U.S. and Ukrainian flags are pictured prior to the start of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, at U.S. Airbase in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
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WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) – The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.
Washington is also expected to announce other security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery ammunition and counter-battery radars to address needs expressed by the Ukrainian military, the source added.
The weaponry is the latest assistance to be offered to Ukraine by the United States since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbor in February.
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This month, President Joe Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with $700 million in military aid, including advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range targets.
Ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armor weapons are also part of that package, officials said.
Another effort, to sell four large, armable drones to Ukraine, was paused earlier this month amid concerns that their radar and surveillance equipment could create a security risk for the United States if it fell into Russian hands. read more
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Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Ross Colvin and Himani Sarkar
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The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
Now, even their future is under surveillance.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.
They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.
automating systemic discrimination and political repression.
to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.
“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.
ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.
The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.
Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.
Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.
It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.
Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.
A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.
Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.
The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.
The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”
Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.
When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.
Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.
While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”
These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.
The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.
In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.
With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.
Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.
In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.
The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.
The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.
At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”
Toward Techno Totalitarianism
Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.
As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”
When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.
The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.
Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.
Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.
“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.
Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control.They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.
The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.
One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.
Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.
“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”
Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”
“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”
Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.
The headquarters for Axon Enterprise Inc, formerly Taser International, is seen in Scottsdale, Aizona, U.S., May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. To match Special Report USA-TASER/EXPERTS REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo
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June 6 (Reuters) – Taser-maker Axon Enterprise Inc (AXON.O) said it was halting a project to equip drones with stun guns to combat mass shootings, a reversal that did not stop most of its ethics advisory board members from announcing their resignation on Monday in protest over the original plans.
The May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, prompted Axon to announce last week it was working on a drone that first responders could operate remotely to fire a Taser at a target about 40 feet (12 m) away.
Nine of 12 members of the company’s AI Ethics Board quit over concerns the drones would harm over-policed communities and that Axon publicized its ambitions without consulting the group. The resignations and Axon’s scuttled plans were first reported by Reuters.
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“In light of feedback, we are pausing work on this project and refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward,” Chief Executive Rick Smith said in a statement.
The action by ethics board members marked a rare public rebuke for one of the watchdog groups some companies have set up to gather feedback on emerging technologies, such as drones and artificial intelligence (AI) software.
Smith said it was unfortunate that members withdrew before Axon could address their technical questions, but the company “will continue to seek diverse perspectives to challenge our thinking.”
Axon, which also sells body-worn cameras and policing software, has said its clients include about 17,000 out of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States.
It explored the idea of a Taser-equipped drone for police since at least 2016, and Smith depicted how one could stop an active shooter in a graphic novel he wrote. The novel shows a daycare center with what looks like an enlarged smoke alarm, which first recognizes the sound of gunfire and then ejects a drone, identifying and tasing the shooter in two seconds.
Axon first approached its ethics board more than a year ago about Taser-equipped drones, and the panel last month voted eight to four against running a limited police pilot of the technology.
The company announced the drone idea anyway, as it said it wanted to get past “fruitless debates” on guns after the Uvalde shooting, sending shares up nearly 6%. They were down 0.5% on Monday.
Ethics board members worried the drones could exacerbate racial injustice, undermine privacy through surveillance and become more lethal if other weapons were added, member Wael Abd-Almageed said in an interview.
“What we have right now is just dangerous and irresponsible,” said Abd-Almageed, an engineering research associate professor at University of Southern California.
The board likewise had not evaluated use of the drones by first responders outside police, it said. And members questioned how a drone could navigate closed doors to stop a shooting.
The drone is “distracting society from real solutions to a tragic problem,” resigning board members said in a Monday statement.
CEO Smith has said drones could be stationed in hallways and move into rooms through special vents. A drone system would cost a school about $1,000 annually, he said.
Formed in 2018, the ethics panel has guided Axon productively on sensitive technologies such as facial recognition in the past.
Giles Herdale, one of the remaining ethics board members, told Reuters he chose not to resign because he could have more influence “if I am in the tent than outside it.”
For others, the company’s drone announcement prior to a formal report by the board broke with practice, said member Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor.
“I’m not going to stay on an advisory board for a company that departs so far from expectation and protocol or, frankly, who believes ubiquitous surveillance coupled with remote non-lethal weapons is a viable response to school shootings,” he said.
Barry Friedman, the board chairman, resigned as well.
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Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, Calif., and Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Tomasz Janowski
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Amid the roar of artillery and bone-rattling explosions, New York Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive. These are their stories and images.
Through the three months of Russia’s invasion, New York Times journalists have chronicled carnage and courage, ruin and resolve, across the wide arc of combat through eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir V. Putin’s brutal offensive is now concentrated.
At the front line and within easy range of it, they have joined civilians whose homes, families and emotions have been shattered, as well as Ukrainian soldiers — hardened veterans and green volunteers — using tools as modern as surveillance drones and as ancient as trenches.
Amid the roar of artillery, the clatter of small arms and bone-rattling explosions, Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive and kill — or just survive. These are their accounts and images from the last few weeks of that fight.
On the front line south of Izium, a Russian-captured city just north of the Donetsk region, two Ukrainian 122-mm guns thundered across the rolling landscape last week. They belonged to an artillery detachment of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, called in to fire on Russian forces who had pinned down Ukrainian troops.
