Early Edition: July 21, 2021 | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


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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. RELATIONS

The Pentagon yesterday confirmed U.S. forces were behind the single air strike on the al-Shabaab militant group near Galkayo in Somalia, the first such strike in the country since President Biden took office. A Pentagon official has said that the strike was authorized under existing authorities to defend U.S. partner forces and no U.S. troops were on the ground. Defense Department spokesperson Cindi King said that “U.S. forces were conducting a remote ‘advise and assist’ mission in support of designated Somali partner forces.” “There were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation,” she added. Harun Maruf and Jeff Seldin report for VOA News.

The U.S. and Germany have reached an agreement allowing the completion of the controversial Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline for natural gas, according to officials from Berlin and Washington. President Biden’s administration will effectively waive Washington’s longstanding opposition to the pipeline, in a change to a long-standing U.S. stance. Germany under the agreement will agree to assist Ukraine in energy-related projects and diplomacy. Bojan Pancevski and Brett Forrest report for the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S., Japan and South Korea have reaffirmed their commitment to work together on North Korea, including North Korea’s denuclearization and other regional threats. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the alliance between the three countries remains a “lynchpin of peace, security and prosperity.” The talks between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and South Korea’s Choi Jong-kun however did little to improve the current relationship between Japan and South Korea. Mari Yamaguchi reports for AP.

Sherman also discussed the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait, along with denuclearization of North Korea, during the meeting with her counterparts from Japan and South Korea, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. Reuters reports.

A Moroccan man held for 19 years without charge at Guantánamo Bay and repatriated on Monday to Morocco has now rejoined his family after questioning by police in Morocco, his lawyer said yesterday. “Upon his arrival on Monday, he was questioned by the National Division of the Judicial Police in Casablanca ‘on suspicion of committing terrorist acts’ before being set free. ‘He is now with his family whom he hadn’t seen in almost two decades,’ Nasser’s Moroccan attorney, Khalil Idrissi, said,” AP reports.

Officials from Biden’s administration have quietly urged their Ukrainian counterparts to withhold criticism of a forthcoming agreement between the U.S. and Germany involving the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, according to sources familiar with the conversations. Betsy Woodruff Swan, Alexander Ward and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.

The U.S. and Germany have vowed to take action against Russia if it uses the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to harm Ukraine or other Eastern European countries, according to sources familiar with the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Germany expected today. Andrea Shalal and Simon Lewis report for Reuters.

Biden’s administration appears to be quietly giving up on the establishment of a war crimes court for South Sudan which would hold criminals accountable for atrocities committed against civilians during the country’s devastating 2013 civil war. Despite championing the establishment of the court for several years, “the Biden administration appears to be giving up on the court in the face of South Sudan’s persistent refusal to set up a tribunal that could potentially uncover serious war crimes. In recent weeks, the U.S. State Department has signaled it is planning to reallocate most of the $5 million in funding it had earmarked for the court, sending some back to the U.S. Treasury and another portion to other programs in South Sudan,” Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch report for Foreign Policy.

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said that she has asked U.S. officials to impose further sanctions on Belarus, specifically on companies in Belarus’s potash, oil, wood and steel sectors. Tsikhanouskaya told reporters that the proposed measured would be a “real hit” on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, “to make him change his behavior and to release political prisoners.” The requests were made as Tsikhanouskaya met with State Department officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Monday seeking stronger action against Lukashenko’s government. Reuters reports.

A woman who worked for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has pleaded guilty to removing classified documents from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines and keeping them at an unauthorized location. The Department of Justice in a press release said that the woman from Honolulu had admitted to removing the U.S. documents relating to national defense or U.S. foreign relation without permission while working at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.

The U.S. as barred former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and his family from entry into the U.S. due to “significant corruption” allegations, the State Department said in a statement yesterday. Lobo Sosa accepted bribes from his narcotics traffic organization Los Cachiros in exchange for political favors and his wife, Rosa Elena Bonilla Avila, engaged in fraud and “misappropriation of public funds for her personal benefit,” the State Department said. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.

