Early Edition: September 3, 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.

AFGHANISTAN – U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

A family member of the Afghan civilians killed during U.S. drone strikes on Sunday has insisted that despite U.S. claims to the contrary, there were no explosives in the car targeted by the drone but that there were children in it, contending that if there was explosive the damage caused to the car’s surroundings would have been much worse. But American officials, including some who watched the strike in real-time on video feeds, said the U.S. had been watching the car for several hours and saw people loading explosives into the trunk set for Kabul airport, and said that if any children did die then this was due to the secondary explosion, not the initial strike. Analysts, including Douglas London, who served as the CIA’s counterterrorism chief overseeing the region before retiring in 2019, warned that the risk of civilian casualties during drone strikes will only grow, now that the U.S. no longer has on-the-ground intelligence. AP reporting.

Leaked talks between the Biden administration and Pakistan suggest the U.S. is applying pressure on Islamabad to cooperate on fighting terrorist groups such as ISIS-K and al-Qaeda, while Pakistan wants more recognition for it helping fleeing Afghans, and downplays reports of Taliban reprisals. Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO.

The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the annual defense bill early Thursday morning after loading it up with bipartisan-backed demands for a reckoning over Afghanistan. In the end, the vote of no confidence in Biden to be commander in chief after the Afghanistan pullout never made it onto the House’s version of the defense bill, which has yet to receive a floor vote. “But the measure was amended to include several other requirements for an accounting from Afghanistan, including what military equipment was left behind and what was destroyed; how much access the Taliban now has to financial, natural and U.S. military resources in the country; and whether the group should be treated as a foreign terrorist organization. Measures were also added requiring the administration to report to Congress about how it plans to conduct counterterrorism without a military footprint in the country, and its plans for evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghans approved to come to the United States. The panel also approved creating a 12-member independent commission to study the failures in Afghanistan over the past 20 years — though panel chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) promised that the House Armed Services Committee would continue to do its own oversight as well,” reports Karoun Demirjian for the Washington Post.

15 Marines are receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland for injuries they suffered in last week’s suicide bombing outside Kabul airport, a Marine Corps spokesman said Thursday. “The Marines include one service member who is in critical condition, three who are in serious condition and 11 who are stable, Maj. Jim Stenger said in a statement. Thirteen service members — 11 Marines, one soldier and a sailor — were killed in the attack, along with nearly 200 Afghan civilians. Counting all services, 22 U.S. troops were wounded in the bombing, said Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden made a previously unscheduled trip to Walter Reed yesterday evening to visit wounded service members injured in the suicide bombing. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.

The Pentagon is promising to ramp up mental health outreach to veterans and service members who were involved in the Afghan war, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday, acknowledging that recent events in Kabul could impact Afghan war vets. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Over three-quarters of Americans support President Biden’s decision to withdraw from the Afghaninstan, but by a 2-to-1 margin they disapprove of how the withdrawal was carried out, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. “The Post-ABC poll shows 77 percent of Americans saying they support the decision to withdraw all U.S. forces. Support crosses party lines, with 88 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents aligned behind the decision … Roughly half of all adults (52 percent) say they support getting out of Afghanistan but nonetheless disapprove of how Biden handled it, while a quarter (26 percent) support both the withdrawal decision and Biden’s handling of it. Another 17 percent disapprove of the decision to end the war, while 6 percent express no opinion. A bare majority of Democrats support both the decision and Biden’s handling of it, while a bigger majority of Republicans support the withdrawal but not how Biden handled it,” Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin report for the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING AND SCREENING AFGHANS

Of the 38,000 Afghans evacuated by the U.S. to bases in Europe, only one has raised serious concerns during security screening to warrant being turned over to authorities for further investigation, though not considered a “high threat,” and 58 others were now undergoing additional screening but are all expected to be cleared, Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of the military’s European Command, told reporters Thursday during a briefing. In Europe, those bases include Ramstein Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Germany, Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy and Naval Station Rota in Spain. “General Wolters said the Afghans arriving from intermediate staging bases in the Middle East, such as Qatar, twice undergo background checks: once upon arrival at bases in Germany, Italy and Spain, and again a few days later before they board flights to the United States. These checks include fingerprinting and retina scans, which are matched against immigration, law enforcement and counterterrorism databases, he said,” Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.

