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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news
The second Myanmar party official of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has died in custody after he was arrested early Tuesday. “Police also cracked down on independent media, raiding the offices of two news outlets and detaining two journalists,” reports Reuters.
The U.N. Security Council yesterday failed to reach a consensus on a draft statement which called “on the military to exercise utmost restraint, emphasizes that it [the Security Council] is following the situation closely, and states its readiness to consider possible further measures.” “During an initial bid to finalize the text, China, Russia, India and Vietnam all suggested amendments late on Tuesday to a British draft, diplomats said, including removal of the reference to a coup and the threat to consider further action,” adding that talks would likely continue. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist — Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada — has been hired by Myanmar’s junta, and expected to be paid $2 million, to “assist the devising and execution of policies for the beneficial development of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and also to assist in explaining the real situation in the Country,” according to a consultancy agreement submitted Monday to the Justice Department as part of compliance with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act and published online. The agreement indicated that Ben-Menashe and his firm “will represent Myanmar’s military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies like the United Nations,” reports Simon Lewis for Reuters.
A Google spokesperson said: “We have taken action against accounts on our platforms… including disabling accounts on Google services and taking down a number of YouTube channels and videos related to the Myanmar military … Our priority is to help people in Myanmar access information and communicate safely.” “The disabled accounts connected to the military included those on Gmail, the publishing platform Blogger and the Google Play store, according to Google,” reports Fanny Potkin for Reuters.
U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK & SECURITY
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a Capitol Police request to extend the deployment of National Guard members at the Capitol until May 23, reducing troops numbers from the current 5,200 to 2,300. Guard presence in the Capitol was expected to end this week, but continued concern of security threats had led to law enforcement officials to call for troops to remain in the area for some time. “This represents a reduction of nearly 50 percent of the current support force,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, adding, “This decision was made after a thorough review of the request and after close consideration of its potential impact on readiness.” Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
Joshua James, the second member of the Oath Keepers militia with links to Trump’s ally Roger Stone, has been charged with breaching the Capitol. “Court records show James, 33, was arrested in his home state of Alabama on Tuesday and appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Birmingham. Prosecutors there asked that he be detained pending trial. A bail hearing was set for Thursday … The filings also make no secret of the Oath Keepers’ connection to Stone, both linking to a New York Times article that described their connection to the Trump ally in the days and hours before the Capitol siege. Just before referencing that news article, the affidavit used to obtain an arrest warrant for James describes him as part of “a security detail for a speaker at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies and events,”” report Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein for POLITICO.
Former Trump-appointed State Department aide Federico Klein will remain in jail pending trial after being arrested and charged last week with assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, a federal magistrate ruled yesterday. “Zia Faruqui, the magistrate overseeing the case, rejected Klein’s effort to cast doubt on whether he was really the person observed in videos attacking police with a riot shield. And he also dismantled an effort by Klein’s team to portray his actions amid the mob as a product of chaos — rather than violence toward law enforcement,” report Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein for POLITICO.
New video footage has been released by the FBI of a person suspected of putting pipe bombs near the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees the day before the Capitol attack. “The new footage depicts the suspect, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and a mask, in four separate clips. The FBI said it was offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the suspect’s location, arrest and conviction,” reports Matt Zapotosky for the Washington Post.
The number of immigrants arrested and taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers plummeted more than 60 percent last month under the Biden administration compared with the previous three months under the Trump administration, and deportations fell at around the same rate, ICE data reviewed by the Post shows. Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report for the Washington Post.
“ICE does maintain and continues to a system for family detention … We are not ending family detention. We are not closing the family detention centers,” insisted a senior ICE official, despite recent comments by Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas condemning migrant family detention and a federal court filing Friday by ICE which said was transitioning detention centers to short-term facilities where families will be released within 72 hours. “The official said there are still more than 100 families in the Karnes County Family Residential Center near San Antonio and over 350 in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley,” reports Julia Ainsley for NBC News.
OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
A group of hackers confirmed that they have breached security-camera data collected by Silicon Valley startup company Verkada Inc., gaining access to live feeds of 150,000 CCTV cameras inside hospitals, companies, police departments, prisons and schools. “Companies whose footage was exposed include carmaker Tesla Inc. and software provider Cloudflare Inc. In addition, hackers were able to view video from inside women’s health clinics, psychiatric hospitals and the offices of Verkada itself. Some of the cameras, including in hospitals, use facial-recognition technology to identify and categorize people captured on the footage. The hackers say they also have access to the full video archive of all Verkada customers,” reports William Turton for Bloomberg, adding “The data breach was carried out by an international hacker collective and intended to show the pervasiveness of video surveillance and the ease with which systems could be broken into, said Tillie Kottmann, one of the hackers who claimed credit for breaching San Mateo, California-based Verkada. Kottmann, who uses they/them pronouns, previously claimed credit for hacking chipmaker Intel Corp. and carmaker Nissan Motor Co. Kottmann said their reasons for hacking are “lots of curiosity, fighting for freedom of information and against intellectual property, a huge dose of anti-capitalism, a hint of anarchism – and it’s also just too much fun not to do it.””
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will today appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss “every topic under the sun” regarding the Biden administration’s foreign policy priorities, House aides said, Blinken’s first such hearing in front of lawmakers since taking the position of America’s top diplomat. Those aides said that Blinken will face questions on U.S. policy toward Iran, China, Russia and Afghanistan, as well as on Covid-19 and climate change. Blinken will also appear before a closed hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday urged Sen. Joe Manchin (D) to support President Biden’s pick for undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, Colin Kahl, amid criticism regarding previous posts on Twitter where he criticized Republican officials and Trump administration policies; however, Manchin said following Austin’s call that he is still undecided as to whether he will support the pick during the Senate confirmation hearing. Lara Seligman and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
“We have seen nothing that would change our assessment” that China committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. Reuters reporting.
“A wider base of long-range precision fires, which are enabled by all our terrestrial forces — not just sea and air but by land forces as well — is critically important to stabilize what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific,” Admiral Phil Davidson, commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing while speaking on the growing military strength of China, adding, “Missile defense is the hardest thing to do. And if I’m the manager of a baseball team, if I can have the best defenses in the world but if I can’t score some runs, I can’t win the game.” Reuters reporting.
Davidson also told the Senate committee that: “I worry that they’re [China] accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order… by 2050,” adding, “Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before that. And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years.” Helen Davidson reports for The Guardian.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
South Korea has agreed a 13.9 percent contribution to the cost of hosting over 28,000 U.S. troops in the country this year, its largest annual increase in around two decades. “The increase will take South Korea’s contribution this year to 1.18 trillion won ($1.03 billion). Former U.S. President Donald Trump had accused South Korea of “free-riding” on U.S. military might and demanded that it pay as much as $5 billion a year,” Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.
The Biden administration’s “highly intense strategic review” of its North Korea policy is set to be completed “within the next month or so,” a senior administration official of the administration told Reuters on yesterday, although declined to give details on what direction could be taken. “The official said North Korea would be among the topics discussed at a first summit of the Quad group of nations — the United States, Japan, India and Australia on Friday. It will also be a topic when [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visit Japan and South Korea later this month,” report David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina for Reuters.
The State Department yesterday blacklisted two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) interrogators over alleged torture and human rights violations of political prisoners and protesters detained in 2019 and 2020, possibly the first such action by the Biden administration against Tehran. Reuters reporting.
Russia will host a round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban on March 18, with representatives from the U.S., China and Pakistan expected to be present, as well as Qatar as an honored guest, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Tuesday. Talks will focus on “ways to help advance inter-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and end the armed conflict in Afghanistan and help it develop as an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state that would be free from terrorism and drug trafficking,” Zakharova said. AP reporting.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández pledged to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos,” said assistant U.S. attorney in New York Jacob Harris Gutwillig during opening arguments in a criminal trial against Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, a Honduran man who prosecutors say smuggled drugs into the United States with the help of Hernandez and other high-ranking officials. “The trial is also something of a referendum on Mr. Hernández, who has been dogged for years by accusations of possible connections to drug traffickers. He has not been charged, but in court documents filed earlier this year, American prosecutors revealed for the first time that they were investigating the Honduran president,” report Emily Palmer and Kirk Semple for the New York Times.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 29.09 million and now killed over 527,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 117.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.61 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The House yesterday voted 219-210 along party lines in its procedural vote advancing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, with the measure now cleared to be considered and likely passed today. Makini Brice reports for Reuters.
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 GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
“The European Union is set to launch a two-pronged legal assault on the UK in the coming days after the British government’s unilateral decision to allow businesses in Northern Ireland more time to adapt to post-Brexit rules,”Jon Henley reports for The Guardian.
Libya’s parliament yesterday approved the cabinet of interim Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah to lead the nation to its December election, a significant step in moving towards ending a decades-long conflict. Al Jazeera reporting.