An Israeli politician and former mayor of Jerusalem is urging Biden’s administration to abandon its plans to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians. Nik Barkat is currently in Washington, D.C. “meeting with bipartisan lawmakers to promote legislation he introduced last week in Israel that would ban countries from opening new diplomatic missions for Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

Thomas Barrack, a former adviser of former President Trump who chaired Trump’s inauguration committee, has been arrested and charged with acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Department of Justice has said in a statement that Barrack, 74, used his close ties to the Trump White House to advance the interests of the UAE. Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colo. who worked for Barrack at an investment management firm, and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, a UAE national, are accused of acting and conspiring along with Barrack to act as agents of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018. “Prosecutors said the three defendants did not provide the required notification to the U.S. attorney general that they were acting as agents of a foreign government. Barrack is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal agents,” Carrie Johnson reports for NPR.

The Department of Defense (DOD)’s inspector general will review whether the DOD has sufficient safeguards and plans to respond in the event the briefcase that holds nuclear launch codes and other sensitive equipment, which is officially known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel, is compromised. “The objective of this evaluation is to determine the extent that DOD processes and procedures are in place and adequate to alert DOD officials in the event that the Presidential Emergency Satchel is lost, stolen or compromised,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a memo released Monday. “This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DOD has developed to respond to such an event,” the memo added. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) yesterday introduced the National Security Powers Act, which aims to increase Congress’s control of war authorizations, arms exports and national emergencies. The bill “would add requirements for presidential authorization of military action, require the president to end hostilities if they are not approved by Congress within 20 days and cut off funding if the president does not receive authorization. Congress would also have to approve certain weapons sales to foreign entities, and allow controversial items to be removed from proposed sales. Under the measure, Congress would also have to approve national emergencies and renew emergencies after certain time frames,” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.

Just Security yesterday published a piece by Tess Bridgeman and Stephen Pomper considering the landmark National Security Powers Act and why it is so needed.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), yesterday voted to add Gillibrand’s proposal to overhaul military justice as an amendment to its portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Gillibrand’s proposal would remove the decision to prosecute sexual assault and most major crimes from the military chain of command and give it to an independent prosecutor. “The amendment must still survive the full committee’s consideration of the NDAA, which is scheduled to start Wednesday, as well as Senate floor votes and negotiations with the House, before becoming law,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to create a special envoy to combat Islamophobia, as instances of anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to rise worldwide. The group has sent a letter to Blinken making “the case for why the United States needs to play a heightened role in monitoring Islamophobic incidents around the world. The group also calls on Blinken to include state sponsored Islamophobic violence in next year’s annual human rights reports,” Annie Grayer reports for CNN.

JAN. 6 ATTACK

House Democratic party members have begrudgingly accepted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which includes conservative all stars and antagonists of the left such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “Three out of the five Republican appointees voted to challenge certification of former President Donald Trump’s election loss. But as much as that fact may infuriate House Democrats’ base, the lawmakers themselves appear resigned to moving ahead and have little appetite to contest McCarthy’s choices — over which Speaker Nancy Pelosi technically wields veto power,” Nicholas Wu and Olivia Beavers report for POLITICO.

The chair of the new House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), has vowed to investigate Trump as part of the inquiry, saying that “nothing is off limits.” “In an interview with the Guardian, Thompson said that he is also prepared to depose members of Congress and senior Trump administration officials who might have participated in the insurrection,” Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.

A special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was arrested yesterday on felony charges related to his alleged participation in the Jan. 6 attack. Court records unsealed yesterday contain photographs of Mark Ibrahim displaying his DEA badge and government-issued firearm, posing on a statue and walking on restricted grounds shortly after the barricades were breached. He has not been accused of entering the Capitol. John Kruzel reports for The Hill.

