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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.
23 people have been charged with domestic terrorism in relation to Sunday’s protests against a proposed police training center on the wooded outskirts of Atlanta. Police said the protestors could have caused “bodily harm,” adding that officers “exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests.” Organizers and supporters said the clashes took place amid a weekend music festival and accused the police of “lashing out at anyone present” at the festival. Julianne McShane reports for NBC News.
An Arizona judge yesterday ordered sanctions against Republican Mark Finchem, the losing candidate in Arizona’s secretary-of-state race, and his lawyer over false claims of election fraud. Weeks after his election loss, Finchem sued his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes, and then-Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), challenging the results of the vote and requesting that a new election be held. After Finchem’s suit was tossed out in December, Fontes and Hobbs sought sanctions, arguing that his case was “a politically motivated weaponization of the legal process.” The sanctions require Finchem and his attorney, Daniel McCauley III, to cover legal fees for Fontes and Dobbs. Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
The Biden administration is considering reviving the practice of detaining migrant families who cross the border illegally. Although no final decision has been made, the move would be a reversal for President Biden who came into office promising a more compassionate approach to the border after the harsh policies of former President Trump. Over the course of his presidency, Biden has largely ended the practice of family detention. However, his administration has in recent months turned towards more restrictive measures as it struggles to handle a rise in border crossings. Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report for the New York Times.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has for years run a virtually unknown program to gather domestic intelligence. Until recently, the “Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program” allowed officials to seek direct interviews with virtually anyone in the U.S., including incarcerated people. In August, the portion of the program involving interviews with prisoners who had received their Miranda rights was “temporarily halted” because of internal concerns. This is according to a broad tranche of documents reviewed by POLITICO. The documents also reveal that in recent years, many people working at the DHS’s intelligence office have raised concerns that the work they are doing could be illegal. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
A passenger on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston was arrested on Sunday after he tried to open an emergency exit while the plane was in flight and attempted to stab a flight attendant in the neck with a broken spoon. The passenger, Francisco Severo Torres, was arrested after other passengers tackled him and the flight landed safely in Boston, authorities said. Torres was charged with one count of interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon – a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Michael Levenson and Jesus Jiménez report for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former Vice President Mike Pence has asked a judge to block a federal grand jury subpoena for his testimony related to the Jan. 6 attack on the grounds that he is protected by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. Pence’s legal team filed the motion on Friday night, according to a source familiar with the filing. In the filing Pence asserts that he is protected by the clause, which protects lawmakers from certain law enforcement actions targeted at their legislative duties, as he was also acting as president of the Senate that day. Pence’s motion is separate from a motion filed by Trump on the same day, which argues that Pence’s testimony is covered by executive privilege. Kaitlan Collins reports for CNN.
The authorities are searching for two people charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack who have slipped away from federal monitoring. A judge on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Olivia Michele Pollock and one of her co-defendants Joseph Daniel Hutchinson after they violated their terms of release. Pollock was due to stand trial yesterday, and Hutchinson was scheduled to be tried separately in August. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
A federal judge is set to decide today what footage of the Jan. 6 attack can be admitted as evidence in the trial of five Proud Boys charged with seditious conspiracy. Whilst the defendants’ participation in the violence was relatively limited, prosecutors want to show the jury video footage of other Proud Boys and ordinary Trump supporters who acted violently during the attack, on the basis that they were used as “tools” of the defendants’ conspiracy. The judge in the case has indicated that he is likely to allow videos to be admitted if the “tools” in question followed some of the defendants into the Capitol, or if they were a member of one of the Proud Boys text message groups on the day of the attack. Alan Feuer and Zach Montague report for the New York Times.