The camouflaged gunners then worked at lightning speed to conceal their position, moving broken branches to hide from view the smoking barrels of the powerful weapons. A young soldier wearing a bandanna and a determined expression burst out of the greenery, sprinting back into the woods to hide from enemy drones. Soon the team was reloading, aiming and firing again.
Along the same front, a dozen members of the 95th Air Assault Brigade camped in a concrete building at an abandoned farmhouse. Throughout the night, in pairs, they took turns on sentry duty from inside a trench system worming down a hillside, overlooking a valley of rolling wheat fields pockmarked with dark clumps of dirt kicked up by the impact of recent shelling by Russian artillery.
Several nearby buildings had been shattered by shelling, and the thump of artillery exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian troops a few miles north rumbled day and night.
Artem Sandul, 20, pulled on a cigarette under the cover of a wood and mud bunker in the trenches as dawn broke. Until Russia invaded on Feb. 24, he had been flipping burgers at a McDonald’s. Now he was cooking for his fellow soldiers, his commander seemingly keeping him back from the most dangerous shelling a couple of miles up the road, where Ukrainian lines were only 400 yards from Russian lines in some places.
Near Izium, jets, most likely Russian, flew low over Ukrainian positions, firing defensive flares to confuse antiaircraft batteries, then made a sharp turn toward the trenches and screamed by so low that they disappeared behind a tree line before vanishing over the horizon.
On Tuesday, in Vuhledar, about 30 miles southeast of the Russian-occupied Donetsk, an artillery team from the 53rd Brigade responded to Russian artillery fire the soldiers said was coming from inside a church about four miles away.
In Barvinkove, a Ukrainian-held town 20 miles southwest of Izium, a cyclist pedaled past blown-out buildings and a barricade, while at a small base, soldiers drank coffee and a sniper prepared his rifle for a mission. Nearby, Russian forces were trying to push southward, part of a pincer move to trap the Ukrainian troops still holding a pocket of territory in the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
On the seesawing front line of that pocket lies Bakhmut, a largely evacuated town of blasted building shells, rubble and incinerated vehicles, where two huge craters bracket the administrative building. In newly reinforced defensive positions, Ukrainian soldiers tried to hold off the Russian advance, amid the constant din and ground shudder of artillery fired by both sides.
In that region, Times photographers encountered evidence of Russian losses, too. Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, mostly volunteer fighters, managed to retake the village of Novopil. With Russian troops still less than half a mile away, the evidence of a fierce battle was everywhere, in the wreckage of houses and the stench of dead bodies.
In front of a small shed, the body of a Russian soldier lay where he had been cut down, his clean, well-polished boots at odds with the surrounding devastation. His brown suede belt bore the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.
Near Bilohorivka were the ravaged bodies and tanks of hundreds of Russian troops whose disastrous attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River fell to deadly Ukrainian heavy artillery.
But many of those caught in the destruction did not wear uniforms. Vitaliy Kononenko, 47, had just built a new home for his family in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, but before he could bring his wife and children to see it, it was destroyed.
In the train station in Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region, Anna Vereschak, 43, boarded a westbound evacuation train with her daughters Milana, 5, and Diana, 4, after bombardment forced them from their village. Another woman, Valentina, ushered her blind 87-year-old mother, Nina, onto the train.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, particularly from the east, taking only what they can cram into a bag or two, often after holding out for weeks or months in basements despite bombardment, hunger and isolation. Some of the fiercest fighting now is around Sievierodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, the easternmost city still held by Ukraine.
In Lysychansk, just across the bombed-out bridge from Sievierodonetsk, three police officers braved artillery fire to collect the bodies of the dead, like a 65-year-old woman known to neighbors as Grandma Masha. Her dog growled and barked from his kennel as they loaded her into a body bag and then their white van.
Grandma Masha could not get the medicine she needed to treat her diabetes, according to a neighbor, Lena, 39. Her son had left with his family and was not able to return when she fell ill.
“It’s a completely stupid war — but no one asked for my opinion,” said Lena, who, like most people interviewed, gave only her first name because she feared for her safety.
In an apartment block in Sievierodonetsk, already partially blasted and burned by shelling, residents huddled in the basement, resigned, at last, to evacuation. They barely reacted to the sounds of explosion and nearby gunfire.
Across the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and the southern part of the Kharkiv region, Times photographers found Ukrainian troops in every imaginable phase of daily life in a combat zone.
In an underground bunker were dozens of members of the Carpathian Sich Battalion — eating, sleeping, cleaning their weapons and chatting on cellphones with their wives and girlfriends. Some gathered around a monitor to watch drone video of a recent attack. Most smoked.
The floor and walls of the bunker quaked as a tank round hit a nearby building, and small-arms fire followed. Bullets ricocheted off walls outside. The Russians were close.
A handful of Ukrainian soldiers dashed outside to repel the attack, while others collected their weapons and waited by the door in case they were needed. They weren’t; the shooting subsided.
One soldier lit a stove and began frying buckwheat.
At a well-guarded and heavily fortified checkpoint, fighters built more trenches and bunkers, using sandbags and rough-hewn logs, in preparation for a possible Russian advance in their direction. Warned of incoming artillery fire, they ducked into a bunker, and a medic in the group boasted that their hideouts could take almost anything the Russians might fire at them.
