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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.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – NORD STREAM PIPELINES INVESTIGATIONS
New intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests a pro-Ukrainian group unaffiliated with the government attacked the Nord Stream pipelines linking Russia to Western Europe last year. Officials said there were still enormous gaps in what U.S. spy agencies and their European partners knew about the diplomatically sensitive incident. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attacked the credibility of the intelligence as the “spread of disinformation.” Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.
Ukraine denies involvement in sabotaging the Nord Stream pipelines, which targeted Russia’s gas deliveries to Europe. A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, denied Ukraine’s involvement on Twitter yesterday, “[Ukraine] has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap.” Kostan Nechyporenko, Simone McCarthy, and Natasha Bertrand report for CNN.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
South Korea’s government approved export licenses for Poland last year to provide Ukraine with Krab howitzers, which require South Korean components, a defense acquisition official in Seoul told Reuters yesterday. While this decision indicated an acquiescence to provide weapons to Ukraine indirectly, Kim Hyoung-Cheol, director of the Europe-Asia division of the International Cooperation Bureau, stressed that the government’s stance is not to transfer weapons systems to Ukraine. Josh Smith and Joyce Lee report for Reuters.
Russia’s paramilitary organization, the Wagner group, is having its “last stand” in Bakhmut as it runs low on fighters recruited from prisons, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern forces Serhiy Cherevaty said yesterday. This statement may indicate that Ukraine sees an opportunity to exhaust Wagner’s nearly suicidal prisoner assaults, which Ukraine’s commanders regard as one of Russia’s most effective tactics. By draining Wagner’s penal forces, Ukraine may be able to draw in, and tie down, more experienced Russian forces in Bakhmut. Andrew E. Kramer and Anatoly Kurmanaev report for the New York Times.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – JAN. 6 ATTACK
Rupert Murdoch predicted there would be “riots like never before” if the 2020 election results were overturned, even as his Fox News aired false claims about voter fraud, court filings in a defamation case revealed yesterday. In an email exchange on Nov. 19, 2020, Murdoch also called former President Trump a “sore loser” and said, “state legislators changing [results] sounds ridiculous.” The unsealed evidence also reveals the close ties between Fox News and the Trump administration. Dominion, which brought the defamation lawsuit against Fox News, alleges Fox falsely accused it of rigging the 2020 vote. Joe Miller and Anna Nicolaou report for the Financial Times.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger criticized Fox News host Tucker Carlson yesterday over his comments about the Jan. 6 attack, saying Carlson “cherry-picked” footage to present “offensive” and “misleading” conclusions. In an internal memo, Manger specifically criticized Carlson’s decision to show surveillance footage that showed U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died one day after the attack. Carlson used the clips to undermine the facts surrounding Sicknick’s death and argue that the Jan. 6 attack was less violent and “deadly” than previously portrayed. Whitney Wild and Devan Cole report for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Democrats have asked the former judge who reviewed the Supreme Court’s abortion opinion leak probe for more information, after CNN revealed he had longstanding financial ties with the court. The judge, Michael Chertoff, who endorsed the probe’s findings, had done prior work for the Supreme Court worth at least $1 million, raising questions about whether he could be an objective validator of the probe. In particular, congressional Democrats have asked for information about Chertoff’s previous work with the Supreme Court, any personal connections to the justices, and how his review was conducted. Tierney Sneed and Ariane de Vogue report for CNN.
The former executive director for the Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, has been subpoenaed by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, according to documents obtained by CNN. The since-disbanded board was intended to coordinate the Department of Homeland Security activities related to disinformation but drew intense backlash from Republicans and conservative media. Jankowicz’s deposition is scheduled Apr. 10. Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
The FBI and the Defense Department were deeply involved in pushing for face-scanning technology that could be used for mass surveillance, internal documents show. The documents revealed in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the FBI show officials developed techniques that could help identify or track Americans without their awareness or consent. This technology has been offered to at least six federal agencies. No federal laws regulate how facial recognition systems can be used. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) yesterday said he intends to push for a bill restricting federal agencies’ facial recognition and biometric search techniques this year. Drew Harwell reports for the Washington Post.
Missouri cannot enforce a controversial state law that it says would protect gun rights, a federal judge ruled yesterday, saying the measure ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Department successfully argued that Missouri’s “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which blocks state and local law officials’ enforcement of federal gun laws, interferes with the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which states that federal laws take precedence over state laws. District Judge Brian Wimesharm concluded the law harms citizens “by interfering with the Federal Government’s ability to enforce lawfully enacted firearms regulations designed by Congress.” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said the state is “prepared to defend this statute to the highest court.” Devan Cole reports for CNN.
Following Louisiana and Alabama, the Republican states of Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia announced on Monday that they would no longer work with an organization that helps maintain accurate voter rolls. Lawmakers cited “partisan tendencies” and data security issues for leaving the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit organization that has faced intensifying attacks from election deniers and right-wing media. Defenders of the group lamented the departures, saying they would weaken the group’s information-sharing efforts. Neil Vigdor reports for the New York Times.
