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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.
A U.K. Court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges, including breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers. Following U.S. government assurances about how Assange would be treated if extradited, the U.K. court overturned a lower court’s decision which refused extradition based on Assange’s mental state. Assange is able to appeal the ruling. Reuters reports.
Further reporting on the U.K. court ruling is provided by Megan Specia reporting for the New York Times.
The U.S.-led global coalition against the Islamic State (IS) has ended its combat mission in Iraq. However, the 2,500 troops currently in the country will, at the Iraqi government’s invitation, remain to “advise, assist and enable” Iraqi security forces. BBC News reports.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East and head of U.S. Central Command, warned during an interview with the Associated Press that he expects Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to increase attacks against U.S. and Iraqi personnel in a bid to pressure U.S. forces to leave the country. Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns report for AP.
The number of al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan has “probably slightly increased” following the U.S. withdrawal from the country, McKenzie said during the interview with the Associated Press. McKenzie explained that “the departure of U.S. military and intelligence assets from Afghanistan has made it much harder to track al-Qaeda and other extremist groups inside Afghanistan. ‘We’re probably at about 1 or 2% of the capabilities we once had to look into Afghanistan,’ he said, adding that this makes it ‘very hard, not impossible’ to ensure that neither al-Qaeda nor the [IS]’s Afghanistan affiliate can pose a threat to the United States,” Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor report for AP.
The U.S. has announced new restrictions on Cambodia, citing the “growing influence” of the Chinese military, as well as corruption and human rights abuses. The restrictions include an arms embargo imposed by the State Department. and new trade restrictions on military and dual-use items that may be used for civilian or military purposes announced by the Commerce Department. Andrew Nachemson reports for Al Jazeera.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz yesterday discussed shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. During the meeting at the Pentagon, Austin “confirmed [the] U.S. resolve to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the Defense Department said in a statement. Austin and Gantz also “discussed shared concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear provocations, support for terrorism, and missile program,” the statement said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
A growing number of Republican Senators are seeking to find ways around Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’s block on confirmation votes for 54 of President Biden’s ambassador nominees. Republicans reportedly are discussing potential workarounds with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), including potentially allowing the Senate to vote on five nominees at a time. Manu Raju and Ted Barrett report for CNN.
The Biden administration is expected to announce an initiative today to tighten U.S. restrictions on exports of cyber tools that have been used by authoritarian governments and bad actors for repression. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
The U.S. is determined to walk Bosnia “back from the cliff” amid secessionist threats from Serb nationalists and is exploring sanctions, according to senior adviser to Secretary of State Antony Blinken Derek Chollet. Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
President Biden has promised the leaders of Ukraine and nine eastern European NATO states support if Russia attacks Ukraine and has pledged to involve them in decisions about the region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Twitter that he and Biden also “discussed possible formats for resolving the conflict” in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have carved out a self-declared state. Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
A senior Biden administration official described the call between Biden and Zelensky as “very warm” and that Biden reassured Zelensky that the U.S. and European allies will take “strong” steps to punish Russia if it invades Ukraine. “President Biden made very clear [the] continued U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the senior official said. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Biden assured Zelenskiy during their call that Kyiv’s bid to join NATO was in its own hands, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, has said. “President Biden said very clearly … that any negotiations, any decisions that concern Ukraine, cannot be taken without Ukraine,” Yermak said. Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets report for Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the war in eastern Ukraine is beginning to look like genocide. Putin’s remarks were aimed at addressing the issue of discrimination against Russian speakers beyond Russia’s borders, many of whom live in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, saying that Russophobia was the first step towards genocide. “We see and know what is happening in Donbas…It certainly looks like genocide,” Putin said. BBC News reports.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused Ukraine of “provocation” over an incident involving a Ukrainian warship which headed towards the Kerch Strait, a strait which separates Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula, the state-owned RIA news agency has reported. Ukraine dismissed the complaints as part of a Russian “information attack” on Kyiv. Reuters reports.
