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South Africa Turmoil



On this edition of Encounter, Ambassador Michelle Gavin, senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Ambassador to Botswana, and Frans Cronje, CEO of the Johannesburg-based Institute of Race Relations, analyze with host Carol Castiel the political, economic and social situation in South Africa following the arrest and detention of former South African president Jacob Zuma given the protests, looting and violence which this incident triggered.  How did the celebrated multiracial democracy led by Nelson Mandela reach this critical juncture point, and what does the future hold for South Africa? 

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US Top Diplomat Blinken to Visit India, Kuwait



U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to India next week, the State Department said on Friday, in the top U.S. diplomat’s first visit to the world’s largest democracy and an important U.S. ally in Asia.

Blinken will also visit Kuwait and meet senior officials there at the end of the July 26-29 trip.

The United States sees India as an important partner in efforts to stand up to China’s increasingly assertive behavior. Blinken’s trip will follow a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and coincide with one to Southeast Asia by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Blinken will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Among the subjects on the agenda will be “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis” as well as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, a statement said.

Blinken is likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries – Indian, Japan, Australia and the United States – that is seen as a counter to China’s rising influence. The meeting later this year is expected to focus on ways to develop regional infrastructure in the face of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.

The United States hosted a virtual summit of the Quad countries in March at which they agreed that Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for Southeast Asian and Pacific countries.

However, India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, was subsequently hit by a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections and halted vaccine exports amid intense criticism of Modi’s domestic vaccination efforts.

Washington sent raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to India after the spike.

India expects to receive 3-4 million doses of U.S.-made vaccines by August.

“(India) is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19,” Blinken told MSNBC on Friday, explaining that India would eventually become a vital source of vaccines to the world.

“Of course, they’re focused understandably on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that’s going to make a big difference.”

Last November, India, the United States, Japan and Australia conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic power in the region.

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Athletes Expected to Speak Their Minds at Tokyo Games



Since the last Summer Olympics in 2016, a global Black Lives Matter protest movement has resurfaced. The “Me Too” movement sprung up in support of women’s rights. And both may influence the Tokyo Games, which are expected to be a major platform for athlete activism.

Several high-profile athletes competing at the Games have been at the forefront of progressive causes in their own countries and may make political statements in Tokyo, despite the International Olympic Committee threatening to punish those who speak out.

“The more there are vibrant social movements in the streets, the better chances that we will see activism on the Olympic stage,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and author of four books on the Olympics. “I think we have a perfect storm, if you will, for an outburst of athlete activism.”

Political protests are technically banned at the Games by Olympic Charter Rule 50. Though the rule was loosened earlier this year to allow more athlete expression, it still forbids protests from the medal stand or field of play.

Rule 50 was enacted after the 1968 Olympics produced one of the most inspiring athlete protests in Olympic history. That’s when U.S. stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists into the sky on the medal stand in a Black Power Salute.


Smith and Carlos are now widely viewed as icons for their salute. Even the IOC website praises the men as “legends,” calling their move a “gesture of true rebellion.”

“They wanted to make a statement, and they did, on the biggest stage,” says a video on the IOC’s official Olympic Channel.

That stands in contrast to the recent comments by IOC chief Thomas Bach, who recently warned against what he called divisive protests at the Tokyo Games.

“The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made … for a political or other demonstration,” Bach told the Financial Times. “They are made to honour the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private [views].”

It’s an apparent case of the IOC wanting to have it both ways, because under the current rules, the 1968 protest would be forbidden, Boykoff said.

“These guidelines do not permit there to be a new John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the Tokyo Olympics,” he said. “They could face punishment.”

The newly relaxed Rule 50 is vague about punishment. It’s not clear to what extent it will be enforced.

Separately, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced late last year it would no longer punish U.S. athletes who conduct peaceful protests, such as kneeling or raising a fist.

Professional U.S. athletes — most prominently basketball players but also others — have attended anti-racism protests and worn Black Lives Matter gear before and during games.

U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe has also been outspoken for equal pay for women.

The British women’s football team has already announced it will take a knee before its matches to protest racism and discrimination.

Conservatives, including most notably former U.S. President Donald Trump, often criticize activist athletes, saying players should stick to sports. But even Trump has embraced players who support him and who defend conservative ideals.

