Early Edition: March 16, 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 Army initially resisted calls by the D.C. government to have National Guard troops present ahead of Jan. 6, an internal memo reveals. “In an internal draft memo obtained by The Washington Post, the Army said the U.S. military shouldn’t be needed to help police with traffic and crowd management, as city officials had requested, unless more than 100,000 demonstrators were expected … The draft memo also said the request should be denied because a federal agency hadn’t been identified to run the preparations and on-the-day operations; the resources of other federal agencies hadn’t been exhausted; and law enforcement was “far better suited” for the task,” Paul Sonne, Peter Hermann, Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky report for the Washington Post.

Security fencing around the Capitol will be scaled back, following a letter from Acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett and a Capitol Security Review report which both indicated that there is no longer a credible threat against Congress or the Capitol Complex, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in letter to Democrats. Blodgett said that the U.S. Capitol Police informed him that “there does not exist a known, credible threat against Congress or the Capitol Complex that warrants the temporary security fencing,” which, along with the task force review, prompted Pelosi to write to Democrats stating that, “alterations to the temporary fencing around the Capitol will soon be made, and the National Guard presence will also begin to draw down.” The review report makes clear that the current, temporary security fence “requires significant personnel resources to monitor its entire length.” It adds: “As the fencing comes down, we recommend it be replaced with a mobile fencing option that is easily erected and deconstructed and an integrated, retractable fencing system in the long term to secure both the Capitol Building and Congressional office buildings … Such a solution could enable an open campus while giving security forces better options to protect the complex and its Members should a threat develop.” Rebecca Falconer reports for Yahoo News.

Pelosi also attached to her letter a discussion draft of the 9/11-style Commission, which although not introduced as legislation, was sent to Republicans last month for feedback.

The Justice Department has recently been using a controversial 1968-era civil disorder statute to charge dozens of rioters, which critics have previously condemned as racist and filed motions seeking to have it declared unconstitutional following its use to charge protesters during last year’s racial justice demonstrations. Prosecutors have argued in recent court submissions that the legislation is valid regardless of the of the original authors’ motivation. “Constitutional statutory analysis begins with the statute’s plain language, not its provenance,” said a brief filed Friday by prosecutors. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

Two men have been arrested and charged with assaulting Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with an unknown noxious chemical spray during the Capitol attack — however, federal authorities have not yet determined whether the chemical caused Sicknick’s death, so no murder or manslaughter charges have yet been brought. “The F.B.I. arrested George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, W.Va., and Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College, Pa., on Sunday. They were charged with conspiracy to injure an officer, assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, and other crimes related to violent conduct on the grounds of the Capitol, the Justice Department said … Both appeared via video before federal magistrate judges on Monday. Mr. Tanios will appear in court again on Thursday to determine whether he will remain detained while awaiting trial. In a separate hearing, a lawyer for Mr. Khater indicated that his client intended to plead not guilty,” reports Katie Benner and Adam Goldman for the New York Times.

IMMIGRATION

Amid the growing border crisis, where thousands of unaccompanied children wait, the Biden administration is reportedly “moving 3,000 immigrant boys between the ages of 15 and 17 to a convention center in Dallas as it seeks to ease crowded conditions at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities,” reports Jonathan Easley for The Hill, adding, “The Biden administration had already opened up a tent city outside of Midland, Texas, where about 1,000 children, some as young as four years of age, are being held.”

As migrant numbers surge, the House is pushing through two pieces of immigration legislation that seek to establish a path of citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants. “Facing internal divisions and mounting Republican pressure, Democrats plan to take a notably narrow approach for now. Instead of bringing up Mr. Biden’s immigration overhaul, which would legalize most of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, the House will start with two measures covering groups regarded as the most sympathetic: people brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers; others granted Temporary Protected Status for humanitarian reasons; and farm workers,” reports Nicholas Fandos and Zolan Kanno-Youngs for the New York Times.

U.S. RELATIONS

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land … If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” warned Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the country’s first public statement to Washington since President Biden took office. “War drills and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation,” Kim Yo Jong said. Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha report for Reuters.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to attend a Thursday conference in Moscow focused on how to move forward with the Afghanistan peace process, including recent proposals for an interim government as part of a peace agreement, the State Department said Monday. The conference in Moscow will “compliment all other international efforts to support the Afghanistan peace process and also reflects the international community’s concerns about progress to date,” said deputy State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter during a news briefing. Reuters reporting.

