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Early Edition: December 14, 2020

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news

US DEVELOPMENTS

Russian government hackers are believed to have breached multiple US federal agencies, including the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in a campaign that is thought to have lasted months, prompting concern from the federal government, with an emergency meeting held Saturday at the White House’s National Security Council (NSC). The hacking attack is reported to be linked with the recent cyberattack on leading cybersecurity firm FireEye. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), U.S. Cyber Command and FBI are all investigating the matter. Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.

“The Russian hackers, known by the nicknames APT29 or Cozy Bear, are part of that nation’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, and they breached email systems in some cases, said the people familiar with the intrusions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The same Russian group hacked the State Department and the White House email servers during the Obama administration,” reports Ellen Nakashima and Craig Tiberg for the Washington Post.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security (CISA) yesterday issued a directive urging US agencies to immediately disconnect all machines running the popular server software SolarWinds which is believed to be the conduit for the hacks  the fifth such directive CISA has issued since it was created under the Cybersecurity Act in 2015. AP reporting.

The Kremlin today rejected claims that it was behind the attack: “Once again, I can reject these accusations and once again I want to remind you that it was [Russian President Vladimir Putin] who proposed that the American side agree and conclude agreements (with Russia) on cyber security,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, confirming that Washington had not responded to the offer. “As for the rest, if there have been attacks for many months, and the Americans could not do anything about it, it is probably not worth immediately groundlessly blaming the Russians. We didn’t have anything to do with it,” he added. Reuter reporting.

The Senate passed the $740 billion defense bill policy Friday in an 84-13 votes, setting the stage for a potential veto by Trump who has threatened such a move if the bill didn’t include a repeal of Section 230, a legal safeguard to social media and internet companies, which it didn’t. The more than two-third approval of the bill raises concerns for President Trump’s planned veto, which could be overridden by Congress by a two-third majority vote. The news follows the passing of the bill in the House last week by a vote of 355-788. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

One of the bill’s clauses include a requirement to establish a national cyber director within the Executive Office of the President, reports for Maggie Miller for The Hill.

Trump yesterday threatened to veto the bill, posting a Twitter: “THE BIGGEST WINNER OF OUR NEW DEFENSE BILL IS CHINA! I WILL VETO!” Andrea Shalal reports for Reuters.

A pro-Trump rally escalated into chaos and violence Saturday after far-right extremist group the Proud Boys trawled the streets looking for a confrontation, with over 30 arrested and four stabbings taking place. Hundreds connected to the group gathered, some wearing body armor and helmets, with a police report stating that the stabbings happened during an altercation involving a group of Trump supporters. Peter Hermann, Marissa J. Lang and Clarence Williams report for the Washington Post.

US ELECTION RESULTS

The US Supreme Court rejected Friday a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week which sought to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, and which received support from President Trump as well as 17 Republican state attorneys general who also filed a brief to the court. Ariane de Vogue and Maegan Vazquez report for CNN.

The Electoral College  made up of electors in 50 state capitals and Washington, DC  will today convene to cast formal votes electing President-elect Joe Biden, signifying the penultimate stage of a long-disputed election result. The final stage will be a meeting of Congress Jan. 6 to count and certify the electoral votes. Kyle Cheney and Zach Montellaro report for POLITICO.

“Five things to watch when the Electoral College votes,” is explained by Max Greenwood and Julia Manchester for The Hill.

“A step-by-step guide to Monday’s Electoral College vote” by Zachary B. Wolf for CNN.

US RELATIONS    

The US has removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said today, a move that is effective as of today.

Max Berak and Naba Mohieddin report for the Washington Post.

The Trump administration sent a notice to Congress Friday confirming that it intends to go ahead with a $1 billion arms sale to Morocco, including “four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones made by privately-held General Atomics, and Hellfire, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided munitions made by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing.” The news comes after Morocco last week agreed to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, which marked the fourth Arab State to resume diplomatic ties with Israel as part of the U.S.’s “Abraham Accords” framework — in return, the United States said it would officially recognize Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara territory, a long-running dispute between the two African nations. Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone report for Reuters.

The US has adopted a “new official” map of Morocco which includes the territory in dispute between Western Sahara and Morocco, said the U.S. ambassador to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. “This map is a tangible representation of President Trump’s bold proclamation two days ago – recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara,” Ambassador David Fischer said Saturday. Al Jazeera reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 16.25 million and now killed over 299,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 72.33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.614 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The new Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine started to be mass distributed around the US this weekend after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine late Friday night. “FedEx and UPS, along with United Airlines and American Airlines, will help distribute the vaccine to every state, territory, and the District of Columbia, as well as several major cities. Federal officials on Saturday said 145 distribution sites are expected to receive the vaccine on Monday, another 425 sites will get the shot Tuesday and the remaining 66 sites on Wednesday,” reports Brianna Ehley for POLITICO.

President Trump said yesterday that White House officials will not necessarily be among the first people to receive the new coronavirus vaccine, following a report by the New York Times which said top officials would be some of the first to receive the new vaccine. Antonia Noori Farzan and Erin Cunningham report for the Washington Post.

A $908 billion coronavirus relief package is expected to be introduced in Congress today, and will be split into two packages in an effort to gain approval, a person familiar with the matter said. “One will be a $748 billion measure, which contains money for small businesses, the jobless and COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The other will include some key sticking points: liability protections for business and $160 billion for state and local governments,” report Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson report for Reuters.

“Getting the coronavirus vaccine does not mean you are safe to stop wearing masks and stop social distancing. We still don’t know how effective the vaccines are in the long term because there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate that. Complacency can be dangerous to public health,” warned Eugene Gu, founder and CEO of CoolQuit.com, in a post on Twitter.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS 

Afghan government security forces killed at least 51 Taliban fighters in the southern province of Kandahar on Saturday, the Afghan ministry of defense said, confirming the strikes took place on ground and via airstrikes and were in response to insurgent attacks. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Ehsanullah Amiri reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban will be paused until early January after the two sides reached an agreement on key procedural rules for their ongoing negotiations. Reuters reporting.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will continue their negotiations over a Brexit deal, the pair confirmed in a joint statement released yesterday, after an initial deadline for negotiations was set for yesterday. The statement confirmed that the two had had a “useful” telephone call in which they discussed “major unresolved issues.” Barbara Moens reports for POLITICO EU.

Armenian and Azeri officials accused one another of breaching a recent peace deal which brought an end to a 6-week conflict, with Azerbaijan’s leader threatening to crush Armenian forces with an “iron fist.” AP reporting.

333 school boys are missing after gunmen raided a secondary school in northwestern Nigeria late Friday. Officials have said Nigerian security forces are searching for the missing children. Ismail Alfa and Danielle Paquette report for the Washington Post.

The post Early Edition: December 14, 2020 appeared first on Just Security.


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