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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.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House has voted to hold former President Trump’s ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The vote passed 229 to 202, largely along party lines, with nine House Republicans breaking rank to vote in favor of holding Bannon in contempt. The referral, subsequently signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), was sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office yesterday evening. The Department of Justice now will decide whether to bring charges against Bannon. CNN reports.
President Biden has admitted that he was wrong to make a statement last week that those that defy subpoenas from the Jan. 6 select committee should be prosecuted. “No, the way I said it was not appropriate…I should have chosen my words more wisely,” Biden said. He added that, “I did not, have not and will not pick up the phone and call the attorney general and tell him what he should or should not do in terms of who he should prosecute.” Kaanita Iyer reports for CNN.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that the DOJ will follow “the facts and the law” if presented with a referral from the House that Bannon be charged with criminal contempt of Congress. At an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, prior to the House vote on Bannon’s referral, Garland gave little indication of whether the DOJ intended to charge Bannon were the House to approve the referral. “If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge, the [DOJ] will do what it always does in such circumstances, we’ll apply the facts and the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution,” Garland said. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) out for falsely signing a letter to at least one government agency claiming that he is a ranking member of the Jan. 6 select committee. Cheney called Banks out on the House floor as the chamber began its debate on the criminal contempt referral of Bannon. “[Banks] noted that the Speaker had determined that he wouldn’t be on the committee…So I would like to introduce for the record a number of letters the gentleman of Indiana has been sending to federal agencies,” Cheney said. According to the letter, Banks wrote to the Department of the Interior on Sep. 16 asking to be provided with any information the department turns over to the Jan. 6 select committee. Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
A Texas man who issued threats on social media connected to the Jan. 6 attack has received a 14-month prison sentence. The sentence, imposed by Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia, is the longest yet in connection to the attack. The defendant, Troy Smocks, who is Black, made an appeal to the judge on the grounds he was a victim of a racist criminal justice system. Chutkan, who is also Black, rejected the arguments and said Smock’s argument was “offensive.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
The leader of the Haitian gang, 400 Mawozo, that kidnapped a group of 17 missionaries and children has said that the gang will kill the group if the gang’s demands for payment are not met. The leader said in the video, “I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I want, I prefer to kill the Americans. I’ll put a bullet in each of their heads.” The video was shared on social media yesterday, and the gang’s leader appeared to be speaking at a funeral for other gang members. José de Córdoba and Ingrid Arnesen report for the Wall Street Journal.
Jamaican authorities have arrested a Colombian man they believe is a suspect in the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Officials were still making calls to different embassies and ministers of foreign affairs to confirm details, a Haitian police superintendent told the Associated Press, adding that the police would release more information soon. “More than 40 suspects have been arrested so far in the presidential slaying, including 18 former Colombian soldiers and several Haitian police officers. Colombian authorities have said the majority of soldiers did not know the true nature of the operation,” DÁnica Coto reports for AP.
Haiti’s national police chief Léon Charles resigned yesterday, according to local media. Prime Minister Ariel Henry named Frantz Elbé, another police official, to replace him. Charles faced criticism for his investigation into the assassination of Moïse and his inability to effectively fight the gangs in Haiti. Widlore Mérancourt and Amanda Coletta report for the Washington Post.
Rising global temperatures pose a growing risk to U.S. national security, a new U.S. intelligence report has concluded. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday, the first report to look at the link between climate change and national security. The 27-page assessment is the collective view of all 18 U.S. intelligence agencies. The report raised concerns about nations battling over who will pay for climate change’s costs, maneuvering for advantage in a melting Arctic and grappling with effects such as drought and migration. The report also “projects that nations will fail to meet their pledges to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with that mark being passed around 2030,” Warren P. Strobel and Vivian Salama report for the Wall Street Journal.
