Early Edition: March 18, 2021 – Just Security

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

“Narratives of fraud in the recent general election [and] the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence—will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] to try to engage in violence this year,” according to a 4-page unclassified summary of a new joint assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which the White House ordered in January. The “most lethal” domestic extremist threat comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” and “militia” extremists, the report states, a full copy of which has been sent to the White House and Congress. Zachary Cohen and Geneva Sands report for CNN. “[Domestic Violent Extremist] attackers often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult,” the report added. Warren P. Strobel and Rachael Levy report for the Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urge Biden to tap his nominees to serve in top federal cyber security positions  including, a Senate-confirmed director of CISA, and the White House’s first national cyber director (NCD), introduced under the 2021 NDAA — in the midst of recent unprecedented hacks on SolarWinds and Microsoft that saw federal government department and agency systems breached. Mayorkas confirmed in written testimony yesterday that his department had been “compromised” by the hackers in the SolarWinds case, “but the Department was able to continue to execute its mission.” “While our public-facing services were not affected and we no longer see indicators of compromise on our networks, we have more work to do to fully secure our network against future attacks. DHS networks and cybersecurity best practices should be a model for other civilian agencies.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Four leading members of the Proud Boys have been charged with conspiracy in connection with the Capitol attack, all from different states, two of which have been arrested, the other two having their previous indictments amended, according to law enforcement officials. “In the indictment, prosecutors accused Charles Donohoe, a Proud Boys leader from North Carolina, and Zach Rehl, the president of the group’s chapter in Philadelphia, of conspiring to interfere with law enforcement officers at the Capitol and obstruct the certification of President Biden’s electoral victory. Two other high-ranking Proud Boys who were already facing similar charges — Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Wash., and Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Fla. — were also implicated as part of the conspiracy,” report Adam Goldman and Alan Feuer for the New York Times.

IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration has imposed an unofficial “gag order” on Border Patrol agents, prohibiting them from speaking to the media about the worrying surge in migrants at the southern border, according to four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials, with the order passed down to agents verbally. “Border Patrol officials have been told to deny all media requests for “ride-alongs” with agents along the southern land border; local press officers are instructed to send all information queries, even from local media, to the press office in Washington for approval; and those responsible for cultivating data about the number of migrants in custody have been reminded not to share the information with anyone to prevent leaks, the officials said,” Julia Ainsley reports for NBC News.

Mexico plans to crackdown on migrants who enter from Central America and intend to make their way to the U.S. border, according to four people familiar with the plan, who said that “Mexico would deploy security forces to cut the flow of migrants, the bulk of whom come from Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, whose economies were battered by the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes last year,” reports Dave Graham, Diego Oré and Laura Gottesdiener for Reuters.

Explainer on why the number of migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border is surging by Ted Hesson and Mico Roseenberg for Reuters.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

The House yesterday voted 244-172 to pass legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was originally authored by President Biden and lapsed in 2019. “The legislation, which was reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), would provide grants to state and local governments for programs addressing domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking … It would further close the so-called boyfriend loophole to prevent dating partners convicted of domestic violence or abuse from buying or owning guns. Current law only applies the gun purchase restriction to spouses or formerly married partners convicted of abuse or under a restraining order,” report Cristina Marcos and Juliegrace Brufke for The Hill.

The U.K. police are to begin recording hate crimes driven by misogyny, including stalking and sexual violence, following growing pressure from women and women’s rights groups over the safety of women in Britain, amid the contentious murder of Sarah Everard by suspected London Met police officer Wayne Couzens. The move has been described as being initially on an “experimental basis,” with the Government expected to consult a review into hate crimes conducted by the Law Commission. Kate Devlin reports for The Independent.

ATLANTA SHOOTINGS

President Biden publicly denounced “the brutality against Asian Americans” following the spa shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people. “Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans, they are very concerned, because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it’s troubling,” Biden said, adding he had spoken to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray and that a motive for the killing was still being determined. “A gunman shot and killed eight people at three massage spa parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night, and six of the victims were women of Asian descent. Cherokee County sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said that after a brief manhunt, Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested and later confessed to the attack,” reports Lauren Egan for NBC News.

Explainer on the Atlanta Massage Parlor Shootings by Derrick Bryson Taylor and Christine Hauser for the New York Times.

U.S.-AFGHAN RELATIONS

Biden casts doubt on whether U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 1: “It could happen, but it is tough,” Biden told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “The fact is that that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president worked out,” Biden said about the Feb 2020 Trump-led deal, adding, “And so we’re in consultation with our allies, as well as the government.” Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.

The U.S. military launched an unspecified number of strikes in the last 48 hours against Taliban fighters who were “actively attacking & maneuvering” against Afghan forces in the Kandahar province, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett said in a post on Twitter. “The U.S. military stopped publicly releasing data on the number of airstrikes it conducts in Afghanistan after the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed, but has occasionally publicized some strikes on social media,” reports Rebecca Kheel for The Hill

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russia has called its ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, back to Moscow to discuss the future U.S.-Russia relationship follow President Biden’s comments that Russian President Vladimir Putin would “pay a prize” for his country’s alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. election, which was reported in the recently unclassified version of the ODNI’s report. Reuters reporting.

Putin says Thursday that he wishes Biden good health. Reuters reporting.