A Colorado man prosecutors say was affiliated with the right-wing, anti-government Three Percenters movement pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of assaulting a police officer during the Jan. 6 attack. The man, Robert Gieswein, can be seen in footage of the attack carrying a baseball bat and wearing paramilitary gear. He faces an estimated range of 41 to 51 months in prison, as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, who agreed to drop the rest of an 11-count indictment. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
Dozens of prominent legal figures are trying to get former Trump White House ethics lawyer Stefan Passantino disbarred. Passantino acted for former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson before she hired a different lawyer and decided to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. Appearing before the committee she claimed that Passantino had tried to influence her testimony. In a 22-page complaint filed yesterday with D.C.’s Board of Professional Responsibility, the group of lawyers accused Passantino of subordination of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and bribery, referring in part to Cassidy’s allegations. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
Two Canadian firms have been included on the U.S. sanctions list for their alleged support of Russia, U.S. and Canadian authorities said yesterday. Cpunto Inc and Electronic Network Inc, two electronics distribution companies, have been made subject to U.S. export restrictions for “acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States,” according to the Department of Commerce. The Department list did not detail what the two companies distributed to trigger the U.S. action. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters.
Ukraine has broadened a request for controversial cluster bombs from the U.S. to include a weapon the Ukrainian military would adapt for drones, according to two U.S. lawmakers. It is not clear whether the White House will approve the request. Cluster munitions, banned by more than 120 countries, release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area. A 2009 law prohibits exports of U.S. cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than 1 percent, covering virtually all U.S. military stockpiles. However, President Biden can waive the prohibition. Jonathan Landay reports for Reuters.
A Ukrainian retreat from the eastern city of Bakhmut would not be a “setback,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday. “If the Ukrainians decide to reposition [to the west of Bakhmut], I would not view that as an operational or strategic setback,” Austin said, adding that preparations for a counter-offensive were advancing well, with the U.S. training Ukrainian troops for the push. Felicia Schwartz and Roman Olearchyk report for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered reinforcements into Bakhmut yesterday, saying that no part of Ukraine can be abandoned. Vasco Cotovio and Yulia Kesaieva report for CNN.
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas won the parliamentary elections on Sunday, a triumph for one of the E.U. and NATO’s staunchest Ukraine defenders. Kallas’s Reform party gained three seats and increased its share of the vote, giving her several possibilities for securing a majority in parliament. Estonia will push its NATO allies to announce a heavier military presence in the Baltic states when they meet in July at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Richard Milne reports for the Financial Times.
Any attempt by the U.S. military to shoot down North Korea’s test missiles would be regarded as a “declaration of war,” Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said today. The U.S. and its allies have never shot down North Korean ballistic missiles, which are banned by the U.N. Security Council. Kim Yo Jon also hinted North Korea could fire more missiles into the Pacific Ocean. Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith report for Reuters.
The U.S. deployed a B-52 bomber during joint drills with South Korea yesterday in a show of force against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, South Korea’s defense ministry said. Further joint large-scale exercises are expected later this month. Reuters reports.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Iraq today to reiterate the U.S.’s commitment to keeping its military presence in the country. The U.S. has 2,500 troops in Iraq to help advise and assist local troops in combat operations against the self-styled Islamic State militant group. Idrees Ali reports for Reuters.
Turkey summoned U.S. ambassador Jeff Flake yesterday to convey its discomfort about General Mark Milley’s visit to northeast Syria over the weekend. Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an unannounced visit to an area controlled by the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF is closely aligned with the People’s Protection Units and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey considers terrorist organizations. Reuters reports.
The State Department yesterday imposed visa sanctions on a Syrian military official who it says killed at least 41 unarmed civilians in Damascus in 2013. Amjad Yousef, a military intelligence officer for the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and his immediate family will be blocked from entering the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
A search is underway for four U.S. citizens kidnapped in north-eastern Mexico last week. According to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Americans crossed the border to buy medication. U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar, who met with López Obrador yesterday, said that the U.S. had “no higher priority than the safety of our citizens,” adding that “officials from various U.S. law enforcement agencies are working with Mexican authorities at all levels of government to achieve the safe return of our compatriots.” Madeline Halpert and Will Grant report for the BBC.
