Fdd's overnight brief

April 6, 2020

In The News


Iran’s president said on Sunday “low-risk” economic activities would resume from April 11 in the Middle Eastern country worst-affected by the new coronavirus. – Reuters

A United Nations rights official on Friday voiced concern over prisoners after reports of unrest in facilities prompted by worries over a coronavirus outbreak in countries including Iran, one of the worst-hit in the world. – Reuters

A senior Iranian health official said the greater Tehran area may face a coronavirus resurgence after many residents flouted advisories to stay home, crowding streets and causing traffic jams across the city as the country’s New Year holidays ended on Saturday. – Reuters

As the Iranian regime staggers under the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc in the country, its propaganda outlets are touting the efforts of the various terror entities under its control to halt the spread of the disease. – Algemeiner

The spokesman of Iran’s health ministry has said that figures the coronavirus infections and deaths published by China’s government was a “bitter joke”. – Radio Farda

Family members in Canada who have criticized Iran’s government after losing their loved ones in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 say they’re being targeted with threats and intimidation — and they blame Tehran. – CBC News

Fifty Iranian economists have warned President Hassan Rouhani that the consequences of the coronavirus epidemic can lead to unrest in low-income areas around big cities later this year. – Radio Farda

Police officers in Iran on Thursday raided a party in a town near the capital and arrested more than a hundred participants on charges of holding a mixed-gender party. – Radio Farda

Iranian MP Hassan Norouzi told media in the country that the Iranian military did “well” by downing a civilian Ukrainian airliner in January during an Iranian missile attack on the Ain Al-Asad base in Iraq, according to Al Arabiya. – Jerusalem Post

Shaya Lerner and David Andrew Weinberg write: The Iranian people have unfortunately been hit hard by COVID-19, and we can expect the regime to continue blaming Jews, Israel, and America as the current public health crisis transpires. With COVID-19 continuing its deadly spread across the globe, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will keep exposing this kind of hateful and antisemitic scapegoating wherever it occurs. – Iran Wire


Lebanon’s Hizbollah has vowed to do “battle” against coronavirus, as the paramilitary and political group seeks to burnish its legitimacy by helping the country’s battered economy. – Financial Times

Unknown gunmen fatally shot and stabbed a member of the militant Hezbollah group in southern Lebanon and an investigation was launched, Lebanese security officials said Sunday. – Associated Press

After a Hezbollah commander in charge of pursuing spies and collaborators was found killed in southern Lebanon over the weekend, Lebanese and Iranian media began reporting that the Mossad “and its mercenaries” were suspects in the assassination. – Jerusalem Post


Ilan I. Berman writes: Russia, meanwhile, has continued to back the Assad regime in its efforts to eliminate opposition enclaves[…]. At the same time, Moscow has used its veto power at the United Nations to block any resolute multilateral action that might reign in Damascus and blunt its local aggression. The consequences leave Syria without a clear path forward in the face of the looming pandemic. The result is likely to be a dramatic expansion of the country’s already-severe humanitarian crisis – one that the region, and the world, will be forced to step in and manage. – Al-Hurra Digital

David W. Lesch and Kamal Alam write: The United States holds the key—the economic key. Now that America’s main Arab allies are more supportive of Assad, perhaps U.S. policy can change as well. This might also create some U.S. leverage vis-à-vis Turkey with regard to reconciling Ankara and Damascus, which may be the key to finally ending the final phases of the war in Idlib and elsewhere in the north of Syria. – The National Interest 

Anchal Vohra writes: For now, Iran is buying itself time in Syria, so that it can find someone to fulfill the role once played by Suleimani, moving around the region to coordinate and use Iran’s growing regional power. Iran expects that in time another leader will emerge. And even as economic sanctions and the coronavirus take their toll in the meantime, Iran has shown Syrians and Americans alike that its plans to acquire power in the region remain unchanged. – Foreign Policy


Turkey said on Sunday it would minimise its troop movements in operation zones in neighbouring Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as the Turkish death toll and infections in the country rose. – Reuters

A member of a popular folk music group that is banned in Turkey has died on the 288th day of a hunger strike. The singer and a colleague had started the strike while imprisoned to protest at the government’s treatment of their band, according to a post on the group’s Twitter account. […] The government accuses Grup Yorum of links to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C. The militant group is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. – The Guardian

