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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has moved to seize more than 30 Web domains linked to Iranian state media, which the DOJ accuses of spreading “disinformation” and Iranian propaganda. A number of domains posted notices yesterday indicating that they had been taken down by U.S. authorities pursuant to a seizure warrant. The sites seized include domains used by the English-language Iran government-run Press TV, the websites for Al-Alam TV, an Iran-owned news channel that broadcasts in Arabic, and the website for Al-Masirah, a Beirut-based outlet that serves as a mouthpiece for an Iranian-allied Houthi rebel group in Yemen. Iran’s government had no immediate response. Devlin Barrett and Kareem Fahim report for the Washington Post.
The Pentagon tracked Iran’s failed attempt in mid-June to launch a satellite into orbit and new images reveal that Iran is preparing for another attempt soon. “U.S. Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12th,” a Pentagon spokesperson said; however it is unclear why the launch was unsuccessful and at exactly what stage it failed. Satellite imagery now shows increased activity at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in recent days, according to experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Affairs at Monterey. Zachary Cohen and Oren Liebermann report for CNN.
A sabotage attempt on a building of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization had been foiled, according to a Twitter account linked to Iran’s English language Press TV. There was no confirmation of the report from the Iranian authorities. Reuters reports.
Germany’s foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said that Iran and world powers have been making progress to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, “but there are still nuts to crack.” Reuters reports.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily is to prints its last edition on Thursday the paper has announced. The announcement follows a raid by police last week and in August las year, and the arrest of its owner and other executives under the new national security law in Hong Kong. Sharon Abratique reports for Reuters.
Hong Kong’s first trial under its new national security law begins today without a jury. Tong Ying-Kit is on trial after he was arrested for driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers during protests in July last year, while flying a flag that read “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a pro-democracy protest slogan that is deemed illegal under the national security law. Agence France-Presse reports.
Ying-Kit has pled not guilty as his trial began today, Reuters reports.
China has condemned the U.S. as the region’s greatest security “risk creator” after a U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said the warship conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” in accordance with international law. “The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said their forces monitored the vessel throughout its passage and warned it. ‘The U.S. side is intentionally playing the same old tricks and creating trouble and disrupting things in the Taiwan Strait,’ it said,” Reuters reports.
China has attacked Canada’s colonial past and has called for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into Canadian crimes against Indigenous people. The statement was made at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council moments before Canada, along with 40 other countries, called for an international investigation into crimes against Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province. “We are deeply concerned about the human rights violations against the Indigenous people in Canada,” said Jiang Duan, a senior official at China’s mission to the U.N., referencing the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school. Jiang’s statement was read out on behalf of Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. Leyland Cecco reports for the Guardian.
China has increased its use of secret detention without trial with tens of thousands of people subjected to “residential surveillance at a designated location” the group Safeguard Defenders has said in its report. “Researchers have combed China’s official court database to identify nearly 23,000 cases nationwide where it had been used since 2013, after a change in Chinese law gave police sweeping powers to detain with virtually no oversight,” Emma Graham-Harrison reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. and China are discussing a potential meeting of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a G20 meet in Italy next week, according to sources briefed on the talks. President Biden’s administration is pushing for a series of high-level meetings with Beijing officials, including sending Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, to China over the summer and considering a call with Xi Jinping, which would be Biden’s second engagement as U.S. president with his Chinese counterpart. Demetri Sevastopulo reports for the Financial Times.
Militias in Afghanistan’s north are taking up the fight against the Taliban in response to the sweeping Taliban offensive across northern Afghanistan, raising concerns that the country could enter a prolonged civil war. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has “endorsed the sudden call to arms by former ethnic rival groups and shaken up his top security team, in hopes of stemming the Taliban onslaught and calming public panic,” Pamela Constable and Ezzatullah Mehrdad report for the Washington Post.
Suspected Taliban fighters have fired a rocket into a hospital in Afghanistan, causing a fire that caused extensive damage and destroyed Covid-19 vaccines. There have been no casualties reported and a Taliban spokesperson has denied responsibility for the attack. The Taliban have also captured the town of Shire Khan Bandar a dry port in northern Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan. Reuters reporting.
