In the run-up to the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, North Korea bombed South Korea Air Flight 858, killing 115 people. Afterward, when South Korea remained steadfast in its desire to host the games, North Korea suddenly offered high-level talks. North Korea toned down its rhetoric and tried to negotiate a co-hosting of the Olympics, but this effort fell apart. This historical lesson is corroborated by one of the Flight 585 bombers who was caught and turned. She is still alive today and recently warned not to trust North Korea’s current dictator Kim Jong-un’s outreach.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is well underway and once again North Korea is attempting to use the games for their ends. North Korea is trying to steal international attention, break sanctions, and drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.
Kim has already made himself take center-stage, using a dramatic opening to South Korea to force the international spotlight onto himself. Right now, cooperation is his chosen tool of persuasion, as he spoke of reunification, restarted the North Korean-South Korean hotline, and worked to convince South Korea that both Olympic teams should march under one neutral flag. Kim also launched a charm offensive to show he is serious about negotiations. This has included toned-down rhetoric, a smaller military parade, and sending flashy bands to perform at the Olympics. He also sent North Korean pop star and propagandist Hyon Song-wol to find a venue for an orchestra, causing a sensation which bedazzled South Korean journalists and citizens.
In the background of all this distraction, North Korea is preparing to make a show of force. Satellite imagery showed 13,000 troops and 150 vehicles drilling for the small Feb. 8 military parade that featured a new missile system. Kim knows he can have a larger parade to send a message anytime he wants. It remains to be seen if he will engage in any missile or nuclear tests during or right after the Olympics.
North Korea’s appearance of reconciliation also purposefully includes sanctions violations. One of these sending senior North Korean officials to visit South Korea despite being banned from traveling. South Korea will have to decide if it wants to make an exception to the ban, but without certain waivers from the United Nations Security Council, such visits would violate the law. Meanwhile, it is unclear how the US would respond. Already Kim’s less notorious sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is not barred from visiting, has had a successful time charming the South Korean and American media.
Kim will likely get away with several sanctions violations because he will extract them as the cost of North Korean cooperation. Even if they are minor, these violations will test the limits of what others will tolerate. They will make the point that North Korea always has been – and always will be – able to do as it pleases.
Finally, Kim would love to see the South Korean-American alliance rendered a dead letter. Although it is a very unlikely goal, Kim attempts to accomplish this by contrasting South Korea’s willingness to talk with the bellicosity of US President Trump. North Korea’s aim is to create the perception that the Koreas are working together against interference by America. When North Korea returns to aggression, Kim will claim that it is America’s fault. By cozying up to South Korea and then walking out, Kim hopes to drive a small wedge into the alliance.
South Korea should talk to Kim, and so should America, mainly to lower the odds of accidental war. However, talks require realizing that nuclear weapons will not be up for serious discussion and that North Korea will continue its pattern of behavior. Sudden shifts to threats place pressure on South Korea and shifts to friendliness invite confused opponents to the bargaining table on Kim’s terms. Wise policymakers anticipate this pattern, rather than being angered or duped by it. To take Kim Jong-un’s overtures at face-value is foolish, and South Korea should assume that the Supreme Leader is after something more than the gold at these Olympics.
The Army has doubled the amount of parental leave available to fathers and other secondary caregivers of newborn infants with a policy that also provides more leave flexibility for mothers.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper signed a directive Jan. 23, 2019, that increases parental leave from 10 to 21 days for soldiers who are designated secondary caregivers of infants. The new policy makes the Army’s parental leave comparable to that of other services and in compliance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
Mothers will now be granted six weeks of convalescent leave directly after giving birth and can be granted another six weeks of leave as primary caregiver to bond with their infant anytime up to a year after birth.
“We want soldiers and their families to take full advantage of this benefit,” said retired Col. Larry Lock, chief of Compensation and Entitlements, Army G-1. He said parental leave is a readiness issue that ensures mothers have the time they need to get back in shape while it also takes care of families.
A soldier shares a high-five with his daughter.
The new policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016 — the date the NDAA legislation was signed for fiscal year 2017.
In other words, soldiers who took only 10 days of paternal leave over the past couple of years can apply to take an additional 11 days of “uncredited” leave as a secondary caregiver.
An alternative would be to reinstate 11 days of annual leave if that time was spent with their infant.
Eligible soldiers need to complete a Department of the Army Form 4187 and submit it to their commanders for consideration regarding the retroactive parental leave.
Fathers can also be designated as primary caregivers and granted six weeks or 42 days of parental leave, according to the new policy. However, only one parent can be designated as primary caregiver, Lock pointed out.
If a mother needs to return to work and cannot take the six weeks of leave to care for an infant, then the father could be designated as primary caregiver, he said. However, if the mother has already taken 12 weeks of maternal leave, that option is not available.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lewis, a motor sergeant assigned to the 232nd Engineer Company, 94th Engineer Battalion, plays with his daughter.
