Early Edition: April 30, 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

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Around 56,000 people have been displaced since the Myanmar military coup Feb. 1, and thousands of ethnic Karen villagers are ready to flee into Thailand if fighting continues. Reuters reporting.

The lawyer acting for Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has been detained in Moscow. AP reporting.

Kyrgyz and Tajik security forces exchanged fire across the border Thursday, with at least six civilians dead and dozens more injured. “The two countries’ foreign ministries said late on Thursday they had agreed a ceasefire and a troop pull-back after hours of talks. But a Kyrgyz government source said Bishkek feared it could permanently lose part of its territory after temporarily abandoning it,” Reuters reporting.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday he will indefinitely postpone the first Palestinian elections amid a dispute with Israel over whether Palestinians are able to participate in voting in East Jerusalem as well as concerning poll numbers that indicate poor performance by Abbas’ ruling party. Felicia Schwartz reports for the Wall Street Journal.

RUDY GIULIANI 

A court battle is likely between federal officials and Rudy Giuliani following search warrants executed on his Manhattan home and office Wednesday, where electronic devices were seized. Giuliani’s lawyer said that the devices are “replete with the material covered by the attorney-client privilege and other constitutional privileges.” Erica Orden reports for CNN.

The FBI warned Giuliani in 2019 that he was the target of a Russian disinformation operation aimed at damaging President Biden ahead of the 2020 election – and the bureau last summer gave to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) a defensive briefing warning of the influence campaign, but Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigating Biden’s dealings with Ukraine, although acknowledging the briefing, said he did not think there was any substance to the caution. “Regarding reports that I received an FBI briefing warning me that I was a target of Russian disinformation, I can confirm I received such a briefing in August of 2020,” Johnson said in a statement to The Washington Post, adding, “I asked the briefers what specific evidence they had regarding this warning, and they could not provide me anything other than the generalized warning. Without specific information, I felt the briefing was completely useless and unnecessary (since I was fully aware of the dangers of Russian disinformation).” “I suspected that the briefing was being given to be used at some future date for the purpose that it is now being used: to offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings,” Johnson continued. Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.

At least one of the warrants sought evidence related to former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, to identify any communications between Giuliani and Trump administration officials about Yovanovitch before she was recalled in April 2019. Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Kenneth P. Vogel report for the New York Times.

HACKING AND CYBERSECURITY 

At least five federal agencies are thought to have been hacked in the recent breach of a virtual private network (VPN) known as Pulse Connect Secure, according to a top official at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “CNN reported last week that CISA had identified 24 federal civilian agencies that use Pulse Connect Secure devices, but it was not yet known whether the agencies were compromised … Since March 31, CISA has been assisting multiple entities whose vulnerable Pulse Connect Secure products have been exploited by a cyber threat actor, according to a CISA spokesperson … The US government has yet to determine responsibility for the hack,” report Geneva Sands and Brian Fung for CNN.

Hackers who infiltrated the D.C. police department’s computer systems briefly posted online personnel files of at least five officers, including names, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, financial and housing records, job histories and polygraph assessments. “One of the records reviewed by The Washington Post is marked ‘background investigation document’ and ‘confidential’ … The 576-page file contains information collected when an officer was going through a background check to be hired in 2017. It includes the officer’s financial and bank information, a photocopy of the officer’s driver’s license, social media posts, a private cell number, answers to questions about past marijuana use and medical records,” Peter Hermann reports for the Washington Post.

IMMIGRATION

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favor of a Guatemalan man who entered the U.S. illegally, saying that federal agencies have generally failed to properly notify individuals about the time and place of deportation proceedings. “The justices decided that federal immigration law requires authorities to include all relevant details for a notice to appear for a hearing in one document rather than sending the information across multiple documents. While a technical issue, the ruling could affect hundreds of thousands of immigration cases,” Reuters reporting.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention centers has dropped nearly 84% since last month’s peak, according to a White House official, “As of Wednesday, there were 954 children in CBP facilities, down from a peak of 5,767 on March 28, the official told CNN,” reports Priscilla Alvarez for CNN.

OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The Justice Department is considering ways to strengthen federal criminal law to make it easier to prosecute alleged domestic terrorists, Brad Wiegmann, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s national security division, told Congress yesterday. “[Wiegmann] noted that U.S. federal prosecutors can charge suspected foreign militants with ‘material support for terrorism,’ but that there is no parallel law prosecutors can use against suspected domestic terrorists,” Reuters reporting.

Florida’s Republican-led legislature yesterday passed far-reaching legislation that adds new rules for voting by mail, including restrictions on ballot drop boxes, which has been criticized as making it harder for millions of voters to cast ballots. Alexa Corse and Jon Kamp report for the Wall Street Journal.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), Chuck Grassley (R) and Joni Ernst (R) and others — introduced a new bill aimed at cracking down on sexual assaults in the ranks. “The bill would make significant changes to how sexual assault cases are handled, moving the decision-making power on whether to bring felony-level charges from the chain of command … and would also take preventatives measures, including increasing training for all members of the military from ROTC to enlisted officers, as well as criminal investigators and military prosecutors, so they have the tools they need to work on sexual assault and domestic violence cases,” Lauren Fox, Jeremy Herb and Ali Zaslav report for CNN.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. has officially started withdrawing U.S. personnel from Afghanistan, the White House confirmed yesterday. “Fewer than 100 troops, along with military equipment, have been moved largely by aircraft …, according to several US defense officials,” report Barbara Starr, Veronica Stracqualursi and Oren Liebermann for CNN.

The German military will end its training of local Afghan forces today and now focus on withdrawing from the country, the country’s defense ministry said. Reuters reporting.

Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that they are concerned with Biden’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, with Rice suggesting that the U.S. may need to return. One committee member told Axios that there was “A little disagreement on Afghanistan, but they both agreed we’re going to need to sustain a counterterrorism mission somehow outside of that country.” Alayna Treene reports for Axios.

“War against the U.S. will be continuing on all other fronts unless they are expelled from the rest of the Islamic world,” warned two al Qaeda operatives, with  terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, editor-in-chief of West Point’s CTC Sentinel, who reviewed their answers, saying it is possible “they feel buoyed by the Biden administration’s decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, but they may also be seeking to deflect attention from the many recent losses.” Nic Robertson and Saleem Mehsud report for CNN.

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said Friday it will reduce consular services from May 12 after Russia restricted the hiring of local staff for foreign missions. AP reporting.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met yesterday with the director of Israel’s spy agency, Tossi Cohen, and its ambassador in Washington, Gilad Erdan, a source familiar with the meeting confirmed. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Blinken will visit Ukraine next week, reports Reuters.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.28 million and now killed over 575,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 150.58 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.16 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

AstraZeneca is struggling to gather the full data necessary to apply for U.S. approval of its Covid-19 vaccine shot, according to people familiar with the matter, further delaying efforts to secure Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Jenny Strasburg and Thomas M. Burton report for the Wall street Journal.

The U.S. will start sending the Pfizer vaccine to Mexico following the expiration of the Trump administration rule barring dose export. 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. 

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)