Early Edition: February 4, 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 yesterday ordered a US military-wide “stand-down” to focus on extremism in the ranks. “The Defense Department is still scant on details on Austin’s decision, which came after he met with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and the service secretaries and chiefs on Wednesday morning. Leaders are expected to hold “needed discussions” with subordinates about extremism in the next 60 days, top department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The threat of domestic terrorism “is persistent,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during an interview with CNN’s Ana Cabrera that aired on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “To see the insurrection, the horrific acts of January 6, were not only personally devastating, but created in me a commitment to redouble our efforts, to fight hate and to fight one of the greatest threats that we face currently on our homeland, which is the threat of domestic terrorism,” Mayorkas added. Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands report for CNN

Judge Trevor McFadden yesterday granted the Biden administration an additional month for it to decide how to proceed in the highly contentious and long-running court battle over former President Trump’s tax returns. “House Democrats are suing the Treasury to enforce a subpoena demanding six years’ worth of Trump’s returns, citing an arcane law allowing the heads of Congress’ tax committees to examine anyone’s private tax information. Under the Trump administration, the Treasury had refused, calling the requests illegitimate … The new administration could simply hand over the documents to its allies in Congress, possibly without Trump even knowing,” reports Brian Faler for POLITICO.

Roger Severino, a recent Trump-appointed member to the council of the Administrative Conference of the United States, is suing President Biden for allegedly trying to unlawfully oust him from his position. The suit alleges that the White House Presidential Personnel Office asked him to resign yesterday and that if he refused he would be fired. Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

The Senate yesterday approved a power-sharing agreement which will allow Democrats to take control of Senate committees. Ali Zaslav, Clare Foran and Lauren Fox report CNN.

The House will vote today on whether to remove Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments after she spouted incendiary and violent comments online about politicians and FBI agents. “House Democrats, who control the chamber, set up the vote after first attempting to pressure Republicans to strip the Georgia Republican of committee assignments on their own. House Republicans have not taken that action, however, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday released a statement calling the push by Democrats to take away the congresswoman’s committee assignments a “partisan power grab””, report Clare Foran, Daniella Diaz and Annie Grayer for CNN.

House Republicans yesterday voted in favor of Rep. Liz Cheney keeping her position as the No. 3 House Republican after she defended her support of impeaching Trump. The vote was cast behind closed doors: “145 Republicans voted against the resolution calling on her to step down, while just 61 voted for it, according to sources with knowledge of the tally,” report Melanie Zanona and Olivia Beavers for POLITICO.

The House Armed Services Committee has established a new cybersecurity-focused subcommittee, announced Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) yesterday. “Langevin will chair the new subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, which will branch off from the current subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities, a panel Langevin previously chaired … The new subcommittee will have jurisdiction over issues including information technology, military science and technology programs, artificial intelligence programs, electronic warfare, computer software acquisition and other defense-focused cybersecurity topics,” reports Maggie Miller for The Hill.

Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will re-evaluate its role in countering disinformation after it took active steps during the election to counter misleading claims, acting CISA Director Brandon Wale indicated. “Some of the actions that CISA took in the last election cycle were controversial,” Wales said, adding, “We stand by that work and will continue to call out disinformation when it relates to our mission and expertise, while at the same time ensuring we’re responsive to the feedback of the election community.” “And so I think we need to look at the appropriate role that CISA plays when it comes to countering disinformation,” he continued. Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.

Over 2 million guns have been sold in January, an 80 percent increase and the second-highest monthly total ever.Hannah Denham and Andrew Ba Tran report for the Washington Post.

US attorney for Maryland, Robert Hur, will resign Feb. 15. Katie Mettler reports for the Washington Post.

The FBI yesterday identified David Lee Huber as the man believed to have shot and killed two agents in Florida Tuesday. Matt Zapotosky, Julie Tate and Lori Rozsa report for the Washington Post.

US CAPITOL ATTACK

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has arrested two leaders of the far-right group Proud Boys, one of which was charged with conspiracy in an effort to thwart the certification of President Biden’s election win. Katie Benner and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.

“Ethan Nordean, a self-described “Sergeant of Arms” for the Seattle Proud Boys, faces several charges, including impeding an official government proceeding, aiding and abetting, knowingly entering restricted grounds, and violent entry.” “Separately, a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday indicted Nicholas DeCarlo and Nicholas R. Ochs for conspiracy to obstruct Congress, and other charges related to the insurrection. The indictment says Ochs purports to have founded of the Honolulu Proud Boys.” Jaclyn Diaz reports for NPR.

