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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Hackers associated with the Russian government gained access last week to Synnex, a contractor for the Republican National Committee (RNC), the RNC has said in a statement, saying that no access was gained to any RNC data. “We immediately blocked all access from Synnex accounts to our cloud environment,” Richard Walters, the RNC’s chief of staff, said, adding that RNS would continue to work with federal law enforcement officials on the matter. Alana Wise reports for NPR.
The RNC hackers were part of a group known as APT 29 or Cozy Bear, according to sources familiar with the matter. The group “has been tied to Russia’s foreign intelligence service and has previously been accused of breaching the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and of carrying out a supply-chain cyberattack involving SolarWinds Corp.,” William Turton and Jennifer Jacobs report for Bloomberg.
The Kremlin has said that the Russian state had nothing to do with the hack which targeted the RNC. A Kremlin spokesperson said “there were what he called ‘certain contacts’ between Moscow and Washington on the subject of cyber crime and accusations that Russia-linked crime groups were sometimes involved. He said most of what was published on the subject in the media was a lie,” Reuters reports.
President Biden is to meet with federal agencies this week to discuss solutions to address ransomware attacks. “Tomorrow the president will convene key leaders across the interagency, including the State Department, Department of Justice, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and members of the intelligence community to discuss ransomware and our overall strategic efforts to counter it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The National Security Council (NSC) and White House is racing to finalize a government-wide strategy on how to respond to ransomware attacks that will deter companies from paying out ransoms to cybercriminals. The NSC has been studying for months how to prevent the cyberattacks, and according to sources the pace of upper-level meetings on the subject at the NSC has increased in recent weeks, as the end of the review approaches. Natasha Bertrand reports for CNN.
The Russia-linked ransomware gang REvil responsible for the ransomware attack on Kaseya on July 2 have reportedly lowered the amount it is willing to accept in exchange for data it is holding ransom to $50 million. REvil is publicly demanding $70 million to restore the data belonging to hundreds of companies worldwide, “but in a conversation with Jack Cable of the cybersecurity-focused Krebs Stamos Group, one of the gang’s affiliates said he could sell a “universal decryptor” for all the victims for $50 million,” CNBC reports.
President Biden is under pressure to respond to REvil’s claims of responsibility for the attack, however White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has said that the U.S. government has not yet determined whether the attack came from Russia. Biden also told reporters yesterday that the attack by REvil “appears to have caused minimal damage to U.S. businesses but we’re still gathering information…I’m going to have more to say about this in the next several days.” Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.
Biden is under increasing pressure to follow through with his promise to make Russia pay for not dealing with cyberattacks coming from its borders. “In May, Biden vowed to ‘take action,’ potentially through the United States’ ‘significant cyber capability,’ if Russia continued to shelter ransomware gangs in violation of international norms. But REvil’s holiday-weekend breach of hundreds or thousands of companies, from Kaseya to its own customers to those firms’ clients, suggests that Putin didn’t take Biden’s threat seriously,” Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.
The U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan is “more than 90 percent” complete, the U.S. Central Command stated in an update yesterday. “The Defense Department has not said how many U.S. troops remain in the country nor where they are. But reports have indicated several hundred are helping secure the Kabul airport, along with the several hundred who are expected to secure the U.S. Embassy even after the withdrawal is complete,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The Taliban have reached the entry points to the capital of Afghanistan’s northwestern Badghis province, officials have said. The Taliban’s advancing attack has caused panic among local people and prompted prisoners to break out of the city’s prison. Provincial governor Husamuddin Shams told Reuters that the Taliban had attacked the city of Qala-e-Naw from three directions this morning and Afghan security forces were fighting them back. “Right now, after around two hours of clashes in the city, the enemy is forced to retreat,” Shams said. Reuters reporting.
