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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 DEVELOPMENTS
The first shipment of Leopard 2 tanks from Germany has been sent to Ukraine, the German defense ministry said. 18 Leopard 2 tanks, regarded as among the best main battle tanks produced by NATO countries, were delivered after Ukrainian crews were trained to use them. Challenger 2 tanks from the U.K. have also arrived, according to reports from Ukraine. Adam Durbin reports for BBC News.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as fears of a potential release of radiation grow. Shelling and shooting have repeatedly damaged the plant and temporarily knocked out vital supporting equipment. Reports that Ukraine is planning a counteroffensive to retake southern territory, including the plant, have heightened fears of a disastrous strike. Matthew Mpoke Bigg reports for the New York Times.
Ukraine calls for the use of frozen Russian Central Bank assets to rebuild Ukraine following the World Bank assessment last week that the price of recovery and rebuilding had grown to $411 billion. Roughly $300 billion in Russian assets have been frozen in Western banks since the invasion began. The E.U. has already declared its desire to use the Kremlin’s bankroll to pay for reconstruction in Ukraine. However, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who visited Kyiv last month, reiterated her warnings of formidable legal obstacles to confiscation efforts. Patricia Cohen reports for the New York Times.
Hungary ratified Finland’s NATO membership yesterday. Finland and Sweden had their NATO bids stalled primarily due to Turkey’s concern over Sweden. Hungary also held off on approving the two countries’ bids as Orbán sought to leverage his vote to unblock E.U. funds frozen over corruption allegations. Finland’s accession is now imminent, while Sweden’s remains stalled. Marton Dunai and Richard Milne report for the Financial Times.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP LEGAL MATTERS
Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney yesterday issued an order that Georgia prosecutors have until May 1 to respond to former President Trump’s effort to quash a grand jury’s final report into his alleged attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Last week Trump filed a motion to quash the final report, excerpts of which were made public. The motion also sought to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office from further probing the alleged interference. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters.
David Pecker, a former National Enquirer publisher, testified again yesterday before a Manhattan grand jury hearing evidence about former President Trump’s role in a hush-money payment to an adult actor, said a person familiar with the matter. Pecker had offered to help Trump in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election by buying rights to unflattering stories and never publishing them, a practice known as “catch and kill.” The grand jury’s proceedings are shrouded in secrecy, and the timing of a grand jury vote is unclear. Karen Freifeld reports for Reuters.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A heavily armed shooter killed three students and three adults at Covenant School in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville yesterday, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said. The suspect is Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old who identified as transgender and was a former student at the school. Investigators found a statement written by Hale associated with the case but have not determined a motive, said Nashville Police Chief John Drake. Ben Chapman and Mariah Timms report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban after the Nashville school shooting yesterday, the White House has said. “We have to do more to stop gun violence. It is ripping our communities apart,” Biden said at the White House. “I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.” Any new gun safety legislation is unlikely this year, key lawmakers say. Reuters reports.
The Republican chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul (R-TX), said yesterday that he signed a subpoena to be delivered to Secretary of State Antony Blinken for documents related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Unfortunately, Secretary Blinken has refused to provide the Dissent Cable and his response to the cable, forcing me to issue my first subpoena as chairman of this committee,” McCaul said. About two dozen U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan sent a confidential cable through a so-called dissent channel warning Blinken in July 2021 of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban as U.S. troops withdrew from the country. Reuters reports.
The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a First Amendment challenge to an unusual federal law that makes it a crime to “encourage” unauthorized immigrants to come to or stay in the U.S. While the justices expressed concern about the potentially many prosecutions flowing from this law, they appeared to have little sympathy for the defendant in the case, Helaman Hansen, who was convicted of violating the law, as well as mail and wire fraud, for taking large fees to help undocumented immigrants obtain citizenship through adult adoption. Adam Liptak reports for the New York Times.
