Early Edition: April 12, 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

IMMIGRATION

445 migrant children separated from their parents during Trump-era U.S.-Mexico border policies between 2017 and 2018 are yet to be reunited, down from 506, according to a court filing Wednesday by the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union.  Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.

The administration could be tasked with caring for over 35,000 unaccompanied migrant children by June, indicates government projections obtained by the Times. By Michael D. Shear, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eileen Sullivan report for the New York Times.

President Biden’s eight-week delay in signing a presidential determination means that he will likely accept the fewest refugees, around 4,510, into the U.S. this fiscal year of any modern president, including Trump, according to a report released Friday by the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit humanitarian aid group. Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.

JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK

Former Vice President Mike Pence pleaded with then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to restore order at the Capitol two hours after mobs attacked the building, an undisclosed document from the Pentagon reveals. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.

Lawyers for Julian Khater, the Pennsylvanian man accused of bear-spraying U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, are discussing with the Justice Department a “bail package” that would see him released from jail while he awaits trial, according to a court hearing Friday. “During the hearing, it wasn’t clear the bail terms prosecutors would push for, or if there would be a hearing later where they would argue to keep him detained,” report Katelyn Polantz and Hannah Robinowitz for CNN.

TRUMP

Former President Trump reiterated familiar falsehoods about the 2020 election and insulted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during Saturday’s Republican National Committee gathering of donors at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, a person in the room reported to CNN. Trump referred to McConnell as a “dumb son of a bitch,” and “spent much of the speech, with many senators in the room, lashing into his former ally in personal terms, often to cheers from the party’s top donors. He falsely claimed that he won the Senate election for McConnell in Kentucky and attacked his wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s transportation secretary,” reports Josh Dawsey for the Washington Post.

Facebook’s oversight board will decide in the coming weeks whether to uphold or overturn Trump’s suspension from the platform. The key factors that will be considered include: “whether the board thinks Facebook set clear enough rules and gave Trump a fair shake. Another will be what kind of case the board thinks it’s weighing — a narrow, “legalistic” debate about one person’s freedom of expression or a broader one about the public’s right to safety,” reports Cristiano Lima for POLITICO.

U.S. RELATIONS

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is “enduring and ironclad,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Sunday, declaring U.S. commitment to the country. “This is a relationship that is built on trust, which has developed over decades of cooperation,” Austin said in a joint statement with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a military base in Tel Aviv, comments which came around the same time that Iran reported an attack on its Natanz site. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.

The Biden administration is willing to lift Trump-imposed sanctions against Iran that are “inconsistent” with the 2015 nuclear deal as well as those that prevent Iran from accessing broader economic benefits under the deal, according to a senior State Department official. Karen DeYoung, Loveday Morris, Simon Denyer and Kareem Fahim report for the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday warned both China and Russia about their military actions, saying it “it would be serious mistake” for China to strike Taiwan and voiced “real concerns” about Russia’s increasing troops levels on its border with Ukraine. David Cohen repoprts for POLITICO.

Blinken will this week return to Brussels, joining Defense Secretary Austin, to discuss Iran, Afghanistan and the Russia-Ukraine tension, a U.S official said. Reuters reporting.

The U.S. and Philippines will today begin a two-week joint military exercise, the Philippine military chief said Sunday. Enrico Dela Cruz reports for Reuters.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The Biden administration plans to name former National Security Agency (NSA) deputy director John C. “Chris” Inglis as the first national cyber director and former NSA intelligence officer Jen Easterly to head the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Robert Silvers, who served as DHS assistant secretary for cyber policy during the Obama administration, is expected to be nominated as undersecretary for policy at DHS. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will introduce new screening procedures at the Pentagon in an effort to identify extremists in the military, according to a memo released Friday, which will include setting up a working group, led by Bishop Garrison, Austin’s senior adviser on human capital and diversity, equity and inclusion, to investigate ways to address the issue, and will commence study to look into extremist behavior in the ranks, Austin’s memo indicates. The working group will report in 90 days and Austin said “he wants the working group to review and update the military’s definition of extremism, create standardized questionnaires to screen recruits with current or previous extremist behavior, and come up with new training and procedures for veterans to deflect and report the targeting of them by extremist groups after they leave service,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Jennifer Davis, the chief of staff to UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked by the State Department, according to people familiar with the matter. The decision to revoke clearance follows a three-year administrative investigation by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Davis “strongly contests the determination” and is “going to aggressively appeal this decision as quickly as possible,” said a person close to her. Daniel Lippman reports for POLITICO.

