Early Edition: March 17, 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. RELATIONS                                           

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) yesterday released a highly anticipated report which concludes the Russian government interfered in the 2020 presidential election, “denigrating” President Biden and “supporting” former President Trump  adding, the influence campaign was targeted at Trump allies, who openly embraced the disinformation campaign. Although the report makes clear that there are “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 US elections, including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results,” it does confirm that Russia sought to undermine “public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbate sociopolitical divisions in the US.” The ODNI’s assessment also says Iran was the biggest foreign adversary focused on undercutting Trump, while equally not “actively” promoting Biden. The Biden administration is expected to announce sanctions next week, three State Department officials said. Zachary Cohen, Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.

Biden said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer,” adding that he will pay the price “shortly,” speaking in an interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos. Reuters reporting.

During Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Tokyo Tuesday, Blinken said that the U.S. is committed to defending Japan “through the full range of its capabilities, including nuclear.” Following the top officials’ meeting with their Japanese counterpart, they issued a joint statement which said: “China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military, and technological challenges to the Alliance and to the international community,” adding that they are “committed to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior toward others in the region, which undermines the rules-based international system.” Anthony Kuhn reports for NPR.

Blinken went further, stating: “China uses coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law.” He added: “We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.” Both Blinken and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, said that they “oppose any attempts to alter the status quo in the area including East China Sea and South China Sea, and shared a serious concern regarding China’s Coast Guard Law,” referring to a law effected February which allows the Chinese Coast Guard to open fire on foreign vessels that enter the highly disputed South China Sea. Jessie Yeung reports for CNN.

Chinese firms blacklisted by sweeping investment bans imposed by former President Trump are considering taking legal action against the U.S. government after U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras issued a preliminary order halting the Government’s inclusion of smartphone maker Xiomi Corp on the list of companies alleged to be tied to the Chinese military. Karen Freifeld and Alexandra Alper report for Reuters.

U.S. intelligence suggests that North Korea might be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since Biden took office, according to several U.S. officials speaking to CNN on the condition of anonymity. “A test or provocation of some kind would not be a surprise, regional experts said,” reports Barbara Starr for CNN.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK 

Congressional efforts to speedily probe the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are stalling, threatened by logistical delays and intensifying partisan disagreement about the scope of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 9/11-style commission. House and Senate committee hearings tasked with scrutinizing law enforcement and intelligence have ground to a halt and disputes over the commission’s scope continue — both of which are expected to be further delayed, until mid-April at the earliest, as a congressional recess nears. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.

A Three Percenters member who has been charged and detained pending trial for his involvement in the Capitol attack  on three charges of obstructing an official proceeding, trespassing and witness tampering  allegedly recruited additional members by telling them that he had established a new security business, TPP Security Services, which could circumvent gun laws and get its hands on high-grade weapons and ammunitions that law enforcement use. Using encrypted messaging platforms, Guy Reffitt told new recruits on Jan. 9 that, “I have a new security business to circumvent the 2nd Amendment issue,” and added on Jan. 13, “This has only just begun and will not end until we The People of The Republic have won our country back. We had thousands of weapons and fired no rounds yet showed numbers. The next time we will not be so cordial,” according to prosecutors. “On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui said it was not Reffitt’s statements to his family that prompted his detention order but the government’s allegations that he appeared with body armor, a helmet, firearm and plastic flex-cuffs on Capitol grounds. The judge said it appeared Reffitt planned for violence before and after the event in encrypted communications with other members of the right-wing anti-government group, for which he said he conducts vetting and intelligence,” reports Spencer S. Hsu for the Washington Post.

IMMIGRATION 

The U.S.-Mexico border wall pushed forward by former President Trump is in small, “lonely” and fragmented pieces, with isolated segments free-standing and connected to nothing at all. An “unfinished piece of completely pointless wall”, said a trekker commenting on a piece of the wall in Huachuca Mountains. “The quarter-mile fragment of wall is part of an array of new barrier segments along the border, some of them bizarre in appearance and of no apparent utility, that contractors rushed to build in the waning days of the Trump administration — well after President Biden made it clear that he would halt border wall construction … Now the incomplete border wall, already one of the costliest megaprojects in United States history, with an estimated eventual price tag of more than $15 billion, is igniting tensions again as critics urge Mr. Biden to tear down parts of the wall and Republican leaders call on him to finish it,” Simon Romero and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report for the New York Times.

