That chorus grew louder following news that Russia sent masks and medical equipment to the hard-hit United States on April 1.
Russia is not alone in sending aid abroad. The United States, Germany, and France have also sent supplies despite dealing with their own domestic outbreaks. And China — where the outbreak originated — has sought to reverse the negative fallout by providing expertise and equipment to other countries, although the delivery of faulty equipment and questionable data has been criticized.
But for Russia, such missions prove a belabored point. Since its relations with the West soured amid the Ukraine crisis in 2014, and Moscow was placed under economic sanctions by much of the world, President Vladimir Putin’s government has lobbied for the world to see it as a force for good, with a crucial role to play in the international arena.
It has not been an easy sell.
Aid … But With Strings?
While a convoy of whitewashed military vehicles containing clothes and medicine that the Kremlin sent to eastern Ukraine in 2014 was shown on loop on state TV, others saw the purported humanitarian effort as a way of secretly supplying weapons to the Moscow-backed separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces.
And Russia’s military operation in Syria, launched in 2015 with the declared aim of driving out the Islamic State extremist group from the region, was presented by federal channels as a peace mission to liberate the war-ravaged Middle Eastern state. But while Russian soldiers were shown handing out food packages to Syrian children, critics accused Russia of bombing hospitals and targeting rebel forces fighting against Syria’s Kremlin-backed President Bashar al-Assad.
For some, Russia’s latest missions have also led to questions.
The La Stampa newspaper on March 25 cited unnamed officials in Rome saying that 80 percent of Russia’s aid package was “totally useless.” Moscow was in an uproar about the claims, which were shared widely. “The aid given to Italy is selfless,” Russia’s ambassador to Italy Sergei Razov told the RIA news agency. “Not subject to a trade-off, a settling of bills or anything of the kind.”
Then there was that video of the Russian anthem being played on an Italian street. The video originated as a post to the Telegram messenger app by a Russian journalist working for the Daily Storm outlet. “Who would have thought that our Russian hymn will play on the streets of Italy?” wrote Alyona Sivkova on March 25, in a caption to the video.
The following day, after the video had been featured in various Russian reports as evidence of ordinary Italians’ gratitude to Russia, Sivkova posted an angry Telegram post alleging that Russian state media had “stolen” the video — which was recorded by the Italy-based mother of a Russian colleague — for their own purposes.
Ilya Shepelin, who leads a program debunking fake news on independent Russian TV channel Dozhd, told the BBC that Italians who have publicly praised Russia’s aid to their country are mostly people with close business ties to Russia.
“We’re not dealing here with a pure fabrication, but manipulation,” he said of the Russian TV reports. “Hybrid lies, or hybrid truth.”
North Korea issued a message of warning to the United States on April 25, vowing to respond to force with force if attacked.
But Pyongyang did not engage in a major provocation on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army as some analysts have speculated, a possible sign Kim Jong Un could be taking a step back in the face of renewed pressure from China and the United States.
Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated in an editorial on April 25 that its army has the capacity to “respond to any war the United States wants,” and that the “era of the U.S. imperialist’s nuclear terror has ended forever,” because North Korea has developed its own nuclear capacity.
The editorial also suggested the absence of a nuclear or missile provocation on April 25 was no guarantee the Kim Jong Un regime would refrain from a test in the near future.
“In the area of defense, as we produce more advanced weapons, we must work toward creating more events similar to the ‘March 18 Revolution,'” Pyongyang stated.
The North Korean leader did not issue a message on the day of the anniversary, most recently making an appearance at a pig farm, according to KCTV.
China and the United States condemned North Korea’s missile provocations in April, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States would respond if North Korea attacks U.S. troops in the region.
“If you see [Kim] attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to [strike back],” Haley said on NBC’s “Today.” “But right now, we’re saying, ‘Don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions,’ and I think he’s understanding that.”
An Air Force officer who only began obstacle course racing in 2016, ran right straight into her 75-mile goal, placing second place in one of the toughest obstacle course races.
“I honestly never considered placing, it didn’t seem like something that was within reach for me this year,” said Capt. Erin Rost, 319th Recruiting Squadron operations flight commander.
In a “bracket breaking moment,” Rost earned 2nd place out of 231 females and ranked 18 of more than 1,206 participants in her first World’s Toughest Mudder held November 2018.
The Air Force Academy graduate entered the obstacle course race noon on Nov. 10, 2018, a frigid winter day in Fairburn, Georgia. She would repeat the grueling five-mile lap with more than 20 mud-drenched obstacles until she met her goal of 75 miles.
“On lap 11, it was still dark,” she said. “My body was literally freezing and for the first time I had tears in my eyes. In that moment, a poem that helped me endure military training and other tough times in my life showed up to help me once again.”
She would repeat Invictus by William Erest Henley in her mind throughout the pitch black, sometimes lonely, night.
Capt. Erin Rost, 319th Recruiting Squadron operations flight commander, poses for a photo at the finish line of the World’s Toughest Mudder, Nov. 10-11, 2018.
Her experience and spirits were uplifted when she started hearing from others that she had a chance to place.
“Around 8:30 a.m., after completing lap 12 (60 miles), I found out I had a chance for third place but the fourth place woman was close behind,” said Rost. “This motivated me to run faster the next two laps.”
Her cheering fans, mother and boyfriend, encouraged her to move faster because no one knew how close the competitor behind her was. They reminded her of her goals, kept her fed and hydrated and pushed her forward.
“When I returned to the pit after completing 65 miles, I was informed that I had improved my lap time by nearly 30 minutes,” said Rost. “There was about three hours remaining and I was two laps away from my goal and based on my lap splits, I knew it was possible.”
Next, a reporter from a podcast seeking to interview her said that if she completed this final lap she would earn second place because the current second place female concluded her race earlier that morning with 14 laps.
