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Early Edition: January 21, 2021

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

SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS & PRESIDENT BIDEN’S ACTING CABINET

The Senate intelligence committee yesterday confirmed in an 84-10 vote Avril Haines to serve as director of national intelligence (DNI), the first Cabinet-level official confirmed by the Senate. Jordan Carney reports for The Hill.

A full list of all acting positions is provided by CNN and POLITICO, which include: Former deputy Defense secretary David Norquist, who served under the Trump administration, as acting Defense Secretary for Biden while retired Gen. Lloyd Austin’s confirmation in both chambers of Congress continues; Transport Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoskeas as acting secretary of Homeland Security while Alejandro Mayorkas awaits confirmation; David Cohen as head of the CIA; and Monty Wilkinson heading the Justice Department. Also  Dan Smith, director of the Foreign Service Institute, will be appointed as acting secretary of State, Gloria Steele will be designated as acting head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Rich Mills as acting US ambassador to the UN. 

Incoming chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), said yesterday that he supports Austin to serve as Defense secretary, signaling that Austin may overcome the hurdles faced with getting a waiver from both chambers of Congress. Despite four years ago stating that he would not support allowing another recently retired general to take the position, Reed said in a statement released before Biden’s inauguration: “He has demonstrated a clear commitment to civilian control of the military,” adding, “I will support his historic nomination and believe he will restore direction to a Pentagon that has been left rudderless and adrift for too long under the previous administration. His character and integrity are unquestioned and he possesses the knowledge and skill to effectively lead the Pentagon.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Michael Pack has resigned from his position as CEO of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees the Voice of America (VOA) and other radio channels, after a controversial 7-month tenure. Biden has named senior VOA news executive Kelu Chao as acting CEO. Paul Farhi reports for the Washington Post.

NEW BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

Senior White House officials at the Pentagon blocked members of President Biden’s incoming administration from gaining access to essential information about current operations  including, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, upcoming special operations in Africa, and the government’s distribution program for the Covid-19 vaccine  in what transition and defense officials have described as unprecedented. 10 Pentagon and Biden officials involved in the transition, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, told POLITICO that briefings on highly important defense matters never happened, we are delayed, or controlled by the Trump administration. Lara Seligman and Bryan Bender report for POLITICO.

An in-depth explainer on Biden’s 17 executive orders, memorandum and proclamations is provided by Aishvarya Kavi for the New York Times, which include a host of changes on the coronavirus pandemic, immigration, climate change, equality, the economy, and government accountability.

Biden intends to speak with foreign allies on lengthening and strengthening nuclear constraints on Iran, White House Press Secretary Ken Psaki said, making clear that Iran must resume its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal. Reuters reporting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, will head the US delegation to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s executive board, after Biden reverses Trump’s withdrawal from the agency. Christina Morales reports for the New York Times.

The administration has asked US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams to step down from his position.“I’ve been asked by the Biden team to step down as Surgeon General. Its been the honor of my life to serve this Nation, and I will do all I can to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve and maintain health,” Adams said in post on Twitter. Asan Cancryn and Alice Miranda Ollstein report for POLITICO.

Biden receives congratulations from many world leaders and officials, including: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Trump wrote Biden a letter and left its inside the Oval Office. “The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.” Nick Niedzwiadek reports for POLITICO

INAUGURATION DAY

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito did not attend President Biden’s swearing-in yesterday, the first time in 20 years all justices have not witnessed the inaugural ceremony. “Several of the justices elected not to attend the inauguration ceremony in light of the public health risks posed by the COVID pandemic,” Supreme Court spokesperson Kathleen Arberg said in a statement. Robert Barnes reports for the Washington Post.

Former President Trump extended Secret Service protection to 13 of his family members, as well as three former officials, before he left office, including former first lady Melania Trump, Barron Trump, Ivanka Trump and her husband and four children, Donald Trump Jr. and his four children, Eric Trump and his wife, and also former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, according to people briefed on the matter. Carol D. Leonnig and Nick Miroff report for the Washington Post.

As state capitals were on high alert yesterday, more than 100 demonstrators took to the streets of Portland, vandalizing the city’s Democratic Party of Oregon building, breaking windows and scuffling with police officers, with one demonstrator holding a banner reading: “We don’t want Biden. We want revenge for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres.” Eight demonstrators have thus far been arrested. “In Seattle, police said multiple sites had been vandalized and posted pictures of the damage, including what appeared to be of an Amazon Go store.” Reuters reporting.

Key takeaways from Biden’s inaugural address are provided by Aaron Blake for the Washington Post.

The full transcript of the address is provided by BBC News.

A breakdown of those who were attended is provided by Daniela Santamariña, Ashlyn Still and Junne Alcantara for the Washington Post.

