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Number of Russian spies in US remains ‘way too big,’ says FBI director

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FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearing, Wednesday, July 12, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday the number of Russian spies in the U.S. remains “way too big” despite recent efforts to root them out.

“The Russian traditional counterintelligence threat continues to loom large,” Wray said at an event at the International Spy Museum. 

“The Russian intelligence footprint — and by that, I mean Russian intelligence officers — is still way too big in the United States,” he added. “And it’s something that we’re constantly bumping up against and trying to block and prevent and disrupt in every way we can.”

While Wray emphasized the U.S. has made “very positive, significant strides” on the issue in recent years, he also said they remain mindful of Moscow’s “disproportionately large” footprint in the U.S., and the interests those individuals are advancing.

“If anybody needs a reminder of what Russia’s interests are, you can just look at what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said. “And so, we never lose sight of the fact that these are the same people that are involved in unconscionable activity and aggression in Ukraine.”

He noted Russia is also now using cut-outs, or individuals who act as intermediaries between agents, as part of its intelligence operations. Wray pointed to the case of Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican national who was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2020 for spying on behalf of Moscow.

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Ukraine War Sparks US Intelligence Recruitment of Disgruntled Kremlin Insiders

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Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has presented US intelligence services with a unique opportunity to target Kremlin insiders dissatisfied with the handling of the war for recruitment, as reported by CCN.

“Disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us. We’re very much open for business,” CIA Director Bill Burns said during a speech in the United Kingdom last year.

Follow our coverage of the war on the @Kyivpost_official.

David McCloskey, a former CIA officer, said, “That business is the exchange of information that the asset or agent would provide for something that they want.”

“We want people who have some sense of what [Russian] leaders’ priorities are – what they’re trying to accomplish,” he added.

According to CNN’s report, the recruitment effort is not a secret. The CIA has released Russian-language videos on social media, appealing to the patriotism of disaffected Russians with access to valuable information.

These posts include step-by-step instructions for potential informants on how to avoid detection by Russian security services using virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Tor web browser to contact the agency anonymously and securely on the Dark Web, the report disclosed.

The FBI has launched a similar initiative to recruit Russian government sources working in the US, including geographic targeted social media ads aimed at phones located near Russia’s embassy in Washington.

Moscow Minister Implies Peace Possible Only If Kremlin Keeps Invaded Territories

Kremlin Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement reiterates Russian rhetoric that Moscow is open to peace talks but only under conditions Kyiv considers unacceptable.

“This direct appeal is an unusual approach, but one which could prove effective in reaching a Russian populace with few options to express their discontent,” said Douglas London, a former CIA station chief.

London suggested that Russians who are angry with the Kremlin’s state-sanctioned corruption and abuse and have no way to act openly, are left with few alternatives other than seeking external support.

Over 30 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world entered a new period of superpower conflict. CNN’s chief national security analyst, Jim Sciutto, describes it as “a definitive break between the post-Cold War era and an entirely new and uncertain one” in his latest book.

As during the Cold War era, espionage remains a vital tool for both sides. Tech-savvy US intelligence officers are openly attempting to recruit new assets, while Russian-linked operatives reportedly increase operations across Europe.

Russian spymasters bribed German politicians to make anti-Ukraine statements and to buy pro-Kremlin votes in the European Parliament, a major Prague news platform reported, citing intelligence from the Czech national intelligence agency BIS.

The Denik N newspaper revealed that Czech counterintelligence uncovered a network of Kremlin agents and local operatives paying anti-government politicians from at least six EU member states to influence European Parliament votes in favor of Russia.

The operation also funded a major pro-Russian news website, which produced content praising Moscow and spreading negative propaganda about Ukraine, marking one of the largest exposed Russian influence operations in recent years.

Hungarian news outlet VSquare reported that around 100 of the 252 Russian spies in Austria work as diplomats, with many more possibly using civilian cover. This information, shared by an unnamed intelligence chief from a Central European country, was revealed in a closed-door meeting with officials.

In February, it was reported that Ireland refused to renew visas for several Russian diplomats over espionage concerns.


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The Kyiv Post is Ukraine’s English-language newspaper and proud winner of the 2014 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. The newspaper’s first print edition came out on Oct. 18, 1995, and went online in 1997.