“I realized at this point, as long as I finished this final lap before 1:30 p.m., I would get second place,” she said. “It was very surreal. It brings me back to military training when you are really challenged but overcome. When you push yourself and succeed, there is nothing like the reminder of that to renew your spirit.”
At this point in the race, she recalled she had been awake for 36 hours, racing nonstop for 25 of those hours and worried about being alone through the last obstacles. She witnessed others lose motivation during the course of the night, when temperatures dropped to 20 degrees. Obstacles started freezing and other competitors began feeling waterlogged.
Wingmen were essential in the final stretch more than ever. Some of the obstacles are designed to require teamwork. One of them required competitors to physically step on another person to reach the top of a wall, without another person there it was nearly impossible to get up the wall.
“You meet interesting people along the way,” Rost said. “It is great to be around such an encouraging and supportive community.”
Along the path she met an Army green beret and a financial analyst who takes time away from Hollywood-like celebrity engagements to run. These interactions kept the race interesting and passed the time.
She completed the race at 1:10 p.m. in second place, with 20 minutes to spare feeling like a true “bracket buster.”
“While I’m super proud of how I placed, I am even more proud of getting my goal mileage because it reminds me why I love OCR so much,” Rost said. “It is not about what place you get, it is about pushing yourself to and beyond your limits. It is about doing your best each race and believing that with hard work, a good attitude and a little bit of grit, anything is possible.”
Resiliency, physical strength, mental stamina, persistence, and willpower are things serious runners all have in common, according to Rost.
“This is also specifically what my military brethren do,” she said. “We encourage others that they can do it too. If you work hard and have a good attitude, you can do anything.”
Her squadron witnesses this in her performance daily.
“Capt. Rost sets the example for everyone around her,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cory Frommer, 319th RCS superintendent. “You can’t help but to be inspired by her tenacity and winning mindset. She doesn’t know how to quit. When other members of the squadron or base community work with her, they are left no choice but to push their own boundaries just to try to keep up with her. As for the recruiting mission, her incredible performance demonstrates what the Air Force is all about, and when people see airmen like her, they are inspired to be a part of that world.”
She believes her limited experience in the OCR community coupled with her recent winning of the coveted World’s Toughest Mudder silver bib, are a good role model for those who may wonder if they could do a run like that.
“I played competitive soccer growing up and for a period of time in college before getting into bodybuilding,” said Rost. “OCRs combine a little bit of everything, as opposed to being great at just one thing such as running, lifting, grip strength, etc. You have to be good at a little bit of everything.”
What she reminds her audience is that her simple daily personal goals brought her to this point.
“I knew improving my running endurance would need to be a focus area,” said Rost. “I set mileage goals every week and started finding local half, full and ultramarathons. I also started rock climbing to improve my grip strength, participated in crossfit to improve muscular endurance and boxed as a crosstraining workout. As the race got closer, I worked up to three workouts a day.”
Her goal was to do at least one race a month while slowly increasing her monthly mileage goals. After completing her first Tough Mudder in 2016, she did four more in 2017. In 2018 she expanded her OCR experience to include two Spartan races, two half marathons, a full marathon and two ultramarathons.
“I wanted to start seriously competing in OCRs and figured if I can do one of the most difficult OCR formats in the world, than I can do anything,” said Rost.
Editor’s note: Tune in to CBS at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 to watch the full coverage of the World’s Toughest Mudder Capt. Rost participated in.
Whelp. According to August’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report submitted by the Pentagon, the Navy is officially the fattest branch of the Department of Defense at a whopping 22% of all sailors being obese. Not “doesn’t meet physical requirements” but obese. It’s still way below the 39.8% of the national average, according to the CDC, but still.
In case you were wondering, the Air Force is second at 18%, the Army (who usually takes this record) is at just 17%, and the Marines are at 8.3%. To be fair to every other branch, the Marines have the youngest average age of troops despite also taking the record for “most knee and back problems.”
But, I mean, the placement of your branch isn’t something to be proud of. If you compare the percentages to where they were at three years ago, and eight years ago, each branch nearly doubled their “big boy” percentage.
So yes. In case you were wondering… The military HAS gone soft since you left a few years ago.
The Air Force is now testing new, high-tech sensors, software, electronics and other enemy radar-evading upgrades for its B-2 stealth bomber to preserve its stealth advantages and enable the aircraft to operate more effectively against increasingly capable modern air defenses.
The massive upgrade, designed to improve what’s called the bomber’s Defensive Management System, is described by Air Force developers as “the most extensive modification effort that the B-2 has attempted.”
The Defensive Management System is a technology designed to help the B-2 recognize and elude enemy air defenses, using various antennas, receivers and display processors to detect signals or “signatures” emitting from ground-based anti-aircraft weapons, Air Force Spokesman Capt. Michael Hertzog said in a written statement.
The modernized system, called a B-2 “DMS-M” unit, consists of a replacement of legacy DMS subsystems so that the aircraft can be effective against the newest and most lethal enemy air defenses.
“This system picks up where mission planning ends by integrating a suite of antennas, receivers, and displays that provide real-time situational awareness to aircrew. The DMS-Modernization program addresses shortcomings within the current DMS system,” Hertzog added.
Upgrades consist of improved antennas with advanced digital electronic support measures, or ESMs along with software components designed to integrate new technologies with existing B-2 avionics, according to an Operational Test Evaluation report from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The idea of the upgrade is, among other things, to inform B-2 crews about the location of enemy air defenses so that they can avoid or maneuver around high-risk areas where the aircraft is more likely to be detected or targeted. The DMS-M is used to detect radar emissions from air defenses and provide B-2 air crews with faster mission planning information – while in-flight.
Air Force officials explain that while many of the details of the upgraded DMS-M unit are not available for security reasons, the improved system does allow the stealthy B-2 to operate more successfully in more high-threat, high-tech environments – referred to by Air Force strategists as highly “contested environments.”