Isaac Chotiner writes: Opposition politicians have called for harsher measures against the coronavirus, including the types of lockdowns that have gone into effect around the world, but they have been increasingly besieged and marginalized in recent years, as Erdoğan has extended his power and thrown his rivals in prison. […]During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how Erdoğan’s privatization of the medical system affected coronavirus preparation, how the Syrian refugee crisis has changed Turkish society, and the dangers of an outbreak in Turkey’s prisons. – New Yorker


The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) published a new report on Thursday detailing a surge of antisemitism tied to the global coronavirus crisis. – Algemeiner

Israel detained the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem on Sunday over “illegal” activities, at least the seventh time Adnan Ghaith has been arrested in less than 18 months. – Times of Israel

On March 31, 2020, Salafi-jihadi ideologue Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi shared a post on his Al-Tawhid Awalan channel on Telegram stating: “There is nothing wrong with a Muslim praying for the deaths of infidels and wishing that they contract coronavirus or any similar fatal disease.”[1] The post included an image from a news report on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-quarantine after one of his top aides was diagnosed with coronavirus. – Middle East Media Research Institute


At least three rockets hit near the site of an American oil field service company in southern Iraq early on Monday, Iraq’s military said, the first such attack in recent months to target U.S. energy interests in Iraq. – Associated Press

Brigadier General Esmail Qa’ani (Ghaani) visited Iraq this week for the first time since his appointment as the commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force and was secretly welcomed at Baghdad Airport under tight security measures. – Radio Farda

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry received a letter from the US State Department suggesting that the two countries renegotiate the Strategic Framework Agreement concerning bilateral economic, trade, cultural and security relations, announced Iraqi FM Mohamed Ali Alhakim on his Twitter account on Sunday night. – Jerusalem Post

Biner Aziz writes: For Kurds, the virus has demonstrated that good governance goes a long way towards tackling even the most potentially overwhelming threat. And for the rest of the world, the willingness of the public to abide by its government’s efforts before catastrophe strikes, even when those efforts are significantly disruptive to daily life, demonstrates the value of this symbiotic relationship between governmental transparency and public trust. – Washington Institute

Katherine Lawlor and Brandon Wallace write: Iran advanced multiple lines of effort in Iraq to compel the U.S. withdrawal from the country. Iran successfully organized political opposition from the most powerful Iraqi Shi’a blocs to deny parliamentary backers to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi. Zurfi, who enjoyed tacit U.S. and international support, is now unlikely to win a vote of confidence[…]. The Patriot deployment is necessary force protection for Coalition forces but signals that the Iraqi government will not take meaningful action to hold proxy militias accountable for killing U.S. and Coalition personnel. – Institute for the Study of War

Arabian Peninsula

A global coalition of oil-producing nations has postponed an emergency summit planned for Monday as hopes of an unprecedented production pact among the world’s three biggest crude producers faded. […]the virtual meeting has now been delayed after Saudi Arabia and Russia swapped barbs and the U.S. failed to outline production cuts of its own. – Wall Street Journal

Yemen’s warring factions have accused each other of attacking an oil pipeline pumping station in the central province of Marib, where clashes have raged for weeks and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. – Reuters

OPEC and Russia have postponed a Monday meeting to discuss oil output cuts until April 9, OPEC sources said on Saturday, as a dispute between Moscow and Saudi Arabia over who is to blame for plunging crude prices intensified. – Reuters

US and Canadian officials are discussing the imposition of tariffs on Saudi Arabian and Russian oil imports if the two members of the Opec+ group do not quickly reach a deal to end their price war. – Financial Times 

Julian Lee writes: Finally, Saudi Arabia should make clear that this is a short-term solution crafted for an extraordinary situation. It must avoid the temptation of tying any deal into a long-term supply management initiative. Anything that whiffs of an OPEC+ extension won’t fly with the U.S. or others. This is not OPEC++. It has to be a time-limited, one-off solution to the extreme situation the global oil industry is facing as a result of the world locking down to fight the Covid-19 virus. – Bloomberg 

Karen Young writes: The economies of the GCC states will experience major changes from the twin COVID-19 and oil crises, as will the global economy. The societies of the GCC states, however, may be the most changed in terms of their demographic composition and reliance on foreign labor. This could be a moment for recalibration of reliance on foreign workers. It could also be a moment in which standards of living are drastically downshifted as a vibrant consumer base is weakened by expatriate exits. – Al-Monitor 

