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October 1, 2022 1:11 pm

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RealClearInvestigations’ Picks of the Week

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Since being named special counsel, John Durham has investigated and indicted unscrupulous anti-Trump informants – but none of the FBI agents who handled them and went along with their lies, Paul Sperry reports for RealClearInvestigations. That’s raising suspicions he’s letting investigators off the hook in his waning investigation of misconduct in the Russiagate probe. 

  • In recent court filings, Durham has portrayed the G-men as naive recipients of bad information tricked into opening improper investigations targeting Donald Trump and obtaining invalid warrants to spy on one of his advisers. 
  • But as the cases against the informants have gone to trial, defense lawyers have revealed evidence that undercuts that narrative. FBI investigators look less like guileless victims and more like willing partners. 
  • Case in point: Igor Danchenko, key fabulist behind the infamous Steele dossier, including its “pee tape” yarn. According to Durham, the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency was misled by a serial liar and con man – even though the evidence shows it knew of Danchenko’s dishonesty for years and said nothing as it pursued court spy authorizations. 
  • In fact, after learning of Danchenko’s fabrications, the bureau put him on its payroll. 
  • Sperry reviews chapter and verse of Durham’s tenure to reveal a pattern of pulled punches. The special counsel has even made excuses for the misconduct of FBI investigators, providing them a ready-made defense against any possible future prosecution, according to legal experts. 
  • Durham legal critic: “He started with a bang and is ending with a whimper.”

 

Featured Investigation
Opioids @ Work:
The Hidden Scourge Sapping the Economy

Opioids are taking an immeasurable toll on the American workforce, James Varney reports for RealClearInvestigations, exploring a largely invisible crisis sustained by fentanyl smuggling from China and likely to haunt the nation’s economic well-being for years if not decades to come.  The only thing certain is that the costs are staggering, according to physicians, counselors, economists, workers, and public officials:

  • First, record fatal overdoses of workers in their prime years mean untold years of lost productivity from the economy.
  • Next, opioid addiction’s rise in the U.S. has exerted strong downward pressure on the workforce participation rate – although precise causality is difficult to establish.
  • It’s similarly difficult to calculate just how much drug abuse has caused absenteeism and tardiness and swelled state disability rolls, but the connection is strong, experts say.
  • Opioids are a dirty secret that employers and workers are reluctant to talk about.
  • A neighborhood social media thread about opioids’ dire impact in the workforce unleashes a barrage of horror stories. Homeowners speak of an inability to find reliable handymen, painters, landscape workers, etc.
  • Tree service operator in suburban New Orleans: “If I’m lucky enough to have an employee that can pass a [urine analysis] the chances of them doing so after the first check is slim.”
  • The staying power of the crisis is suggested by other lasting national challenges, including the porous southern border – a major conduit for smuggled, Chinese-made fentanyl – and economic and social traumas set in motion by the pandemic.

Biden, Trump and the Beltway

Postal Service Surveilled Pro-Gun, Anti-Biden Protesters Washington Times
Intimidation? Forceful FBI Arrest of Pro-Life Protester National Review
FBI Misled Judge, Rifled Thousands of Safe Deposit Boxes LA Times
How GOP Leaders Secretly Kneecapped Trump Allies Washington Post
Border Surge Under Biden Sends Smuggling Prices Soaring Washington Times
DoJ Gives $41M to Group Fighting Illegal-Alien Deportation Fox

Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

Vulnerable CIA Websites Blamed for Deaths
Guardian

The CIA used hundreds of websites for covert communications that were so severely flawed that they led to the death of more than two dozen U.S. sources in China in 2011 and 2012 and also reportedly led Iran to execute or imprison other CIA assets. The findings, based on research conducted by security experts at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, “raise serious doubts about the intelligence agency’s handling of safety measures,” this article reports.

Using just a single website and publicly available material, Citizen Lab said it identified a network of 885 websites that it attributed “with high confidence” as having been used by the CIA. It found that the websites purported to be concerned with news, weather, healthcare and other legitimate websites.

“Knowing only one website, it is likely that while the websites were online, a motivated amateur sleuth could have mapped out the CIA network and attributed it to the US government,” Citizen Lab said in a statement. … Citizen Lab began investigating the matter when it got a tip from [Reuters reporter Joel] Schectmann of a CIA asset in Iran who had been captured and served seven years in prison after using what Citizen Lab later determined was a “fatally insecure network.”

In a separate article for Reuters, Schectmann and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin report the case of Gholamreza Hosseini, a U.S. source in Iran who spent more than a decade in a Tehran prison for spying:

Hosseini was the victim of CIA negligence, a year-long Reuters investigation into the agency’s handling of its informants found. A faulty CIA covert communications system made it easy for Iranian intelligence to identify and capture him. Jailed for nearly a decade and speaking out for the first time, Hosseini said he never heard from the agency again, even after he was released in 2019. … Hosseini’s experience of sloppy handling and abandonment was not unique. In interviews with six Iranian former CIA informants, Reuters found that the agency was careless in other ways amid its intense drive to gather intelligence in Iran, putting in peril those risking their lives to help the United States.

 

Intercepted Calls Reveal
A Russian Army in Disarray

New York Times

Russian soldiers have made thousands of calls from the battlefield in Ukraine to relatives at home – many of which have been intercepted Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and obtained exclusively by the New York Times. This article reproduces snippets from these conversations in which the soldiers describe a crisis in morale and a lack of equipment, and say they were lied to about the mission they were on — all conditions that have contributed to the recent setbacks for Russia’s campaign in the east of Ukraine. “No one told us we were going to war. They warned us one day before we left,” one fighter said. “I didn’t know this was going to happen. They said we were going for training. These bastards didn’t tell us anything,” said another.

Soldiers complain about strategic blunders and a dire shortage of supplies. They confess to capturing and killing non-combatants, and they openly admit to looting Ukrainian homes and businesses. Many say they want to terminate their military contracts, and they rebut the propaganda broadcast by Russian news media back home with the stark realities of the war around them. … Soldiers describe tactical blunders and complain about their lack of weaponry and basic equipment, like night vision devices and proper bulletproof vests. Our own forces fucking shelled us,” [one soldier told his girlfriend]. 

Back home in Russia, the phone calls reveal that the mounting deaths are beginning to reverberate in military towns, where tight-knit communities and families exchange news of casualties. Relatives described rows of corpses and coffins arriving in their cities, as soldiers warn that even more bodies will soon return. One woman told her husband that a military funeral was held every day that week. In shock, some families say they have begun to see psychologists.

Hospital Chain Gamed Feds’ Drug Aid
New York Times

Ringed by public housing projects, Richmond Community Hospital in Virginia consists of little more than a strapped emergency room and a psychiatric ward. It does not have kidney or lung specialists, or a maternity ward. Its magnetic resonance imaging machine frequently breaks. And yet, this article reports, the hollowed-out hospital – owned by Bon Secours Mercy Health, one of the largest nonprofit health care chains in the country – has the highest profit margins of any hospital in Virginia, generating as much as $100 million a year. Much of its profit comes from …

… a federal program that allows clinics in impoverished neighborhoods to buy prescription drugs at steep discounts, charge insurers full price and pocket the difference. The drug program was created with the intention that hospitals would reinvest the windfalls into their facilities, improving care for poor patients. But Bon Secours, founded by Roman Catholic nuns more than a century ago, has been slashing services at Richmond Community while investing in the city’s wealthier, white neighborhoods, according to more than 20 former executives, doctors and nurses. “Bon Secours was basically laundering money through this poor hospital to its wealthy outposts,” said Dr. Lucas English, who worked in Richmond Community’s emergency department until 2018. “It was all about profits.”

