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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.
The Sudanese military “launched a new wave of arrests of opponents.” So far, at least twelve people have been killed and 150 more have been injured as cities around the country have been rocked by protests and other forms of civil disobedience since the coup on Monday. Mohammed Alamin and Simon Marks report for Bloomberg.
The African Union (AU) has suspended Sudan with immediate effect from all the AU’s activities until the civilian-led transitional authority is restored in Sudan. In a statement the bloc said it “strongly condemns the seizure of power,” which it said “totally rejects the unconstitutional change of government, as unacceptable and an affront to the shared values and democratic norms of the AU.” The AU also called for “the immediate and unconditional full release of all detainees,” and stated that it expressed “deep concern over the military takeover.” For more: DW News.
The World Bank halted disbursements for its operations in Sudan yesterday in response to the military coup. According to the Associated Press, the World Bank had allocated $2 billion for Sudan in May. Téa Kvetenadze reports for Forbes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the U.S. condemns the military takeover in Sudan and the arrest of the country’s civilian leaders, in a phone call with Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi yesterday. Spokesperson Ned Price said that Blinken discussed with al-Mahdi how the United States can best support the Sudanese people’s call for a return to a civilian-led transition to democracy in accordance with the Sudanese Constitutional Declaration. Reuters reports.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, has said that Iran will rejoin international talks on limiting its nuclear program after a constructive dialogue with Enrique Mora, an E.U. negotiator. The announcement has raised hopes that negotiations which have been stalled after June after ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won the presidential election in Iran, replacing President Hassan Rouhani, who had negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and European powers. Vivian Yee reports for the New York Times.
In a tweet, following the talks with the E.U. coordinators of the negotiations, Bagheri Kani said “we agree to start negotiations before the end of November. Exact date would be announced in the course of the next week.” Further, “on Monday, U.S. chief negotiator Robert Malley said the U.S. had given ‘a lot of thought’ to its options if the talks drag on. People close to the negotiations say that steps to increase the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran could be quickly ramped up if Tehran returns to talks but doesn’t seriously engage in the negotiations,” Laurence Norman in Berlin and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.
The top U.S. military official has described China’s recent test of a hypersonic missile as a near “Sputnik moment,” comparing it to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite, and has said that the Pentagon is focused on the development. “What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it is very concerning,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg Television. “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that. It has all of our attention.” Milley did not provide new details of the August test, in which a Chinese hypersonic missile orbited the globe before heading toward its target. Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Milley’s comment is the first official acknowledgement by the U.S. of claims that China conducted two missile tests over the summer. Beijing has denied any missile test, saying instead that it was a spacecraft. Reports have indicated that the test was of a nuclear-capable missile that could evade U.S. air defense systems. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on Milley’s remarks, saying, “This is not a technology that is alien to us, that we haven’t been thinking about for a while.” Kirby added that the U.S. was working to strengthen defense systems and pursuing its own hypersonic capabilities. BBC News reports.
Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan has said that he expects to meet President Biden on the sidelines of the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow to discuss the U.S.’s cancellation of a shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Erdoğan told reporters that it was most likely that he and Biden would meet at COP26 in Glasgow, rather than the upcoming Group of 20 meeting in Rome. “The United States removed NATO ally Turkey from the international program that produces the F-35 jets in 2019 over Ankara’s decision to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. Washington says the Russian system compromises the F-35s’ security. Erdoğan has previously said that his government is seeking to recover a $1.4 billion payment that the country made before it was expelled from the F-35 program and that the United States has proposed selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkey to make up for the payment,” AP reports.
The attorney representing the U.S. government has argued in a U.K. court that the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Jullian Assange should go ahead. In January, a U.K. court blocked Assange’s extradition to the U.S. because he was deemed a suicide risk if he were held in a maximum-security federal prison. The U.S. has appealed this decision to the UK. High Court. The U.S. said that Assange would not be held at the maximum-security prison; that he would have the option to serve out his sentence in his native Australia; and that he would not face special security measures, known as special administrative measures, which can include limiting his communications and visits. The U.S. attorney also said that assurances the U.S. Justice Department made in July should assuage concerns about Assange’s mental health. Will Horner reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Loavrov has told Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to refuse to host U.S. or NATO military forces. Lavrov was speaking over video at a conference about Afghanistan held in Tehran, with representatives from China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in attendance. “We … call on Afghanistan’s neighboring countries not to allow a military presence of U.S. and NATO forces which plan to move there after leaving Afghan territory,” Lavrov said. Reuters reports.