Middle East & North Africa

German media reported that the Federal Security Council approved the delivery of another submarine, the S43, to the Egyptian navy and that it was already seen in Kiel after it was taken to sea to ensure it is in top shape. – Jerusalem Post 

An eastern Libyan military plane was hit on Sunday by forces allied to the internationally recognised government near the capital Tripoli, both sides said. – Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in overcrowded and rundown camps in Lebanon are bracing for the novel coronavirus as aid groups mobilise to help. – Agence France-Presse 

Frederic Wehrey writes: What makes this shock to the Middle East different and more severe is that the usual fire-brigades — a bailout by the Gulf states, international organizations or great powers — may not arrive as they have before. […]The Arab world’s leaders are on their own, and if the past is any guide, that is not ground for widespread hope. Seismic changes can have small beginnings, especially in a region hobbled by economic stagnation, political sclerosis, proxy wars and an unfounded confidence in the endurance of the status quo. – New York Times 

Michael Horowitz and Nick Grinstead write: The recent escalation in attacks against coalition forces in Iraq which resulted in the killing of two U.S. and UK soldiers in the Taji military base is one example of what could become a trend: namely, the growing need for countries weakened by the outbreak to project strength. […]All of these factors suggest the coronavirus pandemic will turn into a defining moment for the region, not simply because of its magnitude, but because it came at a time when most countries were experiencing their own political crises—and failed to build any immunity to the one that suddenly knocked at their doors. – The Daily Beast

Korean Peninsula

When people think about North Korean art, they tend to visualize striking propaganda paintings of heroic soldiers and workers, screaming defiance at the United States and often framed by missiles. But a recent exhibition of works by three North Korean defectors offered a very different view of their nation — and of their identities as artists and people, straddling the cultures of their divided Korean Peninsula. – Washington Post

The provincial government of Jeju Island, South Korea, is suing two women who visited the island on vacation despite the younger one having symptoms of coronavirus. The pair have been identified as a mother, age 52, and her 19-year-old daughter, who had recently returned to her native South Korea from studying abroad in Boston. – CNN

Editorial: Someday, when the people of North Korea are finally freed of the monsters who rule them, maybe the world will be able to distinguish the coronavirus mass graves from all the other evidence of routine atrocities. – New York Post


A large group of prominent American foreign-policy experts, including former high-ranking White House officials from both parties, is calling on the Trump administration to work more closely with China to stem the coronavirus epidemic. – Wall Street Journal

Since Chinese officials disclosed the outbreak of a mysterious pneumonialike illness to international health officials on New Year’s Eve, at least 430,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after President Trump imposed restrictions on such travel, according to an analysis of data collected in both countries. – New York Times

The Trump administration is seizing the opportunity of the coronavirus pandemic to push a cause that has long been an irritant in U.S. relations with China: Taiwan. The virus has added yet another dimension to U.S.-China tensions that were already wracked by a trade war and heated discussions over intellectual property, human rights and Chinese policies in Hong Kong and the South China Sea. – Associated Press

China’s largest state-owned mobile carrier has turned almost entirely to homegrown telecoms vendors Huawei and ZTE to build out its next-generation 5G mobile network, which is expected to facilitate everything from instant film downloads to self-driving cars. – Financial Times

Amber Athey writes: China has tried to restore its image after lying to the world about the seriousness of its coronavirus outbreak, but its attempts at humanitarianism have turned out to be as slippery as its wet markets. […]China taking advantage of Italy’s generosity is just the latest example of its disastrous diplomacy in the wake of the pandemic.  – Spectator 

Leading US manufacturers of medical safety gear told the White House that China prohibited them from exporting their products from the country as the coronavirus pandemic mounted — even as Beijing was trying to “corner the world market” in personal protective equipment, The Post has learned. Now, the Trump administration is weighing legal action against China over its alleged actions, a lawyer for President Trump said Sunday. – New York Post 

