Early Edition: April 9, 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

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

A Justice Department memo pushed back on a domestic terrorism bill re-introduced following the Capitol attack, which was previously knocked back in the Senate last year, with department officials saying its proposals could be “harmful” and counterproductive.” The bill was re-introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) Jan. 19, with the memo sent that evening in response to an earlier query from committee Republicans. “The document’s most serious concerns focus on a requirement that the FBI share details with Congress about its domestic terror probes. Sharing that information could tip off criminal groups that they’re under investigation, it warns — allowing the groups to destroy evidence and threaten witnesses. It also cautions against a provision of the bill that would have the FBI share details of its domestic terror training to Congress. That would include the names of people providing those trainings — a move that, per DOJ, “could increase the risk that they will be targeted by the very domestic terrorists they are training others to investigate”,” reports Betsy Woodruff Swan for POLITICO. The Memo is headed: “Informal, Not-Officially Cleared Comments of the Department of Justice on H.R. 5602, the ‘Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020.’”

Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, was warned as early as 2014 not to take foreign payments from Turkey without first registering himself with the Justice Department as an agent of a foreign government, the Defense Department’s inspector general (IG) has found. The IG “is currently making the case to the secretary of the army that Flynn be required to turn over to the US Treasury a portion of the proceeds that Flynn received from overseas sources. The IG contends that the payments were illegal under the emoluments clause, as interpreted by executive branch legal opinions, and related federal law … Flynn’s conduct occurred while he was a private citizen, long before Trump became president. Taken together, this appears to constitute powerful new evidence discrediting Trump and Flynn’s claims of political persecution by those opposed to Trump’s agenda,” Murray Waas reports for the Guardian.

Joel Greenberg, associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz, is seeking to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors who are investigating whether both the men had sexual relationships with underage girls that potentially violated sex trafficking laws. AP reporting.

Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has signed into law a bill passed in the GOP-controlled legislature last month which expands voting access by mandating election recount procedures, three days of no-excuse early voting, and online absentee ballot portals. “An updated tally by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice finds 361 bills restricting voting had been introduced in 47 states as of March 24. The total marks a 43% rise in the number of bills introduced since Brennan last released a count in February,” reports Zlec Snyder for CNN.

Voting rights are to be automatically restored for Washingtonians that are released from prison following a felony conviction, even while they remain on community supervision, after Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill Wednesday. “The law, which takes effect next year, will restore voting rights to more than 20,000 people in the state, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Currently, people with felonies in the state can only have their voting rights restored after finishing the conditions of their sentence,” report Dianne Gallagher, Rebekah Riess and Paul LeBlanc for CNN.

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL: GLOBAL TRENDS REPORT 2040

The U.S. intelligence community’s seventh Global Trends report has painted a bleak picture of what Americans, and the world, are likely to face over the next 20 years, warning that nations globally would be disrupted by pandemics, climate change and technological advancements. It spoke on the deep political, cultural and economic fragmentations within societies, in which “large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs.” It also warned of “looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond.” Shane Harris reports for the Washington Post.

“Cascading global challenges,” including climate change, disease, financial crises and advancing technologies, “will repeatedly test the resilience and adaptability of communities, states, and the international system, often exceeding the capacity of existing systems and models,” the report warns. Jeff Seldin reports for VOA.

On climate change, the report noted that countries would need to adapt, building rainwater storages and reinforcing sea walls, and that global migration would surge as a result of changes to the Earth’s climate. The report raised concern about the growing “trust gap” between the public and governments: “At the same time that populations are increasingly empowered and demanding more, governments are coming under greater pressure from new challenges and more limited resources … This widening gap portends more political volatility, erosion of democracy and expanding roles for alternative providers of governance. Over time, these dynamics might open the door to more significant shifts in how people govern.” Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.

“Trust in governments, elites, and other established institutions erodes, societies are likely to fragment further based on identities and beliefs. People in every region are turning to familiar and like-minded groups for community and a sense of security,” the report states, adding that “many people are gravitating to more established identities, such as ethnicity and nationalism.” “Intensifying and competing identity dynamics are likely to provoke increasing political debate and polarization, societal divisions, and in some cases, unrest and violence,” the report then said. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.