As of yesterday, 181 people had been charged in federal court for their alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, DOJ announcements and court records indicate. Katelyn Polantz, Paul P. Murphy and Kay Jones report CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 26.55 million and now killed over 450,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 104.48 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.27 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

House Democrats yesterday voted to approve a budget bill which will trigger special rules in the Senate allowing for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to be passed with a simple majority, not the 60 votes usually required. The Senate is set to address the same bill later this week. Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report for the Washington Post.

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 RELATIONS

The US has reached a deal with Russia to extend for five years the New START nuclear arms treaty which was set to expire tomorrow, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday. “Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Blinken said, adding, “Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, U.S. allies and partners, and the world safer. An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all.” Paul Sonne reports for the Washington Post.

Withdrawal of US troops from Germany is on hold whilst Biden reviews the Trump administration’s decision, said Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, adding that, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is “in the process of conducting a very very thorough review” of the plan. Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.

“It will be very difficult … perhaps impossible” for conditions to be satisfied in Afghanistan to justify a full withdrawal of US troops by May 2021, the Afghanistan Study Group said in a report. “Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets U.S. interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline,” the report said, adding that “the United States must elevate the importance of the conditions allowing the withdrawal of U.S. troops.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

 “The Mexican government has stopped taking back Central American families “expelled” at the U.S. border under a Trump-era emergency health order related to the coronavirus, a shift that has prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to release more parents and children into the U.S. interior, according to five U.S. officials,” reports Nick Miroff and Kevin Sieff for the Washington Post.

The US Navy today sent a guided-missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, the first time a US warship has travelled through the region during Biden’s presidency. CNN reporting.

The Biden administration yesterday made clear its recognition of Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president, dismissing the likelihood of talks with “dictator” President Nicolas Maduro. Speaking on the administration’s Venezuela policy, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said one of the main aims would be “targeting regime officials and their cronies involved in corruption and human rights abuses.” Matt Spetalnick reports for Reuters.

The US is “deeply disturbed” by BBC News reports suggesting systematic rape and sexual abuse of Uighur and other ethnic minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, the State Department said, adding, “These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences.” David Brunnstrom reports for Reuters.

During a call with Biden, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in yesterday welcomed “America’s return” and pledged to form renewed alliances with the US and prepare a comprehensive North Korea strategy. Sangmi Cha reports for Reuters.

In their first call, Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed working together to address China and the recent military coup in Myanmar, the White House said today. Colin Packham reports for Reuters.

The US is “disappointed” by the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s ruling yesterday rejecting the US argument that the court lacked jurisdiction over a case brought by Iran under 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights challenging the Trump administration’s withdrawal in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, said Ned Price. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

MYANMAR   

Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was recently charged with illegally importing communications equipment and will be detained until Feb. 15: “The court order to detain [her], which was provided by an official from her party, the National League for Democracy, was dated on the day of the coup and authorized her detention for 15 days. The document said soldiers searching her villa in Naypyidaw, the capital, had turned up various pieces of communications equipment that had been brought into the country without proper paperwork,” reports Hannah Beech for the New York Times.

Military ruler General Min Aung Hlaing has blocked access to Facebook after some users in the country posted material in a clear rebuke of the military coup. Newley Purnell reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Myanmar filed a preliminary objection before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over charges it committed genocide in its treatment of Rohingya Muslims, a case brought in 2019 by The Gambia. “On 20 January 2021, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar filed preliminary objections to the jurisdiction of the Court and the admissibility of the Application,” the ICJ said in a filing released yesterday and signed by Court President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, dated Jan. 28. The Gambia has until May 20 to respond before the court considers the arguments. Al Jazeera reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today convicted the commander of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Dominic Ongwen, of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, forced marriages, torture, enslavement and multiple murders. Ongwen’s case has received much attention as he was once a child victim of the LRA’s kidnappings and has since risen to lead the militia group. Marlisa Simons reports for the New York Times.

Canada has declared the Proud Boys a terrorist entity, adding the far-right group to a list that includes al-Qaeda, ISIS and al-Shabab. Amanda Coletta reports for the Washington Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that he has postponed a planned trip next week to the UAE and Bahrain due to Israel’s Covid-19 lockdown. 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)