The Pentagon is defending criticism from Afghan military officials that the U.S. secretly left Bagram airbase in the early hours last Friday without telling Afghan military commanders. Afghan officials have said that the U.S. shut off the electricity and prompted a security lapse that allowed looters to scavenge the facilities before Afghan troops were able to retake control. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby “insisted the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram had been communicated to high-level Afghan officials, saying the ‘final conversations’ — including a joint walk-through of the facilities — occurred roughly 48 hours ahead of the departure. ‘It wasn’t done in some sort of shroud of secrecy,’ Kirby said, though he added the exact time of departure was not shared in advance with Afghan officials due to security concerns,” Becky Sullivan and Tom Bowman report for NPR.
The withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan is stoking fears of an al-Qaeda comeback. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “makes a Taliban takeover inevitable and gives al-Qaeda the opportunity to rebuild its network, to the point where it could once again plot attacks around the world,” Dr Sajjan Gohel, a security and terrorism analyst, told the BBC. Frank Gardner reports for BBC News.
Afghan security personnel who fled from the Taliban to Tajikistan are being brought back to fight the Taliban insurgents, Afghanistan’s national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib has said. Mohib said that the Afghan personnel would be returning “to be in the service of the people and in the defense of Faizabad,” the capital of the northern province of Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan, from where the Afghan servicemen had fled on Sunday. Reuters reporting.
Around 300 of the Afghan servicemen who crossed into Tajikistan when retreating from the Taliban were flown back home in the early hours this morning, a Tajik security source has said. Reuters reporting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that the situation in Afghanistan could swiftly deteriorate, and that Moscow was ready to defend its regional allies if necessary. Lavrov “said Russia was ready to use its military base in Tajikistan, one of its biggest abroad, to ensure the security of its allies in the region, part of the former Soviet Union and an area where Moscow tries to retain influence,” Reuters reports.
Iran has told Taliban and Afghan government representatives, during a Tehran hosted meeting, that it is ready to help end the crisis in Afghanistan. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “committing to political solutions is the best choice” and that “Iran is ready to assist the dialogue process between the existing factions in Afghanistan to resolve the current conflicts and crises in that country.” Reuters reporting.
The Taliban are seeking to rebrand the group as effective governors as they take control of new territories in Afghanistan, however there are increasingly clear signs that the Taliban has not reformed. Najim Rahim and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
The Taliban is seeking to gain legitimacy in the peace talks from the Afghan government, while also pursuing war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan officials have warned that the drawn-out negotiations between Taliban representatives and Afghan government delegates in Doha Qatar risk turning into a trap through which the Taliban could legitimize their recent military victories and gain international approval for an eventual takeover. “The delays that we see from the other side in the progress of talks are not corresponding to the sense of urgency that we have,” said senior Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery. Yaroslav Trofimov reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A politically diverse set of veterans’ groups supported President Biden’s announcement that the U.S. military would withdraw from Afghanistan. The groups who are critical of the conflict found ways to gain access to the White House to lobby for withdrawals of the U.S. troops, writing opinion columns, running social media campaigns and statements pushing for an end to the war. Jennifer Steinhauer reports for the New York Times.
The Taliban are showing of the treasure trove of weapons and ammunition it says were seized from Afghan forces. Sky News reporters were granted access to the Sultan Khil military base in the Wardak province near Kabul, recently captured by the Taliban, where they were told by a Taliban commander that “his fighters had taken 70 sniper rifles, 900 guns, 30 Humvees, 20 army pickups and 15 articulated military trucks,” Alex Crawford and Kevin Sheppard report for Sky News.
Just Security is publishing a special series by a group of interdisciplinary scholars reflecting on Afghanistan on the eve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next piece in the series is by Patricia Gossman on how U.S. funded human rights abuses and war crimes led to failure in Afghanistan.
An explosive-laden drone has attacked Erbil airport in Iraq, aimed at the U.S. base in the airport grounds, Kurdish security sources have said. The attack caused no injuries or major damage, the anti-terrorist unit of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region said in a statement. Reuters reporting.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed yesterday to stress the need for all parties to commit to an immediate and indefinite ceasefire in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the State Department has said. Blinken also urged Abiy “to commit to the steps outlined in the United Nations Security Council on July 2, including the complete withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray; full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need; the establishment of a transparent process to hold accountable those responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk report for Reuters.
