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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.
A bomb set off by an Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) suicide bomber killed at least 43 people and injured more than 140 people at a Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Friday. The massacre, which occurred while the mosque was crowded for Friday Prayer, was ISIS-K’s second attack against a mosque in just a few days, compounding fears that ISIS-K predation would go unchecked under Taliban rule. “A local Shiite community leader put the death toll much higher. Sayed Ahmad Shah Hashemi, who represents Kunduz Province’s Shiite population, told The New York Times that more than 70 people were killed in the attack,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Wali Arian report for the New York Times.
An Afghan army deserter who murdered three Australian soldiers has been released from custody in Qatar and his whereabouts are unknown, officials have said. The soldier, known as Hekmatullah, fled after shooting the Australian soldiers on a base in 2012 and was sentenced to death in 2013. Hekmatullah had been transferred from Afghanistan to Qatar in September last year in a deal brokered by the United States ahead of peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. Hugh Jeffrey, an Australian Defense Department international policy expert, told an Australian Senate committee that the Australian government discovered Hekmatullah had been released “from Qatar through highly sensitive intelligence.” Jeffrey did not know the circumstances of the release. Rod McGuirk reports for the Associated Press.
The Taliban have announced that the U.S. has agreed to provide Afghanistan with humanitarian aid, without recognizing the Taliban as the country’s legitimate government. The announcement follows in the wake of direct talks in Doha, Qatar, the first since the U.S. withdrawal. The U.S. had yet to comment on the Taliban’s claims on aid. Kathy Gannon reports for the Associated Press.
As well as aid, the U.S.-Taliban talks in Doha focused on containing extremist groups and the evacuation of U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals, and Afghan allies. U.S. officials described the discussions as “candid and professional,” but added that the Taliban “will be judged on its actions, not only its words.” The U.S. has insisted that the meeting did not amount to recognition of the Taliban. BBC News reports.
The U.S. delegation also “focused…on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society,” a readout from the State Department said on the meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha. “The two sides also discussed the United States’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people,” the statement added. “Suhail Shaheen, Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate to the U.N., said the discussions ‘went well’ in a statement Sunday evening. ‘Political issues were discussed in detail during the meeting and the Islamic Emirate considered full implementation of the Doha agreement as the best way of resolving problems and that the humanitarian assistance should not be linked to political issues,’” Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
President Biden’s administration on Friday formally rejected former President Trump’s first attempt to withhold White House documents from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. In a letter to the National Archives, White House Counsel Dana Remus wrote that Biden “has determined that any assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interest of the United States, and therefore is not justified as to any of the documents.” “Trump responded in a letter to the Archives Friday, saying the committee requested an ‘extremely broad set of documents and records, potentially numbering in the millions.’ He said the requests ‘unquestionably contain’ information protected by executive and other privileges such as presidential communications, deliberative process and attorney-client privileges,” Joey Garrison and Courtney Subramanian reports for USA TODAY.
“As a part of this process, the president has determined an assertion of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents from the Trump White House that have been provided to us by the National Archives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said. “This is just the first set of documents, and we will evaluate claims of privilege on a case by case basis, but the president has also been clear he believes it to be of the utmost importance for both Congress and the American people to have a complete understanding of the events of that day to prevent them from happening again,” Psaki added. Rebecca Beitsch and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, has said that the committee may recommend prosecution of Trump aides who have refused to comply with the committee’s subpoenas. “We are prepared to go forward and urge the Justice Department to criminally prosecute anyone who does not do their lawful duty,” Schiff told CBS’s Face the Nation. Martin Pengelly reports for the Guardian.
Stephen Bannon does not plan to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee, his lawyer said in an email to the committee. The deadline for Bannon and three other former Trump aides to comply with the subpoena was last Thursday at midnight. Bannon’s attorney told the committee that “the executive privileges belong to President Trump” and “we must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege.” Sara Murray, Katelyn Polantz and Ryan Nobles report for CNN.
