Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future

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The Biden administration is considering plans to have some Afghan evacuees return to Afghanistan should they not pass a rigorous vetting process to come to the United States.

We’ll share details of what the administration is mulling over and where evacuees are now, plus the new watchdog report on the Defense Department’s actions in the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.

 

Some may be sent back to Afghanistan 

The Biden administration is mulling plans to send some Afghan evacuees at a U.S. military base in Kosovo back to Afghanistan should they not pass a vigorous vetting process to come stateside.

The option is one of several being considered by U.S. officials who have not yet developed a wider plan for where to resettle Afghans who do not pass the U.S. security clearance process, three unidentified U.S. officials familiar with the matter told CNN.

The numbers now: About 70,000 Afghan evacuees have come to the United States following the chaotic scramble to evacuate U.S. forces and vulnerable populations from Afghanistan in the last weeks of August. Tens of thousands of other evacuees were sent to sites across Europe and the Middle East to be processed before moving on to the U.S. or a partner third country.

Current procedures: Administration officials have made clear that all Afghans looking to come to the United States must pass a security screening and vetting process and receive necessary vaccinations before they are permitted to enter.

But those whose cases required more intense vetting are being transferred to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, with roughly 200 individuals, including family members, now at the base, a source told CNN. The administration and Kosovo’s government have an agreement to house evacuees there for up to a year.

A personal choice: A source familiar with the situation told The Hill that should an individual at Bondsteel not pass vetting, they could then choose to go back to Afghanistan but would not be sent back to the country against their will.

Before such a move there would be a conversation to examine whether there was a third country where they could travel instead.

"We are confident that these Afghan evacuees will be able to be resettled in the United States or in third countries as appropriate," State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week.

Sending evacuees back to Afghanistan without their permission would be a departure from the administration’s previous promise to transfer such individuals to a third country and raise human rights concerns and legal questions.

U.S. officials have also been very vague about which countries would then take those individuals.

No transfers yet: While nobody sent to Kosovo has yet been deemed unable to enter the United States, some U.S. officials and lawmakers worry that should an individual not pass clearances there are limited options for them. They could, for example, be stuck on a base long-term.

One senior administration official told CNN that the security flags that have led to people being transferred to Bondsteel are usually not those “that can be resolved within hours or even within days.”

Read the full story here.



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Pentagon watchdog raises questions on Jan. 6

A new report from the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General is raising questions about the account that the now-retired commander of the District of Columbia National Guard gave about deploying troops to the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.

The report, which was released Tuesday, found that then-commander Maj. Gen. William Walker was told twice that he was allowed to deploy troops to the Capitol after the building was breached.  

Nothing improper: The report stated that, overall, Pentagon officials “did not improperly delay or obstruct the DoD’s response” to the riots on Jan. 6. 

A contradiction: But the findings do appear to contradict the retired general's assertion that he would have deployed troops more quickly had the Trump administration given him the green light. 

In early March, Walker testified to Congress that then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested immediate assistance at around 1:49 p.m. from D.C. National Guardsmen after the security perimeter of the Capitol was breached.

Walker also said he immediately called Army officials to relay Sund’s request, but did not learn that his request was approved until 5:08 p.m., about three hours after the request was submitted.

According to the report, however, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense & National Security — Preparing for the Biden-Putin call Former DC National Guard official accuses generals of lying about Capitol riot Former DC Guard commander calls for retraction of Pentagon watchdog's Jan. 6 report MORE first told Walker by phone that the request had been approved at 4:35 p.m., and then called again to reissue the order 30 minutes later, the report found.

Future plans: While Defense Department officials were found to have acted properly, the report made recommendations for how the Pentagon responds to future incidents in the Capitol area.

The report recommended that the Pentagon consider formulating a plan for how it and the D.C. National Guard responds to major civil disturbance events in the National Capitol Region.

It also recommended that federal and non-federal agencies be trained on how to request assistance from the Pentagon.

Read more here.



Senators eye defense bill for cyber measures

Sen. R Portman (R-Ohio) is seen during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 21, 2021.

The Senate is eyeing the annual defense bill as a vehicle to attach critical provisions to improve the nation’s cybersecurity following a devastating year in which major attacks left the government flat-footed.  

The efforts are markedly bipartisan, a rarity for a Senate that is struggling to accomplish a long legislative to-do list before the holidays. 

“It’s a national security issue, really,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Ohio Senate candidate unveils ad comparing Biden to Carter MORE (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday in regards to the inclusion of cybersecurity priorities in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

Some background: Language around requiring critical organizations to report cyber incidents to the federal government, and timelines for doing so, has been a key issue hotly debated in recent months.

The push to give the Biden administration and Congress more visibility into the nation’s cybersecurity comes after a particularly difficult year that saw major disruptive attacks on companies including Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA.

One effort: Portman, along with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary PetersGary PetersFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures MORE (D-Mich.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats see Christmas goal slipping away Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Liberty University professor charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of student MORE (D-Va.) and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Real relief from high gas prices The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron MORE (R-Maine), introduced an amendment to the NDAA earlier this month that would give critical infrastructure groups 72 hours to report cyber incidents. 

The amendment would give critical infrastructure groups, nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, and certain businesses 24 hours to report ransomware attack payments. It also includes language to update the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) to clarify the roles of key agencies in responding to cyber incidents, another key bipartisan priority.

Meanwhile, in the house: The House already approved its version of the 2022 NDAA in September, including a raft of measures in the defense package intended to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity. These included a bipartisan measure that would require the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to determine requirements for critical infrastructure owners and operators to report incidents, with CISA required to give these groups no less than 72 hours to report.

Other language included was a provision to authorize a program at CISA to enhance industrial control systems’ cybersecurity and improve vulnerability reporting, among others.

Read the full story here.

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A MESSAGE FROM BOEING

Boeing is helping the U.S. and its allies get ready for the future fight with digitally advanced, flexible real-time mission support to win at the speed of now. Learn more.



WHAT WE'RE READING

 

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Friday.

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