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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.
Newly declassified surveillance footage has provided additional insights about the final minutes and aftermath of the U.S. drone strike last August in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed 10 innocent people. The footage shows “how the military made a life-or-death decision based on imagery that was fuzzy, hard to interpret in real time and prone to confirmation bias,” Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Azmat Khan, Evan Hill and Christoph Koettl report for the New York Times.
The videos obtained by the New York Times include about 25 minutes of footage from two MQ-9 Reaper drones, and the images show individuals moving in or near the attack zone. The Guardian staff and agencies report.
A CIA intelligence assessment has concluded that the mysterious symptoms afflicting U.S. diplomats known as “Havana Syndrome” are not the result of a sustained global campaign by a hostile power. According to sources briefed on the matter, “in about two dozen cases, the agency cannot rule out foreign involvement, including many of the cases that originated at the U.S. Embassy in Havana beginning in 2016. Another group of cases is considered unresolved. But in hundreds of other cases of possible symptoms, the agency has found plausible alternative explanations,” Ken Dilanian and Josh Lederman report for NBC News.
China’s military has said that it has tracked and warned off a U.S. warship sailing through disputed waters in the South China Sea. The Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army said the ship “illegally” sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, violating the country’s sovereignty. “We solemnly demand that the U.S. side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” it added. Reuters reports.
The U.S. Navy has rejected China’s accusation that the U.S. warship had been warned away, though it has confirmed that a ship had been operating in the area. The USS Benfold sailed around the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, “in accordance with international law,” in what the Navy calls a freedom of navigation operation, a Navy spokesperson said. The Navy statement said that sovereignty claims in and around the islands violate international law and “pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas.” Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
Cruise missiles and ballistic missiles were used alongside drones in Monday’s attack on Abu Dhabi that killed three civilians, and several weapons were intercepted, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s ambassador to the U.S. has said. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group has claimed that it carried out the attack with five ballistic missiles and a number of drones. Reuters reports.
President Biden has said that his administration is weighing re-designating Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement as an international terrorist organization following the attack on the UAE. Jonathan Landay reports for Reuters.
North Korea has suggested that it might consider restarting tests of long-range and nuclear-weapons. At a meeting yesterday, the Politburo (the top decision-making body for the ruling Workers’ Party), unanimously recognized the need to prepare for a long-term confrontation with the U.S., saying that the U.S. threat cannot be ignored and agreeing to “take a practical action” to defend North Korea’s dignity, state interests and sovereign rights, state media reported. Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden has said that he thinks Russia will attack Ukraine and has warned that Moscow would face a “stiff price” if such an attack were to occur. Asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, Biden said: “I’m not so sure he is certain what he’s going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.” Biden added that a full-scale invasion would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War Two.” Paul Sonne reports for the Washington Post.
During a press conference yesterday, Biden appeared to admit that NATO is divided on how to respond if Russia undertakes only a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. “It depends on what he [Putin] does as to what extent we’re going to be able to get total unity on the NATO front… It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not to do,” Biden said. The White House subsequently quickly issued a clarification to Biden’s statement, saying that any movement of Russian forces over the border would be treated as invasion that “will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies.” Luke Harding, Andrew Roth and Julian Borger report for the Guardian.
Five key takeaways from Biden’s news conference yesterday, including his comments on Russia are provided by Niall Stanage reporting for The Hill.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken held crisis talks with Ukraine and European allies today. “Blinken joined fellow senior officials from the so-called Trans-Atlantic Quad group — including Germany, Britain, and France — during a brief visit to Berlin, where he will also meet with Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz,” Missy Ryan reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. will stand by Ukraine against mounting Russian pressure, Blinken told officials in Kyiv yesterday. Blinken promised continued American support, including the prospect of increased military hardware in the event of a Russian assault. “Now as ever, it is up to Ukrainians and no one else to decide their own future, and the future of this country,” Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before a bilateral meeting. Missy Ryan and Isabelle Khurshudyan report for the Washington Post.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has warned again that Moscow will accept nothing less but “watertight” U.S. guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Ryabkov reaffirmed that Moscow has no intentions of invading Ukraine as the West fears, but said that receiving Western security guarantees is an imperative for Moscow. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has also said that tomorrow’s talks between Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are “extremely important.” Vladimir Isachenkov reports for AP.
French President Emmanuel Macron has marked his turn at the helm of the European Union’s rotating presidency with a call on Europe to develop its own security. “The security of our continent demands a strategic rearmament of Europe as a power of peace and equilibrium, particularly when it comes to dialogue with Russia,” Macron told a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Matthew Dalton, Laurence Norman and Drew Hinshaw report for the Wall Street Journal.
Putin met Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi yesterday in the Kremlin, in a show of unity against the United States. In televised remarks, Raisi reminded his Russian counterpart that Tehran had been “resisting America for 40 years” and told Putin that it was time to take on “the power of the Americans with an increased synergy between our two countries.” Anton Troianovski, Farnaz Fassihi and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times.
The U.S. State Department has cleared Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the U.K. to send U.S.-made missiles and other weapons to Ukraine. The third-party transfer agreements will allow Estonia to transfer Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, and Lithuania will be permitted to send Stinger missiles, a source has said. Andrea Shalal reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A bomb has exploded in a crowded market in eastern Pakistan killing three people and wounding over 20, police have said. In a text message to a Reuters reporter, a newly formed separatist group based in southwestern Balochistan province claimed responsibility and said that a bank was the target of the attack. Mubasher Bukhari reports for Reuters.
