Early Edition: April 28, 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

JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK

An outside group warned Capitol security officials on Jan. 5 about a number of troubling social media posts which called for people to storm the Capitol and kill federal employees, newly revealed internal emails show. “Even after reviewing the posts in question, security officials across Capitol Hill were adamant on January 5 that they did not see any indication of a credible threat, according to the emails, which have not been previously reported,” Zachary Cohen and Whitney Wild report for CNN.

FBI officials apparently narrowed federal prosecutors’ initial aggressive strategy for rooting out those connected to the Capitol attack, citing concern that the 25-page strategy presented to them appeared to suggest that people would be investigated without any evidence they had committed crimes, which breached bureau policies and First Amendment protections, according to two people briefed on the matter. “[Bureau] officials expressed their concerns to officials in the main Justice Department in Washington, who ultimately quashed the plan,” Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.

Two rioters accused of using bear spray on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicnick actually used pepper spray; although acknowledged that the two men, Julian Khater and George Tanios, brought the bear repellent to the Capitol, only pepper spray was used, prosecutors revealed at a detention hearing for the two men charged in connection with the chemical attack.  Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.

Richard Barnett, the Capitol rioter who posed inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, has been released from a D.C. jail pending trial, with the federal judge citing an appeals court decision which now makes it harder to detain those not accused of violence. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

Over 400 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack, a CNN review concludes, although prosecutors say they expect to charge in excess of 500 people. By Hannah Rabinowitz, Marshall Cohen and Caroline Kelly report for CNN.

IMMIGRATION

The White House is reconsidering raising the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to around 62,500, its original goal, according to three people familiar with the discussions, the Washington Post first reported. “The move comes after the White House publicly shifted the figure several times as it tries to negotiate a balance between pleasing immigrant advocacy groups and being mindful of the political optics of rapidly increasing admissions at a time of heavy immigration on the southern border. No final decisions have been made, however, and timing of an announcement was up in the air, three people familiar with the deliberations told the Post,” Veronica Stracqualursi reports for CNN.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will no longer be permitted to arrest people in or near courthouses for many immigration violations, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced yesterday in a statement: “The expansion of civil immigration arrests at courthouses during the prior administration had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement,” the statement read, adding, “Ensuring that individuals have access to the courts advances the fair administration of justice, promotes safety for crime victims, and helps to guarantee equal protection under the law.” Mark Katkov reports for NPR.

The new policy will, however, allow ICE and CBP agents to “pursue courthouse arrests if they involve a national security matter, there is an imminent risk of death or violence, the person poses a threat to public safety or if there is an imminent risk evidence needed for a criminal case may be destroyed,” although some have expressed concern over the lack of definitions for words such as national security and public safety, which may result in a federal agents interpreting the terms broadly to justify arrests, reports Rebecca Beitsch for The Hill.

President Biden is to nominate Ed Gonzalez — the sheriff of Texas’ most populous county, Harris Country, and a critic of Trump-era immigration policies — to lead ICE, the White House said yesterday. Zolan Kanno-Youngs reports for the New York Times.

BIDEN NOMINATIONS

President Biden will nominate Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s former top weapons buyer during the Obama administration, to be secretary of the Air Force, and Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Texan Democratic congressional candidate, to serve as the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian official, the White House announced. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Biden also intends to tap Javier Guzman for assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the White House said. Reuters reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

The State Department has ordered nonessential staffers based at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to leave if their work can be performed elsewhere; although the “Ordered Departure status [affects] a relatively small number of employees,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The department announced the decision in a travel advisory, saying travel to Afghanistan is not safe because of ‘critical levels’ of kidnappings, hostage taking, suicide bombings, widespread military combat operations, landmines and terrorist and insurgent attacks,” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. envoy to the Afghanistan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he didn’t expect the country to immediately collapse when U.S. troops are withdrawn: “I believe the choice that the Afghans face is between a negotiated political settlement or a long war,” he told senators. Al Jazeerareporting.

The U.S. is also helping the Afghan government find replacements for U.S. contractors who provide important services: “The Afghans … with our help are looking for others to be able to provide that service to them,” Khalilzad told the Senate panel. “We’re obviously very sympathetic to them to find alternatives.” Al Jazeera reporting.

