Early Edition: October 30, 2020

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Top US officials, including military, intelligence and law enforcement, were last month warned of an active threat on US soils against Pentagon senior leaders, five senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter have said, stating that the briefings suggested the threat maybe a result of the U.S. military’s killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The briefings were reportedly prompted after a Defense Department leader’s car was trailed Sept. 22 for miles by an Iranian national, according to officials familiar with the internal matter. However, the FBI and Pentagon disagree on the seriousness of the trail and threat – the Pentagon have raised the issues as a serious concern, whereas the FBI said the incident was not part of a bigger threat to military leaders or connected directly to Tehran, according to officials familiar with the disagreement. Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee reports for NBC News.

Walmart Inc has this week removed all firearms and ammunition from its sales floors over concerns of “isolated civil unrest” and staff and customer safety. Walmart, which sells firearms in about half of its 4,700 U.S. stores, said that purchases can still be made upon request but that guns and ammunition will not be on display. “We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers,” Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said in a statement yesterday. The specific incident that has prompted the move is unclear, although some believe it is in response to growing unrest in Philadelphia over the police killing of a Black man, Walter Wallace Jr. Ben Popken reports for NBC News.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross served on the board of a Chinese joint venture until January 2019, all while running the China Trade War, Chinese corporate documents obtained by Foreign Policy revealed, sparking new criticism of ethical violations and potential conflicts of interest. The joint venture, called Huaneng Invesco WLR (Beijing) Investment Fund Management Co., was formed in 2008 between Huaneng Capital Services, part of state-owned power producer China Huaneng Group, U.S. management company Invesco, and WL Ross & Co, a firm founded by Ross. The documents obtained don’t say whether Ross still has a financial relationship with the joint venture, and it is unclear whether Ross was aware that he remained on the board. “Instead of reporting on well-documented facts, including a dated and signed letter of resignation that I provided them, Foreign Policy Magazine is purporting a false narrative that I remained on the board of a Chinese company, citing Chinese documentation,” Ross replied in a statement sent by the U.S. Commerce Department. “It is clear which foreign policies Foreign Policy Magazine actually support and the American public deserves better.” Isaac Stone Fish reports for Foreign Policy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his family continue to blur the lines between personal and official government business matters, with emails revealing that Pompeo’s son, Nick, contacted the State Department just months after his father was sworn in to thank officials for a private tour he and his mother, Susan, received of the department’s in-house museum. Nick also asked whether he or a software company where he was a sales executive could get involved in the State Department’s “data hackathon” event, although the department has made clear that the company never joined the hackathon. Josh Lederman reports for NBC News.

A detailed insight into how the CIA covered up and targeted Justice Department prosecutor and whistleblower Mark McConnell when he exposed a drug smuggling “criminal conspiracy” perpetrated by the CIA and the FBI is provided by Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker.

Three civil rights groups yesterday filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s Sept. 22 order that prohibits federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from providing certain diversity training that the president deemed as “efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies.” The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance filed the class-action lawsuit in a Washington court, arguing that the order violates free speech rights and inhibits workplace attempts to address discrimination. Melissa Block reports for NPR.

Mark Morgan, Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, berated Twitter yesterday over its decision to lock his account because of comments he made on the platform about the US-Mexico border that violate Twitter policies on hate speech.  “With all due respect Twitter, your locking my account doesn’t pass the BS test,” Morgan said, adding, “My tweet intended to educate the American people that borders matter, and the great things done by the men and women of CBP and DHS as a whole. My tweet was intended to emphasize that border security is national security.” The post that prompted Twitter to lock his account read: “every mile helps us stop gang members, murderers, sexual predators and drugs from entering our country. … It’s a fact, walls work.” Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s special adviser, yesterday revealed a far-reaching immigration agenda if Trump wins the upcoming election, including limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing alleged sanctuary cities, toughening screening for visa applicants and introducing new limits on work visas. Sahil Kapur reports for NBC News.

David Correia, a business partner of former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, yesterday pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of millions of dollars and making false claims to the Federal Election Commission. Correia was initially charged with five fraud-related charges, but pleaded guilty to two of them in federal court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. Sentencing is set for Feb. 8. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

US ELECTION & ELECTION INTERFERENCE

A federal appeal court yesterday ruled that Minnesota ballots that arrive after Election Day must be separated from ballots that arrive earlier, suggesting that future GOP-led challenges could invalidate the late-arriving ballots. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, split 2-1, follows Minnesota’s Secretary of State Steve Simon’s previous direction that ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received within seven days would still be counted, a move that Republicans have expressed opposition to. Although the court allowed ballots to be counted after this date, it made clear that they must be segregated from ballots that arrived in-time, as the decision was likely to be challenged by Republicans. Zach Montellaro reports for POLITICO.
The Wisconsin Republican party has said that hackers stole $2.3 million from its efforts to support President Trump’s election campaign. The FBI is currently investigating the matter, the party’s chair, Andrew Hitt, said in the statement yesterday, adding that hackers manipulated invoices to steal the funds. AP reporting.

The US Postal Service (USPS) has delivered 122 million blank and completed ballots ahead of next week’s presidential election, the service said yesterday. USPS said the figure was 100 million ballots as of last week, adding that it had delivered all first-class mail, including mail ballots, in an average of 2.5 days, with 97.5% of all first-class mail being delivered within five days. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 8.94 million and now killed close to 229,00 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 45.12 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.182 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN  

The US yesterday saw a new daily record of 91,000 coronavirus cases, according to a Reuters tally. Reutersreporting.

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

House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) stated yesterday that the Trump administration had “no plan” to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2020, despite President Trump’s claims to the contrary that all 4,500 troops would be withdrawn by Christmas.Smith made clear that he was unaware of any plan to rapidly pull all troops, instead stating that the withdrawal will be a gradual process. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The US seized huge quantities of Iranian missiles bound for Yemen in late 2019 and early 2020 and also sold $40 million worth of seized Iranian fuel that was bound for Venezuela, rolling out another litany of sanctions on Iranian, Chinese and Singaporean energy companies over their alleged involvement in the sale and purchase of Iranian oil, the Justice, State and Treasury Departments announced yesterday. Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood report for CNN.

The State Department yesterday informally notified Congress that it plans to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, according House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY). If the deal goes through – which would include 50 of the Lockheed Martin-made jets at a cost of $10.4 billion, according to a congressional aide – the UAE would be the second Middle Eastern country to own the advanced fighter jets after Israel. Jacqueline Feldscher and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.

  

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)