The National Intelligence Estimate report identifies 11 countries and two regions where energy, food, water and health security are at particular risk due to climate change. The countries and regions identified tend to be poorer and less able to adapt, increasing the risks of instability and internal conflict. The report warns that instability could spill out, particularly in the form of refugee flows, with a warning this could put pressure on the U.S. southern border and create new humanitarian demands. The report also “warns countries will try to defend their economies and seek advantage in developing new technology. Some nations may also resist the desire to act, with more than 20 countries relying on fossil fuels for greater than 50% of total export revenues,” Gordon Corera reports for BBC News.
The Pentagon and the White House also released reports on climate change and, together with the National Intelligence Estimate, the reports paint a picture of climate change being likely to exacerbate long-standing threats to global security. “Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the U.S. security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape U.S. strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan… The Pentagon report in particular marks a shift in how the U.S. military establishment is incorporating climate issues into its security strategy, analysts said. Until now, when the Defense Department has considered climate change, it has tended to focus on how floods and extreme heat can affect military readiness rather than the broader geopolitical consequences of a warming world. Now it is worried that climate change could lead to state failure,” Shane Harris and Michael Birnbaum report for the Washington Post.
President Biden’s administration yesterday released a report warning that climate change poses an emerging threat to the stability of the U.S. financial system and urging bank regulators to take steps to mitigate that risk. The report by the Financial Stability Oversight Council urges financial regulatory agencies to consider requiring companies to disclose their climate-related financial risks and recommends that bank regulators use “scenario analysis” as a tool for assessing climate-related financial risks. However, the report “is likely to disappoint climate activists who sought stronger measures to curtail the flow of investments into fossil fuel companies and other major emitters of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet,” Steven Mufson and Maxine Joselow report for the Washington Post.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is at the first in-person meeting of NATO’s defense ministers since the start of the pandemic, with China on his agenda. The two day meeting concludes tomorrow and is taking place with an eye toward next year, when member nations will convene in Madrid with the goal of outlining their common strategic objectives. “None of this year’s ministerial sessions were explicitly dedicated to discussing the rise of China, which Austin has called the ‘pacing threat’ for the U.S. military. But the secretary planned to raise the issue during several meetings…, according to senior defense officials, including in discussions about the future of NATO’s deterrence and defense initiatives, and meeting new targets for common funding,” Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his first official visit to South America, yesterday sought to reaffirm the strategic ties between the U.S. and Colombia. Blinken also sought to underscore the importance of ensuring the democracies in the region meet the needs of their people. Blinken’s “comments came ahead of a scheduled U.S.-Colombia dialogue in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. Blinken raised three joint challenges due to the difficulty that each government implies assuming them alone: the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and migration,” Astrid Suarez reports for AP.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is charging three Colombians and two Venezuelans for an alleged Venezuelan bribery scheme, the DOJ has announced. The DOJ has said that the five men obtained contracts with a Venezuelan state-run food and medicine program called CLAP and inflated the costs to enrich themselves and pay bribes. The indictment unsealed yesterday charges the individuals with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of money laundering. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Australia and the U.K. have defended the Aukus pact between both countries and the U.S., under which the U.S. and U.K. will help Australia obtain nuclear-powered submarines, saying that fears that it could escalate tensions in the region and spark an arms race are overhyped. U.K. Minister for Armed Forces James Heappey said there “has been a lot of overhyping” of the pact. He said the U.K. and the U.S. have been sharing such technologies for decades and that Australia’s decision to join was merely to develop its own submarine capability. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said that Aukus is “not a defense alliance or a security pact” and does not represent a shift in his country’s defense strategy. AP reports.
The U.S. and other nations earlier this week in a joint operation hacked and forced offline the REvil cyber criminal group. According to private sector cyber experts working with the U.S. and one former official, the FBI, U.S. Cyber Command, the Secret Service, and the governments of other unnamed nations breached servers used by REvil to carry out attacks in an effort to disrupt and compromise their operations. REvil has been linked to several major ransomware attacks this year, including the ransomware attack against IT group Kaseya, which impacted up to 1,500 companies, and the ransomware attack on global meat producer JBS USA. Joseph Menn and Christopher Bing report for Reuters.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has ordered Apple, Facebook, and other technology companies to turn over information about how they handle customer data. The demand is the first major action from Rohit Chopra, the new Director of the bureau. The agency said the information will help it determine if adequate consumer protections are in place when these technology firms use personal payment data and manage data access. Katy O’Donnell and Leah Nylen report for POLITICO.
