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Early Edition: February 6, 2023

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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.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

More than 1,500 hundred deaths have been reported in Turkey and Syria following a deadly earthquake in the region early this morning. The epicenter of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake was near the city of Gaziantep in south-central Turkey. Search and rescue teams have been dispatched to the areas affected by the earthquake and the death toll is expected to rise. Turkey has sought international assistance for the rescue efforts. Rhea Mogul, Gul Tuysuz, Isil Sariyuce, Kareem El Damanhoury and Rob Picheta report for CNN

Sixteen pro-democracy figures went on trial today in Hong Kong in a landmark case in the city’s crackdown on political dissent. The trial will determine whether the group is guilty of subversion by organizing an unofficial primary election that was held after Beijing imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong in the summer of 2020. The defendants have been denied a trial by jury. Instead, three High Court judges picked by the city’s leader for national security cases are presiding over the hearing.  If convicted, the defendants face up to life imprisonment. Selina Cheng reports for the Wall Street Journal

Israeli military forces killed at least five Palestinians near the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank today. According to the Israeli Army, the killings were the result of a gunfight that began after soldiers sought to arrest gunmen accused of recently attempting an attack at a nearby Israeli settlement. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times

Iran will free or reduce the sentences of tens of thousands of prisoners, including people arrested in the recent demonstrations, several state-controlled news agencies reported. However, the move has offered little hope of freedom to the vast majority of political prisoners. The announcement said it would not apply to anyone convicted on a range of serious charges, which according to rights groups most demonstrators were. Vivian Yee reports for the New York Times. 

Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, who emerged as a key U.S. ally in the wake of the September 11 attacks, has died at 79, according to Pakistan’s military.   Musharraf, a retired general, had been battling a longtime illness in Dubai, where he lived in exile, according to his family. Saeed Shah reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

RUSSIA, UKRAINE

Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov is set to be replaced, Ukraine’s top parliamentarian has said. According to a Telegram post by David Arakhamia, leader of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party in parliament, Maj. Gen Kyrylo Budanov, who is known for having predicted Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, will step into the role. Reznikov, who was appointed defense minister in November 2021, will be named minister of strategic industries to strengthen military-industrial cooperation. Justine McDaniel, Kyle Rempfer and Isabelle Khurshudyan report for the Washington Post

Moscow and Tehran are moving ahead with plans to build a new factory in Russia that could make at least 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine. According to officials from a country aligned with the U.S. a high-level Iranian delegation flew to Russia in early January to visit the planned site for the factory and discuss details to get the project off the ground. The two countries are aiming to build a faster drone that could pose new challenges for Ukrainian air defense, the officials said. Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel report for the Wall Street Journal

Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has said in an interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him he would not try to kill Zelenskyy. This promise was made during a trip to Moscow shortly after Russian invaded Ukraine. According to Bennett, who served briefly as a mediator at the start of the war, his mediation efforts also resulted in Putin dropping his vow to seek Ukraine’s disarmament and Zelenskyy promising not to join NATO. AP reports. 

U.S. RELATIONS – CHINESE SURVEILLANCE BALLOON 

The Chinese government has called the U.S. decision to down a Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over the continental U.S. an “excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention.” The Foreign Ministry said China “retains the right to respond further,” and the National Defense Ministry said it would “use the necessary means to deal with similar circumstances.” American officials said they were watching China carefully for any reactions beyond words — including potential strikes on American assets. Helene Cooper and Edward Wong report for the New York Times

China previously sent high-altitude surveillance balloons over the U.S. that went undetected until after leaving U.S. airspace, Biden administration officials revealed yesterday. At least three of these intrusions occurred during former President Trump’s term in office and one occurred previously under Biden. Vivian Salama and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China has been indefinitely postponed. The decision was made following the discovery and shooting down of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the continental U.S.. The Biden administration said that the situation did not allow for constructive dialogue. Vivian Salama, Michael R. Gordon and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal

A balloon spotted over the skies of Latin America belongs to China and was used for flight tests, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said today. The balloon “seriously deviated” from its planned course and entered the skies over Latin America and the Caribbean “by mistake” due to weather conditions and limited control ability over the craft, Mao said. Selina Wang and Wayne Chang report for CNN

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS 

The U.S. is considering new sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies over sales to Iran’s security forces. According to officials familiar with the deliberations, U.S. authorities are in advanced discussions on the sanctions. The proposed move comes as Iranian authorities increasingly rely on Chinese surveillance technology to crack down on protests in the country. Benoit Faucon and Liza Lin report for the Wall Street Journal

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS 

Former President Trump’s 2016 campaign will pay $450,000 as part of a settlement of a long court fight over its use of nondisclosure agreements. This is according to documents filed on Friday in a New York federal court. The proposed settlement with former staff member Jessica Denson effectively invalidates the nondisclosure agreements that hundreds of officials from Trump’s first presidential run signed. The judge in the case has not yet approved the settlement. Zoe Tillman reports for Bloomberg News.  

The donor network funded by billionaire Charles Koch will work to support a Republican presidential nominee other than Trump, a strategy memo from the organization suggests. Whilst the memo from Americans for Prosperity does not mention the former president by name, it says that the country “needs to turn the page on the past,” and elected a president in 2025 who “represents a new chapter.” Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Supreme Court on Friday moved to rehear two major voting rights cases that it had previously decided. One of these cases struck down a gerrymandered map of the State Senate districts and another nullified new voter identification requirements. Such rehearings by the court are exceedingly rare and heighten the debate over partisan influences on state courts. Michael Wines provides analysis for the New York Times

Yearslong lax internal procedures at the Supreme Court could have led to the leak of the draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, multiple sources have revealed. Supreme Court justices often used personal email accounts for transmitting sensitive information, and “burn bags” meant to ensure the safe destruction of materials were left open and unattended in hallways, sources familiar with the court’s operations told CNN. These security lapses, which have reportedly been going on for years, were not made public in the court’s report on the investigation into the leak of the draft opinion last month. Ariane de Vogue reports for CNN

COVID-19

COVID-19 has infected over 102.592 million people and has now killed over 1.11 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 671.747 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.84 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

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

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