U.S., CHINA RELATIONS
The U.S. is engaged in the “containment, encirclement and suppression of China,” Chinese Leader Xi Jinping said yesterday in an unusually direct statement. Xi’s direct comments were made to a Chinese business group. According to Andrew Collier, the managing director of Hong Kong-based Orient Capital Research, the statement may not have been intended to alter China’s stance toward the U.S. as much as reassure the Chinese public that Xi is defending their interests. However, the comments risk raising tensions at a time when Beijing has sought to stabilize ties with the West. Keith Bradsher reports for the New York Times.
U.S.-China relations have “seriously deviated,” China’s newly appointed foreign minister Qin Gang said during his first press conference today. Qin, the former Chinese ambassador to the U.S., is a trusted aide of Chinese President Xi Jinping and is well known as a tough-talking diplomat. “If the U.S. does not put on the brakes and continues to roar down the wrong road, no amount of guardrails can stop the derailment and overturning, and it is bound to fall into conflict and confrontation,” Qin said of the rising tensions between the U.S. and China. Kelly Ng reports for the BBC.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen plans to meet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the U.S. in the coming weeks, two sources told Reuters yesterday. The meeting in the U.S. could replace McCarthy’s anticipated visit to Taiwan. U.S. officials and people with knowledge of the matter said both the U.S. and Taiwan believed a visit by McCarthy to Taiwan could severely increase tensions with China. China’s foreign minister warned earlier today Taiwan was the “first red line” that must not be crossed in U.S.-China relations. Michael Martina reports for Reuters.
OTHER CHINA RELATIONS
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday that he would order a committee of lawmakers to probe alleged Chinese interference in the 2021 election. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians would publish their report with sensitive information redacted. The Globe and Mail, citing anonymous intelligence sources and Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, reported last month that Beijing had employed “a sophisticated strategy” to disrupt the 2021 elections with the aim of reelecting Trudeau’s Liberals. Amanda Coletta reports for the Washington Post.
The German government plans to forbid telecom operators from using specific components from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE in their 5G networks, according to government sources yesterday. The Chinese companies’ links to Chinese security services mean embedding them in German mobile networks could give Chinese spies and even saboteurs access to essential infrastructure. Reuters reports.
The Japanese space agency was forced to send a self-destruct command to its new rocket during a failed launch earlier today. Engineers had hoped to send the 187ft rocket into space with an ALOS-3 monitoring satellite capable of detecting North Korean missile launches on board. The failed launch “will have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space business, and technological competitiveness,” said Hirotaka Watanabe, a space policy professor at Osaka University. Joel Guinto reports for the BBC.
Taiwan will not allow “repeated provocations” from China, Taiwan’s defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said today. “If the Chinese communists move again, the armed forces’ job is to fight,” Chiu said. Chiu’s comments come as Beijing ramps up diplomatic and military pressure on Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty. Ben Blanchard and Ryan Woo report for Reuters.
North Korea could hold large-scale military drills and test its new intercontinental ballistic missile in March or April, South Korean lawmakers said today. Reuters reports.
Israeli fighter pilots have vowed not to attend training in an unprecedented protest against the government’s planned judicial reforms. Reservists in an elite intelligence unit have also said they would not report for duty, prompting ten former Israeli Air Force chiefs to publish an open letter calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “stop and find a solution” to the crisis. Tom Bateman reports for the BBC.
Mexican officials found more than 340 people in an abandoned trailer on Sunday night, including 103 unaccompanied minors. The migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Ecuador appeared unharmed as the trailer had fans and ventilation ports, officials said. It is one of the most significant recent discoveries of migrant children traveling through Mexico. The driver’s whereabouts are unknown. BBC reports.
The U.K. government will today outline plans for a new law barring those entering the country through unofficial routes from claiming asylum. The measure is intended to decrease the number of migrants arriving in small boats. Last year this number reached more than 45,000, with around 90% applying for asylum. Under the new legislation, anyone arriving by small boat will be prevented from claiming asylum and deported to so-called safe third countries. Andrew Macaskill reports for Reuters.
COVID-19 has infected over 103.655 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 676.125 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.