The evidence of war was strewn across the ravaged landscape. Wreckage was everywhere, from collapsed buildings and buckled streets to burned-out tanks. A common sight was the tail of a rocket sticking out of the ground, a reminder of the constant danger from above.
The smells and sounds of war were everywhere, too. Few civilians were around, but troops were omnipresent, patrolling, scavenging, resting and building fortifications when they were not fighting.
After their armored vehicle broke down, a dozen soldiers from Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade recently stood by a roadside near the city of Kramatorsk, smoking, like stranded commuters waiting for a lift.
An attempt to tow them failed, so the soldiers, with their weapons, piled aboard another armored vehicle and set off in the day’s fading light toward the front.
The men of the 93rd Brigade are at the forefront of efforts to hold off the Russian advance south of Izium. Small units of mortar teams have camped out in destroyed villages, battling Russian forces that have thrown everything at them.
They spoke of enduring days of near-constant shelling, sheltering in dank basements, surrounded by jars of pickled vegetables.
Thoughts rarely strayed far from the lethal stakes, but between such harrowing episodes, it was striking how the ordinary business of life, like a highway breakdown, never quite disappeared.
A kiosk in Bakhmut did a brisk trade serving coffee, burgers and sandwiches to soldiers coming and going from the fighting.
In Barvinkove, which has come under heavy Russian bombardment, a few local women were still hawking vegetables and dairy products under the shade of a tree in the town center. A passing soldier, back from the front to refuel, asked to buy some herbs.
The woman refused to take payment for her goods, waving him off and wishing him well.
Ahead of the 2020 elections, Connecticut confronted a bevy of falsehoods about voting that swirled around online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, wrongly said absentee ballots had been sent to dead people. On Twitter, users spread a false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and across the highway.
Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.
“We have to have situational awareness by looking into all the incoming threats to the integrity of elections,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of the state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we view that as a critical threat to the democratic process.”
Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight an onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s elections.
ABC/Ipsos poll from January, only 20 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, campaigning — often successfully — on the untrue claim that it was stolen from him.
Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that the efforts to limit misinformation could restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices. (A U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.) On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently paused the work of an advisory board on disinformation after a barrage of criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.
“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”
Connecticut and Colorado officials said that the problem of misinformation had only worsened since 2020 and that without a more concerted push to counteract it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of elections. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.
“We are seeing a threat atmosphere unlike anything this country has seen before,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state of Colorado. Ms. Griswold, a Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, has received threats for upholding 2020 election results and refuting Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.
Other secretaries of state, who head the office typically charged with overseeing elections, have received similar pushback. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s win in the state, has faced fierce criticism laced with false claims about the 2020 election.
In his primary race this year, Mr. Raffensperger batted down misinformation that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead people who cast ballots in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won his primary last week.
Colorado is redeploying a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is composed of three election security experts who monitor the internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.
Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit. It looks only for election-related misinformation on issues like absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.
“Facts still exist, and lies are being used to chip away at our fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Griswold said.
Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the internet for election falsehoods. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved $2 million for internet, TV, mail and radio education campaigns on the election process, and to hire an election information security officer.
Officials said they would prefer candidates fluent in both English and Spanish, to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer would track down viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and look for emerging narratives and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the dark web.
“We know we can’t boil the ocean, but we have to figure out where the threat is coming from, and before it metastasizes,” Mr. Bates said.
The Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), which is operated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, is pictured in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
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WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) – An Israeli private investigator currently in U.S. custody used Indian hackers to conduct surveillance operations for ultra-wealthy Russians, a reporter said in a court filing late Wednesday.
Independent journalist Scott Stedman told a court in New York that jailed private detective Aviram Azari worked “on surveillance and cyber-intelligence operations at the behest of Russian oligarchs,” citing a mix of public reporting and confidential sources.
Stedman said in a declaration that one of the Russian oligarchs concerned was aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, whom he said indirectly employed Azari in connection with a business dispute in Austria.
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Deripaska’s spokeswoman said in an email that the allegations were “blatantly untrue.” A lawyer for Azari, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft in a separate case, did not return messages.
Stedman made his declaration in support of his request to subpoena Azari for evidence to fight a U.K. libel suit filed against him by British-Israeli security consultant Walter Soriano in 2020.
In a series of articles for his publication, Forensic News, Stedman claimed, among other things, that Soriano was a middleman between wealthy Russians and surveillance firms.
Soriano denied the allegations and sued over the articles, accusing Stedman of mounting a campaign of defamation, invasion of privacy, and harassment.
Stedman’s lawyer told the New York court that “multiple confidential sources” told the reporter that Azari “worked closely with Soriano for years” and thus the jailed private eye’s testimony and documents could “corroborate the truth of Forensic News’ reporting.”
In an email to Reuters, Soriano’s lawyer Shlomo Rechtschaffen said that Stedman’s claims were “false and unfounded” and that the reporter “has no evidence” that his client and Azari worked together as alleged.