An Ohio jury is about to decide whether politicians enlisted by energy company FirstEnergy to seek a $1.3 billion state bailout pushed the bounds of campaign spending too far. Representative Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Chair Matt Borges, and others were charged in 2020 with participating in a racketeering conspiracy. FirstEnergy has previously admitted using nonprofit groups “to conceal payments for the benefit of public officials and in return for official action,” as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. Householder and Borges could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison if convicted. Julie Bykowicz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. cyber agency lacks a communication plan during major hacks, said the Department of Homeland Security inspector general on Monday. While the agency has “improved its ability to detect and mitigate risks from major cyberattacks… work remains to safeguard Federal networks,” the inspector general’s report says. The findings highlight the fallout from the 2020 Russian cyber-espionage campaign, which infiltrated at least nine U.S. federal agencies and prompted significant changes to U.S. cybersecurity policy. Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price will step down this month, officials said yesterday. Price, who has served as the State Department’s top spokesperson since January 2021, will assume a new role working directly for Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Vedant Patel, Price’s current deputy, will be his temporary replacement. Kelly Garrity and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.
Senators announced a bipartisan bill yesterday that would allow the administration to ban Chinese apps that pose security threats, including TikTok. The Restrict Act would require the commerce secretary to establish a process to identify threats related to communications and information technology and create solutions to address them. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Democratic head of the Senate intelligence committee who announced the bill, said the bill would tackle a wide range of technology threats. Demetri Sevastopulo reports for the Financial Times.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy confirmed that he plans to meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in the U.S. this year. Speaking to reporters yesterday evening McCarthy stressed that his decision to meet with Tsai on U.S. soil was not an attempt to appease Beijing, saying he had not ruled out a separate visit to the self-governing island. McCarthy’s comments came as Taiwan’s presidential office said work was underway on the “transit” plans for the visit. Al Jazeera reports.
President Biden will host South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a state visit in April. Yoon, who is scheduled to travel to Washington on Apr. 26, is only the second leader Biden has invited for a state visit. The invitation signals the country’s importance in the administration’s efforts to counter threats posed by North Korea and China and speaks to the degree of cooperation expected on these issues. Katie Rogers dreports for the New York Times.
President Biden will announce the details of a nuclear submarine deal with the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom on Monday. Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to San Diego, California, to unveil the deal during an event at a naval base. The deal is intended to counter China’s military power in the Indo-Pacific region. Jenny Leonard reports for Bloomberg News.
India is close to approving a deal to buy high-altitude armed drones from the U.S., people with knowledge of the matter have said. The potential purchase of the advanced MQ-9B drones comes as India seeks to counter a more-assertive Chinese stance on the countries’ contested Himalayan border. The purchase would also boost the Indian navy’s surveillance efforts in the Indian Ocean, where China’s naval presence has grown. The acquisition could be approved in the next few weeks. Rajesh Roy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. must continue to address election interference by China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, said Cyber Command Director Gen. Paul Nakasone. The testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee comes after an FBI cyber official warned state officials last month that Chinese hackers pose a “growing threat” and that their attempt to target political parties before the 2022 midterm election shows there will be “significant Chinese cyber activity … in the coming year.” Ines Kagubare reports for The Hill.
Two of the four Americans kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico, were found dead, and the other two were rescued yesterday. The two survivors are now receiving medical treatment in the U.S.. The incident occurred as some U.S. lawmakers are calling for cartels to be designated as terrorist organizations and for the U.S. military to target their operations in Mexico. When asked if the attack could affect U.S. military policy toward Mexico, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told reports that it was too soon to say. Juan Montes and José de Córdoba report for the Wall Street Journal.
House Republicans will today hold their first hearing on the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan since they took back the majority. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Mike McCaul (R-TX), will hear from a handful of veterans of the war, some of whom were directly affected by the evacuations, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed. The U.S. also left behind Afghan allies, including an estimated 78,000 who worked for the U.S. government. By inviting veterans to testify the committee wants to draw attention to the human cost of the chaotic withdrawal. Scott Wang reports for NBC News.
China plans to accelerate its diplomatic offensive, Beijing’s new foreign minister Qin Gang announced yesterday. This outreach will be boosted by a 12.2% increase in the Chinese government’s budget for diplomatic expenditure this year. The money will not only be used to fund diplomatic trips: according to China’s Ministry of Finance, “diplomatic expenditure” covers a wide range of areas, from budgets for the Foreign Ministry, Chinese embassies and consulates, to China’s participation in international organizations, foreign aid, and external propaganda. Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, noted that these diplomatic efforts will likely include an increase in spending on propaganda efforts targeting foreign audiences – including through Chinese social media apps. Nectar Gan reports for CNN.
At least 10 legal experts have been meeting secretly with Israeli government lawmakers to discuss the government’s controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system. Some of these meetings have been held at the official residence of Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, who has called on the government to compromise on the plans. According to people involved in the discussions, it appears possible that the government may agree to water down its plan to allow Parliament to override Supreme Court decisions – one of the most controversial aspects of the proposal. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Six Palestinians were killed yesterday during a raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. The raid was aimed at arresting a suspect in the fatal shooting of two Israeli brothers last month. The suspect, Abd al-Fattah Kharousha, was listed among the dead by Palestinian health officials. A further 16 Palestinians are being treated in hospital for injuries sustained during the raid. Isabel Kershner reports for the New York Times.
Violent clashes broke out between protestors and police in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi yesterday, over a controversial foreign influence bill that critics say will restrict media freedom and civil society. The bill, which passed an initial vote yesterday, would require nongovernmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their annual revenue from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence,” subjecting them to additional scrutiny, with significant penalties available for violations. Western officials have strongly opposed the bill, with the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi warning that it would have a “devastating impact” on rights groups in Georgia. Niha Masih reports for the Washington Post.
At least 19 people have been killed and more than 50 injured in an explosion in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Mahid Uddin Khondekar, additional commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said the cause of the blast was unknown but that it may have been a gas explosion. “We are not sure, but it seems accidental,” he said. Swati Gupta and Jessie Yeung report for CNN.
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.