A sophisticated cyber security attack has targeted servers hosting information held by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The attack, which was detected this week, “compromised personal data and confidential information on more than 515,000 highly vulnerable people,” a statement from the ICRC states. The ICRC has said that “has no immediate indications as to who carried out this cyber-attack, which targeted an external company in Switzerland the ICRC contracts to store data. There is not yet any indication that the compromised information has been leaked or shared publicly.”
Due to the hack, the ICRC has had to shut down the system it uses to reunite families separated by war and has pleaded with whoever has taken the data not to leak or share it. ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini said the hack put vulnerable people at greater risk. “We are all appalled and perplexed that this humanitarian information would be targeted and compromised,” he added. BBC News reports.
A group of members of the European Parliament have called for a large-scale election observation for Hungary’s upcoming parliamentary elections, amid fears of falling democratic standards. Jennifer Rankin reports for the Guardian.
Authorities in Burkina Faso have said that they have disrupted access to Facebook due to security concerns. The shutdown was first reported on Jan. 10 and appears to be continuing. BBC News reports.
Myanmar’s military has arrested three people working for the independent news portal Dawei Watch, an editor at the publication has said. Reuters reports.
A member of the U.K.’s Parliament has accused U.K. government ministers, whips, and advisers of intimidating and attempting to blackmail lawmakers suspected of opposing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Conservative MP William Wragg called for the police to investigate the accusations. Peter Walker reports for the Guardian.
TEXAS SYNAGOGUE ATTACK
The British gunman who held four people hostage in a Texas synagogue on Saturday was urged to surrender by his brother in their final phone call. An audio recording of the conversation was obtained by the Jewish Chronicle. “In the call, which gunman Malik Faisal Akram made to his family in Blackburn [U.K.] as the siege was going on, he tells his brother he has ‘come to die,’” BBC News reports.
Two men have been arrested in Manchester and Birmingham this morning in relation to the attack on the synagogue, U.K. police have said. The men remain in custody for questioning as U.K. counterterroism officers support U.S. authorities in probing the incident, which the FBI has designated as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.” Rob Picheta and Sharon Braithwaite report for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The Supreme Court has rejected a request from former President Trump to block the release of White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. The Supreme Court’s order rejected Trump’s request for an emergency stay stopping the select committee from obtaining the records while his case asserting executive privilege makes its way through the courts. As a result of the order, more than 700 documents can now be transferred to the House by the National Archives. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
The Supreme Court’s order did not provide detailed reasoning, but stated that the dispute between a sitting president and his rival predecessor presents “unprecedented” questions and raises “serious and substantial concerns,” but those questions did not need to be decided to address Trump’s application. The order explained that the earlier ruling against Trump by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit would have been the same if he were the sitting president. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.
The Jan. 6 select committee yesterday issued subpoenas to Nicholas J. Fuentes and Patrick Casey, whom the committee described as leaders of the “America First” or “Groyper” movement and who were on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. The panel instructed the men to turn over documents related to their activities and submit to interviews in February. Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Senate Democrats yesterday failed to overcome a Republican blockade against the voting rights legislation or unite their own members behind a change to the Senate filibuster rules to pass the legislation. Both defeats had been expected, after key Democratic Senators had indicated that they would not support the change to the filibuster rule. Carl Hulse reports for the New York Times.
Analysis of why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) decided to force a vote on the legislation, despite knowing it would not pass, is provided by Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine for POLITICO.
The debate on voting rights legislation turned personnel in the Senate as Democratic senators lashed out at Republican senators with racially charged assertions that the Republican party would rather secure power than ensure civil rights. In response, Republicans accused Democrats of “twisting the debate away from the underlying policy to launch unfounded — and highly disparaging — attacks on the fundamental integrity of their political adversaries,” Mike Lillis and Scott Wong report for The Hill.
The FBI searched Rep. Henry Cuella (D-TX)’s home yesterday as part of “court-authorized law enforcement activity.” The FBI has not provided details of the probe, or if Cuella is the subject. The congressman’s office has released a statement saying he would fully cooperate with any investigation. The FBI also said it conducted activities where Cuellar’s campaign is headquartered. Elizabeth Findell reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The rollout of new 5G networks across the U.S. resulted in only minor travel disruptions yesterday. A White House brokered deal on the eve of the rollout limited the deployment of 5G near airports and appeared to avert travel disruptions that airline executives previously had warned about. Ian Duncan and Lori Aratani report for the Washington Post.
President Biden has signed a national security memorandum that sets new cybersecurity requirements for sensitive national security systems run by the Pentagon, intelligence community, and other federal agencies. “The memorandum lays out how Biden’s May executive order on federal government cybersecurity applies to national security systems controlled by government agencies,” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Oral arguments at the Supreme Court yesterday indicated that the court is likely to side with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in his campaign finance case. During the 2018 election, Cruz loaned his campaign $260,000 specifically so he could then challenge a campaign finance restriction that only $250,000 in personal loans can be repaid with money raised after an election. However, “only the court’s three liberal justices seemed receptive to the Justice Department’s argument that the restriction was a legitimate way to keep politics just a little bit cleaner,” Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 68.50 million people and has now killed over 857,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 339.04 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.56 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.