“There are very few Afghan children currently arriving in the United States who are not accompanied by an adult known to them,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news briefing Thursday. CNN reported that an administration official said 34 children were flown to the U.S. without parents, though many have been reunited. Once they arrive to the U.S., normal protocols for unaccompanied children apply. And in those cases, Customs and Border Protection or another federal agency refers them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services, which then works to find extended family or other appropriate sponsors to care for the child “using established sponsor assessment procedures,” Price said. “Unaccompanied minors not immediately unified with an appropriate caregiver, are placed in culturally and age appropriate facilities. ORR – the Office of Refugee Resettlement – has identified sites that have Dari and Pashto speakers and that are culturally appropriate in addition to the standing resources we have for all unaccompanied minors,” he added. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.

An infant, presumed to be Afghan, died after arriving in the United States on an evacuation flight from Ramstein Air Base in Germany on a C-17 on Tuesday, the Defense Department confirmed Thursday. The cause of death remains unclear. Oren Lierbermann reports for CNN

AFGHANISTAN – THE UNITED KINGDOM AND EUROPEAN UNION

The U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will “catalyze” the E.U. to establish its own permanent military force, said Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s high representative for foreign affairs, though often opposed by member states. But Borrell said the “deficiencies” in the bloc’s autonomy from the U.S. was exposed during the evacuation from Afghanistan. Daniel Boffey reports for the Guardian. . .

Though the E.U. would not recognize a Taliban government, it would pursue “operational engagement” if certain conditions are met, Borrell said in a statement during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Slovenia. Reuters reporting.

Afghans fleeing the Taliban must be treated as asylum seekers, not migrants, Borrell said. “We have to call them what they really are. They are not migrants, they are asylum seekers – there is a big difference,” Borrell said. “E.U. leaders reportedly want Afghanistan’s neighbors to accept refugees fleeing the country.” BBC News reports.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is visiting Pakistan for talks with his counterpart on Afghanistan, according to a statement by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday. The statement said that Pakistan and the U.K. “have been closely engaged on the latest developments in Afghanistan,” highlighting the phone call between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Aug.18 as well as stating that, “Foreign Minister Qureshi and Secretary of State Dominic Raab discussed the situation in Afghanistan twice on 16 and 27 August.” Sophia Saifi and Amy Cassidy report for CNN.

The U.K. government does not plan on recognizing the Taliban any soon, but acknowledges the importance of engagement, Raab said Friday during his visit to Pakistan, adding that the U.K. normally recognizes states rather than governments. Reuters reporting.

AFGHANISTAN – A NEW AFGHAN GOVERNMENT

Numerous reports have indicated that leaders of the Taliban’s new regime would be announced Friday, but top spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the Washington Post that a time had not been fixed, with negotiations between the group and different factions still ongoing Thursday, according to Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister who recently met with Taliban leaders. Rachel Pannett and Ellen Francis report for the Washington Post.

An announcement might not happen until Saturday at the earliest, a spokesperson for the group told AFP. BBC News reports.

AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY, AID AND SUPPORT

The Taliban has announced that China will maintain its embassy in Kabul and increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen announced on Twitter yesterday that the deputy director of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Abdul Salam Hanafi, discussed the situation in the country and the future of the bilateral relationship during a phone conversation with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao. Paulina Villegas reports for the Washington Post.

UAE officials are set to arrive in Kabul for talks with Taliban leaders, a Taliban official has said. “A subsequent statement from the state-run WAM news agency said the flight was carrying ‘urgent medical and food aid’” Al Jazeera reporting.

Qatar is in talks with the Taliban and working with Turkey to provide technical support to restart operations in Kabul airport, the Qatari foreign minister said on Thursday during a conference with his British counterpart. Reuters reporting.

The Netherlands is weighing whether it would provide “resources and possible people” to help Qatar and Turkey reopen the airport in Kabul, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag told Dutch national broadcaster NOS in Ankara. Kaag has visited Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey in the past two days,” reports Mick Krever for CNN.

South Africa has turned down a request to host Afghans who have fled into Pakistan, saying it is already accommodating “a substantial number” of refugees from elsewhere. BBC News reports.