 

Regulation-Heavy U.S.
Running Short of Land for Housing

Wall Street Journal

The United States, a country of wide-open spaces, is short on land. Or at least land where people can live, this article reports:

Land-use restrictions and a lack of public investment in roads, rail and other infrastructure have made it harder than ever for developers to find sites near big population centers to build homes. As people keep moving to cities such as Austin, Phoenix and Tampa, they are pushing up the price of dirt and making the housing shortages in these fast-growing areas even worse.

This historic land boom has provided a windfall for homeowners. Land now accounts for 47% of U.S. home values, up from 38% in 2012 and less than 20% in the early 1960s. The rising value of land is responsible for almost all of the surge in home values in recent decades, he said.

Paradise Lost:
Illegal Gold Mining Ravages Peru

NBC News

Highly organized crime syndicates have ravaged parts of the Peruvian Amazon mining for gold. As the mining operations expanded, so has the ecological devastation. In this exclusive report filled with stark illustrations, NBC News reports that the miners chopped down huge swaths of rainforest in what was once one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. The toxic chemical they use to separate gold from the sediment – mercury – wreaked havoc on the land. Acre by acre, pristine vegetation was replaced by clay-colored sand and pools of contaminated water that poisoned fish and permeated the soil.

U.S. military and government officials told NBC News that these criminal organizations originating in countries that include not only Peru but Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil have more people, hold more territory and possess about five times as much money as the collective militaries in the region. One group, the Brazil-based Red Command, is now believed to be trafficking gold as well as guns in Madre de Dios, the section of Peru that encompasses La Pampa.

As with most crimes, success depends on the cooperation of seemingly honest partners. Most of the illegal lucre reaches Switzerland, which refines around 70% of the world’s gold. Along the way, it’s melted down into bars and often mixed with gold that’s been extracted legally, making it impossible to trace, officials say. Some portion of the illegal gold from Peru arrives in the U.S., largely in the suitcases of smugglers traveling by plane, law enforcement officials said. It’s then sold to refineries in and around Miami that have a history of looking the other way.


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Truss Tried to Reassure Britons With Media Blitz. Her Woes Multiplied.

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In a round of interviews, the prime minister showed little sympathy for the pain that high interest rates could inflict on mortgage holders, critics said.

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Prime Minister Liz Truss’s Conservative Party now trails the opposition Labour Party by 33 percentage points in polling.

Prime Minister Liz Truss’s Conservative Party now trails the opposition Labour Party by 33 percentage points in polling.Credit…Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

Mark Landler
Sept. 30, 2022, 12:08 p.m. ET

LONDON — For Prime Minister Liz Truss, it was a chance to steady the waters after days of turmoil in the financial markets over her new fiscal plan: eight rapid-fire interviews with local BBC radio stations from Leeds to Nottingham.

By the time Ms. Truss signed off from the last one on Thursday morning, her political woes had multiplied, leaving her new government in a state of disarray almost without precedent in recent British politics.

She was, critics said, robotic in defending a tax-cut plan that had been eviscerated by the markets, and showed little sympathy for the pain that high interest rates could inflict on mortgage holders. One host described her as a “reverse Robin Hood.” A listener on another station asked, “Are you ashamed of what you’ve done?”

Barely three weeks into her job, Ms. Truss has suffered a dizzying loss of public support. Her Conservative Party now trails the opposition Labour Party by 33 percentage points, according to a new poll by the market research firm YouGov. That is the largest Labour lead since Tony Blair’s early days as prime minister in 1998, and the kind of gap that usually results in a landslide election defeat.

Her plunging poll numbers have badly damaged Ms. Truss’s standing in her party, which is gathering on Sunday in Birmingham for what promises to be an anxious annual conference. Some speak openly of the party ousting her before the next election, though the mechanics for doing that remain complicated.

“This is by far the biggest and swiftest hit to a party’s opinion poll rating that British politics has ever seen,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “For Tory MPs, this is like realizing on your wedding night that you’ve made a truly terrible mistake.”

Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at Kent University and an expert on the Tory Party, said, “I can’t think in my lifetime of any British prime minister who has mismanaged her first few weeks in office like Liz Truss.”

What makes Ms. Truss’s predicament so difficult is that none of the escape hatches are appealing. Reversing some of her tax cuts — particularly the one for the top income bracket of people earning more than 150,000 pounds, or about $164,000, a year — would mollify the markets and probably some voters.

Tax cuts announced last week by Kwasi Kwarteng, Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, threw the markets into turmoil.Credit…Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

But it would be a heavy psychological blow for a leader who ran her campaign, and has built her government, on the conviction that tax cuts and supply-side policies will reignite growth. Giving that up, Professor Bale said, would vitiate the ideological rationale of her government and potentially turn her into a lame-duck leader until the next election, which she will have to call by early 2025.

Sticking to her guns, which has been Ms. Truss’s response so far, leaves open the chance that Britain’s economy will pick up by the time she faces voters. But the stubborn threat of inflation all but guarantees that the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank, will keep raising interest rates. That will hurt people who need to refinance home mortgages and likely throw the broader economy into a recession.

When she was asked by BBC Radio Stoke about her fiscal plan’s impact on the housing market, Ms. Truss paused before saying, “Interest rates are a matter for the independent Bank of England.” She added that “interest rates have been rising around the world” and blamed much of the crisis on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

For the last few days, the bank has actually helped Ms. Truss by intervening in the market to buy British government bonds. That brought down interest rates and strengthened the pound, which had tumbled to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985. On Friday, the pound traded up to $1.11.

But the intervention, which was driven by fears of the damage done to British pension funds by the turbulent market, has put the Bank of England in an awkward position, economists said. It runs counter to the bank’s monetary policy of raising interest rates to cool inflationary pressures.

“The bank has had to reverse course on its objectives practically overnight,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of economics at Cornell University. “It looks like the bank is being forced to clean up the adverse consequences of the U.K. Treasury’s actions.”

“This could have some longer-term implications for the bank’s independence, credibility, and effectiveness,” Professor Prasad continued. “That really hampers it in its ability to fulfill its objectives.”

Once the Bank of England completes its bond-buying program on Oct. 14, economists said they expected it to revert to its tighter monetary policy, which would suggest another increase in interest rates at its November meeting. The only government action that could forestall, or even moderate a sharp spike in rates, economists said, would be if the government reversed one of more of its tax cuts.

“Absent that U-turn, the bank is going to have to raise interest rates a lot,” said Adam S. Posen, who served on the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. He said the bank needed to curb both the inflation from an expansionary fiscal budget and the additional inflation caused by a devalued pound.

Once the Bank of England completes its bond buying program, economists expect it to revert to its tighter monetary policy by possibly raising interest rates at its November meeting.Credit…Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Beyond the tug-of-war between fiscal and monetary policy, critics say Ms. Truss faces a more elemental problem: her chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, has lost the faith of the markets in his economic stewardship.

That is partly because when Mr. Kwarteng announced the tax cuts last week, he did not submit the package to the scrutiny that a government budget normally receives. That fed fears that the tax cuts were “unfunded,” meaning that they would not be matched with cuts in spending and so would require massive borrowing.

On Friday, Mr. Kwarteng and Ms. Truss met at Downing Street with officials from the government’s forecasting agency, the Office of Budget Responsibility — a move designed to signal they now welcomed the scrutiny. The office will submit its projections for the cost of the fiscal program and its effect on Britain’s growth on Oct. 7, but the government will not publish the numbers until Nov. 23.