A Fresno, California, police officer was fired Friday after the police department’s investigation found images and videos that suggested he was linked to the far-right group the Proud Boys, Fresno police said. “The officer, Rick Fitzgerald, rallied with the Proud Boys in November at a pro-Trump demonstration that devolved into violence — captured in video clips that resurfaced last month as online sleuths dug into Fitzgerald’s history. Announcing Fitzgerald’s firing on Friday, Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said he disapproves of “any police officer” affiliating themselves with violent or hateful groups,” Hannah Knowles reports for the Washington Post.

Maryland’s Democrat-controlled legislature voted Saturday to overrides Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes on three far-reaching police reform measures, including repealing the state’s police bill of rights and introducing new rules for when officers may use force as well as how they are investigated and disciplined. Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox reports for the Washington Post.

Virginia State Police have launched an investigation into a “disturbing” traffic stop in which a Black Army second lieutenant was held at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed and subjected to excessive force by two officers last month. Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday called for the department to investigate the matter, which the department later confirmed it would, following a lawsuit filed by the Army medic, Caron Nazario, this month. Rachel Chason reports for the Washington Post.

“White Lives Matter” rallies in dozens of cities across the U.S. saw negligible turnouts yesterday. The rallies were organized on encrypted chat Telegram by neo-Nazi and other far-right extremist groups: “The poor showing underscores how the country’s unpopular and disorganized extremist movements have been driven underground by increased scrutiny from the media, law enforcement agencies and far-left activists who infiltrate their private online spaces and disrupt their attempts to communicate and organize,” Brandy Zadrozny reports for NBC News.

The House Ethics Committee will open an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz over the Justice Department’s inquiry into potential violations of sex trafficking laws. “The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” committee chair Ted Deutch (FL) and ranking Republican member Jackie Walorski (IN) said in a joint statement Friday. Jeremy Herb and Annie Grayer report for CNN.

55% of Republicans believe President Biden’s election victory was the result of illegal voting or rigging, and 60% of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds. Harry Enten reports for CNN.

Nevada GOP voted to censure secretary of state Barbara Cegavske for her alleged failure to fully investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. AP reporting.

Biden signed an executive order Friday setting up a bipartisan commission to study the U.S. Supreme Court, but the 36-member commission will not make final recommendations for reform, according to detaisl released Friday. Joan Biskupic reports for CNN.

IRAN NUCLEAR SITE ATTACK

A blackout Sunday at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility was a result of “nuclear terrorism,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, after the blackout was initially described as a fault with the electrical grid. Although Salehi did not state who the country believed was responsible, many havve suggested Israel was. “To thwart the goals of this terrorist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to seriously improve nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive sanctions on the other hand,” Salehi said, according state TV. “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism,” he added. APreporting.

Israel indicates that it may have been responsible for the cyberattack on Natanz, after the facility went into shut down hours after its new advanced centrifuges were started to speed up the production of enriched uranium. Following the attack, Israeli defense chief, Aviv Kochavi, said the country’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy”. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later that day that “the struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission, adding, “The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow,” although he elaborated no further. Martin Chulov reports for the Guardian.

With the cause of the blackout unclear, two intelligence officials say it was caused by a large explosion that totally destroyed internal power system suppling the underground centrifuges, which could take Iran over nine months to restore after the explosion dealt a severe blow to the facility’s ability to enrich uranium. Ronen Bergman, Rick Gladstone and Farnaz Fassihi report for the New York Times.

“The US had no involvement, and we have nothing to add…” says senior US official, according to a post on Twitter by Washington Post journalist John Hudson

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 31.19 million and now killed over 562,000 people in the United States,according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 136.13 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.93 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines is “not high” and requires improvement, says the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, George Gao, adding that the vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates.” “It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said. AP reporting.

The Brazil Covid-19 variant is on the rise in the U.S, with at least 434 people infected, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Erin Cunningham, Kim Bellware and Meryl Kornfield report for the Washington Post.

40% of Marine have declined Covid-19 vaccines, according to data by CNN. Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman and Devan Cole report 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 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in a “desperate situation” as his control over the country is undermined amid few remaining domestic allies, the Taliban’s growing military strength and a stalling peace process that have seen international actors losing patience. Adam Nossiter reports for the New York Times.

“King Abdullah II and Prince Hamzah make first public appearance since palace feud,” reports AP.

“The organizers of one of the world’s most prestigious defense gatherings are in the midst of an uncomfortable international standoff between the Canadian government and China over a major award they had planned to give to the president of Taiwan,” reports Betsy Woodruff Swan and Andy Blatchford for POLITICO.

“The Kremlin said on Sunday some of the conditions outlined in the Minsk peace accords on eastern Ukraine must be met before a further round of peace talks can go ahead, Russian news agencies reported,” reports Reuters.

“The Ukrainian military said that a soldier was killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels Sunday, as hostilities rise sharply in the country’s east,” reports AP. 

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)