Early Edition: November 30, 2020

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

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

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION OF POWER

President-elect Joe Biden is to receive today his first President’s Daily Brief, the government’s most sensitive intelligence information, following a gruelling few weeks battling to have his election victory formally acknowledged by the US government. Nicole Gaouette, Alex Marquardt and Vivian Salama report for CNN.

Biden is set to announce today his nominations to serve on his economic team, people familiar with his plans said yesterday. Those people said Biden has chosen Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University labor economist, to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, a former senior international economic adviser during the Obama administration, will serve as top deputy to recently chosen Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the Treasury Department. Biden is also expected to choose two campaign economic advisers, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, to serve as members of the CEA. Ken Thomas and Kate Davidson report for the Wall Street Journal.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced yesterday an all-female communications team. Those chosen include: Jen Psaki, a top member of the transition team who served in the Obama-Biden administration, as White House press secretary, and Kate Bedingfield, who was Biden’s deputy campaign manager, to serve as White House communications director. A list of other potential picks are on the cards: Symone Sanders, a prominent figure during Biden’s campaign, will be a senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Harris; Elizabeth Alexander, a senior adviser to the campaign, will be first lady Jill Biden’s communication director; Ashley Etienne, a senior campaign adviser, will act Harris’ communications director; Karine Jean Pierre, a senior adviser to Biden, will be deputy press secretary; and Pili Tobar, a campaign director and former deputy director at non-profit America’s Voice, will be deputy White House communications director. Tim Stelloh reports for NBC News.

A number of Biden’s top picks have worked for corporate clients which have not been fully disclosed  including consulting firm WestExec Advisors, which helps other companies navigate global risks, some of which are military and defense related, and the investment fund Pine Island Capital Partners, which has deep ties with military contractors  raising early concerns of ethics and transparency for the incoming Biden administration. “WestExec’s founders include Antony J. Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice to be his secretary of state, and Michèle A. Flournoy, one of the leading candidates to be his defense secretary. Among others to come out of WestExec are Avril Haines, Mr. Biden’s pick to be director of national intelligence; Christina Killingsworth, who is helping the president-elect organize his White House budget office; Ely Ratner, who is helping organize the Biden transition at the Pentagon; and Jennifer Psaki, an adviser on Mr. Biden’s transition team.” It raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest and whether those now holding government positions will give favour to private sector companies they have worked with. Among WestExec’s clients is Shield AI, a San-Diego-based company that manufactures surveillance drones and recently signed a $7.2 million contract with the Air Force. Pine Island Capital reportedly raised $218 million this month for a fund to support finance investments in military and aerospace companies. Eric Lipton and Kenneth P. Vogel report for the New York Times.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND US ELECTION RESULTS

President Trump yesterday suggested that the Justice Department and FBI were involved in rigging the US election results against him. Speaking during the interview on Fox Business’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Trump said: “This is total fraud,” adding, “And how the FBI and Department of Justice — I don’t know — maybe they’re involved, but how people are getting away with this stuff — it’s unbelievable.” No evidence was offered to substantiate his claims, although he continued to charge both agencies of being “missing in action” in investigating Trump’s claims of voter fraud. Neither the Justice Department or the FBI responded for comment. Jemima McEvoy reports for Forbes.

Two key Wisconsin counties  Dane County and Milwaukee County  completed their recounts of election ballots over the weekend and have confirmed President-elect Joe Biden as the successful victor in the state. The confirmation is the most recent knockback for Trump’s attempts to challenge results; however, Trump has again insisted that these votes are tainted. “The Wisconsin recount is not about finding mistakes in the count, it is about finding people who have voted illegally, and that case will be brought after the recount is over, on Monday or Tuesday,” Trump said in a post on Twitter on Saturday, adding, “We have found many illegal votes. Stay tuned!” The Trump campaign said yesterday, although provided no evidence, that recounts “revealed serious issues regarding the legality of ballots cast,” and confirmed that it would continue to “fight for a free and fair election.” Allie Bice reports for POLITICO.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court dismissed Saturday another legal challenge brought by Trump supporters which sought to invalidate mail-in ballots or have all votes thrown out and the state’s legislature decide the winner. The court unanimously rejected both claims, describing the second one as an “extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise all 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election.” Al Jazeera reporting.

US DEVELOPMENTS

US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was deployed to the Gulf last Wednesday, just days before the murder of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, although the US Navy said Saturday that the deployment was not related to any specific threat. “There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said in an emailed statement. Reuters reporting.

The Supreme Court will today hear arguments on the Trump administration’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census count used to apportion each state’s share of House seats in Congress. Under the Constitution, a census is required every 10 years, and the “results determine how many members of Congress every state gets in the House of Representatives. The data also are used to calculate local governments’ share of $1.5 trillion under many federal programs.” If the administration succeeds, “some states would give up a seat or two in Congress and many more would lose millions of dollars in federal grants,” reports Pete WIlliams for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 13.38 million and now killed close to 267,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 62.83 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.461 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious-disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned that the nation could see a “surge upon a surge” in Covid-19 cases and called for those travelling during the holiday weekend to get tested for the virus to “prevent further spread and further surge.” Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” “Right now as people go back, we want to urge them, if they’ve been in situations outside of the family setting in which they really don’t know the level of exposure, to be really careful when you either return from the place that you went or other people come back into your house.” Allie Bice reports for POLITICO.

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

A Russian fighter jet intercepted a US RC-135 reconnaissance plane which was flying over neutral waters in the Black Sea last week, the RIA news agency cited the Russia’s defense ministry as confirming Saturday. Russia reported that the US warplane turned away from Russia’s border. Reuters reporting.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller visited Somalia last Friday, the first such trip to the country by a US Defense Secretary, the Defense Department confirmed in a statement, which said Miller “reaffirmed U.S. resolve in seeing the degradation of Violent Extremist Organizations that threaten U.S. interests, partners, and allies in the region, and the importance of the international community’s continuing efforts on this front.” Reportedly, Miller visited Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu for a few hours and met with some of the U.S. military personnel there following his visit to the U.S. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Ryan Browne reports for CNN.

Following the assassination of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran has placed blame on “mercenary” Israel. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “definitive punishment,” and President Hassan Rouhani said, “Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance were stained with the blood of the mercenary usurper Zionist regime.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Despite the setback to Iran’s nuclear program following Friday’s killing of Fakhrizadeh, the US and its allies will continue to face major challenges in their attempts to limit Tehran’s nuclear mission. The killing of Fakhrizadeh and the American strike in January in Baghdad that killed top Iranian military official Qassem Soleimani is set to further complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s task and ongoing relationship with Iran. “To restore its economy Iran must agree to either a full or partial return to the Iran nuclear deal,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But “to restore deterrence and regime pride, Iran must avenge the deaths of Fakhrizadeh and Soleimani. The latter will significantly complicate the former, which is likely among the reasons why Fakhrizadeh was assassinated,” Sadjadpour added. Laurence Norman and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.

“White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his team will travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week for talks aimed at resolving the dispute between the neighbouring Gulf countries, according to media reports in the United States.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The Trump administration is set to add to China’s top chipmaker SMIC and national offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC to a US blacklists of alleged Chinese military companies, according to a document and sources, which would stop their access to U.S. investors. Alexandra Alper and Humeyra Pmuk report for Reuters.

“China will impose sanctions on four people with links to US democracy promotion efforts, it said on Monday, over what it called interference in the Asian financial hub of Hong Kong, following US strictures on four Chinese individuals.” 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)