Early Edition: April 6, 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

RUSSIA

Russia is building an unprecedented military presence in the Arctic and testing its newest weapons there as it seeks to secure power along its northern coast, CNN first reported. “Russia is building upon military bases, hardware and underground storage facilities on its Arctic coastline, with bombers, MiG31BM jets and new radar systems close to the Alaskan coast, according to satellite images provided to CNN by space technology company Maxar … Included in the buildup is the Poseidon 2M39 unmanned stealth torpedo, a so-called super-weapon powered by a nuclear reactor. Russia quickly developing the armament and tested it in February, with further tests planned this year, according to Russian state media,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is “seriously ill” in a prison hospital ward after reports of “respiratory” issues, his lawyer confirmed. “The Kremlin critic said in a note published on Monday that he was coughing and had a temperature of 38.1C (100.6F). Several prisoners from his ward had already been treated in hospital for tuberculosis, Navalny wrote. Hours later, the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia reported he had been moved to a sick ward and tested for coronavirus, among other diseases,” reports Andrew Roth for the Guardian.

Russia stepped up its security forces at the prison holding Navalny ahead of planned protests by his supporters. Maria Tsvetkova reports for Reuters.

Russia will extend its Twitter slowdown until May 15, the nation’s state communication watchdog Roskomnadzor said, adding that Twitter has begun to delete banned content at a faster rate that it had been. “Russia has since March impeded the speed of Twitter for not removing content it deems illegal, and threatened to block it entirely. Photos and videos take longer to load for some users … However, … Roskomnadzor said Twitter had held talks with Russian authorities on April 1, resulting in an agreement to give it more time and a recognition that banned content was being deleted quicker … Twitter confirmed the talks with Russia,” reports for Reuters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that could allow him to remain in office until 2036. The law would allow him to run for another two terms after his current one ends in 2024; it also provides Putin and former President Dmitry Medvedev with lifetime immunity from prosecution. Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.

JORDAN

The former crown prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, said he was “not going to obey” orders given by the Jordanian government to remain in his house as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt against his older half-brother, King Abdullah II. Prince Hamzah said in his video message posted on Twitter: “I don’t want to make moves and escalate now … But I’m not going to obey when they say you can’t go out, you can’t tweet, you can’t communicate with people [and] you’re only allowed to see your family … I think it’s a bit unacceptable.” BBC News reporting.

Prince Hamzah has since reportedly affirmed his loyalty to King Abdullah II, reveals a letter released by the royal court with Hamzah’s signature on. “The interests of the homeland must remain above all else, and we must all stand behind his majesty the king and his efforts to protect Jordan and its national interests,” read the typed letter, adding, “In light of the developments over the past two days, I place myself in the hands of his highness the king.” “The royal court said in a statement that Hamzeh had signed the letter after meeting with his uncle Prince Hassan, who had been tapped to mediate the family conflict, and four other princes at Hassan’s home,” Shira Rubin, Sarah Dadouch and Joby Warrick report for the Washington Post.

All news outlets and social media users have been banned from publishing content related to the family feud. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports for Reuters.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACKS AND U.S. EXTREMISM

Around half of Republicans believe the Capitol attack was largely a non-violent protest or was the work of left-wing activist “trying to make [former President] Trump look bad,” reveals a Reuters/Ipsos poll. “Six in 10 Republicans also believe the false claim put out by Trump that November’s presidential election “was stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud, and the same proportion of Republicans think he should run again in 2024, the March 30-31 poll showed,” James Oliphant and Chris Kahn report for Reuters.

The Metropolitan Police Department yesterday released a photo of the knife carried by the suspect in Friday’s car attack at the Capitol which left a Capitol Police officer dead. Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.