The U.N.’s top envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, has urged the international community to bring the Taliban and the Afghan government back to the negotiating table, warning of the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Lyons told the U.N. Security Council that the Taliban’s increasing violence over the past year has led to significant advances for the insurgents, explaining that “more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May.” “Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” she added. Lyons also pointed to the increase in civilian casualties in 2021 compared to the equivalent period during 2020, and warned that “every major trend —politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency and tackling COVID-19 — is either ‘negative or stagnant,’” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
A Russian warship fired warning shots and a Su-24M fighter jet dropped four fragmentation bombs Wednesday to force a British missile destroyer Defender from waters near Crimea in the Black Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said, the first time since the Cold War that Moscow has used live ammunition to deter a NATO warship. The U.K. Defense Ministry has not yet commented. Vladimir Kuznetsov reports for Bloomberg.
Russia’s security chief Alexander Bortnikov has said that Russia will work together with the U.S. to locate cyber criminals. Russia’s RIA news agency has quoted Bortnikov as saying that Russia’s security agency would follow agreements reached by President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin who discussed cybersecurity issues at their summit in Geneva. Maria Kiselyova and Olzhas Auyezov report for Reuters.
A recent string of cyberattacks targeted at thousands of Polish email users, including government officials, have been linked to a Russian hacking group. Stanisław Żaryn, a spokesperson for the Polish Minister Coordinator of Special Services, said in a translated statement that the Polish intelligence service considered that the UNC1151 group was behind the attacks and that “the secret services have reliable information at their disposal which [links] this group with the activities of the Russian secret services.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told visiting junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that Russia is committed to strengthening its military ties with Myanmar. “We are determined to continue our efforts to strengthen bilateral ties based on the mutual understanding, respect and trust that have been established between our countries,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Shoigu as saying. Reuters reporting.
Russia’s foreign minister has said that Moscow considers that aid delivers to Syria’s rebel held northwest are possible across conflict lines within Syria. Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow disagrees that there is no alternative to Turkey delivering the aid, as the U.N. and many Western nations maintain, and “hinted that Russia will block U.N. renewal of the one remaining border crossing whose mandate expires July 10,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
The Saudi operatives who killed the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 received paramilitary training in the U.S. the previous year. The training was provided by Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, and was given under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement. “There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia,” Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes and Michael LaForgia report for the New York Times.
The E.U. and U.S. have launched an initiative to fight against ransomware attacks. A new ransomware working group has been set up “to address the scourge of ransomware that has hurt the U.S. so much, and so many other countries,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said after meeting with European ministers for justice and home affairs in Lisbon. Laurens Cerulus and Clothilde Goujard report for POLITICO.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to hold a members’ briefing in July on repealing the 2002 authorization of the Iraq law. The announcement by the Committee’s chair Bob Menedez (D-NJ) comes after a group of Republicans asked Menedez to delay consideration of a bill that would repeal the authorizations for the use of military force. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
$50m in economic assistance to Palestinians has been approved by Congress but is being held up in the Senate. Senator James Risch (R-ID) placed a hold on the funding last month claiming he wanted to ensure the funds would not go to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. The hold is under the 2018 Taylor Force Act which allows legislators to cut off aid to Palestinians if it connects to the Palestinian Authority’s ability to make “martyr” payments to compensate families of Palestinians who killed Israelis in recent years. William Roberts reports for Al Jazeera.
The top leaders of the army, navy, marines and other military branches have voiced concern about legislation designed to reform the military justice system. The bill would strip commanders of their authority to decide whether to send cases of sexual assault, murder and other serious crimes within the military ranks to trial and instead, independent military prosecutors would decide. The military chiefs argued that taking all serious crimes out of the chain of command would undermine military leadership and potentially lead to unintended results, including a possible erosion of prevention efforts. However, many of the military chiefs expressed support or stated they remained “open-minded” to reform in the context of sexual assault and related offences. Nancy A. Youssef and Lindsay Wise report for the Wall Street Journal.