For Ms. Truss, the political fallout from her program’s botched rollout has been profound. Political analysts point out that she won the support of only a third of Conservative Party lawmakers in the first stage of the leadership contest. Now, the collapsing polls have left the lawmakers angry, fearful, and divided.

Unless the trends are reversed, many of the party’s members in Parliament will be swept out of their seats in the next election, particularly in the “red wall” districts of the Midlands and the North, where Ms. Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, lured traditional Labour voters to switch to the Tories with his promise to “Get Brexit done.”

That realignment of British politics is in jeopardy. Professor Goodwin, of the University of Kent, said these voters did not want Ms. Truss’s low-tax, neoliberal economic policies. Adding to the alienation, he said, she was determined to relax immigration laws, another core issue for working-class voters.

“We’re seeing the complete implosion of the Conservative vote,” Professor Goodwin said. “They’re losing middle-class voters who are alienated by Brexit, and working-class voters who are alienated by their economic policy.”

For all the hand-wringing, it is not immediately clear what the Tories can do about it. Three months after evicting Mr. Johnson from Downing Street, few people want to go through with another protracted, divisive leadership contest.

Professor Bale said another option would be for the party to settle on a consensus alternative to Ms. Truss and then pressure her to step down, so the new leader could be crowned without any delay. The problem with this scenario, he said, is a lack of obvious candidates to step into the role of the party’s savior.


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With Bluster and Threats, Putin Casts the West as the Enemy

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Declaring that Russia would annex four regions of Ukraine, which the West rejects as illegal, the Russian president accused the U.S. and its allies of “despotism’’ and “Satanism.’’

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addressed a rally and concert in Red Square on Friday celebrating Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addressed a rally and concert in Red Square on Friday celebrating Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.Credit…Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sept. 30, 2022, 7:03 p.m. ET

President Vladimir V. Putin asserted on Friday that Russia would annex four Ukrainian regions and decried the United States for “Satanism,” in a speech that marked an escalation in Moscow’s war against Ukraine. In starkly confrontational terms, he positioned Russia as fighting an existential battle with Western elites he deemed “the enemy.”

Speaking to hundreds of Russian lawmakers and governors in a grand Kremlin hall, Mr. Putin said that the residents of the four regions — which are still partially controlled by Ukrainian forces — would become Russia’s citizens “forever.” He then held a signing ceremony with the Russian-installed heads of those regions to start the official annexation process, before clasping hands with them and chanting “Russia! Russia!”

The Biden administration quickly condemned the annexations, saying they “have no legitimacy,” and enacted a round of new sanctions on Russia’s defense and technology industries as punishment for Moscow’s actions.

Mr. Putin’s address came against a backdrop of Russian setbacks on the battlefield, where Ukraine’s forces have scored stunning victories in recent weeks in the east. As the Russian leader spoke, Ukrainian officials said their army had moved closer to encircling the Russian-occupied town of Lyman, a strategically important hub in the Donetsk region that lies inside the territory Mr. Putin is claiming.

Ukrainian service members are seen driving on a buggy past the body of a Russian soldier in Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Friday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Even by Mr. Putin’s increasingly antagonistic standards, the speech was an extraordinary combination of bluster and menace, mixing conspiratorial riffs against an American-led “neocolonial system” with an appeal to the world to see Russia as the leader of an uprising against American power.

He referred to “the ruling circles of the so-called West” as “the enemy” — a word he rarely uses in reference to the West — and struck a tone of anger and defiance. And he again raised the specter of nuclear weapons, which the Kremlin has made veiled threats about using, noting in a cryptic aside that the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Japan in 1945 had “created a precedent.”

“Not only do Western elites deny national sovereignty and international law,” he said in the 37-minute address. “Their hegemony has a pronounced character of totalitarianism, despotism and apartheid.”

Western leaders have condemned Russia’s annexations as illegal, and the “referendums” that preceded them — purporting to show overwhelming local support for joining Russia — as fraudulent. President Biden said “the United States will always honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.”

In the United Nations Security Council, 10 of 15 nations voted on Friday in favor of a U.S.-Albania resolution condemning Moscow’s actions, but Russia exercised the veto power it holds as a permanent member. Mr. Putin’s sometime allies, China and India, which have expressed growing uneasiness with his war on Ukraine, were among four nations that abstained; only Russia voted against the resolution.

Ukraine’s government has rebuffed Mr. Putin’s claims and vowed to retake territory captured by Russia in the east and south. “Everything will be Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Friday on the Telegram social network.

In a video, Mr. Zelensky accused the Kremlin of trying to “steal something that does not belong to it,” adding “Ukraine will not allow that.”

The Russian Consulate in New York was vandalized on Friday.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

He also announced that he was fast-tracking his country’s application to join NATO — a move that Russia vehemently opposes and that faces steep hurdles, given that admission to the alliance requires unanimous consent from all 30 member nations.

Mr. Putin insisted that Russia’s position on annexing the four territories was nonnegotiable, adding that it would defend them “with all the forces and means at our disposal.”

“I call on the Kyiv regime to immediately cease-fire and all military action,” he said, and “to return to the negotiating table.”

“But we will not discuss the decision of the people of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson,” he went on, referring to the four Ukrainian regions being annexed. “It has been made. Russia will not betray it.”

Earlier Friday, Russia unleashed one of the deadliest attacks against Ukrainian civilians in weeks with a strike in the Zaporizhzhia region, one of those Russia has said it is annexing. The attack killed 25 people and injured another 66, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said. It was part of a flurry of strikes against Ukrainian towns just hours before Mr. Putin spoke.

Video

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The strike killed at least 25 civilians at a checkpoint and bus stop, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general, making it one of the deadliest attacks against Ukrainian civilians in recent weeks.CreditCredit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden said “America and its allies are not going be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats.” But for Washington and its European allies, Mr. Putin’s decision to escalate his rhetoric, while insisting he was ready to negotiate, sets up difficult choices about how much direct confrontation they are willing to risk with Moscow.

The military draft that Mr. Putin declared last week means that he will soon have more men to send to the front line, while his claims of an existential conflict appeared designed to prepare his populace for more trying times ahead.

“The West has to think what is the final price it is ready to pay for Ukraine,” said Alexander Baunov, a Russian international policy expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “And it is a very serious question because we don’t know the further appetites of Putin’s Russia.”

But Mr. Putin faces monumental challenges of his own. Conscription has proved so unpopular that on Thursday he took the rare step of acknowledging on national television mistakes by his government in how it was carried out.

Tens of thousands of young men are fleeing Russia and the draft, braving miles-long lines at the borders with Georgia and Kazakhstan, a signal that many Russians are not buying Mr. Putin’s arguments for the invasion of Ukraine. And the chaos of the draft has dealt another setback to Russia’s sanctions-scarred economy.

Russian recruits in Prudboi, in the Volgograd region of Russia, on Thursday.Credit…Associated Press

Mr. Putin’s answer on Friday was to respond with threats, jingoism and conspiracy theories. In the evening, he appeared at a concert and rally in Red Square and, standing before St. Basil’s Cathedral, led the crowd in a chant of “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!”

“The truth is behind us, and in truth there is strength, which means victory!” Mr. Putin said at the end of his brief address at the rally, borrowing a catchphrase from a 2000 Russian crime film. “Victory will be ours!”

In his speech at the Kremlin, Mr. Putin cast the conflict with the West in even more severe terms than he had previously, reeling off centuries of Western military actions to denounce the American-led world order as fundamentally evil, corrupt and set on Russia’s destruction.