The Saudi Arabia deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, will be meeting with top officials in President Biden’s administration. The meeting will also include State Department and Pentagon officials, however, Prince Khalid is not expected to meet with Biden. “During the meeting, they’ll discuss the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, regional security and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Blinken met yesterday with Uyghur Muslims who were previously detained in Chinese camps. Blinken met seven camp survivors as well as relatives and advocates virtually. “The secretary thought it important to meet with these individuals to hear firsthand their stories, to hear firsthand their impression of the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang and the internment of a million Uyghurs,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
A confidential report from former President Trump’s administration that was the basis of Trump’s threats in 2019 to impose tariffs on imported automobiles on grounds of national security has been released by the Commerce Department. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who drafted legislation to require the report’s release, said in a statement that “a quick glance confirms what we expected: the justification for these tariffs was so entirely unfounded that even the authors were too embarrassed to let it see the light of day.” David Shepardson reports for Reuters.
JAN 6 ATTACK
Six months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, President Biden marked the anniversary with a call for unity. In a statement, Biden urged Americans to work with one another “on behalf of the common good to restore decency, honor, and respect for the rule of law,” saying that the attack “posed an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive—a sad reminder that there is nothing guaranteed about our democracy.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Over 535 people have been charged in relation to the Jan. 6 attack, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement that 495 defendants have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds. It added that nearly 235 defendants were charged with obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so. At least 165 were charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The DOJ is still searching for around 300 suspects from the Jan. 6 attack. “The FBI’s website seeking information about those involved in the Capitol violence includes more than 900 pictures of roughly 300 people labeled ‘unidentified,’” Alanna Durkin Richer And Michael Kunzelman report for AP.
The Department of Defense has canceled the $10 billion cloud contract, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, that was previously awarded to Microsoft. The Department of Defense was subject to a lawsuit filed by Amazon who argued that the decision to provide the contract to Microsoft over Amazon was politically motivated by former President Trump’s dislike of then Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The Department of Defense will instead seek new solicitations for an updated Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract from multiple suppliers, including Amazon and Microsoft. In a press release the Department said it decided to cancel the contract “due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conservancy and industry advances.” Ellie Kaufman and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
Joel Greenber, Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) associate who pleaded guilty to crimes related to sex trafficking, has asked a federal judge to push back his sentencing to allow for his ongoing cooperation with the authorities to be completed. Greenber has been cooperating with the federal investigation into Gaetz’s involvement in underage sex trafficking and paid sexual relationship with an underage girl. Jose Pagiliery reports for The Daily Beast.
The Biden administration is planning to track down U.S. veterans who have been deported to provide them with a pathway to U.S. citizenship along with access to Veterans Affairs benefits. The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security said that the department “are committed to bringing back military service members, veterans, and their immediate family members who were unjustly removed and ensuring they receive the benefits to which they may be entitled.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
The Biden administration has extended temporary protected status for Yemenis in the U.S. for a further 18 months, citing the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Covid-19 pandemic. “The renewed designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will allow approximately 1,700 Yemenis to keep their status through March 3, 2023, and allows an estimated 480 additional Yemenis to apply, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Tuesday,” Al Jazeera reports.
Iran has begun a process of producing enriched uranium metal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said. Tehran has told the IAEA that the process is to develop fuel for a research reactor, however uranium metal can also be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb. BBC News reports.
The U.S. State Department urged Iran yesterday to step back from nuclear “provocations,” referring to the IAEA announcement that Iran is planning on enriching uranium for nuclear reactor fuel. “‘It is worrying that Iran is choosing to continue to escalate its non performance of its [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] commitments, especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research,’ State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters, referring to the 2015 deal by its formal name,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
European leaders have also expressed dismay at the announcement, with the U.K., France and Germany saying they have “grave concern[s]” about Iran’s decision, which violates the 2015 nuclear deal and threatens talks to revive it. Francois Murphy, Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed report for Reuters.