(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Heather A. Denby)
Until now, mothers could receive up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, which had to be taken immediately following childbirth. Now, only the six weeks of convalescent leave needs to be taken following discharge from the hospital. The second six weeks of primary caregiver leave can be taken anytime up to a year from giving birth, but must be taken in one block.
In the case of retroactive primary caregiver leave, it can be taken up to 18 months from a birth.
This provides soldiers more flexibility, Lock said.
The new directive applies to soldiers on active duty, including those performing Active Guard and Reserve duty as AGRs or full-time National Guard duty for a period in excess of 12 months.
Summing up the new policy, Lock said the Military Parental Leave Program, or MPLP, now offers three separate types of parental leave: maternity convalescent leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave.
Mothers who decide to be secondary caregivers are eligible for the convalescent leave and the 21 days for a total of up to nine weeks.
Parents who adopt are also eligible for the primary or secondary caregiver leave.
The new policy is explained in Army Directive 2019-05, which is in effect until an updated Army Regulation 600-8-10 is issued.
Marine Corps F-35s recently carried out the first at-sea “hot reload” of ordnance, dropping 1,000-pound bombs in the Pacific in rapid succession, the Marines said in a statement.
Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters armed with a 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition and a 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb took off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp and conducted a strike on a “killer tomato,” a large red inflatable target.
After dropping its payload, the aircraft quickly returned to the ship, refueled, reloaded, and set out on a second attack run on the floating target.
The fifth-generation stealth fighters also opened fire with their GAU-22 cannon, which can uses four barrels simultaneously to fire 3,300 rounds per minute. The 25 mm gun is, according to Military.com, carried on an external pod on the Marine Corps’ F-35 variation, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings on the amphibs, basically small aircraft carriers.
At-sea hot reloading is a critical capability that allows for the surge offensive air support for strike missions in this theater, where US forces are increasingly training to fight in contested environments. While the training is not directly aimed at any particular adversary, the US military is focused on great power competition and is training for a high-intensity conflict with China and Russia.
“Our recent F-35B strike rehearsals demonstrate the 31st MEU’s lethality and readiness to address potential adversaries.” Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard the Wasp, said in a statement. “The speed that we can conduct precision strikes with devastating effects while providing close air support to our Marines is nothing shy of awesome. Bottom-line; the F-35B defines shock and awe!”
An F-35B Lightning II makes the first vertical landing on a flight deck at sea aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Seaman Natasha R. Chalk)
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Sallese, aviation ordnance officer with the 31st MEU, said that the troops are learning to “rain down destruction like never before.”
Marine F-35Bs with the 31st MEU achieved another milestone earlier this year, flying in “beast mode” and conducting strike missions with externally-loaded inert and live munitions.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Protection against many common pathogens and environmental stressors is written into our DNA. Our skin responds to sun exposure. Our immune system mounts defenses when we get the flu. Our bodies inherently work to mitigate the potential for harm caused by these health threats. However, these intrinsic responses are not always quick, robust, or appropriate enough to adequately defend us from harm, which is why many people experience sunburn after intense sun exposure or suffer severe symptoms, even death, following exposure to the flu.
Military service members, first responders, and civilian populations face threats far more severe than sunburn and respiratory infections. Pathogens with pandemic potential, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials can all quickly and powerfully overwhelm the body’s innate defenses. And though significant public and private investment has been focused on the development of traditional medical countermeasures such as drugs, vaccines, and biologics to guard against the worst effects of these health threats, current countermeasures are often limited in their effectiveness and availability during emergencies.
DARPA is looking to make gains beyond the status quo. Inspired by recent advances in understanding of when and how genes express their traits, DARPA’s new PReemptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements (PREPARE) program will explore ways to better protect against biological, chemical, or radiological threats by temporarily and reversibly tuning gene expression to bolster the body’s defenses against – or directly neutralize – a given threat.
“The human body is amazingly resilient. Every one of our cells already contains genes that encode for some level of resistance to specific health threats, but those built-in defenses can’t always express quickly or robustly enough to be effective,” said Renee Wegrzyn, the PREPARE program manager. “PREPARE will study how to support this innate resistance by giving it a temporary boost, either before or after exposure, without any permanent edits to the genome.”
The program will focus on four key health challenges as proofs of concept for what DARPA ultimately envisions as a generalizable platform that can be rapidly adapted to emerging public health and national security threats: influenza viral infection, opioid overdose, organophosphate poisoning, and exposure to gamma radiation.
“Each of these four threats are major health concerns that would benefit from disruptive approaches,” Wegrzyn said. “Seasonal flu vaccines, for example, are limited in that they try to hit a perpetually moving target, so circulating flu strains are often mismatched to vaccine strains. Programmable modulation of common viral genome sequences could potentially neutralize many more circulating viral strains simultaneously to keep up with moving targets. Combining this strategy with a temporary boost to host protection genes could change how we think about anti-virals.”