“The repression of freedom is taking on the outlines of a reverse religion, of real Satanism,” Mr. Putin said, asserting that liberal Western values on matters like gender identity amounted to a “denial of man.”

But Mr. Putin offered few new details on the matter that is now perhaps of greatest concern in Western capitals — whether, and at what point, he might use weapons of mass destruction to force Ukraine to capitulate. His spokesman said earlier in the day that after the annexation of the four regions — a move that virtually no other country is expected to recognize — an attack on those regions would be treated as an attack on Russia.

Without saying so directly, Mr. Putin hinted that the role of nuclear weapons in war is on his mind. Describing the West as “deceitful and hypocritical through and through,” Mr. Putin noted that the United States was the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war. He then added: “By the way, they created a precedent.”

At the concert and rally in Red Square in Moscow on Friday.Credit…Reuters

Mr. Putin was appealing to three key audiences. To Russians, he sought to justify the expanding hardship his war has been causing by insisting they were fighting for their survival. To the West, he worked to telegraph his determination that he was unbowed by sanctions or arms deliveries to Ukraine, and would keep fighting — with the veiled threat of Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal in the background.

And to the rest of the world, Mr. Putin sought to cast himself as the leader of a global movement against the “Western racists” he claimed were imposing American hegemony. The West, he claimed, had not changed from the centuries past in which it brutally colonized other countries and fought wars to gain economic advantage.

Western countries, he insisted, had “no moral right” to condemn the annexation of parts of Ukraine.

“The Western elites remain colonizers as they always were,” Mr. Putin said. “They have divided the world into their vassals — the so-called civilized countries — and everyone else.”

As Mr. Putin spoke, a crowd gathered on Red Square for the concert and rally. Russian media reported that Moscow universities had directed students to attend. Pro-Kremlin pop music performers belted out nationalist songs from a stage that said “Russia!” and was flanked with banners reading “Choice of the people!” and “Together forever!”

At one point, a young woman in an orange sweatshirt took the stage, describing herself as a volunteer helping people in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Her husband had been drafted a week ago, she said.

“I’m not moping and will wait for him and support him,” she said. Appearing to hold back tears, she added: “I call on you, women: support your husbands, sons and fathers. Everything will be OK.”

Mr. Putin is seen on screens during the broadcast of a concert marking the declared annexation of the four regions near St. Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square.Credit…Reuters

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.


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In New York, Russian Consulate Is Vandalized With Red Paint

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The Russian consulate in Manhattan was vandalized on Friday, according to the police.

The Russian consulate in Manhattan was vandalized on Friday, according to the police.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

By Karen Zraick and Mable Chan

  • Sept. 30, 2022Updated 5:42 p.m. ET

The Russian Consulate in New York was vandalized with spray paint early Friday morning, according to the police.

Officers responded to a 911 call about vandalism on the facade of the building, located on East 91st Street, just off Fifth Avenue, at about 1:30 a.m. on Friday, the police said.

No words were visible, just wide streaks of red paint sprawled across the ground floor facade of the building, covering windows and a set of double doors. But some on social media and a few people passing by interpreted the vandalism to be a protest of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.

The vandalism appeared just hours before President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia gave a belligerent speech in Moscow about the annexation of four regions in Ukraine.

Some of the people who stopped in front of the consulate on Friday morning expressed their support for Ukraine.

Maria Phillips, 39, who was born in what was then the Soviet Union and now lives is London, took photos of the scene.

“I feel moved by it,” she said. “It obviously stands for blood, which Russia is responsible for, killing Ukrainian people and sending people to die in the war, which is pointless and cruel and stupid.”

Marina Kovalenko, 57, a personal trainer who lives nearby, saw photos of the paint on social media and hurried over to catch a glimpse. To her, it was a work of art, and she commended the vandals and offered to bail them out if they were caught.

There have been no arrests, and the episode was deemed a possible bias incident, the police said.

“I always was thinking to spray the flag, but I’m short,” Ms. Kovalenko joked. “And I know it’s criminal.”

She said she moved to the United States from Russia 11 years ago, but her family remained there. She added that she thought the paint should remain until Russia’s government changed course.

“I wish I was brave enough to do it myself,” she said.

Julia Krushelnysky, a Ukrainian American senior at the Spence School across the street from the consulate, teared up as she surveyed the scene. She said it had been very difficult for her to attend school daily as the war grinds on.

“It’s very emotional to have this very visual representation of the Russian consulate every day, something a little bit tough for me,” she said.

The Russian consulate referred questions about the incident to the U.S. State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A sign on the consulate’s door said all appointments were canceled for the day.


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Грани.Ру: Кнопка невозврата

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105467 Через несколько дней диктатор нацистской России объявит об аннексии четырех областей Украины. Отменить уже анонсированное им публично решение он не может. И дело не в том, что подобное отступление с заявленных позиций может обрушить политическую конструкцию путинской диктатуры. Очень похоже, что российское общество готово покорно смириться с любыми зигзагами власти. Но куда больше, чем “внутренних угроз”, кремлевская крыса боится выказать слабость перед внешними противниками. Минимальной ближайшей целью нацистского режима Путина является выход российско-фашистских захватчиков на административные границы аннексируемых областей и принуждение Украины к публичному отказу от вооруженной борьбы за эти территории. Это и означает приемлемое для Кремля временное “замораживание конфликта”. Неспособность достичь этой цели будет однозначно воспринята и внутри, и вне России как демонстрация все той же слабости. Конвенциональных военных сил для достижения этой цели у Кремля нет. Даже для того чтобы остановить хотя и замедлившееся, но все же продолжающееся контрнаступление Украины. Все подготовленное и боеспособное, что можно было выскрести из России, не оголяя полностью критически важную военную инфраструктуру, уже брошено на украинский фронт и в значительной своей части выбито. Быстрая переброска на фронт больших масс мобилизованного пушечного мяса также невозможна. Она будет постепенной. Однако наращивание российских военных ресурсов на фронте будет вызывать пропорциональное наращивание западной военной помощи Украине. Пойдя на очередной виток эскалации, Путин взвинтил для своих противников цену не столько сопротивления, сколько уступок. Замораживание фактической линии фронта с последующими бесконечными переговорами о “спорных территориях” устроило бы многих на Западе. Но путь к этому отрезает сам Путин, объявляя об официальной и окончательной аннексии. Переговоры о “спорных территориях” становятся невозможны в первую очередь для Кремля. С другой стороны, лидеры Запада тоже уже просто не могут себе позволить ограничиться словесным непризнанием аннексии. Сколько-нибудь длительное удержание Кремлем контроля даже над частью территории, об аннексии которой он объявит, превращает аннексию из единичного прецедента в повседневную норму современной международной реальности. А это, в свою очередь, превращает всю систему международных институтов, союзов и договоров в потерявший кредитное доверие и лопнувший банк. Никто после этого не сможет сдержать нарастающую волну международного насилия в самых разных частях планеты. Путин просто не оставил лидерам Запада иного выхода, кроме как защищаться в попытке не допустить этого. И единственным средством, с помощью которого он может хоть как-то надеяться принудить их к капитуляции (в частности – к отказу от военной помощи Украине), является ядерный шантаж. В своей экзистенциальной борьбе за новый мировой порядок, основанный на произволе хищника, Путин рано или поздно должен будет выдвинуть свой ядерный ультиматум. Не столько Украине, сколько лидерам Запада. И рано или поздно он должен будет подкрепить словесные угрозы демонстрацией решимости ядерное оружие реально использовать. Никто не знает, сработает ли “защита от дурака” российского ядерного арсенала. Но опасность того, что она не сработает, существует и достаточно велика. Существует мнение, что Путин не применит ядерное оружие до того, как он израсходует мобилизуемое им пушечное мясо. Однако консервация на сколько-нибудь длительный период сложившегося на сегодня положения на фронте после официального оформления аннексии не только неприемлема для Запада, но и крайне унизительна для Кремля. Как это так – мы уже объявили эту территорию своей, а ничего не меняется Одна из важных особенностей тоталитарного, нацистского режима Путина – огромная роль понтов в системе поддержания власти.