Intertwined with politics

“In reality, there has never been a separation of sport and politics,” said Heather Dichter, a professor of sports history at Britain’s De Montfort University. 

That’s especially the case with the Olympics, which is full of national flags, symbols, and anthems, Dichter said. 

“This is the world’s biggest platform,” she added.

But not every athlete will feel comfortable speaking out. Wealthier players who receive large salaries from their professional careers may be more likely to risk punishment by speaking their minds.

“If you’re an athlete from a lesser-known sport who might get kicked off the team and have their career ended by standing up for politics and lose all your sponsorships, which are the only thing that can keep you going as an athlete, you might be less inclined to speak out,” Boykoff said. 

Since there is an abundance of professional athletes competing in the Games this year, it’s just more reason to expect protests.

“It actually opens the door to the possibility that these athletes might speak out,” he said. “After all, the Olympics need these athletes more than these athletes need the Olympics.”

VOA’s Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report.

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Billionaire Bezos Makes Successful Suborbital Trip



Space company Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos rocketed to space Tuesday, with the world’s oldest and youngest people to ever fly in space in tow.  Bezos’ flight follows last week’s suborbital jaunt by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. The two billionaires are further ushering in an era of space tourism and exploration. VOA’s Laurel Bowman has our story.

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Stocks Skid as Virus Fears Shake Markets; Dow Falls 2.1%



Resurgent pandemic worries knocked stocks lower from Wall Street to Tokyo on Monday, fueled by fears that a faster-spreading variant of the virus may upend the economy’s strong recovery. 

The S&P 500 fell 68.67, or 1.6%, to 4,258.49, after setting a record just a week earlier. In another sign of worry, the yield on the 10-year Treasury touched its lowest level in five months as investors scrambled for safer places to put their money.  

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 725.81, or 2.1%, to 33,962.04, while the Nasdaq composite lost 152.25, or 1.1%, to 14,274.98. 

Airlines and other companies that would get hurt the most by potential COVID-19 restrictions took some of the heaviest losses, similar to the early days of the pandemic in February and March 2020. United Airlines lost 5.5%, mall owner Simon Property Group gave up 5.9%, and cruise operator Carnival fell 5.7%. 

The selling also circled the world, with several European markets sinking roughly 2.5% and Asian indexes down a bit less. The price of benchmark U.S. crude, meanwhile, fell more than 7% after OPEC and allied nations agreed on Sunday to eventually allow for higher oil production this year. 

COVID numbers 

Increased worries about the virus may seem strange to people in parts of the world where masks are coming off, or already have, thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations. But the World Health Organization says cases and deaths are climbing globally after a period of decline, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant. And given how tightly connected the global economy is, a hit anywhere can quickly affect the other side of the world. 

Even in the U.S., where the vaccination rate is higher than in many other countries, people in Los Angeles County must once again wear masks indoors regardless of whether they’re vaccinated following spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Across the country, the daily number of COVID-19 cases has soared by nearly 20,000 over the past two weeks to about 32,000. The vaccine campaign has hit a wall, with the average number of daily inoculations sinking to the lowest levels since January, and cases are on the rise in all 50 states. 

Economic growth expected

That’s why markets are concerned, even though reports show the economy is still recovering at a fantastically high rate and the general expectation is for it to deliver continued growth. Any worsening of virus trends threatens the high prices that stocks have achieved on expectations the economy will fulfill those lofty forecasts. 

Financial markets have been showing signs of increased concerns for a while, but the U.S. stock market had remained largely resilient. The S&P 500 has had just two down weeks in the past eight, and the last time it had even a 5% pullback from a record high was in October.  

Several analysts pointed to that backdrop of high prices and very calm movements for weeks while dissecting Monday’s drop. 

“It’s a bit of an overreaction, but when you have a market that’s at record highs, that’s had the kind of run we’ve had, with virtually no pullback, it becomes extremely vulnerable to any sort of bad news,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and  derivatives at Charles Schwab. “It was just a matter of what that tipping point was, and it seems we finally reached that this morning” with worries about the delta variant. 

He and other analysts are optimistic stocks can rebound quickly. Investors have been trained recently to see every dip in stocks as merely an opportunity to buy low.  

Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel, was more pessimistic. He said the stock market may be in the early stages of a drop of as much as 10% following its big run higher. The S&P 500 nearly doubled after hitting its bottom in March 2020.  

