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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into reports that a trove of apparently classified U.S. intelligence documents was leaked online from the Pentagon, the Defense Department said yesterday. Defense Department officials are reviewing and assessing the validity of the documents, said Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh. An interagency effort is focused on evaluating the impact these documents could have on U.S. national security and U.S. allies and partners, Singh said. Rebecca Falconer reports for Axios.
Hundreds of Jan. 6 obstruction cases face new uncertainty after a divided appeals court ruling on Friday. The central question is whether defendants acted with “corrupt intent” or were merely engaged in protest or lobbying activities. The three cases presently before the court involved charges of assaulting police, a crime for which corrupt intent is not questioned. “It is more prudent to delay addressing the meaning of ‘corrupt’ intent until that issue is properly presented to the court,” Judge Florence Pan has written, pointing to the pending appeal of Jan. 6 defendant Thomas Robertson as one potential vehicle. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report for POLITICO.
Fox News yesterday reached a settlement with a Venezuelan businessman Majed Khalil, ending a defamation case in which Khalil said he was falsely accused on air of helping to rig the 2020 presidential election against former President Trump. A short letter sent to District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan on Saturday said the parties had reached a “confidential agreement to resolve this matter” and expected to file a joint stipulation of dismissal next week. Reuters reports.
The Biden administration will begin testing faster asylum screenings for migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday. Asylum officers will conduct initial asylum screenings for a few migrants within days while they remain in the custody of border authorities, Homeland Security spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said. The interviews will take place over the phone, and migrants will have access to legal counsel during the screenings. Since March 2020, U.S. authorities have been able to quickly expel migrants caught crossing the border illegally back to Mexico under a COVID-19 order known as Title 42, which is set to end on May 11. Ted Hesson reports for Reuters.
Americans now see cyberattacks as the country’s greatest threat, suggesting that cyber fears have outflanked concerns over climate change, immigration, terrorism, or nuclear weapons, according to a 2023 Gallup poll and a 2022 Pew Research survey.
U.S. RELATIONS – LEAKED INTELLIGENCE REPORTS
Some of the leaked documents could have been posted on Discord, a messaging platform popular with gamers, weeks before alarms were raised, according to Bellingcat. The documents were first posted on a Discord channel focused on the Minecraft computer game. They then spread to other sites, such as the imageboard 4Chan, before appearing on Telegram, Twitter, and then major media publishers worldwide recently. Uncovering the source of these apparent leaks has not yet been possible. Aric Toler reports for Bellingcat.
The leaks have shown how the U.S. spies on allies and foes alike, deeply rattling U.S. officials, who fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise critical foreign relationships. Some documents, which U.S. officials say are authentic, expose the extent of U.S. eavesdropping on key allies, including South Korea, Israel, and Ukraine. U.S. allies are doing damage assessments and scrambling to determine whether the leak has compromised their sources and methods. Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood report for CNN.
Israel’s government yesterday rejected claims in the leaked documents that leaders of its foreign intelligence service, Mossad, had supported nationwide protests against a proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary. An alleged Central Intelligence Update from Mar. 1 suggests the Mossad leadership had encouraged its staff and Israeli citizens to join the mass protests. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the report was “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever.” Ronen Bergman, Patrick Kingsley, and Isabel Kershner report for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. Navy has deployed a guided-missile submarine to the Middle East following escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, a U.S. Navy spokesperson said. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force is preparing a drone attack against Israeli-owned civilian merchant vessels sailing in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, according to two Western senior intelligence officials. An Iranian political strategist close to the Guards said Iran was considering these attacks as one means of retaliating against Israeli airstrikes in Syria that killed two Guards members in March. Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
A Friday drone strike in northern Iraq targeted a Syrian Kurdish leader, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, who has been a U.S. ally in the fight against the self-styled Islamic State militant group, U.S. officials said. Three U.S. military personnel were with Abdi at the time of the attack. There were no casualties. Some Western officials suspect Turkey was behind the strike, as Turkey sees the Syrian Kurds as a foe. However, a CENTCOM statement did not specifically mention Turkey or Gen. Abdi. Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius passed within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef, an area militarized by China, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet today. The show of force comes amid growing tensions following Taiwan President’s visit to the United States. A spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command said the U.S. destroyer “illegally intruded” into the disputed waters near Mischief Reef, which Beijing claims. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
A growing number of prominent Republicans are rallying around the idea that the military should be deployed against Mexican drug cartels to solve the fentanyl crisis. Republican lawmakers in both chambers have filed legislation to label some cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. Some Republicans, like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Mike McCaul (R-TX), remain skeptical, while Democrats oppose the proposal. Alexander Ward reports for POLITICO.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE DEVELOPMENTS – LEAKED INTELLIGENCE REPORTS
The Ukrainian military may run out of anti-aircraft missiles by May, according to leaked Pentagon reports. Once its missile systems are expended, most of Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure outside the Kyiv region and two other areas in southwestern Ukraine will no longer have an air-defense cover. Col. Yuri Ihnat, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force, confirmed that Ukraine’s air defenses face a severe challenge and said that Ukraine urgently needs its Western partners to speed up assistance. Yaroslav Trofimov reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The French government denied on Saturday that French soldiers were on the ground in Ukraine, as purported by the leaked documents. One slide in the leaked documents suggested that a small contingent of less than a hundred special operations personnel from NATO members France, the United States, Britain, and Latvia were already active in Ukraine. Philip Oltermann reports for the Guardian.