An online petition calling for the resignation of World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has gained traction lately, garnering over 718,000 signatures, claiming that the United Nations health official and the organizational efforts towards the coronavirus outbreak were unacceptable. […]The main point of contention was the failure of Tedros to designate the coronavirus outbreak in China as a global health emergency in late January. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Congress should investigate how WHO performed against the coronavirus and whether its judgments were corrupted by China’s political influence. Of all international institutions, WHO should be the least political. Its core mission is to coordinate international efforts against epidemics and provide honest public-health guidance. If WHO is merely a politicized Maginot Line against pandemics, then it is worse than useless and should receive no more U.S. funding. And if foreign-policy elites want to know why so many Americans mistrust international institutions, WHO is it. – Wall Street Journal

Cui Tiankai writes: As the two biggest economies in the world, China and the United States need to lead international efforts in collaborative research into treatments and vaccines, and explore the sharing of pharmaceutical technologies among nations. We need to help countries with underdeveloped medical systems and contribute to better global health governance. – New York Times 

Minxin Pei writes: The events of the past few months have shown that CCP rule is far more brittle than many believed. This bolsters the case for a U.S. strategy of sustained pressure to induce political change. Washington should stay the course; its chances of success are only getting better and better. – Foreign Affairs

Anthony Vinci and Nadia Schadlow write: Power and geostrategic influence depends as much on speed and agility as on any weapons system. COVID-19 has shown us and the world America’s manufacturing weakness. Agile manufacturing is one way to become stronger. In the long competition with China, it could mean the difference between winning and losing. – Washington Examiner

Riley Walters writes: Some in Washington would like to see a further decline in trade, but that is unlikely. Americans will continue to benefit by trading hundreds of billions worth of goods every month—including with China. But decreasing imports and exports suggests troubling economic times ahead. – The Daily Signal

Mike Gonzalez writes: Aylward’s performance revealed the great degree to which China controls the World Health Organization, even to the point that one of its top officials will kowtow to Beijing rather than take up such a topic. Aylward and other WHO leaders cannot even find a way to answer an honest question. Whether China ordered Yau to act in this manner or the Hong Kong government acted on its own, we don’t know. But clearly things have gotten to the point that censorship, whether ordered by Beijing or self-imposed, is now a cloud over Hong Kong. – The Daily Signal

Bruno Macaes writes: Forget about “mask diplomacy.” It is no more than a distraction. There are other ways for China to use the coronavirus pandemic to upturn the existing global order. I see three main levers. […]To put it more bluntly: There was always an argument that the existing world order cannot change because only a momentous war has done that in the past and world wars have become impossible. But in pandemics — and soon in climate change — we may have found two functional equivalents of war. – National Review


A planned $1 billion cut in U.S. aid to Afghanistan would come from funds for Afghan security forces, according to three U.S. sources, a step experts said would undercut both Kabul’s ability to fight the Taliban and its leverage to negotiate a peace deal with them. – Reuters

The Taliban said their peace deal with the United States was nearing a breaking point, accusing Washington of violations that included drone attacks on civilians, while also chastising the Afghan government for delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners promised in the agreement. – Associated Press

The massive influx of returnees, who are going back untested and unmonitored to cities, towns and villages around the country, threatens to create a greater outbreak in Afghanistan that could overwhelm its health infrastructure wrecked by decades of war. So far, Afghan authorities have confirmed 273 cases of the new coronavirus, more than 210 of them in people who returned from Iran. Four deaths have been recorded. – Associated Press

On April 4, 2020, the Afghan Taliban’s Manba’ Al-Jihad published to is Rocketchat channel a 2:30-minute video titled “I Am a Mujahid 14.” The video features a fighter named Khalid, who speaks in Persian with English subtitles. Khalid explains that he is waging Jihad in order to establish shari’a law and expel foreign invaders such as U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. – Middle East Media Research Institute


United States military officials have outlined a spending request to bolster deterrence against China after the coronavirus pandemic ebbs, a sign of how national security leaders are already studying ways to shore up the country’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region once the outbreak ends. – New York Times

Pakistani authorities issued an emergency order to prevent the release of prisoners who had their convictions for kidnapping and killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl overturned by an appeals court earlier this week. – Wall Street Journal

China rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and detained the crew, according to Vietnamese officials. – Washington Examiner  

