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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.
Two more detainees have been approved for transfer out of Guantánamo Bay. The interagency Periodic Review Board approved the transfer of Sanad Yislam al-Kazimi, a Yemeni considered by U.S. military intelligence to be a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, and Assadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan commander of the Hezb-i-Islami militia which fought the American and allied invasion of Afghanistan, out of Guantánamo Bay where the two men have been held without charges for years. The board recommended that al-Kazimi be resettled in Oman rather than Yemen which is “considered too unstable to monitor.” The repatriation of Gul will likely require an agreement with the Taliban. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
The Supreme Court appeared ready to reinstate a death sentence on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. President Biden’s administration has pursued the case despite the fact that the Justice Department has imposed a moratorium on carrying out the federal death penalty and Biden has said that he would abolish federal executions. Justice Amy Coney Barrett also questioned the apparent contradiction: “the government has declared a moratorium on executions, but you’re here defending his death sentences, and if you win presumably that means that [Tsarnaev] is relegated to living under the threat of a death sentence that the government doesn’t plan to carry out,” she said. Adap Liptak reports for the New York Times.
The Supreme Court justices did diverge yesterday over the fairness of Tsarnaev’s death sentence. Liberal justices questioned the district judge’s exclusion of mitigating evidence when Tsarnaev was sentenced to death, while conservatives found little reason to second-guess decisions made at the 2015 trial. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Justice Department is to investigate reports of abuse in juvenile correctional facilities in Texas, following allegations of physical violence, sexual abuse, and other mistreatment of children held there. “The investigation, which will also examine the state’s use of isolation and chemicals like pepper spray, [and] is part of a broader effort to overhaul the criminal justice system and address conditions in prisons,” Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
The criminal trial of Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani who faces six counts of campaign-finance charges, started in a New York federal court yesterday. Prosecutors described Parnas as a businessman who promoted his political connections while working to funnel foreign money into the U.S. elections in 2018. Parnas “is accused of conspiring with Andrey Kukushkin, a co-defendant in the case, to make more than $25,000 in political contributions in a calendar year with funds from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev. Federal-election laws prohibit foreign nationals from making political contributions in U.S. elections. It is also illegal to make a political contribution in another person’s name,” James Fanelli reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A Texas judge has strongly recommended that a convicted murderer on death row be granted a new trial on the basis that the trial judge in his case “consistently used racist language and antisemitic slurs” when referring to the defendant. Jesus Jiménez reports for the New York Times.
Veterans are increasingly joining extremist groups, however there is a lack of data on the topic, which makes it difficult to determine how extensive the problem is, a panel of experts told the House Veteran Affairs Committee yesterday. “Violent extremism is a growing problem in America and by extension the military and veteran communities,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, a researcher of extremism, told the committee. “The questions are how extensive is this problem and what are we going to do about it,” Plenzler said, adding that “while veterans who participate in domestic terrorism may be few, they can be extremely dangerous.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The Justice Department is investigating an Indianapolis police sergeant who was shown in body-camera footage kicking a handcuffed man in the face during an arrest last month. The sergeant, Eric Hixley, has also been charged with two state-level felonies and suspended without pay for his actions in the arrest of 39-year-old Jermaine Vaughn on Sept. 24. Derek Hawkins reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6. attack on the Capitol has issued a subpoena for Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official under former President Trump who attempted to utilize department resources to support Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud in the 2020 election. Clark, the former acting head of the Civil Division of the Justice Department, drafted and circulated a draft letter addressed to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) urging state officials to investigate unfounded claims of fraud. Trump considered instituting Clark as the Acting Attorney General to help him seek to overturn the election results. Jacqueline Alemany, Tom Hamburger, and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.
The subpoena seeks testimony and records from Clark and “the select committee needs to understand all the details about efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) the committee Chair, said in a statement. “We need to understand Mr. Clark’s role in these efforts at the Justice Department and learn who was involved across the administration,” he added. The select committee’s focus on Clark also “indicates that it is deepening its scrutiny of the root causes of the attack,” Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
Jeff Rosen, the acting Attorney General during the final days of the Trump administration, was interviewed by the Jan. 6 select committee yesterday, according to sources familiar with the matter. Rosen has previously testified publicly about the Jan. 6 attack and took questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for its separate probe into Trump’s efforts to influence the Justice Department; it is therefore unclear how much new information the Jan. 6 select committee will obtain from Rosen. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
The White House has formally rejected the request by Trump to assert executive privilege over a subset of documents that had been requested by the Jan. 6 Select Committee, and has set an aggressive timeline for their release. When the White House sent its first letter last week informing the National Archives that it would not assert executive privilege over a tranche of documents related to Jan. 6 from the Trump White House, the former President had not formally submitted his objections yet. “The latest response from the White House counsel is more of a technicality in response to the request from Trump regarding the subset of documents, according to a person familiar…The letter sent Friday, and released on Wednesday, from White House counsel Dana Remus to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero requests that the documents be released ‘30 days after your notification to the former President, absent any intervening court order,’” Kaitlan Collins reports for CNN.