“The valuations, they just got too frothy,” he said. “There was just so much optimism out there.” 

The bond market has been louder and more persistent in its warnings. The yield on the 10-year Treasury tends to move with expectations for economic growth and for inflation, and it has been sinking since late March, when it was at roughly 1.75%. It fell to 1.20% Monday from 1.29% late Friday. 

Analysts and professional investors say a long list of potential reasons is behind the sharp moves in the bond market, which is seen as more rational and sober than the stock market. But at the heart is the risk the economy may be set to slow sharply from its current, extremely high growth.  

Risks to economy

Besides the new variants of the coronavirus, other risks to the economy include fading pandemic relief efforts from the U.S. government and a Federal Reserve that looks set to begin paring back its assistance for markets later this year.  

Monday’s selling pressure was widespread, with nearly 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 lower. Even Big Tech stocks fell, with Apple down 2.7% and Microsoft 1.3% lower. Such stocks seemed nearly immune to virus fears during earlier downturns, rising with expectations for continued growth almost regardless of the economy’s strength.  

Across the S&P 500, analysts are forecasting profit growth of nearly 70% for the second quarter from a year earlier. That would be the strongest growth since 2009, when the economy was climbing out of the Great Recession.  

But just like worries are rising that the economy’s growth has already peaked, analysts are trying to handicap by how much growth rates will slow in upcoming quarters and years for corporate profits. 

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China Spy Agency Blamed by US, Others of Using Contract Hackers



The United States and other countries are accusing China’s Ministry of State Security of using criminal contract hackers to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, from which the hackers personally profit.

The activities include ransomware operations against private companies that are forced to pay millions in ransom demands to regain access to their data, according to U.S. officials.

The United States, along with NATO, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, on Monday specifically blamed China for the cyberattack in March that affected tens of thousands of organizations via Microsoft Exchange servers.

This was a type of zero-day hack where a vulnerability is known to software vendors, but they do not yet have a patch in place to fix the flaw.

“The U.S. government has raised its concerns about both this incident and China’s broader malicious cyber activity with senior Chinese government officials, making clear that these actions threaten security competence and stability in cyberspace,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call Sunday evening ahead of the announcement.

The use by China’s civilian intelligence agency of criminal contract hackers was “really eye-opening and surprising for us,” the official said.

Also significant is that the state security ministry is using those hackers to “conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, including for their own personal profit,” according to the senior U.S. official.

China has consistently denied being involved in such activities. 

Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesman, was asked in mid-March about allegations made by four private security firms who were investigating ransomware attacks. The firms blamed an advanced threat group from China for the sophisticated network intrusions. 

Lu replied that if such allegations were seriously made with reliable proof, then Beijing would take it seriously, but it did not have time to respond to “rumors and speculation.” 

The details released Monday morning in Washington and in allied capitals are seen as an attempt to give China’s government the details it requested. 

Specifically, the National Security Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a joint advisory issued Monday, said they “have observed increasingly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity targeting U.S. political, economic, military, educational, and CI (critical infrastructure) personnel and organizations.”

“This is really an unprecedented group of allies and partners holding China accountable,” the senior U.S. official said in the call with reporters. 

The U.S. agencies said “Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors consistently scan target networks for critical and high vulnerabilities within days of the vulnerability’s public disclosure” and use “a full array of tactics and techniques to exploit computer networks of interest worldwide and to acquire sensitive intellectual property, economic, political and military information.”

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been vocal about a series of ransomware and other attacks blamed on groups operating in Russia, but it has not directly linked those activities to the Russian government.

In a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last month, Biden threatened to take action against Moscow if cyber criminals continued to operate inside Russia unhindered.

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Syria Regime Fire Kills 7 in Rebel Bastion, Monitor Says 



Syrian regime artillery fire killed seven civilians including three children in the country’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib, a Britain-based war monitor said Sunday.  

The shelling hit in the village of Ehsim late Saturday, in the south of the Idlib region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.   

A family member told AFP that visitors had gathered to congratulate a male relative on getting married when the shelling struck their home.   

Earlier in the day, rockets fired by pro-government forces killed six civilians in the village of Sarja, including three children and a rescue worker, meaning at least 13 were killed in total in Idlib on Saturday.   

