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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Two Iranian groups and 45 associated individuals have been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for carrying out malware campaigns on behalf of the Iranian government targeted at Iranian dissidents and journalists, the Treasury Department said yesterday. The two cyberthreat groups identified were Advanced Persistent Threat 39, or APT39, and the Rana Intelligence Computing Company, a front company, who the department say are both owned and controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Some of those targeted by computer intrusions were later arrested by Iranian law enforcement and subjected to physical and psychological abuse, the department added. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed support of the sanctions. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Three Iranian national were yesterday charged and sanctioned with targeting and hacking into US satellite and aerospace companies, the Department of Justice announced yesterday. The defendants, Said Pourkarim Arabi, 34, Mohammad Reza Espargham, whose age is unknown, and Mohammad Bayati, 34, are accused of impersonating colleagues and academics to convince targets to download malicious software between 2015 and 2019, prosecutors have said. The accused are said to have had more than 1,800 targets on their list, spanning from the United States to the U.K., Australia, Israel and Singapore. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Cyberattacks by Iranian hackers are seriously advancing, with a sophisticated operation now using surveillance tools that can outsmart encrypted messaging systems, according to two digital security reports released today by Check Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity technology company, and the Miaan Group, a human rights organization focused on digital security in the Middle East. The reports said that the operation seeks to support the Iranian regime by hacking cellphones and computers of dissidents and anti-government activist and has been successful in breaching security systems of encrypted applications such as Telegram. The reports also state that the operation can also be used to target the Iranian general public. Ronen Bergman and Farnaz Fassihi report for the New York Times.
FBI DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER WRAY
FBI Director Christopher Wray yesterday warned of “very active efforts” by Russia to interfere in the presidential election and undermine Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee as part of its worldwide threats hearing. The bureau chief said Russia have been using social media, “proxies, state media, online journals” and other avenues to affect Biden’s campaign. Wray also expressed a particular concern of a “steady drumbeat of misinformation” by Russia that would undermine confidence in the result of the election. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Wray also said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” namely white supremacist violence, poses the most significant domestic terrorism threat. He noted that although violent extremism can take many forms and ascribe to many ideologies, “people ascribing to some white supremacy type of ideology is certainly the largest chunk of that.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
US POSTAL SERVICE
A federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked US Postal Service (USPS) operational changes that slowed down mail throughout the US, rebuking them as “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service.” Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, issued a preliminary injunction against the service’s “leave behind” policy, stating that there was a substantial possibility that many voters would be disenfranchised by the changes. AP reporting.
USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told top elections officials, several secretaries of state and postal officials that the service’s highest priority is the upcoming election, citing a new public information campaign that seeks to reassure voters that the Postal Service is able to deal with the expected increase in mail ahead of the election, according to National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) leader New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who said DeJoy recently spoke with the association and other officials via telephone. DeJoy also discussed improvements to staff training. Miles Parks reports for NPR.
All Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed and sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz urging an investigation into US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigations by the CIA and FBI, citing a possible breach of DOJ policies that prohibit criminal investigations from being influence by partisan politics. The letter referred to the resignation of Nora Dannehy, Durham’s top aide, who apparently left due to pressures by Attorney General Bill Barr for the findings of the investigation to be released before the November election. The senators also cited comments made by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to Fox News, where he stated: “Additional documents that I’ve been able to review say that a number of the players – the Peter Strzoks, the Andy McCabes, the James Comeys, and even others in the administration previously – are in real trouble because of their willingness to participate in an unlawful act. And I use the word ‘unlawful’ – at best it broke all kinds of protocols and at worst people should go to jail as I mentioned previously.” Democrats opined these issues justify the IG’s involvement. Matt Naham reports for Law & Crime.
HR McMaster, President Trump’s former national security advisor, said the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is an “unwise” policy, speaking in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” about his new book, “Battlegrounds.” The retired Army lieutenant general said Trump had “cheapened” the lives of Americans who had died in Afghanistan by his deference and concessions to the Taliban, stating that “he in effect is partnering with the Taliban against, in many ways, the Afghan government.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.
Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud investors of over $2 million between 2012 and 2019 in an effort to finance a business called “Fraud Guarantee,” federal prosecutors announced yesterday, adding additional charges to an indictment last year that saw Parnas charged with funneling illegal, foreign money into political campaigns. Tom Winter and Jonathan Dienst report for NBC News.
“At least 15 Trump officials do not hold their positions lawfully,” Becca Damante writes for Just Security, following the recent ruling by a federal judge that said the appointment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Acting Secretary Chad Wolf in November 2019 was likely unlawful and “invalid under the agencies applicable order of succession.”
The novel coronavirus has infected over 6.67 million and killed close to 198,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 30.21 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 946,000 deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Controversial guidance published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about who should be tested for Covid-19 was not the work of CDC scientists and was published on the agency’s website despite their firm objections, according to multiple people familiar with the internal matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times. The guidance stated that those who had been exposed to Covid-19 but who showed no symptoms were not required to be tested, advice that received widespread disagreement — however, officials have confirmed that the guidance was actually written by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the task force who “dropped” the guidance into the CDC’s public website. The New York Times reporting.
A three-week full lockdown in Israel will come into force today in an effort to contain the virus which is spreading rapidly throughout the country. The order requires people to stay within one kilometer of their homes, except for when food shopping or buying medicine, going to work, or attending protests. BBC News reporting.
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.
China flew 18 war planes over the Taiwan Strait yesterday as US official Keith Krach, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, visited the self-governed island, the latest move by China to step up pressure on Taiwan through its unusually large military drills and aircraft incursions and to pressure foreign supporters of the island China claims. AP reporting.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said yesterday that an additional five countries are seriously considering normalizing ties with Israel following signed accords by the UAE and Bahrain. Meadows would not identify the nations but did say three were in the region. Reuters reporting.
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