Former Trump aide Dan Scavino has now been physically served his subpoena from the Jan. 6 House select committee, after an extended struggle to locate him. A process server brought the subpoena to the “Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, the source said. While Scavino was home in New York at the time, he asked a staff member to accept the subpoena on his behalf,” Jim Acosta and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
A former high-ranking Capitol Police official has sent congressional leaders a scathing letter accusing two of its senior leaders of mishandling intelligence and failing to respond properly during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The whistleblower left the force months after the attack and sent the letter late last month to the top members of both parties in the House and Senate. The letter accuses Sean Gallagher, the Capitol Police’s acting chief of uniformed operations, and Yogananda Pittman, its assistant chief of police for protective and intelligence operations, of deliberately choosing not to help officers under attack on Jan. 6 and alleges that Pittman lied to Congress about an intelligence report Capitol Police received before the attack. Daniel Lippman and Betsy Woodruff Swan report for POLITICO.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) refused to say whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Scalise deflected to arguing about the propriety of state-run elections on procedural grounds: “it’s not just [voting] irregularities. It’s states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they’re supposed to follow,” he said. Hope Yen reports for the Associated Press.
Facebook Vice President Nick Clegg said that he could not give a “yes or no answer” when asked if the social media company’s algorithm played a role in amplifying insurrectionist voices ahead of the Jan. 6 attack. “Given we have thousands of algorithms and you have millions of people using this, I can’t give you a yes or no answer to the individual personalized feeds each person uses,” Clegg said, speaking to CNN. “I can’t give a sort of generic answer to each person’s individual feeds. What I can say is that where we see content that we think is relevant to the investigations of law enforcement, of course we cooperate with them,” Clegg said. Monique Velas reports for The Hill.
A U.S. Navy nuclear submarine engineer has been indicted on espionage charges. Jonathan Toebbe allegedly attempted to pass design elements about the Virginia-class nuclear submarine to an undercover FBI agent, whom he believed to be a representative of a foreign power. Toebbe’s wife appeared to be “acting as a lookout” when he dropped off the material, according to the court filing, and she has been charged as well. Eric Tucker reports for the Associated Press.
Toebbe worked in the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion programme and had national security clearance. Toebbe and his wife have been charged under the Atomic Energy Act. The Justice Department said that in April 2020 he sent a package to an unnamed foreign government containing restricted data and a message suggesting a covert relationship, so that they could buy more data from him. He then began writing to the undercover FBI agent and after several months, the couple allegedly made a deal to share secret information in exchange for around $100,000 in cryptocurrency. BBC News reports.
General Raymond T. Odierno died on Saturday. The four-star general and former Army chief of staff played a leading role in the 2007 Iraq surge. He was 67. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.
President Biden has commemorated Odierno, saying in a statement that he “was part of some of our most poignant memories.” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Russia and the U.S. have both lifted targeted sanctions to allow U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland to visit Moscow this week for meetings with Russian officials. A spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said Nuland was on the sanctions list that prohibits individuals from entering the country but has since been removed after the U.S. agreed to remove a similar restriction that was barring a Russian citizen from entering the U.S. Reuters reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to hold meetings this week with foreign ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Bilateral meetings will be held between the United States and each country and then there will be a trilateral meeting with all three representatives. The meetings will “discuss progress made since the signing of the Abraham Accords last year, future opportunities for collaboration, and bilateral issues including regional security and stability,” the State Department said. Caroline Vikal reports for The Hill.