Michael Rubin writes: Ceasing “endless wars” might be the slogan of the day, but how wars end matter. Progressives and liberals say that diplomacy should be the strategy of first resort. They are right. But when the United States loses credibility on the battlefield and adversaries concluded that Washington neither has the will nor the way, they will run roughshod over American interests. Pakistan’s release of Pearl’s killer is only the beginning. – The National Interest

Patrick Gerard Buchan and Benjamin Rimland write: This reality puts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his HNS team in a bind. As if the Covid-19 pandemic and the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were not enough, Japan must also contend with a Washington seeking higher demands of its allies and a major weapons procurement program in its infancy—with both the U.S government and U.S industry keen for a larger slice of the pie. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russia under President Vladimir Putin appears to be less willing to embrace the kind of sweeping state-run tracking favored by other authoritarian nations amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps mindful of provoking public anger and worry that the monitoring could become a permanent fact of life. – Washington Post

The Trump administration is expected to announce on Monday that it is designating an ultranationalist group based in Russia as a terrorist organization, according to officials. It is the first time the government will apply the label to a white supremacist group. – New York Times

On April 2, 2020, a Russian military cargo plane landed in New York carrying ventilators and protective gear to help in the fight against the coronavirus. The shipment was the result of a March 30, 2020, conversation between US president Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin[…]. The terms of the delivery turned into a slightly embarrassing topic when the State Department spokesperson revealed that the cargo was not a gift but a purchase, contrary to the previous impression created by pro-regime spokespersons in Russia. – Middle East Media Research Institute

John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal, and Kristin M. Bakke write: But the perceptions of the bulk of the peninsula’s residents don’t get the same attention in the West as do the reports of dissidents. Our surveys in 2014 and again in 2019 show that Crimeans were and remain mostly in favor of the Russian annexation. That popular sentiment complicates the West’s prevailing view of the seizure of Crimea as an aggressive land grab. – Foreign Affairs

Mason Clark, Aleksei Zimnitca, and Nataliya Bugayova write: The Kremlin is exploiting calls by the United Nations for limited sanctions waivers to combat COVID-19, to advance the Kremlin’s longstanding objective of removing international sanctions on Russia and its partners. The Kremlin has launched an information campaign on this issue and is leveraging its sanctioned allies around the world, alongside networks of Russia-amenable actors in Europe, to amplify the Kremlin’s message. The Kremlin is trying to position itself for a win-win scenario – either advancing its goal of sanctions relief or framing the US as inhumane for maintaining sanctions during a global pandemic. – Institute for the Study of War

Julia Davis writes: What the Russians want their people to believe is that they have a handle on the pandemic, and they’re going to emerge as the great victors when the COVID-19 crisis eventually subsides. Thus they portray America’s failure to contain the disease as the collapse of the entire democratic system of government. […]“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes,” warns a Latin phrase from Virgil’s Aeneid, referring to the hollow horse that defeated Troy’s defenses. It has been paraphrased in English as the proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” The same could be said about accepting aid from the Kremlin. – The Daily Beast 


Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, smarting from its worst election result in decades, chose London-born lawyer Keir Starmer as its new leader, a choice that is expected to move the party toward the center after years of pursuing a staunch left-wing agenda. – Wall Street Journal

European Union governments have pushed the bloc’s stringent data privacy rules to their limits by tapping the biggest telecom and tech companies for data to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. – Bloomberg 

German officials have accused the US of “modern piracy” after a consignment of masks on its way to the Berlin police was intercepted in Thailand and diverted to the US. – Financial Times 

Europe needs debt mutualisation and a common “Marshall Plan” to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, even as Germany dismissed calls for the debt-pooling idea. – Reuters 

The European Commission has approved a series of multi-billion-euro state support packages for Greece, Poland and Portugal to help soften the economic impact of the coronavirus through grants and loan guarantees. – Reuters

While the interruptions may seem to many like trivial inconveniences for a well-heeled jet set, they may have significant implications for matters of war and peace, arms control and human rights. […]As the global crisis threatens to alter the world balance of power, NATO’s top diplomats abandoned plans to meet in person this past week, the European Union has scaled back its schedule, a major international conference on climate change in Scotland was called off, and many lower-level U.N. gatherings have been scrapped entirely. – Associated Press

Editorial: That deal was supposed to advance the warmer economic ties with China that were a central plank of Mr. Johnson’s post-Brexit trade agenda. Beijing’s dangerous virus cover-up could scupper those plans by forcing British leaders to question whether an authoritarian China is a trustworthy economic partner. – Wall Street Journal

