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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Biden is holding the first in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) today, bringing together the U.S., Japan, Australia and India in an effort to counter China. Biden will be joined in Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss “promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a White House statement. Ben Westcott reports for CNN.
The House has approved $1 billion in new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The vote was 420 to 9 to help Israel replace missile interceptors used during heavy fighting between Gaza and Israel in May. However, the vote came “only after days of acrimony between progressives who have accused Israel of human rights abuses and other lawmakers, including party leaders, who said they were appalled and astonished by their colleagues’ refusal to fund a defense system to protect Israeli civilians,” Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
The House has passed a $768 billion defense policy bill that endorses a major budget boost for the Pentagon, with an increase of $25 billion from what Biden requested in the biggest blow yet to Biden’s Pentagon spending plans. As well as authorizing spending levels and setting Pentagon policy, the Bill “would require women to register for a military draft. It also aims to extract information from the Biden administration on the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and launch a wide-ranging review of the two-decade war,” Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.
The CIA has removed its top officer in Vienna amid criticism of his response to a growing number of mysterious Havana syndrome cases at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, according to current and former U.S. officials. Dozens of U.S. personnel in Vienna, including diplomats and intelligence officials, as well as some of the children of U.S. employees, have reported symptoms. The sidelining of the station chief is expected to send a message that top CIA leaders must take seriously any reports of Havana syndrome. John Hudson and Shane Harris report for the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has defended U.S. leadership at the U.N yesterday, as he recognized, speaking to reporters, that it will take time for the U.S. to repair relations with France following the Aukus pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Blinken said he had met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as the Biden administration tries to mend ruptured ties over the Aukus pact. “We recognize this will take time and hard work, and will be demonstrated not only in words, but in deeds, and I’m committed to working closely with Minister Le Drian on this crucial effort,” Blinken said. Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.
Iran remains ready to return to nuclear talks “very soon”, but the Biden administration has sent a “negative sign” by failing to lift economic sanctions and imposing new sanctions against Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said. Speaking to NBC News Amirabdollahian said that “they say, ‘we are ready to return to the fulfillment of our commitments.’ However, there is no action taken in order to show and prove the true will to the new Iranian administration, to the Iranian nation. And worse than that, simultaneously, they have managed to put on new sanctions.” Dan De Luce reports for NBC News.
Vice President Harris met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday and stressed the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. “The United States, like India, feels very strongly about the pride of being a member of the Indo Pacific, but also the fragility and importance…of those relationships, including maintaining a free and open Indo Pacific,” Harris told Modi during the meeting. “Modi praised the vice president referring to her as an ‘inspiration,’ a leader who is like ‘family’ and called her a ‘real friend’ who has had India’s back during the Covid-19 crisis,” Nandita Bose reports for Reuters.
Israeli and U.S. warships conducted a join maritime patrol in the Gulf of Aqaba at the end of August, in a “milestone maritime patrol.” The patrol came as “the U.S. Department of Defense shifted Israel from U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility,” a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said.
Denmark is siding with the U.S. in the dispute with France over the Aukus pact. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a newspaper interview that she wants to warn against turning “concrete challenges, which will always exist between allies, into something they should not be,” and that “in the light of the discussions that are taking place right now in Europe, I think it is important to say that I experience Biden as very loyal to the trans-Atlantic alliance.” AP reports.
The Kremlin has said that imposing further sanctions against Russia would undermine hopes of restoring dialogue between the U.S. and Russia, commenting on proposals being considered by U.S. lawmakers to expand measures targeting Russian debt to secondary market trading. Reuters reporting.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol issued subpoenas yesterday to four current and former top aides to former President Trump. In a turning point in its investigation, the committee issued its first subpoenas to Mark Meadows, Trump’s most recent chief of staff; Kash Patel, former Pentagon official and longtime House Intelligence Committee aide; Steve Bannon, former top White House adviser; and Dan Scavino, longtime Trump social media chief. “The Select Committee has revealed credible evidence of your involvement in events within the scope of the Select Committee’s inquiry,” the committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote in the letter to Meadows. “In a statement released shortly after the subpoenas were issued, Trump lashed out at the panel and reiterated his discredited claims about the results of the 2020 election,” Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
The head of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Alan Schiff (D-CA) has suggested that those who refuse to cooperate in Congress’s investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack could face charges of criminal contempt. “Certainly, there will be some who will not be cooperating with us, and I’m not referring to the current administration, but members of the past administration. We have to anticipate that,” Schiff, who is also a member of the select committee investigating the attack, said. He explained “that while investigators don’t expect a ‘blank check’ from the Biden administration’s Justice Department, agency officials have shown signs that they’ll be much more cooperative in pursuing congressional probes than they were under the Trump administration,” Mike Lillis reports for The Hill.