The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, operated by the World Food Program (WFP), is set to resume flights in Afghanistan, allowing 160 humanitarian organizations to continue their work in the country. WFP has confirmed it is operating humanitarian aid flights from Islamabad in Pakistan to the Afghan cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar. BBC News reports.

AFGHANISTAN – ECONOMY, INTERNATIONAL FUNDS AND SANCTIONS

The Biden administration is not considering reducing sanctions on the Taliban government or reopening its access to the international financial system, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. Jim Tankersley reports for the New York Times.

Western Union has resumed money transfers to Afghanistan, though transfers out of the country will remain suspended, the company said in a statement posted to Twitter, two weeks after it halted transactions in the wake of the Taliban takeover. For the next two weeks the company will waive transfer fees for money sent into Afghanistan. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.

The Treasury Department has told financial institutions that they can process personal remittances to Afghanistan. “Many Afghans rely heavily on payments from migrant workers overseas. The remittances amount to an estimated $789 million in 2020, or just over 4% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, according to World Bank data. Reuters

The Afghan economy will likely contract significantly in the next two years. The Fitch Group projects that the country’s GDP will shrink by 9.7% in 2021 and 5.2% in 2022. It had projected 0.4% growth prior to the collapse of the U.S.-backed government and Taliban takeover. Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN – TALIBAN CLASHES

Thousands of Taliban fighters are still taking on resistance forces in Afghanistan’s northern Panjshir Valley, the last province resisting the group’s takeover, reports indicate. “The Taliban said they had taken some territory and inflicted “heavy” losses on the National Resistance Front (NRF). But the NRF said it had control of all entrances to the valley, and the Taliban had lost hundreds of fighters,” BBC News reports.

NRF spokesperson Fahim Dashti said in an audio message Thursday that the Taliban lost 40 of their forces during attempts to enter Panjshir. Ali Nazary, another NRF spokesperson, said the Taliban had also lost a number of heavy equipment and weaponry that had been destroyed. “CNN has not independently verified the Taliban casualties,” reports Mohammed Tawfeeq and Nathan Hodge for CNN.

AFGHANISTAN – OTHER UPDATES

Dozens of Afghan women took to the streets in western Afghanistan on Thursday in a rare public demonstration against Taliban restrictions on their right to work and get an education. “After weeks of trying to engage with the Taliban at all levels, the women decided to make their voices heard publicly,” Mariam Ebram, who was in attendance at the protest on Thursday, told Al Jazeera. Domestic flights are set to resume in Afghanistan on Friday after the Taliban gave the “green light,” the country’s flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines has said. Al Jazeera reporitn.

Fact Checker: The Afghan evacuation and the war — by the numbers, reports Glenn Kessler reports for the Washington Post.

The Kabul airlift in five charts. Elizabeth Howe reports for Defense One.

JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK

The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has asked for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s phone records to be preserved as it expands its inquiry, a committee source said yesterday. “Although the request does not mean the committee will necessarily take the subsequent step of seeking McCarthy’s records, the panel’s move means the minority leader now faces a threat of having his personal data subpoenaed,” Nicholas Wu and Heather Caygle report for POLITICO.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has been promoted to vice chair of the House select committee. In a statement on her appointment, Cheney reiterated her resolve to pursue the truth about the attack on the Capitol and vowed that the committee would not be “deterred by threats or attempted obstruction.” Nicholas Wu reports for POLITICO.

The Capitol rioter known as the “Q-Anon Shaman” has entered a guilty plea with prosecutors over multiple federal charges, including a felony count of obstructing an official proceeding and a felony charge of civil disorder, his attorney Albert Watkins said. Ryan J. Reilly reports for Huffington Post.