U.S. Capitol Police are “struggling to meet existing mission requirements,” said Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou in a statement calling on Congress to hire hundreds of new police officers following Friday’s attack. Papathanasiou made clear that the department is 223 officers short of its authorized level of over 2,000 officers, and his appeal to Congress comes about one month after the Capitol Security Review led by Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré that made recommendations for the department after concluding it was “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained” to protect the Capitol. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.

Group-chat app Discord announced yesterday that in the second half of last year, it removed more than 2,000 communities dedicated to extremist and other violent causes, of which more than 300 focused on the conspiracy theory Q-Anon. “Officials at Discord said that of the 2,212 extremist and violent communities taken down from its platform, about 1,500 were first detected by the company. That is nearly double the number that was banned for extremist content in the first half of 2020,” reports Bobby Allyn for NPR.

“Does the FBI have the right culture to fight domestic terrorism?,” writes Chuck Rosenberg for the Washington Post.

U.S. MILITARY

The U.S. Air Force has retired its two U.S. OC-135B planes used for over 30 years to monitor Russia under the 1992 Open Skies treaty, a treaty which the Trump administration withdrew from last year. President Biden hasn’t indicated whether he intends to re-enter the accord, although a National Security Council spokesperson said, “We will make a decision in due course, and that decision is separate from previously scheduled activities relating to aging equipment.” Some have said that the move to retire the reconnaissance jets appears to close the door on returning to the accord; however, “retiring the OC-135Bs shouldn’t preclude the U.S. from re-entering the Open Skies treaty, since Washington could send U.S. officials on allied planes, arms control advocates said,” writes Michael R. Gordon for the Wall Street Journal.

“The Militarization of Cyberspace? Cyber-Related Provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act,” by Michael Garcia for Third Way Cyber Enforcement Initiative, which “analyzed the last five NDAAs (2017-2021) to chronicle Washington’s reliance on the NDAA to shepherd through a wide swath of cybersecurity legislation.”

CHAUVIN TRIAL

Yesterday saw the start of the second week of witness testimony in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin is charged with three offenses: second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder charge.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told the court yesterday that Chauvin did not use reasonable force when kneeling on Floyd’s neck and violated the department’s policy. “Clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive — and even motionless — to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is set by policy, is not part of our training and is certainly not part of our ethics or values,” the Minneapolis police chief said. Abigail Hauslohner, Mark Berman, Holly Bailey, Meryl Kornfield, Keith McMillan and Lateshia Beachum report for the Washington Post.

Inspector Katie Blackwell, former head of training for the Minneapolis Police Department, said: “I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is … That’s not what we train.” Meryl Kornfield report for the Washington Post.

OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Google “did not violate the copyright law” when it used Oracle Corp.’s programming code in its Android smartphone-operating system, sparing Google what could have been a multibillion-dollar loss. “The court, in a 6-2 opinion Monday by Justice Stephen Breyer, threw out a lower-court ruling for Oracle that said Android infringed its copyrights on the Java software platform. The high court said Google’s copying of some Java API code was fair use. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are prewritten packages of computer code that allow programs, websites or apps to talk to one another,” report Jay Greene and Brent Kendall for the Wall Street Journal.

Arkansas’ Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, yesterday vetoed a controversial anti-transgender health care bill, dubbed by its supporters as the Safe Act, which would have made it illegal for doctors and physicians to provide gender-affirming medication or surgery to transgender people under 18. “Arkansas would have been the first state to take such a move. Its Republican-controlled legislature could still enact the measure, however, since it takes only a simple majority to override an Arkansas governor’s veto,” reports Martin Pengelly for the Guardian.

A new governor will be elected in Virginia this November, and “[j]udging from the crowded field of seven Republican hopefuls vying for that seat, former President Donald Trump still looms large and could well determine the outcome,” writes Tim Reid for Reuters.

U.S. RELATIONS

The U.S. and Iran will today commence indirect talks on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and whether either side will fully rejoin the accord that the Trump administration left in 2018. “U.S. and Iranian officials will begin indirect talks in the Austrian capital, where the pact was originally reached in 2015, later on Tuesday. Officials from Britain, France and Germany, are expected to act as intermediaries. Russia and China, the other parties to the 2015 pact, will also attend,” Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish report for Reuters.