In a statement to Reuters, Stedman said he had “very strong reason to believe that Mr. Azari worked with Mr. Soriano on cyber-related projects for multiple Russian oligarchs and other billionaires” and that he was subpoenaing Azari as part of an effort “to defend my journalism and my business.”
Azari is currently being held in federal prison in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing in relation to a hacking campaign tied to the defunct German financial technology company Wirecard AG , his lawyer said last month. read more
Reuters reported last year that Azari was accused of hiring the Indian hacking firm BellTroX on behalf of powerful clients. BellTroX, which has also been accused of hacking by cybersecurity researchers at Facebook and elsewhere, could not be reached for comment. read more
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Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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Russia is calling in troops based in its far east to join the battle in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military high command said on Saturday, as Moscow seeks to reinforce its war-fighting force amid heavy losses and signs that its drive to seize eastern Ukraine has stalled.
Adding to the sense that both sides appeared to be girding for a war of attrition, Ukrainians on Saturday lined up at gas stations across the country as the government struggled to deal with a fuel shortage caused by Russian attacks on oil infrastructure.
“Queues and rising prices at gas stations are seen in many regions of our country,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said Friday in his nightly address. “The occupiers are deliberately destroying the infrastructure for the production, supply and storage of fuel.”
He said a Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports meant that replacement stocks could not come in by tanker. The war has also paralyzed grain harvests in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, disrupting global food supplies and worsening a food crisis in East Africa.
As Western allies have poured more heavy weapons into Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, both NATO countries, reached an agreement that could presage the transfer of MIG-29 warplanes to Ukraine. Slovakia said that Polish F-16 jets would patrol its skies, freeing up a Slovak fleet of the Soviet-made MIGs.
After a meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on Friday, Poland said its air force would begin patrols over Slovakia as part of their joint efforts to help Ukraine.
Slovakia did not say explicitly that it would send its MIGs to Ukraine, but it has raised the possibility of doing so — provided that it can find an alternative way to protect its airspace, which the agreement with Poland would seem to achieve.
Poland last month declined to provide its own fleet of MIG-29s to Ukraine directly, instead offering to fly the planes to a United States military base in Germany, where they could then be flown to Ukraine. Washington, worried about provoking Russia, declined the offer.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, contended that the United States and the European Union, by supplying more powerful weapons to Ukraine, were waging a proxy battle against Russia, regardless of the cost in civilian lives.
The flow of weapons from the West, Mr. Lavrov said, had nothing to do with supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, but rather would enable the United States and the European Union to battle Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”
The fuel shortages in Ukraine followed Russian attacks this week on Ukraine’s main producer of fuel products and other large refineries. Russia said it had also hit storage facilities for petroleum products used by the Ukrainian military.
A senior Pentagon official said these types of attacks were intended to undercut the Ukrainian military’s ability to “replenish their own stores and to reinforce themselves.”
In response, officials in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, urged residents to use public transportation rather than private vehicles to save fuel. “We need to keep in mind the needs of the military and our defenders,” the city’s administration said.
The Kremlin’s deployment of troops from eastern Russia to the battle front in Ukraine suggested that Moscow could be trying to regain momentum in what the Pentagon has described as a “plodding” offensive in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said that the additional Russian forces were being sent first to a Russian city near the Ukrainian border and then to the northeastern Ukrainian city of Izium, where the Russians have met fierce resistance. It did not say how many troops were being deployed.
Western analysts have said Russia’s offensive in the east has slowed as it struggles to overcome many of the same logistical problems involving shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition that hampered the initial phase of its invasion more than two months ago.
On Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said Russia was trying to fix issues that had constrained its invasion by geographically concentrating combat power, shortening supply lines and simplifying command and control.
But Russia “still faces considerable challenges,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on the war. “It has been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine. Many of these units are likely suffering from weakened morale.”
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has exacted an increasingly heavy toll on both militaries. The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had fired on 389 targets across Ukraine, including facilities housing soldiers, killing 120 Ukrainians.
Ukraine said its Special Forces struck a command center near Izium, destroying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles.
In a measure of the rising toll on civilians, the Ukrainian authorities said the police had received more than 7,000 reports of missing people since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, with half of the cases still unsolved.
Ukrainian officials called the number “unprecedented in modern history,” and they appealed to allies to send forensic experts and specialists in managing missing-persons registries.
In a long-awaited but frequently frustrated development in Mariupol, the ruined southern Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces, about 20 women and children were evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant where the city’s last Ukrainian fighters have been holed up along with hundreds of increasingly desperate civilians.
The news, from Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, came amid United Nations-backed efforts to broker a cease-fire to allow the trapped civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape the plant.
Captain Palamar said in a video posted to Telegram that an evacuation column had arrived in the evening to bring the civilians to a safe place, adding that he hoped wounded soldiers would be given safe passage as well.
He did not provide further details, though Russia’s TASS news agency said one of its correspondents on the scene reported that 25 people — including six children — had walked out of the plant. It was not immediately clear whether they were free to seek safety in Ukraine or were being held by Russian forces.
Nearly a million Ukrainians have been moved from Ukraine to Russia, Mr. Lavrov said in an interview published by Chinese state news media on Saturday. He described the moves as voluntary “evacuations,” a claim that contradicted witnesses, Ukrainian officials and Western observers who have said that many Ukrainians have been forcibly deported.
