Early Edition: April 19, 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

Former GOP operative Michael Ellis resigned from his post as the National Security Agency (NSA)’s top lawyer on Friday, after being placed on administrative leave by NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone the day that former President Trump left office. The decision by Nakasone came as an investigation was underway by the Defense Department’s inspector general (IG) into the circumstances of Ellis’s election as general counsel as well as an inquiry into his handling of classified information, according to a letter by Ellis’s lawyer to Nakasone. The IG inquiry into Ellis’s selection remains open, Nakasone told Congress Thursday. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department staff to carry out personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including “requests to pick up personal items, planning of events unrelated to the Department’s mission, and miscellaneous personal requests — [which] had no apparent connection to the official business of the Department,” the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found. Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO.

The Biden administration backtracks on Friday’s reports that President Biden intends to cap refugee admissions this year at 15,000: “During a late Friday conference call, White House officials signaled to refugee resettlement advocates that Biden is likely to raise the current refugee cap of 15,000 quickly and well ahead of the May 15 deadline, according to a person familiar with the matter,” report Kaitlan Collins and Priscilla Alvarez for CNN.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it would be “very hard” to meet the 62,000 refugee cap that Biden has previously pledged. Donald Judd, Kevin Liptak and Devan Cole report for CNN.

Defense and prosecution will offer closing speeches today in the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. What to expect is provided by Eric Levenson for CNN.

U.S. RELATIONS

Multiple rockets hit an Iraqi military air base at Balad north of Baghdad Sunday, which housed U.S. contractors, wounding two Iraqi security force troops, the Iraqi military said in a statement. No U.S. personnel have been injured. Reuters reporting.

The State Department ordered nonessential U.S. personnel out of Chad on Sunday amid growing concerns that rebel forces were approaching the capital. “On April 17, 2021, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees from U.S. Embassy N’Djamena due to civil unrest and armed violence,” the warning read, continuing, “Armed non-governmental groups in northern Chad have moved south and appear to be heading toward N’Djamena. Due to their growing proximity to N’Djamena, and the possibility for violence in the city, non-essential U.S. Government employees have been ordered to leave Chad by commercial airline. U.S. citizens in Chad wishing to depart should take advantage of commercial flights.” John Bowden reports for The Hill.

The U.S. has deported Beatrice Munyenyezi, a commander in the Rwandan genocide, back to the African nation where she is likely to face prosecution. Munyenyez was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Alabama in 2013 for lying about her role in the genocide in order to obtain American citizenship; she appealed the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but was unsuccessful in March. AP reporting.

The U.S. and China will jointly tackle climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” a joint statement made Saturday said. “The two nations agreed to lay out their long-term visions to achieve net-zero emissions at the international climate change talks set for November in Glasgow, Scotland. And they reiterated their support for the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, while pursing efforts to keep temperatures from climbing 1.5 degrees C,” reports Zack Colman for POLITICO.

AFGHANISTAN

Justifying the planned withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept.11, Secretary of State Blinken said that “the terrorism threat has moved to other places, and we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China.” William Mauldin report for the Wall Street Journal.

Speaking on the future of Afghanistan after the U.S. withdraws its troops, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: “I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can,” adding, “All the United States could do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government and the Afghan people resources and capabilities, training and equipping their forces, providing assistance to their government. We have done that and now it is time for American troops to come home and the Afghan people to step up to defend their own country.” Reuters reporting.

IRAN

Iran names someone suspected of being involved in the attack last week on its Natanz nuclear facility, and said the cause of the damaged centrifuges was not a cyberattack but an explosive device. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) reported Saturday that an explosion caused by an unspecified device had destroyed part of the power supply to the “centrifuge hall” at Natanz, clarifying that there had been no cyberattack. “Iranian intelligence officials had identified the suspected perpetrator as Reza Karimi, 43, and said he hailed from Kashan, about an hour’s drive north of Natanz, the report said. It did not specify what role Karimi had played in causing the explosion, or whether he was affiliated with any foreign intelligence agency, but it said he fled Iran an hour before the incident … The report showed what IRIB claimed was an Interpol “red notice” for Karimi, or a request for help from other law enforcement agencies in apprehending a suspect. But a search of Interpol’s website Saturday did not turn up any mention of a red notice for Karimi,” Kareen Fahim reports for the Washington Post.

Vienna talks will lead to the U.S. returning to the Iran nuclear deal, said Israeli military intelligence and senior officials in the Mossad while briefing the nation’s security cabinet. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.

Top Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi dies aged 65 of heart disease, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced Sunday. Hejazi served as deputy commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, an elite unit leading operations in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. AP reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 31.67 million and now killed over 567,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 141.46 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.02 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Johnson & Johnson is likely to make a decision on its Covid-19 vaccine by Friday, which is likely to come back on the market with restrictions or warnings, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” Naomi Thomas reports for CNN.

Israel has lifted its outdoor mask mandate. Reuters reporting.

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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The Czech Republic will expel 18 Russian diplomats after it blamed an elite unit of Russia’s military intelligence service for multiple explosions at Czech ammunition depots in 2014. “Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country’s foreign minister, said the 18 Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as spies from the Russian intelligence services known as GRU and SVR and were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours,” AP reporting.

In retaliation, Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats Sunday, giving them just 24 hours to leave. “The U.S. State Department commended Prague’s firm response to ‘Russia’s subversive actions on Czech soil’,” reports Reuters.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been moved to a hospital in another prison, one day after his doctor warned that he “could die at any moment,” Russia’s prison service said Monday. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN Sunday: “We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community.” Zachary Basu reports for Axios.

Navalny’s allies yesterday called for mass protests to take place Wednesday over reports of his deteriorating health. The call for demonstrations was due to the fact Navalny’s “life hangs in the balance … We don’t know how long he can hold on. But it is clear we do not have time,” said his top strategist, Leonid Volkov. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.

Russia and the U.K. are stepping up their naval presence in the Black Sea. “Moscow deployed two warships through the Bosphorus on Saturday and is sending additional smaller ships from its Caspian and Baltic fleets all aimed at bolstering its presence in the Black Sea, according to Reuters and Russian media report … and the U.K. is planning to deploy vessels to the region next month in an effort to underscore support for Kyiv, according to The Sunday Times,” report Joshua Posaner for POLITICO EU.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to force those working for foreign governments to sign onto a foreign spy central register in an effort to counter hostile espionage, the Home Office confirmed. According to the Times, “the foreign agent registration scheme, which had previously been announced by the Home Office, is part of the prime minister’s ambitions to strengthen powers to evict and prosecute spies operating in Britain for hostile states such as Russia and China,” reports the Guardian.

Syria will hold its presidential election May 26, the country’s parliament said Sunday. “The door for nominations will be open as of Monday for 10 days. Syrians abroad will vote on May 20,” Reuters reporting.

Six Pakistani security personnel, including a police officer and two paramilitary fighters, were taken hostage Sunday by a hard-line Islamist group. Shaiq Hussain and Susannah George report for the Washington Post.

At least 19 have been killed in a Niger village by suspected Islamic militants. “The attack took place Saturday evening in the village of Gaigorou in Niger’s Tillaberi region, which has come under repeated attack by suspected Islamic militants since January,” 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)