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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.
JAN. 6, 2021 ATTACK, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has discovered gaps in the official White House telephone logs from the day of the attack. There are few records of calls from former President Trump from critical hours when investigators know he was making them. However investigators have not uncovered evidence that any official records were tampered with or deleted and it is well known that Trump routinely used his personal cell phone, and those of his aides. Luke Broadwater, Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt report for the New York Times.
Some of the White House documents that Trump improperly took to his Mar-a-Lago residence were clearly marked as classified, including documents at the “top secret” level, according to sources. It is not clear how many classified documents were among those retrieved by the National Archives and Records Administration, however some of the documents “bore markings that the information was extremely sensitive and would be limited to a small group of officials with authority to view such highly classified information,” Jacqueline Alemany, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.
Trump has told people that since leaving office he has remained with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose letters to Trump were among the National Archives retrieved from Trump’s Mar-a-lago residence. A new book by Maggie Haberman has also revealed that while Trump was in office, staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper. Mike Allen reports for Axios.
Monique Miles, a recently appointed Virginia deputy attorney general, has resigned after a report that she praised those involved in the Jan. 6 attack on Facebook and claimed that Trump won the 2020 election. Jesus Jiménez and Christine Chung report for the New York Times.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has for years been collecting in bulk, without a warrant, data that can affect Americans’ privacy, according to a declassified letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). The CIA has censored the nature of the data, despite declassifying the letter, and has also declared that a report, which prompted the letter, must remain fully classified, except for some heavily redacted recommendations. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
In their letter, Wyden and Heinrich, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for new transparency about bulk surveillance conducted by the CIA. Their letter revealed that the CIA “has secretly conducted its own bulk program,” authorized under Executive Order 12333, rather than the laws passed by Congress, and that there are problems with how the agency searches and handles Americans’ information, according to a press release by Wyden.
From the heavily redacted letter it is not possible to determine when the surveillance occurred or if the intelligence program is currently in operation. It is also not clear whether another U.S. intelligence agency was performing the actual surveillance that supported the functioning of the CIA program. Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A U.S. government review panel has approved the release with security guarantees of a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo Bay who was captured in Pakistan and held as a suspected bomb maker. Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, has been held by the U.S. for nearly 20 years. The Periodic Review Board said in a statement that al-Sharbi had unspecified “physical and mental health issues,” and that, with rehabilitation and security measures, including travel restrictions, he could be safely transferred to the custody of another country. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
The inspector general for the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has agreed to investigate the force’s practices following accusations from Republican lawmakers that USCP is spying on them and their visitors. In a letter, the USCP have denied any wrongdoing, however, USCP Chief Tom Manger said the investigation is a way to assure the House Administration Committee, Congress and the public that the USCP’s system for reviewing people who attend events with elected officials largely at lawmaker request “are legal, necessary, and appropriate.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Biden has said he is vetting four candidates for his upcoming Supreme Court nomination to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. During an interview with NBC, Biden also said he thinks his nominee, who he has previously said will be a Black woman, will get some Republican support. Tarini Parti reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Protests have erupted among Afghan refugees being held for months in the United Arab Emirates as they await resettlement to the U.S.. The refugees are complaining of the prison-like conditions at a facility in Abu Dhabi. “Protests were planned for the coming days, but erupted late Wednesday night after refugees spread the word that Emirati secret police had detained an organizer named Abdul Jalal Kakar, several Afghans at the camp said,” Jessica Donati reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden has said he is “rejecting” the accounts of senior U.S. military commanders who told Army investigators that administration officials did not grasp the rise of the Taliban last year or how quickly the U.S. needed to prepare to launch an evacuation operation in Afghanistan. In an interview Biden said it did not ring true to him that administration officials ignored warning signs or were in denial about the situation, adding that it was not what he was told. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
Biden was responding to reports that military leaders told investigators that senior White House and State Department officials lacked a sense of urgency as the Taliban advanced to Kabul. The top U.S. commander on the ground during the evacuation, Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, along with other military leaders have also said that the White House and State Department resisted efforts by the Pentagon to prepare for the evacuation of embassy personnel and Afghan allies. The Washington Post has obtained an Army investigative report which also detailed the life-or-death decisions made by U.S. troops on the ground during the evacuation from Kabul, including previously unreported disclosures about the violence American personnel experienced. Dan Lamothe and Alex Horton report for the Washington Post.
Vasely has said the evacuation effort from Kabul was hampered by appeals from White House officials and members of Congress. In testimony to Army investigators, Vasely explained how he had been inundated with requests for individuals to be assisted. “There was all goodness in this, but the lesson learned is it was a distraction from the main effort as they were coming directly to the individuals on the ground trying to accomplish the task at hand,” Vasley told investigators. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
President Biden has repeated his warning to Americans to leave Ukraine, saying that U.S. troops would not be dispatched to retrieve them should Russia invade. “It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News. Teaganne Finn reports for the NBC News.