The shelling in Ehsim came hours after President Bashar al-Assad took the oath of office for a fourth term, pledging to “liberate” areas still beyond government control.   

The deaths are the latest violations of a ceasefire deal agreed by rebel backer Turkey and government ally Russia in March 2020 to stem a regime offensive on the jihadist-dominated stronghold.   

An AFP photographer in Ehsim saw rescue workers under floodlights cut through a collapsed ceiling to retrieve the body of a woman.   

Bundling her body up in a blanket, they then gently lowered it down a ladder and carried it into an ambulance.   

The Observatory said she was among four women and three girls killed in the bombardment.   

Bordering Turkey, the northwestern Idlib region is home to around three million people, more than half displaced by fighting in other parts of war-torn Syria. Many rely on humanitarian aid to survive.   

The region is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but other rebel groups are also present.   

Syria’s war has killed around half a million people and forced millions more to flee their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.   

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As QAnon Strains Relationships, Loved Ones Try to Show a Way Out



In January, a woman calling herself Caroline — her name is changed for her safety — told WOI-DT in Iowa that she was married to a QAnon believer and lived in fear. “QAnon has destroyed my life,” she said. “I live with someone who hates me.”

In May, a Reddit user known as pencilwithouteraser posted in the forum ReQovery, that he was seeking help coping with his parents’ immersion in QAnon conspiracy theories and their objection to the coronavirus vaccines.

“I still don’t know what’s true or not,” the user said. “I’ve realized that once you start to go down those rabbit holes, it’s very hard to come back to the surface. If you believe the media, CDC, and WHO are lying about the vaccine in the name of conspiracy and power and control, how can your mind be changed?”

A British woman named Tasha wrote her testimony on the web page for the documentary film The Brainwashing of My Dad. Her QAnon father, she wrote, “has cut off his brothers and sister. … He shares the most vile things on Facebook. He’s turning into a vile, hate-filled man.” She concludes: “I have such a hatred for the architects of QAnon, because their lies have broken my family.”

Surveys show that these grieving family members are far from alone. The number of people invested in QAnon conspiracy theories is striking, and their devotion to the cause can make life difficult for the people who love them.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a survey in May that showed just how many people believed in some tenets of QAnon.

Fifteen percent of the more than 5,000 people surveyed nationwide said they believed the following sentence: “The government, media, and financial worlds in the United States are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global sex-trafficking operation.”

That’s the core QAnon belief. But QAnon has expanded to encompass various other beliefs. For example, some believers maintain that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is related to Adolf Hitler, and that President Donald Trump will be proven the rightful winner of the 2020 election and be reinstated to invoke a “coming storm” of retribution.

Belief in the coming storm is greater than the core QAnon belief in pedophiles and Satan worship. PRRI says 20% of Americans agreed with the statement “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”

Observers are most concerned with the fact that 15% of respondents agreed that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

The danger of QAnon became clear on Jan. 6, when hundreds of Trump supporters  — many wearing or displaying QAnon paraphernalia — broke into the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to disrupt certification of Joe Biden’s win in the November presidential election.

The FBI has since made public a declassified report warning that some QAnon adherents are “domestic violent extremists” who may be motivated to stage terrorist attacks on perceived enemies.

Mike Rothschild, journalist and author of a new book about the QAnon movement, The Storm Is Upon Us, wrote that the us-against-them mindset of QAnon followers is what makes the movement so damaging.

“For many Q believers,” he said, “that nebulous feeling that ‘they’re all out to get me’ becomes … ‘I’m gonna get them first.’”

Cult expert and mental health professional Steven Hassan, author of the book The Cult of Trump, said the QAnon community shares some traits with cults. Members feel a rush of information and indoctrination at the start, followed by messages that nothing outside the group is trustworthy and that others need to be brought into the fold.

Experts say people are attracted to conspiracy theories when they aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. A 2017 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that what attracts people to conspiracy theories is a need for “cognitive closure” — a reason, or something to blame.

But life as a conspiracy theorist is exhausting, Rothschild said, because it infects every part of your thinking.

“At its worst, QAnon absolutely rewires the way you look at the world,” he said. “It gives you a sort of cast of characters who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. And you look at everything through the lens of that war that’s being fought.”

