Early Edition: April 7, 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

IRAN RELATIONS

An Iranian Ship, the Saviz, believed to be carrying out intelligence gathering for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp since early 2017 was attacked Tuesday in the Red Sea, near the borders of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, at which time talks were going ahead in Vienna. “U.S. and Iranian officials said the incident, on the first day of the talks, could advance the agenda of those opposed to a rapprochement. “It’s clear what the timing intends to achieve,” one U.S. official said,” reports Benoit Faucon and Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“Iran has made 55 kg of uranium enriched to up to 20% – the point at which it is highly enriched – indicating quicker production than the 10 kg a month rate required by an Iranian law that created the process in January, Iranian authorities said on Wednesday,” Reuters reporting.

Yesterday saw the first day of indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna, hosted by the E.U., aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, although State Department spokesperson Ned Price said he didn’t “anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough,” but that the U.S. remains open to face-to-face discussions with Tehran. “U.S. special envoy for Iran Rob Malley will lead the delegation, which will meet with European, Chinese and Russian counterparts. Iran’s delegation will have its own separate meetings with those teams, which together constitute the remaining members of the agreement,” reports Conor Finnegan for ABC News.

Envoy Robert Malley, speaking to NPR’s ‘Morning Edition,’ said the Vienna talks are only the first step in a long and complex process of bringing both the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal. Excerpts from the interview are provided by Steve Inskeep, Lisa Weiner, Denise Couture and James Doubek report for NPR.

“Constructive Joint Commission meeting. There’s unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two expert groups on nuclear implementation and sanctions lifting,” read a post on Twitter by Enrique Mora, the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service, the E.U.’s diplomatic service, adding, “As Coordinator I will intensify separate contacts here in Vienna with all relevant parties, including US.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

ATTACKS ON THE U.S. CAPITOL

A coalition of over 140 national security leaders — including Homeland Security and Defense secretaries, House and Senate lawmakers, and ambassadors — urged Members of Congress to establish a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a letter shows. “Given the gravity of January 6th as a national security matter — the violent disruption to the transition of power and the continuing threat of future attacks — a national commission examining the lead up to the January 6th assault, and the attendant security lapses, is not only appropriate, but a critical component of the national response,” the letter read. Signatories include: secretaries of homeland security Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff under President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson under President Barack Obama; former Pentagon chiefs William Cohen, who served in President Bill Clinton’s administration, and Chuck Hagel, under Obama. Nicola Sganga reports for CBS News.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of Washington yesterday raised doubts about prosecutors’ allegations that key figures of the Proud Boys planned in advance to attack the Capitol, stating, “I’m not saying that at a future hypothetical trial, the government is not going to be able to stitch together … and lay a lot of what happened at the defendants’ feet,” adding, “Maybe the government will. But … when we get down to the day in question, there isn’t anything that is very clearly an invocation to violence, at least as I see it.” “After a two-hour hearing, Kelly said he would decide Friday whether to jail two men as public threats pending trial: alleged Proud Boys “thought leaders” and organizers Ethan Nordean, 30, of Seattle and Joseph Randall Biggs, 37, of Ormond Beach, Fla,” report Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman for the Washington Post.

Lawmakers are on the fence about whether security at the Capitol should be increased following Friday’s attack, with the Capitol Police refusing to comment Monday on whether security checkpoints would be fortified. “I don’t know how you get to the balance of the 100 percent security plus the public’s right to have access to their Capitol,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) told reporters Monday, adding, “I’m not sure what would have prevented … a tragedy last week. I still hope we can get to a circumstance where we can make this safe for the staff and members, but also the public.” Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.

The current strain on the Capitol Police Department — two attacks on the Capitol in three months, as well as understaffing and overtaxing — is raising acute concerns about officers’ mental health. “A long list of grave problems confronts the force, where there are already 233 vacancies, and hundreds more officers are on the brink of retirement, according to its union. Capitol Police leaders are facing intense political heat for their failures on Jan. 6, with three dozen facing internal investigations for their own actions during the chaos and the department’s inspector general delivering a scathing assessment. Two officers are suing Trump for alleged incitement of the insurrection,” Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) reportedly sought a “blanket” presidential pardon from former President Trump in the final weeks of his administration, although the request was ultimately not fulfilled, according to news reports. The request for a pre-emptive pardon came around the time that the Justice Department was opening an inquiry into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that potentially violated sex trafficking laws. “It was unclear whether Mr. Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. Mr. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request. But top White House lawyers and officials viewed the request for a pre-emptive pardon as a nonstarter that would set a bad precedent, the people said,” reports Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos for the New York Times.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) yesterday deleted a Monday press release which confirmed the arrest of two Yemeni illegal immigrants believed to be on the FBI’s terror watch list. CBP initially announced the detainment Monday but as of yesterday the link to the release states, “Access denied … You are not authorized to access this page.” A CBP spokesperson said in an email to National Review that “the news release in question was not properly reviewed and contained certain disclosure and policy information related to national security that required CBP to remove it from our website.” Tobias Hoonhout reports for Yahoo News.

29 House Democrats have called for President Biden to issue an executive order banning the transfer of military-grade weapons to local police forces, suggesting the order’s language should mirror Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.)’s bill introduced last month. “The bill would prohibit the Pentagon from sending police departments controlled firearms, ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers, grenades including stun and flash-bang grenades, explosives, certain controlled vehicles including mine-resistant vehicles, armored or weaponized drones, combat-configured or combat-coded aircraft, silencers and long-range acoustic devices … In addition to the letter and Johnson’s bill, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce a bill next week that would completely repeal the 1033 program, according to a draft of the bill obtained by The Hill,” reports Rebecca Kheel for The Hill.