Весьма вероятно, что ядерный ультиматум будет выдвинут уже через несколько дней – сразу после того, как марионеточный российский “парламент” проштампует аннексию. И если западные разведки получат достоверные сведения о неизбежности российской ядерной атаки в ближайшее время, это может поставить западных лидеров перед необходимостью нанесения упреждающего обезоруживающего удара.


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Putin to host ceremony annexing occupied Ukrainian territories on Friday, Kremlin says | CNN

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CNN  — 

Russia will on Friday begin formally annexing up to 18% of Ukrainian territory, with President Vladimir Putin expected to host a ceremony in the Kremlin to declare four occupied Ukrainian territories part of Russia.

The ceremony would take place on Friday at 15:00 local time (08:00 ET) in the Kremlin’s St. George’s Hall, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Putin will deliver a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the four occupied regions on the sidelines of the ceremony, he added.

Peskov’s announcement comes after people in four occupied areas of Ukraine supposedly voted in huge numbers in favor of joining Russia, in five-day polls that were illegal under international law and dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a sham.

The so-called referendums were organized by Russian-backed separatists in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) in the eastern Donbas region, where fighting has raged since the rebels seized control of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014.

The other two areas to hold so-called referendums were Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine. Russia has occupied the two regions since shortly after it invaded the country in late February.

Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Russian-backed administration in Kherson, urged Putin to annex the region on Wednesday, following the so-called referendum there.

The Moscow-aligned leadership in all four places claimed the processes yielded massive majorities for those “voting” in favor of acceding to Russian sovereignty: 87.05% in Kherson, 93.11% in Zaporizhzhia, 98.42% in the LPR and 99.23% in the DPR.

The process was widely panned as illegitimate, as experts said it was impossible to hold a free and fair election in a war zone or occupied territory. A top United Nations official, Rosemary DiCarlo, said the votes “cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.”

“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one state of another state’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” said DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general.

Reports from the ground suggest that voting in the occupied regions was done essentially – and in some cases, literally – at gunpoint. Serhii Hayday, the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk region military administration, said that authorities were going door to door, trailed by armed guards, to collect votes, and that local populations were being intimidated into voting to join Russia.

The results also contradict data from before the war. An exclusive CNN poll of Ukrainians conducted in February, just before Russia’s invasion, found just 18% of Ukrainians in the east – including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions – agreed with the statement that “Russia and Ukraine should be one country,” while 16% of Ukrainians in the south, which included the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, supported it.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday the process was a “farce” that “cannot even be called an imitation of referendums.”

Zelensky also accused Russia of attempting to use the same strategy as it did when Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. A referendum organized there, which officially saw 97% of voters back annexation, was ratified by Russian lawmakers within a week. Much of the international community did not respect that outcome, and it appears they will do the same with Tuesday’s results.

Separatist leaders from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in Moscow, Russia on September 29.

Some of the separatist leaders involved in carrying out sham referendums to secede from Ukraine and join Russia landed in Moscow Thursday, according to a photograph posted by the Russia-appointed deputy head of the Kherson regional military administration Kirill Stremousov.

LPR chief Leonid Pasechnik told Russian state news agency TASS Thursday he was also in the Russian capital.

Reuters said Thursday that a stage with giant video screens has been set up on Red Square, alongside billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!.” TASS had previously reported that a rally would be held in front of the Kremlin on Friday in support of the poll results of the so-called referendums.

Alhough the results of the Russian-backed referendums are unsurprising, there is concern Russia’s attempts to assert sovereignty over Ukrainian territory could portend a dangerous escalation in the seven-month-long war.

The Kremlin is expected to treat the territories as though they are parts of Russia, warning that it would defend them as such – signaling a potential military escalation once the Ukrainian Army attempts to reclaim them.

In an address on September 21, Putin raised the specter of nuclear weapons, saying he would use “all the means at our disposal” if he deemed the “territorial integrity” of Russia to be jeopardized.

The so-called referendums came after a sudden and successful Ukrainian offensive through most of the occupied Kharkiv region swung momentum in the conflict back towards Kyiv this month, galvanizing Ukraine’s Western backers and causing anger in Russia, which has time and again been stymied on the battlefield.

With losses piling up, Putin has enacted a “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens, meaning those who are in the reserve could be called up and nationals with military experience would be subject to conscription – and potentially sent to defend the illegally annexed territories. At the outset of the conflict, Putin was careful to emphasize that the military assault, euphemistically referred to as a “special military operation,” would only be fought by military professionals.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled the country to avoid conscription. Since the announcement, more than 50,000 Russians have fled to Finland and at least 100,000 have crossed into Kazakhstan in the past week. Images from crossings into Finland, Georgia and Mongolia show massive traffic jams on the Russian side of each border.

Protests against the partial mobilization have broken out in some of Russia’s ethnic minority regions. Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky, have alleged that Russia is forcibly drafting domestic protesters; entire segments of male populations in remote villages; and fighting-age men from minority communities as well as occupied territories in Ukraine. A Ukrainian mayor-in-exile alleged Russia was conscripting his constituents to “use them as cannon fodder.”

CNN has been unable to verify these claims.


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Cuomo launches PAC

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Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo has an announcement.

No, it’s not a write-in campaign for Nov. 8 or anotherlegal issue for Tish James. It’s a political action committee to “to elect the right people to politics,” he announced in an 8-minute video yesterday. And a podcast, which is *definitely not* copying his little brother Chris Cuomo’s comeback effort.

Cuomo comes to us after spending the past several months “engaging in something called life,” after some 40 years in politics which culminated in his resignation last year amid several sexual harassment allegations. The video did not address any of the allegations or pending lawsuits against him.

“I spent a lot of time in nature, hiking, on the water,” Cuomo said of his recent free time. “I like to work with mechanical things so I’ve been working on restoring cars, a boat and an old Harley Davidson motorcycle that I will get to run even if it kills me.”

He says he has a fresh perspective on the state of U.S. politics: its progress is limited by partisan ideals and extreme Twitter discourse. If this sounds a lot like his old perspective on U.S. politics, it’s because he’s been saying this for years.

It’s unclear whether this PAC will work just to elect Democrats, or if Republicans will be the “right people” as well. It’s unclear which candidates might be interested in taking money from him, just a year after nearly the entire slate of top New York elected officials called for his resignation. It’s unclear if it will be fully funded by the millions of dollars he still has sitting in his campaign account or if there will be an additional funding mechanism.

These questions and more might be answered in a forthcoming podcast Cuomo also announced, the second in his family to launch a forum for his independent opinions following public dismissal. “My intention is to speak the full truth — unvarnished — from the inside out — frank and candid — as a person who has been in the room many times for many years and knows their games, and as a person who actually did the job,” he said.

The concept of candidness and revealing “their games” (who, exactly, is they and how are they different than Cuomo?) sounds a lot like Chris’s “FREE AGENT” theme. Maybe the boys are planning to get back together.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen in front of a gray background.