The Biden administration is under pressure from Haitian rights activists and civil society groups to curb its support for Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s planned referendum and election during a time of rising violence and kidnappings. “Two members of Haitian civil society, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti and the leader of a Haitian American nongovernmental organization working on immigration issues testified before American lawmakers Friday, saying no elections can be held because the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council lacks credibility and gang violence is rising … The panel urged officials not to support Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s plan to hold a constitutional referendum in June, followed by legislative and presidential elections in September and November of this year,” Sandra Lemaire reports for VOA.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate yesterday confirmed Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, making her the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Darryl Fears reports for the Washington Post.

A Capitol Police officer has been suspended pending investigation “after anti-Semitic reading material was discovered near his work area on Sunday,” the department said. “Photographs provided to The Washington Post show a printed copy of the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion on a table inside an entrance to the Longworth House Office Building,” Mike DeBonis and Tyler Pager report for the Washington Post.

The lawyer of charged Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is currently standing trial for the death of George Floyd, yesterday asked the presiding judge to delay the trial and move it outside the city due to growing attention around the City of Minneapolis’ agreement to a $27 million civil settlement with the Floyd family, which Chauvin’s attorney has expressed could tarnish the trial. Following lawyer Eric Nelson’s request, which also included the judge re-interviewing seven members of the jury, Judge Peter Cahill confirmed that he will consider a postponement and also interview the jury members who were seated last week. Tim Arango and John Eligon report for the New York Times.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 29.49 million and now killed over 535,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 120.28 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.66 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Biden has tapped Gene Sperling to oversee the implementation of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, an administration official said. “A White House official said Sperling will work with leaders of White House policy councils and other key agencies to get funds out quickly, speed up the administration’s work to battle the coronavirus pandemic and will partner with state and local governments. Biden did the same when he oversaw the implementation of the 2009 stimulus package,” report Laura Barrón-López and Ben White report for POLITICO.

Biden has vowed that within ten days 100 million Covid-19 vaccines will have been administered as well as 100 million stimulus checks received. “Over the next 10 days, we’ll reach two giant goals. The first is 100 million shots in people’s arms will have been completed in the next 10 days, and 100 million checks in people’s pockets,” Biden said during a speech at the White House. Grace Panetta reports for the Business Insider.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to Biden, warns the U.S. not to “make the same mistakes” as European nations which are currently battling a third coronavirus wave, with several European nations this week introducing further lockdown measures or warning of the “very high” risk of increases in infection rates. Fauci warned that, “When you see a plateau at a level as high as 60,000 cases a day, that is a very vulnerable time to have a surge, to go back up. That’s what exactly happened in Europe,” adding, “The best way that we can avoid any threat from variants is do two things. Get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can and to continue with the public health measures until we get this broad umbrella of protection over society.” Ivana Kottasová reports for CNN.

Several European nations — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended their use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine Monday following reports of blood clots in a number of recipients, although the drug-making company and international regulators have said there is no evidence that the vaccine shot is the cause of the suspected side effects. Frank Jordans reports for AP.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for countries not to pause AstraZeneca’s vaccine, stating there was no evidence to link the vaccine to blood clots. WHO safety experts are set to meet today to discuss further; the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will also meet today and is expected to draw conclusions Thursday, but has also said that use of the vaccine should continue. BBC News reporting.

A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. 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 Commission sent two letters to the U.K. warning of potential legal action over its decision to unilaterally delay and ease post-Brexit trading conditions on Northern Irish goods coming into the U.K., condemning the move as a breach of the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which could see the E.U. take the U.K. to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as well as impose trading sanctions. Jim Brunsden and George Parker report for the Financial Times.

“Three human rights groups announced on Monday a legal action that they say is the first to target soldiers from the Russian mercenary organization Wagner for crimes committed in Syria,” reports Andrew E. Kramer for the New York Times.

Myanmar’s military has expanded martial law across the nation following a weekend of protests that saw dozens of deaths at the hands of security forces. “The military initially declared martial law in two districts of Yangon (Rangoon), the country’s largest city, on Sunday after Chinese businesses were attacked. Martial law was imposed in several other areas of Yangon and Mandalay on Monday. Protesters there can now be tried in military courts.” BBC News reporting.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been moved to a prison camp in Russia’s northeast region known for its strict regime. A post on Navalny’s Instagram page confirmed that he was in Penal Colony No 2 in the town of Pokrov, Vladimir. “Video cameras are everywhere, everyone is watched and at the slightest violation they make a report,” the post read. The Guardian 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)