Early Edition: November 4, 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 past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION & ELECTION INTERFERENCE  

US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency (NSA) undertook recent action against Iranian hackers working for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in an effort to ensure they do not interfere in the 2020 election, U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity have said, stating that the operation was launched following recent attempts by Iranian hackers to threaten U.S. voters into voting for President Trump and a video posted online aimed at diminishing voter confidence in the election process. Speaking in an interview yesterday, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command and the director of NSA, said he was “very confident in actions” taken against foreign adversaries “over the past several weeks and the past several months to make sure that they’re not going to interfere in our elections,” but made no comment on a specific Iran-focused operation. He did say that NSA had been closely monitoring Iran and so was not surprised by their actions, and that operations against foreign adversaries will continue post-Election Day, adding that targeting of U.S. elections were lower than they were two years ago. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.

Cyberattacks remained “fairly quiet across the country” during yesterday’s Election Day, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official working for the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) told reporters yesterday. Although cybersecurity threats seemed minimal, the official made clear that the US’s must not let down its guard and that other forms of threats remain, namely disinformation, Distributed-Denial-of-Service attacks, overwhelmed vote reporting systems and website defacements. “The attack surface for disinformation and other foreign interference efforts extends well into the next month or two. There is no spiking the football here. We are acutely focused on the mission at hand,” the official told reporters, adding, “We are aggressively looking for any activity that could interfere with the election, and that is going to be our mission for the foreseeable future.” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and CISA Director Christopher Krebs also expressed yesterday confidence in the security of the election infrastructure against foreign interference and cyber threats. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley held over the weekend an off-the-record video call with senior Pentagon officials and network reporters to restate that the military would play no role in the election, according to a news anchor who was on the call. The Department of Defense (DOD) and a Joint Staff spokesperson confirmed that a call did take place, but refused to provide details of the conversation. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Over 3,600 National Guard service members have been deployed and put on standby across 16 states ahead of potential civil unrest during the unfolding of the US election result. The Guard members have been tasked with cyber security support, assisting at polling stations and supporting state and local enforcement against possible violent protests. A breakdown of which states Guard members have been placed in is provided by Ellen Mitchell for The Hill.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation following reports that an estimated 10 million robocalls were sent to US voters in an attempt to encourage them to stay at home on Election Day and to generally sow disinformation about voting, issuing subpoenas to understand the source of the alleged disinformation attempts. James stressed that those responsible “will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.” Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

The FBI has also reportedly opened an investigation into allegations of robocalls attempting to interfere with the election, according to a DHS official, although the Bureau only said that it was aware of the reports of robocalls and didn’t confirm it was investigating. Elizabeth Culliford, Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter report for Reuters.

The US Postal Service (USPS) yesterday turned down District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order yesterday to sweep mail processing facilities serving 15 states after more than 300,000 ballots nationwide could not be traced. Judge Sullivan gave the Postal Service until 3:30 p.m. yesterday to conduct its checks; however, the Department of Justice (DOJ), acting on behalf of the service, sent filings to the court just before 5 p.m. stating that the order would not be followed in order to allow for internal inspector schedules to go ahead as planned. “Given the time constraints set by this Court’s order, and the fact that Postal Inspectors operate on a nationwide basis, Defendants were unable to accelerate the daily review process to run from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. without significantly disrupting preexisting activities on the day of the Election, something which Defendants did not understand the Court to invite or require,” the filing read, which was submitted by Attorney John Robinson on behalf of the DOJ. Josh Bogage and Christopher Ingraham report for the Washington Post.

Tens of thousands of mail-in ballots remain uncounted in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia with counting paused, or not even starting, until this morning leaving any chance of a speedy result up in the air. Fredreka Schouten and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.

President Trump earlier today claimed a victory in the election over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and suggested in true Trump-style that the election was tarnished by “major fraud” and that ballot-counting should be stopped despite millions of votes still uncounted. Following claims by Biden that he was confident of winning the election, Trump took to the White House to declare a victory, stating: “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” adding, “This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So, we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.” Philip Rucker, Toluse Olorunnipa and Annie Linskey report for the Washington Post.

The disinformation policies of social media giants Twitter and Facebook are being tested as Trump, his campaign and others in support took to the platforms to falsely claim an election win and voter fraud and urge ballot-counting to stop. Twitter added a warning to Trump’s post — “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” — stating it was a potentially misleading claim about the election. Twitter warning labels were also added to Trump campaign posts that claimed a victory in South Carolina, and also to a similar post by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Elizabeth Dwoskin, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Heather Kelly report for the Washington Post.

Hundreds gathered outside the White House as ballot-counting continued across the country, with gatherings remaining relatively calm throughout Election Day and into early this morning. Although there were a few isolated reports of confrontations between police officers and protests, the National Guard was not activated to quell unrest, confirmed Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, a D.C. National Guard spokesperson. Joe Heim, Rachel Chason, Kyle Swenson and Justin Jouvenal report for the Washington Post.

A breakdown of pending lawsuits over ballot-counting and voting rules is provided by Elise Viebeck for the Washington Post.

Democrats are on track to maintain a firm hold on the House of Representatives, whereas Republicans are expected to maintain their majority in the Senate. Live updates on the situation are provided by Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Mahtani, Jessica Estepa and Amanda Wills for CNN.

Live updates and analysis on the US Elections 2020 at the New York Times, Washington Post, POLITICO,CNN and NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 9.38 million and now killed over 232,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 47.54 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.215 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

The US has approved a further $600 million arms sale to Taiwan, including four General Atomics-made MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones and associated equipment, the State Department announced yesterday in a formal notice sent to Congress. The news marks the first approval for drone sales since President Trump loosened U.S. rules on drone exports in July, and is hoped to “counter threats to Taiwan by improving Taiwan’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” a State Department official said. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Trump administration has suspended an effort to blacklist Chinese financial technology company Ant Group Co, which is affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Inc, following a private phone call between Alibaba President Michael Evans and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross,four people familiar with the matter said. The insider news comes after the State Department last month set in motion plans to add Ant Group to a trade blacklist in an effort to discourage U.S. investors from partaking in its initial public offering, which was forecasted to draw in over $37 billion. Reuters reporting.

The US today formally withdrew itself from the Paris Agreement on climate change, fulfilling a pledge by Trump to exit the nation from the second largest international global pact on fighting climate change. Matt McGrath reports for BBC News.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Around 2,000 Middle East militant fighters have joined the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement yesterday, stating: “We are certainly worried about the internationalization of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the involvement of militants from the Middle East,” adding, “We have repeatedly asked foreign players to use their potential to stop the transfer of militants, whose number in the conflict zone is approaching 2,000.” AP reporting.

Rival military factions in Libya have agreed a plan for implementing a ceasefire deal agreed last month in Switzerland, the United Nations’ acting envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams confirmed yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting.

The UK yesterday raised its terror threat level to “severe”, its second highest level, following a string of alleged terror attacks in Europe, although Home Secretary Priti Patel said the move was a “precautionary measure” and not based on any specific threat. AP 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)