Russia’s military drills in Belarus along the border with Ukraine have been escalating concerns of a Russian invasion. Russia and Belarus, which conduct joint military drills routinely, have said the exercises, called United Resolve, are meant to test the readiness of their forces in neutralizing military threats and securing borders. Western officials believe Moscow has sent up to 30,000 troops to Belarus in what they fear could be a key element of an invasion of Ukraine. Evan Gershkovich reports for the Wall Street Journal.
NATO’s top official has warned that Europe is facing a “dangerous moment,” as Russia kicks off a second day of major military exercises near Kyiv’s border. Alex Horton and Amy Cheng report for the Washington Post.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a tense meeting in Moscow yesterday. Following the meeting, Truss warned that a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine would lead to “severe consequences,” while Lavrov characterized their meeting as a conversation between the “deaf and the dumb.” Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
Kyiv has been encouraging the arming of nationalist paramilitary groups in an effort to thwart a possible Russian invasion. However, the armed nationalists could also destabilize the Ukrainian government if it agrees to a peace deal granting too many concessions to Russia with which the groups disagree. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
U.S. F-15 fighter jets have arrived in Poland, as the U.S. seeks to bolster defenses along NATO’s eastern flank. “In a statement, U.S. European Command said the F-15s from the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom will work alongside Polish and Danish F-16 aircraft executing the air policing mission from Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia has sent more forces to its border with Ukraine and could launch an invasion at any time. Blinken also added that Washington was continuing to “draw down” its embassy in Ukraine. Humeyra Pamuk and Kirsty Needham report for Reuters.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
After a two-year manhunt, the elusive leader of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was first spotted by informants on the ground, and then that tip was confirmed by a U.S. spy drone’s telescopic lens. Joby Warrick, Dan Lamothe, Matt Viser and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.
The building in northwest Syria where U.S. forces found al-Qurayshi probably was rigged to explode, according to U.S. officials, however, it remains unclear who inside the house detonated the blast and why the Pentagon’s tally of those killed during the U.S. raid differs from that of aid groups afterwards. The Pentagon has counted at least seven deaths killed in the explosion, with two other adults whom the Pentagon suspected of having links to a separate terrorist organization, having been fatally shot by U.S. forces near a separate building. “But aid groups say some of the dead — particularly children — may be going uncounted. On the day of the strike, UNICEF stated that at least six children had been killed in Atma on the night of the strike ‘due to heavy violence’ and that ‘civilian-populated areas were severely damaged,’” Karoun Demirjian and Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. Government has urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the growing economic disruption caused by the blockade by protesters of key border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged their Canadian counterparts “to use federal powers to resolve this situation at our joint border,” a White House official said yesterday. “U.S. and Canadian border and customs authorities are working with great urgency to ensure the continued flow of goods and services across our international border, leveraging alternative land routes, as well as air and sea options,” the official added. Reuters reports.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said that Tehran “never” pins hope on ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The talks, which the U.S. is participating in indirectly, restarted in Vienna on Tuesday. “We put our hopes on the east, west, north, south of our country and never have any hope in Vienna and New York,” Raisi said in a televised speech. Reuters reports.
Just Security has published an essay by Emma Belcher titled ‘Ignore the War Hawks – on Iran, There is Still Time for a Deal’.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Libya’s Parliament had voted to install a new interim government, despite the objections of the current prime minister. The nation failed to hold national elections on time last December. “Libya’s Parliament declared that the current government’s authority had expired after the planned elections collapsed without a new political road map. It voted unanimously for Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister, to lead a new government,” Vivian Yee and Mohammed Abdusamee report for the New York Times.
Libya’s prime minister, who heads the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, has rejected the Libyan Parliament’s moves, saying he will only hand over power after a national election. “The development runs counter to U.N. efforts to reconcile the divided country and is likely to produce two parallel administrations,” AP reports.
The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, U.K., has announced that she will resign, in response to pressure from London’s mayor following reports of bullying, racism and misogyny in the force. Cressida Dick had been accused of failing to deal with the culture of misogyny and racism within the country’s largest police force. Vikram Dodd reports for the Guardian.
A journalist has been shot dead in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the fifth journalist killed in Mexico this year, state authorities said. Heber López, director of the online news site Noticias Web, was killed leaving a recording studio in the port city of Salina Cruz. Oaxaca’s state prosecutor has said that two suspects in the killing were in custody. AP reports.
Australia’s national security agency has foiled a plot by Chinese spies fund candidates for Australia’s center-left Labor opposition party in an upcoming federal election, Australian media has reported. “The plot was arranged by an unnamed businessman with strong Chinese connections who sought to fund candidates in the state of New South Wales in exchange for influence in public office, the reports said,” Reuters reports.
Nearly 3,000 New York City workers have to be vaccinated today or risk being fired. Hundreds of municipal workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge this week, calling for New York City to end its vaccine mandate. However, their pleas were rejected by Mayor Eric Adams, who has reaffirmed the city’s ultimatum. Emma G. Fitzsimmons reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected over 77.43 million people and has now killed over 915,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 406.40 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.79 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.