Early Edition: February 3, 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.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has suspended the work of over 40 Pentagon advisory boards and ousted hundreds of board members, including last-minute Trump loyalists appointed by the Trump administration, the Department of Defense (DOD) revealed yesterday, with Austin set to conduct a “zero-based review” of the DOD’s boards and commissions. Lara Seligman and Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.

Flaws in software made by SolarWinds was exploited by suspected Chinese hackers to infiltrate the National Finance Center (NFC), the payroll agency within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), two people briefed on the matter said FBI investigators confirmed. “The software flaw exploited by the suspected Chinese group is separate from the one the United States has accused Russian government operatives of using to compromise up to 18,000 SolarWinds customers, including sensitive federal agencies, by hijacking the company’s Orion network monitoring software,” report Christopher Bing, Jack Stubbs, Raphael Satter and Joseph Menn for Reuters.

House impeachment managers filed a brief before the Senate yesterday, asserting that former president Donald Trump was “singularly responsible” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, accusing him of “a betrayal of historic proportions.” The brief outlined the arguments to be put forward at next week’s trial. Nicholas Fandos and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.

More than 370 Democratic aides will today issue a rare open letter to members of the Senate urging for Trump to be convicted next week for inciting a violent “attack on our workplace.” “As congressional employees, we don’t have a vote on whether to convict Donald J. Trump for his role in inciting the violent attack at the Capitol, but our senators do,” the letter read, adding,  “And for our sake, and the sake of the country, we ask that they vote to convict the former president and bar him from ever holding office again.” Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times.

Former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who was indicted on federal fraud charges for his role in a fundraising scheme to build a border wall but received a last-minute pardon from Trump, is under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for his role in that very scheme. Trump’s pardon of Bannon only applies to federal charges, not state. “It was not clear whether the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is still handling the case against Bannon because it has not yet been formally dismissed, is assisting the state prosecutor’s office in its preliminary investigation. A judicial “sharing order” is required for swapping evidence between the agencies, and it was unclear if one had been obtained,” reports Shayna Jacobs for the Washington Post.

The Senate yesterday voted and confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary and Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. Clare Foran and Ted Barrett report for CNN.

As an ever-increasing number of Republican senators condemn Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), House Republicans continue to mull over what action, if any, should be taken, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy yesterday meeting with Greene as well as the House GOP Steering Committee which is able to remove Republican House members from committee positions. The steering panel did not come to a decision last night, officials told CNN. Manu Raju, Ali Zaslav and Lauren Fox report for CNN.

Over 100 bills aimed at reforming voting procedures and limiting voter access have been introduced by state lawmakers since the November election, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice. “In all, 28 states have introduced, pre-filed or are advancing 106 restrictive bills for the 2021 legislative session, a significant spike from just 35 bills in 15 states in 2020, according to the Brennan Center analysis. The majority of bills look to restrict or put limitations on how and who can vote by mail, while others look to impose photo ID laws and take a more aggressive voter purge policy, according to the report,” Kelly Mena reports for CNN.

The House has introduced a new rule that will fine any member who fails to complete security screening prior to entering the House floor. “Members who fail to comply with security screenings will be fined $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for a second offense. These fines would be deducted directly from members’ salaries by the chief administrative officer,” reports Annie Grayer and Kristin Wilson for CNN.

A military judge, Col. Charles L. Pritchard Jr., yesterday indefinitely postponed the arraignment of three prisoners at Guantánamo Bay who were set to make their first appearance in court after 17 years of detention, stating that the coronavirus pandemic raised particular risks with travelling to the Navy base. “The Indonesian prisoner known as Hambali, who has been held since 2003 as a former leader of a Southeast Asian extremist group, and two accused accomplices were scheduled to appear at the war court on Feb. 22,” but Judge Pritchard ruled that “the various counsels’ belief that their health is at significant risk by traveling” to the base was reasonable,” reports Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.

Although the Navy is ultimately more diverse than the US population, more is required to address hate speech, a lack of diversity in its senior ranks, and perceptions of favoritism or bias in how minorities are appraised and promoted, according to Task Force One Navy, the new taskforce established following last year’s racial justice protests. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.

Two FBI agents were yesterday shot and killed and three agents were wounded during a shootout in Florida as they attempted to execute a search warrant, the FBI said, adding that the subject of the warrant is also dead. “The shooting occurred at about 6 a.m. as a team of law enforcement officers executed the federal court-ordered search warrant as part of a violent crimes against children case, according to a statement from FBI Miami Special Agent Michael D. Leverock and spokesman Jim Marshall,” reports Josh Campbell, Eric Levenson, Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt for CNN.

