Early Edition: March 9, 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.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK

The security review commissioned last month by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has released a draft report which states that U.S. Capitol Police were “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained to secure the Capitol” and that its “understaffed Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD) lacks the experience, knowledge, and processes to provide intelligence support against emerging domestic threats.” The 15-page draft report, which follows a review by Ret. Lt. Gen Russel Honoré, set outs recommendations to address a number of shortfalls in physical, operational and intelligence-led security. “Honoré’s recommendations call for an additional 854 positions in the Capitol Police ranks, on top of 233 positions that are open now. In Honoré’s proposal, which was co-signed by 15 other members of the task force conducting the security review, the new positions would include 424 hires for specialized operations, such as intelligence gathering, operational planning and protection of dignitaries, plus 350 employees to ease the overreliance on overtime,” reports Karoun Demirjian for the Washington Post, adding, “Honoré and his team spent Monday briefing rank-and-file House lawmakers about the report’s contents. According to their findings, threats to lawmakers have increased fourfold since a year ago, both within D.C. and in members’ home states.”

Further details of the draft report are provided by Scott Wong and Mike Lillis for The Hill.

Robert Minuta, a suspected member of the Oath Keepers, who provided security for Trump-ally Roger Stone on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, has been arrested in connection with the Capitol attack, federal authorities confirmed. Minuta, one of the six people tied to the militia group and reported by the New York Times as providing protection to Stone the morning of the attack and the day before, “was taken into custody on Saturday in Newburgh, N.Y., and was accused of breaching the Capitol after “aggressively” taunting and berating law enforcement officers, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Monday. Prosecutors said that when federal agents arrested Mr. Minuta, 36, he asked why he was being targeted for the riot and why they were not investigating Black Lives Matter and the far-left activists known as Antifa,” reports Alan Feuer for the New York Times.

U.S.-AFGHANISTAN RELATIONS

An eight-page draft version of the new peace agreement proposed by U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to address the stagnated peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban has been leaked, along with a three-page letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken’s letter said that the United States did “not intend to dictate terms” to either side, only enable them to “move urgently” towards peace — however, a Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, said they were “still studying” the draft agreement. “The draft paper sets out a new arrangement in three parts: guiding principles for Afghanistan’s constitution and the future of the Afghan state; agreed terms to govern the country during a transitional period and a roadmap to a “durable and just settlement”; and finally – and most urgently for Afghans – agreed terms for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and its implementation” …  There are blank spaces and options as well. The length of a transitional government is marked “XX”. Two possibilities for an executive administration are offered: one similar to the current arrangement led by a president and vice-presidents; another which includes a prime minister … The Taliban will note a suggestion for a High Council for Islamic Jurisprudence to provide “Islamic guidance and advice” – though it’s likely to fall far short of what the Taliban herald as the return of a “pure Islamic government.”” BBC News reporting.

The three-page letter sent by Blinken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned that all U.S. troops could be withdrawn from the region by May 1 if peace talks do not progress. The Afghan TOLO News agency published what it said was the letter. A State Department spokesperson said, “As a general matter, we do not comment on alleged correspondence with foreign leaders,” but appeared to confirm Blinken’s warning to Ghani. “We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1,” the spokesperson said, adding, “All options remain on the table.” Mark Katkov and Diaa Hadid report for NPR.

U.S.-SAUDI ARABIA RELATIONS

The U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia yesterday reaffirmed its “unwavering” commitment to defending the Kingdom’s security in the midst of growing drone and missile attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, including a recent failed attempt aimed at the heart of the Kingdom’s oil industry. “The U.S. Embassy condemns the recent Houthi attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The heinous Houthi attacks on civilians and vital infrastructure demonstrate their lack of respect for human life and their interest in the pursuit of peace,” the embassy said in Arabic in a post on Twitter. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

The White House later expressed alarm at “genuine security threats” to the Kingdom by Houthis: “We continue to be alarmed by the frequency of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. Escalating attacks like these are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace … We understand that they face genuine security threats from Yemen and others in the region…We will look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend its territory against threats,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Reuters reporting.

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

The Biden administration yesterday announced it would be granting temporary protected status (TPS) to Venezuelan exiles, allowing them to legally live and work in the U.S. The TPS designation offers protection until September 2022 to Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in the country. “Venezuelan nationals already in the U.S. must apply during a 180-day registration period and meet certain eligibility requirements to be shielded from deportation and receive work permits,” reports Sabrina Rodriguez for POLITICO.

As part of the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, a new cost-sharing deal has been agreed which includes a “meaningful increase” in payments for U.S. troops based in the region and launched annual joint military exercises. “Negotiations over how to share the costs of the military alliance came to an impasse in March 2020 when the Trump administration demanded that Seoul increase its contribution fivefold. Officials have not provided details on the new deal, which is being finalized,” report Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Dan Lamothe for the Washington Post.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday accused Iran of increasing the speed at which it breaches the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a deal that “allows Iran to enrich uranium only with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the underground, commercial scale Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.” A report from the IAEA was sent to member states yesterday and stated that, “On 7 March 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges … The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but had yet to be fed with natural UF6; installation of a fifth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing; and installation of a sixth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges had yet to begin.” Francois Murphy reports for Reuters.