Mr. Lavrov’s claim echoed the false assertions in Russian propaganda that its forces are liberating ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine from what President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia calls the “openly neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has argued that Russia is carrying out the forcible migration of its citizens, which is a war crime, to be used as leverage in any peace talks.
Ukraine has also accused Russian forces of stealing cultural artifacts from occupied cities.
In Mariupol, city officials said Russian forces had taken more than 2,000 items — including icons, medals and works by Russian painters — from the city’s museums to Donetsk, the capital of an eastern region controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, local officials said that a mysterious man in a white lab coat had used long tweezers and gloves to extract scores of gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old from cardboard boxes in a local museum, as a squad of Russian soldiers stood behind him with guns, watching eagerly. The items were from the Scythian empire and dated back to the fourth century B.C.
“The orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold,” declared Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fyodorov, using a derogatory term many Ukrainians reserve for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.”
A series of explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have also increased concerns about the war spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders and set off the first air-raid siren on Russian soil since World War II.
The incidents include a Russian fuel depot that burst into flames moments after surveillance video captured bright streaks of rockets fired from low-flying helicopters, and a fire that broke out at a military research institute near Moscow.
Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out the helicopter strike, while military analysts have suggested that Ukrainian sabotage was probably responsible for other fires. Ukraine has responded with deliberate ambiguity.
“We don’t confirm, and we don’t deny,” Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said in an interview.
Mr. Arestovych described the policy as a strategic stance, and he compared it with Israel’s longstanding policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms, another issue of extraordinary geopolitical sensitivity.
“After what has been happening,” he said, “officially we don’t say yes and we don’t say no, just like Israel.”
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Andrew Higgins, Maria Varenikova, John Ismay, Dave Philipps, Valeriya Safronova, Lauren McCarthy, Victoria Kim, Christiaan Triebert, Aleksandra Koroleva, Andrew E. Kramer, Jeffrey Gettleman, Michael Schwirtz and Christine Hauser.
Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.
The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.
For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.
The documents, spanning 2008 to 2017, show in previously unreported detail that Nokia knew it was enabling a Russian surveillance system. The work was essential for Nokia to do business in Russia, where it had become a top supplier of equipment and services to various telecommunications customers to help their networks function. The business yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, even as Mr. Putin became more belligerent abroad and more controlling at home.
For years, multinational companies capitalized on surging Russian demand for new technologies. Now global outrage over the largest war on European soil since World War II is forcing them to re-examine their roles.
The conflict in Ukraine has upended the idea that products and services are agnostic. In the past, tech companies argued it was better to remain in authoritarian markets, even if that meant complying with laws written by autocrats. Facebook, Google and Twitter have struggled to find a balance when pressured to censor, be it in Vietnam or in Russia, while Apple works with a state-owned partner to store customer data in China that the authorities can access. Intel and Nvidia sell chips through resellers in China, allowing the authorities to buy them for computers powering surveillance.
The lessons that companies draw from what’s happening in Russia could have consequences in other authoritarian countries where advanced technologies are sold. A rule giving the U.S. Commerce Department the power to block companies, including telecom equipment suppliers, from selling technology in such places was part of a bill, called the America Competes Act, passed by the House of Representatives in February.
“We should treat sophisticated surveillance technology in the same way we treat sophisticated missile or drone technology,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who was an assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Obama administration. “We need appropriate controls on the proliferation of this stuff just as we do on other sensitive national security items.”
Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and digital surveillance who reviewed some of the Nokia documents at the request of The Times, said that without the company’s involvement in SORM, “it would have been impossible to make such a system.”
“They had to have known how their devices would be used,” said Mr. Soldatov, who is now a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Nokia, which did not dispute the authenticity of the documents, said that under Russian law, it was required to make products that would allow a Russian telecom operator to connect to the SORM system. Other countries make similar demands, the company said, and it must decide between helping make the internet work or leaving altogether. Nokia also said that it did not manufacture, install or service SORM equipment.
The company said it follows international standards, used by many suppliers of core network equipment, that cover government surveillance.It called on governments to set clearer export rules about where technology could be sold and said it “unequivocally condemns” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Nokia does not have an ability to control, access or interfere with any lawful intercept capability in the networks which our customers own and operate,” it said in a statement.
MTS did not respond to requests for comment.
The documents that The Times reviewed were part of almost two terabytes of internal Nokia emails, network schematics, contracts, license agreements and photos. The cybersecurity firm UpGuard and TechCrunch, a news website, previously reported on some of the documents linking Nokia to the state surveillance system. Following those reports, Nokia played down the extent of its involvement.
But The Times obtained a larger cache showing Nokia’s depth of knowledge about the program. The documents include correspondence on Nokia’s sending engineers to examine SORM, details of the company’s work at more than a dozen Russian sites, photos of the MTS network linked to SORM, floor plans of network centers and installation instructions from a Russian firm that made the surveillance equipment.
After 2017, which is when the documents end, Nokia continued to work with MTS and other Russian telecoms, according to public announcements.
SORM, which dates to at least the 1990s, is akin to the systems used by law enforcement around the world to wiretap and surveil criminal targets. Telecom equipment makers like Nokia are often required to ensure that such systems, known as lawful intercept, function smoothly within communications networks.