Nicaragua has cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China. “In the world, there is only one China,” Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said in a televised address yesterday. “Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed displeasure with the choice of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to switch recognition to Beijing in a statement, and said it would immediately cease assistance programs and clear out its embassy in Managua,” Joyu Wang reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Uyghur Tribunal, a U.K.-based panel of lawyers, academics and activists, has concluded that China’s policies regarding the treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang amount to a form of genocide. The panel’s judgment “found that the Chinese government, through policies including what it described as forced birth control and sterilizations, intends to partially destroy the predominantly Muslim Uyghur community and its way of life; and that Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials bore ‘primary responsibility for acts in Xinjiang,’” Sha Hu reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Chinese embassy in London has said that the unofficial Uyghur Tribunal is “nothing but a political tool used by a few anti-China and separatist elements to deceive and mislead the public.” “Anyone with conscience and reason will not be deceived or fooled,” the spokesman added. Guy Faulconbridge reports for Reuters.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently ordered that work stop on a Chinese facility in the country after U.S. officials argued that Beijing intended to use the site for military purposes, a top UAE official has said. The official said that the UAE did not believe the facility was intended for military or security uses. Warren P. Strobel reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Chinese Communist Party over recent days has embarked on a propaganda blitz to claim that China is just as much a democracy as the U.S., while Biden’s Democracy Summit is ongoing. The campaign includes references to Harry Potter jokes, “but aside from mudslinging and off-color humor, the campaign also betrays Beijing’s desire to redefine international norms and present its controlling, one-party political system as not just legitimate but ideologically superior to liberal multiparty democracies,” Christian Shepherd reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Pakistan Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has declared an end to a month-long ceasefire negotiated with the Pakistani government, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms of the ceasefire. The ceasefire was negotiated last month and was set to run until yesterday, with the possibility of extending if both parties agreed. Reuters reports.
The TTP released a statement saying that “it is not possible for the ceasefire to continue” under current conditions. The group accuses the Pakistani government of violating the ceasefire through raids and arrests of TTP fighters, as well as of failing to abide by its commitments to release all TTP prisoners. Pakistan’s government has yet to comment on the developments. Asad Hashim reports for Al Jazeera.
The U.N.’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, met with senior Taliban representatives in Afghanistan with whom she had “frank and useful exchanges about what needed to be done to bring about an Afghanistan that is inclusive, abides by its human rights obligations and is a resolute partner in suppressing terrorism.” During a three-day visit to Afghanistan DiCarlo said that she stressed to Taliban representatives the importance of ensuring that all Afghans can take part in governance and public life, and highlighted “serious and understandable concern” about the situation of women and girls in the country. UN News Centre reports.
The Saudi man who was mistakenly arrested in France over the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi has said that French custody felt like being “in a zoo.” Khalid al-Otaibi was the victim of a case of mistaken identity as he shares his name with a man wanted under an international arrest warrant issued by Turkey in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. Agence France-Presse reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A federal appeals court has thrown out former President Trump’s effort to stop the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack from obtaining Trump’s White House records. “The unanimous 68-page opinion from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia describes the urgent national interest in an investigation of an attack that threatened the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to President Biden. And it directly connects the chaos of that day to Trump’s own statements calling for a ‘wild’ protest in Washington and urging supporters to march on the Capitol and ‘fight,’” Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
The federal appeals court gave Trump 14 days to appeal its decision to the Supreme Court, which the Trump’s attorneys have signaled they intend to do. The court’s temporary block on releasing the documents will be left in place during the 14 days. Ryan Lucas and Claudia Grisales report for NPR.
