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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.
Security officials in China’s Henan province, one of China’s largest provinces, have commissioned a surveillance system that they want to use to track journalists and international students among other “suspicious people.” A July 29 tender document details plans for a system that can compile files on people of interest coming to Henan using 3,000 facial recognition cameras that connect to national and regional databases. The contract was awarded in September to Chinese technology company Neusoft, which was due to complete construction of the system within two months. It is not known whether the system is currently being used. Reuters reports.
A newly published cache of documents directly links top Chinese leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in China. The documents, which were passed to the independent Uyghur Tribunal in the U.K., include speeches and statements from Chinese Communist Party leaders, which analysts say prove senior government leaders called for measures that led to mass internment and forced labor in the Xinjiang province. BBC News reports.
The Pentagon is to focus on building bases in Guam and Australia to better prepare the U.S. military to counter China, a senior defense official has said. The moves have been prompted by the Department of Defense’s global posture review, ordered by President Biden. The Indo-Pacific region was a major focus in the review, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin describing “China as the pacing challenge” for the Department, the anonymous senior defense official said. Ellie Kaufman reports for CNN.
The head of the U.K.’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, has warned of China’s “debt traps and data traps” in his first live broadcast interview. Richard Moore warned that China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook.” Moore also admitted that the assessment of the Taliban’s progress in Afghanistan this summer was “clearly wrong,” but denied that the fall of Kabul was an “intelligence failure.” Moore also described a “chronic problem” with Russia and Ukraine – with Russia posing an “acute threat” to the United Kingdom. George Bowden reports for BBC News.
NATO foreign ministers are meeting today to calibrate a response to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine. The U.S. and allies have warned that an invasion would spark a sharp response, such as financial, political and other sanctions, but they have also said that they have no obligation to defend Ukraine, which as a partner of NATO but not a member is not covered by the alliance’s mutual defense pact. James Marson reports for The New York Times.
The White House is also reviewing options to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine, including providing more military aid to Kyiv and threatening sanctions against Russia. Administration officials are trying to craft an approach that neither appeases Russia nor provokes significant escalation. The deliberations come as President Biden and his aides prepare for a virtual call with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. Paul Sonne, Ellen Nakashima and Missy Ryan report for the Washington Post.
The building up of Russian forces near Ukraine’s borders is likely intended to strengthen Russia’s bargaining position in a future meeting between Biden and Putin, Ukraine’s Defense Minister has said. Reuters reports.
Russia has carried out another successful test launch of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile. The missile, which has been hailed by Putin as part of a new generation of unrivaled arms systems, was fired from a warship in the White Sea and hit a naval target more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) away, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Reuters reports.
Talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal recommenced yesterday, with optimistic statements being made by E.U., Iranian and Russian diplomats, despite skepticism about the likelihood of success. The U.S. is not directly present at the talks as Iran refuses to meet with U.S. officials face-to-face. “I feel extremely positive about what I have seen today,” said Enrique Mora, the E.U. official chairing the talks. Russia’s envoy to the talks said on Twitter they “started quite successfull[y],” and Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, confirmed to reporters that he is optimistic. However, despite the optimism, “it was not clear whether Iran had agreed to resume the talks where they had left off in June — as demanded by Western powers — or that the optimism was justified,” Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi and John Irish report for Reuters.
Iran is “insisting on sanctions lifting” immediately, which may be a stumbling block to progress in the talks. Iran is also insisting that the U.S. and its allies promise never to impose sanctions on Iran again, Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, told reporters. “According to a senior European official, who requested anonymity, the Iranian negotiator also said during meetings that Iran would further escalate its nuclear program if those demands were not met,” Steven Erlanger reports for The New York Times.
Just Security has published a piece by Ambassador Robert Ford and Milan Vivanco titled ‘Getting China to Yes on More Iran Sanctions,’ considering China’s position on continuing to import Iranian oil and suggesting a potential way ahead.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a new high-level investigation into a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed 80 people, including women and children. The investigation will be led by Gen. Michael X. Garrett, the four-star head of the Army’s Forces Command, and will examine the strike as well as the military’s initial inquiries into the strike, according to Pentagon officials. Eric Schmitt and Dave Philipps report for The New York Times.
The National Security Council’s top Latin America official met with Colombian Americans yesterday amid criticism over news that the U.S. would remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. is to remove the designation today from the former Marxist rebel group to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the historic peace accord between FARC and former President Juan Manuel Santos. However, President Biden’s administration is also going to place two breakaway groups formed by former FARC rebels on the terrorism list. While the move has been characterized as lifting the pressure on the FARC, it is in fact a shift toward the organizations that are the FARC’s dissident groups, Juan S. Gonzalez, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council Gonzalez said. Carmen Sesin reports for NBC News.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Ugandan military has launched air and artillery raids against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in an operation agreed with Congolese forces. “Ugandan authorities have blamed the ADF for deadly suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala, earlier this month. The armed group has been accused of carrying out dozens of attacks in the eastern DRC,” Al Jazeera reports.
More than 100 former members of the Afghan security forces in four Afghan provinces have been killed or disappeared by the Taliban in the first two and a half months of the Taliban’s rule, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The deaths are part of a string of assassinations and summary executions, largely considered revenge killings, since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Sharif Hassan reports for The New York Times.