IT’S THURSDAY. Got tips, suggestions or thoughts? Let us know … By email: [email protected] and [email protected], or on Twitter: @erinmdurkin and @annagronewold

WHERE’S KATHY? Making an electric vehicles announcement and speaking at Carnegie Hall Opening Night Gala.

WHERE’S ERIC? Speaking at the Founders Recognition and Inauguration of President Patricia Ramsey at Medgar Evers College and the unveiling of the Microsoft Garage Tech Innovation Center, meeting with Morgan Stanley Chair and CEO James Gorman, and hosting a National Senior Centers Month reception.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There is malfeasance of some sort.” — spokesman for Queens state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, 83, whose Twitter account watched some porn this week

N.Y.C. Children Held Ground in Reading, but Lagged in Math, Tests Show,” by The New York Times’ Troy Closson: “In the first sign of how New York City public schoolchildren fared during the pandemic, new test score data released Wednesday showed sharp declines in math but steady performance in reading for students in the nation’s largest school system. The results of the state’s standardized exams highlighted the uneven effects of the past two and a half years on children’s learning. Fewer than 38 percent of third through eighth graders demonstrated proficiency in math, compared with about 46 percent of students before the pandemic, the last time the exams were given to most of the city’s schoolchildren.”

City Council, Adams administration clash over solitary confinement bill, by POLITICO’s Erin Durkin: The Department of Correction denounced legislation to ban solitary confinement as City Council members vowed to press forward with the bill at a contentious hearing Wednesday. It’s the first major legislative clash between Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council, as violence at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex escalates and a potential federal takeover looms. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams threw her support behind the bill, which is sponsored by 36 Council members — enough to override a mayoral veto. DOC Commissioner Louis Molina said the measure “would have grave consequences” and complicate the job of running a safe and humane jail. “If this bill solely banned solitary confinement, it would have my total, unwavering support. But that is not what this bill is about. It does much, much more.”

— “Never-before-scene images show Rikers inmates locked in caged showers, left in soiled pants, more poor conditions,” by WNYC’s Matt Katz: “Officials in charge of enforcing safe operations at city jails recently shared never-before-seen photos and videos from Rikers Island with assistant district attorneys in Manhattan, providing the very prosecutors who file criminal charges and request bail an unprecedented look at the squalid and deadly conditions in which defendants are held. The shocking August presentation, obtained by Gothamist through a public information request, was prepared by the Board of Correction. … It shows: A man defecating in his shorts due to a lack of toilets in the intake area and then left in his soiled clothes for 11 hours until another incarcerated person — not jail staff — brought him new clothes; a detainee locked in a cage shower for nearly 24 hours before he injured himself; and incarcerated people dragging sick people to medical care, and even administering chest compressions themselves, because assigned officers weren’t present.”

Council Speaker Makes Her Choice: Car Storage over Diners and Restauranteurs,” by Streetsblog’s Gersh Kuntzman: “Check please! Council Speaker Adrienne Adams appeared to throw the entire open restaurant program under the bus on Wednesday morning, suggesting that the revolutionary de Blasio-era repurposing of roadway space from storage of privately owned cars to outdoor dining was a mistake, despite how few parking spaces it actually took and how many jobs the city estimated it saved. ‘Outdoor dining, in my perspective, should be sidewalk,’ the Speaker said at a Citizens Union breakfast. ‘The street extensions were designed to be temporary.’”

Council members say Adams’ return-to-office push is bad for city workers with disabilities, by POLITICO’s Julian Shen-Berro: Mayor Eric Adams’ insistence that municipal workers return to the office is counterproductive when it comes to city employees with disabilities, several City Council members said Wednesday. The comments from three members of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction came during a hearing about a legislative proposal aimed at creating a more equitable workforce. They also come as the city struggles with significant workforce vacancies. “Coming off the pandemic, we know that work can be done effectively remotely,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “Why is the administration prohibiting work arrangements that New Yorkers with disabilities need?”

Scandal-Scarred Deputy Mayor Cuts Commissioner Out of Loop to Meet With Police Brass,” by The City’s Greg Smith, Yoav Gonen and Katie Honan: “When Philip Banks was named deputy mayor for public safety in January, Mayor Eric Adams dodged questions about his longtime pal being named an unindicted co-conspirator in a high profile police corruption case. … As deputy mayor for public safety, Banks is officially responsible for overseeing agencies that include the Fire Department and Department of Correction. The NYPD is not in his portfolio because the police commissioner is supposed to report directly to the mayor. But daily schedules obtained by THE CITY show his activities for the first five months of the Adams administration, from January through May, include six sit-downs with top NYPD chiefs — without Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.”

NUMBERS, THEY SAY WHAT YOU WANT: Hochul touts drop in shootings but picture is more complicated,” by Times Union’s Joshua Solomon: “Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday touted a decline in shootings in New York this year from the same period a year ago, one that is outpacing a marginal drop nationwide. But the complete picture of crime levels is more complicated, according to state data. … But this year, the governor notes, shootings are on pace to drop from the decade-high levels in 2021. That year-to-date drop off, 840-to-756 shootings involving injury through August, could bring the state more in line with 2020 numbers, but it would still be much higher than in 2019 — despite the coronavirus pandemic’s waning influence on day-to-day life in the state. The same data show people killed by gun violence is slightly up compared to last year, but it also includes the mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this year when 10 people were slain by a lone gunman.”

Hochul: Overtime boost could help farm labor,” by Spectrum’s Nick Reisman: “Expanding overtime for farmworkers to kick in at 40 hours a week could help broaden the labor pool of agriculture workers in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said. The pending decision to lower the overtime threshold from 60 hours a week to 40 is not expected to be made for several weeks by state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. But Hochul on Wednesday in a news conference said there would be benefits in doing so. ‘If someone is now going to be paid for their overtime hours, why would they not want to come to New York state to work and receive a much higher compensation than they would in these other states?’ Hochul said.”

Hochul campaign hired son of donor tied to $637M ‘pay-to-play’ COVID deal,” by New York Post’s Zach Williams, Bernadette Hogan and Bruce Golding: “The son of a major Kathy Hochul donor was hired by her campaign right around the time his father hosted a fundraiser for the Democratic governor — and just weeks before the dad’s company scored what’s being called a ‘pay-to-play’ deal to sell the state $637 million in overpriced COVID-19 tests. James Tebele, 21, has a resume that starts with a 2016 summer internship at his dad Charlie’s New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets consumer technology company, which pivoted to selling masks, gowns, sanitizer, thermometers and at-home rapid tests during the pandemic. Now a student at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, James Tebele began working for Hochul’s campaign as a finance intern in November — and appears to have risen up the ranks, or at least pay scale, of her campaign as his dad’s fundraising for the governor increased.”

— “‘Would do that all again’: Hochul doubles down on $637M ‘pay-to-play’ deal,” by New York Post’s Zach Williams: “Gov. Kathy Hochul says she has no regrets about her administration giving $637 million to a COVID rapid testing company tied to $300,000 in campaign cash despite growing outrage over the alleged pay-to-play scheme. ‘I would do that all again,’ Hochul told reporters in Albany on Wednesday. ‘I’m always looking to improve because perception is important to me as well. But the reality is no contribution has ever had an effect on any decision we make. We follow the rules — always have always will,’ she added.”

After fallout, Port of Albany drops application for $29.5M federal offshore wind award,” by Spectrum’s Kate Lisa: “A historic $29.5 million federal grant will not be awarded to the Port of Albany for a offshore wind tower manufacturing project as expected. Officials with the port announced Wednesday it had withdrawn its application for the U.S. Maritime Administration funding to assist constructing the $357 million project on Beacon Island. Delaying the application process will allow more time for a state and federal review of various pending permits and environmental assessments needed to begin the work. Construction on the project, to include four new buildings, a wharf, bridge and internal roadways, was ordered to stop this spring after contractors improperly cleared trees on the port’s 80-acre site this spring without securing all the required permits — coming under fire from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for clearing the vegetation while neglecting a review process mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act.”