Rothschild has talked to people who have cut off relationships with QAnon believers. They say the person wouldn’t talk about anything else or was constantly sending messages and videos meant to draw them into QAnon.

“It takes too much work to be around a person like that,” he said.

Experts say it can be challenging to help a loved one who has gone down the QAnon rabbit hole. Both Hassan and Rothschild say people tend to lose their faith in the group when they start to see holes in the information they’ve been accepting. Meanwhile, they say, building trust is the key to helping a QAnon believer see the light.

“The easiest way is to simply present yourself as a safe person to talk to,” Rothschild said. “You’re not belittling them. You don’t mock their beliefs.”

Hassan, who left the Unification Church cult in the 1970s after an intervention from his father, recommends starting a dialogue with the QAnon member, not trying to debunk QAnon beliefs.

“I propose that we reciprocate,” Hassan said, demonstrating the way such a conversation might go. “You share something that was very influential to you, and let’s go back in time. What were some of the most important things that convinced you to take it seriously? If it’s a video … let’s watch it together and we’ll discuss it.”

After that, Hassan said, the interventionist might share a video with a different perspective and suggest they discuss that.

“The idea is always to ask a respectful question aimed at empowering them to think for themselves,” Hassan said.

Hassan recommends some protective habits to help anyone guard against misinformation.

“I advocate creating ‘trust pods’ in your life,” he said, that include people with differing perspectives. “If there’s something that any one of you gets really interested in, before you spend money or spend a lot of time, say, ‘Hey I just found this. … Anybody know anything about it?’”

“That’s the solution to blind faith,” he said. “It’s perspective, isn’t it?”

But the pull of QAnon is strong, and not everyone leaves. In a world where little seems to make sense, QAnon’s mythology seems to offer hope.

Former QAnon believer Lenka Perron explained to WDIV-TV in Detroit, Michigan, in January: “When people don’t feel secure, when they don’t feel safe, when they don’t feel like they can put a roof over their heads … they turn to something where you feel powerful, like you can make it happen. You feel like you’re making a difference.” 

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Colombian Police Say Former Haiti Official Suspected of Ordering Moise Killing 



Former Haitian justice ministry official Joseph Felix Badio may have ordered the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, the head of Colombia’s national police has said, citing a preliminary investigation into the killing. 

Moise was shot dead at his private residence in a suburb of Port-au-Prince before dawn on July 7.

An investigation by Haitian and Colombian authorities, alongside Interpol, into Moise’s killing has revealed that Badio appeared to have given an order for the assassination three days before the attack, General Jorge Vargas said Friday at a news conference and in an audio message sent to news outlets by the police.

It was not immediately possible to reach Badio for comment. His whereabouts are unknown.

According to Vargas, the investigation found that Badio had ordered former Colombian soldiers Duberney Capador and German Rivera to kill Moise. The men had initially been contacted to carry out security services.

“Several days before, apparently three, Joseph Felix Badio, who was a former official of [Haiti’s] ministry of justice, who worked in the anti-corruption unit with the general intelligence service, told Capador and Rivera that they had to assassinate the president of Haiti,” Vargas said.

Vargas did not provide proof or give more details about where the information came from.

Capador was killed and Rivera was captured by Haiti police in the aftermath of Moise’s killing, authorities have said.

Alleged mastermind

On Sunday, Haitian authorities detained Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, widely described as a Florida-based doctor, and accused him of being one of the masterminds behind the killing.

Former Haitian Senator John Joel Joseph is being sought by police after Haiti’s National Police Chief Leon Charles identified him as a key player in the plot, while Dimitri Herard, the head of palace security for Moise, has been arrested.

“This is a big plot. A lot of people are part of it,” Haiti’s Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a news conference. “I am determined to move the investigation forward.”

The group of assassins included 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, according to Haitian authorities. Eighteen of the Colombians have been captured, while five are on the run and three were killed.

Many of the Colombians accused of involvement in the assassination went to the country as bodyguards, Colombian President Ivan Duque said Thursday. That has been confirmed by relatives and colleagues of some of the detained Colombians.

“We are assisting in all the support tasks for the interviews that are being carried out with the captured Colombians,” Vargas said.

Colombia will send a consular mission to Haiti as soon as it is approved by the Caribbean nation, Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez told journalists on Friday, to meet with the detained Colombians, ensure their rights are being respected, and move ahead with the repatriation of the remains of the deceased Colombians.