U.S.-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS

Blinken yesterday called for the “denuclearization of North Korea” and called on China to help in the effort, speaking during a press conference in South Korea. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

The U.S. is weighing pressure and diplomatic options for dealing with North Korea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday, just hours after a top North Korea diplomat rejected any talks with Washington until it changes its policies. Blinken said during a joint briefing with South Korean officials that the Biden administration would complete its review of North Korea in the next few weeks and is consulting closely with its allies. Blinken would not comment on the approach expected to be taken. Humeyra Pamuk and Hyonhee Shin report for Reuters.

Analysis on what the U.S. means by “denuclearization,” by Josh Smith for Reuters.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

World Uyghur Congress, the largest group representing exiled Uygur Muslims, has written to Blinken urging him to demand during talks with China today that the country closes its internment camps in the Xinjiang region and stops human rights abuses against the Muslim group. “First and foremost, it is imperative that China immediately and unconditionally ends the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in East Turkestan [better known as Xinjiang],” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, adding, “This includes that China closes all internment camps and unconditionally releases all those arbitrarily detained.” Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.

The U.S. has imposed financial sanctions on 24 Chinese officials for undermining Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms and autonomous status; the move came not long before Blinken and White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan were scheduled to meet with top Chinese Diplomats. “This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance,” Blinken said in a statement released midday in Asia, referring to China’s efforts to rewrite Hong Kong’s election laws. Steven Lee Myers, Austin Ramzy and Lara Jakes report for the New York Times.

OTHER U.S.-RELATIONS

Biden has defended his decision not to take targeted action against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for his central involvement in the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, claiming that such a move against the prince would be an unprecedented move for the U.S., speaking during an ABC News interview that aired yesterday and was the president’s first extended public comments on his administration’s decision. “We held accountable all the people in that organization – but not the crown prince, because we have never, that I’m aware of … when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him,” Biden said. “Biden overstated the US relationship with Saudi Arabia … The United States has no treaty binding itself with Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom is not one of the Arab countries designated as a major non-Nato ally. The US often refers to the kingdom as a strategic partner because of its oil production, its status as a regional counterbalance to Iran and its counterterrorism cooperation … The US recognizes that serving heads of state or governments should be granted immunity from prosecution under international law. But Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman, remains the titular head of state of Saudi Arabia, and the US has never officially granted immunity to an “acting head of state,”” reports The Guardian.

The Biden administration intends to “reset” U.S. relations with Palestine, reveals a four-page memo entitled “The US Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward,” which sets out the administration’s diplomatic plans and was obtained by the U.A.E.-based newspaper The National on Wednesday. The memo was reportedly drafted by deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs Hady Amr and sent to Blinken March 1. The plan “includes an attempt to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, inject $15 million into COVID-19 assistance for the Palestinians, and reformulate several US positions from the Trump era with regards to favoring Israeli settlement expansion into the West Bank in contravention of a two-state solution,” reports Cody Levine for the Jerusalem Post.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández who was convicted in 2019 of playing “a leadership role in a violent, state sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy” along with his brother President Hernández, although the latter has never been charged with a crime. “Between 2004 and 2019, the defendant secured and distributed millions of dollars in drug-derived bribes to Juan Orlando Hernandez, former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and other politicians associated with Honduras’s National Party,” prosecutors said, adding that he accepted a $1 million bribe for his brother from Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. “In addition to a life term for Tony Hernandez when he is sentenced on Tuesday in New York, prosecutors will seek a fine of $10 million and $138 million dollars in forfeiture, which prosecutors wrote was “blood money” from drug trafficking,” reports Reuters.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 29.6 million and now killed over 538,000 people in the United States,according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 121.29 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.68 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The E.U. is weighing Covid-19 certificates — known as Digital Green Certificates — which would allow residences of member states to travel within the bloc if they have proof of being vaccinated, a negative test result or a documented recovery from the virus. “The Digital Green Certificate will not be a precondition to free movement, and it will not discriminate in any way,” said Didier Reynders, the E.U.’s top official for justice, adding that the purpose was to “gradually restore free movement within the E.U. and avoid fragmentation.” Monika Pronczuk and Michael Wolgelenter report for the New York Times.

Syria has finally started its vaccination campaign against coronavirus, receiving 5,000 doses from a country it refused to name but described as “friendly.”  “[W]hile the government is being furtive about which vaccine it received and who has footed the bill, many in Syria say it is an open secret it is Russia’s Sputnik V that was bought by Israel – reportedly under a prisoner exchange deal,” reports Anchal Vohra for Al Jazeera.

Taiwan has authorized its first batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, with the first shots likely to be administered Monday, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said after 117,000 vaccine shots arrived on the island earlier this month. Reuters reporting.

A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

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.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

A former member of the Gambian armed forces elite squad called the “Junglers” was arrested in Germany on Tuesday over alleged crimes against humanity, reports the Human Rights Watch.

Ukraine has rejected a report by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAOI) on the downing of a Ukrainian airline flight in January 2020 as a “cynical attempt” to conceal the truth; the CAOI report states that an operator “misidentified” the plane as hostile and fired the missiles without authorization. BBC Newsreporting.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun warns Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to either step down or immediately form a new cabinet as soon as possible. Al Jazeera reporting. 

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