Early Edition: December 23, 2021 | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #education | #technology | #infosec

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

JAN. 6 ATTACK

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has requested a meeting and information from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a close ally of former President Trump. In a letter to Jordan seeking his voluntary cooperation with the investigation, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the committee, wrote that the committee understood that Jordan had at least one and possibly multiple communications with Trump on Jan. 6. Lindsay Wise reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Jan. 6 select committee also wants to question Jordan about conversations he had on Jan. 5 or 6 with “those in the Willard War Room, the Trump legal team, White House personnel or others involved in organizing or planning the actions and strategies for Jan. 6,” Thompson said. In his letter to Jordan, Thompson also noted that Jordan has previously said that he has “nothing to hide” from the committee. POLITICO reports.

A member of the Proud Boys has pleaded guilty to obstructing Congress and conspiring to obstruct law enforcement during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The plea is significant because the New York man has admitted to coordinating with other New York-based Proud Boys members at the front of the mob at the Capitol, though there is no evidence that the man actually entered the Capitol building. The man “is the first self-admitted member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty in a felony conspiracy case stemming from the riot and agree to cooperate with law enforcement. He is set to be sentenced March 10,” Rachel Weiner reports for the Washington Post.

Michael Flynn has lost his bid in court to block a Jan. 6 select committee subpoena compelling him to testify and to produce documents, including his phone records. A day after Flynn’s lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order against the select committee was filed, “District Judge Mary Scriven in Tampa said in [her] decision that Flynn did not meet the procedural requirements to make the case for emergency intervention, and that he could refile his request in the future or allow his requests to play out on a longer schedule in court,” Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.

Four people who staffed the pro-Trump rally at the Ellipse that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are suing to block House investigators from obtaining their phone records. In the lawsuit the four individuals revealed that they have already turned over thousands of documents to the Jan. 6 select committee and have sat for a total of 15 hours of interviews. The lawsuit, the ninth known legal challenge to the committee’s inquiry and filed in a federal court in New Jersey, argues that the committee’s subpoena to Verizon for phone records is too broad and challenges the committee’s legitimacy. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.

Just Security has recently published a piece by Conor Shaw on ‘The Path to Real Accountability: The Timetable and Track Record of the Jan. 6 Select Committee’.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The FBI deployed extensive surveillance teams inside protests in Portland, raising internal concerns within the FBI and the Justice Department about the tactics, according to current and former federal officials, and documents obtained by The New York Times. Mike Baker, Sergio Olmos and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.

President Biden has signed into law a bill to make it easier for the U.S. Capitol Police to request emergency assistance from the National Guard. “The Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act of 2021 allows the Capitol Police chief to request assistance from the D.C. National Guard or federal law enforcement agencies in emergencies without prior approval of the Capitol Police Board,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) was carjacked at gunpoint in her Philadelphia district yesterday. Delaware State Police took five suspects into custody late yesterday night after they were found inside Scanlon’s vehicle. Scanlon was not injured in the attack, a spokesperson said. Mariana Alfaro and Annabelle Timsit report for the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

The Treasury Department has issued new licenses to loosen sanctions restricting aid to Afghanistan, following a wave of appeals to prevent the impending humanitarian crisis and economic collapse in the country. “The licenses expand the definition of allowed humanitarian assistance to education, including salary payments to teachers, and permit a broader use of U.S. funds received by aid organizations working inside the country,” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.

Two of the Treasury Department licenses create a formal exemption for U.S. officials and certain international organizations, such as the U.N., who are engaged in permitted official business with the Taliban. A third license gives non-governmental organizations protection from U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and the Haqqani Network for work on certain activities, including humanitarian projects. Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay report for Reuters.

A suicide bomber has been killed while trying to enter a passport office in Kabul, a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry has said. Several people were injured in the blast, according to unconfirmed reports. “Large crowds of Afghans have been thronging outside the passport office in a bid to get travel documents in recent days after the service was restarted after weeks of suspension. Officials said that Thursdays are reserved as a special day for Taliban officials to visit the passport office to make travel documents,” Reuters reports.

The Taliban has halted all flights for Afghan evacuees in the past two weeks due to disputes concerning how the Kabul airport is run and who is allowed on the evacuation flights. The Taliban wants to use some of the seats in the U.S.-chartered Qatar Airways flights for migrant workers transiting between Kabul and Doha, as well as Taliban fighters and sympathizers who want to travel abroad. When the Qatari government declined to continue providing seats for the Taliban’s use, the Taliban stopped the flights. Courtney Kube, Dan De Luce and Josh Lederman report for NBC News.

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley yesterday spoke by telephone with Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, amid heightened tensions over Moscow’s military presence at its border with Ukraine. The call was “a continuation of communication between both leaders to ensure risk reduction and operation de-confliction,” according to a readout of the call. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

Dutch prosecutors have demanded life sentences for three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with murder for their involvement in the shooting down of a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014. Prosecutors “said the defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at Malaysia Airlines flight MH17,” Stephanie van den Berg reports for Reuters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to outline why the Kremlin considers Kyiv’s move towards the West as an urgent security threat during his annual marathon news conference today. During the news conference, Putin is expected to address the sweeping security demands Russia issued to the United States and NATO last week, and the conference “marks an opportunity for Putin to convince skeptical citizens that the situation on the border may require military action,” Isabelle Khurshudyan and Mary Ilyushina report for the Washington Post.

The U.S. has marshalled support from European allies for significant sanctions against Moscow, should Russia proceed with a new invasion of Ukraine. “But, the strategy of relying heavily on the sanctions threat to shape Russian behavior faces challenges and limitations. Political divides on the issue persist among European allies, while dependence on Russian energy in Europe all but precludes targeting Russian oil and gas exports directly, which potentially would hurt Putin most,” Paul Sonne, Ellen Nakashima and Michael Birnbaum report for the Washington Post.

