Early Edition: April 5, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Over the weekend, the Pentagon closed the failing, secret Camp 7 prison at Guantanamo Bay that held former CIA prisoners, moving all 40 captives into Camps 5 and 6 within the main prison. The move was planned during the Trump administration and is expected to reduce the number of troops at the remote base and cut costs of around $13 million per prisoner each year. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.

A former Salt Lake City police officer, Michael Lee Hardin, was arrested Friday for his alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, in which prosecutors say he posed for pictures and boasted about his actions in text messages to loved ones. Derek Hawkins reports for the Washington Post.

More than 500 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal information  previously leaked and now made more widely available  were shared online Saturday, according to Business Insider. “Insider said it reviewed a sample of the leaked phone numbers, birth dates, biographical details and more and found that some data matched known Facebook users’ records. The Washington Post has not independently verified the information. Facebook said the leak involved “old” data stemming from a problem resolved in 2019, but the news still sparked renewed scrutiny of a social media giant previously dogged by high-profile concerns about data privacy,” reports Hannah Knowles for the Washington Post.

U.S. RELATIONS

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has proposed a three-phase peace roadmap for Afghanistan which is expected to be announced at a meeting in Turkey scheduled for this month. The roadmap seeks an agreement with the Taliban and a ceasefire before the country’s elections, a document seen by Reuters shows, with Ghani intending to present his “Reaching an Endstate” as a counter-proposal to that put forward by Washington. Hamid Shalizi reports for Reuters.

The Biden administration’s approach U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t a simple choice between withdrawing or waging endless war. “[Rather] than sign on for an indefinite and costly full-scale presence, the United States should look to a middle strategy for securing its interests: a continued but limited U.S. counterterrorism commitment coupled with a greater role for India in assisting Afghan forces to ensure that al Qaeda does not regroup and that the Islamic State does not spread its wings,” write Sumit Ganguly and Tricia Bacon for Foreign Policy.

Russia has stationed an “unusual number of troops” on the Ukrainian border, which will pose an early test for the Biden administration as it seeks to repair its relations with NATO allies and separate itself from Trump-era policies. “The buildup of forces on the Ukrainian border, along with hundreds of cease-fire violations in Ukraine’s eastern territories controlled by Russia-backed separatists, has alarmed NATO and sparked a flurry of phone calls between senior members of the Biden administration and their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts,” Amy Mackinnon, Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.

TRUMP

Former President Trump’s campaign amassed millions of dollars in donations, much of which was through weekly recurring contributions that donors were unaware of, leading to thousands of complaints to banks and credit card companies and 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors. Recurring donations were hidden within a fine-print disclaimer, which required donors to manually opt out. “As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution … In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors. All campaigns make refunds for various reasons, including to people who give more than the legal limit. But the sum the Trump operation refunded dwarfed that of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees, which made 37,000 online refunds totaling $5.6 million in that time,” reports Shane Goldmacher for the New York Times.

Trump has further criticized companies that have opposed Georgia’s new voting law, and called on people to intensify their boycotts, a statement by Trump, posted on Twitter Sunday, revealed. “It is finally time for Republicans and Conservatives to fight back — we have more people than they do — by far! Boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck. Don’t go back to their products until they relent. We can play the game better than them,” Trump said. Kevin Shalvey reports for Business Insider

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 30.70 million and now killed over 555,000 people in the United States,according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 131.37 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.85 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The $2.1 trillion Cares Act 2020 created new oversight bodies and directed over $270 million to new and existing watchdogs, but watchdogs appear to be struggling to oversee trillions in  Covid-19 spending. “To date, more than $5 trillion in government spending has been appropriated to respond to the pandemic and ensuing economic calamity. Yet, over the past year, oversight from three separate watchdog entities has been either undermined by partisan disagreements, slowed by bureaucratic hurdles or constrained by funding, according to interviews with those tasked with carrying out oversight, outside experts and advocates. One of the watchdogs created by the Cares Act has yet to receive a chair, hampering its work. Another watchdog faces budget constraints with just three dozen full-time staff so far,” Yeganeh Torbati and  Erica Werner report for the Washington Post.