A junta court in Myanmar has postponed until Dec. 6 the verdict in the incitement trial of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Agence France-Presse reports.
Leftist candidate Xiomara Castro claimed victory in the Honduran presidential election yesterday, as votes continued to be counted. With just over half of the ballots tallied, the Free Party candidate held a 20-point lead over Nasry Asfura, her main rival. Castro is the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted by the Honduran military in 2009. Kevin Sieff and Delphine Schrank report for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is preparing to advance a contempt of Congress charge against former President Trump ally Jeffrey Clark. The committee plans to meet tomorrow to vote on whether to recommend for the full House to hold Clark, who ran the Environment and Natural Resources division of the Justice Department under Trump, in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions from a committee subpoena. Zak Hudak reports for CBS News.
Three federal appeals judges are set to hear arguments today relating to Trump’s lawsuit against the Jan. 6 select committee and the National Archives, the custodian of Trump’s White House records. The records are from former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former adviser Stephen Miller, former deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin and former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, among other top Trump aides. Trump has made at least four assertions of executive privilege, most recently on Nov. 15, in a bid to prevent portions of those records from going to House investigators. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
Hours before the Jan. 6 attack, Trump made several calls from the White House to top lieutenants at the Willard hotel in Washington and talked about ways to stop the certification of President Biden’s election win from taking place, according to sources. Trump first told his lieutenants at the hotel, a team led by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Trump strategist Steve Bannon, that then Vice President Pence, was reluctant to go along with the plan to commandeer Pence’s largely ceremonial role at the joint session of Congress. Trump then pressed his lieutenants about how to delay the certification process to get alternate slates of electors for Trump sent to Congress. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
The man known as the “QAnon Shaman” has said that he has hired two new lawyers, indicating that he is likely to appeal his 41-month prison sentence for his role in the Jan. 6 attack. Daniel Barnes reports for NBC News.
Federal prosecutors have indicted three men — including one who is accused of assaulting DC police officer Michael Fanone — for planning to be violent together on Jan. 6, according to court records and a Justice Department statement. “The group communicated on Telegram under the name ‘Patriots 45 MAGA Gang,’ prosecutors said, riffing about their anger toward officials who supported the 2020 election result and gloating about the violence of the siege,” Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Senate Republicans have blocked the annual defense policy bill, throwing the legislation into limbo. “The Senate voted 45-51 to start winding down debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending levels and policy for the Pentagon. But that is short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the hurdle. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was the only Republican to vote with Democrats to advance the bill, while Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against moving forward along with 46 Republican senators,” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration’s decision to waive sanctions on the Russian-built Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, is imperiling the passage of the annual defense policy bill. Republican senators have resorted to hardball tactics to force the Biden administration to implement sanctions on the gas line, including it being a key factor in yesterday’s block of further action on the defense policy bill. Andrew Desiderio and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
After skipping the classified briefings from the CIA during a holiday break, Trump did not get a CIA briefing on Jan. 6 or for the rest of his presidency. This unusual stretch where Trump did not receive a regular classified briefing is recounted in the latest version of a book published and regularly revised by the CIA, which describes how the agency updates presidents on national security matters. Josh Pagliery reports for The Daily Beast.
The book also offers an insight into how the intelligence community “struggled” to brief Trump when he was President. The book “offers an inside window into the intelligence community’s struggle to adjust to [Trump]…[and] how, at every turn, the relationship between the new President and the intelligence community was undermined by the political imbroglio stemming from the Trump campaign’s alleged relationship to Russia,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN.
The Islamophobia controversy engulfing Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) worsened yesterday after Boebert went after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in a video following a tense phone call between the two lawmakers. A video circulated on social media last week of Boebert making anti-Muslim remarks, including calling Omar a member of the “jihad squad.” Boebert claimed in a video yesterday that she sought to deescalate tensions with Omar during a call, but the exchange ended with Omar continuing to insist on public contrition, to which Boebert herself replied with an insistence on a public apology. Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and Olivia Beavers report for POLITICO.
The coronavirus has infected over 48.43 million people and has now killed over 778,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 262.26 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.21 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Most federal workers who failed to meet the Nov. 22 deadline to get the Covid-19 vaccine do not risk being suspended or losing their jobs until next year, President Biden’s administration has said in enforcement guidance. Rather, managers will continue “with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” the guidance states. Maureen Groppe reports for USA Today.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the new Omicron Covid-19 variant poses a “high infection risk” around the world. The variant could lead to severe consequences in some regions, the WHO said yesterday, with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, renewing a call for a global push to get vaccines to poorer nations. BBC News reports.
The Pentagon has rejected a request from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) to exempt his state’s National Guard from the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate. In a letter to Stitt, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said all members of the Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard must follow the mandate “regardless of duty status.” Failure to get vaccinated “may lead to a prohibition on the member’s participation in drills and training… and jeopardize the member’s status in the National Guard,” Austin said. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
President Biden has said that the new Omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” as the U.S. implements restrictions on travel from South Africa and several other countries. Biden warned that travel restrictions which took effect yesterday would not prevent the spread of the virus in the U.S., but that the ban would give public health officials “time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine.” Lauren Gambino reports for the Guardian.
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.