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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 Senate has unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which effectively bans all imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has been accused of genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. The House unanimously passed the bill late Tuesday night, and the White House has indicated that President Biden will sign it. “As part of the Senate’s agreement to unanimously pass the Uyghur bill, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) secured votes on three long-stalled foreign policy nominations. The breakthrough cleared the way for the Senate to confirm Nicholas Burns as the U.S. ambassador to China later Thursday, as well as two State Department nominees,” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
The 12 remaining members of a group of 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti two months ago have been released, U.S.-based charity Christian Aid Ministries and the Haitian national police have said. “All 17 of our loved ones are now safe,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement, without providing further details. “It was not immediately clear whether a ransom had been paid, or the physical conditions of the hostages,” Harold Isaac, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Ruth Graham report for the New York Times.
More than 100 House Democratic lawmakers have called on Biden to lift U.S. regulations on Cuba to help address “the worse economic and humanitarian crisis in recent history.” “The lawmakers, led by Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern (MA), Barbara Lee (CA), and Bobby Rush (IL), urged Biden in a letter to do away with specific licenses that are required to send medical supplies to Cuba as well as lift restrictions on banking and related financial transactions,” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
A drone was intercepted near a U.S. military base in southern Syria on Tuesday. A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command said in an emailed statement that two unmanned aerial systems were tracked entering a deconfliction zone on Tuesday evening. As one drone continued deeper into the deconfliction zone, it was “assessed as demonstrating hostile intent and was shot down,” he said. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal will be held in Vienna today before breaking for a “few days,” Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani has said. Bagheri Kani said on Twitter that he met E.U. political director Enrique Mora and other delegates yesterday “to take stock of the situation and discuss the way forward.” “We have made good progress this week. We will convene a Joint Commission today and will continue talks after a break of a few days,” he said. Reuters reports.
The Israeli government is urging the U.S. government to take a more aggressive stance on Iran’s nuclear program. “The six-month-old coalition government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is waging a campaign of speeches and public statements highlighting Israel’s fear that ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna will restore the [2015 nuclear deal]…But unlike [former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], who banned his ministers from even talking with the Biden administration about negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the current government is actively engaged. Bennett has dispatched envoys to Washington, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad intelligence chief David Barnea. The prime minister has discussed Iran directly with the president,” Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin report for the Washington Post.
An Israeli man has been killed and two others wounded in an attack by Palestinians near a Jewish settler outpost in the occupied West Bank yesterday, an Israeli military spokesperson has said. Rami Ayyub reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
A former defense contractor has been arrested for an alleged attempt to send information to Russia, the Justice Department (DOJ) has said. John Murray Rowe Jr. is charged with attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government, the DOJ said. Rowe was a test engineer for nearly 40 years for multiple defense contractors. According to an affidavit, “he was terminated from employment for multiple security violations, including inquiring about obtaining a security clearance from the Russian government,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Ukraine’s president has received a renewed commitment from NATO that Ukraine could eventually join the military alliance, despite strong objections from Russia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement sent a clear message of support to Ukraine. However, “it did not come with the commitments of military assistance that Ukrainian officials have been pleading for to deter, or possibly defend themselves against, a Russian military incursion,” Michael Schwirtz reports for the New York Times.
Rising tensions amid Russia’s military buildup near the border with Ukraine are also raising concerns that Moscow may turn to cyber operations to pressure the U.S. and Ukraine. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
A Ukrainian soldier has been killed in fighting with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army has said. “Kyiv has been battling a pro-Moscow insurgency in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The Ukrainian army said separatists had targeted its positions with grenade launchers and mortars,” Agence France-Presse reports.
About 62,000 Afghan interpreters and others who have applied for visas to seek shelter in the U.S. after working alongside U.S. forces still remain in Afghanistan, a State Department official has said. About 33,000 of those remaining in Afghanistan, including principal applicants and their families, have already cleared vetting requirements and could be eligible for immediate evacuation. The remaining 29,000 visa applicants, which do not currently include family members, are in earlier stages of the application process, the State Department official said. Jessica Donati reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.N. has resigned, Afghan diplomatic sources have confirmed. Ghulum Isaczai was originally appointed as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.N. in July by then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Although the embassy has continued to function since the Afghan government collapsed in August, Isaczai has now left the post to take another position within the U.N. Jack Detsch and Colum Lunch report for Foreign Policy.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Meta (formerly Facebook) has banned six private spy companies and a Chinese network from its social media platforms. In a new report, Meta has warned that hired spies are secretly targeting journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents on behalf of corporations and governments to an extent not previously understood. “The global surveillance-for-hire industry targets people across the internet to collect intelligence, manipulate them into revealing information and compromise their devices and accounts,” the report states. The industry “provides intrusive software tools and surveillance services indiscriminately to any customer — regardless of who they target or the human rights abuses they might enable,” the report explained. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.