Two Washington, D.C. corrections officials have been found in contempt by a federal judge over their treatment of a Jan. 6 attack defendant. The judge also referred the matter to the Department of Justice for a civil rights investigation into whether other Jan. 6 attack defendants are facing similar conditions. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he would not issue contempt sanctions against D.C. Jail Warden Wanda Patten and Quincy Booth, the director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, for a long delay in turning over medical records related to a defendant’s injury, and which were required to approve an operation for the injury. “I find that the civil rights of the defendant have been abused,” Lamberth said at a hearing yesterday morning. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
A Texas woman who boasted on social media of taking part in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, has pleaded guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building. Jenny Cudd is among more than 70 defendants who have pleaded guilty in deals with the U.S. attorney’s office in the Washington District. In return for her guilty plea Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Fretto said that the government will move to dismiss several other charges against her, including a felony count, at her March 18 sentencing hearing. Paul Duggan reports for the Washington Post.
According to a State Department email sent to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan on Monday, most evacuation flights scheduled to depart the country this week have been cancelled. No reason for the cancellations were given, but the email instructed individuals to “be ready to travel on short notice.” Kylie Atwood reports for CNN.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended flights to Kabul following what PIA called “heavy handed” interference by Taliban authorities, including arbitrary rule changes and intimidation of staff. “The suspension came as the Taliban government ordered the airline, the only international company operating regularly out of Kabul, to cut ticket prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August,” Syed Raza Hassan reports for Reuters.
More than 3 million Afghan refugees are trying to reach Iran and Pakistan and the displacement of ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan may escalate tensions to a critical level, a Russian-led security bloc has said today. Reuters reports.
A Marine Lieutenant colonel who posted videos criticizing the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military leaders for their roles in the Afghanistan withdrawal will plead guilty to multiple charges at his court martial, his attorney has said. “Lt. Col. Stu Scheller is charged with disrespecting superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying an officer, conduct unbecoming an officer, contempt for his senior leaders and violations of good order and discipline,” Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.
Afghan refugees, many fleeing the Taliban regime, are claiming that they are being beaten, harassed, and turned back by Turkish border forces. Violent “pushbacks,” including torture against refugees, have surged in eastern Turkey in the months since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, according to an investigation by the Guardian involving interviews with several pushback victims, human rights lawyers working in the region, and independent observers. Peter Yeung reports for the Guardian.
Critically ill Afghans are suffering as a result of a shortage of specialist doctors and equipment in Afghanistan, as well as travel to Pakistan becoming much more difficult since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Before the Taliban took over, patients from Afghanistan regularly crossed into Pakistan for treatment, however now they are being regularly stopped by the Taliban and Pakistan has tightened its border protocols making transit much more complicated. Betsy Joles reports for the Guardian.
Democratic leaders in Congress are working hard to keep an immigration overhaul alive in a reconciliation bill even as efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform have been stalled by Republicans, blocked by courts, and rejected by the Senate parliamentarian for violating the rules of the chamber. A current long-shot proposal is to include “language in [President Biden’s] sweeping social safety net package to provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.” Significantly, this proposal would not put these immigrants on a direct path to citizenship. Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has said that the U.S. must invest more into Central America if it wishes to reduce the flow of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. “There needs to be a bigger investment from the United States in Central America than has been given, without a doubt,” Ebrard said on a radio program. “Without this investment, if the United States does not support Central America, it’s very hard to think that the migration flows that are happening will diminish,” he added. Reuters reporting.