BREACH AT THE CAPITOL

Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s brother, yesterday admitted being present during a key meeting with defense officials Jan. 6 where DC officials pleaded via telephone for the National Guard to be dispatched, despite the Army having denied for days Flynn’s presence. Flynn confirmed in a statement issued to The Post that he was in the room but left before the meeting was over as he anticipated that then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was in another meeting, was nearing a decision to deploy guard members. The Army eventually admitted Flynn participated in a call which focused on a possible military response to the violence. “The call included senior Army officials at the urging of Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, according to one person with direct knowledge of the situation … Five officials who were on the call shared similar stories in which Army officials on the line said they were concerned about the visuals of sending National Guard members to the Capitol.” Dan Lamothe, Paul Sonne, Carol D. Leonnig and Aaron C. Davis report for the Washington Post.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy resigned yesterday. Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.

Trump seems to be losing support from far-right group The Proud Boys, which has been heavily implicated in the attack on the Capitol and public in its support of Trump, with recent Telegram messages from Monday stating Trump “will go down as a total failure.” “In dozens of conversations on social media sites like Gab and Telegram, members of the group have begun calling Mr. Trump a “shill” and “extraordinarily weak,” according to messages reviewed by The New York Times. They have also urged supporters to stop attending rallies and protests held for Mr. Trump or the Republican Party.” Sheera Frenkel and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.

Proud Boys organizer Joseph Randall Biggs was arrested in Florida yesterday after the FBI alleged in new charging papers that he “did aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, or procure others” to storm the Capitol, equipped with devices allowing for “real-time communication” during the breach  the FBI said Biggs, 37, was among the first to enter the Capitol building. Biggs appeared in court yesterday in Orlando and court papers indicated he denied knowledge of preplanning the event. He was released to home confinement after prosecutors did not request his immediate detention. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.

Former Army captain and Florida state office candidate has been arrested after uploading pictures to Facebook while present in the Capital building, an FBI statement confirms, citing Gabriel Augustin Garcia as saying “we just went ahead and stormed the capital. It’s about to get ugly.” An FBI statement also alleges Garcia to have encouraged people to “storm” the building, called officer “traitors” and, while in the Rotunda, said “Nancy come out and play,” an apparent reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Phil Helsel reports for NBC News.

OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS

National Security Agency (NSA) General Counsel Michael Ellis, the GOP operative and Trump loyalist who was installed as the top lawyer during Trump’s final days, was yesterday put on administrative leave due to being investigated by the Defense Department inspector general (IG), a US official said. NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone placed Ellis on leave yesterday pending the IG probe into the circumstances of his selection as general counsel, said the official speaking on the condition of anonymity. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.

The Office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has gotten hold of some of Trump’s tax records, although not through a decision by the courts. Vance’s office has been in a long legal battle with Trump’s lawyers over access to Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA but has yet to be successful in its grand jury subpoena of the records. The office has apparently received some of Trump’s records through unknown source, although Vance intends to wait for a decision by the courts before taking further action. Greg Farrell and Greg Stohr report for Bloomberg.

The US has signed a deal with the UAE to sell 50 F-35 jets and around 18 armed drones, people familiar with the decision said. Mike Stone reports for Reuters.

Three National Guard members were killed yesterday after a military Black Hawk helicopter crashed in New York state  the incident is under investigation. Mihiri Zaveri reports for the New York Times.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

28 former Trump officials and allies have been sanctioned by China  including, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security advisors Robert O’Brien and Matthew Pottinger, Trump assistant Peter Navarro, Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon  and has called for “better angels” in the Biden administration. Gerry Shih repots for the Washington Post.

A spokesperson for Biden’s National Security Council (NSC) said the sanctions are “unproductive and cynical,” and called for bipartisan condemnation. Michael Martine reports for Reuters.

Social media giant Twitter has suspended the account of China’s US embassy for defending China’s policy towards Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, citing violation of its policies on “dehumanizing” people. Al Jazeera reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 24.43 million and now killed over 406,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 96.28 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.07 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The US intends to join the Covax vaccine facility that aims to deliver vaccines to poor countries, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told the World Health Organization (WHO) today. Michael Safi reports for The Guardian.

An explainer on Biden’s new pandemic plan is explained by Amy Goldstein,  Isaac Stanley-Becker and  Laura Meckler for the Washington Post.

A tracker for the number of people in the US who have received one dose of the vaccine is provided by the Washington Post.

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

Two suicide bombings struck a market in the Afghan capital of Baghdad, killing over 28 people and wounding over 70, according to Iraqi security officials and state media. Al Jazeera reporting.

UN special envoy to Syria said yesterday that talks on revising the country’s constitution will resume Jan 25 in Geneva, special envoy Geir Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council. AP reporting.

The post Early Edition: January 21, 2021 appeared first on Just Security.


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