Meta said that it was suspending roughly 1,500 mostly fake accounts run by the seven organizations across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta said users in more than 100 countries were targeted. Those called out by Meta include Israeli firm Black Cube, Indian cyber mercenary firm BellTroX, Israeli company Bluehawk CI, and European firm Cytrox. Raphael Satter and Elizabeth Culliford report for Reuters.
Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in the capital today against Tunisian President Kais Saied, who seized power and suspended Tunisia’s parliament five months ago. The protest had been called to mark the anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali a decade ago. Reuters reports.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has marked the 10th anniversary of the death of his father and predecessor. Newspapers, tightly controlled by the North Korean government, published articles venerating Kim Jong Il and calling for greater unity behind Kim Jong Un. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol has issued a subpoena for Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel who circulated a PowerPoint document setting out a plan to overturn the 2020 election. The PowerPoint document circulated by Waldron had been turned over to the panel by Mark Meadows, former President Trump’s last chief of staff. “The document [Waldron] reportedly provided to administration officials and members of Congress is an alarming blueprint for overturning a nationwide election,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the committee, said. Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has revealed that the Jan. 6 select committee has issued a subpoena for his phone records spanning from November 2020 through to January 2021. Pascale said he had “just agreed” to Verizon complying with the subpoena, telling The Daily Beast that “I had nothing to do with Jan. 6” and “I have zero to hide.” Roger Sollenberger reports for The Daily Beast.
The Capitol Police has confirmed that responding to the “Justice of J6” rally that took place in September cost their department $1.3 million. “The cost of September 18 is far less than the toll it would have taken on the American psyche had there been another attack,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement. “Our preparedness also provided our Department the ability to practice coordinating on site law enforcement assistance from partnering agencies, which ensures we have a strong contingency plan,” he added. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Current and former employees from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office have been interviewed by the Jan. 6 select committee in relation to attempts by Trump to overturn the 2020 election results. Stephen Fowler reports for Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Judge Amit Mehta of the DC District Court has set Jan. 10, 2021 as the date for oral arguments on whether three separate civil lawsuits from lawmakers and Capitol Police officers that seek to hold Trump and his closest advisers accountable for the Capitol attack should be dismissed. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Supporters of Trump and members of far-right extremist groups who took part in the Jan. 6 attack are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars on online crowdfunding sites. In the donation appeals the individuals are portraying themselves as maligned American patriots, martyrs, and “political prisoners.” Their scripts will often transform the Jan. 6 attack into the “fantasy that it was a peaceful and patriotic protest to uphold voter integrity,” Ed Pilkington reports for the Guardian.
Just Security has published a piece by Ryan Goodman and Randal S. Milch titled ‘Expert Explainer: On Verizon’s Deadline for Turning Over Meadows’ Records to Congress.’
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden’s administration has pulled out of negotiations to offer financial compensation to thousands of migrant families separated at the border under a policy from former President Trump’s era. “Lawyers for the families said that Justice Department lawyers had advised them that they were terminating negotiations to settle claims for damages and would instead go to court to determine any compensation due to individual families. Talks had stalled, they said, after a leak in late October suggested that up to $450,000 could be paid to each of the families affected by the policy,” Miriam Jordan reports for the New York Times.
Biden has bestowed the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious decoration in the U.S. military, to three Army soldiers, including the first Black serviceman to receive the decoration since the Vietnam war. The medal was awarded posthumously to Army Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe and Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, as well as Army Master Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee. Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
A judge in Delaware has denied a motion from Fox News to dismiss a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. The judge, in allowing the defamation case to move forward, found that Fox News’ coverage of election fraud after the 2020 election may have been inaccurate. “The ruling will now allow Dominion to attempt to unearth extensive communications within Fox News as they gather evidence for the case, and the company may be able to interview the network’s top names under oath,” Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has agreed to cover up to $1.6 million of Trump’s personal legal bills, according to those familiar with the matter. Under the unusual arrangement the RNC will be paying to defend Trump from ongoing investigations that focus on Trump’s private business practices in New York. Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post.
A member of the far-right extremist group Proud Boys has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison after pleading guilty in August to threatening Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and possessing ammunition. Sarakshi Rai reports for The Hill.
The small number of active-duty troops in the Army and Navy who are still refusing Covid-19 vaccines, without medical and administrative waivers or pending requests, will soon be dismissed from the military, officials have said. In the Army 98% of active-duty service members have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in the Navy roughly 1.7% are still holding out. Jennifer Steinhauer reports for the New York Times.
The Marine Corps has announced that it has kicked out 103 members for refusing to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas (R) has made public a letter he sent to the Pentagon which said that Texas would not impose a vaccine mandate on members of its National Guard. Abott joined the other Republican governors who have pushed back on the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, and asserted that the Pentagon has no authority to punish unvaccinated members of the state National Guard. Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
President Biden has warned of the risks of “severe illness and death” over the winter for those who are not vaccinated in light of the likely rapid spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. Allie Malloy and Maegan Vazquez report for CNN.
Covid-19 has infected over 50.51 million people and has now killed over 803,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 273.04 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.34 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.