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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.
TURKEY, SYRIA EARTHQUAKE
The U.N. humanitarian chief will visit parts of Turkey and Syria affected by Monday’s earthquake, as the death toll surpasses 21,000. The official, Martin Griffiths, will visit Aleppo and Damascus in Syria, along with Gaziantep in Turkey, over the weekend, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters. Mike Ives, Raja Abdulrahim, Farnaz Fassihi and Anushka Patil report for the New York Times.
Six U.N. trucks carrying aid arrived in northwest Syria yesterday via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Prior to this the road to the crossing had been damaged by the earthquake. The trucks carried shelter items and nonfood supplies, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group is no longer recruiting convicts from prisons, its founder has said. The announcement could signal a change in Wagner’s role in Russia’s efforts to seize territory in eastern Ukraine. Without prisoners to fill its ranks, the group will either need to find another source of recruits or shift away from the high-casualty strategy that has characterized its assault so far. Ian Lovett reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon is urging Congress to resume funding a pair of top-secret programs in Ukraine suspended ahead of Russia’s invasion last year. If approved, the move would allow American Special Operations troops to employ Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation. Defense officials are preparing a proposal for lawmakers’ consideration in the coming months, and a determination is unlikely to come before the fall. Wesley Morgan reports for the Washington Post.
The Ukrainian military relies on coordinates provided or confirmed by the U.S. and its allies for the vast majority of strikes using its advanced U.S.-provided rocket systems. The disclosure, confirmed by three senior Ukrainian officials and a senior U.S. official, reveals a deeper and more operationally active role for the Pentagon in the war. The targeting assistance serves to ensure accuracy and conserve limited stores of ammunition for maximum effectiveness, according to the U.S. official. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Dan Lamother, Shane Harris and Paul Sonne report for the Washington Post.
Two Russian missiles crossed into Romanian and Moldovan airspace before entering Ukraine on Friday, Ukraine’s top general said. Separately, an air force spokesperson said that Ukraine had the ability to shoot down the missiles but did not do so because it did not want to endanger civilians in foreign countries. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Nicaragua released 222 political prisoners yesterday, including an American citizen. The deal negotiated with Washington represents one of the biggest-ever prisoner releases involving the U.S., according to senior Biden administration officials. The Nicaraguan government released the prisoners to the U.S. as a way to signal a desire to restart relations with the country, the officials said. Maria Abi-Habib reports for the New York Times.
A man suspected of helping leak Western intelligence on the war in Ukraine to Russian agents was detained by U.S. authorities and questioned there before being flown to Germany where he was arrested last month. The man, named only as Arthur E., is currently in detention pending an investigation into possible spying and treason, according to German prosecutors. News of the U.S. involvement in the arrest comes as U.S. and British officials say they are gravely concerned about the potential consequences of the leak, the worst to affect Germany’s foreign intelligence service in decades. Bojan Pancevski reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran appears to be modifying the attack drones it’s providing to Russia so that they inflict maximum damage on infrastructure targets inside Ukraine. This is according to a new report by the U.K.-based investigative organization Conflict Armament Research, which examined an unexploded warhead from an Iranian Shahed-131 drone found in the southern Ukrainian region of Odesa in October 2022. Natasha Bertrand reports for CNN.
U.S. RELATIONS – CHINESE SURVEILLANCE BALLOON
The Biden administration yesterday released its most comprehensive account of the Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over continental U.S. last week. According to a State Department document the balloon was part of a global surveillance fleet directed by China’s military and was capable of collecting electronic communications. The document also said the U.S. military had dispatched Cold War-era U-2 spy planes to track and study the balloon before a fighter jet shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday. Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes report for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. and U.K. jointly sanctioned seven Russian hackers yesterday for having links to recent ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure in the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine. The seven Russian individuals sanctioned — Vitaly Kovalev, Maksim Mikhailov, Valentin Karyagin, Mikhail Iskritskiy, Dmitry Pleshevskiy, Ivan Vakhromeyev and Valery Sedletski — were all alleged by the U.S. Treasury Department to be members of the Russian-based cybercriminal group Trickbot. Maggie Miller reports for POLITICO.
President Biden will meet with Brazil’s new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the White House today. The talks are expected to center around efforts to combat climate change and tackle anti-democratic extremism and come roughly a month after protesters aligned with far-right former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed government institutions in Brasilia following Bolsonaro’s election loss. Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators put forward a bill to give a senior official the ability to coordinate the U.S. government’s approach to Islamic State (ISIS) detainee and displacement camps in Syria. The proposed “Syria Detainee and Displaced Persons Act” builds on the establishment in a 2019 bill of the ISIS detainee coordinator position – a role that has not been filled. The bipartisan bill aims to empower a coordinator “to synchronize the whole-of-government effort” to address this crisis, according to a press release. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The move by the Justice Department represents a significant escalation of the probe into the former president. It is unclear whether Pence will comply with the subpoena, having reportedly told people privately that he has concerns about testifying against Trump because of executive privilege. Josh Dawsey and Perry Stein report for the Washington Post.
Former national security adviser Robert O’Brien has been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating Trump. O’Brien may have information relating to both the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the probe into the handling of classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. O’Brien has been asserting executive privilege in declining to provide some of the information that prosecutors are seeking from him, according to a source familiar with the matter. Zachary Cohen and Paula Reid report for CNN.
Police have arrested and charged a man in connection with the assault of Rep. Angie Craig yesterday morning. According to a police report, Craig told authorities that her assailant had followed her into the elevator of her apartment building in Washington, DC, punched her “with a closed fist” and grabbed her neck. She defended herself by “tossing her hot coffee” at him. There is “no evidence” that the incident was politically motivated, Craig’s chief of staff said in a statement. Karl de Vries and Clare Foran reports for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 102.737 million people and has now killed over 1.13 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 672.343 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.85 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.