Just Security: Early Edition: December 9, 2020
A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the DC District Court yesterday dismissed the criminal case against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, following a three-year long legal case and Trump’s recent pardon of Flynn. However, Sullivan, in his 43-page opinion, did criticize Trump’s pardon for being “extraordinarily broad,” making clear that a “pardon does not necessarily render ‘innocent’ a defendant of any alleged violation of the law … Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the acceptance of a pardon implies a ‘confession’ of guilt.” Sullivan also took issue with the Justice Department’s earlier decision to drop its case against Flynn, stating that it was a pretext and was not in line with legal standards. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Over a dozen Army officials have been fired or suspended as part of a sweeping internal review into the culture at a military base in Fort Hood, TX, which revealed “major flaws” and a leadership climate which allowed for a string of violent deaths, suicides and sexual harassment and assault, said Ryan D. McCarthy, the secretary of the Army. The report released yesterday stated: “Unfortunately, a ‘business as usual’ approach was taken by Fort Hood leadership causing female soldiers, particularly, in the combat brigades, to slip into survival mode,” adding that they were “vulnerable and preyed upon, but fearful to report and be ostracized and re-victimized.” McCarthy ordered the firing or suspension of 14 officials, including high-ranking leaders, and stated that “this report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture.” Sarah Mervosh and John Ismay report for the New York Times.
The House yesterday approved the annual defense policy bill — the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — in a 335-78 vote, despite Trump’s repeated veto threats unless lawmakers repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a legal shield for internet and social media companies. The vote numbers from yesterday were over the two-thirds needed to override Trump’s veto, although some Republicans may change their vote if it comes down to a showdown between Congress and Trump. The Senate is expected to vote next, and then the measure will be sent to Trump’s desk. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
US-based FireEye Inc., one of the world’s largest cybersecurity firms, was hacked by the same Russian hackers that infiltrated the White House and State Department several years ago and recently attempted to steal coronavirus vaccine research, according to people familiar with the matter speaking on the condition of anonymity. Apparently, FireEye detected the breach in recent weeks, but disclosed it yesterday, which saw sensitive hacking tools stolen which the company uses to detect weaknesses in customers’ computer systems and which the company fear could ultimately be used against customers. FireEye said the hackers were primarily concerned with hacking information related to certain government customers; the FBI is currently investigating the matter and “preliminary indications show an actor with a high level of sophistication consistent with a nation-state,” said Matt Gorham, assistant director of the bureau’s cyber division. Ellen Nakashima and Joseph Marks reports for the Washington Post.
The interim director at Voice of America (VOA) was pushed out from his post by Trump appointee Michael Pack, CEO of US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees VOA, in what some have said was a move aimed at asserting greater control and authority over the broadcasting network’s editorial operations. The move follows US judge Beryl Howell order which instructed Pack and his team to stop investigating or interfering with journalists at VOA and its sister networks. “But Biberaj’s departure appears to be an end run around that order, opening the way for Pack to appoint his own executive at VOA. People at VOA said Tuesday that the leading candidate is Robert R. Reilly, a former VOA director who is currently the director of the Westminster Institute, a think tank in McLean, Va. that focuses on “threats from extremism and radical ideologies.” Reilly, 74, has worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation and served as a White House aide during President Reagan’s first term,” reports Paul Farhi for the Washington Post.
Trump’s nomination of Nathan Simington to the five-member Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was yesterday approved by the Senate in a 49-46 vote. Ryan Tracy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION TO POWER
President-elect Joe Biden yesterday officially named retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee to be secretary of Defense, although Austin leading the Pentagon has raised concerns about the nation’s long-standing tradition of civilian control of the military, which requires at least seven years out of uniform before becoming eligible for the role — Austin only has four years out of service, retiring in 2016, and so would require a legal waiver from Congress. Whether Austin will receive the necessary waiver has ignited much debate between lawmakers, with both the Senate and the House needing to approve the waiver, but only the Senate responsible for confirming the nomination. Jennifer Steinhauer, Eric Schmitt and Luke Broadwater report for the New York Times.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said yesterday that she will oppose granting a waiver to Austin: “I have great respect for Gen. Austin. His career has been exemplary, and I look forward to meeting him and talking to him more, but I opposed a waiver for Gen. [James] Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for Gen. Austin,” Warren told reporters. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
A number of other Democrats have indicated that they may oppose granting a legal waiver to Austin. “I have the deepest respect and admiration for Gen. Austin, and his nomination is exciting and historic. But I believe that a waiver of the seven-year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CO), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I didn’t for Mattis, so I probably wouldn’t for him,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said. Andrew Desiderio and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
“Questions swirl over Austin’s limited experience,” which will see a barrage of probing questions related to global challenges pointed at him during his Senate confirmation. Bryan Bender and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.
Biden has nominated Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) as his secretary of housing and urban development, and chosen Tom Vilsack, who served as the secretary of agriculture under former President Barack Obama, to lead that department again, people familiar with both picks confirmed. Annie Linskey, Matt Viser and Seung Min Kim report for the Washington Post.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is the leading contender to be chosen for attorney general by Biden, three sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News. Mike Memoli, Carol E. Lee, Kristen Welker and Sahil Kapur report for NBC News.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been considered as a top contender for multiple positions in the Biden administration, told Reuters that he would not join the Cabinet.
The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an attempt by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and two other Republican House candidates to have Biden’s victory in the state overturned, a one-sentence order by the justices revealed. Kelly’s challenge argued that legislation introduced last year in Pennsylvania which allowed for no-excuse, mail-in voting violated the state constitution and therefore the vote result should be invalidated. Josh Gerstein, Zach Montellaro and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
The Treasury Department has said that no sanctions will be placed on foreign banks that process payments for humanitarian aid to Iran, a move following a European appeal for leniency. John O’Donnell reports for Reuters.
The Treasury Department has also confirmed that terrorism sanctions have been placed on Iran’s envoy to Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group, Hasan Irlu, for his support of the group. Arshad Mohammed reports for Reuters.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for Iran to respond to concerns about the country’s nuclear and ballistic missiles program and urged them to return to a “full implementation” of the 2015 nuclear deal. AP reporting.
The US has sanctioned six companies, some based in China, and four ships over alleged illicit exports of North Korean coal, the Treasury Department said yesterday. Reuters reporting.
A dual US-Saudi citizen, Walid Fitaihi, was yesterday sentenced to six years in prison in Saudi Arabia on charges of illegally obtaining US citizenship, a person close to his family said. Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 15.17 million and now killed over 286,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 68.36 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.559 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The White House has made an offer to Democrats of $916 billion for the highly disputed coronavirus relief package, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced yesterday, marking progress in negotiations that have since the election moved at a glacial pace. The bill offers provisions of aid for hard-hit state and local governments, which Democrats have long called for, and liability protections for businesses, which has been a top priority for Republicans. Mnuchin also proposed that lawmakers approve another round of stimulus checks worth $600 per person and $600 per child, according to people familiar with the discussion. Andrew Duehren and Kristina Peterson report for the Wall Street Journal.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.
US 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.
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