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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan is to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the U.S. presses for a cease-fire in the war between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Sullivan is also expected to meet with deputy defense minster Khalid bin Salman, a brother to the crown prince, according to two senior administration officials. Aamer Madhani reports for AP.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley last week asked his Russian counterpart about potentially using Russian military bases to monitor terrorism threats coming out of Afghanistan. General Milley raised the issue at the National Security Council’s staff’s request, following an apparent offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov was “was noncommittal” during the meeting in Helsinki, according to U.S. officials. The conversation comes as the Biden administration seeks to strengthen its capabilities in the region. However, “the idea of working with Russia on counterterrorism is fraught with challenges, particularly politically. Congress enacted legislation several years ago that precludes close cooperation between the U.S. and Russia militaries as long as Russian troops are in Ukraine, unless the secretary of defense issues a special waiver.” Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
Milley has called for expanded communication between U.S. and Russian militaries to help prevent possible future conflict between Washington and Moscow. Milley, following a meeting in Helsinki with his Russian counterpart last week, told reporters that increasing existing communication channels would help each side understand the other’s plans and moves, and which “can become a very important means in order to de-escalate any kind of crisis situation.” Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Republican lawmakers have pushed back on Milley’s recent call to increase coordination between the U.S. and Russian militaries, including the U.S. wanting to secure basing rights in countries that border Russia, saying they were “deeply troubled” by the news. Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and James Inhofe (R-OK), and Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that they were “deeply troubled” by the press reports. “Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to a ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia the Biden Administration claims it wants,” they added. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his French counterpart that France has Washington’s continued support for counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region in a phone call yesterday. Austin’s conversation with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly comes as the U.S. seeks to repair relations with Paris following the Aukus pact. “Austin applauded French leadership in countering terrorism in the region and assured her of continued U.S. support for this important mission,” the Pentagon said in a statement. Reuters reports.
Questions remain for the U.S., U.K. and Australia security deal (Aukus), including the details of the agreement for the U.S. to assist Australia in building a new class of nuclear-powered submarines. The three countries will also “be setting the stage for what promises to be a set of complicated legal negotiations, significant changes to an Australian shipyard to handle nuclear work, and coordinating with an already strained American shipbuilding industry to share the workload,” Paul Mcleary reports for POLITICO.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has said that the Aukus deal under which Australia will obtain nuclear submarine technology from the U.S. is a “very tricky” issue in terms of inspections but it can be managed. “It is a technically very tricky question and it will be the first time that a country that does not have nuclear weapons has a nuclear sub,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, told the BBC in comments broadcasted today. “Grossi confirmed that an NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] signatory can exclude nuclear material from IAEA supervision, also known as safeguards, while that material is fueling a submarine. It is a rare exception to the IAEA’s constant supervision of all nuclear material to ensure it is not used to make atom bombs,” Francois Murphy reports for Reuters.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday said it would open a $1.9 billion program to reimburse U.S. telecom carriers for removing network equipment made by Chinese companies deemed national security threats like Huawei and ZTE Corp. The FCC in December adopted rules requiring carriers with ZTE or Huawei equipment to “rip and replace” the equipment. “The program, which was finalized in July, will open Oct. 29 for applications through Jan. 14, 2022,” Reuters reports.
A Russian hacker, sentenced in June 2020 to nine years in a U.S. jail for cybercrimes, has been detained at a Moscow airport after being deported by the U.S., the TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Interior Ministry as saying. “Alexei Burkov was jailed by the United States for operating two websites devoted to the facilitation of payment card fraud, computer hacking, and other crimes…Burkov had been charged in absentia by Russia, which sought his arrest through Interpol,” Reuters reports.
U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Ghulam Isaczai, the Afghanistan Ambassador to the United Nations who represents the ousted government, withdrew from speaking to the General Assembly. He had been slated to speak on Monday. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week requested to speak at the Assembly and to install a new ambassador to the United Nations, Suhail Shaheen. Al Jazeera reporting.
Afghanistan’s mission to the U.N. posted on Twitter that Isaczai decided not to speak “to preserve the national interests, preserve the seat of Afghanistan in the United Nations and to continue long-term cooperation with the United Nations and Security Council on main issues.” The mission stated that he would continue his “activities as usual” at the U.N. Michell Nichols reports for Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in his address that Iran had crossed “all red lines,” and that Israel would not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Bennett urged nations to work together to stop Iran’s nuclear program. He also suggested that Israel may take unilateral action, saying “words do not stop centrifuges from spinning.” Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. Majid Takht decried Bennett’s speech as “full of lies.” Michelle Nichols, Matt Spetalnick, and Stephen Farrell report for Reuters.
The Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has accused Western nations of carrying out “a large-scale hybrid war” against Belarus because it failed to change the government in elections last year. Makie told the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level meeting that Belarus has been drawn, against its will, “into the vortex” of a geopolitical war, and did not acknowledge the Belarusian government’s crackdown on opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a virtual meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss “issues of common concern.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry said today that the discussions had been “positive and constructive.” Wang and Stoltenberg discussed the situation in Afghanistan and agreed to “raise the standard of dialogue to advance practical cooperation” between China and NATO on issues including counterterrorism, anti-piracy, cyber security and international peacekeeping, the statement said. AP reports.
The United States denied that the near-simultaneous release on Friday of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was a prisoner swap. Meng had been detained in Canada while the Department of Justice requested her extradition, while both Canadians had been held in China. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the three cases had been discussed recently during a Sept. 9 phone call between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden. U.S. officials maintained that there was no deal with China about Meng and that the Department of Justice acted independently. Alexandra Alper and Michael Martina report for Reuters.
China has released two U.S. citizens who had been blocked from leaving China for the last three years. Siblings Victor Liu and Cynthia Liu, along with their mother, had been accused of “economic crimes” while visiting relatives in China. They said Chinese authorities restricted them to lure their father back to face fraud charges and their release coincides with the high-profile release of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou and two Canadians over the weekend. Yesterday Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in a statement that the siblings were back home “after three difficult years being held in China as pawns for the Chinese government.” The siblings’ mother, Sandra Han, who is also a U.S. citizen, is still in China and Markey and Warren said they were working with the U.S. government to secure her release. BBC News reports.
The return of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to China, after a prolonged extradition fight with the U.S., has been celebrated as a resounding victory in China. Red carpets and crowds waving Chinese flags awaited Meng when she arrived in the southern city of Shenzhen, state media live broadcasted the event and the internet was abuzz with excitement. The situation has been portrayed as a story of China’s diplomatic victory and a sign of its growing political clout, “stands in stark contrast to the hit the country’s reputation has taken abroad. In the eyes of many observers, the ruling Communist Party has dropped any pretense about its apparent willingness to take political hostages by releasing two Canadians moments after Meng gained her freedom,” Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
At the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, a heated back-and-forth between China and Canada kicked off over China’s alleged use of hostage diplomacy. Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau suggested that Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were imprisoned by the Chinese government in retaliation for Canada’s treatment of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. “Canada observed the rule of law, and two Canadian citizens paid a heavy price for this commitment … We continue to oppose the way these two fine people were treated,” Garneay said. “Later in the evening, a representative from China’s delegation to the U.N. General Assembly exercised the country’s right of reply, accusing the United States and Canada of keeping Meng under house arrest arbitrarily and without ‘legal reasons,’” Richard Roth, Caitlin Hu and Ben Westcott report for CNN.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, where he will likely be grilled by Republicans. The hearing may “be the most significant televised congressional hearing involving senior military leaders since Gen. David H. Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers on the stalled war in Iraq in 2007.” Milley is likely to be questioned about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as recently released reporting that Milley may have put himself into the chain of command in order to restrict President Trump’s ability to launch nuclear strikes. Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times. Milley will appear alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Centcom Commander General Kenneth McKenzie. The hearing starts at 9:30am ET. The three senior officials will appear again before the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on Wednesday at 9:30am ET.
Republicans voted on Monday evening to block a spending bill needed to keep the government from shutting down this week and defaulting on the federal debt next month. The bill had passed the House last week with only Democratic votes. “It is perhaps the most serious round of brinkmanship over America’s debt, with economists and analysts concerned that neither side will relent before the stock market crashes and the government is unable to prioritize sending out Social Security payments, food assistance or aid to veterans and military spouses. The most recent projection from the Bipartisan Policy Center, an independent think tank, estimates that the Treasury Department will run out of cash to meet all its obligations between Oct. 15 and Nov. 4.” Emily Cochrane reports for the New York Times.
Live updates on Biden’s agenda in Congress are provided by CNN.The United States Postal Inspection Service’s Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) in the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol undertook some serious internet surveillance. On Jan. 11 the iCOP “sent bulletins to law enforcement agencies around the country on how to view social media posts that had been deleted. It also described its scrutiny of posts on the fringe social media network Wimkin… iCOP’s involvement raises questions about how broad the mandate of the Postal Service’s policing arm has grown from its stated mission of keeping mail deliverers safe,” Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
The CIA under former President Trump considered kidnapping WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2017 and even raised the prospect of kidnapping him amid concerns that he may be planning to escape. Assange at the time was beginning his fifth year in Ecuador’s London embassy. According to conversations with more than 30 former U.S. intelligence and security officials, “sketches” or “options” for how an assassination operation could be carried out were requested by senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration, with discussions occurring “at the highest levels.” Zach Dorfman, Sean D. Naylor and Michael Isikoff report for Yahoo News.
