Today's D Brief: US gives safe haven to Hong Kongers; India’s new carrier; Facebook cuts off disinfo researchers; Artifacts return to Iraq; And a bit more.

U.S. President Joe Biden is giving temporary safe haven to thousands of Hong Kong residents targeted by China’s anti-democratic crackdown, the White House announced Thursday morning. “There are compelling foreign policy reasons to defer enforced departure for Hong Kong residents presently in the United States,” the president said in his memo codifying the 18-month delay. 

“Given the politically motivated arrests and trials, the silencing of the media, and the diminishing space for elections and democratic opposition, we will continue to take steps in support of people in Hong Kong,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “This action demonstrates President Biden’s strong support for people in Hong Kong in the face of ongoing repression by the People’s Republic of China,” she added, and said this action “makes clear we will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community.”

“The United States is committed to a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our foreign policy goals, which is centered on the defense of democracy and the promotion of human rights around the world,” Biden said in his memo. “Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region.” More here.

From the region (kind of): India is conducting sea trials today with its first locally-made aircraft carrier, Agence France-Presse reports from the southern Kerala coastline. Known as the INS Vikrant, this new carrier will be India’s second after the Russian-made INS Vikramaditya, which New Delhi bought from Moscow 17 years ago. 

One reason this matters: “China, vying for influence in the Indian Ocean where New Delhi has traditionally held sway, is currently building its third aircraft carrier,” AFP writes. And on that influence note, AFP continues, “The Indian Navy said separately on Monday that it was sending a task force of four ships to South East Asia, the South China Sea and Western Pacific for two months of exercises including with Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Australia and the United States.” Read on, here.

Also: Palau’s president is dropping by the Pentagon today to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. President Surangel Whipps Jr. will be met with an honor cordon ceremony at about 1:30 p.m. ET. 

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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1861, the U.S. introduced its first federal income taxes in order to help pay for the Civil War, with a 3% tax on incomes over $800.

Israel's defense minister says he’s ready to strike Iran after last week’s attack on an oil tanker in the waters near Oman, the Associated Press reports from Tel Aviv. Iranian officials have so far denied involvement in the strike, which killed two people working on the tanker at the time. But Iran did issue its fairly standard complaint against Israel to the United Nations on Wednesday, calling Tel Aviv, “the main source of instability and insecurity in the Middle East and beyond for more than seven decades.”
Overnight, Israeli jets hit positions inside Lebanon where it alleges rockets were launched Wednesday into Israel, AP reports separately Thursday. No one has claimed responsibility for the rocket launches, two of which reportedly landed inside Israel, with no reported casualties; and Hezbollah officials have so far been silent. Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his displeasure with the strikes, and promised to file a complaint with the UN. 

Bonhomme Richard latest: Firefighting hoses were disconnected and one hose had been cut near where the USS Bonhomme Richard blaze started, according to a federal search warrant unsealed Tuesday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
A Navy official “told investigators that he or his damage control staff had inspected the area’s fire stations two days before the blaze, and likely would have caught the oddities. He concluded that three of the stations ‘appeared to have been purposely tampered with and/or disconnected.’” More details from the warrant, here.
A sailor has been charged with setting the blaze, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported last week. 

The Mexican government just sued a variety of U.S.-based gun makers including Smith & Wesson, Beretta, and Glock for their alleged lack of control or traceability measures, which Mexico says is contributing to an alarming rise in homicides over the past decade.
“Around 2.5 million illicit American guns have poured across the border” over the past 10 years, the Washington Post reports in its coverage of the lawsuit on Wednesday.
But don’t expect the suit to really go anywhere, since a “U.S. law that took effect in 2005 shields gun manufacturers from most civil liability claims,” WaPo writes. Still, the benefit of making the suits public is to raise awareness to the issue, Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said Wednesday. Read on, here

Apropos of nothing: “Google May Have Created an Unruly New State of Matter: Time Crystals,” Popular Mechanics reported Wednesday.

This week in disinformation news, Facebook suspended a New York University research team studying political advertising and covid misinfo on its platform Tuesday evening, Gizmodo reported Wednesday. It also cut “the team’s access to Facebook’s Ad Library and Crowdtangle, which provide data on how often particular posts are viewed, liked, and shared,” Gizmodo writes. The researchers view the abrupt change as an attempt to shut down legitimate analysis, especially during an ongoing pandemic.
Says Facebook: “We took these actions to stop unauthorized scraping and protect people’s privacy in line with our privacy program under [an Federal Trade Commission] Order.”
Worth noting: Facebook execs are often horrified by Crowdtangle data, as the New York Times’ Kevin Roose has discovered, especially the kind that shows the platform’s most-viewed pages are conservative firebrands like Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, and Franklin Graham.
FB also doesn’t like investigators poking around its platform looking into the events of January 6, as the booted researchers indicated Wednesday in a post on Medium, here. “Facebook’s primary justification for trying to shut down this important research simply doesn’t hold up,” the counsel for two of the researchers said in a statement Wednesday. More here.

And lastly today: Iraqis can celebrate the return of nearly 20,000 looted artifacts, more than half of which were held by the family that owns Hobby Lobby and the D.C.-based Museum of the Bible; Cornell University held others. The New York Times’ Jane Arraf calls it “a victory in a global effort by countries to press Western institutions to return culturally vital artifacts, like the push to repatriate the famed Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.”
However, at least one big catch remains unreturned: “Hobby Lobby’s batch of repatriated objects does not include what had been the best-known of its holdings from Mesopotamia: a clay tablet fragment roughly 3,500 years old inscribed with a fragment of the Gilgamesh epic, an ancient saga mentioning the Great Flood and the Garden of Eden that predates the Old Testament by many centuries,” Arraf writes. (It’s also considered by some to be perhaps the world’s earliest account of combat-linked post-traumatic stress disorder. Check out the 10-minute Crash Course treatment of that literary epic over on YouTube, here.) More at the Times, here.