PREPARE requires that any treatments developed under the program have only temporary and reversible effects. In so doing, PREPARE diverges sharply from recent gene-editing research, which has centered on permanently modifying the genome by cutting DNA and inserting new genes or changing the underlying sequence to change the genetic code. Such approaches may cause long-lasting, off-target effects, and though the tools are improving, the balance of risk versus benefit means that these therapies are reserved for individuals with inherited genetic disorders with few to no other treatment options. In addition, some indications, including treatment of pain, may only require temporary solutions, rather than life-long responses.
The envisioned PREPARE technologies would provide an alternative that preserves the genetic code exactly as it is and only temporarily modulates gene activity via the epigenome and transcriptome, which are the cellular messages that carry out DNA’s genetic instructions inside cells. This would establish the capability to deliver programmable, but transient, gene modulators to confer protection within brief windows of time for meaningful intervention.
“Focusing only on programmable modulation of gene expression enables us to provide specific, robust protection against many threats at once, with an effect that carries less risk, is limited but tunable in duration, and is entirely reversible,” Wegrzyn said.
Success will hinge on developing new tools for targeted modulation of gene expression inside the body. Researchers must identify the specific gene targets that can confer protection, develop in vivo technologies for programmable modulation of those gene targets, and formulate cell- or tissue-specific delivery mechanisms to direct programmable gene modulators to the appropriate places in the body. Although the immediate program goal is to develop defenses against one of the four focus areas determined by DARPA, the ultimate objective of PREPARE is to develop a modular, threat-agnostic platform solution with common components and manufacturing architecture that can be readily adapted to diverse and emerging threats.
Research will be conducted primarily using computer, cell culture, organoid, and animal models to establish proof of concept. However, DARPA’s vision is to generate new medical countermeasures for future use in humans. As such, DARPA is working with independent bioethicists to identify and address potential ethical, legal, and societal issues.
By the end of the four-year program, DARPA aims for each funded team to submit at least one final product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory review as an Investigational New Drug or for Emergency Use Authorization. Throughout the program, teams will be required to work closely with the FDA to ensure that the data generated and experimental protocols meet regulatory standards.
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.
Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.
It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.
Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.
“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”
The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.
With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.
Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.
In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.
Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.
The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.
Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.
At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.
The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.
The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.
As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.
That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.
Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.
“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.
The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.
At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.
Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.
But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.
Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.
Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.
The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.
More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.
“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.
“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”
A little-known group of specially-trained Coast Guardsmen are playing a key role in securing a presidential retreat in Florida and guarding against the smuggling of doomsday weapons out of war-torn Syria.
“This is a team that’s not sand lot ball. These are the pros that have very unique weapons skills and training and not everyone makes this team,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft during a breakfast meeting with reporters April 12. “These teams are if anything probably over employed right now in terms of their optempo — both on the anti-terrorism front and on the counter-terrorism front as well.”
Established in the years after 9/11 to provide another layer of special operations capability both in the United States and worldwide, the Coast Guard previously housed these various specialized teams under one command, dubbed the “Deployable Operations Group.” Comprised of highly-trained boat teams, crisis response forces and counter proliferation experts, the DOG was disbanded in 2012 and its units dispersed to separate commands.
Despite its troubled past, the Coast Guard’s special operators are front and center in some of America’s most high profile missions. Zukunft said his teams are providing maritime security for President Donald Trump when he visits his golf resort at Mar a Lago in Florida, working closely with the U.S. Secret Service to protect world leaders from potential attack.
“I had three teams providing force protection for presidents of the two largest nations in the world — China and the United States — at Mar a Lago. That’s what these teams do, Zukunft said. “We’re seeing more and more of these nationally significant security events in the maritime domain.”
The service’s capability also includes Coast Guardsmen trained to locate and secure chemical and nuclear weapons — operators that are part of the Maritime Security Response Teams. Similar to SEALs, the MSRT Coast Guardsmen can take down ships, oil platforms and other vehicles used to smuggle WMD material over water.
It’s members of these MSRT units that are currently deployed to help the U.S. military guard against doomsday weapons leaking out of Syria and other regional hotspots.
“We have a full-up [counter terrorism team] deployed right now in the Mediterranean in support of CENTCOM. It’s an advanced interdiction team in case there is any movement of a weapon of mass destruction,” Zukunft said. “This is a team that if necessary, forces itself onboard a ship … and they have all of the weapons skills of special forces, but they have law enforcement authority.”
Despite the rocky road in the unit’s formation, Zukunft is confident the Coast Guard’s special operations units are here to stay.
“To turn the lights out and then decide ‘whoa we have this threat’ — it’s going to take [a while] to reconstitute that, and in doing so the assumption would be that we will never have a terrorist attack directed agains the United States ever again,” he said. “I am not willing to make that assumption. I am all in.”