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Russia’s nuclear threats are losing their power

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Russia is once again waving around its nuclear weapons. Last week, Vladimir Putin warned Nato countries against allowing Ukraine to use western munitions to strike Russia. The Russian leader warned of “serious consequences” and said that Ukraine’s allies should be aware of the “small territory” and “dense population” of many European countries.

In case this was too vague, Dmitry Medvedev followed up with a more blood-curdling threat. Russia’s former president cited Putin’s words and added: “The use of tactical nuclear weapons can also be miscalculated. This would be a fatal mistake.”

Medvedev has a reputation as a man who is fond of strong drink. But Moscow has also taken actions recently to underline its threats, with Russian troops conducting nuclear drills near the border with Ukraine.

These moves have not deterred several Nato nations, including the US, from taking the latest step up the escalation ladder by approving the use of their weapons inside Russian borders.

This latest move by Nato nations reflects a mix of confidence and nervousness. On the positive side, the US and its European allies are now less concerned about the threat that Russia will go nuclear than they were 18 months ago.

On the negative side, they are also increasingly uneasy about the situation on the battlefield. The new willingness to allow Ukraine to strike back at enemy artillery positions and missile bases — even if they are inside Russia itself — reflects a concern that Ukraine is gradually losing the war. As a result, Kyiv’s western backers feel compelled to tolerate a greater level of risk to keep Ukraine in the fight.

The west’s willingness to take on this level of risk represents a dramatic shift in thinking since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Back then, Nato countries were nervous about providing Ukraine with any offensive weapons.

The provision of each new significant capability to Kyiv — long-range missiles, tanks, fighter jets — has been accompanied by prolonged, sometimes agonised, debate in the west and by nuclear threats from Russia. But each time the Nato countries have crossed a threshold, the Kremlin has failed to make good on its nuclear threats. And that has made it easier for the western alliance to take the next step.

But the fact that the US and its allies are no longer quite so anxious about Russia’s nuclear posturing does not mean that they dismiss the threat completely. Indeed, there are some western officials who remain very uneasy about the potential for escalation involved in authorising the use of weapons, provided by the west, to strike Russian territory.

Their concern is that Russia will regard this latest step as the escalation of a proxy war by the west and could make what it regards as a symmetrical response — involving counterstrikes on Nato territory. That might lead Russia and Nato very close to the direct conflict that western leaders have always sought to avoid. Russian military doctrine is believed to assume that Moscow cannot prevail in a conventional war with the west, and so to envisage the early use of nuclear weapons.

Despite talk by Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, of eventually stationing French troops on Ukrainian soil, the western alliance is still trying to maintain its clear red line against direct involvement in a conflict with Russia.

When Iran recently loosed off a barrage of missiles at Israel, the US and its allies got directly involved in shooting them down. Ukraine has received no such support against Russian missile assaults on cities and infrastructure — partly because of the risk that western air forces might end up shooting directly at Russian forces.

Even now, the US has put significant restrictions on how far Ukraine can go in striking back against Russian forces with US-provided weapons. The new policy is that Ukraine is free to strike at Russian forces that are firing into Ukraine from just across the border. But strikes at targets deep inside Russian territory are still off the table.

Despite the concerns about Russia’s potential response to this latest move, US decision makers still think that the circumstances that could trigger a Russian nuclear response are fairly distant. The two situations that are most often mentioned are if the Russian army is about to be routed on the battlefield; or if Ukrainian ground forces threaten Crimea, which Russia formally annexed in 2014.

The closest that the world has come to a real nuclear crisis over Ukraine, so far, was in October 2022 — when Russia suffered a series of catastrophic setbacks in the war, including the loss of Kherson. There was one weekend when western officials became seriously concerned that Russia might be on the point of going nuclear.

But that crisis also created a new playbook for how to deal with Russian nuclear threats, when they look really serious. Step one is to talk to Russian counterparts and to threaten direct and massive western involvement in the conflict. Step two is to talk to other major powers — in particular, China and India — and to get them to warn Russia off, preferably in public.

