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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.
U.S. RELATIONS – FLYING OBJECTS
Biden administration officials yesterday defended their decision to shoot down unidentified flying objects over North America this weekend. The three unidentified objects were flying at altitudes of 20,000 to 40,000 feet – much lower than the suspected Chinese spy balloon which had previously been shot down – and posed a hazard to civilian air traffic, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. No debris from the three most recent objects shot down has been recovered, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in Brussels, and none of these targets have been linked to China. Gordon Lubold, Brian Spegele and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
The White House said yesterday that it would create a team to study the three unidentified airborne objects shot down last week. The new group, created at the behest of national security adviser Jake Sullivan, will look at the “broader policy implications” of the objects for detection, analysis, and disposition, said Kirby. “Every element of the government will redouble their efforts to understand and mitigate these events,” he said. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
The unidentified object shot down in Canadian airspace on Saturday appeared to be a “small metallic balloon with a tethered payload below it.” This is according to a Pentagon memo sent to lawmakers yesterday. The object crossed near “US sensitive sites” before it was shot down, the memo said. Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
The sensors from the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down over the U.S. have been recovered, the U.S. military said yesterday. “Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure,” the U.S. military’s Northern Command said in a statement. The FBI is examining the items, which the US says were used to spy on sensitive military sites. Max Matza reports for BBC News.
The recent balloon incidents form part of a pattern which highlights the need for NATO to be vigilant, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday. “What we saw over the United States is part of a pattern where China and also Russia are increasing surveillance activities on NATO allies,” Stoltenberg told reporters. Reuters reports.
A gunman killed three people and wounded five others at Michigan State University yesterday. The shooter, a 43-year-old man, eventually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. The suspect has no connection to the university, and it is not yet clear what connection he had to the victims. Sophia Lada, Emily Schmall, Remy Tumin, Sam Easter and Mike Ives report for the New York Times.
Parts of the report of the grand jury which investigated election interference by former President Trump and his allies in Georgia will be published on Thursday following a ruling from a Georgia judge. The judge, Robert C.I. McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court, said in his ruling that he would release the introduction and conclusion of the report, as well as a part detailing the grand jury’s concerns about witnesses lying under oath. However, the jury’s specific recommendations will remain secret. Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset report for the New York Times.
Former Vice President Mike Pence plans to resist a grand jury subpoena for testimony about Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This is according to two people familiar with the matter, who also said that Pence’s decision to challenge the request has little to do with executive privilege. Instead, Pence is preparing to argue that his former role as president of the Senate – and therefore a member of the legislative branch – means that he is covered by the constitutional provision, known as the “speech or debate” clause, that protects congressional officials from legal proceedings related to their work. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
President Biden fired Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton yesterday, amid bipartisan calls for his firing or resignation. The decision to dismiss the Capitol complex’s top manager followed allegations that he had misused government resources and was not physically present on the Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 attack, a White House official said. Jeremy Diamond and Nicky Roberston report for CNN.
TURKEY, SYRIA EARTHQUAKE
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has agreed to the opening of two additional border crossings from Turkey into opposition-held territory in northwestern Syria. The crossings will allow the U.N. to deliver humanitarian relief to millions of earthquake victims, U.N. and Syrian officials said. This is the first time al-Assad has agreed to opening opposition-held territory to such assistance since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. Farnaz Fassihi reports for the New York Times.
NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels today. The meeting is part of a series of diplomatic gatherings this week, which includes a meeting with the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the larger group of countries supporting Ukraine militarily and financially. Ukraine’s request for Western fighter jets and other weaponry is likely to be high on the agenda, as concerns grow about the impact of the war on allied stockpiles. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
Ukraine’s military yesterday barred aid workers and civilians from entering Bakhmut, in what could be a prelude to a Ukrainian withdrawal from the strategically important city. Ukraine’s military said that while it still held Bakhmut, the one remaining major road it can use to deliver troops and supplies, or evacuate the wounded, was under Russian fire. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
In a televised address, Moldova’s pro-European president accused Russia of trying to overthrow its democratic system of government and promote pro-Russian forces on the country’s border with Ukraine. President Maia Sandu said that Moldovan security forces had stopped an initial plan to seize control last fall, preventing pro-Moscow factions from using widespread protests over rising energy prices to force the fall of the government. Sandu’s accusations mirror those Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy laid before E.U. leaders in Brussels last week. James Hookway reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Two Dutch F-35 fighters intercepted three Russian military aircraft near Poland and escorted them out, the Netherlands’ defense ministry said late yesterday. “The then unknown aircraft approached the Polish NATO area of responsibility from Kaliningrad,” the statement said, adding that the aircraft were later identified as Russian. Reuters reports.
Roughly 100,000 protestors from across the country filled the street outside Parliament in Jerusalem to oppose a sweeping judicial overhaul proposed by Israel’s new government. The demonstration followed a televised speech on Sunday night by Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, in which he called for compromise and warned that the crisis had left the country “on the brink of constitutional and social collapse,” and possibly “a violent clash.” Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner report for the New York Times.
The U.S. is deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s decision to retroactively legalize nine outposts in the West Bank that were previously illegal under Israeli law, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday. In a statement, Price criticized the proposed measure as likely to “exacerbate tensions, harm trust between the parties, and undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.” The comments were the first sign of outward friction between the U.S. and Israel’s new far-right government. Mia McCarthy reports for POLITICO.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai yesterday and seized its journalists’ phones. The move appeared to be retaliation over the British broadcaster’s airing of a polarizing documentary examining the rise of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters in a conference that the BBC “must work within India laws” and called the organization “corrupt” without offering specifics. “The BBC’s work has historically been tainted with its hatred for India,” he said. Gerry Shih, Karishma Mehrotra and Anant Gupta report for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 102.850 million people and has now killed over 1.14 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 672.929 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.