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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.
U.S. RELATIONS AND U.S. MILITARY
Suspected Iran-linked hackers have targeted dozens of defense technology and maritime transportation firms, successfully breaching a small number, Microsoft announced yesterday. Among the targets were companies that work with the U.S., E.U., and Israeli governments to make satellite systems, drones technology, and “military-grade radars,” Microsoft said in a blog post . Microsoft did not attribute the activity directly to an Iranian government organization, but instead said the hacking “supports the national interests” of Iran. Microsoft explained that the spying campaign had been launched in July and could leave some of the companies vulnerable to follow-on hacking attempts. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
A Western Balkans group has called on the U.S. to commit to a stronger presence in the region amid “growing militancy of the government of Serbia.” Leaders and advocacy organizations from Albanian-American, Bosnian-American, and Montenegrin-American communities made the calls in an open letter addressed to the U.S. Senate and House Committees on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. “The signatories expressed alarm about what it called Serbia’s growing aggression towards Kosovo, but also increasingly towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro,” Al Jazeera reports.
The Pentagon’s ex-chief of software officer has said he resigned in protest at the slow pace of technological transformation in the U.S. military, compared to the fast pace in China. Nicholas Chaillan announced his resignation from the post last month. In an interview with the Financial Times, Chaillan said that the U.S. have “no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” adding there was “good reason to be angry.” Chaillan added that the U.S. was failing to respond to Chinese cyber and other threats, and that Beijing is heading for global dominance because of its advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cyber capabilities. Chaillan argued that these emerging technologies are far more critical to the U.S.’s future than hardware such as big-budget fifth-generation fighter jets such as the F-35. Katrina Manson reports for the Financial Times.
Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear submarine engineer, and his wife, Diana Toebbe, have been charged with trying to sell some of the U.S.’s most closely guarded submarine propulsion secrets to a foreign government and are scheduled to appear in a federal court in West Virginia. In-depth analysis of what is known, and not known so far, on the submarine spy case is provided by Julian E. Barnes, Brenda Wintrode, and JoAnna Daemmrich reporting for the New York Times.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the international community to inject liquidity into the Afghan economy by releasing humanitarian and other funds through U.N. agencies, a U.N. Development Programme trust fund, and NGOs. Ahead of an extraordinary meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) today to discuss aid delivery to Afghanistan, Guterres critiqued broken Taliban promises on human rights, but said “the Afghan people cannot suffer a collective punishment because the Taliban misbehave.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Guterres has said that Afghanistan is at a “make-or-break moment,” telling reporters that “if we do not act and help Afghans weather this storm, and do it soon, not only they but all the world will pay a heavy price.” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
“Without food, without jobs, without their rights protected, we will see more and more Afghans fleeing their homes in search of a better life. The flow of illicit drugs, criminal and terrorist networks will also likely increase,” Guterres warned when speaking to reporters. Guterres added that “this will not only badly affect Afghanistan itself, but also the region and the rest of the world.” UN News Centre reports.
Members of Congress are still pushing for the government to help extract a small group of standard Afghans who are direct relatives of American military service members. “The service members, some of whom have traveled to Washington to plead with lawmakers and [President] Biden[’s] administration for help, largely share the same story. Many of them once worked as interpreters or fixers for the U.S. military in Afghanistan but moved to the U.S. years ago, obtaining visas and then green cards to become permanent residents, and then enlisting in the armed forces they had once served as civilians. They were evacuated from Afghanistan as part of the U.S. withdrawal weeks ago. But now, with the Taliban seeking to punish anyone with ties to the Americans, their parents and siblings are in danger, and lawmakers and U.S. officials are puzzling over how to help them,” Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008 when his helicopter made an emergency landing in Afghanistan, has escaped from Afghanistan after weeks in hiding. Aman Khalili has said that he and his family left Afghanistan last week, crossing the border into Pakistan. In 2008, Khalili was part of a rescue team sent to help Biden and fellow Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NB) when helicopters transporting them had been forced by a blinding snowstorm to land in an Afghan valley vulnerable to a Taliban attack. Khalili had made a personal plea to Biden for help and after his story appeared in the Wall Street Journal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the government would get Khalili out. After “a series of demoralizing setbacks and frustrating dead-ends over the past six weeks, U.S. veterans worked with former Afghan soldiers and well-placed Pakistani allies to carry out a clandestine operation to drive Mr. Khalili and his family more than 600 miles across Afghanistan and get them to Pakistan, according to those involved in the effort,” Dion Nissenbaum reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban’s religious police have been instructed to be more moderate. But vulnerable Afghans are reporting that brutal justice is still occurring. Punishments have included the public hanging of bodies, including in the Afghan cities of Herat and Ghazni, and the parading of petty thieves before a jeering crowd. The much-feared religious police are back on the streets in Afghan cities, “but instead of doling out punishment, they are on a charm offensive, more intent on shaking hands and introducing themselves,” Brent Swails and Clarissa Ward report for CNN.
Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister has appealed to the world for good relations but has avoided making firm commitments on girls’ education. “The international community needs to start cooperating with us,” acting Foreign Minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi said at an event organised by the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies yesterday. “With this, we will be able to stop insecurity and at the same time with this, we will be able to engage positively with the world,” he added. Muttaqi said the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate government was moving carefully but had only been in power for a few weeks and could not be expected to complete reforms the international community had been unable to implement in 20 years. Muttaqi added that the Taliban have been able to control the threat from Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) so far and that the international pressure on the Taliban government was helping ISIS-K’s morale. Al Jazeera reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
President Biden has acquiesced to requests for information on the actions of then-President Trump and his aides from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, denying Trump’s claims that the information is protected by executive privilege. “Biden’s decision not to block the information sought by Congress challenges a tested norm — one in which presidents enjoy the secrecy of records of their own terms in office, both mundane and highly sensitive, for a period of at least five years, and often far longer,” Colleen Long and Zeke Miller report for AP.
Steve Bannon continues to refuse a House subpoena regarding his possible role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and the House select committee is considering whether to refer Bannon to the Department of Justice for prosecution if he continues to refuse. Bannon has been called for a deposition on Thursday, but has insisted through his lawyer that any role he may have played is protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege, a claim unsubstantiated by most legal experts. Rebecca Beitsch and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.
An investigation has been launched into alleged police brutality in Ohio after bodycam footage was released showing a Black man being dragged by the hair and arms out of his vehicle while screaming at the police officers, “I’m paraplegic.” The incident took place on Sept. 30 in Dayton, Ohio, and is being investigated by the Dayton Police Department. BBC News reports.
In cities across the U.S. police departments are getting their funding increased again after funding was targeted and sometimes cut amid the nationwide racial justice protests last year. For instance, an additional $200 million has been allocated to the New York Police Department and a 3 percent boost has been given to the Los Angeles force. The reversals come in response to “rising levels of crime in major cities last year, the exodus of officers from departments large and small and political pressures,” J. David Goodman reports for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The New York Times has reported that members of former President Trump’s administration systematically failed to properly disclose dozens or hundreds of gifts given to them by foreign leaders, including apparent furs and ivory from endangered animals. Some of the furs given by the Saudi royal family were subsequently determined to be fake. The report is based on documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act. Michael Schmidt reports for the New York Times.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has announced that she will brief the Oversight Board, an entity set up by Facebook as an independent check on company decisions, about her concerns and observations from inside the company. Haugen offered testimony and extensive documents to the Senate last Tuesday describing harmful company culture and policies. In her Tweet announcing that she would brief the Oversight Board, she accused Facebook of lying to the oversight body, saying “Facebook has lied to the board repeatedly, and I am looking forward to sharing the truth with them.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
In a statement on Monday, Fulton County, Georgia reported that it had fired two election workers for shredding voting applications. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that 300 “municipal election-related applications were allegedly destroyed.” The Hill reports that the two employees “checked out batches of applications for processing but allegedly shredded a portion of the forms instead of fully processing them… Fellow employees reported the conduct to their supervisor on Friday morning,” and the offending employees were immediately fired. Raffensperger has called for Department of Justice investigations into Fulton County elections. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
The U.S. marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day yesterday amid shifting views of public monuments. The Washington Post reports that “at least 40 monuments to Christopher Columbus have been removed since 2018,” but that more than 130 such monuments remain. The Post concluded that “there are more than 6,000 public references to Columbus across the country…,” not including private businesses. Youjin Shin, Nick Kirkpatrick, Catherine D’Ignazio, and Wonyoung So report for the Washington Post.
Early results in Iraq’s parliamentary elections show losses for Iran-allied militia parties while populist Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr leads with early elections returns. Al-Sadr’s party appears to have made significant gains in Parliament, setting up al-Sadr’s Sadrist Bloc to control negotiations to determine the country’s leadership. Voter turnout was low (41%) after the 2019 popular protest movement that had demanded early elections announced a boycott over perceptions that election laws still favored entrenched and corrupt leaders. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP.
Al-Sadr’s success in Iraq’s parliamentary elections will likely help shape Iraq’s direction and its relationship with both the U.S. and Iran, with the followers of the Shiite cleric whose fighters battled U.S. forces during the occupation of Iraq, winning up to 20 additional seats in Iraq’s Parliament. “The outcome could further complicate Iraq’s challenge in steering diplomatically between the United States and Iran, adversaries that both see Iraq as vital to their interests…al-Sadr has navigated an uneasy relationship with Iran, where he has pursued his religious studies. Regarding the United States, he and his aides have refused to meet with American officials,” Jane Arraf reports for the New York Times.
