Early Edition: July 22, 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.

NORD STREAM 2 PIPELINE

The U.S. has dropped its threat to block the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, officials said yesterday. The agreement ends a long running disagreement between the U.S. and Germany on the pipeline that critics said would allow Moscow to starve Ukraine of transit fees for natural gas. President Biden’s administration’s decision “was effectively an acknowledgment that the pipeline project was too far advanced to stop, and that relations with Germany, a crucial ally, were too important to jeopardize over the dispute,” Lara Jakes and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times.

Biden is facing a bipartisan backlash over the deal with Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “I’m not happy about it in terms of the Russia politics, and I’m not happy about it in terms of climate change,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. The agreement also drew criticism from Republicans who accused Biden of “surrendering” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Andrew Desiderio and Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.

The foreign ministries of Ukraine and Poland have reacted bitterly to the U.S.- Germany deal, saying in a joint statement that the “resignation from attempts to stop the launch” of the pipeline creates a “political, military and energy threat for Ukraine and Central Europe, while increasing Russia’s potential to destabilize the security situation in Europe.” As part of the deal, Germany has committed to at least $175 million to a green energy fund for Ukraine, as well as about $70 million to promote Ukraine’s energy security. “The agreement also outlines goals for extending an arrangement under which Russia pays natural-gas transit fees to Ukraine and for preventing Russia from wielding energy as a weapon. But officials didn’t spell out mechanisms for achieving them,” Brett Forrest reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Ukraine has demanded formal talks with Brussels and Berlin on the pipeline, as Ukraine and Poland hit back over the U.S.-Germany deal, invoking a clause of Ukraine’s agreement with the E.U. on political association and economic integration. America Hernandez reports for POLITICO.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has told reporters that Ukraine has many questions on how the U.S.-Germany deal on the Nord Stream, 2 pipeline can mitigate the security threat posed by the pipeline. Kuleba also said it was unclear whether Russia would honor its obligations and added that Ukraine “would like the U.S.-German statement regarding security to be stronger.” Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets report for Reuters.

Russia has rejected aspects of the Germany-U.S. deal on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and has insisted that Russia has never used energy as a tool for political pressure. “Russia has always been and remains a responsible guarantor of energy security on the European continent, or I would even say on a wider, global scale,” a Kremlin spokesperson told reporters. The Kremlin also disagrees with comments in the agreement about countering Russian aggression and about Moscow’s allegedly malicious actions in Ukraine and beyond, the spokesperson said. Reuters reporting.

U.S. RELATIONS

Thomas Barrack’s alleged illegal lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) allegedly had an impact on former President Trump’s policies towards the Gulf, pushing UAE-sought actions on both Trump’s campaign and during the first two years of Trump’s administration. Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn investigating Barrack had enough evidence to bring charges last year but waited until the arrival of President Biden’s administration before doing so, according to people briefed on the matter. Evan Perez, Erica Orden, Paula Reid and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.

The U.S. and South Korea have said that they will continue close consultations to try and convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it will not do in protest to what it calls U.S. hostility. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong today in Seoul for talks on North Korea, the U.S.-South Korea military alliance and other regional issues. Hyung-Jin Kim reports for AP.

The U.S. is hoping that North Korea responds to its offer to re-open talks on denuclearization, South Korea’s presidential office said today, citing Sherman who has met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul. ‘”We are hoping that North Korea will respond to our offers of talks at an early stage,’ Moon’s office quoted Sherman as telling the South Korean president, who has also been trying to encourage negotiations. Sherman said she would discuss the issue with China when she visits there from Sunday, the office added,” Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.

Sherman is to visit China on July 25-26, the State Department has said, amid the strained relations between China and the United States. Sherman will meet with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in the city of Tianjin, southeast of Beijing. Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom report for Reuters.

President Biden’s administration has decided to wait to reopen a U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem until the new Israeli government passes a budget, likely in early November, Israeli, U.S. and Palestinian sources have said. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem handled relations with the Palestinians before former President Trump closed it. Biden has promised to reopen the U.S. Consulate however he needs the approval of the Israeli government who had requested the delay as Israeli’s new government seeks to stabilize itself. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet with Biden at the White House on August 30, as Ukraine looks for international support in the face of aggression from Russia. The White House described the visit as a step to “affirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security, and our backing for President Zelensky’s efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values.” Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.

Independent U.N. rights experts have warned that hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients could die because they have been caught up in the excessively strict application of U.S. sanctions aimed at Venezuela and the state-owned oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela. The rights experts say that third countries, regional groupings, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela, which has meant that “the lives of Venezuelan transplant patients who are stranded in foreign countries, as well as those waiting to travel abroad for live-saving operations are under threat.” UN News Centre reports.