Twitter and news outlets came alive with spotty, unconfirmed news reports of an incident in Saudi Arabia that some sources were describing as a possible “coup attempt.” There has been no official verification of significant or organized action in the region and no reports have surfaced as of 00:30 Riyadh time on the BBC World News, but the volume of Twitter reports and private messages received by this reporter seem to indicate an incident of some significance.
Saudi Arabia has been so far successful in avoiding inclusion in the “Arab Spring” revolts that have toppled governments across the Middle East and began in Tunisia in 2010. Since then Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain have been subject to either government coups or coup attempts. The attempts at overthrowing the Syrian government have resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the region now in its seventh year.
As the minutes have passed during the last hour the volume of traffic about Saudi Arabia on Twitter has increased, but the region’s top Twitter reporter, @SamiAlJaber, has reported nothing specific about a “coup attempt”.
“An official Riyadh district police spokesman said that at about 19:50 p.m. on April 21, 2018, a security screening point in the Al-Khuzama district of Riyadh noticed a small, remote-controlled recreational aircraft (drone) flying without being authorized to do so, which required security personnel at the security point to deal with it in accordance with their orders and instructions in this regard,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported according to Newsweek.
The following traffic was monitored in the aftermath of the reported gunfire. It might be completely unrelated to the alleged attempted coup, still it’s worth of note, considered that according to flight tracking authority @CivMilAir the GL4 has always shadowed the Crown Prince’s UK, USA, France tours.
For instance, the same aircraft, registration HZ-MS4B was part of the fleet that supported the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman during his U.S. tour. Here’s a tweet dating back to a couple of weeks ago:
Concern about unrest in the country have been top of mind in the region for several years but the existing government has, to date, been mostly successful in moderating large, overt attempt at leadership change.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Defense Department personnel continue to assist in the rescue operations in Thailand to evacuate the remaining four boys and their coach from a flooded cave system, the director of defense press operations said July 10, 2018.
The DOD effort consists of 42 deployed military personnel and one member from the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand, Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Coordination and interaction with Thai military, Thai government, and other multinational civilians and government entities remains extremely positive and effective,” he said.
U.S. personnel have staged equipment and prepared the first three chambers of the cave system for safe passage, he said. They are assisting in transporting the evacuees through the final chambers of the cave system, and are providing medical personnel and other technical assistance to the rescue efforts, he added.
Saman Kunan died while laying oxygen tanks for a potential rescue of the trapped boys.
Multinational rescue effort
“We continue to fully support the multinational rescue effort and pray for the safe return of the remaining members of the team,” Manning said.
The soccer team and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand on June 23, 2018, and were trapped by floodwaters. Eight boys have been rescued so far.
Manning paid tribute to former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, who died after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave.
“The death of the former Thai Navy SEAL illustrates the difficulty of this rescue,” Manning said. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, exhausted parents are trying to juggle work, joblessness, rambunctious children, the emotional needs of spouses, the safety of aging parents, and fear of infection from a virus that can ravage the lungs, leaving its victims sick for weeks at a time. While the war metaphor is often tossed about carelessly — a virus is not a living lifeform, let alone an “enemy” — to parallel the mental impact of this time to soldiers at war is useful.
The sense of fear and stress many are experiencing now is familiar for many families of military service members, as well as those who help them through crises. Faced with separation, dangerous deployments, and untimely deaths, parents and children can cope by practicing a resilient mindset. “We serve families who experience a loss, and put on resilience retreats for children, siblings, spouses, and others who have lost a service member. We are helping them learn to stay health in the face of grief and loss, ” says Mia Bartoletti, the clinical psychologist for the Navy SEAL Foundation and an expert on helping families navigate crises. Bartoletti acknowledges that the same process can help families navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Bartoletti frames it, resilience is a practice of acknowledging “normal reactions to extraordinary circumstances.” This means working to strengthen the attributes that make one “resilient” including hardiness, personal competence, tolerance of negative affect, acceptance of change, personal control, and spirituality, according to a review in PTSD Research Quarterly, a publication by the National Center for PTSD. These traits are “like a muscle,” says Mary Alvord, psychologist and the founder of Resilience Across Borders, a nonprofit program that teaches resilience to children, adolescents, and young adults in schools. “You just keep working it out and you can build it.”
Whether you’re a healthcare worker on the frontlines or a stay-at-home parent, having a strong reaction to the pandemic is to be expected. Bartoletti divides these reactions into three categories: Intrusive reactions, avoidance and withdrawal reactions, and physical arousal reactions. Intrusive reactions involve memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks that take you back to the psychologically traumatizing situation after the fact. Avoidance and withdrawal can happen during and after a distressing event, causing you to repress emotions and even avoid people and places. Physical arousal reactions involve changes in the body itself, including trouble sleeping, irritable outbursts, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance.