The report also warns that many democracies are vulnerable, with governments unable to meet the varied demands of its citizens: “this mismatch between governments’ abilities and publics’ expectations is likely to expand and lead to more political volatility, including growing polarization and populism within political systems, waves of activism and protest movements, and, in the most extreme cases, violence, internal conflict, or even state collapse.” BBC News reporting.

Emerging technologies will provide opportunities to “tackle challenges such as aging, climate change, and low productivity growth, while creating new tensions and disruptions within and between societies, industries, and states,” with artificial intelligence expected to “benefit almost every aspect of life,” including healthcare, education, transportation and everyday tasks, the report said. “Real-time, manufactured or synthetic media could further distort truth and reality, destabilizing societies at a scale and speed that dwarfs current disinformation challenges. Many types of crimes, particularly those that can be monitored and attributed with digital surveillance, will become less common while new crimes, and potentially new forms of discrimination, could arise,” it added. Warren P. Strobel and Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The report described the Covid-19 pandemic as the “most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.” AP reporting.

The pandemic has deepened global inequality, weakened global order and “fueled partisanship and polarization,”the National Intelligence Council’s report said. “Efforts to contain and manage the virus have reinforced nationalist trends globally, as some states turned inward to protect their citizens and sometimes cast blame on marginalized groups.” Julia E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.

JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK

Members of right-wing, Massachusetts-based group “Super Happy Fun America” have been targeted by federal prosecutors for their involvement in the Jan. 6 attacks  however, “the attention has only fueled interest in their organization, according to the group’s leaders.” The group “now boasts about 400 “card-carrying” members, more than a third of whom joined in the past couple of months, [group member John Hugo] said. He declined to share evidence of that membership but said frustration over the election outcome and other more recent events have been the primary motivators,” Abigail Hauslohner reports for the Washington Post.

Trump supporter Elliot Resnick, a top editor of the New York-based Jewish Press, was caught on footage in the Capitol Rotunda as a mob surrounded a Capitol Police officer; two months later, he defended the attack in an online piece, with no mention that he was present and inside the Capitol building. “As Resnick neared the group, the video shows a rioter hollering at the officer: “You’ve got a job to do? That’s a poor excuse.” Resnick, who bumped up against the yelling man, briefly appeared to begin speaking to the officer before the camera cut away,” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

GUN CONTROL        

President Biden yesterday announced a package of executive orders and directives aimed at addressing gun violence in the United States, warning that “gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” followed hours after by another shooting, this time in Texas, killing one and injuring half a dozen more, which followed a shooting Wednesday in South Carolina, where five people were killed, including two children. BBC News reporting.

A White House briefing states the Justice Department will, within 30 days, introduce rules on “ghost guns,” which are unregistered firearms that can be assembled from parts purchased online, and clarify regulations to ensure that pistols fitted with stabilizing braces will be regulated under the National Firearms Act. The Biden administration will also invest in “evidence-based community violence interventions,” with the briefing stating that, “Congress should also pass an appropriate national “red flag” law, as well as legislation incentivizing states to pass “red flag” laws of their own.”

Gun control advocate David Chipman will be nominated to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Biden said. He also “emphasized [that] the announcements only amount to the first steps toward addressing gun violence, with later action — like a ban on assault weapons or rules requiring universal background checks — requiring Congress,” reports Kevin Liptak for CNN.

Biden “outlined more ambitious goals that he needs the support of Congress to accomplish, including reintroducing a ban on assault weapons, lifting an exemption on lawsuits against gun manufacturers,” Steve Holland and Jeff Mason report for Reuters.

U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN

As the May 1 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms, military officials are becoming increasingly frustrated with Biden’s “dithering.” “His apparent indecisiveness on Afghanistan has raised questions about what it portends for future foreign policy decisions, officials said … [and] the administration is betting that it can use the uncertainty about the troop exit as leverage to persuade the Taliban to compromise and cut a deal that would open the way for longer-term peace negotiations, the officials said,” Carol E. Lee reports for NBC news.

