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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.
Rupert Murdoch acknowledged under oath last month that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Trump. Murdoch, who is chair of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, also expressed regret that he didn’t denounce the claims of election fraud made by Fox hosts, court documents released yesterday show. Jeremy W. Peters and Katie Robertson report for the New York Times.
The U.S. Marshals Service suffered a security breach over a week ago that compromises sensitive information, multiple senior U.S. law enforcement officials said. According to U.S. Marshals Service spokesperson Drew Wade, the incident occurred Feb. 17, when the Marshal Service “discovered a ransomware and data exfiltration event affecting a stand-alone USMS system.” The system was disconnected from the network, and the Justice Department began a forensic investigation, Wade said. Andrew Blankstein, Michael Kosnar, Jonathan Dienst and Tom Winter report for NBC News.
The man who launched a lit object at a tightly packed tunnel during the Jan. 6 attack, was sentenced yesterday to 32 months in prison after the sentencing judge rejected prosecutors’ efforts to apply several enhancements to the sentence. Most notably, U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden rejected the so-called “terrorism” enhancement, which Justice Department lawyers argued for on the basis that the man, David Judd, had intended to disrupt government functions with force. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
The Biden administration is ramping up its campaign to persuade Congress to reauthorize a warrantless surveillance program, known as Section 702. A top national security official at the Justice Department is expected to urge Congress to extend Section 702 during a speech at the Brookings Institution today. Top F.B.I. and National Security Agency officials have already asked lawmakers to do so. However civil liberties advocates, as well as Trump-aligned Republicans distrustful of security agencies, have expressed opposition to the program. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
The colleagues of ex-FBI deputy general counsel can testify about then-General Counsel James Baker’s alleged adverse actions and attitudes towards women in her gender bias trial that is set to begin in a couple of weeks. Marciann Grzadzinski’s former female colleagues’ testimony could corroborate her theory that Bake treated female employees as more dispensable during a reorganization, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday. Annelise Gilbert reports for Bloomberg Law.
A U.S. government watchdog has found that an abrupt, uncoordinated withdrawal from Afghanistan contributed to the collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul and a Taliban takeover of the country soon after U.S. forces departed. Poor accountability on weapons and equipment provided to Afghanistan and a lack of systematic planning were also important factors in the military collapse there, according to the report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The inspector general laid blame on U.S. administrations going back to former President George Bush, but the report cites as a pivotal turning point the 2020 Doha Agreement, when the Trump administration pledged to withdraw American troops and contractors from the country in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban. Ben Kesling reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Canada followed the U.S. and E.U. to ban the TikTok app from government-issued devices yesterday. Officials cite an “unacceptable” level of risk to security and have expressed concern that the Chinese government could force TikTok to hand over data on its users. Paul Vieira reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The White House has directed federal agencies that they have 30 days to remove TikTok from all government-issued devices. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget issued yesterday instructs all executive agencies and those they contract to delete TikTok and any applications from its parent company, ByteDance within 30 days. Within 90 days, agencies must include in contracts that the short-form video app cannot be used on devices and must cancel any contracts that necessitate the app’s use. Jack Forrest reports for CNN.
Two Iranian warships docked in Rio de Janeiro following permission from Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government. The ships have been allowed to dock despite pressure from the U.S. to bar them. In a Feb. 15 press conference, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley said that while Brazil is a sovereign nation, the U.S. firmly believes that the ships, which have reportedly facilitated illegal trade and terrorist activities, should not dock anywhere. Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Gabriel Araujo report for Reuters.
The U.S. has asked Mexico’s government to extradite the son of jailed drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, according to two sources from the Mexican government. Ovidio Guzman, who was arrested in January, has been charged in the U.S. with conspiracy to traffic cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the country. Lizabeth Diaz reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Kyiv yesterday to reaffirm the U.S.’s commitment to providing the money Ukraine needs to operate its government. During the trip, Yellen announced the transfer of $1.25 billion in economic and budget assistance to Ukraine. The trip comes amid intensifying public debate in the U.S. over whether the country can afford to continue to provide billions of dollars to Kyiv. Marc Santora and Alan Rappeport report for the New York Times.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Central Asia today to urge senior officials in the region to maintain independence from Russia and China. Foreign ministers from five central Asian republics that broke away from the Soviet Union – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are scheduled to meet one on one with Blinken in Kazakhstan and hold formal group discussions with him and other senior U.S. officials. Edward Wong, Anton Troianovksi and Stanley Reed report for the New York Times.
