Early Edition: July 8, 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.

IRAQ AND SYRIA

Bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria have been subject to a series of attacks over the past 24 hours. “U.S.-backed Syrian fighters and American troops foiled an attack with drones Wednesday on a base housing members of the U.S.-led coalition in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces said. In neighboring Iraq, rockets hit a base housing U.S. troops, inflicting two minor injuries,” Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP.

The al-Assad Air Base in western Iraq, which houses U.S. troops, was hit by 14 rockets yesterday, wounding two U.S. service members, Col. Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed on Twitter. The Iraqi government has called the rocket strike a “terrorist attack.” “A separate statement tweeted by Security Media Cell, affiliated with Iraq’s government, said the attackers used a rocket launcher hidden in a truck filled with bags of flour parked nearby in the village of Baghdadi. While 14 rockets were fired toward al-Assad, some exploded on the truck, damaging local homes and a mosque,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Two rockets were fired at the U.S. Embassy inside Baghdad’s Green Zone early today, Iraqi security sources have told Reuters. The embassy’s anti-rocket system diverted one of the rockets and the second rocket fell near the zone’s perimeter, with sirens blaring from the U.S. Embassy compound inside the zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, security officials have said. Ahmed Rasheed reports for Reuters.

Russia, Iran, Turkey will continue their cooperation against the Islamic State (IS) and other militants in Syria, the RIA news agency has said. Citing a joint statement from the nations. Reuters reporting.

HAITI

Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated yesterday, and his wife injured. Moïse, who was previously a banana producer, had ruled Haiti for four years. “Moïse was assassinated at his private home during ‘a highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group,’ interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph has said. His wife, Martine, was injured in the attack and remained hospitalized,” DÁnica Coto and Evens Sanon reports for AP.

Four suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s president have been killed, and two have been arrested. Haiti’s government has blamed mercenaries for the attack and Léon Charles, director of Haiti’s national police, also said that three police officers had been held hostage but that police had freed them. Phil Helsel reports for NBC News.

Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph has called on the U.N. to hold a U.N. Security Council meeting as soon as possible on Moïse’s assassination. Joseph in a statement also called on the international community to launch an investigation into the assassination. Reuters reporting.

The assailants behind the assassination of Moïse claimed to be part of an operation with the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to videos taken by people in the area of the president’s home, someone with an American accent is heard yelling in English over a megaphone, “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.” Jacqueline Charles and Johnny Fils-Aimé report for the Miami Herald.

Members of congress are expressing shock and devastation at the assassination of Haiti’s president, warning of the possibility of further turmoil in Haiti. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the entire federal government condemns the assassination as a “barbaric act” and that the U.S. stands “ready to provide support and assistance to the people of Haiti during this challenging time.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

President Biden said yesterday that he was shocked by the “heinous” assassination of Haiti’s president and wounding of his wife. “We condemn this heinous attack and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moise’s recovery,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” he added. Patricia Zengerle and Daphne Psaledakis report for Reuters.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned in the strongest terms the assassination as “abhorrent,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric. “The Secretary-General calls on all Haitians to preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence,” the statement said. UN News Centre reports.

Fears of increased turmoil in Haiti are mounting. “The assassination left a political void that deepened the turmoil and violence that has gripped Haiti for months, threatening to tip one of the world’s most troubled nations further into lawlessness,” Catherine Porter, Michael Crowley and Constant Méheut report for the New York Times.

Moïse’s wife, Haitian first lady Martine Moïse, has been taken to Miami for treatment. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Bocchit Edmond, has said that the Haitian first lady was in a critical but stable condition. NBC Miami reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is complete “for all intents and purposes,” officials have said. Other than 600 troops in Afghanistan, most of whom are providing security at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, “the only U.S. military personnel left to withdraw by the Sept. 11 deadline Biden set in May are Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and a handful of staff, the two officials said,” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

The Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan is putting key cities at risk of being overtaken. Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban reached the city center of the Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis province, yesterday, but Afghan government officials said the city remains in government control. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.

Afghan forces have said that Afghan troops have recaptured government buildings in the western city of Qala-e-Naw and Taliban troops have been driven out of the city. A spokesperson from the Ministry of Interior Affairs said the city had been cleared of Taliban fighters and that it was now fully under the control of Afghan security forces. The Taliban had briefly entered Qala-e-Naw yesterday and had gained access to the city’s prisons, freeing about 400 inmates, including more than 100 of their own fighters, local reports have said. Provincial Governor Hisamudin Shams said the headquarters of the intelligence service had been set on fire, but he denied reports that the city had fallen to the Taliban. BBC News reports.