Facebook’s oversight board has criticized the company for a lack of transparency regarding its preferential treatment of the platform’s most prominent users. The board said that Facebook was not open with its users about its policies for deleting content, and that the lack of transparency was particularly problematic in decisions to remove content from prominent users like former President Trump. Adam Satariano reports for the New York Times.
Members of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee have met with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. The lawmakers hoped that Haugen’s inside information would help finalize a package of bills to reduce the market power of companies like Facebook. Emily Birnbaum and Lean Nylen report for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Diana Toebbe, the woman accused of helping her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, sell classified data on nuclear-powered submarines to foreign governments, was ordered to remain in jail pending trial yesterday. “The judge called the evidence against Diana Toebbe “strong” and said she poses a flight risk, noting her previous text messages with her husband in 2019 and 2020 in which she appeared to express a strong desire to leave the country quickly,” Devlin Barett reports for the Washington Post.
Prosecutors have asked a federal jury to convict a business associate of former President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Lev Parnas is accused of funneling more than $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. political campaigns, in a bid to score lucrative licenses in the booming legal cannabis industry. A lawyer for Parnas argued “that the donations were legitimate and that there was a lack of evidence the donations were directed from abroad or given on behalf of others — actions that violate U.S. campaign finance laws,” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
A group representing Navajo communities is presenting its case to an international human rights body, saying that U.S. regulators violated the rights of tribal members when they cleared the way for uranium mining in western New Mexico. Uranium mining has left a legacy of death, disease and environmental contamination on the Navajo Nation, including the largest spill of radioactive material in the U.S. in 1979. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights based in Washington, D.C., decided earlier this year that the petition filed a decade ago by Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining was admissible. With additional testimony and exhibits being filed Thursday, the commission is expected to hold a hearing in the spring,” Susan Montoya Bryan reports for AP.
The Federal Reserve’s ethics office sent a warning to officials to avoid unnecessary trading in March last year. As the Federal Reserve was contemplating a Covid-19 aid package, most officials heeded the ethic’s office warning. But some officials resumed trading. Two Fed officials have resigned, and Chairman Jerome Powell faced backlash for selling some holdings in October. Jeanna Smailek reports for the New York Times.
Lyft has said that it recorded more than 4,000 reports of sexual assault on its app over three years from 2017 to 2019. The long-promised Community Safety Report from Lyft demonstrates the extent of the safety problems facing the company. The report “included data for nonconsensual kissing, touching and penetration, as well as attempted sexual penetration and nonconsensual kissing of nonsexual body parts. In total, Lyft said there 4,158 instances of sexual assault on the app over a period from 2017 through 2019. Lyft said its definitions were overly broad to collect as wide a data set as possible. Lyft recorded 360 reports of rape over the period,” Faiz Siddiqui reports for the Washington Post.
Chanel Dickerson, the assistant police chief in Washington, D.C. and one of 10 Black women who filed a class-action lawsuit last month against the city alleging widespread discrimination, said this week that as a cadet aged 18 she was told she had to get an abortion or she would be fired. “It was unclear what happened afterward, but Dickerson has been with the department since 1988, according to the department’s website. Dickerson and the other former and current employees of the Metropolitan Police Department said in the lawsuit filed in September that they were discriminated against because of their race and gender, and that the division in charge of addressing harassment is run by a man who has expressed hostility toward female officers and tried to discredit women who have come forward,” Ben Kesslen reports for NBC News.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
43, mostly Western, countries criticized China at a U.N. meeting yesterday for the reported torture and repression of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Foreign governments and researchers say an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps in the region. Cuba followed the criticism immediately with a statement on behalf of 62 countries saying that what happens in Xinjiang is China’s internal affair, and dismissing all allegations as based on “political motivation” and “disinformation.” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun spoke soon after, denouncing “the groundless accusations” and unfounded “lies,” and accusing the U.S. and a few other unnamed signatories of the statement of poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation and “using human rights as a pretext for political maneuvering to provoke confrontation.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
President Biden has said that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense and has a committed to defend the island China claims as its own, forcing the White House to clarify that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said when asked if the U.S. would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty. A White House spokesperson subsequently said Biden was not announcing any change in U.S. policy. “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said. The Guardian reports.