#UpstateAmerica: Moliendo Cafe, Ted’s Fish Fry, Jumping Jacks, Druthers, Delmonico’s and 677 Prime: These are recommended dining spots for Amazon consultants dropping in to chat at the Albany warehouse that recently filed for a union election.

‘It’s a numbers game’ in NY-21 as voters weigh Stefanik, Castelli,” by Spectrum’s Kate Lisa: “New Yorkers in the 21st Congressional District, represented by Republican Elise Stefanik, have continued to support the congresswoman as she’s moved politically farther to the right since taking office in 2015. It’s uncertain how they’ll respond to her opponent, Matt Castelli, campaigning as a moderate Democrat to appeal to voters on both sides of the aisle. The former CIA intelligence officer supports access to legal abortion, protecting the Second Amendment and wants an independent commission to address crises at the southern border. Moderate candidates are appealing across the political spectrum in the current tense climate, but Luke Perry, a political science professor at Utica University, said the party that turns out the highest number of voters will see victory.”

— Advocates worry migrants housed at the city’s tents at Orchard Beach in the Bronx could face difficulties in the flood-prone area.

— NYPD police radios may go dark by 2024, cutting off the public and media from radio communications.

— Two men were arrested in the livestreamed robbery of a Brooklyn bishop.

— A city pension fund will continue to hold virtual meetings.

— Columbia University will drop its mask mandate at the beginning of October.

— The Queens district attorney is probing alleged voter fraud targeting Assemblymember Ron Kim in the June Democratic primary.

— Mayor Eric Adamsstill hasn’t hired a fire commissioner.

— The union representing 7,000 current and retired New York state troopers has endorsed Republican Michael Henry over incumbent Attorney General Tish James.

— Aaaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season, tying Roger Maris’s American League record.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Liz Sidoti of Abernathy MacGregor … CBS’ Tory CoughlanSalena Zito of the Washington Examiner and NY Post … POLITICO’s Ryan Hutchins … Business Insider’s Oma SeddiqMelissa DeRosa … Edelman’s Lisa Osborne Ross … NBC’s Emma BarnettAlex Goldstick

Innovation QNS developers commit to making 40 percent of units affordable,” by Queens Daily Eagle’s Jacob Kaye: “The developers behind Innovation QNS, a massive, five-block development proposed for Astoria, have committed to making 40 percent of the project’s approximately 2,800 housing units permanently affordable, the Eagle has learned. The commitment, which comes as the City Council considers the controversial project, nearly doubles the amount of affordable units previously proposed by developers Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios.”

NYC Economic Development Corporation Abruptly Evicts Beloved Red Hook Playground,” by The City’s George Joseph: “Xius Pimentel, 12, loved going to PortSide Park, a waterfront playground on a parking lot just a few blocks from his family’s apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He and his little sister would go there all the time to practice gardening, hang up holiday lights or catch the ocean breeze when it got too hot outside. It wasn’t an official city park, just a community space that Brooklynites like his family had helped build together during the pandemic. So the seventh grader was upset this week when his mom informed him that the park had been torn down over the weekend. … The beginning of the end came on Friday afternoon when Billybey Marina Services, a company that operates waterfront space for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, demanded that PortSide, a Red Hook nonprofit, immediately get rid of the park it had worked with locals to help build.”

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Mandiant identifies 3 hacktivist groups working in support of Russia

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Mandiant researchers are tracking multiple self-proclaimed hacktivist groups working in support of Russia, and identified 3 groups linked to the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

gru Russia linked hacktivists

The experts assess with moderate confidence that moderators of the purported hacktivist Telegram channels “XakNet Team,” “Infoccentr,” and “CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn” are coordinating their operations under the control of the GRU.

The so-called hacktivist groups conducted distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and defacement attacks against Ukrainian websites, but the experts believe that they are a front for information operations and destructive cyber activities coordinated by the Kremlin.

The experts discovered that some APT28 tools were used to compromise the networks of Ukrainian victims, whose data was subsequently leaked on Telegram within 24 hours of wiping activity by APT28.

The APT28 group (aka Fancy BearPawn StormSofacy GroupSednit, and STRONTIUM) has been active since at least 2007 and it has targeted governments, militaries, and security organizations worldwide. The group was involved also in the string of attacks that targeted 2016 Presidential election.

The group operates out of military unity 26165 of the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) 85th Main Special Service Center (GTsSS).

Most of APT28s’ campaigns leveraged spear-phishing and malware-based attacks.

Mandiant identified at least 16 data leaks from threat actors claiming to be hacktivists, four of which coincided with wiping attacks conducted by Russia-linked cyberespionage group APT28.

“Mandiant has only observed the use of CADDYWIPER and ARGUEPATCH by APT28, although we note that others have publicly attributed some CADDYWIPER deployments to Sandworm.” reads the report published by Mandiant. “In two incidents, Mandiant observed APT28 conduct wiper attacks, which were followed, within 24 hours, by data from the victims being leaked on Telegram. In both instances APT28 deployed ARGUEPATCH, which dropped CADDYWIPER.”

Mandiant researchers are not able to determine the composition of these groups and their exact degree of affiliation with Russian military intelligence. 

“While the exact nature of the relationship is unclear” states the report, “it likely falls into one of two general possibilities:

  • GRU officers may directly control the infrastructure associated with these actors and their activities may be a front for GRU operations, similar to the relationship between the GRU and the false persona Guccifer 2.0.
  • The moderators respectively running these Telegram channels may directly coordinate with the GRU; however, the moderators may be Russian citizens who are not Russian intelligence officers. There are multiple possible configurations through which this dynamic could manifest, including but not limited to initial GRU support for third parties to establish the channels or subsequent links established after initial channel creation. 

Experts believe that the moderators of the XakNet Team channel are directly supported by APT28, based on XakNet’s leak of a technical artifact APT28 used in the compromise of a Ukrainian network. The unique nature of this technical artifact suggests that the moderators of XakNet Team either are GRU intelligence officers or work directly with the GRU APT28 operators.

“Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine created unprecedented circumstances for cyber threat activity. This likely is the first instance in which a major cyber power potentially has conducted disruptive attacks, espionage, and information operations concurrently with widespread, kinetic military operations in a conventional war.” Mandiant concludes.

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Russia)


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Comment: What FBI’s history says about its Trump investigation | HeraldNet.com

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By Stephen M. Underhill / Special To The Washington Post

Last Wednesday night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a partial stay of District Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling granting Donald Trump a special master to review the 11,000 documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago home by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The ruling exempts classified documents from Special Master Raymond Dearie’s review for now, and allows a criminal investigation pertaining to them to proceed.

The legal community, including many on the right, has been baffled by Cannon’s rulings in the case. Even Trump’s former attorney general, William P. Barr, called them “deeply flawed.” On the left, many have questioned Cannon’s independence because Trump appointed her, and she is presiding over a case that he is actively trying to discredit.

If history is precedent, however, all of this legal wrangling may be moot because there is another component to the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s storage of documents: a counterintelligence operation, which is a whole different matter. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program is responsible for “exposing, preventing, and investigating intelligence activities in the U.S.” that threaten “the nation’s critical assets,” and keeping “weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands.” Historically, this mission has been of utmost importance and justified the FBI using highly aggressive, secretive and sometimes unlawful tactics.