Some fighting is continuing on the fringes of Qala-e-Naw, the Afghan Defense Ministry has said. The ministry said 69 Taliban fighters had been killed in fresh operations on the edge of Qala-e-Naw and that a large quantity of Taliban arms and ammunition were also seized by Afghan government forces. Reuters reporting.

President Biden is expected to make an update statement today on the situation in Afghanistan, however no major policy pronouncements are expected. Biden is due to speak at 1:45pm ET and has “been under pressure from critics to give a more expansive explanation for his decision to withdraw,” Steve Holland reports for Reuters.

The U.S. is leaving Afghanistan on the brink of collapse, as Afghan forces struggle with the rise of the Taliban, the Economist provides analysis.

Iran is hosting high-level peace talks between Afghan forces and Taliban representatives as the fighting in Afghanistan surges. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted after the talks that the meeting had been “cordial” and he promised Iran would stand with Afghans on their road to peace. Nasser Karimi and Rahim Faiez report for AP.

Tajikistan has taken in over 1,000 Afghan refugees as they flee the Taliban, the government of Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan province has said. The refugees have fled the violence in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province on the border with Tajikistan. The Gorno-Badakhshan province’s government said that most of the refugees are “women, children, and elderly people,” and that they have been placed in safe areas away from the conflict. Reuters reports.

Just Security is publishing a special series by a group of interdisciplinary scholars reflecting on Afghanistan on the eve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next piece in the series is a piece by David D. Snepp, a former U.S. Embassy in Kabul spokesperson, reflecting on the U.S. military’s time in Afghanistan.

Hanny Megally, Chris Sidoti and Yasmin Sooka have also written a piece on Just Security on how, as U.S. troops withdraw, it is time for the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish an independent international investigation into human rights atrocities in Afghanistan.

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

A federal judge has ruled that the negligence of the U.S. government and Air Force was mostly responsible for the 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history. “U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez for the Western District of Texas concluded the Air Force failed to exercise reasonable care when it didn’t submit the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI’s background check system, which increased the risk of physical harm to the general public,” Ashley Killough and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to end its legal defense of the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Durbin urged Garland to reconsider the DOJ’s position. “The Department’s legal positions should reflect our nation’s commitment to liberty and the rule of law, recognizing that our nation is strongest when it adheres to its core values,” Durbin wrote. Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.

Former President Trump has announced a lawsuit against Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for alleged censorship over their suspension of his accounts following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The suits filed in a federal court in Florida call for the court “to order an immediate halt to social media companies’ illegal, shameful censorship of the American people,” Trump said at a news conference. Shannon Bond reports for NPR.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is creating a task force aimed at increasing trust in the Interior Department’s law enforcement agencies. In a memo, Haaland said she would create a task force seeking to improve law enforcement programs through the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Rachel Frazin reports for The Hill.

The Pentagon has said that humans will always be in control of AI weapons, however autonomous war is already here. Gerrit De Vynck provides analysis for the Washington Post.

A federal judge has let parts of Georgia’s sweeping voting law stand, declining to block them from taking effect a week before runoff elections for state legislative seats. Maggie Astor reports for the New York Times.

A Washington D.C. court has suspended the law license for Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s attorney, following Giuliani’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections. The decision comes just weeks after New York took similar action against Giuliani. Jaclyn Diaz reports for NPR.

CYBERSECURITY

President Biden is weighing his response to the recent ransomware attacks which are believed to have come from Russia. Biden yesterday said, following a meeting in the Situation Room with his top cybersecurity advisers, that he “will deliver” a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the wave of ransomware attacks hitting U.S. companies. However, it is unclear what response Biden is intending. David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth report for the New York Times.

The White House said yesterday that Biden has a “range of options” on how to respond to the new Russia-linked cyberattacks, but has not yet decided whether and how to take action. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One that Biden had not decided on a course of action, saying that “in terms of operational considerations, obviously it is not in our interest to preview those, or preview our punches as I like to say. The president has a range of options should he determine to take action.” Maggie Miller and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.

Kaseya, the IT company that was subject to a breach carried out by Russia-linked hackers, was warned in early April of the cybersecurity vulnerability that was taken advantage of by the hackers. “The Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure (DIVD) said in blog posts this week that it had discovered seven vulnerabilities in Kaseya’s system in April and confidentially informed the company,” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.

