International Espionage & Heroic Rats With Backpacks
October 25, 2022
13 Reasons Why We Can’t Be Friends
On Monday U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the U.S.’s victory in the latest match of “Spy vs. Spy” between American and Chinese state intelligence agencies. In the statement, the Justice Department revealed that it was pressing charges against 13 individuals, including 10 Chinese intelligence officers and government officials, on the basis of spying on the U.S. or intimidating Chinese dissidents on behalf of Beijing.
The juiciest case is an almost-cartoonish story of new-age tech mixed with Cold War espionage. Defendants Guochun He and Zheng Wang stand accused of attempting to bribe a U.S. law enforcement agency employee. The pair thought that the employee was participating in the U.S. probe into a firm whose description matches that of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, but the employee was actually a double agent for the FBI. The mole was offered $61,000 in Bitcoin in exchange for sensitive information from the DOJ’s investigation. They reportedly used a payphone to contact the agent, using codenames including “Marilyn Monroe” and “Cary Grant” – it’s a shock they got caught. The pair is being charged with money laundering and obstruction.
The DOJ announced two other prize catches Monday afternoon. The first calls out seven Chinese nationals for attempting to force a U.S. resident to return to China using a long-term harassment campaign as part of China’s Operation Foxhole, which seeks to repatriate critics of the CCP living abroad. The second involves four individuals attempting to “target, co-opt, and direct” individuals in the U.S. using a Chinese academic institute for Chinese intelligence purposes. “The government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights. They did not succeed,” stated Garland. “The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based.” (NBC, Reuters, WaPo ($))
Some Good News
- Young Ukrainians volunteer to clean up destroyed homes — and try to make it fun (NPR)
- Canada’s ban on all handgun sales goes into effect (Axios)
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This Is What Real Friendship Looks Like
- Brazil’s presidential election between right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and his left-wing challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) is becoming increasingly violent. On Sunday, former Brazilian Congressman Roberto Jefferson, who refers to Bolsonaro as a “personal friend,” attempted to avoid his arrest by turning a rifle and hand grenades against federal police officers trying to take him in.
- “I shot at the car and close to them,” said the ex-lawmaker. He also claimed that he used the weapons “in the name of freedom, democracy and family values.” Two officers and a police car received non-fatal shrapnel wounds thanks to the attack, and Jefferson was eventually arrested after an 8-hour standoff with law enforcement. He was originally under house arrest after a time in prison as part of a government investigation into anti-democratic social media groups but was supposed to be sent back to the can after threatening a female supreme court member.
- Bolsonaro at first referred to his “friend” opening fire on the cops as “an unfortunate incident,” but eventually referred to Jefferson as a “crook” following social media pressure. Lula’s team latched on to the attack, stating, “Bolsonarista violence has reached alarming heights … We need to put an end to this hatred and violence. Brazil needs peace.” Bolsonaro is set to face off against Lula next Sunday in a runoff after Lula narrowly failed to gather a majority of votes to secure his election earlier this month. (Guardian)
How Long Will This One Last
- The revolving door at Number 10 Downing is ready to welcome yet another Conservative leader, the building’s third occupant in just seven weeks. Rishi Sunak is set to become the U.K.’s newest leader following the resignation of Liz Truss, beating out competitors Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt over the weekend.
- Sunak is the first British Asian to lead the country, and at the tender age of 42 is its youngest P.M. in over two centuries. He was elected as the only Conservative Party candidate to secure over 100 votes from fellow Tory lawmakers over the weekend, pushing out former P.M. Johnson and centrist competitor Mordaunt, who both failed to garner the necessary support to bring the election to a vote of all dues-paying party members.