German police have confirmed that they have opened an investigation into an alleged “Havana Syndrome” attack on U.S. Embassy staff in Berlin. The announcement follows reports by at least two U.S. government employees of dizziness, nausea, and severe headaches, supposed symptoms of the mysterious ailment. On Friday, President Biden signed into law a bill providing financial aid to affected personnel. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
Biden’s administration is ramping up its efforts to secure U.S. critical infrastructure from cyberattacks emanating from China and Russia. Last week, officials announced new cybersecurity mandates on the railroad and airline industries and fines for federal contractors who fail to report breaches. The White House has also recently announced that it is “working to deploy action plans for additional critical infrastructure sectors” after a 100-day push to improve cybersecurity in America’s balkanized electricity grid. The increase in efforts comes “amid ongoing concerns from top U.S. officials that Russia and China continue to seek a digital foothold inside the networks of pipelines, ports and other targets — with the intention of gathering data or one day exploiting any access gained,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Facebook has permitted advertisements that question the 2020 election outcome and push false messages that suggest the 2020 election “was potentially the MOST CORRUPT in the history of our country.” The ads are paid for by the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, which is reportedly a joint venture between former President Trump’s Save America leadership political action committee (PAC) and his Make America Great Again PAC. While the ads may insinuate that “Trump is the true President,” they may not technically violate Facebook’s political advertising policies, including the ban on advertisements that seek “to delegitimize the outcome of the election.” Tech Policy Press reports.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen marked Taiwan’s National Day yesterday with a defiant speech in the face of increasing military pressure from Beijing. “We hope for an easing of cross-strait relations and will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure. We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us. This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people,” she said. Annabelle Timsit reports for the Washington Post.
On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for unification between China and Taiwan. “Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete unification,” he told an audience at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. This followed a week in which China flew nearly 150 planes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Adela Suliman reports for the Washington Post.
China has lodged stern representations with Australia over “inappropriate” comments by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott about Taiwan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said. “Abbott last week visited Taiwan, which is claimed by China, in a personal capacity, met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and told a security forum that China may lash out with its economy slowing and finances ‘creaking,’” Reuters reports.
Talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders to solve a protracted standoff on a stretch of disputed Himalayan border have broken down. “Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a high-altitude face-off in India’s Ladakh region since last year, despite the two militaries holding more than a dozen rounds of talks to diffuse the situation. On Sunday, commanders met for the 13th time, with Indian officials emphasising that the confrontation had been triggered by ‘unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter the status quo,’ India’s defence ministry said in a statement,” Devjyot Ghoshal and Gabriel Crossley report for Reuters.
President Biden’s Family Reunification Task Force has reportedly reunited 52 families that were separated under former President Trump’s administration. However, three years after a federal judge ordered the government to reunite families of migrant children intentionally separated from their families at the border within 30 days, at least a thousand children have still not been returned to their parents. CBS News reports.
More than 100 Haitian migrants have been rescued from a shipping container in Guatemala over the weekend. Of the 126 individuals inside, 106 were from Haiti, 11 were from Nepal, and nine were from Ghana, according to a Guatemalan national police spokesperson. The spokesperson said that “cries and knocks” were heard from the container. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Iraq has captured Sami Jasim, a high-ranking member of the Islamic State in charge of the group’s finance and a deputy of slain leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has said on Twitter. “While our [Iraqi security forces] heroes focused on securing the elections, their [Iraqi national intelligence services] colleagues were conducting a complex external operation to capture Sami Jasim,” Al-Kadhimi said, without providing further details of the operation. Reuters reports.
Iraq carried out early parliamentary elections yesterday amid signs of record low turnout. A violently suppressed youth protest movement, which had helped spur the early vote in the first place, gave way to calls for a boycott. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for the Associated Press.
The Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s centrist party on Saturday suffered a surprise defeat in the country’s parliamentary election. The winning coalition, called Spolu (Together), a liberal-conservative three-party coalition, won 71 seats while its partner captured 37 seats to have a comfortable majority of 108 seats. Babiš’s populist Action for Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) won 72 seats, six less than in the 2017 election. The election also took place shortly after details emerged of Babiš’s overseas financial dealings in the Pandora Papers; Babiš has denied wrongdoing. Robert Tait reports for the Guardian.
The Czech Republic’s President Miloš Zeman, has been taken to hospital, apparently gravely ill. Zeman, who has repeatedly promised to do all he could to keep the prime minister in office, was Babiš’s most powerful backer and his sole potential savior. Robert Tait reports for the Guardian.