All of these reactions are normal, as long as they remain acute. Are you dreaming about Genghis Khan stealing your wallet, or breaking into a co-workers house to steal their toilet paper? Those vivid, COVID dreams are an acute intrusive reaction. Are you finding the need to shut yourself in a room and cry? That’s acute withdrawal. Do you find the news about COVID-19 in your area rockets up your heartbeat and blood pressure? That’s an acute physiological reaction. “I think that anyone can be experiencing these things, depending on your own reaction to this pandemic situation, these are common reactions,” says Bartoletti. “We expect to see more of these in this time frame.”
What is not normal is when the acute reaction morphs into a long-term psychological problems.
If these symptoms persist, acute stress in the moment can morph into post-traumatic stress after the fact. That can mean intense physiological feelings of stress, avoidance and withdrawal behavior, or intrusive flashbacks that impede normal social and emotional functioning for days, weeks, or months even after the pandemic subsides.
How does one prevent this all from going down? As with so many things, it starts with communicating those reactions, grappling with them and forming them into verbal thoughts. “If you don’t acknowledge your emotional state, that’s a risk and puts you in jeopardy for adverse lasting consequences,” says Bartolleti. “If you engage in narrative sharing open and effective communication with kids and other selective resilience skills — these are mechanisms of resilience. We can strategically set these mechanisms in motion to enhance individual and family resilient adjustment during this time.”
In many ways, parents and children can practice resilience in similar ways—through dialogue, social connection, and focusing on self-care and controlling what they can and letting go of what they can’t. Of course, parents also act as aids and models for their children, helping their kids let go of negative thoughts, providing warmth and support, and helping them connect with friends while getting outside enough. Under non-pandemic circumstances, Alvord and her colleagues have found that the presence of a caring adult in a child’s life can really help that child overcome stressful or traumatic circumstances. In a pandemic, which affects everyone, parents need to remember to take care of themselves, too.
To foster resilience in kids, the first step is talking it out. “Dialogue is really healthy for kids and teens for actual brain development,” Bartoletti says. “Having conversations about workplace safety and hazards is a healthy thing.” It’s good to gauge what your children are thinking and experiencing, as well as explaining to them your role in this situation. You can set the record straight on anything they have misunderstood. You can offer calm and reassurance while explaining the actionable steps you are taking to cope with the situation. You can model a problem-solving mindset to help your children as they figure out how to manage their emotions.
For both children and parents, social connection will be crucial for staying emotionally healthy through this time, says Alvord. While we may be physically distant, we should still be socially connected. For parents of children old enough to have friends and social groups, this will mean helping those children connect with their friends via phone or video chat. If your children are older, it may mean encouraging and allowing time and space for your teen to spend time with their friends online. For parents, make time to stay connected to your normal group of friends and family. And if you don’t have a parent support group already, it’s a good idea to seek one out so you can share tips and tricks and commiserate about parenting in lockdown. And of course, take the time to connect as a family and make the most of being stuck together.
Self-care really is essential to overall well-being. Alvord recommends trying to get plenty of sleep and taking a break to be by yourself, even if that means getting in your car to get away from everyone in the house. Physical activity and getting outside helps too, says Alvord. Bartoletti cautions that you can overdo it on the exercise, however, and that becomes its own form of avoidance. Being resilient, “really means getting in tune with your own internal landscape,” she says.
Finally, Alvord says resilience means letting go of the things you can’t control and focusing on the things that you can. Taking initiative in one’s life is one of the primary characteristics of resilience, Alvord wrote in a 2005 study published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Depression is hopelessness and helplessness and so resilience is the opposite,” she says. “No, you’re not helpless, you do have control over many aspects of your life.” For example, Alvord’s neighbors recently went out and bought a cheap pool for their backyard. If pools can’t open this summer, they have their own to keep their five children occupied. Recognizing you have agency in this situation — that’s resilience. “It’s action-oriented, as opposed to sitting back and letting things happen,” she says.
“Our mindset in this timeframe matters in terms of brain health and how we react in this experience,” says Bartoletti. Our bodies are primed with hormones to react to stressful situations. “We need to practice a mindset of challenging that at times,” she says.
Research shows it is possible to come out of a traumatic experience even stronger than before. And Bartoletti’s research in military families shows that these coping skills, taken together, can help families “become more cohesive and supportive and more resilient in the face of adversity.” Some days are still going to be challenging, and there will certainly be moments of grief and stress. But if parents and kids alike start to stretch and work that resilience muscle, they can get through this together.
After he retired from the Air Force in 1970, he started an art gallery with his wife Peggy in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He successfully battled cancer, but vowed if it ever came back, he’d hike into the desert with a chest full of booty and wait for treasure hunters to find him and his loot.
