Early Edition: March 25, 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

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles into the sea just outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, said officials from U.S. and Japan — the first such test in the country in a year and since President Biden took office. The U.S. Pacific Command overseeing military forces in the Asia-Pacific said Thursday that the test underscored “the threat that North Korea’s illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community.” Biden is yet to publicly comment on the matter. BBC News reporting.

A top Saudi official has denied allegations that he twice threatened in January 2020 to have U.N. special rapporteur Agnes Callamard “taken care of” following her inquiry into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, comments the outgoing special rapporteur told the Guardian had been taken as a “death threat.” Head of Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission, Awwad Alawwad, stepped forward as the official in question. “It has come to my attention that Ms. Agnes Callamard … and some U.N. officials believe I somehow made a veiled threat against her more than a year ago,” Alawwad said in a post on Twitter. “While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a U.N.-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter.” Aziz El Yaakoubi reports for Reuters.

Chinese-based hackers, known as Earth Empusa or Evil Eye, used social media platform Facebook to target around 500 people, mostly Uighur Muslims living abroad, with malware that would infect their devices and enable surveillance. Facebook said the hacking groups “targeted activists, journalists and dissidents who were predominantly Uighurs,” Reuters reporting.

Israel’s election saga remains unclear, as a stalemate between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents continues  an Arab Islamist party, Raam, could be the one to break the country’s deadlock. “Raam’s five seats hold the balance of power between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and the motley alliance of parties that seeks to end his 12 years in power. The vote tally is not yet final, and Raam has previously suggested it would only support a government from the outside,” reports Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon for the New York Times.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK AND MILITARY EXTREMISM

Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are thought to have “orchestrated a plan” ahead of the Capitol attack, although an intention to breach the Capitol building was not clear, a detention memo used by prosecutors Tuesday indicates. The memo related to mid-December Facebook communication’s by Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs. The messages “centered not on invading the Capitol but on attacking left-wing “antifa” supporters in case President Donald Trump called in the military or Republican lawmakers otherwise blocked the certification of Joe Biden’s victory as president. According to the court documents, Meggs suggested that the Oath Keepers wait until police had separated the Proud Boys from left-wing activists. Then, he said, “we will come in behind antifa and beat the hell out of them”… “Wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection,” Meggs advised another recruit, warning another Jan. 3, “Tell your friend this isn’t a Rally!!”” Rachel Weiner, Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman report for the Washington Post.

GOP House Armed Services Committee members downplayed the presence of extremism in the U.S. military. “We lack any concrete evidence that violent extremism is as ripe in the military as some commentators claim,” Rep. Mike Rogers, the committee’s top Republican, said during a hearing yesterday with experts on the pressing issue. “While I agree with my colleagues that these numbers should be zero, this is far from the largest military justice issue facing our armed services,” Rogers said, followed by other Republicans who cast doubt on how serious a problem it is, despite numerous reports making clear the military faces a particular issue with extremism. Nick Niedzwiadek reports for POLITICO.

BIDEN TAPS

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) was split along party lines during a closed-door vote on whether Colin Kahl should serve as the Pentagon’s top policy job, marking uncertainty for how the full Senate will vote on Biden’s nominee. “Because the SASC split evenly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will have to hold a Senate vote to discharge Kahl’s nomination to the floor. If Republicans obstruct, the nomination could face as many as three more floor votes, potentially with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker,” reports Joe Gould for Defense News.

Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is emerging as a potential “shadow” secretary of state, dispatched to Ethiopia over the weekend for an urgent diplomatic mission, a trip that is particularly rare for a Senator who doesn’t chair a Senate committee. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

Dr. Rachel Levine has been confirmed by the Senate as Biden’s assistant secretary for health, the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate to a federal position, receiving a vote of 52 to 48. Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for the New York Times.

IMMIGRATION

Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the Biden administration’s efforts to address immigration issues, focusing on the unwavering increase in migrant numbers arriving at U.S. borders and establishing “a strategic partnership” with Mexico and Central American countries, a White House official said. Speaking on Kamala’s first major foreign policy portfolio, Biden said: “I have asked her, the VP, today, because she is the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.” Jonathan Easley reports for The Hill.

During a call with reporters, “aides made clear that Harris would not be owning the entire immigration portfolio for the administration and would be instead focused on long-term efforts in Central American,” Eugene Daniels for POLITICO.

OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The Biden administration is leaning towards keeping a Trump-era policy that boosted sales of armed drones to practically any country that wants them, some of whom are accused of human rights abuses, according to sources familiar with the internal discussions. “The White House National Security Council (NSC) is studying how to keep the policy in place while the Department of State is asking allies and other countries that sell drones to adopt the U.S. position, people familiar with the matter said,” reports Mike Stone for Reuters.

The former Navy Auditor General Ronnie J. Booth “engaged in a pervasive and egregious pattern of sexual harassment toward multiple female employees over a period spanning more than 20 years,”according to a 56-page report released yesterday by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General. “We substantiated the allegation that” Booth “sexually harassed 12 female Naval Audit Service employees” with “quid pro quo sexual propositions when interacting” with them, the report said. Anthony Capaccio reports for Bloomberg.

Virginia has become the first state to abolish the death penalty after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law. Whittney Evans reports for NPR.

The White House is considering a series of executive orders on gun control, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, as the likelihood that Congress will act on the matter dwindles. Psaki accepted that although legislation was needed for permanent change, the orders could be a potential start. “For now, administration officials have been reaching out to Democrats in the Senate to consult with them about three executive actions. One would classify as firearms so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces. Another would fund community violence intervention programs, and the third would strengthen the background checks system, according to congressional aides familiar with the conversations,” Annie Karni reports for the New York Times.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case which concerns whether police officers can enter a home without a warrant when the reason for entering is not related to a criminal investigation but instead to check on an occupant’s health or safety. The justices appeared to struggle with the issue, with some expressing concern about placing limits on officers who need to be able to respond quickly to concerns about well-being and potential threats of death by suicide, whilst others said that intrusions for “community caretaking” might breach protections under the Constitution which prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.

A group of 14 Republican-leaning states sued the Biden administration over its decision to suspend the issuance of new leases on federal land and waters for oil and gas drilling, and called for the administration to reschedule leases that had been cancelled in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaskan waters and western states. “A coalition of 13 states, led by Louisiana, filed one lawsuit on Wednesday. Wyoming filed a separate lawsuit. The states in Louisiana’s suit are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. All 14 states have Republican attorneys general,” Emma Newburger reports for CNBC.

U.S. RELATIONS

The U.S. has blacklisted two Myanmar military-controlled companies  Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited, the U.S. Treasury announced. Reuters reporting.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected calls by U.S. officials to officially declare the Myanmar military’s action against the Rohingya minority as “genocide.” “Such a determination, a culmination of years of State Department investigation and legal analysis, would send a signal that the generals would not enjoy impunity for their persecution of the Muslim group since 2017, the officials hoped … Pompeo never made that call. Less than two weeks after he left office on Jan. 20, Myanmar’s generals seized power in a coup,” report Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk for Reuters.

Japan yesterday rejected the U.S. military’s use of the term “East Sea” to refer to an area of water between Japan, Russia, and the Korean peninsula, which Japan says is actually called the “Sea of Japan.” The complaint followed a statement by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Captain Mike Kafka speaking on North Korea’s earlier missile launches: “We are aware of North Korean missile launches this morning into the East Sea.” Sakura Murakami and Josh Smith report for Reuters.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 30.01 million and now killed over 545,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 124.83 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.74 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Catalent Pharm  a contract manufacturer that bottles vaccines  received on Tuesday “emergency Use Authorization from the [Food and drug Administration] to produce and ship millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine,” the “fill-finish” facility said in a post on Twitter. Sarah Owermohle, Rachel Roubein and Erin Banco report for POLITICO.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s family members as well as other well-connected figures were given special access to state-administered coronavirus tests, with top medical officials sent to their homes, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter. Josh Dawsey, Amy Brittain and Sarah Ellison report for the Washington Post.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take  in the short-, medium- and long term  to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens,” declared the European Commission and Britain in a joint statement. “In the end, openness and global cooperation of all countries will be key to finally overcome this pandemic and ensure better preparation for meeting future challenges. We will continue our discussions.” Reuters reporting.

The U.K. has introduced a new health security agency  the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)  to lead on “health security, providing intellectual, scientific and operational leadership at national and local level, as well as on the global stage. It will ensure the nation can respond quickly and at greater scale to deal with pandemics and future threats,” the U.K. government announcedThe Guardian 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. 

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)