RUSSIA UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
China will today welcome key Russian ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Beijing. Belarus was targeted by sweeping Western sanctions after Lukashenko permitted Russian troops to cross from Belarus into Ukraine. While the invasion will loom large in the talks, the two countries are also expected to pursue deepened economic ties. Trade between the two countries increased by 33% last year. Simone McCarthy reports for CNN.
The situation in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was “extremely tense” yesterday as Russian forces encircled the Ukrainian defenders. Forcing a Ukrainian withdrawal would give Russia its first major win in more than 6 months and open a route for controlling all urban centers in the Donetsk region. Leonardo Benassatto reports for Reuters.
The Russian leadership gave a lukewarm response to a Chinese plan to end the war in Ukraine. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday that while China’s voice should be heard, there remain issues with the peace plan adding that a peace deal is a “very long and intense process.” Reuters reports.
A Hungarian airline has decided to suspend flights to Moldova citing safety concerns after a Russian missile launched at Ukraine flew over Moldova. The suspension comes amid growing tensions between Moldova and Russia over the Russian-backed breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
Russia’s economy has embraced the Chinese yuan after being restricted from Western financial networks and the U.S. dollar. Russia’s sovereign-wealth fund, its Ukraine war chest, is increasingly using the yuan to store its oil riches. Russia’s turn to yuan does not signal the end of dollar supremacy, but it may foreshadow a more fractured system, which could blunt the U.S.’s ability to use financial sanctions as a weapon, said Daniel McDowell, a professor at Syracuse University. Chelsey Dulaney, Evan Gershkovich and Victoria Simanovskaya report for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador yesterday dismissed concerns about his plan to shrink the electoral watchdog. López Obrador claimed without evidence that protest leaders “belonged to the narco-state.” Last week, lawmakers approved a bill backed by the president to slash the budget of the electoral watchdog, which could lead to an 85% reduction in its staff and the closure of several local offices. Tara John, Karol Suarez and Hira Humayun report for CNN.
Nigeria’s third force candidate Peter Obi has secured a surprise win in Lagos State, beating the ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu on his home turf. However, early results put ruling Tinubu in a strong lead nationally. Voting that began last Saturday has had delays and disruptions. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo warned of “danger and disaster” if election errors cause Nigerians to doubt the election’s credibility. Stephanie Busari reports for CNN.
The Israeli military called settler attacks on Palestinians “actions of terror,” yesterday. At least one Palestinian man was killed and cars and buildings were burned by a crowd of about 50 settlers. This attack was retaliation for the killing of two brothers who lived in a nearby Jewish settlement. The Israeli military has deployed further units to the West Bank to control the situation. This cycle of violence coincides with the formation of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history in January. Hadas Gold reports for CNN.
The U.S. State Department yesterday confirmed that a U.S. citizen was among those killed in attacks in the West Bank. The dual U.S.-Israeli citizen was shot during a drive-by shooting conducted by Palestinians. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “the United States is extremely concerned by the events of this weekend and the continuing violence in Israel and the West Bank.” Julia Mueller reports for the Hill.
The U.K. and E.U. agreed on a new trade arrangement for Northern Ireland yesterday. The deal aims at ending years of friction caused by Brexit. Brexit effectively left Northern Ireland in the E.U.’s customs union and subject to many E.U. laws. This is unpopular with the Democratic Unionist Party which seeks to have Northern Ireland treated the same as the rest of the U.K. The U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will now need to get approval for the deal from his Conservative party and the Unionists. President Biden has praised the deal as securing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after years of conflict. Max Colchester and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Ethiopia seeks to cut short a U.N.-mandated inquiry into atrocities in the Tigray war in a move that could divide African and Western nations. The Ethiopian government opposed the investigation from the beginning, branding it politically motivated. Ethiopia’s motion would have to be approved by the 47-member rights council. Emma Farge and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber report for Reuters.
The White House said that there is no consensus within the Biden administration over the origins of the COVID-19 virus. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that while President Biden wants to determine where the virus started, there continues to be broad uncertainty within the administration about its origin. Kirby’s comments come after the disclosure of an Energy Department assessment that the pandemic most likely originated with a leak from a Chinese lab. Josh Chin, Lindsay Wise and Annie Linskey report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 103.389 million people and has now killed over 1.12 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 675.193 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.87 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.