Zoltan Simon, Ian Wishart, and Arne Delfs write: Hungary’s actions should bear “financial consequences” in the budget talks because it was “unacceptable” for member states to exploit the crisis to reduce civil liberties, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on April 3 after a video conference of EU foreign ministers. For now, though, few in the EU are willing to call Orban out publicly. – Bloomberg 


A valley dam that authorities in Rwanda say could contain about 30,000 bodies has been discovered more than a quarter-century after the country’s genocide in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed. – Associated Press

Four soldiers and 63 jihadists have been killed in fighting between Niger’s army and heavily armed extremists in the nation’s west, the government said Friday. – Associated Press  

A gun attack in a mining area in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has killed three Chinese nationals, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday, citing the Chinese embassy in the mineral-rich central African country. – Reuters 

North America

The U.S. this week invoked a Korean War-era law and ordered 3M Co. to halt exports of its protective masks to Canada and Latin America and prioritize sales to the federal government. Meanwhile, German officials said a shipment of face masks ordered from a U.S. manufacturer and destined for Germany was seized at Bangkok airport and diverted to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

The controversy is arising amid pressure on Canadian officials to rein in or halt the cross-border trips of medical personnel to the U.S. as the epidemic spreads in Michigan. – Wall Street Journal

At California State University, San Bernardino, in the fall, Mr. Schoep, who led America’s largest neo-Nazi organization for two and a half decades, shared that he had only recently renounced his racist views. The event was his first public appearance in the United States since making the announcement, and some members of the audience were skeptical. – New York Times

The Trump administration’s moves to restrict the export of critical medical supplies are pushing Canada to turn to China. – Politico

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would not retaliate for U.S. President Donald Trump blocking 3M Co’s (MMM.N) exports of N95 respirator masks that protect doctors and nurses from the spread of coronavirus. – Reuters

Henry A. Kissinger writes: The world’s democracies need to defend and sustain their Enlightenment values. A global retreat from balancing power with legitimacy will cause the social contract to disintegrate both domestically and internationally. Yet this millennial issue of legitimacy and power cannot be settled simultaneously with the effort to overcome the Covid-19 plague. Restraint is necessary on all sides—in both domestic politics and international diplomacy. Priorities must be established. – Wall Street Journal

Latin America

For two years the Trump administration has been trying to stamp out one of Cuba’s signature programs __ state-employed medical workers treating patients around the globe in a show of soft power that also earns billions in badly needed hard currency. […]The coronavirus pandemic has brought a reversal of fortune for Cuban medical diplomacy – Associated Press

President Donald Trump is stepping up his campaign to oust Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro with the coronavirus pandemic and plunging oil prices threatening to worsen a humanitarian disaster years in the making. – Bloomberg

Guatemala has asked the United States to limit its deportations of immigrants to the Central American country to 25 persons per plane because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, Health Minister Hugo Monroy said on Sunday. – Reuters

The European Union on Friday welcomed a US plan for a transitional government in Venezuela and subsequent lifting of economic sanctions. – Agence France-Presse

Within days the government of Venezuela was claiming it was proof of a foiled plot to “liberate” the country from its socialist rule, with echoes of past failed efforts to overthrow Latin American regimes. The details of the alleged plot are murky. Officials in Washington deny it even existed. But it comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Venezuela, as the Trump administration steps up efforts to force President Nicolás Maduro to relinquish power. – Financial Times

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: The Maduro regime is broke—not counting drug-trafficking profits—but it continues to ship diesel to Cuba and maintains a tradition of retailing gasoline for pennies. Now a nation accustomed to cheap, plentiful fuel is paralyzed. […]Another option for Mr. Maduro would be to deport his Cuban bodyguards and spies, to step aside and allow for elections. If he refuses, he may kill more people than any virus. – Wall Street Journal

Margarita R. Seminario and Arianna Kohan write: With the release of the U.S. Department of State’s Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela earlier this week, the international pressure on the Maduro regime to step down increased. In an eventual negotiating process that may follow, it would be crucial for all parties involved to include women—front and center—to ensure sustainability of the agreement and social and economic equality. […]As plans are designed for Venezuela’s eventual return to democracy, it is crucial for all parties involved in the transition process to include women in the negotiating process.  – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Western governments aiming to relax restrictions on movement are turning to unprecedented surveillance to track people infected with the new coronavirus and identify those with whom they have been in contact. – Wall Street Journal