Zeman is in a stable condition, after being treated in intensive care at the weekend, a spokesperson of the Central Military Hospital has said today. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Polish cities amid fears of “Polexit.” Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, which is dominated by supporters of the ruling Law and Justice party, issued a ruling Thursday that core E.U. legal principles were “incompatible” with the constitution. BBC News reports.
Lebanon’s national electricity grid came back online Sunday, a day after two power stations ran out of fuel, crashing the network. The Lebanese Army supplied the government with emergency fuel supplies, but those are not expected to last more than a few days. Ben Hubbard, Hwaida Saad and Shashank Bengali report for the New York Times.
Burkina Faso has begun the trial of 14 men, including Former President Blaise Compaore, over the assassination of the country’s revered revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara 34 years ago. Sankara and 12 others were killed by a hit squad in October 1987 during a putsch that brought his friend and comrade-in-arms Compaore to power. Al Jazeera reports.
A high-profile defector from North Korea has told his story to the BBC, providing an insight into the North Korean leadership, drug deals, weapons sales, and terror. Kim Kuk-song spent 30 years working his way to the top ranks of North Korea’s powerful spy agencies, before he had to flee for his life in 2014 and since then has been living in Seoul and working for South Korean intelligence. Kim depicted “a North Korean leadership desperate to make cash by any means possible, from drug deals to weapons sales in the Middle East and Africa. He told us about the strategy behind decisions being made in Pyongyang, the regime’s attacks on South Korea, and claims that the secretive country’s spy and cyber networks can reach around the world,” Laura Bicker reports for BBC News.
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, died on Sunday. The CIA has long believed Khan was responsible for building a global proliferation network that transferred nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, South Africa, and North Korea. He was 85. Tim Weiner reports for the New York Times.
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has said in a statement that he has approved a new government selected by Prime Minister Najla Bouden. Reuters reports.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has resigned amid a corruption probe. “In a televised address, the 35-year-old premier denied the allegations against him but recommended leadership be handed to Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. He said he would stay on as head of his party and take the position of leader of his conservative bloc in parliament,” Loveday Morris reports for the Washington Post.
Five Indian soldiers have been killed in a gun battle with militants fighting against Indian rule in the region of Kashmir, officials have said. As Indian troops launched a search operation in a forested area, following an intelligence report that militants were present there, militants opened heavy gunfire that critically wounded an army officer and four soldiers, an Indian army spokesperson said. Associated Press reporting.
South Korea has charged 15 individuals in a sexual abuse case as its military grapples with mistreatment of female and trans soldiers. “On Thursday, a South Korean court ruled that the military unlawfully discriminated against the country’s first openly transgender soldier, Byun Hui-su, when it discharged her following her gender-reassignment surgery in 2019. The court ordered her reinstatement, but the victory came seven months too late: Byun took her own life in March. And on Friday, military prosecutors charged 15 people as part of a case involving the sexual abuse of a female noncommissioned officer, who was only identified by her last name of Lee,” Amy Cheng and Grace Moon report for the Washington Post.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has today implored Israel not to “lose sight” of the need to establish a Palestinian state, as she wrapped up a two-day farewell visit to Israel. “Speaking at an Israeli think tank, Merkel welcomed the historic diplomatic agreements reached last year between Israel and four Arab countries – led by the United Arab Emirates. But she said the deals, known as the Abraham Accords, did not erase the need for Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” Josef Federman reports for AP.
Israel will keep Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in a 1967 war, even if international views on Damascus change, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said. Dan Williams reports for Reuters.
The coronavirus has infected over 44.16 million and has now killed over 710,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 236.85 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.83 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members remain out of compliance with looming Department of Defense Covid-19 vaccine deadlines. Vaccination rates and deadlines vary across the services, with particularly lackluster vaccination rates among reservists and National Guard members. Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.
Black Covid-19 patients are receiving fewer medical follow-ups, a study by the University of Michigan has found. The study also found that over 50% of hospitalized patients of color were readmitted within 60 days of their release. Patients of color were also more than 65% more likely to experience moderate to severe financial impact because of Covid-19. Kynala Phillips reports for NBC News.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.