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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.
China believes that it can only make itself the pre-eminent power in Asia by diminishing U.S. influence, the U.S. director of national intelligence Avril Haines said yesterday. The goal of weakening U.S. power and influence is one reason China has continued to pursue a deepening relationship with Russia, according to an annual intelligence threat assessment that was also released yesterday. Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong report for the New York Times.
Australia is expected to buy up to five U.S. Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines in the 2030s, four U.S. officials said yesterday. The purchase forms part of a landmark defense agreement between the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., known as the AUKUS pact. President Biden will host leaders of Australia and Britain in San Diego on Monday to chart a way forward for the provision of the nuclear-powered submarines and other high-tech weaponry to Australia. Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart and Steve Holland report for Reuters.
WAR ON TERROR
The Republican inquiry on the Afghanistan withdrawal began in Congress yesterday with searing witness accounts. During the six-hour hearing, House Foreign Affairs Committee members heard testimony and engaged in a partisan debate about who was to blame for the botched withdrawal. Republicans, led by Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), promised to take President Biden to task over the failures of the airlift out of Kabul’s airport, which left 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans dead. Karoun Demirjian reports for the New York Times.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday voted 13-8 to repeal two authorizations for past wars in Iraq. Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the full Senate could vote on the legislation in the next few weeks. Lawmakers have been arguing that Congress ceded too much authority to the president over whether troops should be sent into combat by passing and then failing to repeal broad, open-ended war authorizations. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war. Patricia Zengerle reports for Reuters.
The U.S. military yesterday repatriated a Saudi engineer who had been held for over 20 years at Guantánamo Bay under suspicion of having made bombs for Al Qaeda. Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, charged with “providing material support for terrorism,” had his case dropped after higher courts ruled that the charge was not a recognized international war crime at the time of his actions. The transfer, authorized in September by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, reduced the detainee population at Guantánamo to 31 men, 17 of whom are approved for resettlement or repatriation. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The White House condemned Fox News host Tucker Carlson yesterday for his misleading portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack. The White House joined Republican Senate leaders and Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who a day earlier assailed Carlson’s broadcasts, which included security footage from the Capitol on the day of the attack, as being “filled with offensive and misleading conclusions.” The statement was a rare rebuke of Carlson by name, suggesting an escalation of tensions between the White House and the conservative-leaning, beleaguered cable giant Fox News. Christopher Cadelago reports for POLITICO.
Jenna Ellis, an attorney for Former President Trump who helped drive false election claims, has admitted in a Colorado disciplinary proceeding that she misrepresented evidence at least 10 times. Colorado’s top disciplinary judge Bryon Large wrote in a six-page opinion that the “respondent violated [a state attorney rule of conduct], which provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Ellis is the first Trump attorney who faces disciplinary action to acknowledge they misrepresented the evidence of fraud. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A federal judge in Florida yesterday held that the Biden administration’s policy to release many people who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexican border rather than detaining them violates U.S. immigration law. U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell blocked the administration from continuing to implement a 2021 Department of Homeland Security memo that had authorized “alternatives to detention” to ease overcrowding in detention facilities. Wetherell said federal immigration authorities lack the power to implement those alternatives on a widespread basis under existing law and gave the administration seven days to file an appeal before his decision takes effect. Daniel Wiessner reports for Reuters.
Hundreds of U.S. House members and staffers had their data stolen in a health insurance service breach, House Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor told lawmakers yesterday in a letter obtained by CNN. “It does not appear that Members or the House of Representatives were the specific targets of the attack,” Szpindor wrote of Tuesday’s breach. A financially motivated hacker, who claimed responsibility for the breach, has been described as “opportunistic rather than seeking to target specific regions or sectors” by Michael DeBolt, a chief intelligence officer at security firm Intel471. Annie Grayer and Sean Lyngaas report for CNN.
The police department in Louisville, Kentucky, engaged in a far-ranging pattern of discriminatory and abusive law enforcement practices, the Justice Department concluded in a 90-page report published yesterday. The two-year investigation, prompted by the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by the police in 2020, revealed misconduct, including the use of excessive force; searches based on invalid warrants; unlawful car stops, detentions and harassment of people during street sweeps; and patterns of discrimination against Black people and those with behavioral health problems. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference in Louisville that the police misconduct has “strained its relationship with the community it is meant to protect and serve.” Glenn Thrush reports for the New York Times.