One day after some power was restored to Lebanon’s electricity grid, a fire in a fuel storage tanker in south Lebanon threatened electricity supply again. The blaze was extinguished after “nearly 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of gasoline were burnt during the blaze, which lasted more than three hours.” Fadi Tawil reports for the AP.
Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, has continued criticizing Tarek Bitar, the judge appointed to lead investigations into the deadly Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut blast in Lebanon. Nasrallah has called for Bitar to be replaced with a “truthful and transparent” investigator. Bitar has faced escalating obstacles to his probe, including legal challenges from politicians charged or called for questioning, refusals to appear for questioning, and reported threats of violence. Sarah el Deeb reports for the AP.
The probe into the catastrophic Beirut blast was frozen today after two politicians wanted for questioning filed a new complaint against Bitar, the lead investigator, a judicial source has said. This is the second time in less than three weeks that the investigation has been paused. “Shortly before being informed of the latest complaint, Bitar had issued an arrest warrant for the politicians who filed it, former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior politician close to Hezbollah. The arrest warrant was issued after Khalil failed to show up for questioning,” Reuters reports.
NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
North Korea showed off its growing arsenal of missiles in one of its largest-ever exhibitions of military gear, as the country’s leader Kim Jong-un said in a speech at the event that he did not believe U.S. assertions that the U.S. harbored no hostile intent towards North Korea. Kim vowed to further build up North Korea’s military and called the U.S. “hypocritical” for helping South Korea boost its missile and other military forces in the name of “deterring” North Korea — just as it was condemning North Korea’s own development and tests of missiles as “provocations.” Kim said that North Korea’s missiles were for self-defense and peace, not for war, and that he had no intention of giving them up. The military display occurred a day after North Korea marked the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers Party. “It had often celebrated such anniversaries with large military parades. But this year, it instead staged an indoor exhibition of its missile forces on Monday,” Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
Kim also accused the U.S. of being the “root cause” of instability in the Korean peninsula, and said that his country’s most important objective was possessing an “invincible military capability” that no one can dare challenge. Agence France-Presse reports.
Media in South Korea and North Korea have reacted angrily after a report about a seafood curry in Japan that includes mounds of rice shaped to resemble the Takeshima islands, which Koreans refer to as Dokdo. Japan and the Koreas have long-argued over the islands’ sovereignty. “The rocky islets, which lie roughly equidistant between the two countries in the Japan Sea – or the East Sea according to Koreans – are administered by South Korea, but Japan insists they are an integral part of its territory,” Justin McCurry reports for the Guardian.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro must be held criminally responsible for a “ruthless” assault on the Amazon that has exacerbated the climate emergency and imperilled humanity’s very survival, activists have argued in a petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In submissions to the ICC, legal and scientific experts said that the “mass deforestation” unfolding under Bolsonaro posed a clear and present danger to Brazil and the rest of the world. The petition to the court argued that “there is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating the commission of ongoing crimes against humanity within Brazil” and that the impact also extends to “consequent fatalities, devastation and insecurity [that] will occur on a far greater scale regionally and globally, long into the future.” Tim Phillips reports for the Guardian.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that it cannot immediately rule on a complaint by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and others that state inaction on climate change violates children’s rights. The committee, made up of 18 independent human rights experts, concluded that a “sufficient causal link” had been established between the significant harm allegedly suffered by the children and the acts or omissions of France, Turkey, Brazil, Germany and Argentina — the states accused in the petition. However, it accepted the arguments of the five states that the children should have tried to bring cases to their national courts first. Emma Farge reports for Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is to host Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet next week for talks on Iran’s nuclear program and other regional security issues, Bennett’s office has said. “The meeting, held at Putin’s invitation, will take place in Sochi on Oct. 22, the Israeli statement said,” Reuters reports.
Russian Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny has announced that he has been designated as “extremist” and “terrorist” in prison, but authorities also have dropped his classification as an “escape risk” from prison. In an Instagram post, Navalny said that he has been summoned before a commission at the prison located in the Vladimir region, which voted unanimously to elevate his status to “extremist” and “terrorist” but no longer view him as an escape risk. Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Ethiopian government forces have launched a “staggering” new ground offensive in Tigray, according to a spokesperson for the opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not confirm the new offensive. The apparent new offensive increases a conflict that has raged since November 2020, displacing millions and raising the specter of famine. Rachel Chason reports for the Washington Post.
Iran has started a massive two-day air defense drill in the country’s central desert, Iran state TV has reported. “The report said both the army and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were taking part in the annual maneuvers dubbed ‘Velayat.’ It said elite air force and air defense units as well as the Guard’s airspace division would participate. Iran regularly holds such drills and says they assess the troops’ combat readiness and demonstrate the nation’s military capabilities,” AP reports.