China’s Foreign Ministry has urged the U.S. to avoid sending any wrong signals to proponents of Taiwanese independence, following Biden’s comments that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense. “China has no room for concessions when it comes to its core interests, ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing in Beijing,” Reuters reports.
Taiwan’s position remains the same, which is it will neither give in to pressure nor “rashly advance” when it gets support, Taiwan’s presidential office has said in response to Biden’s remarks. Taiwan will show a firm determination to defend itself, a presidential office spokesperson said in a statement. Reuters reporting.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has not left China in 21 months, having sealed himself behind some of the world’s tightest border controls when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and it is not expected that Xi will resume his globe-trotting diplomacy again soon. The Chinese president has continued to limit his interaction with foreign counterparts to videolink and telephone, even as many other heads of state have begun visiting other countries again. James T. Areddy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Attackers have killed at least 16 civilians in three eastern villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the Kivu Security Tracker, a monitoring group which maps violence in the region, the killings occurred overnight in the villages of Mayele, Kalembo, and Toya in the Beni region of the North Kivu province. The monitoring group added that the Allied Democratic Forces armed group, which has been active along the DRC’s eastern border, is suspected to have been the perpetrator of the attacks. Al Jazeera reports.
Thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transitional government have taken to the streets of Khartoum while rival pro-military protesters have held a sit-in outside the presidential palace. The competing protests were organized by opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Chance (FFC) civilian umbrella coalition, which led the mass demonstrations in 2019 that helped remove former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Sudan is currently being governed under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and the FFC. Amid a heavy police and troop presence around potential flash-points, both sides have appealed to their supporters to refrain from violence. Despite this, “there is great concern that things will turn violent.” Al Jazeera reports.
The Ethiopian military struck a target near Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region, yesterday, a government spokesperson has said. The airstrike was the third day this week of airstrikes as fighting in Tigray surges after nearly a year of war. The airstrikes targeted a former military training center near Mekele that’s currently used as a base by Tigray forces, the spokesperson said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. A spokesperson for Tigray forces asserted in a tweet that “our air defense forces have so far managed to protect our people,” despite three attempts by the air force to strike targets. AP reports.
The Ethiopian government has struck Mekele again today, for the fourth day this week. A spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has told Reuters that the strike hit the compound of Mekele university. He did not have any information on casualties. Two humanitarian sources in Ethiopia, citing information from Mekele residents, also told Reuters that the strike had hit Mekelle University. A government spokesperson said today’s airstrike targeted a base formerly belonging to the Ethiopian military and now being used by TPLF forces as a training site. The spokesperson said that the university was not hit. Reuters reports.
Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic (CAR) are leaving a trail of destruction with reports from villages of looting and torture, killings and rape. The mercenaries belong to a Kremlin-linked network of companies known as the Wagner Group that has helped CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra beat back rebels and save his government, according to security, humanitarian, diplomatic and opposition sources in the CAR. “The deployment has given Russia a foothold in the region, seizing on widespread resentment at former colonial power France and using it as a template for its expansion into other troubled neighbouring countries such as Mali. But it has also prompted allegations of human rights abuses at the U.N. security council. The unofficial links to Wagner have given Moscow plausible deniability, analysts say,” Neil Munshi and Max Seddon report for the Financial Times.