The United States could withdraw its forces [from Afghanistan] over the next few weeks, but it would be difficult and enormously costly, write Ryan Baker and Jonathan Schroden report for WAR ON THE ROCKS. “It would almost certainly require pulling transportation and logistical resources away from other missions around the world, abandoning a bunch of perfectly good equipment in Afghanistan, signing expensive contracts for quick-turn transportation capacity, leaving allied and partner forces in Afghanistan twisting in the wind, and potentially increasing the risk to U.S. troops on the ground during the withdrawal. If the United States is unwilling to pay these costs — and it appears Biden is unwilling — it will likely need some number of months, not weeks, to complete a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

State Department spokesperson Ned Price downplayed expectations of indirect talks which took place this week between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna, hosted by the E.U. While acknowledging that the Strategic Dialogue was “constructive,” he told reporters, “we would also, however, hasten to not allow expectations to outpace where we are.” Reuters reporting.

Talks have ended for this week, likely to restart next week, with the U.S. delegation, led by Iran envoy Rob Malley, expected to return to Washington today. “The European Union said today the parties would review the progress made this week by the expert working groups at a previously announced formal session of the Joint Commission tomorrow,” writes Laura Rozen for Diplomatic.

“The #JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog, said on Twitter. Reuters reporting.

CHINA 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday introduced the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” a bipartisan bill that introduces wide-ranging plans to address China’s rising global influence, strengthening U.S. military presence in the Pacific, cracking down on intellectual property theft and disinformation, and bolstering support for Taiwan. “The bill recommends a total of $655 million in Foreign Military Financing funding for the region for fiscal 2022 through 2026, and a total of $450 million for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative and related programs for the same period,” Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom report for Reuters.

The Commerce Department has placed seven Chinese supercomputing entities under export controls for their involvement in “building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction programs,” meaning the list of firms and labs cannot use U.S.-origin technology without a Commerce Department license, which is particularly difficult to obtain.  The additions to the Entity List are: Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi, and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou. David Shephardson reports for Reuters.

Chinese officials aired a video of a thin Uighur man in an oversized uniform speaking directly to the camera: “I will try my best to change myself and receive the leniency of the party and the government,” said Erkin Tursun, a former television producer who, the officials said, is serving a 20-year sentence in Xinjiang on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination and covering up crimes.” “It was one of over half a dozen such segments showing Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in the western region, pleading with relatives abroad to come home and stop speaking out against China and the ruling Communist Party,” Cate Cadell reports for Reuters.

11 Chinese air force jets entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone Friday, including eight fighter jets, the self-ruled island’s defense ministry said. Reuters reporting.

RUSSIA

Russia will move more than 10 navy vessels, including landing boats and artillery warships, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea to complete military drills, the Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday. Reuters reporting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to reduce the Russian military “build-up” along its border with Ukraine in order to “de-escalate the situation,” while Putin instead accused Ukraine’s president of “provocative actions” in the conflict region. Thomas Escritt and Tom Balmforth report for Reuters.

Russia could intervene in eastern Ukraine to help Russian citizens if the Ukrainian forces launch an all-out assault on Russian-backed separatist rebels, said Dmitry Kozak deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration. “Everything depends on the scale of the conflagration,” he said, warning that escalation could mark the could mark the “beginning of the end [for Ukraine]; not a shot in the leg, but in the face.” BBC News reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 31 million and now killed over 560,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 134.03 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.9 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The European Medicines Agency, the E.U.’s drug regulators, has started a review to assess possible links between Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and blood clots in four “serious” cases. “One of the cases following J& vaccinations happened during a clinical trial. At the time, the company said it had found no evidence the vaccine was at fault. Three others occurred in the U.S., where the shot has been given to almost 5 million people,” reports Naomi Kresge for Bloomberg.

Current Covid-19 numbers have plateaued at a “disturbingly high level,” and the U.S. is at risk from a new surge in cases, warned Dr Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Madeline Holcombe and Dakin Andone report for CNN.

Close to 20% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated as of yesterday. “So far, the vaccine race has been dominated by a handful of relatively wealthy nations: most notably Israel, where nearly 57 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of April 7; Chile, at about 22 percent; and the United States. Britain has been vaccinating rapidly, as well, but it has delayed second doses as it tries to get a first to as many people as possible,” reports Emily Rauhala 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.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS 

New identity cards aimed at eliminating all traces of Tigrayans are being condemned for being a form of ethnic cleaning. “Written in a language not their own, issued by authorities from another ethnic group, the ID cards are the latest evidence of a systematic drive by the Ethiopian government and its allies to destroy the Tigrayan people,” reports AP.

More than 11 demonstrators were killed yesterday in Myanmar during clashes with security forces in a town in the northwest, domestic media reported. Reuters reports. 

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)