Many experts have explained that 1980s stealth technology is known to be less effective against the best-made current and emerging air defenses – newer, more integrated systems use faster processors, digital networking and a wider-range of detection frequencies.
Upon its inception, the B-2 was engineered to go against and defeat Soviet air-defenses during the Cold War; the idea was to operate above enemy airspace, conduct attack missions and then return without the adversary even knowing the aircraft was there. This mission, designed to destroy enemy air defenses, was designed to open up a safety zone or “air corridor” for other, less stealthy aircraft to conduct attacks.
In order to accomplish this, B-2 stealth technology was designed to elude lower-frequency “surveillance” radar – which can detect the presence of an aircraft – as well as higher-frequency “engagement” radar precise enough to allow air defenses to track, target and destroy attacking aircraft, developers explained.
It is widely believed that modern air defenses such as these are now able to detect many stealth aircraft, therefore complicating the operational equation for bombers such as the B-2, senior Air Force officials have acknowledged.
These newer air defense technologies are exhibited in some of the most advanced Russian-built systems such as the S-300 and S-400. In fact, according to a report from Dave Majumdar in The National Interest and reports in the Russian media, the Russians are now engineering a new, more effective S-500 system able to hit some stealthy targets out to 125 miles or further.
In fact, The National Interest once cited a Russian media report claiming that “stealth” technology was no longer useful or relevant – a claim that is not believed to be true at all, or is at least unambiguously disputed by many experts and developers familiar with stealth technology.
For this reason, many senior Air Force developers have explained that – moving into the future – stealth technology is merely one arrow in a metaphorical “quiver” of offensive attack capabilities used by the B-2.
Nonetheless, Hertzog explained that upgraded B-2 stealth technology will have a much-improved operating ability and “strategic advantage” against a vastly wider range of air defenses.
“With necessary upgrades, the B-2 can perform its mission regardless of location, return to base safely, and permit freedom of movement for follow-on forces, including other long range strike platforms. Modifications such as the DMS-M are necessary to preserve this strategic advantage against 21st century threats,” Hertzog added.
The DMS-M upgrade does not in any way diminish the stealth properties of the aircraft, meaning it does not alter the contours of the fuselage or change the heat signature to a degree that it would make the bomber more susceptible to enemy radar, developers said.
Many advanced air defenses use X-band radar, a high-frequency, short-wavelength signal able to deliver a high-resolution imaging radar such as that for targeting. S-band frequency, which operates from 2 to 4 GHz, is another is also used by many air defenses, among other frequencies.
X-band radar operates from 8 to 12 GHz, Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, sends forward and electromagnetic “ping” before analyzing the return signal to determine shape, speed, size and location of an enemy threat. SAR paints a rendering of sorts of a given target area. X-band provides both precision tracking as well as horizon scans or searches. Stealth technology, therefore, uses certain contour configurations and radar-absorbing coating materials to confuse or thwart electromagnetic signals from air defenses.
These techniques are, in many cases, engineered to work in tandem with IR (infrared) suppressors used to minimize or remove a “heat” signature detectable by air defenses’ IR radar sensors. Heat coming from the exhaust or engine of an aircraft can provide air defense systems with indication that an aircraft is operating overhead. These stealth technologies are intended to allow a stealth bomber to generate little or no return radar signal, giving air dense operators an incomplete, non-existent or inaccurate representation of an object flying overhead.
Also, the B-2 is slated to fly alongside the services’ emerging B-21 Raider next-generation stealth bomber; this platform, to be ready in the mid-2020s, is said by many Air Force developers to include a new generation of stealth technologies vastly expanding the current operational ranges and abilities of existing stealth bombers. In fact, Air Force leaders have said that the B-21 will be able to hold any target in the world at risk, anytime.
While many senior Air Force officials have made this point in recent years, the ability of the B-21 to strike anywhere in the world, was something emphasized by Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior last year in an exclusive interview.
Naturally, many of the details of these stealth innovations are, by design, not available for public discussion – according to Air Force and Northrop Grumman developers.
The DMS-M program achieved a key acquisition milestone last year, authorizing the program to enter what’s called the Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD) phase.
“Major efforts during the EMD phase include the system Critical Design Review, completion of hardware and software development efforts, Integrated Test, and Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Three aircraft will be modified during EMD to support the successful completion of this phase,” Hertzog explained.
The program plans on achieving 2019 Full Rate Production following this phase in 2019.
The total Research Development, Test and Evaluation funding for B-2 DMS-M is $1.837B to develop four units, Hertzog added.
The B-2 is engineered and built by Northrop Grumman; the major subcontractors on the program are BAE (receivers), Ball Aerospace and L-3 Randtron (antennas), and Lockheed Martin (display processors).
Total procurement funding for the B-2 DMS-M program is $832M to procure 16 additional units.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
SAN ANTONIO – USAA, the presenting-sponsor of the 121st Army-Navy Game on Dec. 12, is launching the “Army-Navy House” sweepstakes ahead of this year’s game to help fans continue to celebrate the game’s rivalry and traditions despite COVID-19 restrictions.
One of college football’s most revered and storied rivalries will continue as the Army Black Knights take on the Navy Midshipmen at Michie Stadium on the campus at West Point, NY. However, only the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets, the students at each academy, will be allowed in the stands. No outside fans will be able to attend in person.
USAA has planned the Army-Navy House sweepstakes to allow fans to carry on the rivalry from the comfort of their home. Fans can visit www.ArmyNavyHouse.com and upload a photo that shows off their fandom to be entered into the sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to the 2021 Army-Navy Game in New York City. One winner from each fandom will be chosen. Fans can also share their uploaded photos to social media using the hashtag #ArmyNavyHouse.
