routinely amplifies Russian claims about the war with Ukraine and about secret biological weapons research, as part of its own information battle with the United States that began with the debate over the spread of Covid-19.

China’s heavily censored internet, which aggressively stifles unwelcome political opinions, has also freely circulated conspiracy theories about a possible American role in the spread of monkeypox, as Bloomberg reported.

Russia’s efforts to push the claims about biological weapons come from an old Russia propaganda playbook, adapted to the age of social media.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation called the Russian strategy a “fire hose of falsehood,” inundating the public with huge numbers of claims that are designed to deflect attention and cause confusion and distrust as much as to provide an alternative point of view.

died on Tuesday, that it would hurt newly warming relations with the West.

Russia’s propaganda model today has been adapted to take advantage of “technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War,” according to the RAND study.

Despite “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions” and a disregard of consistency, the strategy can often be persuasive to some, especially those who have preconceived biases, one of the authors, Christopher Paul, said in an interview.

“There are still people who believe the C.I.A. caused AIDS in Africa, even though that idea has been thoroughly debunked,” Mr. Paul said. “Not many, but some.”

Like many disinformation campaigns, Russia’s accusations on occasion have a passing relationship to facts.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Russia raised alarms about U.S. efforts to establish closer defense and research ties with several of Russia’s neighbors, including other former republics of the Soviet Union.

invoked a special session was in 1997, when Cuba accused the United States of spraying a plume of insects over the country’s crops, causing a devastating infestation.

The proceedings were not public, but several nations later submitted written observations about Cuba’s claims and the United States’ rebuttal. Only North Korea supported Cuba’s claim. Eight countries — Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand — concluded there was no link. China and Vietnam said it was impossible to determine. (Russia submitted no response.)

“There’s a big silent majority that just wants to sit on the fence,” Dr. Lentzos said. “They don’t really want to take a side because it could hurt their interests either way. And so the big question is not ‘Do these guys believe it, or not?’ It’s to what extent are they motivated to act on it and speak out.”

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Judge Nixes No-Prison Deal In 2018 Limo Crash That Killed 20

Wednesday’s turnabout drew applause and tears from victims’ relatives and plunged limo company boss Nauman Hussain into legal uncertainty.

A judge rejected a plea agreement that would have meant no prison time for the operator of a limousine company involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York. Wednesday’s turnabout drew applause and tears from victims’ relatives and plunged limo company boss Nauman Hussain into legal uncertainty.

State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch, who was not presiding over the case when the deal was reached a year ago in Hussain’s case, called the agreement “fundamentally flawed.”

It would have spared Hussain prison time, angering the families of the people killed when brake failure sent a stretch limo full of birthday revelers hurtling down a hill in 2018.

The judge’s rejection caught lawyers and relatives off-guard.

“I can’t even put into words how I feel. Totally unexpected. Thank God,” said Jill Richardson-Perez, the mother of limo crash victim Matthew Coons. “I’m in a better place now.”

Kevin Cushing, who lost his son Patrick in the crash, said the families “have a hope for a bit of justice to be served in the future, where we didn’t have any justice served in the past.”

Defense attorney Chad Seigel said they were “shocked” and that the judge’s move was “unheard of.”

Hussain, who operated Prestige Limousine, had been charged with 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in what was the deadliest U.S. transportation disaster in a decade.

The agreement had called for Hussain to plead guilty only to the homicide counts, resulting five years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Lawyers for both sides said last year the plea agreement assured a resolution in a case that would have faced an uncertain outcome if presented to a jury.

Lynch noted that a state Department of Transportation out-of-service sticker had been placed on the limousine a month before the crash. State police recovered the sticker from Hussain’s car after his arrest. Prosecutors have argued that Hussain took the sticker off the limo’s windshield so that he could use it for more jobs.

To the judge, Hussain’s actions showed he knew the risk of putting the limousine on the road the day of the crash, and a guilty plea to only criminally negligent homicide does not reflect that. Lynch called the deal “completely disingenuous and unacceptable to this court.”

Lynch gave Hussain’s lawyers the choice of accepting a sentence of 1 1/3 to four years in prison or withdrawing his guilty plea. They chose the latter.

Seigel said afterward that the DOT sticker had “absolutely nothing to do with defective brakes.”