Congress is pushing the Biden administration to make more use of commercial satellites to augment the capabilities of highly classified intelligence satellites. Intelligence officials are starting to award new contracts to commercial companies and “on Monday, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency announced that it had awarded a $10 million contract to HawkEye 360 to track and map radio frequency emissions around the world, information the company says will help identify weapons trafficking, foreign military activity and drug smuggling,” Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.
Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) have introduced legislation intended to increase oversight of cryptocurrency mining overseas. “The bill would require the Treasury Department to compile and submit to Congress a report on how nations are using and mining cryptocurrency, along with how much cryptocurrency has been mined since 2016 within both the U.S. and countries including China. In addition, [the] Treasury would be required to examine the impact of cryptocurrency mining on supply chains for critical resources such as semiconductors,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Despite Arizona’s Maricopa County ballot review not finding any evidence of fraud, former President Trump’s allies are demanding a new review of another Arizona county won by President Biden. Trump’s allies are “launching more partisan ballot reviews in other states following the Arizona playbook after passing laws making it harder to vote earlier this year. And they are calling for decertification of Arizona’s 2020 election despite the lack of fraud, as part of a larger effort to validate Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ and undermine the 2020 election results,” Jeremy Herb and Fredreka Schouten report for CNN.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has declined to return calls from the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, indicating that the Biden administration’s withholding of support for Georgieva goes beyond its public statements. “Since Georgieva was accused earlier this month of improperly intervening in a World Bank report in her prior job there, she has made attempts to speak with Yellen but has failed to get through, people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The report from law firm WilmerHale, commissioned by the World Bank, alleged that Georgieva — who took the helm of the IMF in 2019 — pressured bank staff to boost China’s business-climate rating,” Saleha Mohsin and Eric Martin report for Bloomberg News.
A federal judge has approved the unconditional release next year of John Hinckley Jr., who wounded former President Reagan and three others, in a failed assassination attempt in 1981. “Hinckley is now 66 years old and has been living outside a mental health facility for the past several years, a result of a gradual lightening of supervision. His lawyer said the ‘momentous event’ of Hinckley’s full release in June is both appropriate and required by the law,” Carrie Johnson reports for NPR.
The number of murders in the United States underwent a record increase in 2020 from the previous year. Newly released statistics from the FBI show that some cities experienced record highs, although the nation’s total is well below it’s peak in the 1990s. Many factors are involved with the increase in violence, although the rise coincides roughly with the Covid-19 pandemic. Neil MacFarquhar reports for the New York Times.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, in the final days of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, warned the Taliban leaders in Qatar to keep their forces out of Kabul for a few more days or else face the threat of U.S. airstrikes. McKenzie reportedly told Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar that Taliban fighters had to stay outside a circle of about 12.4 to 18.6 miles outside Kabul, explaining that the U.S. would finish its withdrawal as soon as possible and the Taliban must not interfere. Although Baradar agreed not to interfere, Taliban fighters rolled into Kabul the next day and no U.S. warplanes bombed the insurgents. Courtney Kube, Dan De Luce and Mike Memoli report for NBC News.
Roughly 100 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are ready to leave Kabul, the State Department announced yesterday. A senior State Department official did not specify when the group will depart Kabul, but said that “the highest priority remains helping the U.S. citizens who wish to leave the country now to do so.” Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill.
The leaders of Afghanistan’s armed resistance against the Taliban are regrouping in neighboring Tajikistan with former senior figures of the toppled administration of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with the aim of forming a government in exile. Politicians including ministers and parliamentary deputies of the deposed government, as well as senior military figures and resistance leaders are seeking financial and military support for a formal opposition to the Taliban, former officials living abroad have said. A former senior Afghan security official said that discussions are in the early stages, and the groups are yet to unite ideologically. Lynne O’Donnell reports for Foreign Policy.
Interviews with more than a dozen military officials and others involved in the evacuation of nearly 124,000 people from Afghanistan in the final days of the U.S. troops withdrawal from the country, has revealed how troops, diplomats and others on the ground worked to the point of exhaustion, and how commanders were forced to improvise as the Biden administration struggled to keep up with the crisis. Alex Horton and Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.
The new Taliban chancellor for Kabul University has barred women indefinitely from Kabul University, as both instructors and students, in another major blow to women’s rights under Taliban rule. “I give you my words as chancellor of Kabul University,” Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat said in a Tweet yesterday. “as long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.” Cora Engelbrecht and Sharif Hassan report for the New York Times.