The U.S. embassy in Moscow could stop performing most functions next year unless there is progress with Russia on increasing the number of visas for diplomats, a U.S. official has warned. “Russia and the United States withdrew their ambassadors in April after the incoming Biden administration issued sanctions and expelled 10 Russian diplomats over actions including the SolarWinds cyber attack and election interference. Those ambassadors returned in June, but the staff at the embassy in Moscow – the last operational U.S. mission in the country…– has shrunk to 120 from about 1,200 in early 2017, the state department official told reporters at a briefing. He said that the United States lacked staff for basic tasks such as opening and closing the embassy gates, ensuring secure telephone calls and operating the elevators,” the Guardian reports.
As Biden prepares to travel to Rome and Glasgow for his first G20 leader’s summit and the COP26 climate conference he is in the challenging position of only having a handful of ambassadors confirmed. “Lawmakers and diplomats say the lack of confirmed ambassadors will handicap Biden in his ability to perform on the world stage because it could leave him less prepared and informed about the dynamics of allies and adversaries,” Kylie Atwood, Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been hit by a ransomware attack. NRA files appear to have been posted to the dark web by a group known as Grief. The group is threatening to release more of the files if not paid, though it did not publicly state how much it was requesting. Making ransom payments to Grief is particularly difficult as “cybersecurity experts widely believe Grief is a rebranded effort by a group of Russian cybercriminals who previously used the nickname Evil Corp, which is currently under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department,” Kevin Collier reports for NBC News.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has formally announced the establishment of a new cyber bureau at the State Department to help tackle cyber and emerging technology diplomatic issues. The new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy “will address issues including cyber threats, global internet freedom, surveillance risks and working with democratic allied nations to set international norms and standards on emerging technologies,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Lawmakers are split on the next steps for securing key transportation avenues like air and rail, as well as pipelines, against cyber threats and whether directives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) go too far or not far enough. “After the Colonial [Pipeline] hike caused crippling gas shortages in multiple states in May, the TSA issued two directives to secure pipelines. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced earlier this month that the TSA would soon issue security directives for rail and aviation, which will require higher-risk transit entities to report cybersecurity incidents to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, among other measures…But while most officials agree on the need to prioritize cybersecurity after a year that has seen a concerning rise in ransomware and other cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, the speed and process around the directives being put out is worrying to some,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has granted short postponements of the scheduled depositions of individuals who helped plan the rallies and events leading up to the attack, a committee aide has said. The individuals — Justin Caporale, Tim Unes, Caroline Wren and Maggie Mulvaney — have all been engaged with the committee and were initially scheduled for depositions on Monday and Tuesday. The individuals were each subpoenaed by the committee last month for their roles in the “Stop the Steal” rally and other events preceding the Capitol attack. The committee is still set to hear on Friday from Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who pushed election fraud claims, and is scheduled to hear as well on Friday from individuals affiliated with the “Stop the Steal” rally (Ali Alexander, Amy Kremer, and Kylie Kremer). Two others associated with rallies which preceded the attack (Cynthia Chafian and Nathan Martin) are set to testify today. Annie Grayer and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
Former top Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark has recently split from his lawyer ahead of his deposition before the Jan. 6 select committee this Friday. Clark and Robert Driscoll, the Washington attorney who has been representing him, “have recently parted ways,” according to two people with knowledge of the matter. “It is unclear if the departure will impact Clark’s interview,” Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
The Department of Justice is pushing back on claims of mistreatment of individuals held at a Washington DC jail in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. The allegations have previously led a federal judge to refer the jail for an investigation into potential civil rights violations after holding its officials in contempt of court. The allegations are linked to the case of Christopher Worrell and “during an October 13 hearing, Worrell’s lawyer claimed that because jail officials had dragged their feet getting his client medical treatment for a broken finger, Worrell needed surgery. He is also diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and at one point he contracted Covid-19 while at the jail. But in a court filing on Wednesday, which cited notes from multiple doctors, federal prosecutors said that Worrell had ‘invented’ his medical needs,” Hannah Rabinowitz and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
An individual charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack who has ties to the far-right group Proud Boys will plead guilty to a misdemeanor for illegally protesting in the Capitol building, his lawyer has confirmed. Marshall Cohen and Em Steck report for CNN.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is scrutinizing disclosures from Facebook’s internal company research to see if the company had identified ill effects from its products and engaged in deceptive conduct, according to people familiar with the matter. Officials are looking into whether Facebook research documents indicate that the company might have violated a 2019 settlement with the FTC over privacy concerns, for which the company paid a record $5 billion penalty, a source has said. “The internal research found evidence that the company’s algorithms foster discord and that its Instagram app is harmful for a sizable percentage of its users, notably teenage girls, among other findings. The documents provided the foundation for The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series,” John D. McKinnon and Brent Kendall report for the Wall Street Journal.
