Early Edition: January 20, 2021

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.

INAUGURATION DAY

12 National Guard members have been removed from the Inauguration Day mission, according National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson. “Two individuals were flagged for “inappropriate comments or texts” — one identified through their chain of command and another through anonymous reporting — while an additional 10 were identified by the FBI through “standard” vetting done on participants before all inaugurations, Hokanson told reporters on Tuesday.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Live updates on today’s Inauguration Day are provided by Washington PostNew York Times and POLITICO.

CAPITOL BREACH

The FBI has filed conspiracy charges against three self-styled militia members, said to be members of the Oath Keepers, stating in a complaint that the men planned their attack in advance and communicated in real-time while breaching the Capitol building. “The three are charged with five federal counts of conspiracy against the United States; obstructing an official government proceeding; impeding or injuring government officers; and destroying U.S. property, entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct at the Capitol.” Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday accused Trump of provoking riots at the Capitol Jan. 6. Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times.

Trump could be charged with accessory to murder, says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “The speaker went a step further and said that if it were proven that some members of Congress collaborated with members of the group that attacked the Capitol, they — as well as Trump — would be accessories to crimes committed during the insurrection.” Evan Semones reports for POLITICO.

SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS

Biden’s top national security nominees — Avril Haines as director of national intelligence (DNI), retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary and Antony Blinken as secretary of state — yesterday pledged a new approach to national security and foreign policy. Also testifying was Biden’s pick for Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. AP reporting.

Mayorkas and Haines both pledged to prioritize national cybersecurity and protect the federal government against cyber threats, citing the concerns raised by the Russian hack on software company SolarWinds, which was used as a conduit to breach numerous federal government systems. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Key takeaways from the multiple confirmation hearings are provided by Maegan Vazquez for CNN.

Avril Haines:

Haines pledged to carry out and publish a public assessment of the threat posed by far-right conspiracy theory Q-Anon. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

And also vowed to release an unclassified report about the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Al Jazeera reporting.

Retired. Gen. Lloyd Austin:

Retired Gen. Austin said he will empower Pentagon civilian leaders and “uphold the principle of civilian control of the military” — a promise that comes amid growing debate around civilian control of the military, in which Austin faces hearings in both the Senate and the House. “Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” Austin initially noted, adding “I know that being a member of the president’s Cabinet, a political appointee, requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform … I intend to surround myself with and empower experienced, capable civilian leaders who will enable healthy civil-military relations grounded in meaningful oversight.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Austin also vowed to address extremism in the military. Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.

On Iran, Austin said: “Iran continues to be a destabilizing element in the region. … It does present a threat to our partners in the region and those forces that we have stationed in the region,” adding that, “If Iran were ever to get a nuclear capability, most every problem we deal with in the region would be tougher to deal with because of that.” Reuters reporting.

Austin also supported Biden’s plan to remove the Trump administration ban on transgender people joining the military. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Antony Blinken:

Blinken received bipartisan praise during his confirmation hearing, where he was quizzed over his foreign policy agenda on Iran, China, Russia, Yemen and Venezuela. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

On China, he said he intends to take a tougher stance, and seemed to agree with Republican members on matters related to Russia, Israel and Venezuela. “There was a broad consensus that economic liberalization in China would lead to political liberalization — that did not happen … There is no doubt that [China] poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state in the world to the United States,” Blinken said. William Mauldin and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.

Biden wants to extend the New START arms control treaty with Russia which is due to expire Feb. 5Reuters reporting.

Blinken said he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and will keep the US Embassy there. Al Jazeera reporting.

The US will recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American nation’s president, Blinken said. Reuters reporting.

Alejandro Mayorkas:

Mayorkas said he would work to ensure the US doesn’t see another attack like the attack on the Capitol Jan. 6. Michelle Hackman reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Democrats are pushing for Mayorkas to be confirmed quickly, but Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) yesterday moved to block the fast-track process, so it’s unlikely he’ll be confirmed by today. Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti reports for the Washington Post.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has denied outgoing acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller office space and resources during his transition out of the role, according to a Biden transition official. “Given Mr. Miller’s acting capacity in that role, as well as reduced staffing and occupation of the Pentagon and auxiliary offices during Covid-19, we deemed it appropriate not to extend that perk in this instance,” the official said. Barbara Starr and Caroline Kelly report for CNN.

The new administration could create an antitrust czar position in the White House, two sources familiar with internal discussions said. Diane Bartz and Nandita Bose report for Reuters.

Explainers on Biden’s domestic and foreign policy agenda in his first 100 days are provided by the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy.

A breakdown on Bidens’ plans to bring in new immigration policies — including preserving the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, addressing the US-Mexico border wall, and travel bans — is provided by Reuters and CNN.

An explainer on the 17 executive orders Biden is expected to announce today is provided by Eric Bradner and Christopher Hickey for CNN.