JAN. 6 ATTACK

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has moved to bar two of former President Trump’s most vociferous Republican party defenders in Congress, Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), from joining the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Pelosi said in a statement that the conduct of Jordan and Banks, both of whom have amplified Trump’s claims of election fraud, including their actions around the attack and comments they have made undercutting the investigation, suggests that they cannot be trusted to participate. Luke Broadwater and Nicholas Fandos report for the New York Times.

Pelosi’s decision to ban Jordan and Banks from the Jan. 6 attack select committee has prompted an angry response from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who has pulled his remaining three nominations for the committee from the panel, injecting further fuel into the partisan fight over the select committee. “Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts,” McCarthy said. Annie Grayer and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.

The tensions over the Jan. 6 attack exploded following Pelosi’s disqualification of Jordan and Banks from the select committee and McCarthy’s decision to pull his nominations from the select committee before it began. “The dramatic back-and-forth — extraordinary even by current measures of national partisan hostility — highlighted the levels of resentment and distrust that persist on Capitol Hill more than six months after the deadly events of Jan. 6,” Mike Illis and Scott Wong report for The Hill.

Pelosi has said that she decided to disqualify Jordan and Banks because of widespread Democratic dismay about “statements made and actions taken by these members.” A roundup of what Jordan and Banks have said in relation to Trump’s election fraud claims, the Jan. 6 attack and the proposed investigation into the attack is provided by Nicholas Fandos for the New York Times.

NSO GROUP – PEGASUS

The French Government has said that investigations are underway following reports of the potential use of Pegasus, the spyware tool sold by Israeli surveillance giant NSO Group. The investigations follow reports that the phone numbers for French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders, as well as for activists and journalists, were found on a list that included some people targeted by government clients of NSO Group. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the French government had ordered a number of investigations into the reports. Drew Harwell and Michael Birnbaum report for the Washington Post.

Macron is to hold a special cabinet meeting today to discuss investigations into the Pegasus spyware case, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal has said. Attal said progress was being made in the investigation and that Macron “is monitoring the case very closely.” Reuters reporting.

Morocco’s government has denied reports that Morocco’s security forces may have used the Pegasus spyware to target the French president and other French officials and public figures. The Moroccan government issued a statement saying that “the Kingdom of Morocco strongly condemns the persistent false, massive and malicious media campaign,” and that the government “rejects these false and unfounded allegations, and challenges their peddlers … to provide any tangible and material evidence in support of their surreal stories.” Yesterday, Morocco’s public prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation into the allegations. AP reports.

The founders of NSO Group have defended the Pegasus spyware tool, insisting that the Pegasus tool is still for the greater good. The “technology was used to handle literally the worst this planet has to offer. Somebody has to do the dirty work,” co-founder of NSO Group Omri Lavie has said. Elizabeth Dwoskin and Shira Rubin report for the Washington Post.

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has selected CIA Director William Burns, a veteran officer who was instrumental in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, to head the CIA’s task force on the Havana syndrome, the unexplained health incidents suffered by U.S. spies and diplomats around the world, officials familiar with the matter have said. The selection of Burns “is part of what the officials described as a quickening effort to determine the source of the apparent attacks, which has proven elusive,” Warren P. Strobel reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The efforts to reforming the military justice system have stalled as lawmakers are split over the best way to address serious crimes within the military and tackle racial disparities in military courts. House Armed Services Committee Democratic members continue to disagree on whether to remove military commanders’ authority to prosecute all serious crimes, beyond just sexual assault. Proponents of the change “say it would be a much-needed reform for U.S. service members of color, who have long faced disproportionate consequences in military courts,” Sarah Ferris, Nicholas Wu And Connor O’brien report for POLITICO.

CYBERSECURITY

Lawmakers and experts yesterday warned of significant cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s critical water sector. Sen. Angus King (I-ME), the co-chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission expressed his concerns about water’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities when testifying to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during a hearing on cybersecurity vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

South African state-owned logistics firm Transnet has been hit by a suspected cyber attack, impacting some operations at its largest port in Durban, sources with direct knowledge have told Reuters. Transnet did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters report.

Saudi Aramco, the world’s most-valuable oil producer, has confirmed that some company data files were leaked after hackers reportedly demanded a $50 million ransom. “Aramco recently became aware of the indirect release of a limited amount of company data which was held by third-party contractors,” the company said yesterday in an email. “We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations, and the company continues to maintain a robust cybersecurity posture.” David Wethe reports for Bloomberg.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has “strategic momentum” and controls about half of the district centers in Afghanistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said yesterday. Milley however expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan forces to fend off a Taliban takeover of the country, saying that “the two most important combat multipliers, actually, is will and leadership,” and that he did not think that “the end game is yet written.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The U.S. is scrambling to move translators from Afghanistan and is leaving many in limbo. State Department officials confirmed yesterday that an additional 4,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. forces had been approved to relocate to the U.S. with their families. However, “officials added that evacuations were only taking place out of Kabul, the capitol, and any eligible Afghans in remote areas were on their own in figuring out how to make the difficult, and likely dangerous, journey if they wanted to take advantage of the offer,” Jennifer Steinhauer reports for the New York Times.

Tajikistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor, has held its largest ever military exercise today, involving the nation’s entire army as Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon urged vigilance amid fighting in Afghanistan. Tajikistan mobilized 130,000 men from its military reserve in addition to 100,000 active servicemen for the three-hour exercise on Thursday, Rakhmon said at a military parade. “Due to the unstable situation in the region I once again remind the people of Tajikistan that we must be ready to protect the peace and stability that have been achieved at a high price,” Rakhmon said in a speech broadcasted by state television. Reuters reporting.

CUBA

Cuba has criticized the U.S. and Biden and has accused the U.S. of seeking to justify a military intervention in Cuba, in relation to a series of statements from senior U.S. officials after the unprecedent protests in Cuba last week. Johana Tablada, deputy director for U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Associated Press that the U.S. is creating “a Walt Disney narrative of a bad government and people fighting for their freedom — stereotypes that scare anyone who has never set foot in Cuba, because of their arrogance and disregard for the truth.” “They are very interested in fabricating an alternative reality because the riots of July 11 weren’t enough to justify the war that is being waged on us,” she added. Andrea Rodriguez reports for AP.

A group of more than 140 Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), is calling on the U.S., governments of Central and South America and the E.U. to hold an international criminal tribunal to investigate alleged human rights abuses by the Cuban government. The demand was included in a letter sent to the Organization of American States, the E.U. and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.

HAITI

Rival Haitian politicians, business leaders and interest groups are turning to lobbyists and consultants in Washington in the hope of winning U.S. backing during the power struggle in Haiti. A group text chat and other documents show how Haitian officials, political figures and American lobbyists are strategizing and working with allied politicians to position successors in the wake of the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. Kenneth P. Vogel and Natalie Kitroeff report for the New York Times.

Violence has flared up in northern Haiti ahead of Moïse’s funeral scheduled for tomorrow. Protests near the hometown of Moïse, where events to honor Moïse are scheduled to start today, grew violent yesterday and hundreds of workers were forced to flee businesses. DÁnica Coto reports for AP.

Moïse regularly clashed with some business magnates who he called powerful oligarchs prior to his assassination. The strategy of accusing the oligarchs of contributing to Haiti’s poverty “fueled resentment among some in the business elite against Mr. Moïse, who became increasingly isolated and turned more autocratic, including against rivals in the business world as Haiti’s political and economic crises worsened, according to political analysts, Haitian rights activists and U.S. lawmakers,” Ryan Dube, José de Córdoba and Kejal Vyas report for the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Cyprus has appealed to the U.N. Security Council over plans by the Turkish Cypriot authorities to partially reopen the abandoned city of Varosha, which has been a fenced off military zone since Greek Cypriots fled the advance of Turkish troops in August 1974 and has previously been touted to be returned to rival Greek Cypriots in the event of a Cyprus peace settlement. “This is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and will have a negative impact on efforts underway to restart talks,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said. Turkey has however remained defiant in the face of criticism, including from the U.S. and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Reuters reporting.

A U.K.-drafted U.N. Security Council statement which calls on Turkey and breakaway Turkish Cypriots to reverse the decision to reopen residential section of Varosha, was expected to be considered by the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council last night and could be approved today if there were no objections. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.

A top Indian newspaper has been raided by Indian tax authorities after months of critical coverage of the Indian government response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Journalists and the political opposition have denounced the raid as retaliation for the outlet’s criticism of the government. “The Dainik Bhaskar Group, whose Hindi-language broadsheet boasts a combined circulation of more than 4 million, was raided simultaneously in at least four locations, including at its headquarters in Madhya Pradesh state,” Gerry Shih and Niha Masih report for the Washington Post.

Syria’s air defenses intercepted an Israeli attack on the al Qusair area in Homs early today, Syrian state media has reported. A Syrian military source said that there were no casualties from the raid but some material damage. The Israeli military refused to comment. Reuters reports.

CORONAVIRUS

The coronavirus has infected over 34.20 million and has now killed over 609,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 192.00 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.

China has rejected the World Health Organization (WHO)’s call for further investigations into the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan. At a news conference today,Zeng Yixin, deputy head of China’s National Health Commission, fired back against WHO criticism of China’s level of cooperation, and said the U.N. agency’s proposed work plan did not respect science,” Eva Dou reports for the Washington Post.

As Myanmar faces one of its worst Covid-19 outbreaks, doctors and volunteer health workers, are accusing the military in Myanmar of using the pandemic as a weapon against the people. They say that the military has restricted critical oxygen sales to the public, refused sick-patients at military-run hospitals, failed to provide a vaccine program and targeted and arrested doctors. Helen Regan reports 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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