The ministry is in daily contact with the families of the dead and detained, Ramirez added.

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US Politicians Battle over Voting Rights Legislation



Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson and correspondent for Marketplace Kimberly Adams about the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans over voting rights legislation, what’s next after Senate Democrats agree to a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package, the impact of the crises in Haiti and Cuba on the Biden Administration, and much more.

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US Politicians Battle over Voting Rights Legislation



Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson and correspondent for Marketplace Kimberly Adams about the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans over voting rights legislation, what’s next after Senate Democrats agree to a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package, the impact of the crises in Haiti and Cuba on the Biden Administration, and much more.

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Chaos in the Caribbean: Roots of Haitian and Cuban Crises



Professor William LeoGrande, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs in the Department of Government at the American University, and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, Eduardo Gamarra, analyze with host Carol Castiel the roots and ramifications of twin crises in the Caribbean: the assassination of Haiti’s President, Jovenal Moïse, and ensuing power struggle and the largest and most widespread protests in Cuba in decades. How does the turmoil affect US policy toward the region? Given the large Cuban and Haitian Diaspora communities in the United States, how does the Biden Administration deal with both domestic and international dimension of policy? 

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Pentagon Identifies 7 Suspects in Moise Killing Who Received US Military Training



At least seven Colombian nationals who were arrested by Haitian authorities in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise received U.S. military or police training.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, told VOA Friday that all seven had been members of the Colombian military at the time they received the training.

“Individuals had been approved for a variety of training activities held both in Colombia and the United States between 2001-2015,” the official said. “Examples of the types of training received were various types of military leadership and professional development training, emergency medical training, helicopter maintenance, and attendance at seminars on counternarcotics and counterterrorism.”

The official said both the State Department and the Department of Defense are continuing to review their records to see if any additional suspects in the assassination have ties to the U.S.

“Their alleged involvement in this incident stands in stark contrast to outstanding conduct and performance of hundreds of thousands of foreign military students that have benefitted from U.S. education training programs over the past 40 years,” the official said.

Word that a “small number” of the Colombian nationals in Haitian custody had gotten U.S. training first came Thursday, though a Pentagon spokesperson told VOA that any such training “emphasizes and promotes respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law, and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership.”

Moise was shot and killed in the predawn hours of July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince. His wife, Martine, was injured in the attack and is recovering from surgery at a Miami, Florida, hospital.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told reporters that he has spoken to the first lady several times and that she is doing well.

Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles said 18 Colombians have been arrested in connection with the assassination.

Colombia’s president told a local radio station Thursday that most of the detained Colombians had been duped into thinking they were to provide bodyguard services for the Haitian leader.

“Once they were over there,” Ivan Duque said, “the information they were given changed,” and the men ended up as suspects in an assassination plot.

New investigation details

Police Chief Charles said five Haitian police officers are currently in isolation because of their alleged involvement in the assassination plot. Investigators are questioning all police officers who were on duty when the attack occurred, he said.

“We have 18 assailants under detention. Three were killed during the attack, and there are five Haitian Americans who we are taking a close look at,” the chief told reporters during a Friday press conference.

“We are working both internally and externally with the assistance of our international partners to move the investigation forward. There are Interpol and FBI agents here on the ground to help us analyze evidence that will help us trace and identify the masterminds,” Charles said.

The chief thanked civilians who had been helping law enforcement find those involved in the assassination. Police have received a lot of helpful tips every day so far, he said.

Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this story.

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International Edition



Australia Called ‘Easy’ Target for Hackers



Australian cybersecurity experts are calling for more aggressive government action to protect businesses from ransomware attacks. Experts have warned a “tsunami of cybercrime” has cost the global economy about $743 billion.

Big companies can be attractive targets for cybercriminals who can extort millions of dollars after stealing sensitive commercial information.

The Cybersecurity Cooperative Research Centre is a collaboration between industry representatives, the Australian government and academics.

Its chief executive, Rachael Falk, believes Australia is an easy target for hackers because cyber defenses can be weak.

“More often than not, it is by sending an email where an employee clicks on a link,” she said. “They get into that organization, they have a good look around and they work out what is valuable data here that we can encrypt, which means we lock it up and we will take a copy of it. And then we will encrypt all the valuable data in that organization and then we will hold them to ransom for money. So, it is a business model for criminals that earns them money.”