Around 66 percent of respondents in a CNN poll said they approved of Biden’s performance during the transition, with 70 percent disapproving of Trump’s handling of post-Election Day period. Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO.

TRUMP

Trump today left office at just after 8 a.m. by helicopter on his way to a send-off event at Joint Air Force Base Andrews. Reuters reporting.

Trump has issued 73 pardons and 70 commutations, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) and former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), and US rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, a White House statement today revealed. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

A full breakdown of each person benefitting from Trump’s clemency powers is provided by Al Jazeera.

The Trump administration has tapped two Trump loyalists — Kash Patel and Anthony Tata — to join the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee to the Defense Department. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.

Trump yesterday released a memo indicating that he intends to declassify “to the maximum extent possible” an unspecific, redacted set of documents related to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The memo states that Trump agreed to redactions proposed by the FBI Jan. 17 and has ordered the declassification of the “remaining material” in a binder of material related to the bureau’s probe. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Trump has signed an executive order giving the Commerce Department authority to write new rules aimed at preventing foreign malicious cyber actors from using US online infrastructures and cloud products to carry out their activities. Reuters reporting.

Trump yesterday reversed one of his longstanding executive orders — which featured in his campaign as a promise to “drain the swamp” — preventing federal administration officials from lobbying against the government or working for foreign countries after leaving their posts. Josh Dawsey reports for the Washington Post.

Trump’s lawyers yesterday asked a federal judge for a conference call to discuss the future of House Democrats’ long-standing suit for his tax returns, a court filing yesterday revealed, where lawyers cited concern that Democrats could seize the opportunity of taking control of both Congress and the White House to unearth Trump’s long hidden tax records. Brian Faler for POLITICO.

YouTube has extended by one week its suspension on Trump’s account, citing “the ongoing potential for violence.” “The CEO of YouTube’s parent company said it will not terminate Trump’s account unless he violates the service’s policies three times in 90 days.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Trump offers Venezuelan exiles protection from deportation — a move he long toyed with but abstained until yesterday — “using the little-known Deferred Enforced Departure program, or DED, to offer temporary legal status to Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis brought on by Nicolás Maduro’s regime. DED, similar to Temporary Protected Status or TPS, protects recipients from deportation and allows them to get work permits. However, it is granted directly by the president instead of the Department of Homeland Security.” Sabrina Rodriguez reports for POLITICO.

The move is likely to benefit “at least 94,000 Venezuelans in the country without authorization as of 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute, though analysts believe the current number is likely higher,” reports Michelle Hackman for the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS

CIA Director Gina Haspel has retired, post on agency’s Twitter page revealed. Mike Brest and Jeremy Dunleavy report for the Washington Examiner.

The Justice Department has dropped its months-long insider trading investigation into Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and will not pursue any charges, Burr said in a statement. The FBI began its investigation after Burr, along with a number of other members of Congress, sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock after receiving a private briefing about the threat posed by the then-novel coronavirus, which allowed them to dodge significant financial loss. “Days before the stock sale, Burr had co-authored an opinion piece that sought to reassure the public about the government’s response to coronavirus. However, two weeks after selling his shares, he privately warned a group of well-connected constituents that the virus was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” comparing it to the 1918 flu pandemic.” Announcing the dropping of the case, Burr said: “The Department of Justice informed me that it has concluded its review of my personal financial transactions conducted early last year … The case is now closed. I’m glad to hear it. My focus has been and will continue to be working for the people of North Carolina during this difficult time for our nation.” Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

US Private First Class Cole James is facing terrorism charges over allegedly attempting to provide “material support or resources” to ISIS, according to court filings unsealed in a Manhattan federal court yesterday.  Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

The Justice Department has charged an Iranian professor, Kaveh Afrasiabi of Watertown, Massachusetts, who has permanent residency, with violating the Foreign Agent’s Registration Act (FARA) by acting and conspiring as an unregistered agent for Iran, a complaint unsealed yesterday revealed. Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

US RELATIONS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday declared that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighur and other minroty Muslims in the northern region of Xinjiang.Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports for Axios.

The US’ terrorist designation of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group took effect yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 24.25 million and now killed over 401,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 96.28 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.06 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

A tracker for the number of people in the US who have received one dose of the vaccine is provided by the Washington Post.

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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution will likely decide to surveil the extremist right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), according to a report by the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ daily, meaning the party will become a “suspected case.” “What this means is that the intelligence service believes the ‘AfD’ might not support or work on the basis of Germany’s Liberal Democratic Basic Order which is part of the constitution. In other words: The suspicion is that the party is not democratic. This is something the ‘AfD’ has been criticized for for a long time … According to the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’, the Director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, will announce the decision early next week. In early 2019, he had said it would take two years to do the necessary research.” Imanuel Marcus reports for the Berlin Spectator. 

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)