The Transport Department has finalized a final order for air travel restrictions on Belarus, following the diversion by Belarus of a flight to arrest a journalist. Under the final order ticket sales for flights between Belarus and the U.S., including “interline” travel where multiple flights are used to get to a destination, are banned immediately. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Former Belarus presidential contender Viktor Babariko has been sentenced to 14 years in prison on corruption charges of bribery and money laundering. Babariko has denied the charges which he says are politically motivated. The sentencing has been condemned by the U.S. Embassy which denounced the verdict as a “cruel sham,” saying on Twitter it showed that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s “regime will stop at nothing to keep power.” Yuras Karmanau reports for AP.
Ukraine is preparing to impose personal sanctions against Belarusian officials involved in “falsifying” the results of the 2020 presidential election, a draft government resolution shows. Reuters reporting.
Switzerland has widened its sanctions against Belarus, the Swiss government has said. Michael Shields reports for Reuters.
China’s leader Xi Jinping yesterday attacked calls from the U.S. and its allies to limit their dependency on Chinese suppliers and block the sharing of technologies with China. In a speech Xi said that China “must jointly oppose anyone engaging in technological blockades, technological division and decoupling of development.” AP reports.
China has said that it wants the U.N. Security Council to extend cross-border humanitarian aid delivers to Syria and to tackle the impact of western sanctions on the country. Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters after closed briefings to the U.N. Security Council and a discussion among members on a draft resolution to continue cross-border deliveries to Syria “for China, definitely we want to see a solution concerning unilateral sanctions, concerning cross-lines, concerning the transparency of the cross-border. Not just talking about cross-border but about the general situation in Syria.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Russia is tracking a Spanish naval ship in the Black Sea, Russia’s defense ministry has been cited as saying by the Interfax news agency. Ukraine and NATO countries are both holding military drills in the area and Russia’s defense ministry said the Spanish ship had entered the Black Sea today to take part in the military drills. It was also reported that two Russian fighter jets have escorted a foreign reconnaissance aircraft, which appeared to belong to the U.S. Navy, over the Black Sea. Reuters reports.
U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have said that they thwarted a drone attack on Syria’s largest oil field, Al Omar in eastern Syria, in an area bordering Iraq. Reuters reporting.
A special peace court in Columbia has charged top military leaders with crimes against humanity. The military leaders are accused of assassinating 120 civilians during the country’s civil war and presenting the victims as combat casualties in a bid to show the country was winning. Julie Turkewitz reports for the New York Times.
Nicaragua has arrested six more opposition figures, including the sixth presidential contender to be arrested since the crackdown started last month. Almost all were arrested under “treason” laws. Yesterday, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said that the situation has “reached such an extreme” that European Union member states would need to consider “more concrete actions” and that “more restrictive” measures may be needed against Nicaragua’s President Ortega’s regime. AP reports.
Lebanon’s prime minister has called for international aid and warned that the country is “a few days away from the social explosion. The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone.” The economic crisis in Lebanon has caused the currency to loose more than 90% of its value and “more than half of the population has been propelled into poverty,” Al Jazeera reports.
About 125 Nigerian students are still missing after an attack by armed men on a boarding school in Nigeria’s Kaduna state, the head of the Kaduna Baptist conference has said. 28 students have been re-united with their families. Reuters reports.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working to expedite the implementation of a five-point consensus reached by their leaders to deal with the crisis in Myanmar, Singapore’s foreign minister has said. The minister said that Singapore is working with ASEAN to expedite the implementation of the five point plan “with a view to alleviate the humanitarian situation, cease the violence in Myanmar, and set it back on the path of direct negotiation by all stakeholders that will lead to normalcy, peace, and stability for the long term.” Aradhana Aravindan reports for Reuters.
David Bitan, a close political ally of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been indicted on corruption offenses. The offences were allegedly committed while Bitan was serving as a councilman in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion and a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. AP reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.70 million and now killed over 605,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 184.60 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.99 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.