Negotiations between Russia, the U.S., and NATO will begin in January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said. Reuters reports.

Russia has sent the U.S. proposed dates for talks on the security guarantees sought by Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said, according to the state-owned RIA news agency. Reuters reports.

Russian paratroopers will hold drills near the Ukrainian border this week, Interfax news agency has quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying. “Interfax quoted the ministry as saying that the troops would simulate capturing an area as part of an offensive operation,” Reuters reports.

CHINA, HONG KONG

The Pillar of Shame, a famous statue at the University of Hong Kong commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, has been removed. The statue was one of the few remaining public memorials in Hong Kong commemorating the incident where pro-democracy protesters were killed by Chinese authorities. The university said in a statement today that “the decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university.” BBC News reports.

China has defended its education exchange programs after a Harvard University professor was convicted earlier this week of lying to U.S. federal authorities and Harvard about his affiliation with China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian declined to comment specifically on Charles Lieber’s case but reiterated China’s objection to the “repression of scientists and damage to normal China-U.S. scientific and technological exchange.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.

Senior South Korean diplomats are to hold talks today with Chinese counterparts, the first such meeting since June 2017. The talks are expected to include discussions of ways to reopen stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea and other bilateral, regional and global issues, Seoul officials said. The talks come amid a diplomatic spat between South Korea and Taiwan over Taiwan’s cancellation of the attendance of a senior Taipei official at a business forum in Seoul last week. Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.

U.S. computer chip maker Intel is facing a backlash from China after telling its suppliers not to source products or labor from the Chinese region of Xinjiang in accordance with restrictions imposed by “multiple governments.” China has been accused of widespread human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, including forced labor. Intel has been criticized by multiple high profile users of China’s Weibo microblog service. Reuters reports.

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

The State Department is barring two former Maltese government officials and their families from entering the country because they engaged in “corrupt acts” for personal benefit. The State Department said in its statement that the two former officials were bribed to award a government contract to a company for the construction of a power plant. Brad Dress reports for The Hill.

A U.S. man allegedly working as a diplomat for the U.S. consulate in Lebanon has been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of selling a fake passport for $10,000 to a Syrian national. According to Turkey’s state news agency, the American man and the Syrian national were arrested after the latter allegedly tried to travel to Germany from Istanbul International Airport using the passport. A spokesperson for the State Department has denied the claim that the American man is a U.S. diplomat. Sarakshi Rai reports for The Hill.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as the U.S. and Israel sought to present a more united front on Iran’s nuclear program. Following the meeting, Israeli officials said that Israel has received reassurances that the U.S. was ready to pursue a tougher stance with Iran if the current talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal fail. Though Sullivan also made it clear that the Biden administration still prefers to reach a reasonable deal with Iran if possible. Dion Nissenbaum and Dov Lieber report for the Wall Street Journal.

CYBERSECURITY

The Five Eyes intelligence alliance–which includes the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada–has warned that hackers are “actively exploiting” the recently uncovered vulnerability in Apache logging library log4j. “These vulnerabilities, especially Log4Shell, are severe,” the alliance warned in the joint alert, adding that the “vulnerabilities are likely to be exploited over an extended period.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Vice President Harris is calling for a “cyber doctrine” and greater international coordination to prevent cyberattacks. As part of an upcoming interview with CBS, Harris stressed the need to work towards enhancing international cybersecurity efforts, noting the importance of the “role and the responsibility that we have to work with our partners and allies around international norms and rules.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

Military-grade Pegasus spyware from Israeli spyware firm NSO Group was used to hack the phone of an opposition lawyer and a prosecutor in Poland.  According to the Citizen Lab Internet watchdog, the Pegasus software was used to hack the phone of Roman Giertych, a high-profile lawyer representing two Polish opposition figures, during the final weeks of a pivotal 2019 parliamentary election. Two years later, Ewa Wrzosek, a prosecutor who was challenging attempts by populist right-wing government to purge the judiciary, also had her phone hacked. “Citizen Lab could not say who ordered the hacks and NSO does not identify its clients…But both victims believe Poland’s increasingly illiberal government is responsible,” Frank Bajak and Vanessa Gera report for AP.

The revelations about the use of Pegasus spyware in Poland has rocked Brussels and Warsaw this week, adding fuel to the ongoing dispute between the E.U. and Poland over the rule of law. European lawmakers are urging the E.U. to investigate the incident and protect the victims, while the Polish government denied that it targeted the two individuals. Lauren Cerulus reports for POLITICO

CORONAVIRUS

The Air Force has denied 2,130 requests for religious exemptions to the Pentagon’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate and has not yet approved any requests, the Air Force has announced. More than 8,630 individuals are still waiting for the Air Force’s decision on their requests. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

The Supreme Court is to hold a special sitting on Jan. 7, 2022, to hear oral arguments on whether President Biden’s administration can enforce Covid-19 vaccine-or-testing rules for large private employers, as well as vaccine requirements for many healthcare workers. Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin report for the Wall Street Journal.

Data from the U.K. has suggested that the risk of overnight hospitalization from the Covid-19 Omicron variant is 40% lower than the Delta variant. Researchers also found that those that test positive with Omicron are 25% less likely to attend hospital at all, though the reduction is only 11% for those who have neither been previously infected with Covid-19 nor vaccinated. However, as daily Covid-19 cases continue to increase exponentially, U.K. experts have warned that the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant means that the health service is still at risk of being overwhelmed. Ian Sample and Heather Stewart report for the Guardian.

Covid-19 has infected over 51.54 million people and has now killed over 812,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 277.18 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.37 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

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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