Afghanistan’s banking system is near collapse, the boss of one of the nation’s biggest lenders has said. “Syed Moosa Kaleem Al-Falahi, the Chief Executive of the Islamic Bank of Afghanistan, said the country’s financial industry is in the grip of an ‘existential crisis’ as customers panic. ‘There’s huge withdrawals happening at the moment,’ he said…’ [O]nly withdrawals are happening, most of the banks are not functioning, and not providing full services,’ he added,” Karishma Vaswani reports for BBC News.
NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
North Korea fired a suspected short-range ballistic missile into the sea early Tuesday morning. The launch was announced by South Korean and Japanese defense officials. The launch comes days after North Korea offered to resume talks with South Korea, and is the latest in a series of weapons tests. Hyung-Jin Kim reports for ABC News.
In an emergency National Security Council meeting, the South Korean government expressed regret over what it called “a short-range missile launch” by North Korea. South Korea’s military earlier said the object fired from North Korea’s mountainous northern Jagang province flew toward the waters off North Korea’s eastern coast. AP reports.
The announcement of the missile launch came just before North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. urged the U.S. to give up its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang and said no one could deny North Korea’s right to self-defense and to test weapons. “North Korea’s U.N. envoy, Kim Song, said the country was just shoring up its self-defense and if the United States dropped its hostile policy, it would respond ‘willingly at any time’ to offers for talks. ‘But it is our judgment that there is no prospect at the present stage for the U.S. to really withdraw its hostile policy,’ Kim said,” Reuters reports.
A cryptocurrency expert admitted yesterday to conspiring to help North Korea evade economic sanctions by using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to conceal illegal transactions, including at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference held in April 2019. “Virgil Griffith, 38, a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to a count of conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a charge for which he could face up to two decades in prison. Griffith, who is scheduled to be sentenced in January, made a name for himself as a developer of Ethereum, a digital money purchasing platform,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Europe needs to stop being naive when it comes to defending its interests and build its own military capacity, French President Emmanuel Macron has said, after Greece sealed a deal with France for French frigates worth about $3.51 billion. “The strategic defense and security cooperation pact signed by the French and Greek presidents is part of efforts to increase European military autonomy, something Macron has said is even more vital after the reversal of the submarine deal with Australia,” John Irish reports for Reuters.
Following the Social Democrat Party’s (SPD) victory in Germany’s election on Sunday, SPD leader Olaf Scholtz pledged to form a three-party coalition (with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats) and maintain stable relations in the EU and with the United States. The SPD could lead Germany for the first time since Angela Merkel took over in 2005 from Gerhard Schroeder. The leader of Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc, Armin Laschet, has maintained that he too will try to form a government. It may be months before a new government takes over, with Merkel governing in the interim. Emma Thomasson and Paul Carrel report for Reuters.
Unidentified aircraft hit a base run by Iranian-backed militias in Syria’s eastern province of Deir al Zor near the Iraqi border, residents and military sources have said. Sources “said the strikes were south of the town of Mayadeen along the Euphrates River which has become a major base for several Shi’ite militias, mostly from Iraq, since Islamic State militants were driven out nearly four years ago,” Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports for Reuters.
South Sudan’s government has dismissed a U.N. report accusing the country’s elite of corruption and has said that it is the victim of an “international campaign.” Last week, the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said a “staggering” amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources – more than $73m since 2018, with almost $39m stolen during a period of less than two months. South Sudan Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro dismissed the report yesterday, saying in an interview with Agence France-Presse that “these are the organizations that are sponsored not to see political stability in South Sudan and they will move from one thing to the other, from human rights to corruption, from corruption to something else.” Al Jazeera reports.
Security forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government have violently dispersed thousands of protesters decrying deteriorating economic conditions in a southwestern province, wounding at least seven people, officials have said. Ahmed Al-Haj reports for AP.
Vanuatu will ask the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the impacts of climate change. Prime Minister Bob Loughman commented on the request during his address to the UN General Assembly, following the release of a statement by the Vanuatu government. Loughman called for the international community to quickly increase efforts to combat climate change, calling for global solutions to the problem. Radina Gigova reports for CNN.
Britain sent a warship through the Taiwan strait yesterday for the first time since 2008. HMS Richmond, a frigate deployed with Britain’s aircraft carrier strike group, sailed through the strait on a trip from Japan to Vietnam, Britain’s defense ministry said. “‘Wherever the Royal Navy operate, they do so in full compliance with international law,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘The U.K. has a range of enduring security interests in the Indo-Pacific and many important bilateral defense relationships, this deployment is a sign of our commitment to regional security,’ it added,” Agence France-Presse reports.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the U.K. army to remain on standby to help fuel reach petrol stations hit by panic buying of petrol across the U.K, Rowena Mason, Aubrey Allegretti, Dan Sabbagh, and Richard Partington report for the Guardian.
The coronavirus has infected over 43.11 million and has now killed over 690,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 232.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.75 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.