“If it comes back, I’m going to grab a pocketful of sleeping pills, take a treasure chest filled with treasure and a copy of my bio, and I’m going to walk out into the desert,” Fenn told writer Margie Goldsmith. “Sometime they’ll find my bones and the treasure, but my bio will be inside the box, so at least they’ll know who I was.”
But the cancer never came back. So Fenn, “tired of waiting,” went ahead and buried the treasure in the Rocky Mountains near his home.
“It’s difficult so it won’t be found right away, but it’s easy enough so that it’s not impossible to find it,” Fenn told Goldsmith who wrote about the treasure for the Huffington Post. “I want sweaty bodies out there looking for my treasure — they just have to find the clues.”
The treasure is buried in an honest-to-God treasure chest and contains gold nuggets, gold animal figurines, and gold coins, as well as some gems and valuable historical artifacts.
Before you lace up your hiking boots, note that the search may not be an easy one. More than one hiker has gone missing looking for the treasure and digging on public lands could be problematic.
As of this writing, the treasure has not yet been found. Fenn, now 80 years old, advises people to wait until after the snow melts in spring to begin their search.
“The treasure is not hidden in a dangerous place,” Fenn told the Daily Mail UK. “I’ve said many times not to look for the treasure any place where an 80-year-old man couldn’t put it.”
Clues to the treasure’s location can be found in Fenn’s book about his life. “The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir” is only available at the Collected Works Bookstore in downtown Santa Fe. Proceeds from the book benefit cancer patients who can’t pay for treatments.
Fenn says the following poem contains at least nine clues. Good luck!
A sailor assigned to Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Georgia was selected Dec. 7, 2018, as one of the Navy’s first warrant officer 1s since the rank was discontinued in 1975.
The Navy announced in NAVADMIN 293/18 the selection of Cryptologic Technician (Networks) 1st Class Nicholas T. Drenning and five other petty officers to the newly reestablished rank.
The warrant officer 1 rank was reinstated through the Cyber Warrant Officer In-Service Procurement Selection Board in order to retain cyber-talent and fill leadership roles. The Navy began accepting applications in June 2018 from CTNs in the paygrades of E-5 and E-6 who met Naval Enlisted Classification and time-in-service requirements.
Drenning, who was a second class petty officer when he submitted his package but promoted to petty officer first class in December 2018, applied for the warrant officer program to remain on a technical career path and shape the Navy’s cyber forces. He said he believes a strong technical background and dedication to training others directly contributed to his selection.
“After taking the enlisted advancement exam multiple times, I wanted to prove it to myself and the warrant officer selection board that they chose the right candidate” Drenning said. “Now I am excited to set a new precedent and build on the heritage and traditions that make the Navy unique.”
The Navy’s new W-1s will be worn on their covers instead of the traditional officer badge.
Drenning currently has nine years of enlisted service and is slated to be appointed to warrant officer 1 in September 2019. He said he looks forward to working with the other warrant officer selectees many of whom he has worked with previously in Maryland and Georgia.
“My personal focus will be fulfilling the intent of the program, which stresses technical expertise,” Drenning said. “Part of shaping our community is going to be building effective relationships with junior-enlisted, the chief’s mess and fellow officers.”
Upon appointment, Drenning said he looks forward to filling many different cyber work roles and mission sets as he helps to shape policy and build an effective cyber force.
NIOC Georgia conducts SIGINT, cyber and information operations for Fleet, Joint and National Commanders. The command supports operational requirements and deployment of Naval forces as directed by combatant and service component commanders.
Since its establishment, FCC/C10F has grown into an operational force composed of more than 14,000 Active and Reserve Sailors and civilians organized into 28 active commands, 40 Cyber Mission Force units, and 26 reserve commands around the globe. FCC serves as the Navy component command to U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command, and the Navy’s Service Cryptologic Component commander under the National Security Agency/Central Security Service. C10F, the operational arm of FCC, executes its mission through a task force structure similar to other warfare commanders. In this role, C10F provides support of Navy and joint missions in cyber/networks, cryptologic/signals intelligence and space.
Vladimir Putin has coasted to a fourth term as Russia’s president, scoring a landslide victory in an election Kremlin opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said gave voters no “real choice.”
A nearly complete ballot count showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said on March 19, 2018 — more than he received in any of his three previous elections and the highest percentage handed to any post-Soviet Russian leader.
Voter turnout was over 67 percent and the other seven candidates were far behind, she said.
While tainted by allegations of fraud — in some cases backed by webcam footage appearing to show blatant ballot-box stuffing — the resounding win sets Moscow’s longest-ruling leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin up for six more years in office amid severely strained ties with the West.
Putin’s government-stoked popularity and the Kremlin’s sway over politics nationwide after years of steps to sideline challengers made Putin’s victory a foregone conclusion.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) short-term observer mission, told reporters in Moscow.
“But where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections almost lose their purpose — empowering people to choose their leaders,” he added.