A Tampa man pleaded guilty yesterday to joining a “stack formation” of Oath Keepers members and associates who allegedly breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, “becoming the latest to cooperate with prosecutors and the first among the formation to specify that he intended to hinder Congress that day using intimidation and coercion,” Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

CYBERSECURITY

Hackers working for the Chinese government compromised more than a dozen U.S. pipeline operators nearly a decade ago in 2011, President Biden’s administration revealed yesterday. “The disclosure of previously classified information about the aggressive Chinese hacking campaign, though dated, underscored the severity of foreign cyber threats to the nation’s infrastructure, current and former officials said,” Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Transportation Security Administration yesterday issued a second security directive meant to strengthen critical pipelines against cyberattacks. “Under the directive, owners and operators of critical pipelines transporting gasoline or other hazardous liquids are required to take specific security measures to protect against ransomware attacks, develop recovery plans in the event of an attack and review their existing cybersecurity plans,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) yesterday announced the launch of a bipartisan investigation into the recent string of ransomware attacks against U.S. companies. The investigation will examine how cryptocurrencies are used in ransomware attacks to exploit victims. “My investigation will help us better understand how cryptocurrency can embolden cybercriminals, and identify possible policy changes that would help disrupt the incentive cryptocurrencies provide for criminal organizations and foreign adversaries to target critical public and private sector systems,” Peters said. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The House yesterday approved five bipartisan measures designed to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity in the wake of recent major cyberattacks. “The cyber-related package passed in a 319-105 vote. It included measures to fund cybersecurity at the state and local level, bolster reporting requirements and test critical infrastructure,” Maggie Miller reports The Hill.

Biden has been forced to put cybersecurity at the center of his agenda as a series of disruptive cyberattacks have targeted sectors from food to energy to technology. During Biden’s second Cabinet meeting yesterday since taking office, Biden told reporters that “we’ve been very clear to other nations as to what we expect in terms of their conduct.” Morgan Chalfant and Maggie Miller report for The Hill.

NSO GROUP – PEGASUS

U.S. and E.U. security officials are wary of NSO Group’s links to Israeli intelligence, despite the ability of its spyware technology to help combat terrorists and violent criminals. “In interviews, several current and former officials said they presumed that the company, which was founded by former Israeli intelligence officers, provides at least some information to the government in Jerusalem about who is using its spying products and what information they’re collecting,” Shane Harris and Souad Mekhennet report for the Washington Post.

The list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential targets of Pegasus spyware sold by NSO Group, including fourteen heads of states of government: three sitting presidents, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa; three current prime ministers, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Egypt’s Mostafa Madbouly and Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani; seven former prime ministers and one king, Morocco’s Mohammed VI. Craig Timberg, Michael Birnbaum, Drew Harwell and Dan Sabbagh report for the Washington Post.

Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador has decried the alleged spying using the Pegasus spyware sold by NSO Group as “shameful,” following reports from the Guardian “that at least 50 people close to Lopez Obrador, among many others, were potentially targeted by the previous administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto after it purchased Pegasus spying software from Israel-based NSO Group,” Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. has “completed more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process” of the U.S. military from Afghanistan. The U.S. has now also “officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense,” the U.S. Central Command has said in an update statement.

Russia deployed tanks near Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan yesterday as it prepares for military exercises with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over the next month, according to state media outlet TASS Russian News Agency. T-72 tanks from Russia’s military base in Tajikistan drove roughly 124 miles to the country’s Kharb-Maidon practice range, less than 15 miles from the border with Afghanistan. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Russia will reinforce its military base in Tajikistan with 17 infantry fighting vehicles, Interfax news agency has reported, citing the Russian military, amid increasing gains by the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. “The base will receive new BMP-2 vehicles this month, Interfax quoted Alexander Lapin, commander of Russia’s Central Military District, which will ‘significantly boost the combat capacity’ of its units,” Reuters reports.

HAITI

Police in Haiti have arrested three police officers in connection to the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Haiti’s police named the three police officers arrested but did not elaborate on the specific role they were suspected of playing in the plot. Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.

Haiti has inaugurated its new Prime Minister Ariel Henry, following the political tussle between Henry and Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim Prime Minister at the time of the attack on Moïse. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Henry called for unity and stated that one his “priority tasks” would be “reassure the people that [his government] will do everything to restore order and security.” BBC News reports.

