News Brief: Iranian Drone, Border Crisis, U.S. Heat Wave
NOEL KING, HOST:
What really happened over the Strait of Hormuz yesterday?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump was the original source for a story of confrontation. He told reporters that the United States Navy destroyed an Iranian drone. He said it flew too close to an American warship.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.
INSKEEP: That was the president's story. But Iran is responding today, in effect, a drone? What drone? It says any unmanned aircraft that Iran flew yesterday returned safely to their bases.
KING: NPR's Jackie Northam has been following this story. Good morning, Jackie.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So what does the U.S. say happened, exactly?
NORTHAM: The U.S. says one of its amphibious assault ships, the USS Boxer, was moving into the Strait of Hormuz when an Iranian drone flew within about 1,000 yards of it. The crew of the Boxer alerted the drone several times to stand down and then destroyed it. You know, there were no casualties, but this incident has added to the escalating tension in the Gulf region. Noel, this is a heavily traveled waterway. About 20% of the world's oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
And there have been a number of confrontations recently. About a month ago, Iran shot down a U.S. drone. And Trump ordered a military strike in retaliation but then called it off at the last minute. Last week, there was a tense standoff between the British Navy and some Iranian vessels. And Washington blames Iran for attacking several other tankers recently, which - something which Iran denies. But, you know, just hours before the Boxer destroyed the drone, Iran announced it had seized a small tanker, which it said was smuggling Iranian oil. So there's a lot going on in that region right now.
KING: (Laughter) A lot going on. The twist with this story is that the U.S. says - the president says the U.S. military downed an Iranian drone. And Iran says no, no. All of our drones made it back home safely. Can you give us a little more about what Iran is saying happened?
NORTHAM: That's right. Well, actually, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was at the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday when this story broke. And he said he had no information whatsoever about losing a drone. Overnight, though, Iran's top military spokesman said all of the country's drones had returned safely to base. So basically, Iran denies the U.S. claims.
KING: Remind us, Jackie, of the context here. The U.S. and Iran have been at odds since the U.S. pulled out of this nuclear deal a little over a year ago, right?
NORTHAM: Yeah, that's right. The Trump administration didn't like the nuclear deal that was struck in 2015. It felt it wasn't tough enough and didn't deal with Iran's behavior in the region. And so the U.S. pulled out. Instead, Washington is mounting what it calls a maximum pressure campaign and it's to try and force Iran to renegotiate the deal. It reimposed sanctions on Iran and that includes cutting off oil sales.
And, you know, oil exports are the lifeblood of Iran, and cutting them off has crippled the country's economy. So Iran is pushing back. It's been ramping up its nuclear program in small steps. And the regime has said, if it can't sell oil through the Persian Gulf because of these sanctions, it could stop others from doing it.
KING: So is there any effort to de-escalate, to calm things down here?
NORTHAM: No, not yet. There have been calls for restraint, but there are real concerns, you know, that things could escalate. Incidents like we saw over the past couple of days could create, you know, a perilous miscalculation from one side or the other and lead to real trouble in the Gulf.
The U.S. has increased its military presence. And today, U.S. officials say they'll be briefing foreign diplomats about a plan for maritime security protection for some of the ships. But the administration wants other countries to join, but they've been hesitant. One analyst told me yesterday, many allies don't trust what the U.S. is doing and they think the decision to pull out of the nuclear deal was wrong.
KING: NPR's Jackie Northam. Thanks, Jackie.
NORTHAM: Thank you.
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KING: All right. What is it like to be leading the agency that is managing the crisis at the border?
INSKEEP: Mark Morgan is finding out. He is the new acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He's been on the job for about two weeks, which means he arrives as his agency holds thousands of migrants in overcrowded detention cells. Morgan also took the job just around the time the public learned of offensive messages posted to a private Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol officers.
KING: Mark Morgan talked to NPR's John Burnett yesterday. And John's on the line from Austin. Hey, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.
KING: So in immigration news, we saw news this week that the Trump administration was implementing a new rule that would make it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the U.S. There's a ton of reporting on that.
KING: What did Mark Morgan tell you?
BURNETT: Well, this was a really big deal, Noel. The rule would've empowered - it - well, it has empowered U.S. officials effectively to deny most asylum-seekers if they don't first apply for protection in the country they pass through on their way to the U.S. And it was announced with great fanfare earlier this week as a major change in asylum law.
But Mark Morgan told me at present, it's actually just a small pilot project - very limited. And they're testing it in just two stations down in south Texas. If it works out, they'd like to expand it all along the whole southwest border. But lawsuits have already been filed to block it. And Morgan said they expect a federal judge to issue an injunction any day now, which would leave them dead in the water for now.
KING: Interesting. He's even - he's expecting that. All right.
KING: So let me ask you about this private Facebook group for Border Patrol agents, current and retired, that Steve mentioned; first reported on by ProPublica, members allegedly posting really, really offensive things about migrants, about lawmakers. It was not a good look for CBP. What did he tell you about that?