“Collectively, we made a decision that it would be in the best of all all involved — not only our client but the members of the community — to put this matter behind them. A little monkey wrench was thrown in that,” Seigel said. “So the judge forced our hand and we’re ready for trial.”

District Attorney Susan Mallery left court without commenting.

Hussain, who sat with his head lowered for much of the proceeding, declined comment afterward.

While the National Transportation Safety Board concluded the crash was likely caused by Prestige Limousine’s “egregious disregard for safety” that resulted in brake failure, the board said ineffective state oversight contributed.

Attorneys for Hussain say he tried to maintain the limousine and relied on what he was told by state officials and a repair shop that inspected it.

Axel Steenburg rented the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine for wife Amy’s 30th birthday on Oct. 6, 2018. The party group, ranging in age from 24 to 34, included Axel’s brother, Amy’s three sisters and two of their husbands, and close friends.

En route to a brewery, the limo’s brakes failed on a downhill stretch of road in Schoharie, west of Albany. The vehicle blew through a stop sign at over 100 mph and crashed into a small ravine.

The crash killed the limo driver, 17 passengers, and two bystanders outside the store.

Mallery’s office has said Hussain allowed passengers to ride in the limo despite having received “multiple notices of violations” from the state and having been told repairs were inadequate. State police said the vehicle should have been taken out of service because of brake problems identified in an inspection a month before the crash.

Under New York law, second-degree manslaughter entails conduct that “creates or contributes to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that another person’s death will occur” — a risk that the perpetrator consciously disregards. Criminally negligent homicide, on the other hand, involves failing to perceive such a risk, the judge noted.

The next court date has been set for Sept. 14. Hussain, who had been on interim probation, will go out on bail and be subject to GPS monitoring.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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A Year After Leaving Afghanistan, U.S. Interpreters Are Still Stuck

Last year, the U.S. promised to evacuate all military interpreters, but the country’s chaotic exit left most of them behind.

A year ago, the U.S. ended its longest war, with one final evacuation plane out of Kabul. 

Left behind were tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters who put their lives on the line working for the U.S. military. Now, 12 months later, advocates say most of them are still trapped in Afghanistan, living in fear and poverty.

Newsy is calling one Afghan interpreter Abdul to protect his real identity.  

“We sold all our goods,” Abdul said. “Anything we have we sold to just provide the food for us to still survive.”

Abdul fought side-by-side with American soldiers for three years at great risk to himself and his family. He says if the Taliban find out about his past, they’ll likely kill him.

“They can find and identify anybody from the country,” Abdul said. “Their intelligence is very powerful.” 

When the U.S. helped airlift 124,000 people from Kabul last year, Abdul and most Afghan interpreters never made it out.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get inside the airport,” Abdul said.

Since then, advocates tell Newsy around 4,000 interpreters have been evacuated. But according to the U.S. State Department, 74,000 applications for special immigrant visas for Afghan interpreters are still in the pipeline. 

Some don’t have the documents required, and others are unable to attend their consular appointments since there is no U.S. embassy in Kabul anymore. Applicants are told to go to a third country.

“We have no embassy here, and we have no one here,” Abdul said.

Abdul spent all his savings to get an exit pass from the Taliban for his family to cross to Pakistan, but he’s still waiting to get it. He says he remains hopeful thanks to a group of U.S. veterans secretly supporting him financially and helping him navigate red tape from afar.

“They were by our side for 20 years,” said Chris Franco, a U.S. veteran. “The least we can do is continue to fight to get our allies here to the U.S. or to safety to some other nations and honor our promise.”

For Franco, honoring that promise is personal. Two Afghan interpreters he served with are still trapped in the country.

“For the folks that are still left behind and fighting through so many challenges to get out of Afghanistan and get their families to safety, we have not forgotten you,” Franco said. “We will continue to fight for you as you fought by our side and fight for us.”

But Franco says that promises alone are not enough.

Though he and other advocates credit the Biden administration for establishing a robust public-private partnership to get Afghan allies out, they say the White House and Congress could do a lot more. 

“We need more help,” Franco said. “I know there is great work being done by our government, but we need more help.”

The White House has made efforts to simplify the special immigrant visa process for Afghan refugees and sent a request to Congress earlier this year in the hopes of legislating a path to legal permanent residence for those who arrive in the U.S. 

The bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act was introduced in the Senate this August in hopes to achieve both those goals.


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