Haiti’s elections minister Mathias Pierre has said that the “big fishes” behind the assassination of Moïse still remain at large. Pierre has said that he doubts Christian Emmanuel Sanon and Joseph Felix Badio, the two key suspects named by Haiti’s police, were the main architects of the assassination plot. “We know that there are big fishes out there that wanted the death and are part of the plot to kill the president … There are more powerful people behind this,” the politician said. Pierre admitted the identity of those conspirators remained unknown but said that “we do believe that the president had a lot of enemies – people who didn’t agree with his plan and programs, and certainly with his agenda. And we believe they might be linked to this crime.” Tom Phillips reports for the Guardian.

MYANMAR

Myanmar’s military leaders are again seeking to replace Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun, who opposed the military’s Feb. 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and takeover of the government. Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that Tun’s position was “terminated on Feb. 27, 2021, due to abuses of his assigned duty and mandate.” In a separate letter to Guterres, Lwin said that “he has appointed Aung Thurein, who left the military this year after 26 years, as Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.

Russia is cooperating closely with Myanmar to supply military hardware, including aircrafts, the Interfax news agency has reported, citing Alexander Mikheev, the head of Russian state arms trader Rosoboronexport. “Speaking on the sidelines of Russia’s annual MAKS air show, which President Vladimir Putin attended on Tuesday, Mikheev said Myanmar is one of Rosoboronexport’s key customers in south east Asia and a key partner of Rostec, Russia’s state aerospace and defense conglomerate,” Reuters reports.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Turkish Cypriot authorities announced yesterday the partial reopening of Varosha for potential resettlement, drawing a strong rebuke from rival Greek Cypriots of orchestrating a land grab by stealth and objection from the U.S., U.K. and E.U.. Varosha is located in a military zone that nobody has been allowed to enter and has been deserted since the 1974 war split the island. Greece’s Foreign Ministry said it condemned the move “in the strongest terms,” and the U.K. said it was “deeply concerned” by the announcement and would be discussing the issue as a matter of urgency with other U.N. Security Council members. E.U. foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell also expressed concern on twitter and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the announcement “provocative” and “unacceptable,” saying that the U.S. “will urge a strong response” from the U.N. Security Council. Michele Kambas reports for Reuters.

Syria’s air defense forces shot down seven out of 8 missiles launched by Israeli warplanes during a raid that targeted the Syrian province of Aleppo, the Russian military said yesterday. One of the missiles damaged the building of a scientific research center in Safira, in the Aleppo Governorate, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the head of the Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria said. AP reports.

Hong Kong’s police have arrested the former executive editor-in-chief of the now-closed pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid today, local media have reported. Reuters reporting.

Police in Nigeria have said that they have freed 100 women and children, mainly mothers and nursing infants, who were seized by bandits on June 8 in the Zamfara state. “The Zamfara state government said they were released without any ransom being paid, but gave no further details,” BBC News reports.

The U.K. is to permanently deploy two warships to Asian waters, where China is currently vying with the U.S. and Japan for influence. Reuters reporting.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has strongly condemned the “horrific bomb attack targeting civilians” at a busy market in Baghdad, just before the Eid al-Adha holiday. In a statement Guterres called the attack, which killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens of others, “a reminder to us all that the scourge of terrorism knows no bounds.” UN News Centre reports.

Tanzania’s main opposition party’s leader along with ten other party figures have been arrested, the Chadema party said today. The arrests are proof that Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan is persisting with the authoritarianism of her late predecessor John Magufuli, the Chadema party said in a statement published on its Twitter page. Reuters reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed Russia’s air power as a prototype of a new fighter jet that features stealth capabilities and other advanced characteristics was unveiled yesterday. The prototype is set to make its maiden flight in 2023 and deliveries, including to foreign buyers, could start in 2026. Vladimir Isachenkov  reports for AP.

CORONAVIRUS

The coronavirus has infected over 34.10 million and has now killed over 609,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been close to 191.50 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.10 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

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.



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