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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 U.S., U.K. and Australia are setting up a trilateral security partnership, named “Aukus,” aimed at confronting China, which will include helping Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines. The initiative was announced jointly by President Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the latter two joining by video conference. Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh report for the Guardian.
China has condemned the agreement as “extremely irresponsible” and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said it “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race.” Zhao accused the U.S., U.K. and Australia of an “obsolete cold war zero sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical concepts,” which if they do not abandon, “will only end up hurting their own interests.” Helen Davidson in Taipei and Gavin Blair report for the Guardian.
The Aukus pact has angered France, which has now lost a deal with Australia to build 12 submarines. France accused Biden today of stabbing it in the back and acting like former President Trump after France was pushed aside from the lucrative defense deal that it had signed with Australia for submarines. “This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.” John Irish and Michel Rose report for Reuters.
The French Embassy in the U.S. has tweeted its “regret” of the U.S.’s choice to exclude its E.U. ally France “from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region,” translating from the communiqué from Le Drian on the Aukus pact.
The defense pact will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, using technology supplied by the U.S. China was not mentioned directly during the joint virtual press conference however the three countries’ leaders referred repeatedly to regional security concerns which they said had “grown significantly.” BBC News reports.
As well as the development of the nuclear submarine capability for Australia, other elements of the Aukus pact include security cooperation in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities, administration officials have said. Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden has hailed the Aukus pact describing it as a “historic step.” The partnership aims to “defend our shared interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the leaders of the three nations said in a joint statement. BBC News reports.
The U.S., U.K. and Australia have informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of their security partnership that will help Australia acquire nuclear submarines. The IAEA said in a statement that the three countries had informed it “that a critical objective of this cooperation will be to maintain ‘the strength of both the nuclear non-proliferation regime and Australia’s exemplary non-proliferation credentials’ and that they will be ‘engaging with the IAEA throughout the coming months.’” Francois Murphy reports for Reuters.
New Zealand’s exclusion from the Aukus pact has been described by experts as an illustration of the growing distance between the country and its traditional allies, Tess McClure provides analysis for the Guardian.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters under a long standing nuclear free policy. Arden said that she was “pleased to see that the eye has been turned to our region from partners we work closely with. It’s a contested region and there is a role that others can play in taking an interest in our region. But the lens we will look at this from will include stability.” However, Ardern said the nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in New Zealand waters under a 1984 nuclear-free zone policy. Reuters reports.
Analysis of why Australia has chosen to enter the defense agreement, and in effect choose the U.S. over China, is provided by Damien Cave and Chris Buckley reporting for the New York Times.
John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation, has told the Justice Department that he will ask a grand jury to indict Michael Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer, on a charge of making a false statement to the F.B.I., people familiar with the matter have said. “The case against Mr. Sussmann centers on the question of who his client was when he conveyed certain suspicions about Mr. Trump and Russia to the F.B.I. in September 2016. Among other things, investigators have examined whether Mr. Sussmann was secretly working for the Clinton campaign — which he denies,” Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and William K. Rashbaum report for the New York Times.
President Biden has voiced his support for the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark, saying that he has “great confidence” in Milley’s leadership after being asked about assertions leveled in a new book about Milley’s actions in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Earlier yesterday White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated Biden has “complete confidence” in Milley’s “leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution,” having “worked side by side” with Milley “through a range of international events.” Betsy Klein, Oren Liebermann and Donald Judd report for CNN.
Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton has defended Milley after a new book claimed Milley moved to limit former President Trump’s ability to call for a military strike. Bolton said Milley’s “patriotism is unquestioned” and that he is a “staunch supporter of the Constitution and the rule of law.” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler yesterday confirmed that Milley called his Chinese counterparts after the Jan. 6 attack but said those calls were routine. Butler said in a statement that Milley “regular communicates with Chiefs of Defense around the world, including China and Russia. These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict.” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Miley’s spokesperson has defended his phone calls to his Chinese counterpart in the turbulent final months of Trumps presidency, saying the conversations were intended to convey “reassurance” to the Chinese military and were in line with his responsibilities as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jonathan Lemire and Robert Burns report for AP.
Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified against Trump during Trump’s first impeachment trial, is calling for Milley’s resignation. Vindman tweeted on Tuesday that if the revelations in the new book “Peril” are true that Miley must resign. “He usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military,” Vindman tweeted. “It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t simply walk away from that,” he added. Dominick Mastrangelo reports for The Hill.
The Pentagon is directing military service members, civilian employees and contractors to report when they have symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome,” according to a memo sent to all military personnel. The message, signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, lays out suspected signs of the attacks, including heat, pressure and noise, and details symptoms associated such as nausea, headaches, pain and vertigo. Defense officials emphasized that the memo outlines how to respond to an attack, specifically to quickly move away from the area. Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.
Biden has repeatedly promised to prioritize human rights as the “center” of his foreign policy, however Biden and his aides have taken middle-of-the-road positions on some of the thorniest human rights cases, with critics saying that he has fallen short. Analysis is provided by Nahal Toosi reporting for POLITICO.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Police in Aurora Colorado engaged in pattern of racially biased policing and excessive force, an investigation by the Colorado Department of Law has found. The investigation began after the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who was stopped by the police, put into a chokehold and injected with a powerful anesthetic. The investigation found that police officers in the city more often arrested and used force against people of color than white people, based on their percentage of the population. Michael Levenson reports for the New York Times.