A coalition of leaders from around 30 nations have called for increased international cooperation to fight ransomware attacks at a White House-led summit on countering the incidents. “We view international engagement as foundational to our collective ability to deal with the ransomware ecosystem, to hold criminals and the states that harbor them accountable, and to reduce the threat to our citizens in each of our partner countries,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said during the opening plenary session, “which preceded two days of closed-panel discussions around ransomware focused on resilience, disruption, virtual currency and diplomacy. Notably, officials from Russia were not invited to participate despite many high-profile ransomware attacks linked to cybercriminals likely based in Russia,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Congress is looking to funnel resources to improve state and local government cybersecurity infrastructure after the Covid-19 pandemic forced municipalities to move many essential operations to aging and vulnerable online sources. “Included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate in August is $1 billion to shore up government cybersecurity after a year in which hackers took full advantage of targeting systems. Officials say lessons have been learned,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
France’s national intelligence and counterterrorism coordinator, Laurent Nuñez, has said that right-wing extremist movements in the U.S. such as QAnon have been influencing the French far right. Although French authorities have not found “operational links” between domestic extremist groups and the United States, French groups have drawn inspiration from movements around the world. Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.
The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan is seriously testing Pakistan’s “long fraught bilateral relationship” with the U.S. A recent bill proposed by almost two dozen Republican lawmakers in the Senate has called for “an assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020,” examining the provision of “sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and tactical, operation or strategic direction.” Pakistan’s Senate has expressed alarm over this bill and described it as an effort to scapegoat it for U.S. military failures. Madiha Afzal writes for the Brookings Institution.
The U.S. has overtaken China to account for the largest share in the world’s bitcoin mining, according to data published by researchers at the University of Cambridge. The figures reflect the impact of a crackdown on bitcoin trading and mining launched by the Chinese government in late May, which devastated the industry and caused miners to shut up shop or move overseas. However, the industry uses a huge amount of electricity which could present an awkward position for President Biden ahead of the upcoming Cop26 climate talks in Scotland next month. Reuters reports.
The Pentagon’s head of foreign military sales is resigning. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) Director Heidi Grant will step down on Nov. 7 after “considering this transition for some time and believed the moment was right after successfully leading DSCA to its full operational capability phase of organizational transformation on October 1,” according to an agency statement released Tuesday. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Syria has reported that Israeli air forces launched strikes in areas close to the historic Syrian town of Palmyra in the central province of Homs, targeting Iran-backed militia. Israel is believed to have been behind many such airstrikes in the past, but rarely acknowledges or discusses its role in such operations. Associated Press reports.
Iran-backed militia in Syria have warned that they will respond forcefully to the Israeli strike over Syria’s Palmyra area. A statement by the so-called operations room of the group said the response to the strike would be “very cruel,” adding casualties would have been much higher had its forces not been well spread across the desert area. “As a result of this attack a number of martyrs and injured from our Mujahedeen brothers have fallen,” the statement said without elaborating. Reuters reports.
Deadly gunfire has targeted supporters of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, as they headed to a protest demanding the removal of the judge investigating last year’s explosion at the city’s port, leading to several deaths. The Lebanese army said in a statement that the gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through a traffic circle in an area dividing Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods. A military source said that the shooting began from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh before spiralling into an exchange of fire. Reuters reports.
The death toll in the deadly violence in Beirut has climbed to four, including a woman who died from a bullet wound in her house, a military source has said. Reuters reports.
Myanmar’s military junta will not allow a special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to meet deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi because she is currently facing court charges, a military spokesperson has said. The ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar hopes to visit Myanmar before ASEAN’s summit later this month. The spokesperson also added that the delay by the U.N. in approving the military’s nomination for their U.N. ambassador was politically motivated and that the international community “should avoid double standards when they are engaging in international affairs.” Al Jazeera reports.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers are to discuss excluding Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming ASEAN summit, according to sources familiar with the matter. Several ASEAN members have strongly criticized the Myanmar’s military government’s inaction on a five-point plan that it agreed to with ASEAN in April, centring on dialogue among all parties, humanitarian access, and an end of hostilities. Rozanna Latiff and Tom Allard report for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
In the deadliest attack in Norway in a decade, a man armed with a bow and arrows killed five people and wounded two others in Kongsberg, a small Norwegian town near Oslo. The suspect has been taken into custody, but authorities have yet to establish a motive, and Oyvind Aas, an assistant police chief, has warned that while it is “natural” to speculate about whether it was a terrorist attack, it is too soon to determine the motivation. The killings mobilized a nationwide reaction. Specialized national police units were summoned, hospitals and the Justice Ministry were put on alert, and Norwegian police were authorized to carry weapons. Henrik Pryser Libell reports for the New York Times.
The man arrested over the deadly bow and arrows attack in Norway had been known to the police prior to the attack. The 37-year old Danish citizen had converted to Islam and there were fears that he had been radicalized, police have said. “Regional police chief Ole Bredrup Saeverud said officers had last been in touch with the man in 2020…Police had initially confronted the man six minutes after the attack began at 18:12 [12:12 ET] on Wednesday but he shot arrows at the officers. The man escaped and was not caught until 18:47 – 35 minutes after the attack started. The police chief said all five victims were most likely killed after he was first confronted by police,” BBC News reports.