The loss of 15 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) coronavirus vaccine doses last month at vaccine-manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore-based site can be made up in weeks, experts say, after the vaccines had to be discarded due to contamination. Emergent has for months been helping to produce J&J vaccines, as well as for AstraZeneca. Emergent will now only produce for J&J, with AstraZeneca produced at another, unspecified site. “Johnson & Johnson is assuming full responsibility regarding the manufacturing of drug substance for its COVID-19 vaccine at the Emergent BioSolutions Inc. Bayview facility,” the company said in a statement emailed to CNN. Jake Tapper reports for CNN.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Friday which bans the use of Covid-19 passports in the state, prohibiting government entities from issuing the passports and banning businesses from requiring people to have one before being allowed to enter. The decision was based mainly on freedom and privacy concerns, with DeSantis arguing that the implementation and enforcement of vaccine passports would “create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations.” Kelly Murray and Gregory Lemos reports for CNN.

Variants of the Covid-19 virus, some more contagious and deadly, threaten to prolong the pandemic, as vaccines may prove less effective for the newly emerging forms of the contagious virus. “Even as vaccines were authorized late last year, illuminating a path to the pandemic’s end, variants were trouncing Britain, South Africa and Brazil. New variants have continued to pop up — in California one week, in New York and Oregon the next. As they take root, these new versions of the coronavirus threaten to postpone an end to the pandemic … At the moment, most vaccines appear to be effective against the variants. But public health officials are deeply worried that future iterations of the virus may be more resistant to the immune response, requiring Americans to queue up for regular rounds of booster shots or even new vaccines,” reports Apoorva Mandavilli and Benjamin Mueller for the New York Times.

France yesterday entered a third national lockdown for four weeks. All schools will close Tuesday, nurseries and primary schools for three weeks and middle and high schools for four weeks. Non-essential shops will close, although “essential business” takes a wider definition than it did in the first lockdown in Spring 2020, now including bookshops, hairdressers, florists, chocolate chops, music shops and car dealerships. A 6am-7pm curfew will be in-place; people will only be allowed to travel 10km from their homes; and travel between French regions is banned, unless for a compelling or work-related reason. France 24 reporting.

China has reported its biggest daily increase in Covid-19 cases for two months: 15 new cases in the city of Ruili, which borders with Myanmar in southwestern Yunnan province. “The city accounted for all of the 15 new local cases reported on April 4. The total number of new COVID-19 infections, including imported infections originating from overseas, stood at 32, marking the highest total since Jan. 31 … Genetic analysis of the cases discovered in Ruili suggest the new local infections stem from viruses imported from Myanmar, state media reported. Of the new patients reported in the city, 11 of them were identified as Myanmar citizens,” Reuters reports.

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.

JORDAN

Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein and his wife were instructed by Jordanian authorities to remain at their home Saturday as part of “an investigation into an alleged plot to unseat his older half-brother, King Abdullah II, according to a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official briefed on the events.” Around 20 people were also arrested Saturday as part of the investigation into what officials described as a threat to the “security and stability” of the country, with the plot thought to include “at least one other Jordanian royal as well as tribal leaders and members of the country’s political and security establishment. One official cited unspecified evidence of “foreign” backing for the plan,” reports Joby Warrick, Sarah Dadouch and Steve Hendrix for the Washington Post.

Prince Hamzah, currently under “house arrest”, accuses the country’s leaders of corruption, incompetence and harassment, although the military has denied placing the prince under house arrest. BBC News reporting.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial started today, with Israeli prosecutors accusing him of trading favors like “currency.” “The state said Netanyahu was responsible for regulations that allowed a telecom power-couple to clinch deals worth “many hundreds of millions of shekels”, in exchange for them sweetening coverage of the premier on a popular news-site then under their control.” “The relationship between Netanyahu and the (co-) defendants became currency, something that could be traded,” prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari said, adding, “This currency could distort a public servant’s judgment.” Maayan Lubell reports for Reuters.

The U.K. and Ukraine will conduct joint military exercises with NATO troops this summer, Ukrainian defense official said Saturday. “The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement that the drills would involve more than 1,000 military personnel from at least five states in the transatlantic NATO military alliance,” reports Reuters. 

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)