The National Archives are working to obtain documents that former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows may not have “properly copied or forwarded into his official account” from his private email and cell phone. A source close to Meadows confirmed that Meadows is working with the National Archives to turn over any documents that he was supposed to provide upon the end of Trump’s term, and that “all necessary and appropriate steps either were or are being taken.” Nicholas Wu, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
Meadows has voluntarily provided the Jan. 6 committee with texts and emails demonstrating that he was “exchanging with a wide range of individuals while the attack was underway,” according to a source. The messages relate to “what Donald Trump was doing and not doing during the riot,” the source added. Jamie Gangel and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
Two former top D.C. National Guard officials are claiming that an internal Army report on the army’s response to the Jan. 6 attack is incorrect. The March 18, 2021 report says that National Guard members were not prepared to respond quickly, based on multiple communications between top Army officials and the D.C. Guard’s commander, then-Maj. Gen. William Walker. “But Walker, now sergeant at arms in the House, says some of those communications the Army describes in the report never actually happened. He and a former top lawyer for the D.C. Guard, Col. Earl Matthews, also say [that] the Guard members were ready to be deployed to the Capitol,” Betsy Woodruff Swan and Meridith Mcgraw report for POLITICO.
Witnesses seeking to evade testifying before the Jan. 6 committee are increasingly signaling that they intend to invoke the constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In recent days, three witnesses with ties to former President Trump have signaled that they intend to plead the Fifth: attorney John Eastman, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. These assertions present one of the most difficult tests to date for the Jan. 6 committee, and legal experts have said that the committee has few options once a witness pleads the Fifth Amendment, which, unlike executive privilege, is an unqualified privilege. Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
Multiple whistleblowers who worked in the Capitol Police intelligence division on Jan. 6 have since faced retaliation, according to an employment lawyer representing the individuals. The group of whistleblowers “have made a multitude of internal complaints regarding gross mismanagement and intelligence failures by certain IICD [Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division] managers that contributed to the events of January 6, 2021. As a result, there have been multiple retaliatory actions against the whistleblowers, including two proposed removals,” the group’s lawyer has said. Betsy Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lipman report for POLITICO.
Kash Patel, a former chief of staff to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, met with the Jan. 6 committee yesterday. Patel said in a statement last night that he had appeared before the panel “to answer questions to the best of my ability.” “The DOD [Department of Defense] Inspector General, under the Biden Administration, found no wrongdoing in its report on Jan. 6, as I shared with the Committee,” he added. Hannah Rabinowitz, Jamie Gangel, Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
The committee also met yesterday with “Stop the Steal” rally organizer Ali Alexander, conservative lawyer John Eastman, and Chris Krebs, the former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. “I’m going to go in there and cooperate where I can, where I can’t, I’ll invoke my constitutional rights. We’ve got tons of evidence for them,” Alexander said before going into the closed-door deposition with the committee. Annie Grayer and Hannah Rabinowitz report for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The final version of the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), will create a new office to study UFOs, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has announced. An amendment introduced by Gillibrand and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators will replace the existing Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and create an office administered both by the Defense Secretary and Director of National Intelligence. “The office would have access to information regarding UFOs from the intelligence community and Defense Department so that it could help provide a ‘coordinated’ response to these sightings, according to a release from Gillibrand’s office. It would also delve into health impacts and possible national security concerns related to UFOs,” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Georgian Republicans have purged Black Democrats from county election boards as part of a national Republican effort to expand control over election administration in the wake of former President Trump’s false voter-fraud claims. The Republican-led Georgia legislature earlier this year passed a bill which expanded the Republican party’s power over choosing members of local election boards, and in recent months Republicans have quietly reorganized six county boards in Georgia through similar county-specific state legislation. James Oliphant and Nathan Layne report for Reuters.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a deposition from Trump in January next year as part of the civil investigation into whether Trump’s company, Trump Organization, committed financial fraud in the valuations of properties to different entities. A source familiar with the investigation added that James is examining whether widespread fraud “permeated the Trump Organization.” In a statement, the Trump Organization decried the move as politically motivated. Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post.
The Democratic-led New York City Council has approved a bill that will allow more than 800,000 non-U.S. citizen residents to vote in municipal elections, becoming the largest U.S. city to grant access to the polls to non-citizens. Jimmy Vielkind reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. health regulators have cleared the Covid-19 booster from Pfizer Inc. / BioNTech for use in 16- and 17-year-olds. Jared S. Hopkins and Stephanie Armour report for the Wall Street Journal.
The coronavirus has infected over 49.66 million people and has now killed over 794,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 268.66 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.29 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report 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.