A self-described Q-Anon “post-boy” for the Jan. 6 attack was sent back to jail Thursday after violating bail conditions that ordered him to stay off the Internet. The judge banned Douglas Jensen from accessing the Internet or using internet-capable devices, but “two weeks after Jensen’s release, a court supervision officer found him alone in his garage streaming news from a right-wing site to a WiFi-enabled iPhone, according to court filings, and prosecutors moved to revoke his bail,” Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines made the “very rare” decision to intervene in a civil case last week brought by a state-owned Saudi holding company Sakab against former Saudi counterterrorism official Saad Aljabri, invoking the well-established but rarely used state secrets privilege to halt classified information from coming out that could cause “exceptionally grave” harm to U.S. national security, with Attorney General Merrick Garland signing off on the privilege. Haines’ decision follows reports the Justice Department would intervene over “expected damage” to national security. To defend himself against Sakab’s fraud claims, Aljabri’s defense team have said examination of “covert counterterrorism operations in partnership” with the U.S. was necessary, though Sakab, supposedly one of the U.S.’s closest intelligence partners, funded by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Finance, said, prior to Haines’ intervention, that Aljabri’s intelligence background and cooperation with the United States have no relevance to Sakab’s fraud claims. Haines supported her intervention with classified declarations detailing why the information could “cause serious, and in some cases exceptionally grave, damage to national security.” “I don’t think that either Avril or Merrick Garland is going to assert the state secrets privilege simply because something is embarrassing,” said Bob Litt, a former general counsel for the Office of Director of National Intelligence, adding, “You can assume that somebody has persuaded them there would be significant damage to our equities if whatever information it is came out.” “The case could be thrown out if the judge determines Aljabri can’t defend himself – or Sakab can’t make their case against him –  without using the alleged sensitive information,” Alex Marquardt reports for CNN.

A key defense attorney in the long-delayed Sept. 11 attacks case is currently quarantining at Guantánamo Bay after being exposed to Covid-19 on a Navy flight to the base on Tuesday. “At issue is whether he would be released from quarantine in time for a closed conference Saturday at Guantánamo’s courtroom between the judge, Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, and case lawyers. Prosecutors are seeking the death-penalty in the five-man case and, by law, Mr. Ruiz must be present to represent Mr. al-Hawsawi,” Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.

British born former Islamic State (IS) member Alexanda Kotey, accused of belonging to an IS cell called “The Beatles,” has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to charges of kidnap and murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller, the first IS member to be convicted on U.S. soil and now facing a mandatory life sentence. Kotey and fellow “Beatle” El Shafee Elsheikh initially pleaded not guilty at a hearing last October. “In exchange for his admission of guilt, prosecutors agreed that after Kotey serves 15 years in a U.S. prison, he may seek to serve the rest of his sentence in the United Kingdom, where he was born. If that happens, Kotey also agreed he would plead guilty in a United Kingdom prosecution and face a life sentence there, and be returned to the United States if released by the U.K.,” Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman report for the Washington Post.

Families of the 9/11 victims filed a complaint Wednesday with the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) asking for an investigation into whether the FBI properly handled evidence of possible ties between Saudi Arabia and the 2001 attacks. “The Inspector General should examine whether one or more FBI officials committed willful misconduct with intent to destroy or secrete evidence to avoid its disclosure,” the complaint continues. “Given the importance of the missing evidence at issue to the 9/11 investigation, as well as the repeated mishandling by the FBI of that evidence, an innocent explanation is not believable.” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.

National Public Radio on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against two Maryland judges, claiming a state ban on the broadcasting of “lawfully-obtained official court recordings” is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. “NPR filed the lawsuit so that it could broadcast court recordings from the upcoming trial of Jarrod Ramos, the gunman who killed five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., in 2018. The news organization intends to broadcast the recordings on its podcast ‘Embedded.’ Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28,” Joseph Choi reports for NPR.

The Biden administration and federal law enforcement agencies are on alert for cyberattacks ahead of Labor Day weekend, though concerns are based on previous attacks over holiday weekends, not due to intelligence of specific pending attacks. Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, told reporters at the White House that both the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) were monitoring for cybersecurity concerns and were prepared to respond rapidly. Neuberger also urged companies to be on alert, as did an earlier FBI and CISA joint warning, though neither said their warnings were based on intelligence of specific threats. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

The House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the NDAA that would make it more difficult for a retired senior military officer to become secretary of defense, extending the period that retired officers must be out of uniform from seven to 10 years before becoming defense chief. The provision stipulates that the requirement can be waived only if three quarter of both the House and Senate, or a super majority, approve. Currently, lawmakers can grant a waiver through a simple majority. Bryan Bender reports for POLITICO.

