Early Edition: April 2, 2021

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A curated guide to the latest major national security news and developments:

CORONAVIRUS 

Michigan’s coronavirus surge to more than 5,000 cases a day, up from about 1,000 in mid-February, is alarming and puzzling health officials and experts, as millions of Americans are vaccinated and infection rates vary dramatically across the country. “The nation’s top five metro areas in recent cases per capita are all in Michigan: Jackson, Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Monroe.” Julie Bosman reports for the New York Times.

Even Democratic governors are bucking President Biden’s exhortations to dial back reopenings in states across the country, leaving him with few levers of control to avoid what would be his first widespread coronavirus surge. “New infections are up 20 percent in the past two weeks, spurred by more contagious strains of the virus, increased travel and a loosening of public health restrictions across the country.” Dan Goldberg reports for Politico.

A manufacturing plant in Baltimore where millions of doses worth of Johnson & Johnson vaccine were contaminated with another maker’s ingredients had been cited multiple times by the Food & Drug Administration, with violations including insufficient staff training, inadequate records, and failure to follow established testing procedures. Jon Swaine and Christopher Rowland report for the Washington Post.

White House officials knew two weeks ago that problems with production at the Baltimore plant “could delay delivery of a significant number of future vaccine doses.” Erin Banco, Sarah Owermohle, and Rachel Roubein report for Politico.

An ongoing clinical trial of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine shows it retains its effectiveness for at least six months after the second of the two required shots, and that it works against the South African variant. “The findings indicate protection will last even longer than six months, vaccine experts said.” Maggie Fox reports for CNN.

Current research is still unclear about the degree of risk that people vaccinated against the coronavirus can spread the virus to others, according to experts who chided CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for broad comments she made in a television interview. CDC data on the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines indicates “that transmission from vaccinated people might be unlikely, but Dr. Walensky’s comments hinted that protection was complete,” and scientists say that goes too far. Apoorva Mandavilli reports for the New York Times.

For a third day, Brazil fell just short of hitting a daily record of COVID-19 deaths, at 3,769, as cemeteries accelerated efforts to empty older graves to make room for new victims, and Bolivia said it would shut its border with Brazil because of a new variant. Eduardo Simões and Amanda Perobelli report for Reuters.

MYANMAR

The U.N. Security Council “strongly condemned” the Myanmar military’s use of violence against peaceful protestors and the deaths of civilians and “expressed deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation.” But the statement, led by Britain, withheld suggestions that the Security Council was considering sanctions after China balked. AFP reports.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the Feb. 1 military coup, has been charged under the official secrets act, an escalation from what earlier had been several minor charges lodged against her. Her lawyer says he learned of the charge two days ago and that it apparently had been issued a week ago. The act dates to Myanmar’s colonial era. Reuters reports.

Wireless broadband internet service has been shut down in Myanmar “until further notice,” at the military’s order. “Fiber-based landline internet connections were still working, albeit at drastically reduced speeds.” The Associated Press reports.

Myanmar’s youth are stepping in to document the Myanmar military’s suppression of dissent, as journalists face increasing attacks and restrictions that prevent them from covering the intensifying crackdown. “The regime has arrested at least 56 journalists, outlawed online news outlets known for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded.” Richard Paddock reports for the New York Times.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain agreed in a virtual meeting today to meet in Vienna on Tuesday, April 6, to discuss the 2015 nuclear deal that the U.S. left under the Trump administration. “The United States and Iran have yet to agree even to meet about reviving the deal and are communicating indirectly via European nations, Western officials say.” Reuters reports.

Top U.S. representatives will join the meeting. “However there will be no direct discussions for now between U.S. and Iranian officials, the diplomats said.” “People close to the talks said Iran has now pivoted away from first steps for resuming diplomacy to negotiations on how to fully restore the nuclear deal. That has taken the diplomacy full circle to what the U.S. and Europeans had hoped to start talking about in February.” Laurence Norman and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.

The gathering in Vienna is intended “to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures, including through convening meetings of the relevant expert groups,” according to a statement from the top European Union official who chaired the virtual meeting. The statement is available here. 

IMMIGRATION

Conditions at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Arizona, including a “critically understaffed” medical unit,  “threatened the health, safety and rights of those at the facility,” according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general. Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.

The U.S. Border Patrol has stopped issuing notices to appear in court to some migrant families being released into the United States at the Mexican border to speed processing because of overcrowding in facilities. Some families are getting no paperwork at all. “Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it stopped issuing court notices in some cases because preparing even one of the documents often takes hours. Migrants undergo background checks and are tested for COVID-19.” Elliot Spagat reports for the Associated Press.

CYBERSECURITY

Cybersecurity executives say they’re disappointed that President Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan doesn’t contain funding to protect against cyberattacks, despite clear evidence of the risks to resources such as the electrical grid. “Grid disruptions have taken place in recent years, with a cyberattack on an undisclosed Western utility in 2019.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill

Russian hackers who breached government and private computer systems in the SolarWinds intrusions last year subsequently tried to access the email accounts of cybersecurity first responders in both sectors before the penetration was discovered. “While it is unclear if any of those accounts were compromised, sources say the fact that the hackers knew which working-level cybersecurity analysts at the Department of Homeland Security to go after suggests they were able to develop a much deeper understanding of US cyberdefenses than was previously known.” Zachary Cohen, Alex Marquardt and Geneva Sands report for CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Three members of the Oath Keepers right-wing anti-government group who guarded Roger Stone on Jan. 6 have been named in a new indictment adding to a conspiracy case related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The founder of the Oath Keepers and his deputy exchanged 19 calls around the time of the assault and breach of the building with the three members of the group who had been guarding Stone earlier in the day. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

A former contract analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who was set to go on trial for violating the Espionage Act pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to a reporter about U.S. military drone strikes on terrorist targets. Matthew Barakat reports For the Associated Press.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is collecting personal financial records of Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg in a possible effort to pressure him to reveal damaging information about former President Donald Trump, though James has not alleged wrongdoing by either figure. David A. Fahrenthold and Shayna Jacobs report for the Washington Post.

Seven legendary pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong have been convicted of unauthorized assembly and face up to five years imprisonment. “More than 2,400 people have been charged as the authorities sought to quash the movement, which had posed the greatest challenge to Beijing’s rule in decades.” Austin Ramzy reports for the New York Times.

An Italian Navy captain is suspected of handing a cache of documents, including NATO papers classified as secret, to a Russian military attache for cash. “Italy, which has traditionally enjoyed better relations with Moscow than many other Western states, has expelled two Russian diplomats in retaliation and denounced the alleged espionage as a ‘hostile act.’” Crispian Balmer and Domenico Lusi report for Reuters.

Investigating video footage of a reported mass killing in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, CNN says it “has established that men wearing Ethiopian army uniforms executed a group of at least 11 unarmed men before disposing of their bodies near Mahibere Dego.” Reported by Bethlehem Feleke, Eliza Mackintosh, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase and Nima Elbagir, with video by Barbara Arvanitidis and Mark Baron, for CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s Cabinet reshuffle this week put a police official in charge of the country’s Justice Ministry, rather than a lawyer or civil servant, signaling his effort to reinforce his law-and-order credentials and curry favor with police rank and file, as his popularity takes hits from the out-of-control pandemic and talk of impeachment. Gabriel Stargardter reports for Reuters. 

About the Author(s)

Viola Gienger

Washington Editor for Just Security and research scholar at NYU School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@violagienger).