A divided federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a portion of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international email and phone communications. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the lawsuit must be dismissed after the government invoked the “state secrets privilege,” meaning that a full exploration of the issue in a court of law would damage national security. AP reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND UPCOMING SEPT. 18 RALLY
A Capitol Police officer is facing disciplinary measures for taking selfies with attackers during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, internal investigation documents have shown. The officer told investigators that he posed for a photo with a suspect during the Jan. 6 attack in order to identify him later. “But the officer never shared that plan with his supervisor, the Capitol Police’s investigations unit or the FBI. It was only when the FBI contacted the Capitol Police about the officer’s photo in Facebook posts they were using to obtain an arrest warrant that the officer filled in his supervisors,” Bryan Lowry reports for the McClatchy.
A second member of the Oath Keepers group pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy charges stemming from his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “Jason Dolan, a 44-year-old Florida resident, appeared in court Wednesday to admit to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding. He said during the hearing that he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify if needed,” Harper King reports for The Hill.
The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) have requested the support of the National Guard on Saturday if events get violent at the “Justice for J6” rally of demonstrators supporting those arrested in the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol. “The USCP has asked the Department of Defense for the ability to receive National Guard support should the need arise on September 18,” USCP wrote in a statement. Ellie Silverman reports for the Washington Post.
The organizer of the upcoming Justice for J6 rally on Saturday has downplayed concerns of potential violence. The rally is being planned by Look Ahead America, a nonprofit led by Matt Braynard, a former campaign staffer for former President Trump. “We’ve got a largely peaceful crowd. We’ve had two events in Washington, DC, so far — at the Department of Justice and at the prison — and there have been no incidents so far,” Braynard told CNN. “No one is going to be bringing a weapon who’s going to be part of our crowd, I can assure the police that,” he added. Jessica Schneider and Devan Cole report for CNN.
AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY, AID AND SUPPORT
A group of republican senators have unveiled a bill that would direct the State Department to officially list the Taliban as a terrorist organization. The Preventing Recognition of Terrorist States Act was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) along with fellow Republican Sens. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “The bill also calls for sanctions on foreign actors who ‘knowingly provide assistance to the Taliban’ and would mandate a report ‘that determines whether the Taliban should be designated as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act,’” Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
A U.N. envoy has met Afghanistan’s new interior minister who was for years one of the world’s most wanted Islamist militants and is now part of the new Taliban government. A Taliban spokesperson has said that the meeting between the head of the U.N. mission to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons and Sirajuddin Haqqani focused on humanitarian assistance. Alasdair Pal reports for Reuters.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that the world should give Taliban “time” on human rights. Khan said that “the best way forward peace and stability in Afghanistan is to engage with the Taliban and ‘incentivize’ them on issues such as women’s rights and inclusive government,” Becky Anderson, Zeena Saifi and Helen Regan report for CNN.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said yesterday that any suggestion that the world can solve Afghanistan’s problems is “a fantasy.” Guterres also said the international community’s capacity to mediate for a more inclusive government is limited. Michelle Nichols and Mary Milliken report for Reuters.
Members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led security bloc that includes some countries adjacent or close to Afghanistan, have no plans to host Afghan refugees, bloc member Kazakhstan has said. At a heads-of-state meeting of the CSTO in Tajikistan today, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev “supported the joint CSTO position that the placement of Afghan refugees or foreign military bases on our countries’ territories is unacceptable”, his office said in a statement. Reuters reporting.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The U.S. negotiator on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s abrupt departure from Afghanistan undermined a deal for the Taliban to hold off entering Kabul and negotiate a political transition. In an interview with the Financial Times, Khalilzad said that the insurgents had agreed to stay out of Kabul for two weeks and shape a future government. However, after Ghani fled on Aug. 15 Kabul security forces disbanded. The Taliban then asked the U.S. if U.S. troops would ensure security for Kabul, “and then you know what happened, we weren’t going to take responsibility,” Khalilzad said. Khalilzad added that he attended a pre-arranged meeting that day with U.S. regional military commander General Frank McKenzie and senior Taliban leaders in Doha. Katrina Manson reports for the Financial Times.
The Afghan man who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month in Kabul has been praised by his coworkers in a U.S. humanitarian organization. The man was an enthusiastic longtime employee at the organization, his colleagues have said, “painting a stark contrast to the Pentagon’s claims that he was an Islamic State group militant about to carry out an attack on American troops, “Kathy Gannon and Eric Tucker report for AP.