“There is no other rivalry that matches the passion, tradition and patriotism of the Army-Navy Game,” said USAA Chief Brand Officer Tony Wells, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. “Brothers and sisters in arms all year, this is the one afternoon when they are rivals. While we share fans’ disappointment that we cannot celebrate these future leaders in person, we can still share our support through Army-Navy House and come together virtually as we have learned to do during this pandemic.”
In addition to the two grand prize winners, 1,000 fans from each Academy who upload a photo will be eligible to win a commemorative ticket from this year’s game. Many Army-Navy fans have ticket stubs from games they have attended for the past 10, 20 or 30 years in a row. The commemorative ticket is a chance for fans to keep their streak alive even though they can’t be there in person.
This year’s playing of “America’s Game” marks the first time the Army-Navy Game will be played at a home site since World War II when Annapolis hosted the 1942 game and West Point the 1943 game.
The 121st playing of the Army-Navy Game presented by USAA will air on CBS at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, Dec. 12. The annual Army-Navy Game is normally the last regular season matchup in college football, and Navy leads the series 61-52-7, having snapped a three-game Army winning streak last year .
Founded in 1922 by a group of military officers, USAA is among the leading providers of insurance, banking and investment and retirement solutions to 13 million members of the U.S. military, veterans who have honorably served and their families. Headquartered in San Antonio, Tex., USAA has offices in seven U.S. cities and three overseas locations and employs more than 35,000 people worldwide. Each year, the company contributes to national and local nonprofits in support of military families and communities where employees live and work. For more information about USAA, follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@USAA), or visit usaa.com.
After a little more than a year of research and more than 20 attempts to get the right materials, an Air Force Academy cadet and professor have developed a kind of goo that can be used to enhance existing types of body armor.
As part of a chemistry class project in 2014, Cadet 1st Class Hayley Weir was assigned epoxy, Kevlar, and carbon fiber to use to create a material that could stop a bullet.
The project grabbed Weir’s interest.
“Like Under Armour, for real,” she said.
The materials reminded her of Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid — which thickens when force is applied — made of cornstarch and water and named after a substance from a Dr. Seuss book, and she became interested in producing a material that would stop bullets without shattering. An adviser suggested swapping a thickening fluid for the epoxy, which hardened when it dried.
“Up to that point, it was the coolest thing I’d done as a cadet,” Weir, set to graduate this spring, told Air Force Times.
But soon after, she had to switch majors from materials chemistry to military strategies. That presented a challenge in continuing the research, but she teamed up with Ryan Burke, a military and strategic studies professor at the academy.
Burke, a former Marine, was familiar with the cumbersome nature of current body armor, and he was enthused about Weir’s project.
“When she came to me with this idea, I said, ‘Let’s do it,'” he said. “Even if it is a miserable failure, I was interested in trying.”
The science behind the material is not new, and Burke expected that the vast defense industry had pursued such a substance already. But a search of studies found no such work, and researchers and chemists at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said the idea was worth looking into.
They began work during the latter half of 2016 using the academy’s firing range, weapons, and a high-speed camera. Burke got in touch with Marine Corps contacts who provided testing materials.
In the lab, Weir would make the substance using a KitchenAid mixer and plastic utensils. It was then placed in vacuum-sealed bags, flattened into quarter-inch layers, and inserted into a swatch of Kevlar.
At first, during tests with a 9 mm pistol, they made little headway.
“Bullets kept going straight through the material with little sign of stopping,” Weir told Air Force Times. After revisiting their work and redoing the layering pattern, they returned to the firing range on December 9.
Apprehensive, Weir fired on the material.
“Hayley, I think it stopped it,” Burke said after reviewing the video. It was the first time their material had stopped a bullet.
This year, they traveled to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to present their work and up the ante on their tests.
Weir’s material was able to stop a 9 mm round, a .40 Smith Wesson round, and a .44 Magnum round — all fired at close range.
During the tests, 9 mm rounds went through most of the material’s layers before getting caught in the fiber backing. The .40 caliber round was stopped by the third layer, while the .44 Magnum round was stopped by the first layer.
The round from the .44 Magnum, which has been used to hunt elephants, is “a gigantic bullet,” Weir told Air Force Times. “This is the highest-caliber we have stopped so far.”
Because it could stop that round, the material could be certified as type 3 body armor, which is usually worn by Air Force security personnel.
The harder the bullet’s impact, the more the molecules in the material responded, yielding better resistance. “The greater the force, the greater the hardening or thickening effect,” Burke said.
“We’re very pleased,” said Jeff Owens, a senior research chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s requirements, research, and development division. “We now understand more about what the important variables are, so now we’re going to go back and pick all the variables apart, optimize each one, and see if we can get up to a higher level of protection.”
The model Weir and Burke created uses 75% less fabric than standard military-style body armor.
It also has the potential for use as a protective lining on vehicles and aircraft and in tents to protect their occupants from shrapnel or gunfire.
“It’s going to make a difference for Marines in the field,” Burke said.
On the civilian side, the material could aid emergency responders in active-shooter situations.
“I don’t think it has actually set in how big this can get,” Weir said in early May. “I think this is going to take off and it’s going to be really awesome.”
While the ultimate use of the material is unclear, the US Army and Marine Corps are reportedly looking for ways lighten the body armor their personnel use.
A study by the Government Accountability Office, cited by Army Times, highlighted joint efforts to lower the weight of current body armor, which is 27 pounds on average. Including body armor, the average total weight carried by Marines is 117 pounds, while soldiers are saddled with 119 pounds, according to the report.
The Army and Marines have looked into several ways to redistribute the weight soldiers and Marines carry, including new ways to transport their gear on and around the battlefield. The GAO report also said each branch had updated its soft armor, in some cases cutting 6 to 7 pounds.
The deputy director and two other top executives of Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation have been arrested on suspicion of attempted fraud, investigators say.
“Energia’s deputy director, Aleksei Beloborodov, and two of his subordinates were arrested and charged with attempted fraud,” the Investigative Committee of Russia said on Aug. 19, 2018.
Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported that Beloborodov has been working with Energia since 2016 and served in the military for 13 years prior to that.
Energia, a major player in Russia’s space industry, designs and manufactures the Soyuz and Progress spacecrafts and also produces ballistic missiles.
The Investigative Committee statement said the arrests were made as part of a probe undertaken “with the active assistance” of the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main intelligence agency.
Russian media reported that the FSB carried out several searches targeting the Russian space industry as part of an investigation into “high treason.”
Russian daily Kommersant said a dozen Russian space industry employees are suspected of having sent classified information about Russian hypersonic weapon projects to Western security services.
Investigators did not mention those accusations in the statement on August 19, only that the charges are in reference to an alleged “attempt at fraud by an organized group in an especially large amount.”
The Army private responsible for a massive leak of classified documents to Wikileaks has reportedly made the short list for presidential clemency.
According to a report by The Independent, Pfc. Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley Manning), who was sentenced to 35 years in prison, reportedly has attempted suicide twice in the last year.
Manning’s supporters believe it could be the last chance the former intelligence analyst receives for clemency for a long time. Manning had also gone on a hunger strike over the government’s refusal to provide gender-reassignment surgery.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has urged President Obama to pardon Manning, saying that “you alone” could save the 29-year-old’s life. Manning has been in solitary confinement for at least eight months, according to a column in the Guardian.
Manning was convicted of espionage in a July 2013 court-martial for handing the documents to Wikileaks. The documents pertained to the Global War on Terror, and according to a report by the Daily Caller, included diplomatic cables.
In September, the Daily Caller reported Manning was sentenced to two weeks in solitary confinement for a July suicide attempt. That report noted that Manning had provided Wikileaks with video of an attack by an AH-64 Apache against insurgents, during which two employees of the British news agency Reuters were also killed.
The September report by the Daily Caller noted that Manning could be eligible for parole after serving seven years of the 35-year sentence handed down at the court-martial.
The push for clemency, though, has its critics.
Following legal proceedings that protected PFC Manning’s rights of due process, he was ordered to pay the price for betraying his country,” Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness told WATM in a statement. “If President Obama grants clemency, he would set a problematic precedent that would have long-term consequences for national security.”
Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, Senior Fellow for National Defense at the Family Research Council, also was critical of the potential clemency.
“Manning is serving time for treason, giving away secrets that endangered fellow soldiers,” he told WATM. “I have no sympathy for those who betray our country by committing treason.”
“Keep in mind when president’s grant clemency to those who were convicted by Courts Martial he is undermining the military justice system,” Maginnis added.
We shouldn’t have to say this, but starting a war on the Korean Peninsula is a bad idea. I am not the first person to make the case that a war on the Korean peninsula would be bad for America —and for South Korea and probably for Japan. Recently, professor Barry Posen laid out just how difficult it would be to conduct a successful pre-emptive attack against North Korea. He further presented how terrible a conflict on the peninsula would be in terms of lives lost — North Korean, South Korean and American. Professor Posen’s piece, however did not go far enough in explaining how a pre-emptive attack — and then war — on the Korean peninsula would damage U.S. interests.
With the administration’s statements leaving the door open to a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, it is a good time to catalogue why such a concept is a bad idea—regardless of one’s view of the threats posed by the North Korean regime and its nuclear and missile programs. Professor Posen captures the likely human toll of a second Korean war well. The costs of the conflict and its aftermath would leave the United States and its allies poorer. And ultimately, the United States would likely be less secure than it is today.
Difficulty of Escalation Control
North Korea has signaled, for decades, that any attack against it would be met with swift retribution. For much of the post-Korean War era, this meant massive artillery bombardment of Seoul. Now that North Korea possesses missiles with intercontinental range, that retribution could be against targets as far away as New York or Washington. The idea that the United States could conduct strikes against limited targets—such as North Korea’s missile facilities or nuclear weapons complexes—with little to no North Korean response is gambling with millions of lives at stake. Were North Korea to follow through on its repeated statements of retaliation, and a U.S. or allied territory to be struck, it would likely result in activation of one or more of the U.S. mutual defense treaties, and the commitment of significant U.S. forces to a conflict on the Korean peninsula. At that point, what was presented as a limited strike will have become a full-blown war.
It is therefore critical to recognize the limits of escalation control when dealing with military options against North Korea. And Professor Posen makes a clear and compelling argument about the likely catastrophic human consequences of such a conflict. One must also consider additional strategic consequences for the United States, specifically the financial toll and effect on regional alliances.
North Korea’s active-duty military is estimated to number over 1 million personnel. South Korea maintains a 650,000-person army. Even if the combined U.S.-South Korean force is better trained and equipped than its North Korean adversary, North Korea has spent nearly 70 years developing hardened shelters and stowage points for its personnel and artillery pieces. The four kilometer-wide De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) is also the most heavily mined area on the planet, limiting the ability of ground forces to move through it easily.
North Korea is believed to have developed tunnels across the DMZ to move its army or special forces rapidly into South Korean territory — and to bypass the mines laid along the DMZ. Even assuming U.S. and South Korean ground forces can quickly move through the DMZ to the North, the mountainous terrain would make rapid ground movement difficult—especially with heavy tanks or artillery. All of this is before considering the impact of North Korea’s nuclear weapons or its stockpiles of chemical weapons and biological weaponswould have on the conflict.
The sum of these factors suggest that prosecuting a war in North Korea has the potential to be more expensive than the $1.5 trillion spent so far on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Winning the war would be only a small portion of the total costs, however. The real costs to the United States—and South Korea—would come from the needed investments to develop North Korea’s economy and rebuild its society after a successful military campaign, and to rebuild the portions of South Korea destroyed in a war.