The Russia-linked hackers REvil associated with the ransomware attack on Kesaya used a code that avoids targeting systems that use Russian and other former Soviet-era languages as a default. The new report published yesterday by cybersecurity company Trustwave appears to be the first report to publicly identify this feature of the latest attack. “They don’t want to annoy the local authorities, and they know they will be able to run their business much longer if they do it this way,” said Ziv Mador, Trustwave SpiderLabs’ vice president of security research. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

US RELATIONS

A U.K. court has allowed the U.S. to appeal a recent decision against extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. No date has yet been set for a hearing of Assange’s case. “Wednesday’s ruling comes after a lower court ruled against extraditing Assange in January, arguing that he would pose a risk to himself while detained in the United States due to his mental health,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.

The U.S. government has made assurance to the U.K. that Assange would not be held under the strictest maximum-security conditions if extradited to the U.S. In a concession aimed at resolving the years’ long battle to put the WikiLeaks founder on trial in the U.S. for espionage charges, the U.S. also assured British authorities that Assange, if convicted, would be permitted to serve any jail time in his native Australia. Jason Douglas reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Deputy Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Khalid bin Salman has said that he had “a great meeting” with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinkin. During the meeting Prince Khalid and Blinkin explored strengthening of U.S.-Saudi ties and reviewed regional developments, Prince Khalid has said. Reuters reporting.

President Biden’s new Cold War with China will result in climate collapse, progressives have warned. “Over 40 progressive groups sent a letter to President Biden and lawmakers on Wednesday urging them to prioritize cooperation with China on climate change and curb its confrontational approach over issues like Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and forced detention of Uyghur Muslims,” Alexander Ward reports for POLITICO.

President Biden is set to welcome King Abdullah II of Jordan and his family at the White House on July 19. “His Majesty’s visit will highlight the enduring and strategic partnership between the United States and Jordan, a key security partner and ally of the United States,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said in a statement. Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill.

Succession in South Sudan which was “America’s greatest success story in Africa has degenerated into its biggest failure,” Colum Lynch provides analysis for Foreign Policy.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has handed himself in to police and will now serve 15 months in jail for contempt of court, authorities say. “It is the first time a former president has been jailed in post-apartheid South Africa and will be seen as a landmark for rule of law in the troubled country, as well as a victory for the president, Cyril Ramaphosa,” Jason Burke reports for the Guardian.

New photos have confirmed that North Korea has demoted a military leader in a reshuffle that has left the ruling party’s top body dominated by civilians. Analysts have said that the reshuffle suggests that military policy is no longer North Korea’s top policy with a move to a focus on the economy and bureaucratic failures. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.

A news conference of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at a Lithuanian air base has been interrupted when Spanish jets were scrambled to respond to the launch of a Russian warplane. “Spanish jets, based in Lithuania on a NATO mission to police Baltic air space, took off at 0855 GMT after reports that a military jet had taken off from Russia’s Kaliningrad region without filing a flight plan, said a spokesperson for the Lithuanian army’s joint chiefs of staff,” Andrius Sytas and Inti Landauro report for Reuters.

The U.K. government has been urged by a group of U.K. lawmakers to hold China “to account” over its treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the province of Xinjiang. The cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report that the “atrocities” being committed in Xinjiang “represent an international crisis of profound urgency, making it unconscionable for any civilized government to look the other way.” Pan Pylas reports for AP.

The national security court case against 47 democracy activists will resume in September, a judge has ruled today. The 47 activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, most of whom have been in custody for more than four months and denied bail. They were arrested “on charges of participating in an unofficial, non-binding and independently organized primary vote last year to select candidates for a since-postponed city election, which authorities say was a ‘vicious plot’ to subvert the government,” Jessie Pang reports for Reuters.

CORONAVIRUS

The coronavirus has infected over 33.75 million and now killed over 606,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 185.10 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.00 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has sounded the alarm as the global deaths from Covid-19 pass 4 million and the delta variant spreads to more than 100 countries. WHO officials have issued stern warnings to nations planning to relax Covid-19 restrictions and cautioned that more contagious variants were “currently winning the race against vaccines,” as most of the world’s population has yet to be immunized. Erin Cunningham reports for the Washington Post.

Russia has offered North Korea Covid-19 vaccines once again, amid reports that the harsh lockdown, along with international trade sanctions, is leading to food shortages and extreme hunger in North Korea. North Korea has previously rejected vaccines and aid from several countries, and has sealed its borders to try and keep the virus out. Laura Bicker reports for BBC News.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, putting in restrictions aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections in place through to August 22. Reuters reports.

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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