Thousands of personal Zoom videos have been left viewable on the open Web, highlighting the privacy risks to millions of Americans as they shift many of their personal interactions to video calls in an age of social distancing. – Washington Post

Government bodies in the U.S. and Europe have spent years debating or advancing tighter safeguards on the handling of people’s personal data, driven by revelations of abuses by intelligence agencies and big tech companies. But now privacy concerns on both sides of the Atlantic are at risk amid the urgent fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, it’s with at least grudging acceptance from privacy advocates. – Politico

Zoom, the videoconferencing app that has recorded an explosion in growth during the coronavirus pandemic, has said it will deploy all of its engineering resources to tackle data privacy concerns after coming under fire for lax practices, as European and US regulators begin to circle. – Financial Times

William Crumpler writes: In China, concerns around computing power are a major factor driving the government’s recent focus on AI chips and high-performance computing, and in Europe, policymakers recently released a Data Strategy outlining the bloc’s plans to leverage data and cloud computing resources to promote Europe’s global competitiveness. Policymakers in the United States must come to understand that compute will become as important a factor as talent or data in preserving national competitiveness in AI, and ensure that America’s advantages in cloud services are able to be leveraged by the university labs that our AI future depends on. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Over a chaotic three weeks, commanders and Navy brass debated how to handle the outbreak as stricken sailors were airlifted to shore, with the carrier ultimately diverted to port in Guam. President Trump said Saturday that he supported a Navy decision to fire the Roosevelt’s commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, after acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said he went outside the chain of command by demanding more help in a memo that received wide news coverage. – Wall Street Journal

The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are now in the Persian Gulf as USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) crossed the Suez Canal and is now operating in the Mediterranean Sea after spending several weeks in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Navy officials told USNI News on Friday. – USNI News 

The Pentagon is pushing back on reports that it seeks to classify previously public information about its future spending plans, with the department insisting that the transparency of this information that is public as part of the regular budget rollout process will not change. – Defense News

Democratic senators Friday called on the Pentagon inspector general to investigate the Navy’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its firing of a captain for raising concerns about its slow response to the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. – USA Today

Rich Lowry writes: We are all restrictionists now. In the novel coronavirus crisis, everyone realizes the importance of borders, even the people who not long ago were ideologically hostile toward them. […]The coronavirus has acted as a solvent on a decade or more of clichés about the arrival of a globalized world where old lines drawn on a map no longer matter. In a crisis, everyone turns to borders as a first line of defense. – New York Post

Frederico Bartels writes: The major theme for the 2021 defense budget request is trading increased capacity in the near term for maintaining high levels of readiness in the present and investing in research programs for the future across all the services.  – The Daily Signal

Long War

French prosecutors opened a counterterror probe on Saturday, after a man stabbed two people to death and wounded five others in southeastern France. – Wall Street Journal

A secretive court that oversees national security surveillance ordered the F.B.I. on Friday to conduct a searching review of 29 wiretap applications in terrorism and espionage investigations, after an inspector general uncovered pervasive problems with how the bureau prepared them. – New York Times

French police have arrested three Sudanese nationals in a terror probe after a stabbing spree in the southeast left two people dead, investigators said on Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Steven Stalinsky writes: Jihadist groups are closely following the spread of the new coronavirus. In their publications and on social media their members post analyses, threats and even sanitary guidelines. Counterterrorism officials should monitor these communications for a window into their thinking. – Wall Street Journal

Trump Administration

President Trump is firing the intelligence community inspector general whose insistence on telling lawmakers about a whistle-blower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine triggered impeachment proceedings last fall, the president told lawmakers in a letter late Friday. – New York Times

President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire the top watchdog of the U.S. Intelligence Community, saying Michael Atkinson did “a terrible job” in handling the whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment probe of Trump last year. – Reuters

Michael Atkinson, the outgoing top watchdog of the U.S. Intelligence Community, on Sunday said he was fired by President Donald Trump for acting impartially in his handling of the whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment probe of the president last year. – Reuters