By way of comparison, 20 years after the reunification of Germany, Germany’s Finance Minister stated that the annual cost of reunification was approximately 100 billion euros per year—or nearly 2 trillion euros. East Germany’s per capita GDP was, at the time of reunification, approximately one half of West Germany’s. North Korea’s GDP today is only 3 percent of South Korea’s.
The Regional Security Consequences
Even if it wins, the United States could find itself less secure in Northeast Asia after a war with North Korea.
China has long been concerned about U.S. military presence in Korea, believing U.S. forces there could pose a threat to China’s sovereignty and security. Should the U.S.-ROK force prevail against North Korea in a war, the long-standing basis for keeping U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula — to defend South Korea from North Korean invasion — would be moot. China would likely push the South Korean government (especially if it were the de facto government of the entire Korean peninsula) to change its relationship with the United States and reduce or eliminate U.S. forces from the peninsula.
Should U.S. forces leave the Korean peninsula, China would likely use the withdrawal to build a narrative that the United States is retreating from Asia, that it is not a reliable security partner, or both. Consequently, the United States would have less diplomatic credibility, less military capability, and less influence with allies in the region.
A potentially more dangerous — and more likely — scenario is that the United States could find itself with troops dangerously-close to China’s border. It was Chinese fear of U.S. encroachment on its border that led Mao Zedong to intervene in the Korean War on North Korea’s behalf in 1950. With U.S. and Chinese troops mere miles apart, the risk of a U.S.-China stand-off escalating quickly from a skirmish to a major exchange would increase.
From China’s perspective, the continued existence of North Korea as a separate country provides a buffer between its own borders and U.S. forces. A unified Korean peninsula, with U.S. troops still present, would be perceived as negatively impacting China’s security.
The likely result of fighting a war against North Korea to eliminate the threat that it would use its nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies is that the United States would instead increase the likelihood of conflict with far more potent nuclear-armed adversaries in China.
Deterrence: A Better Deal
With war on the Korean peninsula too costly, from human, economic, and security perspectives, what options remain? Fortunately for the United States and our allies in Asia, managing new nuclear powers is something the United States has experience with, and it is called deterrence.
The window to remove North Korea’s nuclear weapons by force has passed. Instead, the United States will need to work with allies and partners to ensure North Korea understands the consequences of its continued reliance on those weapons, and the implications for North Korea’s future if those weapons are used. Additionally, the United States will need to continue working with South Korea and Japan to maintain a unified approach toward North Korea.
All three allies will also have to work closely to pressure China and Russia to deter North Korea’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, and especially toward using those weapons in the future.
The number of countries that have closed their embassies in North Korea and who have shown a willingness to work with the United States to limit North Korea’s access to financing and materiel speaks highly of the potential for focused and patient diplomacy. Ensuring the United States and South Korea remain positioned to respond to North Korean aggression, should it happen, is essential. Maintaining the diplomatic pressure that has begun to bear fruit will also be essential if the United States is to avoid a situation where through impatience it turns a strategically difficult situation into a strategic setback.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is not the madman he is often made out to be, a senior CIA official revealed Oct. 4.
Many have speculated that that a crazed Kim Jong Un might just wake up one morning and order a nuclear strike on another country, but experts and officials argue that this is an extremely unlikely situation, as the young dictator, while brutal, is a rational actor.
“Kim Jong Un is a very rational actor,” Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Korea Mission Center Yong Suk Lee explained at a conference at George Washington University.
“The last person who wants conflict on the peninsula is Kim Jong Un,” he argued, asserting that Kim wants what all authoritarian rulers want — “he wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”
“Bluster and rhetoric aside, Kim Jong Un has no interest in going toe-to-toe with combined forces command,” Lee explained. “That’s not conducive to his long-term rule.”
Lee, who has analyzed North Korea for more than two decades, also countered arguments that Kim needs to wage war to satisfy the hawkish demands of the North Korean elites. “Believe me, North Korean elites are not interested in getting their faces on a deck of cards and being chased after by [Joint Special Operations Command],” he said.
“Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong Un is a rational actor,” Lee said.
Assuming that Kim is not crazy, then a random attack on the US or an American ally is not realistic or in the interests of a regime that is focused on maintaining its existence.
“An out-of-the-blue attack is not conducive to his regime interests and his longevity,” Lee explained, adding that nuclear weapons and missiles give the North some strategic maneuverability. The CIA appears to assume that North Korea’s interests are regime survival, deterring US aggression, and gaining acceptance as a nuclear power.
North Korea’s strategic thinking is important to understanding its frequent provocations. “North Korea is clearly testing the tolerance of the United States and the international community to manage its increasingly provocative behavior aimed at establishing itself as a recognized nuclear and missile-armed state. They are raising the threshold for the United States and others to accept or press back against them,” argued Michael Collins, the Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for East Asia Mission Center.
“I expect that this tension will continue,” he said.
Lee actually suggested, as have officials in South Korea and Japan, that North Korea might engage in provocative behavior around Oct. 10, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean communist party. The North has a tendency to mark major events with its own brand of fireworks.
As states lift restrictions around the novel coronavirus, many of us are eagerly wondering: is it safe to travel right now?
The answer depends on many variables, namely, how you plan to do so, where you want to go, the rates of infection in your chosen destination, and your anticipated behavior once you arrive.
For example, driving your own car and renting a house where you’re the only inhabitant is quite different from entering a crowded airport, boarding a plane, and checking-in to a large resort.
Ultimately, resuming travel without a vaccine will come down to the level of risk that makes you feel comfortable. And it’s sure going to look a lot different.
Insider Reviews reached out to experts including infectious disease and ER doctors, cleaning specialists, travel industry professionals, and representatives from major rental cars, hotels, Airbnb, and transportation organizations, to reveal both the risks and best practices associated with various forms of travel and lodging during an ongoing pandemic.
We also interviewed travel agents and tour operators, to find out how they’re advising and planning travel for clients later this year and in 2021. And if you do book a trip that is ultimately postponed or canceled, it’s important to understand your cancellation policies and consider options for the best travel insurance.