Top aides to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol worried that the United States would send South Korean shells to Ukraine rather than use them to replenish U.S. stocks, according to leaked reports. South Korea has confirmed it is aware of the news reports about the leaked documents and plans to discuss “issues raised” by the leak with Washington, a senior government official in Seoul told reporters yesterday. Choe Sang-Hun reports for the New York Times.
OTHER RUSSIA, UKRAINE DEVELOPMENTS
The Ukrainian military has changed its drafting rules in a bid to boost its military forces as it prepares for an imminent assault on Russian occupying forces. Previously, officials could only deliver draft papers to people’s homes, and some avoided the notices by staying at different addresses than where they are officially registered. But new rules have widened the scope of places where men can be stopped and questioned about their draft status. Almost a quarter-million Ukrainians will turn 18 this year — making them old enough to sign up to fight, or, if they are male and still in the country, too old to leave. Siobhán O’Grady and Kostiantyn Khudov report for the Washington Post.
China announced three days of drills on Saturday and conducted aerial and naval blockade exercises around Taiwan today. The Chinese Shandong carrier group has been performing exercises in the Western Pacific. Taiwan’s defense ministry said that as of mid-morning today, it had spotted 59 military aircraft and 11 ships around Taiwan. Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee report Reuters.
A Saudi Arabian delegation has arrived in Yemen to negotiate an end to the long-running war that has pitted the kingdom and its allies against the Iran-backed Houthi militia group. Oman has also sent a team to continue its efforts to mediate negotiations. Both groups will meet a top rebel leader in the Houthi capital Sana’a in the coming days to “lift the siege and end the aggression,” a Houthi news agency said yesterday. Samer Al-Atrush reports for the Financial Times.
Israel hit multiple military targets in Syria yesterday in response to six rockets fired into Israeli-controlled territory, the Israeli military has said. The Israeli Air Force said fighter jets and drones hit rocket launchers, a Syrian military compound, radar systems, and artillery positions. The al-Quds Brigade – a Damascus-based Palestinian militant group loyal to the Syrian government – claimed it was behind the rocket fire into Israeli-controlled territory, saying it was retaliating for recent Israeli police raids at the al-Aqsa mosque, Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV has said. BBC News reports.
An Italian tourist has been killed and seven other people injured in a suspected car-ramming attack near a beach in Tel Aviv last night, Israeli medics say. Local police said the suspected attacker – Yousef Abu Jaber from Kafr Qasim, an Israeli-Arab city – was shot dead by officers. Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mobilized police and army reservists to counter further terrorism. Yolande Knell and Christy Cooney report for BBC News.
Canadian police charged a male suspect after a “hate-motivated incident” at a mosque in Ontario on Thursday, where he allegedly drove toward a worshipper and yelled threats and religious slurs, police said yesterday. The 28-year-old suspect, Sharan Karunakaran, will appear tomorrow before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Newmarket. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters.
44 people have been killed after two deadly attacks in northern Burkina Faso on Thursday, officials have said. The twin attacks happened in the villages of Kourakou and Tondobi in the Sahel region, near the Niger border. No group has admitted to carrying out the attacks, but jihadist violence is common in the area, and officials have blamed “armed terrorist groups.” Kathryn Armstrong reports for BBC News.