OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Midshipmen have COVID-19 | Worries about reopenings | Snowden pardon gets bad reviews from key lawmakers | Eyes turn to Democratic convention

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Multiple midshipmen returning to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., have tested positive for COVID-19, the Navy confirmed on Monday.

Naval Academy spokesperson Cdr. Alana Garas told The Hill that of the fewer than 4,000 midshipmen residing in Bancroft Hall, the school’s main dormitory, “less than 2 percent” are currently COVID-19 positive.

ABC News first reported the positive test results.

The Defense Department does not release the exact number of infected individuals in military units or facilities due to operational security concerns.

Returning to campus: Garas added that the school began a staggered return in mid-July and expects to have about 90 percent of students back in Annapolis by mid-September.

Naval Academy leadership earlier this month announced that midshipmen would be brought back for the fall semester, starting Wednesday, for a combination of in-person and online classes, though in-person classes will be at half capacity.

The academy also decided to limit Bancroft Hall’s occupancy to roughly 90 percent, with about 4,100 of the 4,600 midshipmen to live in the dorm “to maintain adequate quarantine and isolation space, as well as to decrease the population density within the building.”

For the remaining roughly 500 midshipmen, “several alternatives are being explored for appropriate accommodations,” according to the school.

Meanwhile, at other military academies: The Naval Academy joins the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in having its students return to campus for the fall semester. 

The Air Force Academy, which began its academic year last week, had the entire class of roughly 4,400 cadets return to lessons split between online and in-person, with smaller in-person class sizes.

The school also said that it would house 400 students in off-campus hotels for at least the fall semester.

At West Point, meanwhile, about 1.5 percent of students tested positive when its 4,400 cadets returned for summer training in July. 

TOP HOUSE ARMED SERVICES LAWMAKERS WARN AGAINST SNOWDEN PARDON: The House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat and Republican on Monday warned President Trump against pardoning Edward Snowden, saying the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower “did enormous harm” to U.S. national security.

“Edward Snowden did enormous harm to our national security and he must stand trial for his actions,” committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a joint statement. 

“President Trump and [Defense Secretary Mark Esper] have both decried harmful leaks from the Department of Defense and elsewhere in the federal government. To pardon Snowden now would completely undermine this Administration’s position and mock our national security workforce who take immense caution in their work to keep us safe,” they wrote.

Background: Trump at a Saturday press conference at his golf club in New Jersey said that he was looking at pardoning the former NSA contractor, who was charged with espionage in 2013 after he released a trove of classified documents on U.S. surveillance programs.

“I’m not that aware of the Snowden situation, but I’m going to start looking at it,” Trump said.

Trump also last week told the New York Post that he’s been thinking of allowing Snowden — who fled the U.S. and gained asylum in Russia — to return to the U.S. without facing jail time.

The recent remarks are an about-face from comments he made more than seven years ago, when he said in a 2013 interview that he thought Snowden was “a terrible threat” and “traitor.”

The other side of the argument: Pardoning Snowden has also gained increasing support in the years since the leak. A number of lawmakers and civil liberties advocates voiced approval of Trump’s recent comments, arguing that Snowden exposed unconstitutional surveillance practices.

FROM THIS WEEKEND, BIDEN FACES HURDLES IN BID TO MEND TIES WITH US ALLIES: U.S. allies shaken after years of President Trump denigrating them and pulling out of international accords will be closely watching the Democratic convention for signals on Joe Biden’s plans to restore relationships.

Biden, his campaign advisers and the 2020 draft Democratic platform have pledged to rebuild relationships and reverse or review Trump moves such as withdrawing U.S. troops from Germany and leaving the Iran nuclear deal that U.S. allies continue to support.

Unlike Trump four years ago, Biden is a known quantity to U.S. allies, having served as vice president and, before that, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, itself a reassuring fact for those countries.

But experts caution that after four years of Trump, Biden will not simply be able to revert to the pre-2016 status quo.

“Campaigns are always watched very closely by U.S. allies, partners and adversaries for any hints in how an administration will potentially broach a certain issue set,” said Mark Simakovsky, a former Pentagon official during the Obama administration who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Past comments: The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story. But Biden and campaign advisers have previously talked about restoring relationships with the U.S.’s traditional allies.

“One of the, to me at least, most profound tragedies of the last few years has been the dissing of our allies and closest partners and the embrace of autocrats around the world,” Antony Blinken, a foreign policy adviser for Biden’s campaign and former State Department official, said this month in a virtual appearance at the Aspen Security Forum.

Blinken said Biden would work with allies to “strengthen and lengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, arguing the Trump administration could have accomplished its goal of extending a conventional weapons ban on Iran by staying in the deal and presenting a “unified front with our allies.”

Read the rest here.


The Atlantic Council will host a webinar on “The Status of the Fight Against ISIS,” with Christopher Maier, director of the Pentagon’s Defeat ISIS Task Force; and Robert Rohde, ambassador for the negotiations on Syria and head of the German Federal Foreign Office’s Division for Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Anti-ISIS Strategy, at 12 p.m.

The Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual discussion on “Homeland Missile Defense: Plotting a Clear Path Forward,” with Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, at 1 p.m. 

Day 2 of the Democratic National Convention will include former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), former Secretary of State John Kerry, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, former President Bill Clinton, and former Second Lady Jill Biden, beginning at 9 p.m.  


— The Hill: Iran paid bounties for targeting US troops, intelligence reportedly suggests

— The Hill: DHS rejects government watchdog finding that top officials were improperly appointed

— The Hill: Iranian military commander: ‘Tehran’s approach to the UAE will change’

— The Hill: Scaled-back US-South Korea drills to begin amid tensions with Pyongyang

— The Hill: Trump on Esper: ‘I consider firing everybody’

— The Hill: Pompeo signs defense pact in Poland

— The Hill: Taiwan signs deal to get F-16 jets amid US-China tensions

— The Hill: Pentagon launches task force to study UFO sightings


Tags 2020 Democratic convention Adam Smith Air Force Academy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bill Clinton Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Edward Snowden Joe Biden John Kerry Mac Thornberry Mark Esper Naval Academy Sally Yates West Point

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