Of course, this is an evolving situation and it’s crucial to follow guidelines and advice set forth by organizations such as the CDC and WHO, and practice safety measures no matter where you go, including wearing a mask, washing your hands, and maintaining social distancing.
Below, our experts address popular questions and concerns around each mode of travel, and major brands share their updated cleaning policies, so you may make fully informed decisions about where to go. And if you need ideas on socially-distant locations, we’ve got some inspiration for that, too.
Are rental cars safe?
If you’re among the many urban dwellers without a car of your own, you might be wondering if rental cars are safe to drive in a pandemic. For guidance, we talked to several experts, including Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo.
“Remember that most of the transmission of the coronavirus is respiratory — it’s not through inanimate objects,” says Dr. Russo. “When you’re in a rental car, the greatest risk is if you happen to be in the car with someone else and they could be infected.”
When it comes to the car itself, the risk is reasonably low. “Even if there’s an area you touch that wasn’t properly wiped down and might have been contaminated, as long as you don’t touch your mouth, nose, and face, and have good hand hygiene in between, you should still be protected,” Dr. Russo says.
Additionally, rental car companies are taking rigorous new cleaning measures under recommendations from various health authorities to sanitize key high-touch areas.
Many regular travelers are long-time hotel devotees who adore a beautiful property or sprawling resort filled with high-end amenities and services. But even these frequent hotel guests are likely concerned that staying in one risks exposure to the virus.
After all, checking-into a hotel means mingling with other guests and staff in common spaces like the lobby, elevators, pool decks, spas, and golf courses. When it’s time to eat, there are busy restaurants to consider, and that’s all assuming your own guest room is clean and sanitized.
In the latter, objects and furnishings are shared and reused by visitors, sometimes with only hours in between. So, is it safe to stay in a hotel right now?
Dr. Russo says the answer is highly individual. “If it’s a trip that is important and necessary, I feel relatively safe using the proper protective measures like wearing a mask, distancing, disinfecting, and hand hygiene.”
We also asked him about the worst-case scenario, in which an infected person stayed in your room hours before you. If the housekeeping crew cleaned and sanitized according to guidelines, would you escape risk?
“The answer is probably yes,” Dr. Russo says. But, “that’s not an ideal scenario.” You’d be better off specifically requesting a room no one has stayed in for a day or two.”
He also adds, “Wear a mask during the check-in process, going in the elevator up to your room, or even the stairwell. I’m a big fan of mask use because this magical six-foot zone is based on probability. The closer you are to someone, and the longer you’re close to someone that’s infectious, the more likely you are to get infected.”
Most major hotel chains have announced wide-reaching new cleaning policies made in combination with health experts. These policies also focus on social-distancing and contact-free transactions such as virtual check-in and out, digital keys, limited dining, and more.
Dr. Robert Quigley, who serves as the senior vice president and regional medical director of global medical travel risk management company International SOS, spent four days and four nights transforming an Upper East Side hotel into a utilitarian home base for health care workers on the front lines.
“We came in and converted what was a very high end, very luxurious hotel into a laboratory with the objective to protect the health and safety of the employees that were willing to come in and work.”
Additionally, Marriott Bonvoy hotels rolled out the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, focusing on treating high-touch surface areas with hospital-grade disinfectants, providing disinfecting wipes in each guest room, and reducing person-to-person contact by removing furniture and installing hand-sanitizing stations. More than 3,200 Marriott hotels will now allow guests to use their phones to check-in, access their rooms, make requests, and order room service without contact.
Similarly, Four Seasons worked with experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine International on its new Lead With Care program for cleanliness and safety. The program promises that restaurants and bars will operate with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and the hotel will leverage technology for safety, by way of its Four Seasons app and chat.
Just as some people have always preferred hotels, others choose Airbnbs to enjoy more space in residential-style houses or apartments that are well-suited for longer vacations, or family and group stays.
These days, they may seem especially attractive given the fact that you are often booking an entire home that is protected from interaction with any others. However, cleaning practice vary by property, where everything from kitchen utensils to bed linens were used by previous guests.
Airbnb has, however, announced rigorous new procedures including a program known as the Cleaning Protocol, which includes guidelines on personal protective equipment for hosts or cleaners, as well as only using disinfectants approved by regulatory authorities. Additionally, these listings are required to maintain a 24-waiting period after a guest checks out before entering to clean, followed by another 48-hour waiting period before a guest may check-in.
As a second measure, hosts may instead opt into a new feature called Booking Buffer, which enforces a longer vacancy period of 72 hours between stays so guests may feel more secure knowing there has been no activity other than cleaning the property.
And third, hosts can also choose to do neither of those things.
Dr. Russo estimates that staying in a private Airbnb is likely to be safer than booking a hotel, given there is generally less direct person-to-person contact. But he also encourages taking extra preventative measures such as running “utensils and dishware through the dishwasher when you get there” and laundering bed linens and towels “so you have control of what you want to be washed and cleaned.” He also suggests running a disinfecting wipe over all flat surfaces, phones, TV remotes, door handles, bathroom faucets, and toilet handles.
Of course, that also means you’re now cleaning the home for which you already paid a lofty cleaning fee.
After breaking down the risks of both hotels and vacation rentals such as Airbnb, no matter the type of lodging you pick, the main factors to consider are the likelihood you’ll encounter other people, the number and length of such encounters, and whether the location and region are experiencing high rates of infection.
“When booking any type of lodging, consider how many people you’ll be surrounded by, when was the last time someone stayed in that accommodation, and how is the state or city doing in regards to flattening the curve,” said Dr. Neil Brown, K Health‘s chief diagnosis officer.
With either choice, be aware of high-touch areas and flat surfaces that might facilitate virus transmission. If possible, book accommodations with a significant margin of time since the last guest stayed in the same space.