Facebook has told its employees to preserve internal documents and communications for legal reasons, as governments and regulators open inquiries into its operations. The document preservation requests or “legal hold” notices are part of the process of responding to legal inquiries, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed. The request applies to documents and communications dating back to 2016. Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac report for the New York Times.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has expanded the list of “sensitive locations” where immigration officers cannot make arrests. Officers “have long been barred from seeking to make arrests at schools and hospitals. But Mayorkas’s memo extends the concept to a broader category of social services, directing all DHS agencies to avoid arrests at domestic violence shelters, food banks, counseling facilities and disaster response centers. It also bars arrests at churches, and at rallies, demonstrations or parades,” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Republicans have sharply criticized Attorney General Merrick Garland over an initiative focused on a “disturbing spike” in threats leveled at school administrators, teachers, and school board members. They accused the Department of Justice of attacking the right of parents to voice concerns about issues such as mask mandates and critical race theory. In response, Garland insisted that he is not trying to squelch spirited debate, but protect school officials from threats or intimidation. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
President Biden’s administration’s most senior intelligence officials, including CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, have defended their push to boost diversity in the ranks of the intelligence community during a congressional hearing, amid attacks from Republicans that such efforts are a distraction from core national security priorities. Diversity and inclusion “is not only the smart thing to do for an agency with a global mission, it’s the right thing to do for an agency that represents and defends our diverse society,” Burns told the House Intelligence Committee. “Simply put, we can’t be effective and we’re not being true to our nation’s ideals if everyone looks like me, talks like me and thinks like me,” Burns said. Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed the presence of U.S. military trainers in Taiwan. Tsai made the remarks during an interview with CNN. Tsai would not say exactly how many U.S. military personnel are on the island at present but said it was “not as many as people thought,” adding that “we have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability.” Will Ripley, Eric Cheung and Ben Westcott report for CNN.
Tsai also said that she had “faith” that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defenses amid increased risk of military action from China. During the interview with CNN, Tsai said she remained open to dialogue with China’s leader Xi Jinping, however Taiwan is on the “front lines” in the fight for democracy as the threat from China grows “every day.” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
China has said that Taiwan has no right to join the U.N. after Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated U.S. support for the move. “Blinken on Tuesday reiterated that the United States still recognized only Beijing, but he emphasized Taiwan’s democratic credentials in asking that it be allowed a greater involvement in U.N. agencies… China responded to Blinken’s statement with strident, albeit familiar, statements emphasizing its position that Taiwan’s government had no place on the world’s diplomatic stage…‘The United Nations is an international governmental organization composed of sovereign states… Taiwan is a part of China,’ [a spokesperson said],” Agence France-Presse reports.
Four leading U.S. intelligence agencies failed to predict the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and instead offered scattershot assessments of the staying power of the Afghan military and government. A review by the Wall Street Journal of summaries of nearly two dozen intelligence assessments has found that the “assessments charted Taliban advances from spring 2020 through this July, forecasting that the group would continue to gain ground and that the U.S.-backed government in Kabul was unlikely to survive absent U.S. support. The analyses, however, differed over how long the Afghan government and military could hold on, the summaries show, with none foreseeing the group’s lightning sweep into the Afghan capital by Aug. 15 while U.S. forces remained on the ground,” Vivian Salama and Warren P. Strobel report for the Wall Street Journal.
Republican lawmakers are questioning the vetting process used to bring Afghans to the U.S., saying standard screening steps were bypassed during the chaotic evacuation effort from Kabul in August. “An internal memo, drafted by Republican aides to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who visited U.S. military bases used to process Afghans domestically and overseas, said that certain standard steps for refugees, such as in-person interviews and document verification, were skipped or delayed. The memo…was prepared ahead of a closed-door briefing from [President] Biden[’s] administration officials for committee members,” Jessica Donati and Siobhan Hughes report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban has allowed teenage girls to return to secondary schools in some provinces in Afghanistan, but there is still significant uncertainty on what this means for education policy under the Taliban going forward. This trend is particularly visible in the northern provinces, “where women have long played a more prominent role in society than in the Taliban’s southern heartland.” Many parents have continued to keep their daughters at home out of fear of the Taliban as well as concern about the value of education for them given that the Taliban has so far excluded women from government and most public-facing jobs. Christina Goldbaum reports for the New York Times.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed with China to upgrade their relationship to the level of comprehensive strategic partnership, ASEAN chair Brunei has said. ASEAN reached a similar deal with Australia earlier this week. Reuters reports.
The chair of ASEAN, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, also told a news conference that Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN was never in question and Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family. Bolkiah made the remarks in response to a question on whether Myanmar would be expelled from ASEAN over its failure to implement a peace plan, following the military takeover in February. Reuters reports.