TOP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PICKS

The Biden administration’s pick for deputy attorney general and associate attorney general, Lisa Monaco and Vanita Gupta, respectively, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today in their bids to serve as the Justice Department’s second and third in command. Also, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland awaits his confirmation vote this week, which is expected as early as tomorrow. Carrie Johnson reports for NPR.

Although Monaco and Gupta “have submitted letters of support from a broad, bipartisan coalition of former department officials and law enforcement groups, some Republicans have already signaled that they will oppose Ms. Gupta,” although her “approach to criminal justice and policing issues has won her the support of more than a dozen law enforcement organizations nationwide — including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs and the International Association of Chiefs of Police — as well as backing from across the political spectrum,” report Katie Benner for the New York Times.

TRUMP

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s probe into former President Trump’s finances is broader than initially thought and late last year issued a grand jury subpoena to investment company Fortress Investment Management which loaned the Trump Organization $130 million for the construction of a luxury hotel and condo tower in Chicago, people familiar with the investigation said. “By 2012, Fortress subsequently forgave more $100 million of the loan, which, including interest and fees, was worth about $150 million, according to court filings. The forgiveness was done to secure a partial re-payment of about $45 million at a time when the real estate market was suffering from the financial crisis … Prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office are looking into whether Trump and the Trump Organization recorded the loan forgiveness as income, as required by the Internal Revenue Service, and paid the appropriate taxes, the people say,” reports Kara Scannell for CNN.

Trump yesterday received his final Supreme Court rejection of his long campaign appealing the results of the 2020 presidential election in several states, with the nation’s top court refusing to nullify his loss in Wisconsin. “In an unsigned order without noted dissent, the justices declined to take up Trump’s lawsuit alleging Wisconsin election officials violated the Constitution by expanding absentee voting amid the global coronavirus pandemic.  The justices’ move brought an end to Trump’s scattershot and ineffective legal campaign to overturn President Biden’s victory and added to the abysmal post-election court record of Trump and his allies, which included more than 60 losses and just one narrow win,” reports John Kruzel for The Hill.

GEORGE FLOYD 

Jury selection has been delayed in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in George Floyd’s death after Chauvin’s attorney indicated that they intended to file a petition before the Minnesota Supreme Court against an appeals court decision Friday which said prosecutors could add an additional charge of third-degree murder. “Jury selection, which was scheduled to begin Monday, will be delayed for at least a day. Potential jurors were sent home while the state filed a motion with an appeals court to delay the jury selection process … Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said he is prepared to move forward with what will be one of Minnesota’s highest-profile trials ever … Cahill said that the third-degree murder charge is a narrow issue and that the court can proceed with other motions and jury selection and “figure out where we’re at March 29,” when opening statements are set to begin,” reports Janelle Griffith for NBC News.

What to expect from jury selection in the case is provided by Eric Levenson for CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 29.04 million and now killed over 525,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 117.22 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.6 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

House Democrats are set to pass the final version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package today or tomorrow, following the Senate vote, 50-49, on Saturday approving the measure after more than 24 hours debating. Barbara Sprunt reports for NPR.

Newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines state that those who have received their Covid-19 vaccination can socialize indoors, without wearing masks or social distancing, with others that are fully vaccinated, and permit vaccinated people to visit people from a single household who are not vaccinated but who are at low risk of any severe disease. “The CDC recommends vaccinated individuals “refrain” from quarantining and testing if they come into contact with someone with Covid-19 and do not develop symptoms,” report Erin Banco, Adam Cancryn and Sarah Owermohle for POLITICO.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

U.S. 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.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

A remote CIA base set up in northern Niger three years ago is steadily expanding and conducting secret drone flights, despite the Biden administration’s temporary limitation on drone strikes against those outside conventional war zones, such as Afghanistan and Syria. Satellite imagery indicates that the base now has a much longer runway and increased security, as well as an MQ-9 Reaper drone. “But there is no public evidence that the agency has carried out anything but surveillance missions so far. The base was added to a small commercial airport largely to pay closer attention to southwestern Libya, a notorious haven for Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other extremist groups that operate in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad and Mali … The expanding capabilities at the base indicate that the C.I.A. would be ready to carry out armed drone strikes if the high-level review permits them … In the meantime, the agency’s surveillance and reconnaissance missions appear to proceed, within the temporary constraints on strikes,” report Eric Schmitt and Christoph Koettl for the New York Times.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in U.S. Border Patrol facilities has reached a record-high, tripling in the last two weeks to over 3,250, according to internal agency documents. “More than 1,360 of the children have been detained beyond the 72 hours permitted by law before a child must be transferred to a shelter ….  The shelters for migrant children are 13 days away from “maximum capacity,” reports Zolan Kanno-Youngs for the New York Times.

A jury was selected yesterday in the criminal case against Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, “a Honduran man who prosecutors say smuggled drugs into the United States with the help of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and other high-ranking officials,” reports Sarah Kinosian for Reuters. 

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)