Defense secretary Lloyd Austin has said he will support changes to the military justice system that would take decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases and related crimes away from military commanders. Austin pledged to work with Congress to make the changes, which he said would give the DOJ “real opportunities to finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.” Austin’s memo is however limited to sexual assault and related crimes and “does not express any view on legislation that would make broader changes to the military justice system and require that independent lawyers handle all major crimes,” Lolita C. Baldor reports for AP.
A U.S. military training document has described the political philosophy of socialism as a “terrorist ideology” akin to neo-Nazism. The training document, which was obtained by The Intercept news website, was used in the U.S. navy and is aimed at some members of the navy’s internal police. The Guardian reports.
Navigating the transition from former President Trump to President Biden is the biggest test yet for Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Missy Ryan provides analysis for the Washington Post.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley will testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “The Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense,” at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough will testify at a Senate Appropriations subpanel on the “Review of the FY 2022 Budget and FY 2023 Advance Appropriations Requests for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 138.
TRUMP’S JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Attorney General Merrick Garland has backed away from doing a broad review of the politicization of the DOJ during former President Trump’s administration. Garland said that the DOJ’s independent inspector general was already investigating related issues, including aggressive leak hunts and attempts to overturn the election, which “would help uncover any wrongdoing and that he wanted to avoid politicizing the work of career officials,” Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
The top national security official at the DOJ, John Demers, has said that he was unaware federal prosecutors had issued subpoenas to secretly obtained records concerning Democratic lawmakers. The statements were made by Demers in an interview to the Los Angeles Times before he steps down later this week. Demers took over as assistant attorney general for national security about two weeks after prosecutors sent a subpoena to Apple that included records concerning California Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Del Quentin Wilber reports for the Los Angeles Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will announce this week whether she will create a new select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A growing number of Democratic party members have been calling for a select committee that would take on the investigative work of the independent commission that Republicans rejected last month. According to a source Pelosi had announced in a closed-door meeting Tuesday evening that she would move forward with creating the committee, however Pelosi subsequently clarified that she had not formally announced any plans. Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
Migrant children have been living in alarming conditions at a U.S. border detention center in Texas. A BBC investigation has found that “disease is rampant, food can be dangerous and there are reports of sexual abuse” at a tented camp in the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas, which is the temporary home for over 2,000 teenage children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone and are now awaiting reunification with family in the United States. Hilary Andersson reports for BBC News.
The U.S. is allowing asylum-seekers, whose claims were dismissed or denied under former President Trump’s administration policy that forced them to wait in Mexico for court hearings, to return to the U.S. for another chance at obtaining humanitarian protection, the Homeland Security Department has said. Maria Verza and Elliot Spagat report for AP.
Nearly 3,300 migrants stranded in Mexico since January due to the U.S. border expulsion policy known as Title 42 have been kidnapped, raped, trafficked or assaulted, according to a new report by the campaigning group Human Rights First. Reuters reporting.
National Guard officials may have to cut troops’ training in July if Congress does not reimburse the force for its deployment to protect the Capitol. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth warned lawmakers at a Senate Appropriations subpanel hearing on Army funding on Tuesday that without the required resources “the Guard … will find themselves with training issues.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
National Guard and reserve soldiers are twice as likely to be hungry and are having trouble feeding their families, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from mid-April through to early June. The rise in food insecurity amongst Guard members and reserve soldiers is attributed to the increase in deployments over the past year, including overseeing Covid-19 testing, quelling civil unrest and helping to administer vaccines. Laura Reiley reports for the Washington Post.
VOTING BILLS AND RESTRICTIONS
Senate Republicans yesterday blocked Democrats’ sweeping elections and ethics reform bill. “The test vote, which would have cleared the way to start debate on voting legislation, failed 50-50 on straight party lines – 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to advance legislation in the Senate,” Mike DeBonis reports for the Washington Post.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) yesterday called a special session of the state’s legislature to begin on July 8, reviving a Republican effort to enact what are expected to be some of the most far-reaching voting restrictions in the U.S., after Democrats staged an eleventh-hour walkout in May that temporarily foiled the Republican effort to overhaul the state’s election systems and delayed other legislative priorities. “Now the new session restarts the clock … The initial voting bill, known as S.B. 7, contained new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which were used for the first time during the 2020 election in Harris County, home to Houston and a growing number of the state’s Democratic voters,” report Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein for the New York Times.