Just Security has published a piece by Daniel Sullivan: “ASEAN Has Failed on Myanmar. What’s Next?,” contending that the United States and like-minded countries can no longer afford to defer to ASEAN for leadership over the crisis in Myanmar.
The heads of Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, and BP will appear before the House Oversight Committee today as Congress investigates industry efforts to hinder action on climate change. Academic researchers have produced significant evidence that fossil fuel companies misled the public about the realities of climate change. Democratic lawmakers have compared this inquiry to the tobacco hearings of the 1990s, “which brought into sharp relief how tobacco companies had lied about the health dangers of smoking, paving the way for tough nicotine regulations.” Hiroko Tabuchi and Lisa Friedman report for the New York Times.
“It’s time for the American people to hear directly from the top fossil fuel executives about how they manufactured and concealed a global emergency while reaping trillions in corporate profit,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight Committee. Mike Sommers from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade association, and Suzanne Clark, from the Chamber of Commerce, will also appear before the congressional committee. Maloney and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who chairs the environment subcommittee, “sent letters to all the oil companies and business organizations in September seeking information about marketing, lobbying, communications and research efforts related to climate policy. But Maloney said they have not complied,” Deirdre Walsh reports for NPR.
India, the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has questioned net zero targets ahead of the COP26 climate summit. Setting net zero carbon emissions targets is “not a solution itself” to climate change, India’s federal environment minister said. India has committed to “being part of the solution” but the minister also called on rich countries to acknowledge their “historic responsibility” for emissions and protect the interests of developing nations and those vulnerable to climate change. Guardian staff and agencies report.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in Iraq on Tuesday that killed 11 people. The group posted on their affiliated Telegram account yesterday that they were behind the deadly attack at the village of Al-Hawasha, home to many members of the security services. The attack killed 11 and injured 13, security sources have said. Reuters reports.
A defense ministry planning committee in Israel has approved the construction of over 3,000 new homes in the occupied West Bank, the first such policy move since Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett succeeded Benjamin Netanyahu in June. The announcement has not only raised tensions between the Bennett government and President Biden’s administration, but it has exacerbated disagreements within the Israeli government, a diverse coalition who formed a tenuous alliance to remove Netanyahu from office on the basis that no unilateral decisions would be made with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
India has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000km (3,125 miles) from an island off its east coast. The test was in line with “India’s policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to no first use,” a government statement has said. Al Jazeera reports.
China is to finance the construction of an outpost for a special forces unit of Tajikistan’s police near the Tajik-Afghan border, the Tajikistan’s parliament has said. No Chinese troops will be stationed at the facility, a parliament spokesperson said. “The plan to build the post comes amid tension between the Dushanbe government and Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers,” Reuters reports.
The head of the U.K. army, General Mark Carleton-Smith, has said that he is “appalled” by recent allegations that British soldiers may have been involved in the killing of a Kenyan woman in 2012. Carleton-Smith said he was determined to work with the authorities to establish the facts in the killing of Agnes Wanjiru. Wanjiru’s body was found in a septic tank at the Lions Court hotel in the town of Nanyuki, close to the Batuk (British Army Training Unit Kenya) camp, two months after she disappeared in March 2012. Lucy Campbell reports for the Guardian.
The E.U.’s top court has told Poland to pay a fine of €1m a day in a row over judicial reforms in Poland. “Earlier this year, Poland was ordered to suspend a controversial disciplinary chamber, but has not yet done so. It is the latest development in a bitter feud with the E.U. over changes that are seen as weakening the independence of Polish courts. The hefty penalty was immediately denounced as ‘blackmail’ by [a] Polish government spokesperson,” BBC News reports.
Although the outcome of the latest meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee was “a disappointment,” progress is still possible and members must continue their vital work, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria has said in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council. “The hope was that the 45 men and women — who represent the Syrian government, opposition and civil society — would draft a text that would help support a peaceful future for their country after more than a decade of war. However, they were unable to move from submitting and discussing initial drafts to developing a productive textual drafting process. It is important the Committee’s work continues ‘with urgency and purpose,’ said [Geir] Pedersen, adding that his engagement will continue. ‘We need a common understanding on a working mechanism to help the Constitutional Committee discharge its drafting mandate,’ he told ambassadors,” UN News Centre reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 45.70 million people and has now killed over to 741,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 245.06 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.97 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has asked the Brazilian Supreme Court to block a possible ruling suspending him from social media. “A Senate investigative committee on Tuesday called for Bolsonaro to be indicted for nine crimes related to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and asked that his social media accounts be suspended for spreading misinformation about Covid-19. The committee has also requested access to his internet activity since April 2020. The government solicitor general asked the top court to bar social media companies from providing that information,” Reuters 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.