IRAN

The U.S. Navy fired warning shots at three Iranian military ships in the north Arabian Gulf on Monday because they “failed to exercise due regard for the safety of other vessels as required under international law as they came into close proximity to U.S. naval vessels,” the first such escalation in nearly four years, the Navy confirmed yesterday. This is the second reported encounter this month between American and Iranian naval ships, the first taking place April 2, which was reported for the first time this week. “The Iranian armed speed boats rapidly approached U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt and U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranof, coming within 68 yards of both U.S. ships … The two American crews — who were conducting routine maritime security operations in international waters at the time — issued multiple radio warnings and loud-hailer devices, but the Iranian ships continued their maneuvers,” leading to warning shots being fired, which saw the vessels safely distance themselves, reports Ellen Mitchell for The Hill.

Iran renewed calls to the U.S. to agree to a prisoner swap as talks in Vienna continue, making clear that there were more Iranians in U.S. jails than Americans held in Iran.  “We want the release of all those held unjustly in U.S. jails over sanctions. Iran is pursuing this due to humanitarian and moral considerations … but this will depend on action by the American side,” government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said, adding, “Iran has announced its readiness for this but … announcing the names of prisoners may be detrimental to them. We will announce details after efforts are finalized,” Rabiei told a news conference. Reuters reporting.

Rob Malley, special envoy for Iran, arrived in Vienna yesterday to take part in indirect peace talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed. Reuters reporting.

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to move U.S. Africa Command (Africom) headquarters from Germany to the African continent to provide more direct responses to ongoing conflict throughout the region. “Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel weighing heavily on Africa underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating Africom headquarters from Stuttgart in Germany to Africa, and near the theater of operations,” Buhari said, according to a transcript of the call released by the State Department, adding, “The support of important and strategic partners like United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concern, cooperation, and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.” Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), has urged the Biden administration to impose additional sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta over its Feb. 1 coup. The six senators called on Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter yesterday to “explore new avenues to support the people of Burma in their ongoing struggle for democracy in the face of escalating crimes against humanity,” adding, “In particular, we urge you to target or freeze all foreign currency revenues and foreign exchange reserves held in state accounts outside of Burma.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pledged to Israel that the U.S. will keep it informed over concerns of Iran’s nuclear program and any progress made by the U.S. to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, following a meeting in Washington between Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the White House said in a statement. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Australia will spend $580 million on upgrading four military bases and expand war games with the U.S., the country’s prime minister is expected to announce Wednesday, according to extracts obtained by Reuters. “An airstrip in the Northern Territory will be lengthened to support larger aircraft, firing ranges overhauled and new training facilities set up for defense personnel and US marines,” Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate yesterday confirmed Colin Kahl to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop. “A showdown on the floor was narrowly avoided only after two Republican senators were called out of town on family emergencies, giving Democrats an easy 49 to 45 vote to confirm Kahl in the evenly split chamber. Last week, Vice President Harris had to cast a tiebreaking vote to free Kahl’s nomination from the Senate Armed Services Committee, after weeks of politically charged deadlock surrounding his nomination,” Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.

Homeland Security has launched “a new counter-network targeting operation focused on transnational criminal organizations affiliated with the smuggling of migrants,” a press release confirmed. “Mayorkas said Operation Sentinel will be led by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in collaboration with the FBI, State Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as law enforcement agencies in Mexico and Central America,” reports Rafael Bernal for The Hill.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is currently working on a bill aimed at preventing future major foreign cyberattacks on critical organizations, including introducing a form of limited data breach mandatory reporting for the private sector. Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said that the legislation had developed out of public and private hearings held by the senate panel following the SolarWinds hack, and “compared the potential structure for reporting breaches to the federal government to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation-related accidents but with an emphasis on the need to catch a breach mid-incident,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Pro-Trump supporter Brendan Hunt, currently on trial for allegedly calling for the “slaughter” of Democratic senators following the Jan. 6 attack, says his comments were due to depression and boredom during the coronavirus pandemic. Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

Seth Andrew, former White House education adviser during the Obama administration, was arrested and charged yesterday with stealing around $218,000 from a charter school network he founded in order to get an interest rate reduction on his mortgage for a $2 million Manhattan apartment. Azi Paybarah reports for the New York Times.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.17 million and now killed over 573,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 148.79 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.13 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The U.S. intends to assert influence over the World Health Organization (WHO)-led probe into the origins of the coronavirus and plans to submit recommendations to the agency for a new phase of investigations. “Experts from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, the Agriculture Department and five other federal agencies are developing recommendations to be submitted to the WHO for its planned second phase of the inquiry into how the new coronavirus started spreading, State Department officials said,” Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw report for the Wall Street Journal.

The E.U. legal case against AstraZeneca over Covid-19 vaccine deliveries started Wednesday, with the next two hearing set for May 26. Reuters reporting.

An explainer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance on wearing masks outdoors by the New York Times.

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. 

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)