The White House is moving to release information on Trump and his aides to a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “The President is deeply committed to ensuring that something like that can never happen again and he supports a thorough investigation into what occurred,” White House spokesperson Michael Gwin said in a statement to CNN. “That’s why his Administration has been engaging with Congress on matters relating to January 6 for several months now and will continue to do so, including with the Select Committee.” The information is expected to address what Trump and his aides were doing as violence erupted that day, “a decision that is likely to set up a legal fight with the former President and raise questions of executive privilege for anyone who serves in the Oval Office,” Jeff Zeleny and Evan Perez report for CNN.
The Justice Department has unsealed charges relating to the Capitol attack against an organizer from the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks. “Brandon Prenzlin was charged last week with four federal misdemeanors for what prosecutors say was just over three minutes inside the Capitol,” Hannah Rabinowitz reports for CNN.
2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The findings of a forensic audit of the 2020 Maricopa County presidential election are to be released today, with draft copies of the audit showing that in both the hand count and the Maricopa County’s official numbers Biden won. The difference between the two counts was also not substantially different according to the report, which also found no evidence of some of the election fraud claims, like bamboo paper ballots coming from China. The report addresses other concerns about whether voters may have voted twice or if people were not using their current address to vote and “the auditors continued to take issue with Maricopa County not providing all of the elections computer server information they requested,” Melissa Blasius reports for ABC 15.
Under pressure from Trump, the Texas secretary of state’s office has announced a “comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election results from four of Texas’s largest counties: Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant. The announcement came eight and a half hours after Trump made a public demand on Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas’s saying, “Governor Abbott, we need a ‘Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election…Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.” Reid J. Epstein reports for the New York Times.
White House officials prioritized Trump’s attempt to challenge the election over the response to the Covid-19 pandemic last winter, according to emails obtained by the House select subcommittee probing the government’s coronavirus response. Steven Hatfill, a virologist who said he was intimately involved in the pandemic response, repeatedly described in emails to colleagues how “election stuff” took precedence over the Covid-19 response. Dan Diamond reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
One of Biden’s leading allies in his decades long attempt to reduce nuclear weapons has lost a battle with officials with more traditional views on nuclear weapons. Earlier in his administration Biden installed national security officials intent on negotiating new arms control treaties and curtailing nuclear weapons spending, including Leonor Tomero as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy. However, Tomero will be leaving her post at the end of the month as the Defense Department eliminates her job in a reorganization effort. The appointment of Tomero, a leading voice for nuclear restraint on Capitol Hill and in the think tank community, was not taken well by officials who promote a status quo agenda and modernizing the land, sea and airborne elements of the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal. Bryan Bender and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.
The Port of Houston, a major U.S. port, was targeted in an attempted cyber-attack last month, the Port shared in a statement on Thursday. “The Port of Houston Authority (Port Houston) successfully defended itself against a cybersecurity attack in August,” the statement reads. The attempted hack involved a password management program called ManageEngine ADSelfService Plus, and a joint statement last week from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency along with the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard said the vulnerability in the program “poses a serious risk” to critical infrastructure companies, defense contractors, and others. Alan Suderman reports for AP.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has filed an intent to appeal with the Minnesota state appellate court his murder conviction for the death of George Floyd. “In documents filed on Thursday, Chauvin raised 14 issues about his prosecution, including the court’s denial of a request for a change of venue, that he believed supported his request for an appeal,” Al Jazeera reports.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Il) last week said in a letter to the Capitol Police Board that he was “deeply concerned” about what he called their apparent neglect of the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s security recommendations from a February 2017 GAO report. In the letter, obtained by POLITICO, Davis wrote that “unfortunately, this lack of action exemplifies my concerns that the Board does not see the value in accountability and transparency.” Monique Belas reports for The Hill.