A pre-trial hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened today for Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, an alleged Central African Republic leader of the Seleka rebel group, with the ICC’s chief prosecutor urging judges to confirm that evidence against the suspect is strong enough to merit putting him on trial on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Kani faces 14 charges linked to the detention and mistreatment of prisoners at two detention sites in Bangui in 2013, including torture, persecution, and enforced disappearances. Mike Corder reports for AP.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has penned an Op-Ed for the Washington Post in which he rebuffs any suggestion of involvement in the July 7 assassination of then-President Jovenel Moïse. Henry also calls for new elections and constitutional reforms in Haiti.
China’s military has said that it has carried out beach landing and assault drills in the province directly across the sea from Taiwan, though it did not link the military exercises with the current tensions between Beijing and Taipei. “The official People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper, in a brief report on its Weibo microblogging account, said the drills had been carried out ‘in recent days’ in the southern part of Fujian province. The action had involved ‘shock’ troops, sappers and boat specialists, the Chinese military newspaper added,” Reuters reporting.
Countries are gradually restoring ties with Syria, with a number of key developments over the past few weeks. However, the New York Times reports how Syria is still mired in crises that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot escape. Over the past few weeks “senior officials from Lebanon appealed for [al-Assad’s] help with chronic electricity cuts. His economy minister rubbed shoulders with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates at a trade expo in Dubai. The United States, which has heavily sanctioned him and his associates, backed a plan to revive a gas pipeline through his territory. And he spoke by phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan, his neighbor to the south, for the first time in 10 years,” Ben Hubbard reports for the New York Times.
The executive board of the International Monetary Fund has said that it has full confidence in Kristalina Georgieva as its managing director. The announcement puts to an end weeks of uncertainty while the board investigated Georgieva’s role in a data-manipulation scandal at the World Bank, where she had been chief executive, including trying to boost China’s standing in a high-profile World Bank report. Josh Zumbrun reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Najla Bouden announced her cabinet yesterday, including 10 female ministers (including the prime minister) among the 24-member cabinet. The new government was formed 11 weeks after President Kais Saied dissolved the previous cabinet and seized executive powers. Despite the new government, Saied said yesterday that emergency measures would “remain in force for as long as the peril is real,” in an apparent reference to the Covid-19 pandemic. AP reports.
Kenya and Somalia are awaiting a key ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a maritime border dispute, due to be handed down today. BBC News reports that “the two countries are both claiming a 62,000 sq miles (160,000 sq km) in the Indian Ocean thought to be rich in oil and gas. Kenya’s border currently runs horizontally into the Indian Ocean, and that is how Nairobi wants it to stay. But Somalia insists its southern boundary should run south-east as an extension of the land border.” Kenya has previously decided to pull out of the case, citing procedural unfairness and questioning whether justice would be done, and last Friday Kenya withdrew its membership from the ICJ and declared it would not recognise today’s judgment. BBC News reporting.
Nearly 2 million people have been displaced by flooding in China’s Shanxi province. The floods were triggered by heavy rains over the previous week, setting off landslides. BBC News reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 44.45 million and has now killed over 714,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 238.34 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.86 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley, and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Pharmaceutical company Merck has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency authorization of a pill to treat Covid-19. The drug, called molnupiravir, would “add an entirely new and easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic,” one which might ease overcrowding of hospitals by permitting effective home treatment of the disease. Matthew Perrone reports for the AP.
The World Health Organization has recommended that immunocompromised people be given an additional dose of Covid-19 vaccine, due to their higher risk of breakthrough infections after standard immunization, Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge report for Reuters.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) issued an executive order yesterday prohibiting any entity, including private businesses, from imposing Covid-19 vaccination requirements on employees or customers, in a rebuke to President Biden’s administration. “The Covid-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in a statement. Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.
The U.K. government failed to act quickly enough in its initial response to Covid-19, enabling the virus to spread rapidly through communities and resulting in thousands of deaths, U.K. lawmakers have said in a damning report published today. The report from the British Parliament’s Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology committees said that the U.K.’s Covid-19 response was slow and “reactive,” and that the initial policy at the start of the pandemic of trying to manage the spread of the virus, rather than stop it spreading altogether, with the aim of achieving herd immunity, was one of the biggest failures of the U.K. government’s approach. Vasco Cotovio, Sharon Braithwaite, and Helen Regan report for CNN.
Moderna, the maker of one widely-used Covid-19 vaccine, has “no plans to share the recipe for its Covid-19 vaccine because executives have concluded that scaling up the company’s own production is the best way to increase global supply.” However, the company has recommitted to its pledge not to enforce patent infringement claims against any other vaccine makers during the pandemic. Company chairman Noubar Afeyan stated in an interview with the Associated Press, “within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them.” AP reports.
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.