The consequences for businesses can be extreme. They can lose valuable data, or have it leaked or sold by cyberthieves. In some cases, hackers can disable an organization’s entire operation. In March, a cyberattack disrupted broadcasts by Channel Nine, one of Australia’s most popular commercial television news networks. It sought help from the Australian Signals Directorate, a government intelligence agency.

Researchers want the government to require Australian companies to tell authorities when they are being targeted.

They also want clarity on whether paying ransoms is legal. Experts have said Australian law does not make it clear whether giving money to hackers is a criminal offense.

There is also a call for the government to use tax incentives to encourage Australian businesses to invest in cybersecurity.

Last year, federal government agencies said China had been responsible for a series of cyberattacks on Australian institutions, including hospitals and state-owned companies. 

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Iranian Hackers Target US Military, Defense Companies



Iran appears to be intensifying its effort to exploit U.S. and Western targets in cyberspace, running a campaign aimed at manipulating American military personnel and defense companies on social media.

Tehran’s latest campaign, orchestrated on Facebook by a group known as Tortoiseshell, used a series of sophisticated, fake online personas to make contact with U.S. servicemembers and employees of major defense companies in order to infect their computers with malware and extract information.

“This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation, while relying on relatively strong operational security measures to hide who’s behind it,” Facebook said Thursday in a blog post, calling it part of a “much broader cross-platform cyber espionage operation.”

Personas used

Employees of defense companies in the U.K. and other European countries were also targeted.

“These accounts often posed as recruiters and employees of defense and aerospace companies from the countries their targets were in,” Facebook said. “Other personas claimed to work in hospitality, medicine, journalism, NGOs and airlines.”

And the hackers were in no hurry.

“Our investigation found that this group invested significant time into their social engineering efforts across the internet, in some cases engaging with their targets for months,” Facebook said. “They leveraged various collaboration and messaging platforms to move conversations off-platform and send malware to their targets.”

Facebook said it has notified users who appeared to have been targeted, took down the fake accounts and blocked the malicious domains from being shared.

The social media company said it was able to trace the activity to Iran, in part because of the distinctive malware, known to have been developed by Mahak Rayan Afraz, a Tehran-based company with links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Mandiant Threat Intelligence, a private cybersecurity company, said Thursday that it agreed with Facebook’s assessment that Iran, and the IRGC in particular, was behind the campaign.

Tortoiseshell “has historically targeted people and organizations affiliated with the U.S. military and information technology providers in the Middle East since at least 2018,” Mandiant Senior Principal Analyst Sarah Jones said in an email.

Jones also said it was noteworthy that some of the fake domains associated with the Iranian campaign used the name of former U.S. President Donald Trump, including, “trumphotel[.]net”, “trumporganization[.]world”, and “trumporganizations[.]com”.

“Domains such as these could suggest social engineering associated with U.S. political topics,” Jones said. “We have no evidence that these domains were operationalized or used to target anyone affiliated with the Trump family or properties.”

Facebook, which discovered the hacking campaign, did not comment on whether Iran managed to steal any critical or sensitive data.

U.S. military officials also declined to speak about what, if anything, the Iranian hackers were able to steal.

“For operational security purposes, U.S. Cyber Command does not discuss operations, intelligence and cyber planning,” a spokesperson told VOA.

“The threats posed by social media interactions are not unique to any particular social media platform and Department of Defense personnel must be cautious when engaging online,” the spokesperson added.

‘Significant threat’

U.S. intelligence officials have been increasingly concerned about Iran’s growing capabilities and aggressiveness in cyberspace.

In its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, published in April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence called Tehran “a significant threat to the security of U.S. and allied networks and data.”

“We expect Tehran to focus on online covert influence, such as spreading disinformation about fake threats or compromised election infrastructure and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” the report said.

The U.S. intelligence community, earlier this year, also accused Iran of meddling in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, carrying out a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects.”

U.S. officials said part of that effort involved hacking voter registration systems in at least one U.S. state and using the information to send prospective voters threatening emails.

More recently, the cybersecurity firm Proofpoint said a separate Iranian hacker collective with ties to the IRGC, known as TA453 and Charming Kitten, posed as British university professors to steal information and research from think tanks and academics.

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