In democracies, the police are generally required to obtain a court order before seeking data from telecom service providers. In Russia, the SORM system sidesteps that process, working like a surveillance black box that can take whatever data the F.S.B. wants without any oversight.
In 2018, Russia strengthened a law to require internet and telecom companies to disclose communications data to the authorities even without a court order. The authorities also mandated that companies store phone conversations, text messages and electronic correspondence for up to six months, and internet traffic history for 30 days. SORM works in parallel with a separate censorship system that Russia has developed to block access to websites.
Civil society groups, lawyers and activists have criticized the Russian government for using SORM to spy on Mr. Putin’s rivals and critics. The system, they said, is almost certainly being used now to crack down on dissent against the war. This month, Mr. Putin vowed to remove pro-Western Russians, whom he called “scum and traitors,” from society, and his government has cut off foreign internet services like Facebook and Instagram.
Nokia is best known as a pioneer of mobile phones, a business it sold in 2013 after Apple and Samsung began dominating the market. It now makes the bulk of its $24 billion in annual sales providing telecom equipment and services so phone networks can function. Roughly $480 million of Nokia’s annual sales come from Russia and Ukraine, or less than 2 percent of its overall revenue, according to the market research firm Dell’Oro.
Last decade, the Kremlin had grown serious about cyberspying, and telecom equipment providers were legally required to provide a gateway for spying. If Nokia did not comply, competitors such as the Chinese telecom giant Huawei were assumed to be willing to do so.
By 2012, Nokia was providing hardware and services to the MTS network, according to the documents. Project documentation signed by Nokia personnel included a schematic of the network that depicted how data and phone traffic should flow to SORM. Annotated photos showed a cable labeled SORM plugging into networking equipment, apparently documenting work by Nokia engineers.
Flow charts showed how data would be transmitted to Moscow and F.S.B. field offices across Russia, where agents could use a computer system to search people’s communications without their knowledge.
Specifics of how the program is used have largely been kept secret. “You will never know that surveillance was carried out at all,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a Russian lawyer who co-founded Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights group.
But some information about SORM has leaked out from court cases, civil society groups and journalists.
In 2011, embarrassing phone calls made by the Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov were leaked to the media. Mr. Soldatov, who covered the incident as an investigative reporter, said the phone recordings had come from SORM surveillance. Mr. Nemtsov was murdered near the Kremlin in 2015.
In 2013, a court case involving Mr. Navalny included details about his communications that were believed to have been intercepted by SORM. In 2018, some communications by Mr. Navalny’s supporters were tracked by SORM, said Damir Gainutdinov, a Russian lawyer who represented the activists. He said phone numbers, email addresses and internet protocol addresses had been merged with information that the authorities collected from VK, Russia’s largest social network, which is also required to provide access to user data through SORM.
“These tools are used not just to prosecute somebody but to fill out a dossier and collect data about somebody’s activities, about their friends, partners and so on,” said Mr. Gainutdinov, who now lives in Bulgaria. “Officers of the federal security service, due to the design of this system, have unlimited access to all communication.”
By 2015, SORM was attracting international attention. That year, the European Court of Human Rights called the program a “system of secret surveillance” that was deployed arbitrarily without sufficient protection against abuse. The court ultimately ruled, in a case brought by a Russian journalist, that the tools violated European human rights laws.
In 2016, MTS tapped Nokia to help upgrade its network across large swaths of Russia. MTS set out an ambitious plan to install new hardware and software between June 2016 and March 2017, according to one document.
Nokia performed SORM-related work at facilities in at least 12 cities in Russia, according to the documents, which show how the network linked the surveillance system. In February 2017, a Nokia employee was sent to three cities south of Moscow to examine SORM, according to letters from a Nokia executive informing MTS employees of the trip.
Nokia worked with Malvin, a Russian firm that manufactured the SORM hardware the F.S.B. used. One Malvin document instructed Malvin’s partners to ensure that they had entered the correct parameters for operating SORM on switching hardware. It also reminded them to notify Malvin technicians of passwords, user names and IP addresses.
Malvin is one of several Russian companies that won lucrative contracts to make equipment to analyze and sort through telecommunications data. Some of those companies, including Malvin, were owned by a Russian holding company, Citadel, which was controlled by Alisher Usmanov. Mr. Usmanov, an oligarch with ties to Mr. Putin, is now the subject of sanctions in the United States, the European Union, Britain and Switzerland.
Malvin and Citadel did not respond to requests for comment.
Other Nokia documents specified which cables, routers and ports to use to connect to the surveillance system. Network maps showed how gear from other companies, including Cisco, plugged into the SORM boxes. Cisco declined to comment.
For Nokia engineers in Russia, the work related to SORM was often mundane. In 2017, a Nokia technician received an assignment to Orel, a city about 225 miles south of Moscow.
“Carry out work on the examination of SORM,” he was told.
This time, the United States intelligence community got it right, unearthing a rival’s secret planning and accurately predicting and broadcasting Russia’s intentions to carry out a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
For months, the Biden administration has been sharing — with allies and the public — intelligence about President Vladimir V. Putin’s intentions, taking away any element of surprise and stripping the Russian leader of his capacity to go to war on a false pretext.