- Before working in government, Sunak worked in banking, where he made millions. His wife was recently reported to have dodged over £20 million (roughly $22.5 million) in taxes by claiming non-domicile status, which costs just £30,000 (roughly $33,800) annually. Thanks to her status as the daughter of Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, the couple is worth around £730 million, or almost $820 million. Maybe their financial savvy can help the floundering British economy. (NBC, Guardian)
Additional World News
- Outspoken Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif killed in Kenya (Al Jazeera)
- Hurricane Roslyn: At least three dead on Mexico’s coast (BBC)
- Thousands protest against PM Orban’s government, “runaway inflation” (Reuters)
- France’s Nuclear Reactors Malfunction as Energy Crisis Bites (WSJ, $)
- New crisis brewing for Venezuelans turned back at US border (Al Jazeera)
- Uganda’s Ebola outbreak sees a worrisome increase in infections after spike in cases over the weekend (NBC)
- The U.S. set a new record in Border Patrol apprehensions (NPR)
“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.” – Evo Morales
Fair Fight’s Financial Frenzy
- Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, a close friend of Stacey Abrams who chaired her gubernatorial campaign in 2018 and in her current bid to unseat Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, is also a partner at boutique law firm Lawrence & Bundy. Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, spent more than $25 million over two years on legal fees (mainly on one case) and a large amount of it went to Lawrence & Bundy.
- Fair Fight Action maintains that the case, Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger, drew much-needed attention to voting inequities, even though it ended in favor of their opposition. But now that it’s been revealed that $9.4 million from Abrams’ group in 2019 and 2020 went to Abrams’ close friend, some are questioning the ethics of the whole situation.
- The case was an argument against things like long voting lines and poor training of poll workers, which serve to disenfranchise people. The case also resulted in an energized Democratic base, who donated large amounts of money to Abrams’ campaign, adding another layer to the questions about the case overall. (Politico)
Reduce, Reuse, But Don’t Bother Recycling
- New research from Greenpeace found that only 5% of the plastic waste generated by American households last year was recycled. Americans discarded 51 million tons of wrappers, bottles, and bags in 2021, which works out to about 309 pounds of plastic per person. If that’s upsetting to you, you might be more upset to find out that even if every American separated every piece of plastic they use, the situation wouldn’t be much improved.
- It would be easy to pass the issue off on consumers being lazy, but the report revealed a much more disappointing reason – not a single type of plastic packaging in the U.S. meets the definition of recyclable used by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s new plastic economy initiative. Even plastics we all assume are recyclable – bottles and jugs (PET #1 and HDPE #2) – don’t meet the 30% recycling rate needed to meet the definition of recyclable by the foundation. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Michigan teen pleads guilty to killing 4 in school shooting (AP)
- 2 students injured in school shooting in St. Louis, suspect in custody police say (CNN)
- Election officials: Armed “vigilantes” near ballot drop box in Arizona (Axios)
- NAEP math and reading scores fall across country amid covid pandemic (WaPo, $)
- Robb Elementary educator says she is ‘suffering mentally’ after police wrongly claimed she left a school door open (NBC)
- Scoop: Tucker Carlson lashes out at GOP campaign chief in irate private call (Axios)
- Newsom trades barbs with Dahle in California’s only 2022 gubernatorial debate (LAT, $)
Don’t Come Into My House (Unless It’s Collapsed And You’re Saving My Life)
- Rats are looking to improve their public image after millennia of bad press. With some training from humans and a little bit of technology, the former pests might one day become tiny guardian angels for humans trapped in collapsed buildings, squeezing through tight spaces to get help to survivors trapped in the rubble of disaster areas.
- Belgian non-profit APOPO is developing a project aimed at turning rats into rescue rodents using a tech-filled mini backpack and specialized training. Equipped with a backpack housing a live-view camera, two-way microphone, and location transmitter, the rats are being trained to find survivors, mark their location by pulling a switch on their backpacks, and return to their keepers.
- APOPO currently employs African Giant Pouched Rats to sniff out both tuberculosis and land mines and is funding the development of their new search and rescue rats with the help of the search and rescue organization GEA. The newest generation of HeroRATS, the nickname for APOPO’s tiny four-legged employees, began development in 2021, and training and R&D are still underway. Don’t worry about the rodents being treated as lab rats here, either – the organization is very wary of work-life balance for the vermin (are they even vermin at this point?), only putting them through training for five 15-minute sessions each week. (CNN)
- About 1,000 students absent from a Virginia high school with flu-like symptoms (The Hill)
- Tom Brady and Ron DeSantis Are Said to Be on Texting Terms (NYT, $)
- A Washington state woman fended off a black bear attack (NPR)
- Partial eclipse: NI to witness event on Tuesday (BBC)
- Korean Air plane overshoots runway, closing Philippine airport (NBC)
- Khloé Kardashian, Other Stars Share Support for Jewish People After Kanye West’s Antisemitic Remarks (People)