“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement. “As of Sunday, Customs and Border Protection was encountering 565 unaccompanied children crossing the border on average per day, according to new data obtained by NBC News, up from an average of 313 children per day last month … The surge has created a backlog in Border Patrol stations, with over 4,200 children in custody and 2,943 of those children being held over the 72-hour legal limit. The new figures are a record high, topping last week, when there were roughly 3,000 children in Border Patrol custody, 1,400 of whom were being held over the 72-hour limit,” Rebecca Shabad and Julia Ainsley report for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 29.54 million and now killed over 536,900 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 2.67 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Moderna Inc. has started vaccinating children in its Phase 2/3 pediatric Covid-19 vaccine trial, the U.S.-based company said. “The clinical trial, called the KidCOVE study, will enroll approximately 6,750 children in the US and Canada between the ages of 6 months and 11 years old … The trial is broken into two parts. In part one, different dosages of the vaccine are being tested on the children. Children between the ages of 6 months and 1 year old will receive two doses of the vaccine spaced about 28 days apart at either a 25 or a 50 or a 100 microgram level. Children between the ages of 2 and 11 will receive two doses of the vaccine spaced about 28 days apart at either a 50 or a 100 microgram … For part two, the trial will expand to include children who are given a saline placebo, which does nothing. The children will be followed for 12 months after their second injection,” reports John Bonifield for CNN.

Trump-era health officials pressured Brazil to reject Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, according to an admission hidden within a 72-page report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “The document, released in January, drew little attention at first. But that changed on Monday when the official Twitter account for the Sputnik V vaccine posted a screenshot of the previously overlooked claim, citing a report by Brasil Wire, and criticized the United States for effectively blocking Russia’s attempts at vaccine diplomacy,” report Antonia Noori Farzan and Heloísa Traiano for the Washington Post.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the E.U.’s medicines regulator, has said that it remains “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks, but accepted that the reported cases of blood clots “are a serious concern and need serious and detailed scientific evaluation.” Jon Henley reports for The Guardian.

Why Covid-19 cases are rising in Europe despite vaccination efforts is explained by Alasdair Fotheringham for Al Jazeera.

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.

U.K. DEVELOPMENTS

The U.K. Government yesterday released its 114-page report on British defense and foreign policy: “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy”

The U.K. intends to increase defense spending by $33.3 billion over the next four years, and “also pledged tens of billions of pounds in investment in other areas, including £15 billion for research and development for science and technology, more than £17 billion to fight climate change and promote biodiversity, and £13 billion in the fight against the coronavirus.” The report also reaffirms the importance of the U.K.-U.S. relationship and its commitment to the NATO alliance.  Brad Lendon reports for CNN.

Plans to reduce the U.K.’s nuclear weapons stockpile by 2025 have been reverse: “The overall cap on the number of warheads will now increase to 260, having been due to drop to 180 under previous plans from 2010,” BBC News reporting, adding that the Government review also committed to strengthening its Indo-Pacific alliance, which it described as a “growth engine”

The review states that China poses the “biggest state-based threat” to U.K. economic security and presents a “systemic challenge” to national security, while maintaining that the U.K. needs to pursue a productive economic relationship with China, including “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed that, “Those who call for a new cold war on China or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China, which seems to be the new policy of the opposition, weaving as they generally do from one position to the next, are, I think, mistaken.” He faced backlash from MPs when describing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as “mass detention,” with lawmakers shouting out “genocide” in response. Larisa Brown report for The Times.

Japan is “key player” in the U.K.’s Indo-Pacific strategy explains Anna Isaac and graham Lanktree for POLITICO EU.

The U.K. saw its third day of protests over the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving London Met Police officer as well as the Government’s intention to crack down on the right to protests in its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Gerhard Mey and Natalie Thomas report for Reuters.

A provisional date of Oct. 25 has been set for the trial of Met officer Wayne Couzens for the murder of Everard. Reuters reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The E.U. yesterday approved sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on four Chinese officials and one entity responsible for “serious human rights violations and abuses,” diplomats said, “the first sanctions against Beijing since an EU arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown,” reports Robin Emmott for Reuters.

The E.U. is poised to approve sanctions on military leaders responsible for the Myanmar coup that has seen dozens of protesters killed by security forces  France said sanctions will be approved Monday. Reuters reporting.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog  the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  says “Iran has started enriching uranium at its underground Natanz plant with a second type of advanced centrifuge, the IR-4,” according to a report reviewed by Reuters. Francois Murphy reports for Reuters.

A U.N. report condemns several counties for violating a global arms embargo by funneling arms to Libya’s warring sides. “In a 550-page report made public Tuesday, a U.N.-appointed panel of experts documented scores of shipments of illicit items, including drones and transport aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces and armored vehicles, as well as the deployment of mercenaries to Libya’s two chief factions by Russia, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and others, reports Missy Ryan for the Washington Post.

“A transitional government in Libya has taken power in the capital, Tripoli, officially beginning a process designed to end 10 years of chaos and lead elections late this year,” reports Al Jazeera.

“The U.N. has called for an independent inquiry into a horrific fire at a detention facility in Yemen’s capital Sana’a that left dozens of Ethiopian migrants dead and more than 170 injured,” reports Patrick Wintour for The Guardian. 

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)