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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 deal which would have seen the House-passed Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act sent to Biden’s desk along with a breakthrough on stalled foreign policy nominees has been blocked in the Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) objected to the deal as he was seeking to extend the expanded child tax credit for a further year, which was not part of the deal. “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who led the Uyghur bill, countered that the child tax credit was unrelated to the underlying agreement he had struck with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) on scheduling votes on critical national-security positions in the Biden administration…But Wyden’s objection doomed both the nomination votes and the Uyghur bill.” However, a spokesperson for Wyden later said that Wyden would not object to the Uyghur bill when Rubio brings it up again today. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
Lawmakers are calling on the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, and three other foreign surveillance groups, on the basis that they have assisted authoritarian regimes with carrying out human rights abuses. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, a coalition of 13 Democratic lawmakers asked for Global Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed against top officials at the companies. Joseph Menn and Joel Schectman report for Reuters.
Hackers linked with the governments of China, Iran, North Korea and Turkey have moved to exploit a critical flaw in software used by big tech firms around the world, Microsoft has warned. “The activity from the foreign hacking groups includes experimentation with the vulnerability, integration into existing hacking tools and ‘exploitation against targets to achieve the actor’s objectives,’ Microsoft said in a blog post. Microsoft did not say which organizations have been targeted by the hackers,” Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
Senior Biden administration officials have warned executives from major U.S. industries that hundreds of millions of devices could be exposed to the newly revealed software flaw. The flaw is in Java-based software known as “Log4j”” that large organizations use to configure their applications. Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has warned the executives that they need to take action to address “one of the most serious” flaws she has seen in her career. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN. A summary of the key points to know about the Log4j security flaw is provided by Jennifer Korn reporting for CNN.
A report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General has revealed that four FBI officials “solicited, procured, and accepted commercial sex overseas, and that a fifth FBI official solicited commercial sex overseas,” while working abroad for the federal agency, “in violation of DOJ and FBI policies.” Among the FBI officials involved, two of the officials resigned, two retired and one was removed, according to the Office of the Inspector General. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
RUSSIA AND CHINA
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have presented a united front during a video summit, with both seeking mutual support in their disagreements with the West. Xi, facing a diplomatic boycott of the winter Beijing Olympics from Biden and others, secured a public pledge from Putin that he would attend — the first national leader to RSVP. Meanwhile, Putin, “facing threats of crushing Western sanctions if Russian forces attack Ukraine, heard Xi propose that Russian and China cooperate to ‘more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties,’” Anton Troianovski and Steven Lee Myers report for the New York Times.
A German court has ruled that the Russian state orchestrated the murder of a Chechen former separatist fighter in a Berlin park in summer 2019. The court sentenced the Russian citizen convicted of pulling the trigger to life in prison. German authorities previously concluded that Russian intelligence services were likely involved in the murder. Christopher F. Schuetze reports for the New York Times.
In response to the verdict, the German Foreign Ministry has told Russian Ambassador Sergei Nechayev that Germany will be expelling two Russian diplomats. Nechayev had already rejected the verdict as a “politically-motivated decision” when he was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry. BBC News reports.
The Kremlin has said that it is ready to send a government minister to “any neutral country” for talks with the U.S. on its proposals for security in Europe, and that President Biden and Vladimir Putin possibly could speak again before the New Year. Russia handed over its security proposals to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried in Moscow yesterday and the U.S. said that it would share Russia’s proposals with its allies and partners. Reuters reports.
France, Germany and Ukraine are discussing ways to restart peace talks with Russia about Eastern Ukraine, given Moscow’s recent military buildup near Ukraine’s border. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met on the sidelines of an E.U. summit in Brussels to find ways to restart negotiations in the “Normandy format” that also include Russia. Zelenskiy has also told reporters that Ukraine was ready for any format of talks with Russia but would like to see a strong western sanctions policy against Moscow to avoid further escalation. Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold report for Reuters.
E.U. leaders are expected to warn Russia that hostile action against Ukraine could come at a “high price.” The message is to be agreed upon during a European Council summit in Brussels. Yesterday the chief of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, again urged Russia to de-escalate, saying that additional sanctions had already been prepared, targeting “all the different fields you might think of.” BBC News reports.
Lithuania’s president is to ask E.U. leaders for help in a dispute with China over diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Reuters reports.
Iran has agreed to replace surveillance cameras at a key site that manufactures advanced uranium centrifuges. However, Iran continues to block inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, from viewing the videos which the cameras produce and from replacing the full memory cards in cameras at other sites. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
The announcement of Iran’s latest concession comes as diplomats send mixed signals on the progress of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. “Russia’s delegation to the talks, aligned with the other world power in a desire to avoid a nuclear-armed Iran, has displayed unflagging public optimism, emphasizing the need to remain positive. But U.S. and European officials have been far less hopeful, citing a ‘frustrating’ lack of progress and unreasonable Iranian demands, while warning that time to reactivate the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is running out as Iran’s nuclear program goes beyond the point of verifiable return,” Sarah Dadouch and Karen DeYoung report for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Taliban believes that women “must have the right to education and to work,” and are committed to continuing talks with the U.S. and international community, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Doha has told NPR. During the wide-ranging interview, the spokesperson also discussed efforts to resume operations at Kabul’s international airport, and expressed support for the protection of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. However, “when asked about what the Taliban are doing to address the many problems facing Afghanistan, he deflected responsibility, saying, ‘in reality, we did not create these problems. These problems came from the outside,’” Fatma Tanis and Hannah Bloch report for NPR.