World powers are to meet in Berlin today to discuss the crisis in Libya and to ensure that the country’s general elections planned for December go ahead. “Representatives of Libya’s interim government will join U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as the foreign ministers of France and Egypt at the United Nations-sponsored talks,” Al Jazeera reports.
Blinken has said that it is crucial that Libya holds a national election in December as the only way to ensure peace and stability in the country. At a press conference before the peace conference in Berlin, Blinken said that “we share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified and secure Libya, free from foreign interference…for this to happen national elections need to go forward in December. That means urgent agreement is needed on constitutional and legal issues.” Reuters reports.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders has suspended its activities in two Libyan detention centers in Tripoli because of increases violence, abuse and ill treatment of migrants and refugees, AP reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A bomb attack in a residential district in Lahore, Pakistan, has killed four people and wounded 14, police have said. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility. The blast appears to have been targeted at police officers manning a checkpoint next to the house of Hafiz Saeed, the jailed founder of Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Mubasher Bukhari reports for Reuters.
Around 140 militia fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo have laid down their weapons and surrendered. The fighters are the first to surrender after President Felix Tshisekedi announced martial law to tackle worsening security in two eastern provinces. Reuters reporting.
Lawyers have proposed a new legal definition for ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment, a new crime that the lawyers want to see outlawed. Katie Surma, Inside Climate News and Yuliya Talmazan report for NBC News.
Sudan has asked the U.N. Security Council to meet and discuss a giant dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, a government statement says. Egypt and Sudan, two downstream countries to the dam, are concerned about the dam and are seeking a binding agreement on its filling and operation. Reuters report.
Mauritanian authorities have arrested former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz amid an ongoing investigation into alleged high-level corruption during his time in office, according to his lawyers. Reuters reports.
Nine Catalan separatist leaders have walked out of jail in Spain after the Spanish central government pardoned them for their role in a failed 2017 attempt for Catalan’s independence from Spain. Reuters reports.
The European Commission announced Tuesday that it has opened an antitrust investigation into Google’s ad business. “The probe will focus on the multi-layered market of display advertising and whether the search giant restricted access to user data for rivals while using it to its own profit. Google is present throughout the entire ‘adtech’ supply chain – collecting data, selling advertising space and acting as an online advertising intermediary,” report Simon Van Dorpe for POLITICO EU.
“Some of the E.U.’s investigation will cover similar ground to a case filed last year against Google by a group of U.S. states led by Texas. Similar areas include Google’s allegedly favoring its own ad-buying tools in the advertising auctions it runs,” report Sam Schechner and Parmy Olson for the Wall Street Journal.
Tech giants have blitzed Washington with lobbying after House lawmakers introduced antitrust legislation earlier this month. “Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, called Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to deliver a warning. … The antitrust bills were rushed, he said. They would crimp innovation. And they would hurt consumers by disrupting the services that power Apple’s lucrative iPhone, Mr. Cook cautioned at various points, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations …. The calls by Mr. Cook are part of a forceful and wide-ranging pushback by the tech industry since the proposals were announced this month. Executives, lobbyists, and more than a dozen think tanks and advocacy groups paid by tech companies have swarmed Capitol offices, called and emailed lawmakers and their staff members, and written letters arguing there will be dire consequences for the industry and the country if the ideas become law,” report Cecilia Kang, David McCabe and Kenneth P. Vogel for the New York Times.
A group of state attorneys general – led by Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina and New York – may file a lawsuit against Google as early as next week, accusing tech giant of violating antitrust law in running its mobile app Play Store for Android devices, according to three sources familiar with the matter. “The lawsuit has been in the works since last year and has already been delayed, but seems close again, the sources said,” Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.55 million and now killed over 602,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 179.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.88 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The top U.S. intelligence official has said that the true origins of the Covid-19 pandemic may never be known. Daniel Klaidman reports for Yahoo News.
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.