But even with the threat of substantial sanctions and allied unity, it was not enough in the end to deter Mr. Putin from carrying out the broad assault that got underway early on Thursday.
But it improved Washington’s ability to bring the trans-Atlantic alliance into a unified front against Moscow and to prepare waves of sanctions and other steps to impose a cost on Russia. And after high-profile intelligence failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and other global crises over the past several decades, the accuracy of the intelligence and analysis about Mr. Putin gave the C.I.A. and the broader array of U.S. intelligence agencies new credibility at home and abroad.
The result has been a remarkable four months of diplomacy, deterrence and American-led information warfare, including a last-ditch effort to disrupt Mr. Putin’s strategy by plugging into the Russian military’s plans and then exposing them publicly. Unlike the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was executed almost flawlessly. Even the Germans and other European nations highly dependent on Russian-supplied gas signed onto the playbook.
The U.S. used its intelligence in innovative ways as the crisis built. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, confronted the Russian government with its own war plans. Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, shared secret intelligence with allied governments to build support for the American assessment. And the White House and State Department shared some declassified intelligence publicly to expose Mr. Putin’s plans for “false flag” operations and deny him the pretext he wanted to invade.
The intelligence disclosures may not be over now that the invasion has begun. The Biden administration has made clear it does not want to take on the job of publicly calling out Russian troop movements. But the United States is considering continuing its information releases, mulling various options to hold Russia accountable for actions it will take in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the discussion.
Those new efforts could involve countering Russian propaganda that they are guardians and liberators of the Ukrainian people, not an occupying force. They could also involve work to expose potential war crimes and try to give the lie to Russian claims that their war aims are limited.
Mr. Putin’s plan to topple the government in Kyiv was his goal from the beginning, American officials have said, and some officials are keen to show Russia is simply carrying out a plan crafted months ago.
“It’s not something you want to do forever or as a permanent feature of policy or it loses its novelty, but in extraordinary, life-or-death situations, it is justified,” said John E. McLaughlin, a former acting C.I.A. director. “I always found in confronting Russians with our knowledge of what they were doing, that they would inevitably deny it but that it threw them off balance to know that we knew. And I think it has rattled Putin this time.”
In the end it was not enough to stop Mr. Putin, though it is not clear what strategy, if any, he might have.
The American effort to reveal Mr. Putin’s plans to the world, has “been a distraction to him, it’s been somewhat annoying,” James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said Wednesday. But, he added, “It remains to be seen what difference it has made on his decision-making.”
Some of information the United States shared with allies, beginning with a trip to NATO by Ms. Haines in November, was initially greeted skeptically, according to Western officials. Many Europeans still remember the bad intelligence around the Iraq war.
But as the information provided grew and the Russian war plan played out as Ms. Haines had predicted, European officials shifted their view. The intelligence-sharing campaign ultimately succeeded in uniting Europe and America on a series of tough sanctions.
Republicans have been critical of Mr. Biden for not being more aggressive in the military supplies it sent to Kyiv or acting earlier to impose stiff sentences on Russia to change Mr. Putin’s course of action.
It will take time to know if more and better weapons could have made a difference for the Ukrainian army’s resistance. But administration officials have said they have had to act judiciously not to escalate the situation and not allow Mr. Putin to use American military supplies as excuse to start the war.
More clearly, American sanctions against Mr. Putin go only so far. It is European sanctions against Russia and its billionaire class that really bite, and it took time, and intelligence, for Europe to come on board with a tough package of sanctions.
While the United States clearly has the some of the best, if not the best, intelligence collection in the world, it also had a reputation that remained tarnished, at home and abroad, by the 2003 Iraq invasion, when faulty information was publicly released to justify the war. While the intelligence community had long been pessimistic about the survival prospects for the U.S.-supported Afghan government, some in the administration criticized the spy agencies last year for not accurately predicting how quickly the country’s military forces would fold.
There is little doubt that reputation increased some of the skepticism of the assessment of Mr. Putin’s intentions, both by reporters questioning public officials for more evidence, and by allies.
The warnings this time were far different, the information released to try to prevent a war, not to start one. But releasing the information was nevertheless a risk. Had it proved wrong, the intelligence agencies would have been saddled with fresh doubts about their ability to collect and properly analyze intelligence about an adversaries’ capabilities and intentions. Their ability to credibly warn against future threats would have diminished.
Instead, the public got a rare glimpse of an intelligence success. It is usually the failures, or partial failures, like Iraq, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the surveillance of domestic civil rights groups or the Bay of Pigs, that are publicly aired.
But the failures do not mean America’s spy agencies do not have many successes, said Nicholas Dujmovic, a former C.I.A. historian who now teaches at the Catholic University of America.
“This is a rare case that intelligence successes are being made public, and the public should conclude, in my view, that this is rather the norm,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “They are getting a rare glimpse of the normal process and production of intelligence that normally they do not see.”
Most accusations of intelligence failures are failures to properly warn about an attack or to overstate a threat. And it is those warnings that this time proved prescient.
“The warning analysts have the hardest job in analysis because they are trying to figure out intentions — whether the attack will come, when it will come, how it will come,” Dr. Dujmovic said. “The best way to penetrate that fog is with a human source close to the decision maker, in this case, Putin — and it’s also the hardest kind of collection to acquire.”