An armed gang attacked a passenger train in Nigeria on Wednesday, prompting the Nigeria Railway Corporation to indefinitely suspend train services on a major route linking the capital, Abuja, to the north-western state of Kaduna. Eyewitnesses said the attackers targeted the engine driver and the train tank. No casualties were reported. BBC News reports.
The Taliban have placed further restrictions on female city government employees in Kabul. In a sign that the Taliban will continue to restrict women’s rights, Neamatullah Barakzai, the Taliban’s head of public awareness for the Kabul municipality, said many female city employees will not report to their jobs while officials prepare a new plan regarding women working in government offices. Barakzai said the order does not include women in the health and education sectors, and that all female government employees will continue to receive their salaries. Adela Suliman and Susannah George report for the Washington Post.
The U.N. launched a large-scale Covid-19 vaccination effort in Afghanistan last week, after receiving approval from the Taliban. A UNICEF spokesperson confirmed that Covid-19 vaccinations had begun in southern Afghanistan across 14 provinces. “U.N. agencies and the Taliban had been in talks in recent weeks and Taliban leaders gave the green light for immunization campaigns — including ones for measles and polio — to resume in earnest,” Claire Parker reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
U.K. prosecutors have told a court that the man charged with stabbing and killing U.K. lawmaker Sir David Ames last week considered himself affiliated with the Islamic State and had been planning similar attacks for years. Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old from London, has been charged with murder and preparing acts of terrorism, the Crown Prosecution Service announced before his court appearance yesterday. Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
Nicaragua’s national police have arrested two leaders of the country’s top private business association, just a day after a regional body, the Organization of American States Permanent Council, called for the immediate release of political prisoners in Nicaragua and expressed serious concern about the upcoming elections. “A police statement said Michael Healy Lacayo and Álvaro Vargas, president and vice president, respectively, of the Private Business Superior Council, face charges including money laundering, acts that diminish the country’s independence and inciting foreign interference among others,” AP reports.
The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, has warned that the February military coup in Myanmar has led to armed conflict and if power is not returned to the people in a democratic way the country “will go in the direction of a failed state.” Burgener told a U.N. news conference that the conflict between the military and civilians and ethnic minorities is intensifying in many parts of the country. “The repression of the military has led to more than 1,180 deaths,” Burgener said. “The army uses a range of tactics against civilian populations, including burning villages, looting properties, mass arrests, torture and execution of prisoners, gender-based violence and random artillery fire into residential areas,” she added. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Women in leadership “must be the norm,” in working towards peace and security, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has told the U.N. Security Council. “Women remain on the periphery of formal peace processes, and they’re largely excluded from rooms where decisions are made,” Guterres said, emphasizing that half of humanity can no longer be excluded from international peace and security matters. UN News Centre reports.
E.U. leaders are threatening to withhold billions of Euros from Poland, following Warsaw’s rejection of the supremacy of the E.U. The conflict between Poland and the E.U. was supercharged this month when Poland’s top court ruled that the country’s national constitution trumps some E.U. laws – a direct challenge to the treaties and agreements that hold the bloc together. “The issue is overshadowing this week’s summit of European presidents, prime ministers and chancellors, which began Thursday. After a clamor by several member states, the subject of rule of law was added to the meeting’s agenda at the last minute, and some leaders have openly criticized Poland, calling for a forceful response to its posture,” Reis Thebault reports for the Washington Post.
The coronavirus has infected over 45.30 million people and has now killed over 733,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 242.53 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.93 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The U.K. doctors’ union has accused U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government of being “willfully negligent” in its handling of the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, as government ministers refuse to introduce mitigation measures, despite the country’s rising infection rates. “The United Kingdom has recently registered far more cases than most of Europe, and its rates of hospitalizations and deaths have failed to substantially decline since the summer, when the country lifted almost all of its remaining restrictions… The government has nonetheless ruled out moving to its ‘Plan B’ approach, which would see the introduction of vaccine passports and mandates in line with many European countries,” Rob Picheta 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.