Early Edition: November 2, 2020

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

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

ELECTION DAY AND ELECTION INTERFERENCE

Federal authorities intend on erecting a huge “non-scalable” fence around the entire perimeter of the White House today over fears of possible civil unrest on Election Day, a source familiar with the plans confirmed to CNN and NBC News. The perimeter will reportedly be similar to that seen over the summer during racial injustice protests, and “encompass the Ellipse and Lafayette Square … go down 15th Street to Constitution Avenue and then over to 17th Street … then run up to H Street and across by Lafayette, and then come down 15th Street,” CNN said the source told them. The Secret Service declined to comment on the plan. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.

The Texas Supreme Court yesterday rejected a Republican-led petition to throw out nearly 127,000 drive-thru votes in Harris Country. The petition was filed last week and argued that drive-thru voting violated federal law; the petitioners have also filed a suit in federal court, with an emergency hearing scheduled for today. Ashley Killough, Kara Scannell, Ed Lavandera and Samira Said report for CNN.

President Trump warned yesterday during his final campaign effort that he will try to shut down ballot counting as soon as the polls close tomorrow. “I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait for a long period of time after the election … As soon as the election is over – we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump told reports in North Carolina. Julian Borger and Martin Pengelly report for The Guardian.

The FBI announced yesterday that it was investigating an incident Friday that saw a convoy of Trump-supporters surround a tour bus carrying Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on a Texas highway, which resulted in Biden cancelling at least two rally events in Texas. Trump commented in support of the incident, stating: “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong. Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!” Alexandra Villarreal reports for The Guardian.

Russian hackers accused earlier this year of interfering in the 2016 presidential election – dubbed “Fancy Bear” – also targeted Democratic state parties in California and Indiana, and think tanks in Washington and New York, according to people familiar with the matter. Reuters identified the Center for American Progress, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as the targets of the attacks, although there was no evidence that the hacking attempts succeeded. Microsoft, who reported the hackers’ initial activities, declined to comment on Reuters findings. Reuters reporting.

Iranian hackers behind the recent spate of threatening emails sent to US voters “successfully obtained voter registration data in at least one state,” a joint statement released Friday night by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said. The statement did not say which state it was referring to but did say that the hackers had scanned a number of state election sites for vulnerabilities. Reuters reporting.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon indicated Friday that he will not yet challenge a recent decision by an appeals court that ruled Minnesota ballots that arrive after Election Day must be separated from ballots that arrive earlier. 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. Simon said Friday that:  “While Minnesota will comply with the 8th Circuit’s ruling to segregate the ballots received after November 3, we need to emphasize that there is no court ruling yet saying those ballots are invalid,” adding, “We absolutely reserve the right to make every argument after Election Day that protects voters.” Reuters reporting.

Trump trails behind Biden by 10 percentage points, 52 percent to 42 percent, respectively, a new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reveals. The poll shows that women and seniors represent the biggest turn against Trump, with both groups supporting Biden by double-digit margins. However, among 12 key battleground states, the margin is smaller and the race is tightening, with Biden holding a 6-point lead, 51 percent to 45 percent. Aaron Zitner reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan yesterday ordered the US Postal Service (USPS) to remind its senior managers and directors that they must follow its “extraordinary measures” policy and use its Express Mail Network, which guarantees delivery in one to two days, in order to expedite ballots in key states that have seen a slowing-down of ballot processing. Paul P. Murphy reports for CNN.

Missouri officials have covered up a noose on show in a polling booth in Stone County after Democrats denounced it as “clear intimidation” of black voters. “This symbol’s purpose is to stoke the fires of racial prejudice and strike fear in the hearts of people of color,” said Missouri party acting chair Clem Smith (D), adding, that it is “offensive, inappropriate and outrageous” and must be taken down. BBC News reporting.

The likelihood of violent unrest on Election Day, particularly by some far-right militia groups, has intensified, with internal conversations taking a “darker turn in recent weeks,” writes Tina Nguyen for POLITICO, warning that “some militias have begun doomsday prepping.”

Conservative Supreme Court justices – Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas – are threatening a post-election coup, breathing life back into the 2000 ruling in Bush v Gore that effectively “handed George W. Bush the keys to the White House,” write Laurence H. Tribe and Steven V. Mazie in an op-ed for the Boston Globe.

US DEVELOPMENTS                 

President Trump suggested earlier today that he may fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and key member of the White House coronavirus task force, after Election Day over Fauci’s further criticisms of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 virus. Speaking to a crowd in Florida this morning, he replied to crowd cheers “Fire Fauci,” stating, “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice. I appreciate it.” He added: “Nah, he’s been wrong on a lot. He’s a nice man though. He’s been wrong on a lot.” Oliver Laughland reports for The Guardian.

Trump and his top aides are planning an unprecedented White House purge if he wins the upcoming presidential election, and is expected to fire a list of senior officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Chris Wray. Nancy Cook reports for POLITICO.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who was charged with espionage after releasing classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents related to US surveillance programs in 2013, will apply for dual US-Russian citizenship for the sake of his son’s future, he revealed earlier today. The news comes after Snowden was last month granted permanent residency in Russia. Reuters reporting.

The Commerce Department said yesterday that it would “vigorously defend” an executive order handed down Friday that effectively bans the department’s plan to bar video sharing app TikTok from operating in the US. Reuters reporting.

Dr. Scott Atlas, the White House coronavirus adviser, yesterday apologized for doing an interview with Kremlin-backed RT network, stressing he “was unaware they are a registered foreign agent.” Nolan D. McCaskill reports for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 9.2 million and now killed over 231,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 46.61 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.2 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday that England will face a second national lockdown this week, with non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment buildings set to close, and pubs, bars and restaurants only permitted to provide takeout or delivery services. AP reporting.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced late last night that he is self-quarantining after he came into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus, although he added that he was symptom-free and feeling well. Al Jazeera reporting.

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

Behind closed doors, the Pentagon has begun withdrawing top military officers from US embassies in Africa and downgrading the position of defense attaché, the senior US military representative in diplomatic posts, from countries such as the UK and Saudi Arabia, a move that officials say is prompted by a need to reallocate resources in an effort to counter growing challenges from China and Russia. Senior military positions in eight key allied countries are being downgraded – namely, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, the U.K., the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey from general or admiral rank to colonel or Navy captain – according to an order signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper Aug 24, whilst some attachés have been withdrawn completely from embassies in West Africa. Warren P. Strobel and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.

The State Department has approved plans to sell over $46 million worth of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to Australia, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced Friday. Dylan Malyasov reports for Defence-Blog.

Philip Nathan Walton, a US citizen who was abducted in Niger last week, was rescued over the weekend in a US military operation in neighboring Nigeria, according to U.S. officials. Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The Taliban yesterday carried out an attack most likely carried out by a drone killing at least four Afghan security forces in northern Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials, an attack that is the first publicly reported use of drones by the group, although U.S. officials have indicated that remote-controlled devices have been used before. Najim Rahim and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.

Turkey has said it is once again extending a gas exploration mission in the disputed Eastern Mediterranean Sea until Nov. 14, a move labelled “illegal” by Greece and expected to intensify tensions in the region. Al Jazeera 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)