BURNETT: Well, we know that CBP Internal Affairs is investigating at least 62 current Border Patrol agents who were members of this group. The commissioner seemed to be waiting for my question.
MARK MORGAN: Some of the images that were out there - absolutely horrendous, wrong and not consistent with the way that the CBP, or specifically Border Patrol, conducts themselves.
BURNETT: He also said they're actually looking at criminal charges to show how serious they were, possibly, against some of the agents. I asked him for specifics, but he said he couldn't talk about an ongoing investigation. He said several agents have already been suspended from the force, and there could be more.
KING: The CBP has also been under fire for these terrible conditions in holding cells for both adults and children. There have been two government inspector general reports about this - nonpartisan reports, that we should say. What did he say about those reports?
BURNETT: Well, he acknowledged the agency cannot handle the crush of migrants, but he claimed they've always gotten the basic necessities. You know, Noel, immigrant advocates say that if you look at the totality of the policies of the Trump administration, such as detaining migrants in these dreadful cells, family separation at the border, making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico, the conclusion they draw is that the Trump administration wants to punish migrants and make them miserable so they'll stop coming in the first place.
MORGAN: That's just absolutely not true. What we are trying to do is enforce the rule of law, maintain integrity in the system and do the best we can to address this unprecedented crisis.
BURNETT: Mark Morgan told me the numbers of migrants they're taking into custody at the border continues to drop - 2,500 a day, that's down from about 4,600 a day in May. He credits Mexico for enforcing its southern and northern borders. So he thinks what's being done to stop the migrants is finally starting to pay off.
KING: Interesting. NPR's John Burnett. Thanks, John.
BURNETT: It's a pleasure.
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KING: Quote, "a widespread and dangerous heat wave is building in the central and eastern U.S."
INSKEEP: The quote comes from the National Weather Service. Temperatures over much of the country today are expected to be in the 90s, if not hotter. And the heat will last through the weekend. Extremely high temperatures like this don't just happen, we're told. There is science behind the heat waves.
KING: Here to walk us through the science is NPR's Rebecca Hersher. Hi, Becky.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi there.
KING: All right. So you are a science correspondent, not a weather reporter.
KING: Are you with us this morning to talk about whether we can link this massive heat wave with climate change? What does the research show? Is that what's going on?
HERSHER: Yeah, sort of. Average temperatures are rising. The hottest days are getting hotter. So heat waves are getting longer and weather like this is more likely. So, you know, part of that is, obviously, the entire planet is getting warmer overall, hence global warming. And that's already happened. You know, it can be hard to remember this sometimes because we talk so much about the future weather and the future climate. But the average surface temperature here on our planet is already about two degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was in the late 1800s. So this is happening now.
But here's the thing. What's more relevant for understanding how climate change plays into something like this, a weather event, a heat wave, it's that extremes are getting more extreme. So the Earth is getting hotter. That means hotter hots. It means colder colds. It means wetter wets. So I have some examples for you from just this year. One - all over the Central U.S. this year, there was extreme rains. You might remember this - the Mississippi in all of its tributaries flooded terribly.
HERSHER: Why is that? That's because hotter air can hold more moisture. So then that falls as extreme rain. Or going, back to this winter, remember the polar vortex...
KING: Sure do (laughter).
HERSHER: ...That froze, like, a whole, big part of the - yeah. So that type of weather is actually more likely because climate change is allowing cold air to seep down from the Arctic. Or...
KING: Go ahead.
HERSHER: So just one more. This is crazy - outside the U.S., in the city of Chennai in India, it flooded really terribly a couple years ago. This year, they have so little rain, they're running out of water. That's how extreme it is.
KING: The National Weather Service is warning us with this current heat wave that it's going to stay hot at night. And that is significant because that's normally when we get a respite, yeah?
HERSHER: Yeah. And here's the thing - moist air holds more heat. So that's kind of intuitive. Like, tropical places, they don't get as cold at night as, like, the desert. So as these longer, longer heat waves get really hot, what we're seeing is high overnight temperatures, especially in cities. And that's because, like, roads and buildings soak up heat and then they're, like, furnaces overnight. They just put out that heat.
But that can be dangerous for people, you know, if you're already ill, if you're older, young kids. Your body just doesn't have the time to cool off. And it increases the risk from heat-related illness from things you already have.
KING: Just quickly, something like two-thirds of the country is going to be feeling this heat wave. But I wonder - bigger picture, are some parts of the country getting hotter faster?
HERSHER: Yes. So as a rule, the farther north you live, the bigger the temperature increase. So that means Alaska is getting hotter than, like, Texas. And that's not great news because it means places that are getting the hottest the fastest are least prepared. They're the least likely to have buildings that are designed to stay cool, that have air conditioning. So it's just a reminder, you know, infrastructure - how we build, where we build, it needs to adapt.
KING: NPR's Rebecca Hersher, thanks so much.
HERSHER: Thanks so much.
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