The intelligence agencies succeeded in divining Mr. Putin’s intentions early on. And that was no easy feat. It is simply not publicly known how strong is America’s source network in Russia or how close those people are to Putin, but it is clear Mr. Putin shares his counsel with very few.
Monday’s televised meeting of Russia’s national security aides showed the foreign intelligence chief being berated by Mr. Putin for failing to endorse recognition of the breakaway enclaves in Eastern Ukraine. Juxtaposed with the months of American disclosures, the scene suggested that people atop America’s spy agencies, for once, may have understood Mr. Putin’s intentions better than his own intelligence officers.
During the first union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, early last year, organizers largely avoided visiting workers at home because Covid was raging and few Americans were vaccinated.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union believed the precaution was prudent even if it made persuading workers harder and may have contributed to the union’s lopsided defeat.
On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail out ballots to workers at the same warehouse in a so-called re-run election, which the agency ordered after finding that Amazon behaved improperly during the last campaign.
But for this election, which runs through March 25, the labor movement is pulling few punches. Several national unions have collectively sent dozens of organizers to Bessemer to help rally workers. And organizers and workers have spent the past several months going door-to-door to build support for the union.
far more than half of all elections during that time, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.
“In cases where the margin of victory is pretty significant one way or the other, the outcome often doesn’t change the second time,” said David Pryzbylski, a management-side lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg.
Those odds may be longer still at a company like Amazon, which has the resources to hire consultants and saturate workers with anti-union messages, as it did during the last election.
Turnover at Amazon is high — over 150 percent a year even before a recent surge of quitting nationwide — and could introduce uncertainty because it’s unclear how new workers will respond to arguments on either side.
previously said that its performance targets take into account safety and employees’ experience.
For Amazon, which is facing challenges to its labor model on multiple fronts, there is little incentive to ease its resistance to the union. Last year, California approved a law that would restrict the company’s use of productivity targets, and the roughly 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters elected a new president who promised a large investment in unionizing the company.
determined that organizers at JFK8, a massive warehouse on Staten Island, had submitted enough signatures to warrant a vote. The organizers are trying to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union, rather than working with established groups. The labor board will hold a hearing in mid-February to determine how many workers could be eligible to vote, as well as the timing and terms of the election.
This week, the same union filed a petition for an election at a neighboring Amazon facility on Staten Island.
pressed for in-person voting, albeit at an off-site location in the union’s case, the labor board decided to run another mail-in election because of the pandemic.
Variations on practices that the labor board cited when invalidating the last election also remain in place, prompting the union to urge changes to the way the new election will be conducted. Not least is a so-called collection box that Amazon lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to install last year near the warehouse entrance, where workers were urged to deposit their ballots.
Amazon has said it sought the collection box to help workers vote safely, and that it did not have access to ballots deposited inside of it. But a regional director of the labor board found that Amazon had “essentially hijacked the process” by procuring the box. “This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results,” the regional director wrote.
Yet in the run-up to the revote, the regional director allowed the Postal Service merely to move the box to a “neutral location” at the warehouse, rather than remove it entirely. The union argued in a request for an appeal that there is no neutral location on the site, and that the new location is still in view of Amazon’s surveillance cameras. A decision on the appeal could come during or after the election.
Some employees also say that despite reaching a nationwide settlement with the labor board in December to give union supporters more access to colleagues while at work, Amazon is still making it difficult for them to plead their case where they work.
Isaiah Thomas, a ship dock worker at the warehouse, recently received a letter from management saying he had violated the company policy against solicitation by talking to co-workers about the union during his break, though the company did not officially discipline him over the alleged violation.
“You were interfering with fellow associates during their working time, in their work areas,” the letter said. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge arguing that the letter violates the company’s settlement with the labor board.
Yet the circumstances of the second election do appear to differ from those of the first election in some key respects. There is, for one thing, the fact of the finding by the labor board that Amazon violated union election rules, which organizers say comes up regularly in conversations with workers.
Mr. Appelbaum, the union president, said the on-the-ground presence of other unions was substantially higher than last year, thanks partly to the urging of Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., of which the retail workers union is a part.
Even non-A.F.L. unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters have dispatched organizers to Alabama, underscoring the high stakes for labor.
“I think there’s a recognition of the importance and transcendent nature of this fight,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “People throughout the labor movement understand that we cannot let Amazon go unchallenged or else it’s going to set the model for what the future of work is going to look like.”
He said that workers felt less intimidated by Amazon this time, with more of them speaking up during mandatory anti-union meetings. Pro-union workers also now wear T-shirts advertising their support for the union twice each week in a show of solidarity.
One group of workers recently delivered a petition with over 100 signatures to managers complaining of undignified treatment, low pay and insufficient breaks and break room equipment. Ms. Agrait, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company encouraged constant communication between workers and managers.
Mr. Thomas, the ship dock worker, spends two days each week knocking on the doors of colleagues and said in an interview that many workers who voted against the union last year say they are supportive this time because the company hasn’t followed through on promises to act on their feedback.
“A lot of folks said they wanted to try to give Amazon a chance, but they didn’t meet their end of bargain,” he said. “Now they actually want to help form this union.”