oil and petroleum was also backlisted. Although the named targets have previously been sanctioned by the U.S., the new designations were decided under counterterrorism authorities, which analysts and former officials have said will make it much more difficult to step away from in the future. Ian Talley and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has called on the UN “to recommit itself to stand up — united — against unilateralism and war” promoted by the US, accusing the country of initiating or joining eight wars over the past two decades that have displaced over 37 million people and led to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths. Zarif’s comments were part of his speech for the 75th anniversary of the United Nations to the U.N. General Assembly, and were revealed yesterday, although made last week. AP reporting.
The State Department has approved a further $2.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems and 400 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles, less than a week after a similar $1.8 billion weapons package was approved, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday. The arms sale will assist Taiwan “improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region” by employing “a highly reliable and effective system to counter or deter maritime aggressions, coastal blockades, and amphibious assaults,” the Department of Defense said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The Chinese foreign ministry has warned that it will take necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and national security following further arms sales to Taiwan. Reuters reporting.
The US and India yesterday signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement during a visit to the Indian capital by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a move that will strengthen cooperation in the Pacific and Indian oceans to counter China’s growing power, Indian officials said. The agreement signing was announced during a press conference with Esper and his Indian equivalent, Rajnath Singh. Esper said: “The defense ties between our two nations remains a key pillar of our overall bilateral relationship … Based on our shared values and common interests, we stand shoulder to shoulder in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific for all, particularly in light of increasing aggression and destabilizing activities by China,” with Singh stating that the agreement strengthened both countries’ commitment to the “law and freedom of navigation in the international seas” while “upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.” Both countries are expected to conduct joint naval exercises next month in the Indian Ocean. James Griffiths reports for CNN.
Nagorno-Karabakh forces have withdrawn from a strategic town between the highly contested region and the Iranian border, Armenia confirmed yesterday, signaling a military gain for Azerbaijan, leaving a recent U.S.-brokered truce in potential tatters. Reuters reporting.
Russian airstrikes in northwestern Syria yesterday killed dozens of Turkish-backed militia fighters,according to a spokesperson for the militia group, putting at risk a recent Russia-Turkey-brokered ceasefire. U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated the death toll to be 78. BBC News reporting.