Facial recognition firm Clearview has run nearly a million searches for U.S. police, its founder CEO Hoan Ton-That has said. Ton-That also revealed Clearview has 30 billion images scraped from platforms such as Facebook, taken without users’ permission. Clearview allows a law enforcement customer to upload a photo of a face and find matches in a database of billions of images. It then provides links to where matching images appear online. There are a handful of documented cases of mistaken identity using facial recognition by the police. However, the lack of data and transparency around police use means the figure is likely far higher. James Clayton and Ben Derico report for BBC News.
President Biden yesterday invoked the Defense Production Act to spend $50 million on domestic and Canadian production of printed circuit boards used in missiles and radar systems, citing the technology’s importance to national defense. The move will speed up contracts, said Franklin Turner, a government contracts lawyer at McCarter & English, “by streamlining and prioritizing the procurement processes for these critical technologies, which are used in a variety of defense theaters around the world, including the current conflict in Ukraine.” Reuters reports.
U.S. retaliatory airstrikes on Iran-backed forces in Syria have been on hold after concerns of escalation grew sparked by the attack of an “Iranian origin” drone that killed a U.S. civilian contractor on Thursday. President Biden has sought to ease fears that the tit-for-tat strikes between the U.S. and militant groups could spin out of control, while at the same time warning Tehran to keep its proxies in line. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.
President Biden signed an executive order that imposes rules limiting the federal government’s acquisition and deployment of hacking tools from vendors linked to human-rights abuses or who pose national security risks to the U.S. The order lists steps companies can take to remove their wares from prohibition, such as canceling licensing agreements with governments that violate human rights. Officials said they believed high-powered spyware had compromised devices belonging to at least 50 U.S. personnel working overseas. Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday evening that he would delay a key part of controversial plans to overhaul the justice system to prevent a “rupture among our people.” Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partner, the Jewish Power party, said they had withdrawn a veto on any delay to passing the reforms in return for a guarantee that Netanyahu would pass them during the next session of parliament. The delay Netanyahu has proposed will buy him time, but it may not assuage demonstrators who are fighting for this bill to be scrapped, not delayed. Anna Foster and Marita Moloney report for BBC News.
Russia is helping Iran gain advanced digital surveillance capabilities as Tehran seeks deeper cooperation on cyberwarfare, people familiar with the matter said. Tehran is seeking digital surveillance technology and has requested dozens of Russian attack helicopters, fighter jets, and aid with its long-range missile program. Iran has already delivered drones and missiles to Russia as part of this deepening military alliance. “Given Russia’s superior capabilities, any amount of knowledge transfer would improve Iran’s cyber capabilities,” said Annie Fixler, a cyber policy analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank that is often critical of Iran. Dov Lieber, Benoit Faucon and Michael Amon report for the Wall Street Journal.
The E.U. backing for Libyan authorities who stop and detain migrants in the Mediterranean means the bloc has “aided and abetted” crimes against humanity, Chaloka Beyani, an investigator for a U.N. mission, said yesterday. “Although we are not saying that the E.U. and its member states have committed these crimes. The point is that the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes,” said Beyani. The mission will present its final report on an array of abuses committed in Libya and said it would pass any evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. Emma Farge and Angus Mcdowall report for Reuters.
Russia’s navy fired supersonic anti-ship missiles at a mock target in the Sea of Japan, the Russian defense ministry said today. “As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, Russian forces are also becoming more active in the Far East, including Japan’s vicinities,” Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a regular press conference. The firing of the missiles comes a week after two Russian strategic bomber planes, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours in what Moscow said was a “planned flight.” Reuters reports.
North Korea unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material to expand the country’s arsenal, state media KCNA said today. Experts say this could indicate progress in miniaturizing warheads that are powerful yet small enough to mount on intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. Hyonhee Shin and Daewoung Kim reports for Reuters.
France faces a new nationwide day of strikes and protests today after some of the country’s worst street violence in years marred rallies over the past week. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin warned yesterday that there was “a very serious risk” of further violence. 13,000 police will be assigned to the rallies, just under half of them in Paris. Violent far-left groups, some from abroad, want to “set France on fire,” Darmanin told a news conference. Ingrid Melander reports for Reuters.