The co-founder of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar, and deputy prime minister in the Taliban’s interim government went on Afghan national television yesterday to assure his compatriots that he is alive and well and that reports that he was harmed during an internal clash among the Taliban are untrue. “I am fine,” Baradar said, saying that the top officials in the Taliban “have good and cordial relations with each other, even closer than a family,” and accusing the media with telling “shameful lies.” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
North Korea has said that the missile system it tested yesterday was a new “railway-borne missile system,” designed as a potential counterstrike to any forces that threaten the country. North Korea state news agency KCNA reported today that the missiles flew 800km before striking a target in the sea of North Korea’s east coast. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
Members of the U.N. Security Council have gathered for an emergency closed-door emergency meeting about North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, which member states consider a “major threat,” France’s ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere has said. Riviere explained that the members were “very concerned” about the situation and that there was consensus among the group to condemn the recent tests. Al Jazeera reports.
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has threatened the “complete destruction” of North Korea’s relationship with South Korea after both countries tested ballistic missiles. Kim criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in for comments he made while observing South Korea’s missile tests and for describing North Korean weapons demonstrations as a provocation. Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung report for AP.
A U.N. panel of experts tasked with monitoring international sanctions on North Korea has fallen into dysfunction, as China has been reluctant to cooperate, people familiar with the matter have said. China’s reluctance to cooperate and its feuds with the U.S. have stymied an upcoming report from the eight-member panel on North Korea, the sources have said. The panel’s “forthcoming report finds that Pyongyang continues to use shell companies, mask the identities of ships and engage in other tactics cited in previous reports to evade sanctions and further its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to a draft viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Chinese government gave perfunctory responses to the panel’s questions, hindering investigation into a range of issues including ships suspected of engaging in sanctions-busting while operating in Chinese water,” Kate O’Keeffe reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran has acknowledged that it removed several surveillance cameras installed by the U.N. nuclear inspectors at a centrifuge assembly site that came under a mysterious attack earlier this year. “The chief of the country’s nuclear program, Mohammad Eslami, sought to portray the removal of cameras as Tehran’s response to world powers reneging on their commitments under the tattered 2015 nuclear deal. ‘The parties did not implement their commitments so there were no necessity for the cameras’ existence,’ Eslami said after a meeting with lawmakers,” Nasser Karimi and Isabel Debre report for AP.
Hezbollah has begun to bring Iranian fuel into Lebanon via Syria today. The Shi’ite Muslim group says that fuel supplied should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon, but opponents are warning it risks provoking U.S. sanctions. “Dozens of truck carrying Iranian fuel oil entered north eastern Lebanon near the village of al-Ain, where Hezbollah’s yellow flag fluttered from lampposts. ‘Thank you Iran. Thank you Assad’s Syria,’ declared a banner, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” Issam Abdallah reports for Reuters.
Israel’s navy has stepped up its activities in the Red Sea “exponentially” in the face of growing Iranian threats to Israeli shipping, the country’s recently retired navy commander, Vice Adm. Eli Sharvit, has said. Sharvit “described Iranian activities on the high seas as a top Israeli concern and said the navy is able to strike wherever necessary to protect the country’s economic and security interests,” Josef Federman reports for AP.
The German government has expressed concern at reports on the possible deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali. Germany has several hundred soldiers taking part in U.N. stabilization and E.U. training missions in Mali and has said that it is also concerned about the possibility of cooperation between Mali and the private mercenaries. A German defense ministry spokesperson “said that if the Malian government were to go ahead with the reported plans then Germany would reach out to its European and international partners, and ‘examine possible consequences,’” AP reports.
Russia has completed tests of its new S-500 surface-to-air missile system and has started supplying it to the armed forces, the RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov as saying today. “The S-500, a weapon Moscow hopes will beef up its own defenses and become an export best seller, has been described as a space defense system and can intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles and aircraft,” Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
France has said that a French air strike has killed a top Islamic State militant in the Sahel region. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, “was neutralized by French forces,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter late yesterday. al-Sahrawi is believed to be the mastermind of a 2017 attack in Niger that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers. “His death deals a decisive blow to the leadership of the Islamic State in Sahel. They will without a doubt have difficulty replacing him,” French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a news conference today. Rachel Pannett and Ellen Francis report for the Washington Post.
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday approved a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity allegedly committed under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his “war on drugs.” In a statement the ICC said that the judges’ “assessment of material presented by prosecutors, was that ‘the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation,’ but rather amounted to a systematic attack on civilians,” Reuters reports.
The Philippines will not cooperate with a formal investigation launched by the ICC into possible crimes against humanity committed in Duterte’s “war on drugs,” a presidential legal spokesperson has said. “Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo also told DZBB radio station on Thursday that ICC investigators would not be permitted to enter the country to conduct the probe that was approved a day earlier,” Reuters reports.
The U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has called for a moratorium on artificial intelligence (AI) tools that breach human rights, at least until stronger safeguards are in place internationally. “We cannot afford to continue playing catch-up regarding AI — allowing its use with limited or no boundaries or oversight,” warned Michelle Bachelet. Sammy Westfall reports for the Washington Post.
A series of hacks on Belarus’s government by pro-democracy activists has uncovered details of apparent abuses by security forces, exposed police informants and collected personal data on top officials including a son of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The records were amassed by a group calling itself “Cyber Partisans” and range from tapped phone calls to internal documents. Dalton Bennett and Robyn Dixon report for the Washington Post.
The coronavirus has infected over 41.54 million and has now killed close to 666,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 226.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.66 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.