Former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official Lynne Patton, a Trump political appointee and ally, “improperly harnessed the authority of her federal position to assist the Trump campaign in violation of the Hatch Act,” said the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) yesterday in a news release announcing that a settlement had been reached with Paton over interviews she conducted on residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) about their living conditions, in which she reportedly didn’t let the interviewees know the recorded interview would be used for political purposes. “During her approximately one-month stay, Patton met residents and later leveraged one of these relationships to recruit participants to film a video that would air at the RNC. Patton wanted NYCHA residents to appear in the video to explain how their standard of living had improved under the Trump administration,” the OSC said. The settlement states that Patton will be barred from federal employment for two years and is required to pay a $1,000 fine. John Bowden reports for The Hill.

A hypersonic missile under development — the GM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon —failed to launched from a B-52 bomber during tests Monday, which the U.S. Air Force described as “a setback in demonstrating its progress in hypersonic weapons.” “The test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft which returned to Edwards AFB,” the Air Force said in an emailed statement. Marcus Weisgerber reports for Defense One.

A Navy medic, Fantahun Girma Woldesenbet, was shot dead outside the Army’s Fort Detrick military base in Frederick, Md., after opening fire on two sailors at a Maryland business park, officials say. One of the victims is said to be in a critical condition. Louise Hall reports the Independent.

“A BuzzFeed News investigation has found that employees at law enforcement agencies across the US ran thousands of Clearview AI facial recognition searches — often without the knowledge of the public or even their own departments,” report Ryan Mac, Caroline Maskins, Brianna Sacks and Logan McDonald for BuzzFeed News.

Key moments from the seventh day of witness testimony at the trial of former Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Reuters reporting.

“How Google’s Big Supreme Court Victory Could Change Software Forever,” explains Madeleine Carlisle for TIME.

“How Credit Suisse got tangled in the Archegos Wall Street chaos,” is explained by Taylor Telford and Hamza Shaban for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 30.84 million and now killed over 556,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 132.53 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.875 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Biden announced yesterday that he has moved the Covid-19 vaccine eligibility target date for all American adults from May 1 to April 19. Darlene Superville and Alexandra Jaffe reports for AP.

U.K. government ministers today declared the AstraZeneca vaccine “safe,” despite the U.K. medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), confirming it was investigating with “urgency” a possible link between the jab and blood clots. Jon Stone report for the Independent.

A Covid-19 vaccine developed by the U.S. Army started being tested on adult volunteers yesterday. The “protein-based shot in as many as 72 adults ages 18 to 55 at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., the institute said. The team will test whether the vaccine safely induces the desired immune response in study subjects,” reports Peter Loftus for the Wall Street Journal.

Britain started rolling out Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine Wednesday in Wales. BBC News reporting.

Prisoner access to Covid-19 vaccines is falling behind. “Nationwide, less than 20% of state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In some states, prisoners and advocates have resorted to lawsuits to get access. And even when they are eligible, they aren’t receiving important education about the vaccine,” report Katie Park, Ariel Goodman and Kimberlee Kruesi for AP.

“One-Third of U.S. Troops Opted Out of the COVID-19 Vaccine. Here’s Why That Is Dangerous for National Security,” write Seth Moulton and Tammy S. Schultz for TIME.

Health-care workers are feeling the pressure of being on the frontline of the pandemic, reveals a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, which points to growing mental health issues, burnout and anger. Scott Clement, Cece Pascual and Monica Ulmanu report for the Washington Post.

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.

CHINA

15 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Wednesday, including 12 fighter jets, the island’s defense ministry announced. Reuters reporting.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and two former lawmakers pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly that began in Wan Chai on Aug. 31, 2019. “Sentences in both cases are to be handed down later. The maximum possible punishment is five years in prison,” reports Reuters.

The State Department is not considering or “discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners” of the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing, a senior State Department official wrote in an emailed statement to CNBC, following a press briefing earlier yesterday by department spokesperson Ned Price suggesting a boycott was on the table as a response for addressing China’s human rights violations. Amanda Macias reports for CNBC.

RUSSIA

Russia is ramping up its military space capabilities in orbit, two reports released last week indicate. According to the reports from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Secure World Foundation, Russia carried out multiple tests of anti-satellite weapons in 2020. “One of the most notable was the nation’s use of a satellite that appeared to fly close to a U.S. spy satellite before moving away and firing a projectile not far from another, unrelated Russian satellite,” reports Miriam Kramer for Axios.

Nine people were arrested outside a prison holding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as they gathered in protest of his continued detention amid reports that Navalny is “seriously ill” in a prison hospital ward. Maria Tsvetkova reports for Reuters.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Jordanian deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said authorities had neutralized the alleged threat posed by a former crown prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who had criticized the government of his half-brother, King Abdullah II. “In regards to the movements and threats they represented, these are totally contained and under control,” Safadi told the Wall Street Journal. Stephen Kalin and Suha Ma’ayeh report for the Wall Street Journal.

Myanmar troops killed seven people and wounded several more Wednesday after opening fire on anti-coup protesters. “Security forces opened fire on Wednesday on protesters in the northwestern town of Kale as they demanded the restoration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government,” reports Reuters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on NATO to support a membership action plan (MAP) for Ukraine as an official step towards joining the alliance. “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas. Ukraine’s MAP will be a real signal for Russia,” Zelensky said during a phone call with Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, according to a statement. Roman Olearchyk and Michael Peel for the Financial Times. 

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)