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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is partially reversing a last-minute decision by the Trump administration to elevate the top civilian Pentagon official leading special operations matters, according to two defense officials and a memo obtained by POLITICO. “In November, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller made the surprise decision to elevate the position, known as the assistant secretary for special operations/low-intensity conflict, to report directly to the defense secretary. After reviewing the change, Austin is moving the position back down to the Pentagon’s policy shop, but it will still retain a direct reporting line to him on administrative issues such as training, manning and equipping, according to two Pentagon officials who requested anonymity to discuss the topic ahead of an announcement,” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
Secret Service Director James Murray is set to testify today before the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, the first time the agency will appear in an open hearing since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Murray’s prepared remarks do not go into any detail about the Jan. 6 attack but does say that the agency has made some operational adjustments and reviewed its open source intelligence capabilities – he also said the agency is developing a Civil Disturbance Unit for its Uniformed Division. Whitney Wild reports for CNN.
Former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka says that he believes he was ousted from his position last year due to refusing to investigate President Biden’s son Hunter Biden at the request of Rudy Giuliani and former President Trump. Ryaboshapka said that a transcript of a call from between Giuliani and Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was reported by the Times in February, was evidence that he had been fired for political reasons: “It reveals an important detail … Yermak promised Giuliani to open an investigation into Hunter Biden,” he said. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The Taliban has issued a threat to Afghan journalists it accuses of “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence” service in Kabul. AP reporting.
Around two-thirds of U.S. adults support withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September, according to a new poll commissioned by the Charles Koch Institute. “When the question was posed to just military members and veterans, there was a similar response, with 38 percent saying they strongly support the withdrawal and 30 percent saying they somewhat support it,” reports Rebecca Kheel for The Hill.
More than 200 NGOS have called on the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar in an effort to protect civilians peacefully protesting against the Feb. 1 military coup. “No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the NGOs said, adding, “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence.” AP reporting.
Myanmar’s security forces are forcibly arresting and disappearing thousands of people, particularly boys and young men: reports say over 3,500 people have been arrested since February, while UNICEF says around 1,000 children and young people have been arrested, the majority of which were boys. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations carried out last month fell to the lowest monthly level on record, according to the latest enforcement data. “ICE deported 2,962 immigrants in April, according to the agency. It is the first time the monthly figure has dipped below 3,000, records show. The April total is a 20 percent decline from March, when ICE deported 3,716,” Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will lift a Trump-era fingerprint requirement for spouses of legally employed foreign workers. USCIS said in a court filing this week that it intends to suspend the requirement from May 17. Rafael Bernal reports for The Hill.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Guatemala and Mexico next month, she confirmed yesterday. Reuters reporting.
Facebook’s oversight board has determined that former President Trump was justifiably suspended from the social media platform earlier this year, but expressed concern over the “indefinite” ban, giving Facebook six months to review its decision before making it permanent or setting a timeline for reinstatement. Jeff Horwitz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg played an integral role in Facebook’s suspension decision. “He developed the main justification used by [Facebook CEO] Mr. Zuckerberg for barring Mr. Trump, and he oversaw the creation of the board, including the selection of its members,” reports Adam Satarino and Cecilia Kang for the New York Times.
Five key takeaways from the board’s decision are provided by Reuters.
Ballots and laptops have been left unattended during the Republican-led recount of the 2020 election results in Arizona’s largest county, said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). Rosaline S. Helderman reports for the Washington Post.
The Justice Department also expressed worry about ballot security and possible voter intimidation. “In a letter to GOP Senate President Karen Fann, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said the Senate’s farming out of 2.1 million ballots from the state’s most populous county to a contractor may run afoul of federal law requiring ballots to remain in the control of elections officials for 22 months,” AP reporting.
Arizona Democrats reach an agreement with Republicans, allowing independent elections experts to observe the recount process, “take aggressive measures to secure personal voter information, turn over details about audit policies and procedures and make those documents public. If there is a breach of the agreement, [Hobbs] can take the company and the Senate GOP to court for breach of contract,” Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.
The Biden administration intends to release by June a list of Central American officials who may be subject to sanctions due to accusations of corruption, a U.S. special envoy told Reuters. Reuters reporting.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Ukraine for a one-day visit and is set to meet the country’s president today. AP reporting.
Around 80,000 Russian troops remain stationed along the Ukraine border, according to NATO and the Department of Defense officials, despite Russia last month announcing it would end its military buildup. Although some troops have left the border, a substantial number of trucks and armored vehicles were left behind, suggesting that troops could return. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in “important and significant” talks in Iraq on more than one occasion, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said, the first public acknowledgement of Baghdad’s role as mediator. AP reporting.
The head of Ethiopia’s Tigray region government, Mulu Nega, has resigned, his deputy said, although no reason was given. Reuters reporting.
Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns that the world could be entering an era of “potential international instability” amid China’s rise and the surge in disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. Reuters reporting.
Germany, France and Spain have reached an agreement on the next steps in developing a joint fighter jet, with details expected to be agreed by mid-May, a German defense source told Reuters. Reuters reporting.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to sentence Dominic Ongwen, a top commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda, with prosecutors asking for a 20-year prison sentence. Al Jazeera reporting.
At least 25 people are dead following eight days of protests in Colombia over a tax-collection overhaul plan intended to cover a gap in spending related to Covid-19. Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin yesterday gave Yair Lapid, a centrist politician and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top rival, four weeks to try to form a new collation government. Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin report for the Washington Post.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.55 million and now killed over 579,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 155.22 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.24 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The Biden administration yesterday said it would support proposals for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) protections for coronavirus vaccines, allowing developing nations to produce vaccines created by pharmaceutical companies, despite objections by the pharmaceutical industry. Yuka Hayashi and Jared S. Hopkins for the Wall Street Journal.
The E.U. is also willing to discuss waiving IP protections, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. Reuters reporting.
The State Department has approved the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees from India because of a surge in Covid-19 cases. Allyson Waller reports for the New York Times.
India’s surge in Covid-19 infections is having a marked impact on the international shipping industry, which relies on the country for seafarers, as crews fall ill with the disease and ports deny entry to vessels. “Ports including Singapore and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates have barred ships from changing crew members who have recently travelled from India, notices from maritime authorities show. Zhoushan in China has banned the entry of ships or crew that have visited India or Bangladesh in the past three months, according to Wilhelmsen Ship Management, a crew provider … March’s Suez Canal blockage ‘will be nothing compared to the [supply chain] disruption coming from being unable to change crews,’ said Mark O’Neil, president of InterManager, which represents the crew management industry,” Harry Dempsey and Benjamin Parkin report for the Financial Times.
Canada is due to authorize the use of Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15, the federal health ministry said. Reuters reporting.
Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are more than 95% effective against infection, hospitalization and death from coronavirus, an Israel study conclude. “One shot of the vaccine was partially effective, offering 58% protection against infection, 76% against hospitalization, and 77% against death. The authors of the observational study in the Lancet medical journal say this shows the importance of having the second shot,” reports Sarah Boseley for the Guardian.
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.