Pamfilova said voting results had been annulled in five districts amid reports of ballot-stuffing, but she denied any incidents of observers being attacked or blocked from polling stations, despite apparent video evidence posted online.
She asserted that were “at least two times fewer” violations than in the 2012 presidential vote, which put Putin back in the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
The OSCE, which had more than 500 observers in Russia for the vote, said that while legal and technical aspects of the election were well administered, “the extensive coverage in most media of the incumbent as president resulted in an uneven playing field.”
Among the first leaders to congratulate Putin was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been handed a second term himself and appeared to be positioned for indefinite rule after presidential term limits were lifted last week.
Other authoritarian leaders — incuding Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro — were also quick to congratulate Putin.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has received crucial Russian backing in a devastating civil conflict that has led to war crimes accusations, congratulated Putin on a result he called the “natural outcome of your outstanding… performance.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Aleksandar Vucic, the president of traditional Russian ally Serbia, also congratulated Putin.
But amid worsening tensions between the West and Russia after the poisoning of a former spy with a potent nerve agent — an attack Britain blames on Moscow — many leaders chose their words cautiously when they spoke to Putin.
In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron wished Putin “success for the political, democratic, economic, and social modernization” of Russia, and urged him to shed light on the “unacceptable” poisoning, the Elysee Palace said.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman said at midday on March 19, 2018, that the German chancellor would send Putin a congratulatory telegram “very soon,” but also pointed to tension in relations with Moscow.
“We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticize Russia’s policies on some issues — Ukraine, Syria,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that it was nonetheless important to maintain contact with the Russian leadership.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned the fairness of the election and said Moscow will remain “a difficult partner,” although he added that the European Union must be able to continue to talk to Russia.
“The result of the election in Russia was as unsurprising to us as the circumstances of the election. We can’t talk about a fair political competition in all respects as we would understand it,” he said in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“Russia will remain a difficult partner. But Russia will also be needed for solutions to the big international conflicts and so we want to remain in dialogue,” Maas said.
Putin: ‘No new arms race’
The United States on March 15, 2018, imposed another round of sanctions on Russian entities and individuals over what Washington says was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Amid severely strained ties, Putin said on March 19, 2018, that Russia wanted to build “constructive” relations with other countries but that “not everything depends on us.”
Russia will not “instigate some arms race” and “will spare no effort to settle all disputes with our partners by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said, adding that Moscow will always defend its own national interests.
The editor in chief of state-funded network RT, meanwhile, asserted that Western policies and attitudes had prompted Russians to unite around Putin and made him stronger than ever. She seemed to suggest he could remain in power indefinitely.
Railing against the West and praising Putin in a tirade on Twitter, Margarita Simonyan said that “as soon as you declared him the enemy, you united us” around Putin.
“Before, he was just our president and he could have been replaced. But now he is our chief,” she wrote, using a noun — “vozhd” — that is often associated with Stalin. “And we will not let [you] replace him.”
Putin and the seven dwarves
Putin’s comments about foreign ties came during a meeting with the other candidates, whom he called on to cooperate and “be guided by the long-term interests of Russia and the Russian people, always putting group or party preferences on the back burner.”
Putin’s record-high official result put him miles ahead of the seven others on the ballot, who Kremlin critics have said were window-dressing to create the illusion of competition.
The election commission said Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin was second with almost 12 percent, followed by flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with almost 6 percent and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak with about 1.7 percent.
The four other candidates — liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, nationalist Sergei Baburin, Communists of Russia candidate Maksim Suraikin, and centrist Boris Titov — had 1 percent apiece or less.
Speaking to reporters after a late-night rally on voting day, Putin suggested that he would not seek the presidency again in 2030 –when he would next be eligible because of a limit of two consecutive terms.
But he left the door open to a potential move to change the constitution in order to maintain power past 2024 in some capacity, saying only that he is “not planning any constitutional reforms for now.”
Reports of fraud
With help from state media, Putin is riding a wave of popularity on the fourth anniversary of Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and in the wake of a military intervention in Syria that has been played up on Russian television as a patriotic success.
But reports of fraud dogged the election. Independent monitor Golos received reports of nearly 3,000 alleged violations.
Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist and data analyst who has studied fraud in previous Russian elections, suggested that nearly 10 million “extra” votes — apparently all for Putin — may have been added through falsified turnout figures.
Voters were bussed to the polls in many places, according to supporters of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader barred from running in the election.
They also reported hundreds of cases of alleged voter fraud, notably in Moscow and St. Petersburg, two areas where Putin has relatively low support.
Some voters in various regions said they had been pressured by their employers or teachers to vote and take a photograph of themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation.
While official turnout was robust even in Moscow, where it has often been lower than in the provinces, there was palpable apathy at some polling stations.
Some Russians said they felt powerless to influence politics in a country dominated by Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999.