The trial of four Egyptian security service officers accused of killing an Italian researcher, Guilio Regini, has begun in a court in Rome. Regeni’s mutilated body was found in a ditch by a road in Cairo five and half years ago. The four accused men are however standing trial in absentia after Egypt refused to acknowledge the trial in Rome and closed its own investigation into the incident late last year, as well as reportedly stonewalling efforts to investigate the incident. Ruth Michaelson reports for the Guardian.
Armenia told judges at the World Court in The Hague today that Azerbaijan promotes ethnic hatred against Armenians and asked the court to stop what Armenia’s lawyers called a cycle of violence and hatred. “Armenia’s assertions, which Azerbaijan denies, are part of a case it filed at the World Court last month that says Azerbaijan has violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which both states are signatories. [Today’s] hearing does not go into the merits of the case but instead deals with Armenia’s request for emergency measures to stop the alleged violations, while the court considers the claim,” Reuters reports.
Poland plans to spend over 1.6 billion zlotys ($404 million) on building a wall on its border with Belarus, according to a draft bill, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants trying to cross. “Poland began building a barbed wire fence along its border with Belarus in August to curb the illegal border crossings despite criticism that some migrants were being treated inhumanely. The new wall, which would include a system of motion sensors and cameras, would further bolster border security,” Reuters reports.
A man who confessed to killing more than 10 children in Kenya has escaped from police cells in Nairobi. “Three police officers who were on duty at the time of his escape from Jogoo Road police station, in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, have been arrested. Authorities have launched a hunt for the man they have described as extremely dangerous,” Emmanuel Igunza reports for BBC News.
Opposition lawmakers in Chile are moving to oust President Sebastián Piñera after revelations in the Pandora Papers highlighted potential conflict of interests in his family’s sale of a mining project. A group of 17 lower house deputies presented yesterday an accusation for “compromising the Nation’s honor and infringing the constitution and the country’s laws.” “The move comes just five weeks before presidential elections in which the ruling coalition’s candidate is trailing third in the polls,” Bloomberg News reports.
Olympic officials will not hold China to account over its human rights record ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said. The official said that pushing China on its human rights record is not within the committee’s record and they have to respect the host country’s sovereignty. “The remarks, made by IOC vice president John Coates in his native Australia on Wednesday, come as human rights groups have called for a boycott of the Beijing Games to protest China’s official campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as its crackdown on Hong Kong. Several U.S. lawmakers have also urged America to pull out,” Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
The coronavirus has infected over 44.68 million and has now killed over 719,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 239.18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.87 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley, and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the Emergency Use Listing process for Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine remains on hold pending missing data and legal procedures, which it hopes will be “sorted out quite soon.” Al Jazeera reports.
The WHO has named an advisory group to study the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it tries to revive its study which has become bogged down in a political rivalry between China and the U.S., and concerns about scientists’ conflicts of interest, since the WHO sent a previous team to China in early 2021. The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), includes scientists from 26 countries and is “a reflection of the WHO’s effort to amass widespread international support for the work,” Benjamin Mueller reports for the New York Times.
The WHO’s new plan to better investigate the origins of Covid-19, is already facing the key problem of a lack of cooperation from the Chinese government. Without cooperation from Beijing the investigation is likely to remain unresolved. WHO officials have framed the new SAGO body as a correction to the hyper-politicization of the issue of Covid-19’s origins, with the aim to ensure that a disease does not wreak such global havoc again rather than to assign blame. SAGO is to be a permanent entity that meets regularly, however it will be an advisory committee and “if something merits further research, it will only be empowered to bring recommendations to the WHO. The WHO can, in turn, ask its member states to turn over records or allow an investigation on their soil. But the body has no ability to compel member states to do anything — especially not if a member state is one of the most powerful nations,” Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
All members of the U.S. Capitol Police Department’s division responsible for protecting lawmakers must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Dec. 6 or they’ll be reassigned, an internal memo has said. There is no vaccine mandate for the entire department. “Agents with our Dignitary Protection Division are frequently in tight spaces with groups of people for extended periods of time,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told CNN. “For their safety, and the safety of everyone around them, I am directing them to get the Covid-19 vaccine, or they can choose to transfer to a different assignment,” he explained. Whitney Wild reports 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.