Two Trump Organization executives appeared before a Manhattan grand jury yesterday as part of New York prosecutors’ continuing investigation into former President Trump’s business dealings, people familiar with the investigation said. Corporate director of security Matthew Calamari Jr. and controller Jeffrey McConney were the executives giving evidence. Paula Reid, Kara Scannell and Taylor Romine report for CNN.

Prosecutors are apparently weighing charges against Matthew Calamari Sr., the chief operating officer at the Trump Organization, and father of Calamari Jr., according to people with knowledge of the matter. It is unclear whether Calamari Sr. will be charged, but two people close to the case said a decision will be made in the next month, and if not charged, he could still be required to give testimony. Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Kate Christobek report for the New York Times.

On Sep.15 the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the FBI’s “dereliction of duty” in its handling of the investigation into disgraced U.S. Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar. The panel said that the Bureau’s actions “enabled the continued abuse of dozens of additional victims.” A hearing was initially called for in July after the Justice Department’s OIG released a report which found that FBI officials failed to quickly address the accusations against Nassar, despite the potential for the alleged abuse to continue. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS          

Intelligence files suggest an aide to a former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont sought help from Russia, including former intelligence officers and the grandson of a KGB spymaster, to sever ties with Spain, according to a European intelligence report, which was reviewed by The New York Times. Asked about the report’s findings, aide Josep Lluis Alay and Puigdemont confirmed the trips to Moscow, which have never been reported, but insisted they were part of regular outreach to foreign officials and journalists. Alay said any suggestion that he was seeking assistance from Russian was “a fantasy story created by Madrid.” Michael Schwirtz and José Bautista report for the New York Times.

New Zealand police kill an “violent extremist” Sir Lankan national after he stabbed 6 in an ISIS-inspired attack. The man was under surveillance when he injured six people at a West Auckland supermarket on Friday, officials said. The prime minister called it a “terrorist attack.” Natasha Frost reports for the New York Times.

South Korea is developing a three-ton surface-to-surface ballistic missile as powerful as a tactical nuclear warhead, Yonhap news agency reports. The missile “can carry a warhead of up to three tons with a flight range of 350 to 400 km (217 to 248 miles),”  Al Jazeera reporting.

Clashes broke out in Tripoli early on Friday between rival armed forces, witnesses said, the heaviest fighting in the Libyan capital since the conflict between eastern and western factions paused a year ago. Reutersreporting.

Syria says it has shot down Israeli missiles which were approaching capital Damascus on Friday. “State news agency SANA said Syria shot down most of the missiles, which were launched from the area southeast of neighboring Lebanon and targeted areas near Damascus,” reports AP.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas held talks yesterday in Cairo aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process and strengthening a ceasefire that halted the Israel-Hamas war, in which all three leaders agreed that Palestinians have a right to an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a plan that Israel strongly opposes. AP reporting.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced his intention to step down after only a year in office. The news follows plunging approval ratings for Suga amid a resurgence of Covid-19, a slow vaccine rollout, and the unpopular decision to proceed with the Olympic Games. BBC News reports.

In a speech to the North Korean Politburo, Kim Jong-Un urged officials to address the country’s food shortage, brought on by a combination of drought and torrential monsoon rains. Citing the “danger” of climate change, Kim called for improvements to flood management infrastructure. BBC News reports.

The Russian government’s communications agency has warned Google and Apple that they could face criminal liability for election interference if they refuse to remove imprisoned activist Alexei Navalny’s app from their stores. The app is designed to help Russian voters unite against candidates from the ruling United Russia party. Al Jazeera reports.

Poland has declared the first state of emergency in its post-Communist history in response to a surge of illegal migration along its border with Belarus. The order, which affects two regions, bans mass gatherings and restricts freedom of movement. Reuters reports.

CORONAVIRUS

The coronavirus has infected over 39.55  million and has now killed over 643,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 219.13 million confirmed coronavirus cases and cover 4.54 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

More than 15 million Covid-19 doses have been thrown away in the U.S. over the past several months and that figure is likely higher. Walgreens alone reported nearly 2.6 million wasted doses, CVS reported 2.3 million and Walmart and Rite Aid reported more than 1 million each. Meanwhile, Texas threw out more than 500,000 doses, more than any state. North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma discarded more than 200,000 doses each. Joshua Eaton and Joe Murphy report for NBC News.

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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