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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 U.S. State Department and Yale University have identified at least 21 detention sites in Russian-controlled territory. The sites in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine are being used by the Russian military or Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists to detain, interrogate or deport civilians and prisoners of war in ways that violate international humanitarian law, according to the research. There were also signs pointing to possible mass graves. The New York Times reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday issued a decree ordering a sharp increase in the size of Russia’s armed forces. The decree, stamped by the president’s office and posted on the Kremlin website, raised the target number of active-duty service members by about 137,000, to 1.15 million, as of January of next year, and ordered the government to set aside money to pay for the increase. It was the first time in five years that Putin had issued an order changing the overall headcount of the Russian armed forces. Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – ZAPORIZHZHIA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant was disconnected from the nation’s power grid yesterday leading to large-scale power outages in nearly all Russian-occupied cities of Southern Ukraine. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was still able to generate power to meet its own needs and to keep essential systems working safely, according to the Ukrainian energy agency, Energoatom. The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said yesterday afternoon that the episode underscored the extreme danger at the plant, where shelling has damaged power lines and other infrastructure. Marc Santora reports for the New York Times.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – 2020 ELECTION PROBES
The Georgia grand jury investigating former President Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election is seeking testimony from his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney overseeing the investigation, ordered Meadows to appear for a Sept. 27 interview according to a court filing. She is also seeking Sept. 22 appearances from two other figures associated with Trump: attorney Sidney Powell and cyber researcher James Waldron. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
Attorneys for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp argued in court yesterday that their client is “beyond the reach” of a subpoena and should not be forced to testify before the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Kemp’s attorneys argued that the Republican governor should be protected by sovereign immunity, executive privilege and attorney-client privilege. They added there were concerns about the investigation interfering with his re-election campaign this fall. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who is overseeing the special purpose grand jury, said he would take the arguments under advisement before he makes a ruling, but did not give a deadline for his decision. Jason Morris, Nick Valencia and Sara Murray report for CNN.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – MAR-A-LAGO SEARCH
A federal judge has ordered that a redacted version of the affidavit used to obtain a warrant for former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence be unsealed by noon today. The decision by Judge Bruce E. Reinhart came just hours after the Justice Department submitted its proposal for extensive redactions to the document, in an effort to shield witnesses from intimidation or retribution if it is made public, officials said. Reinhart appeared to accept the requested cuts and, moving more quickly than government lawyers had expected, issued a brief two-page order directing the department to release the redacted affidavit. The order said that he had found the Justice Department’s proposed redactions to be “narrowly tailored to serve the government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation.” Glenn Thrush and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Some of the biggest names at Fox News have been questioned, or are scheduled to be questioned in the coming days, by lawyers representing Dominion Voting Systems in its $1.6 billion defamation suit against the network. Among those set to face questioning are Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs. The depositions are among the clearest indications yet of how aggressively the election technology company is moving forward with its suit – a case that First Amendment scholars say is extraordinary in its scope of significance. The suit accuses Fox of pushing false and far-fetched claims of voter fraud to lure back viewers who had defected to other right-wing news sources. Jeremy W. Peters reports for the New York Times.
The Pentagon yesterday introduced a plan to reduce civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations. The plan envisions embedding risk-mitigation specialists in military operations centers throughout the world, establishing a “center of excellence” to promote best practices, and instituting oversight from the highest levels of the Defense Department. The risk-mitigation plans will apply not only when firing a missile or dropping bombs, but also when conducting cyber strikes and other operations conducted outside of “the lethal space,” a senior defense official said. The aim is to “help commanders and operators better understand the civilian environment before operations begin,” the official added. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
U.S. military and intelligence officials are stepping up their efforts to defend the electoral process from foreign hacking and disinformation, according to a statement from U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. Officials are “actively defending against foreign interference and influence operations in U.S. elections, specifically by focusing on how adversaries seek to undermine U.S. interests and prosperity, the will to vote of the populace, as well as their belief in the sanctity and security of their elections,” the statement says. U.S. intelligence officials are warning that Russia, China and Iran may seek to interfere in the US voting process or shape voters’ perceptions, according to the command. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
A federal judge in Fort Worth struck down a Texas law yesterday that prohibits adults under 21 from carrying handguns, on the grounds that the restriction violated the Second Amendment. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman of the Northern District of Texas wrote that the Second Amendment, “as informed by Founding-era history and tradition,” did not exclude 18- to 20-year-olds from the right to bear arms. Judge Pittman, who was nominated by President Trump in 2019, ordered the injunction stayed for 30 days, pending appeal, meaning that it would not immediately go into effect. Eliza Fawcett reports for the New York Times.
The Department of Homeland Security has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board following criticism that it could stifle freedom of expression. The decision to fold the board, which was formed earlier this year to combat online disinformation, was widely anticipated and following a recommendation from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has “terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter,” DHS said on its website late Wednesday. “The Department will continue to address threat streams that undermine the security of our country consistent with the law, while upholding the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people and promoting transparency in our work.” Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. has carried out airstrikes targeting enemy positions and rocket launchers near Deir ez-Zor in northeast Syria, according to a U.S. official. The latest strikes were launched overnight in response to a rocket attack against two coalition bases housing U.S. troops in Syria in which three U.S. service members suffered minor injuries. Oren Liebermann and Chandelis Duster report for CNN.
The Solomon Islands failed to answer a U.S. Coast Guard vessel’s request for a port visit, stoking fears of China’s influence in the region. The Solomon Islands has had a tense relationship with the U.S. and its allies since striking a security pact with China in May. The islands’ government did not immediately answer a Reuters request for comment. Reuters reports.
Angola’s ruling party is set to narrowly win this week’s general election, handing President João Lourenço another five-year term despite allegations of unfairness. With 97% of the ballots counted, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, has won 51% of the vote in Wednesday’s elections, the country’s electoral commission said. The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, won 44%. However, in the run-up to the vote, civil-society groups had questioned the impartiality of the electoral commission, saying it was too close to the MPLA, and raised concerns over the limited airtime given to opposition parties on state media. Neither the U.S. nor the E.U. sent full observation missions to make public assessments on the vote, and Washington-based pro-democracy group Freedom House, which assesses countries’ political rights and civil liberties, rates Angola as “not free.” Gabriele Steinhauser reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 94.02 million people and has now killed over 1.04 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 599.476 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.48 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout 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.