The doctors we spoke with agreed private Airbnbs, however, are likely safer than hotels because they come with fewer person-to-person interactions.
“While there is no question hotels are working diligently to keep their hotels clean and sanitized, Airbnb has a huge advantage given that the renter is generally the only one occupying the property,” said Dr. Brown. “With Airbnb’s new Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, the company provides a better option than public hotel spaces … Double-check to see if the host is participating in the program,” he said.
Dr. Russo “absolutely agree[s]” that staying in a private Airbnb, especially one that allows no-contact check-in, such as through a lockbox, is the safer option.
But both doctors recommend seriously evaluating the risks versus rewards with either choice, with Dr. Brown noting, “Personally, I would do my best to avoid traveling altogether, but if it is necessary, I would feel more comfortable staying at an Airbnb after doing my own disinfecting upon arrival.”
In comparison to renting a car or booking lodging, air travel seems like a larger gamble. Entering an airport, waiting in long lines, and sitting next to strangers of unknown backgrounds, for a prolonged period, in a closed setting, all seems about as high-risk as it can get right now.
To help determine is flying is safe, we turned to a diverse panel of experts including an infectious disease doctor, an ER doctor, a pilot, a medical advisor for an aviation trade association, and the founders of popular flight deal platforms to discuss the risks of flying during COVID-19, and precautions to mitigate those risks.
First the good news: airports are trying various tactics to minimize contact between people, promote social distancing, and conducting temperature checks. Additionally, airplanes are designed to clean and filter air quickly according to Dr. David Powell, a medical advisor for a trade group that represents most of the world’s major passenger airlines and cargo carriers. “Customers sit facing forward and not toward each other, seatbacks provide a barrier, and the limited movement of passengers once seated adds to the onboard protection. Moreover, airflow is less conducive to droplet spread than other indoor environments: flow rates are high, directed in a controlled manner (from ceiling to floor), to limit mixing, and the use of High Efficiency Particulate Air filters ensures that the air supply is pure.”
But while these features help reduce risks, they do not eliminate them. Commercial airplane travel still means flying in a confined space with other people. Another passenger’s droplet can easily invade your personal space even with no one in the middle seat beside you.
Says Dr. Russo, “Once you’re on the flight, you’ve been dealt a hand. Hopefully, everyone around you isn’t infected, but you just don’t know for sure. A longer flight is going to be a greater risk even though the air is handled pretty well because it’s a close space, exposed to other individuals, and the time of exposure is longer.”
If you must fly, wear your best mask, sanitize all surfaces, and try to avoid eating, drinking, or using the lavatory.
How travel agents and tour operators advise clients to book travel
While many travelers previously booked travel independently, some are returning to travel agents. These seasoned professionals have spent years in the business and are well-equipped to help clients identify viable locations with vetted, flexible policies. They may also have better insights into new practices at specific hotels to help determine how clean and safe they will be, and whether facilities and amenities may be impacted.
Their advice is to plan now, travel later (most of their clients are looking to travel between March and May of 2021), book refundable options, be aware of cleaning policies, try to travel domestically or close to home, opt for socially distant places, take advantage of deals, and assess your own comfort level with risk before booking.
Socially distant travel: safe vacations during COVID-19
As noted by various experts, no matter your destination, your risk of infection largely depends on factors such as whether you’ll encounter other people, the intensity of such encounters, and if the location is experiencing high rates of infection.
While nothing can be guaranteed safe 100 percent safe, if you heed expert advice, take necessary precautions, and make informed decisions led by CDC and WHO guidance, you may be able to explore the world again soon.
If you find yourself in such a position, consider these locations within the United States that are well-suited to outdoor activities, offer socially-distant-friendly lodging, and remove the need for international travel.
“Welcome to another exciting episode of when is America gonna start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?” asked Jon Stewart in a press conference in September. He went on to remind the crowd that he’d spent the previous fifteen years trying to get Congress to support 9/11 first responders who were sick as a result of their heroism that day.
“When it was done, we thought it was done, but it turns out that the warfighters that were sent to prosecute the battle based on the attack of 9/11 now suffer the same injuries and illnesses that the first responders suffered from. And they’re getting the same cold shoulder from Congress,” he declared.
The speech came with announced legislation that would deliver care for veterans who suffered from health problems directly related to burn pits, open air fires that were commonly used to dispose of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, “the legislation would declare certain illnesses among combat veterans as linked to toxic burn pits, removing barriers of proof of exposure that advocates have said are too high.”
As of Sept. 11, 2020, the VA claimed that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to the burn pits.”
The VA does, however, acknowledge the following:
“Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs. Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction. Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes. The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report.” According to the Washington Post, U.S. contractors and military veterans destroy enormous amounts of waste, including vehicle parts, lithium-ion batteries, solvents, and amputated limbs, by soaking them in jet fuel and burning them in open-air pits, “some larger than a football field.”
In his speech, Stewart pointed out the similarities between the contamination on 9/11 and the burn pits overseas — especially the use of jet fuel as an accelerant. “Jet fuel as the accelerant at Ground Zero and jet fuel as the accelerant in these burn pits. So our veterans lived twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins, everything. And now they’re being told, ‘Hey man, is that stuff bad for ya? I don’t know. We don’t have the science.’ It’s bullsh**. It’s bullsh**. It’s about the money.”
Hundreds of thousands of veterans are left to advocate on their own, Stewart explained, which is why he and a team of lawmakers have stepped up to demand that Congress go on record and be held accountable for their decisions in this matter.
The legislation was proposed to Congress by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). The measure would grant presumption of exposure to veterans with certain conditions and who served in one of 33 countries where troops were deployed after the 9/11 attacks, Gillibrand said.
The VA opened a burn pit registry which allows eligible veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire. Over 200,000 participants have already completed and submitted the registry questionnaire.