President Biden will visit California next week to call for stricter gun control measures amid a spate of mass shootings throughout the U.S., a White House official said. Biden has repeatedly called for an assault weapons ban in recent public speeches. Even with majorities in both houses of Congress during Biden’s first two years in office, Democrats could not pass a ban, and any effort now would be all but certain to fail in the Republican-controlled House. Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.
Lawmakers from both parties are redoubling efforts to give the Space Force its own Space National Guard, an initiative that has failed twice. Supporters of a Space National Guard cite low costs and its ability to improve Space Force’s organizational structure in a bid to win over the Biden administration and other opponents. In contrast, the administration fears it will result in more expensive bureaucracy. Connor O’Brien and Lee Hudson report for POLITICO.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was hospitalized yesterday after tripping at a hotel during a private dinner, his spokesperson David Popp said. Popp did not indicate how long McConnell would be in the hospital. Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy yesterday declined an invitation to visit Ukraine from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who suggested the trip might challenge McCarthy’s “assumptions” about military aid. The invitation, which Zelenskyy made during an interviewed with CNN, came after Republicans questioned or opposed the large sums of aid the U.S. provides Ukraine. When asked about Zelenksyy’s invitation McCarthy told CNN, “I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv to see [what is happening].” “My point has always been, I won’t provide a blank check for anything,” he added. Clare Foran reports for CNN.
Russian forces are too depleted to undertake a large offensive, U.S. director of national intelligence Avril Haines said yesterday. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Haines said Russia lacks troops, ammunition, and the morale to sustain the current level of offensive operations, which may become “grinding” and “attritional.” She also warned that military failures could “hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic standing and thereby trigger additional escalatory actions by Russia in an effort to win back public support.” Julian E. Barnes, Anatoly Kurmanaev, and Richard Pérez-Peña report for the New York Times.
The Pentagon is blocking the Biden administration from sharing U.S. intelligence with the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, according to officials briefed on the matter. The Department of Defence opposes helping the I.C.C. investigate Russians because it fears setting a precedent that might pave the way for the court to prosecute Americans. The rest of the administration, including intelligence agencies, favors sharing the evidence. Congress modified longstanding legal restrictions in December, allowing the U.S. to assist the I.C.C. in relation to the war in Ukraine. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Russia launched at least 81 missiles at targets across Ukraine today. The strike killed at least nine people, and Europe’s largest nuclear plant lost power following the attack. Ukraine’s military claimed it successfully shot down 34 cruise missiles and four Iranian-made Shahed drones. Emily McGarvey and Marita Moloney report for BBC News.
E.U. defense ministers gathered in Sweden yesterday to consider using the bloc’s budget to purchase up to one million shells for Ukraine, costing about $4.2 billion. To match Ukraine’s demand, European weapons manufacturers will need large orders with guaranteed money to incentivize building factories, which could take three years to come online. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen likened this potential advance order to the one used by Europe to secure vaccines early in the Covid-19 pandemic, pooling resources to offer more money upfront to encourage manufacturers “to invest in new production lines now.” Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
Georgia’s ruling party has said it will withdraw the controversial foreign influence bill, following mass protests and international criticism. Describing itself as a party of government responsible to all members of society, Georgian Dream referred to the need to reduce “confrontation.” The bill would be withdrawn “unconditionally” it said. Paul Kirby reports for BBC News.
The Taliban governor of Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province has been killed in an explosion at his office. Mohammad Dawood Muzammil is the most senior official to be killed since the Taliban returned to power in 2021. Local police said what caused Thursday’s blast was unclear. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Kelly Ng and Barbara Plett Usher report for BBC News.
A suspected Israeli airstrike that shut down a Syrian airport has obstructed international efforts to aid millions of earthquake victims, a U.N. official said yesterday. The attack on Aleppo International Airport on Tuesday forced the international agency to suspend or divert flights used to transport vital medical supplies. El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the U.N. resident coordinator in Syria called on countries to “abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities.” Dion Nissenbaum and Jared Malsin report for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected over 103.755 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 676.420 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.88 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.