Two rockets landed close to an Iraqi air base housing U.S. trainers, although there were no injuries or damage caused, an Iraqi official said, an attack that comes days before a new round of strategic talks between Washington and Iraq on April 7. AP reporting.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday submitted a formal declaration reaffirming that former Egyptian prime minister and International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative Hazem el-Beblawi enjoys diplomatic immunity from a federal lawsuit brought June 2020 by a U.S. citizen seeking to hold him accountable for alleged torture the complainant says he endured while imprisoned for 21 months in Cairo between 2013 and 2015 at Beblawi’s authorization. ““Once the Department of State determines an individual’s diplomatic status, courts must not look behind the certification to perform their own analysis,” Justice Department civil division attorneys wrote, after obtaining an extension from a January court deadline to permit the team of Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken to review its predecessor’s treatment of the case,” reports Spencer S. Hsu for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 30.78 million and now killed over 555,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 131.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.86 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

According to a Reuters tally, there have now been more than 3 million Covid-19-related deaths.“According to a Reuters tally, it took more than a year for the global coronavirus death toll to reach 2 million. The next 1 million deaths were added in about three months,” report Roshan Abraham and Anurag Maan report for Reuters.

India yesterday recorded more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day, a record jump in virus infections and the second country after the. U.S. to reach the milestone. Rebecca Falconer reports for Axios.

Gayle Smith, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has been appointed as the Biden administration’s coordinator for the Global Covid-19 Response & Health Security at the State Department. Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis report for Reuters.

The federal government will not be mandating Covid-19 passports in the U.S., said Dr Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept … They may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is gonna be the leading element of that,” he said. “I’m not saying that they should or that they would, but I’m saying you could foresee how an independent entity might say, ‘Well, we can’t be dealing with you unless we know you’re vaccinated,’” Fauci said, adding, “But it’s not going to be mandated from the federal government.” Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen yesterday called on richer countries to step up the distribution of coronavirus vaccines in poorer nations as well as provide economic and public health support and assistance, warning that the U.S. and global economies would be threatened by the impact of the virus on the developing world. “This would be a profound economic tragedy for those countries, one we should care about. But, that’s obvious. What’s less obvious — but equally true — is that this divergence would also be a problem for America,” Yellen said. “Our first task must clearly be stopping the virus by ensuring that vaccinations, testing and therapeutics are available as widely as possible.” Jeff Stein reports for the Washington Post.

 “Another U.S. Covid-19 surge may look different, experts say, particularly for younger people. Here’s how,”explains Christina Maxouris for CNN.

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

“An Israeli spy has been arrested in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province … also other spies who were in contact with several countries’ intelligence services have been arrested as well,” Iranian state media quoted an Iranian Intelligence Ministry official as saying. Reuters reporting.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, following another inconclusive election. “Under law, Netanyahu will have 28 days to do so, with the possibility of a two-week extension before President Reuven Rivlin picks another candidate or asks parliament to choose one. Continued deadlock could ultimately result in a new election,” Jeffrey Heller reports for Reuters.

Over 1,800 prisoners escaped a Nigeria prison after heavily armed gunmen attacked the prison with explosives and rocket-propelled grenades, authorities said Tuesday. “Nigerian police said it believed a banned separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was behind the attack in the city of Owerri, but a spokesman for the group denied involvement,” reports Tife Owolabi for Reuters.

The E.U. and U.K. yesterday pledged their “unwavering support” of Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” amid growing “concerns” about Russia’s activity and military presence in the Crimea. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office spoke with President Volodymyr Zelensky, and E.U. foreign policy chief spoke with Ukraine’s first minister Dmytro Kubela; both pledged their continuing support for the country. Andrew Roth reports 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)