Evidence is suggesting that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had been planning a military campaign in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region for months before war erupted a year ago. Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with Isaias Afwerki, the authoritarian leader of Eritrea, but that prize then emboldened both leaders to secretly plot a war against their mutual foes in Tigray, according to current and former Ethiopian officials. Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.
Colombia’s riot police should undergo a “profound transformation” to prevent the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, the U.N. has said. In a report published yesterday, “the U.N. human rights agency blamed the country’s public force for 28 deaths during months of nationwide protests this year. They included 10 deaths linked to a specialized riot police unit that has been prohibited from carrying lethal weapons,” Samantha Schmidt and Diana Durán report for the Washington Post.
North Korea has publicly executed at least seven people in the past decade for watching or distributing K-pop videos from South Korea, according to a human rights report released yesterday. Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
A German court has sentenced a man to life in prison for driving into a carnival parade in the western German town of Volkmarsen last year, injuring dozens of people. Reuters reports.
A Qatari feminist activist has been missing since mid-October and human rights groups are demanding Qatari authorities show proof of life, amid growing fears that she has been killed or detained. Noof al-Maadeed fled Qatar two years ago, after alleged attempts on her life. She recently returned to Qatar after being given reassurances by the authorities that she was safe. Ruth Michaelson reports for the Guardian.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) forwarded a text message to Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff of former President Trump, on Jan. 5, outlining a legal theory that Pence had the authority to stand in the way of the certification of the 2020 election. A portion of the message was read out by the Jan. 6 select committee during their contempt report presentation against Meadows. A spokesperson for Jordan confirmed that Jordan forwarded a text to Meadows on Jan. 5 that was sent to him by Joseph Schmitz, a former Department of Defense Inspector General. Ryan Nobles and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
Meadows, along with a band of Trump loyalists, fought to keep Trump in power following the 2020 election – pressuring the Justice Department, amplifying conspiracy theories, and flooding the courts. Analysis of what is known about what Trump’s allies did is provided by Katie Benner, Catie Edmondson, Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer reporting for the New York Times.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) sued former Vice President Pence on Dec. 27, just as Trump was ratcheting up his pressure campaign against Pence, arguing that Pence should assert unilateral control over certification. The role of this legal strategy appears to have been given less attention thus far as part of the investigations following the Jan. 6 attack. However, Pence allies have long believed that Trump played a role in Gohmert’s legal strategy and one Jan. 6 House select committee member has described the lawsuit as an important episode in the runup to the violence at the Capitol. Kyle Cheney provides analysis for POLITICO.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he did not speak to Meadows on Jan. 6 about Trump’s inaction during the Jan. 6 attack. McConnell also expressed interest in what else the Jan. 6 select committee will discover, saying: “I do think we’re all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side, and it will be interesting to reveal all the participants involved.” Chandelis Duster reports for CNN.
A freelance photojournalist has filed a lawsuit against the Jan. 6 select committee, seeking to block a subpoena requesting her phone records. The photographer has said that the subpoena served to Verizon seeking some of her phone records is “expansive and invasive,” and that the requested information is protected by reporter’s privilege under the First Amendment. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Senate has passed a sweeping defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), on an 88-11 vote, ending a weeks-long standoff over the legislation. “For the past six years, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to pass an annual defense authorization act without fail…With so many priorities to balance, I thank my colleagues for working hard over these last few months, both in committee and off the floor, to get NDAA done,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. Jordain Carney and Jordan Williams report for The Hill.
The Biden administration is ending the practice of holding undocumented migrant families in detention centers. Instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are to use remote tracking technology such as ankle bracelets. According to internal government data obtained by Axios, as of Friday last week the U.S. has no migrant families in detention facilities. The last and largest facility used for such practice is now to hold only single adults, an ICE spokesperson has said. Stef W. Knight reports for Axios.
Advocates for immigrants and civil rights groups are asking the Department of Justice to investigate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R)’s border enforcement operation. The advocates have argued in a federal discrimination complaint that Abbott’s program, Operation Lone Star, is discriminatory and fuels anti-immigrant hatred. Arelis R. Hernández reports for the Washington Post.
Expert advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet today to discuss an increase in rates of a rare but serious blood clotting disorder linked to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine. “The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will see new data at the meeting that shows elevated risks of the condition in men and women, according to one federal official, setting the stage for the experts to possibly recommend new restrictions on the use of the vaccine,” Noah Weiland and Rebecca Robbins report for the New York Times.
The coronavirus has infected over 50.37 million people and has now killed over 802,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 272.31 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.33 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.