This history indicates that it is the counterintelligence element of the FBI’s investigation into Trump that could pose the most risk for the former president, especially because it is the part where the courts will be least likely to know what the bureau is doing and least likely to limit what it can do.

J. Edgar Hoover — the first FBI director and the man who led the bureau for nearly a half-century — epitomized the way the FBI deployed espionage-like tactics in its counterintelligence program. Hoover learned the art of such tactics in conjunction with fascist European police forces before World War II.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hitched the New Deal to Hoover’s celebrity reputation to rebuff conservative critics. The FBI could chase bank robbers and kidnappers across statelines, it was equipped with fast cars, fast guns and radios. It had links to Hollywood studios and New York publishers. Hunting outlaws like “Baby Face” Nelson, “Machine Gun” Kelly and “Pretty Boy” Floyd mesmerized audiences about the power of Roosevelt, Hoover and the New Deal.

Meanwhile, below the radar, Hoover forged relationships with anti-communist police societies like the International Criminal Police Commission, which was taken over by Nazi Party officials in 1935. Hoover sent FBI delegates to Berlin in 1939 to learn what the ICPC described as “repressive and preventive measures against actions preparatory to crimes and other dangerous conduct showing criminal intentions.”

Roosevelt authorized Hoover to transform the FBI into a counterintelligence agency; but he presumed Hoover was anti-fascist and would target Nazi and Japanese sympathizers. Instead, the conservative Hoover wanted to stop American “communists,” a label he applied broadly to the liberals crusading for an expanded federal government that offered a social safety net.

Hoover hid his disdain for the New Deal under the popular Roosevelt, sensing a battle he couldn’t win. But after Roosevelt died in 1945, Hoover began attacking its ideology, institutions, workforce and beneficiaries. Hoover and the new president, Harry S. Truman, already had an adversarial relationship, and whispers soon swirled around Washington that Truman was going to downsize the bureau and fire Hoover.

Hoover retorted that any attempt to remove him from office was an international communist conspiracy to weaken U.S. defenses as part of a Soviet attack. In the burgeoning Cold War climate, this was a potent claim; one that protected Hoover’s job.

The contention fit with Hoover’s broader tactics in this era. In 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act, which made the FBI responsible for protecting nuclear secrets and empowered the bureau to remain a counterintelligence agency even with World War II in the past. Hoover used this authority to help foment the “Red Scare,” which mixed the actual problem of nuclear espionage with fearmongering that the New Deal sheltered traitors who wanted to weaken the FBI.

Beginning in 1956, Hoover went even further tactically, launching an operation called COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) that combined vast amounts of surveillance, blackmail, propaganda and violence. He valued dirty secrets about his adversaries and their loved ones that he could use to silence dissent.

Assistant Director William Sullivan oversaw COINTELPRO and later wrote in his memoirs that the moment Hoover got dirt on a senator, he sent an emissary to Capitol Hill to make sure the senator knew that the bureau had “by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter.” Hoover wanted the senator to know this, because “from that time on, the senator’s right in his pocket.”

When illegal surveillance discovered criminal activity, agents passed it to the Department of Justice’s criminal division for prosecution. Other times, however, Hoover’s agents resorted to manufacturing such evidence.

COINTELPRO targeted not only politicians and activists, like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but also the organizations and social movements to which they belonged. Over the 15 years of its existence, it focused on the women’s liberation movement, Communist Party USA, anti-Vietnam War organizations, environmentalist and animal rights organizations, the American Indian movement, Chicano and Mexican American groups, Puerto Rican independence groups and the civil rights and Black Power movements, especially their leadership. While COINTELPRO mostly focused on groups on the left, it did also investigate far-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the National States’ Rights Party.

COINTELPRO could have a devastating impact on organizations. FBI records for “COINTELPRO — BLACK HATE” directed agents to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations.” Accordingly, the FBI planted inflammatory material on organizational members to sow division. The FBI also used coercive tactics to turn friends and allies against each other. Other common COINTELPRO tactics included perjury, witness harassment, witness intimidation and the withholding of exculpatory evidence.

COINTELPRO was the state’s response to the civil rights movement and accelerated with the tumult of the 1960s as Cold War fears about subversives continued to swirl. The program was exposed in 1971 by a group of concerned citizens calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. The commission burgled an FBI field office in Media, Pa., and passed secret documents to news agencies. Sordid revelations about the program caused an uproar, prompting its demise. But in its 15 years, it had a major impact on American politics and society, exposing how far secretive counterintelligence operations could go without arousing scrutiny.

Counterintelligence programs peak at times of heightened concern about nuclear espionage and nuclear war. The recent deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the United States and the tensions between China and the U.S., as well as the unusual activities at Mar-a-Lago, are reminiscent of conditions that gave rise to COINTELPRO.

Trump’s efforts to delay and discredit the DOJ’s criminal case may slow the work of federal prosecutors. Cannon’s rulings may lend him support. But this probably won’t slow the counterintelligence work being done to ascertain what damage — if any — Trump’s storage of documents posed. If the FBI has evidence of espionage, U.S. politics may be on the cusp of transformation. While times have changed, one thing remains true: Americans and politicians are willing to countenance aggressive tactics in the name of national security in times of fear.

Stephen M. Underhill is professor and chair of the department of communication studies at Marshall University. He is author of “The Manufacture of Consent: J. Edgar Hoover and the Rhetorical Rise of the FBI” (MSU Press, 2020).


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Swastika-wearing ex-pupil kills 15 in Russian school shooting

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MOSCOW, Sept 26 (Reuters) – A gunman with a swastika on his teeshirt killed 15 people, including 11 children, and wounded 24 at a school in Russia on Monday before committing suicide, investigators said.

The attacker, a man in his early thirties who was named by authorities as Artem Kazantsev, killed two security guards and then opened fire on students and teachers at School Number 88 in Izhevsk, where he had once been a pupil.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles major crimes, said it was looking into the perpetrator’s suspected neo-Nazi links.

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“Currently investigators…are conducting a search of his residence and studying the personality of the attacker, his views and surrounding milieu,” the committee said in a statement. “Checks are being made into his adherence to neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology.”

Investigators released a video showing the man’s body lying in a classroom with overturned furniture and papers strewn on the bloodstained floor. He was dressed all in black, with a red swastika in a circle drawn on his teeshirt.

The Investigative Committee said that of the 24 people wounded, all but two were children. Regional governor Alexander Brechalov said surgeons had carried out a number of operations.

Police officers secure the area near a school after a gunman opened fire there, in Izhevsk, Russia September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer

He said the attacker had been registered with a “psycho-neurological” treatment facility. Investigators said the man was armed with two pistols and a large supply of ammunition.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin “deeply mourns” the deaths. He described the incident as “a terrorist act by a person who apparently belongs to a neo-fascist organisation or group”.

He said doctors, psychologists and neurosurgeons had been sent on Putin’s orders to the location of the shooting in Izhevsk, about 970 km (600 miles) east of Moscow.

Russia has seen several school shootings in recent years.

In May 2021, a teenage gunman killed seven children and two adults in the city of Kazan. In September last year, a student armed with a hunting rifle shot dead at least six people at a university in the Urals city of Perm.

In April 2022, an armed man killed two children and a teacher at a kindergarten in the central Ulyanovsk region before committing suicide.

In 2018, an 18-year-old student killed 20 people, mostly fellow pupils, in a mass shooting at a college in Russian-occupied Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

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Reporting by Reuters; writing by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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