Stephen Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, admitted on his podcast that he told Trump to “kill this administration in the crib early on” ahead of the Biden presidency and the Jan. 6 attack. “It killed itself,” Bannon added. “Just let this go with what this illegitimate regime is doing. It killed itself. We told you from the very beginning. Just expose it. Just expose it. Never back down. Never give up. This thing will implode.” Monique Belas reports for The Hill.
The U.S. envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, has resigned after just two months into the role, citing President Biden’s administration’s “inhumane” mass deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers to what he said was a highly dangerous “collapsed state.” “Foote’s angry resignation letter is a serious blow for an administration which came to office promising a more humane approach to immigration in the wake of [former President] Trump’s policy of child separation. The State Department said he had given a misleading account of his resignation. A senior official said that Foote had advocated sending in U.S. troops to impose order, and that had been rejected,” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
White House Press secretary, Jen Psaki, has said that Foote “never once” raised migration concerns prior to his resignation, POLITICO reports.
Thousands of Haitians are being allowed to stay in the U.S. by officials, as they await immigration hearings. The makeshift migrant camp under the Del Rio International Bridge has slowly started to clear out, with about 3,100 migrants remaining in the squalid conditions yesterday, compared to the nearly 15,000 migrants earlier this week. “Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported about 2,000 migrants in recent days on chartered flights to Haiti as the Biden administration tries to deter more people from rushing to the border. But the authorities have also permitted thousands more to travel to cities across America, where they may live for months or years as they await immigration hearings,” Edgar Sandoval, Simon Romero and Miriam Jordan report for the New York Times.
The Biden administration has continued defending its handling of Haitians migrants in the U.S. southern border, amid growing uproar among Democratic party members over the decision to expel Haitian nationals. “The White House insists that they are working to implement an ‘orderly and humane process’ at the border and have pushed back against the notion that Haitian migrants are being treated differently than others at the border,” Morgan Chalfant and Rebecca Beitsch report for The Hill.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in the Del Rio, Texas, sector, a Homeland Security official said yesterday. The suspension comes after shocking images of border agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants prompted bipartisan criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.
The Taliban’s new defense minister has issued a rebuke over misconduct by some Taliban commanders and fighters following the group’s takeover of Afghanistan last month, saying abuses would not be tolerated. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said in an audio message that some “miscreants and notorious former soldiers” had been allowed to join Taliban units where they had committed a range of sometimes violent abuses. “We direct you keep them out of your ranks, otherwise strict action will be taken against you,” he stated.” “As you all are aware, under the general amnesty announced in Afghanistan, no mujahid has the right to take revenge on anyone,” he added. Reuters reports.
The Taliban will resume executions and the amputation of hands for criminals they convict, in a return to their harsh version of Islamic justice, a senior Taliban official, who oversaw justice during the Taliban’s previous period in power, has said. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who is now in charge of prisons and is on the U.N. sanctions list, said that executions would not necessarily take place in public as they did before but that “cutting off of hands is very necessary for security.” “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Qur’an,” Turabi said. Peter Beaumont reports for the Guardian.
A new Taliban directive for journalists has raised further fears about the future of press freedom in Afghanistan. The directive has 11 new rules for journalists, including rules against publishing topics in conflict with Islam or insulting to national personalities, and also instructs journalists to produce news reports in coordination with the government media office. Carlotta Gall reports for the New York Times.