For the moment, this playbook is back in the desk drawer. But it may have to be brought into operation once again before the war in Ukraine comes to an end — one way or another.

gideon.rachman@ft.com


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Fauci pushes back partisan attacks in fiery House hearing over COVID origins and controversies

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Fauci testifies publicly before House panel on COVID origins, controversies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert until leaving the government in 2022, was back before Congress on Monday, calling “simply preposterous” Republican allegations that he’d tried to cover up origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A GOP-led subcommittee has spent over a year probing the nation’s response to the pandemic and whether U.S.-funded research in China may have played any role in how it started — yet found no evidence linking Fauci to wrongdoing.

He’d already been grilled behind closed doors, for 14 hours over two days in January. But Monday, Fauci testified voluntarily in public and on camera at a hearing that quickly deteriorated into partisan attacks.

Republicans repeated unproven accusations against the longtime National Institutes of Health scientist while Democrats apologized for Congress besmirching his name and bemoaned a missed opportunity to prepare for the next scary outbreak.

“He is not a comic book super villain,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., saying the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic had failed to prove a list of damaging allegations.

Fauci was the public face of the government’s early COVID-19 response under then-President Donald Trump and later as an adviser to President Joe Biden. A trusted voice to millions, he also was the target of partisan anger and choked up Monday as he recalled death threats and other harassment of himself and his family, threats he said still continue. Police later escorted hecklers out of the hearing room.

The main issue: Many scientists believe the virus most likely emerged in nature and jumped from animals to people, probably at a wildlife market in Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak began. There’s no new scientific information supporting that the virus might instead have leaked from a laboratory. A U.S. intelligence analysis says there’s insufficient evidence to prove either way — and a recent Associated Press investigation found the Chinese government froze critical efforts to trace the source of the virus in the first weeks of the outbreak.

Fauci has long said publicly that he was open to both theories but that there’s more evidence supporting COVID-19’s natural origins, the way other deadly viruses including coronavirus cousins SARS and MERS jumped into people. It was a position he repeated Monday as Republican lawmakers questioned if he worked behind-the-scenes to squelch the lab-leak theory or even tried to influence intelligence agencies.

“I have repeatedly stated that I have a completely open mind to either possibility and that if definitive evidence becomes available to validate or refute either theory, I will ready accept it,” Fauci said. He later invoked a fictional secret agent, decrying a conspiracy theory that “I was parachuting into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak.”

Republicans also have accused Fauci of lying to Congress in denying that his agency funded “gain of function” research – the practicing of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential real-world impact – at a lab in Wuhan.

NIH for years gave grants to a New York nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance that used some of the funds to work with a Chinese lab studying coronaviruses commonly carried by bats. Last month, the government suspended EcoHealth’s federal funding, citing its failure to properly monitor some of those experiments.

The definition of “gain of function” covers both general research and especially risky experiments to “enhance” the ability of potentially pandemic pathogens to spread or cause severe disease in humans. Fauci stressed he was using the risky experiment definition, saying “it would be molecularly impossible” for the bat viruses studied with EcoHealth’s funds to be turned into the virus that caused the pandemic.

In an exchange with Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Fauci acknowledged that the lab leak is still an open question since it’s impossible to know if some other lab, not funded by NIH money, was doing risky research with coronaviruses.

Fauci did face a new set of questions about the credibility of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he led for 38 years. Last month, the House panel revealed emails from an NIAID colleague about ways to evade public records laws, including by not discussing controversial pandemic issues in government email.

Fauci denounced the actions of that colleague and insisted that “to the best of my knowledge I have never conducted official business via my personal email.”

The pandemic’s origins weren’t the only hot topic. The House panel also blasted some public health measures taken to slow spread of the virus before COVID-19 vaccines, spurred by NIAID research, helped allow a return to normalcy. Ordering people to stay 6 feet apart meant many businesses, schools and churches couldn’t stay open, and subcommittee chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, called it a “burdensome” and arbitrary rule, noting that in his prior closed-door testimony Fauci had acknowledged it wasn’t scientifically backed.

Fauci responded Monday that the 6-feet distancing wasn’t his guideline but one created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before scientists had learned that the new virus was airborne, not spread simply by droplets emitted a certain distance.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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Путин отреагировал на победу женщины на выборах президента Мексики – DixiNews

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Путин отреагировал на победу женщины на выборах президента Мексики  DixiNews

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