IMMIGRATION

Over 380,000 immigrants await decisions on visas to enter the US, a backlog which could take many years to process. Caleb Hampton repots for the New York Times.

Trump loyalists responsible for enforcing US immigration laws appear to represent a significant hurdle to the Biden administration’s new policies on immigration. Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael D. Shear report for the New York Times.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 26.43 million and now killed over 446,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 103.97 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.25 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

In an effort to push forward on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, Democrats are “using a budgetary maneuver that could eventually allow the measure to become law without Republican support,” report Luke Broadwater and Jim Tankersley for the New York Times.

The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine substantially reduces the transmission of the virus, a new study has indicated, the first such evidence of a vaccine reducing transmission. “Researchers measured the impact on transmission by swabbing participants every week seeking to detect signs of the virus. If there is no virus present, even if someone is infected, it cannot be spread. And they found a 67 percent reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated,” reports Marc Santora and Rebecca Robbins for the New York Times.

Russian vaccine Sputnik V “was 92 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness in a large clinical trial,”report Adam Taylor and Carolyn Y. Johnson for the Washington Post.

Singapore has approved the Moderna vaccine, the first Asian country to do so. Reuters reporting.

World Health Organization (WHO) investigators in Wuhan are set to visit a laboratory today which has been the focus of conspiracies and speculation about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. Javier C. Hernández and Sui-Lee Wee report for the New York Times.

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.

US-IRAN RELATIONS

US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is returning home after a 10-month deployment overseas amid tensions with Iran, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday. “The lone Navy aircraft carrier operating in the Middle East, the Nimitz left the Arabian Sea and 5th Fleet after being deployed for more than 270 days, an unusually long deployment. The vessel is currently in the Indo-Pacific on its way back to the United States, according to top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby,” reports Ellen Mitchell for The Hill.

Iran is continuing to breach its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated. “Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the IAEA said in a report obtained by Reuters yesterday, referring to uranium hexafluoride feedstock. The watchdog also confirmed enrichment has started with the second cascade. “Tehran is also pressing ahead with the installation of more advanced centrifuges, the report indicated. Of the remaining two cascades of IR-2m machines, installation of one had begun while the other’s installation was “nearing completion,” reports Francois Murphy for Reuters.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will today announce its decision on whether it has jurisdiction to move forward with a case brought in 2018 by Iran against the US over an alleged breach by Washington of the 1955 friendship treaty after sanctions were re-imposed on Tehran following the Trump-administration’s exit from the 2015 nuclear deal. Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER US RELATIONS

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Turkey’s Chief Foreign Policy Adviser Ibrahim Kalin spoke on the phone yesterday for the first time, discussing issues on Syria, Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, and Nagorno-Karabakh. “In its statement on the meeting, the White House said Sullivan underscored the Biden administration’s desire to build “constructive” U.S.-Turkey ties but also touched on areas of friction,” Reuters reports

Lee In-young, South Korea’s unification minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said the US must be flexible in its approach to sanctioning North Korea if denuclearization negotiations are to progress. “If we were to talk about additional sanctions, it’s time to review what achievements the sanctions have brought so far. Strengthening it might not be everything,” Lee said, adding “We have to look back at the aspect that flexibly applying sanctions depending on the situation could play a role in expediting denuclearization negotiations.” Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.

MYANMAR COUP                        

Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing communications equipment and will be detained until Feb. 15 while investigations continue, according to a police document. Hannah Beech reports for the New York Times.

The Biden administration announced yesterday that Myanmar’s military takeover amounts to a coup, triggering sanctions that were lifted in 2016 and a review by the State Department of US assistance to the country. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

The G7 yesterday expressed it was “deeply concerned” by the situation in Myanmar and called for the military to “immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law.” Reuters reporting.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was yesterday jailed for more than two-and-a-half years on charges that he violated probation while he was in Germany recovering from being poisoned. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Robyn Dixon report for the Washington Post.

President Biden is “deeply concerned” by the decision to imprison Navalny, officials said. “Like every Russian citizen, Mr. Navalny is entitled to the rights provided in the Russian constitution, and Russia has international obligations to respect equality before the law and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, adding, “Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we will coordinate closely with our allies and partners to hold Russia accountable for failing to uphold the rights of its citizens.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.

Russian police detained more than 900 protestors who took to the streets outside the court as Navalny received his sentence. Reuters reporting.

“An Afghan judge has been shot dead in an ambush in the eastern city of Jalalabad, police said, the third court official killed in less than a month,” reports Al Jazeera. 

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)