Talks between the U.S. and global leaders this week on Afghanistan underscored the intensifying concerns about the fallout of the Taliban takeover but no consensus was reached on financial assistance as the country moves towards an economic and humanitarian crisis. “Six weeks after the Taliban takeover, donor nations are taking a wait-and-see approach. Prices of food and basic goods are rising sharply at a time when many government officials have not been paid for months, and the Taliban victory has thrust hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers into joblessness,” Missy Ryan reports for the Washington Post.
Members of the Uyghur ethnic group, seen by China as potential extremists, in Afghanistan are afraid they will face deportation to China as part of a deal between the Taliban and China for economic aid. “For years, Chinese officials have issued calls for leaders in Afghanistan to crack down on and deport Uyghur militants they claimed were sheltering in Afghanistan. The officials said the fighters belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist organization that Beijing has held responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in China since the late 1990s…The Taliban, in their new role as diplomats, have been eager to establish warm relations with China, meeting most recently on Thursday with Chinese officials. Many Uyghurs in Afghanistan fear they will be branded terrorists and sent to China as pawns in the Taliban’s effort to win favor and economic aid from the country,” Sui-Lee Wee and Muyi Xiao reports for the New York Times.
China has voiced opposition to Taiwan joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and has flown 24 planes – including two nuclear-capable bombers – into the self-ruled island’s air defense zone, the biggest incursion in weeks, Taiwanese officials have said. Last week Beijing submitted its own application to become a member of the CPTPP, and Taiwan announced yesterday it had officially applied to join the CPTPP after having lobbied for years to join. Agence France-Presse reports.
China has listed more than 100 instances of what it said was U.S. interference in Hong Kong affairs, including President Biden’s show of support for a pro-democracy newspaper. “The United States must not tolerate any force that is anti-China and stirs troubles in Hong Kong, or else it will only be lifting a stone to hit one’s foot,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing today. Yew Lun Tian reports for Reuters.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has said that the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China, are unquestionably Japanese territory and would be defended as such. In an interview with CNN Kishi said that Tokyo would push back at Beijing’s increasingly aggressive military posturing and would match any Chinese threat to the islands ship for ship, and beyond if necessary. Brad Lendon and Blake Essig report for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The phones of five French cabinet ministers bore traces of the Pegasus spyware, according to an analysis done by France’s security agencies, France’s Mediapart news outlet reported yesterday. “The confirmation that Pegasus was directed against the ministers underscores the degree to which spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group has been used to penetrate the top reaches of a powerful democracy,” Michael Birnbaum reports for the Washington Post.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song has said that South Korea’s call to declare a formal end to the Korean War is “premature” as there is no guarantee that it would lead to the withdrawal of “U.S. hostile policy” towards Pyongyang, North Korean KCNA state media reported. South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday repeated a call for a formal end to the Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire in 1953, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, proposing “that the two Koreas with the U.S., or with the U.S. and China, make such a declaration,” Reuters reports.
Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, later said that North Korea are willing to resume talks with South Korea if it ends its “hostile policies.” Kim Yo-jong was responding to a renewed call from the South to officially declare an end to the Korean War, which was initially dismissed by the vice foreign minister. Yo-jong said that the idea was “admirable,” however first “what needs to be dropped is the double-dealing attitudes, illogical prejudice, bad habits and hostile stand of justifying their own acts while faulting our just exercise of the right to self-defense.” “Only when such a precondition is met, would it be possible to sit face to face and declare the significant termination of war,” Yo-jung’s statement read. BBC News reports.
Clashes between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and pro-government forces this week have killed 35 individuals from both sides, tribal leaders and security officials have said. Fighting has flared up this week in the southern province of Shabwa, and the clashes are now on their third day in several districts of the largely government-controlled province. Ahmed Al-Haj reports for AP.
Catalan separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, wanted by Spain over a failed attempt to win independence for Catalan has been arrested in Italy. The arrest of Puigdemont, on the island of Sardinia, came on a warrant issued by Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of sedition. Puigdemont had fled to Belgium after a banned independence referendum was crushed by Spain four years ago. He travelled to Sardinia, where Italian police were waiting for him at the airport, for a Catalan folklore festival. BBC News reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 42.67 million and has now killed over 684,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 230.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.72 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.