“There is no real choice,” said 20-year-old Yevgeny Kiva, who was paid by a local election committee to wear a clown suit and dance with children at a polling station in Moscow.
Navalny, who has organized large street protests and alleged extravagant corruption among the ruling elite, was barred from the ballot because of a conviction on embezzlement charges he contends were fabricated by the Kremlin.
Fake news — or at least global discussion of the phenomenon — continued to flourish in 2017, so much so that Collins Dictionary named the term its Word of the Year.
Defined by Collins as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting,” fake news also reverberated across the Russian media and political landscape in 2017.
From a purported Western plot to “collapse” Russia to a New York restaurant’s alleged campaign honoring President Vladimir Putin with a massive hamburger, some of these reports — including outright hoaxes — were treated with credulity by prominent Russian media outlets, public figures, and audiences alike.
Some of them originated in Russia — which Western governments have accused of deploying fake news and disinformation as part of its foreign policy. (Moscow has repeatedly rejected such criticism, including accusations that it was behind a flood of fake news aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.) Others began elsewhere and were then perpetuated by both Russian state-controlled television and privately owned media outlets — and, in some cases, by senior officials.
Here’s a look at some of the fake-news and other dubious reports that resonated across Russia in 2017.
7. ‘Collapsing Russia’
In August, a website confusingly similar in appearance to that of the British newspaper The Guardian published a fake story attributing quotes to a former head of British intelligence about a purported Western plot to dismantle Russia.
The fake interview quoted ex-MI6 head John Scarlett as saying — in clunky English — that Britain and the United States planned to use the pro-Western former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and a “fictitious quarrel between Ukraine and Russia” in order to bring about Russia’s “re-disintegration.”
“I must admit that the two Georgian and Crimean wars, the most strategic plan of the U.S. and Britain over the past several years for collapsing Russia, ended with failure,” Scarlett was quoted as saying in the fabricated story.
The ruse was quickly debunked, including in an investigation by BuzzFeed, and The Guardian itself noted that it was a “a fake story…on a fake site purporting to be The Guardian.”
Several Russian media outlets picked up the story, however, including the national television network REN-TV. Days after the false report had been debunked, prominent Russian television personality Vladimir Solovyov appeared to give credence to the hoax on his popular political talk show on state TV, though he added the qualifier, “Some say it’s true, some say it’s not.”
6. Putin Burger
On October 7 — Putin’s 65th birthday — Russian state television and news agencies reported that a New York restaurant was serving a special five-patty burger in honor of the man in the Kremlin. The reports were based on a video produced by Ruptly, a news agency owned by the Russian government-backed TV network RT. Ruptly interviewed an employee at Lucy’s Cantina Royale in New York City who said the restaurant had created a burger weighing 1,952 grams — a reference to the year of Putin’s birth — and featured a small leaflet bearing Putin’s image as evidence of the alleged special menu item.
“It’s not only foreign leaders who are wishing Russia’s president a happy birthday, but ordinary citizens as well. What’s more, they’re doing it in extremely original ways,” an anchor for the state-run Rossia-24 network said in a segment–based on the Ruptly report.
But Russian journalist Aleksei Kovalyov, who regularly debunks canards circulating in the Russian media, quickly dug in to the reports about the special burger, which proceeded to fall apart under scrutiny. The restaurant denied honoring Putin with a burger and said “the employees responsible for this hoax have been suspended pending an investigation.” A bartender at the restaurant later said the “Putin burger” was her idea and that she had lost her job. The employee filmed in the Ruptly video was also reportedly fired.
Ruptly later deleted the video, saying in a statement that the story “did not meet [its] editorial standards.”
Kovalyov has long accused state-controlled Russian media of fabricating or twisting news from abroad in order to produce stories for domestic consumption that are aimed at reinforcing Kremlin messaging. “The Putin burger was a particularly egregious example of virtual reality,” he told RFE/RL.
5. Nobel Winner Alexievich ‘Dead’
In May, a Twitter account purporting to be that of French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen tweeted out that Belarusian author and Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich had died. Nyssen had previously headed the Actes Sud publishing house, which her father founded and had published Alexievich’s writing in French, which appeared to lend credibility to the death claim.
Numerous Russian media outlets — including the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta and state news agency RIA Novosti — quickly ran with the report, as did the website of Current Time TV, a project of RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. European outlets also circulated the report, including the French newspaper Le Figaro and popular Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias.
It was, in fact, a hoax. Alexievich, 69, spoke with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service from Seoul, South Korea, with the reports swirling, saying, “Someone’s impatient.”
Shortly after the original tweet, Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti — who had previously published fake interviews with famous writers — claimed he was behind the hoax.
4. Another Sketchy MH17 Claim
On October 6, the official television network of the Russian Defense Ministry published a claim from a man it said was a defector from the Ukrainian Air Force. The man, identified as Yury Baturin, claimed that the Ukrainian Air Force had moved a Buk missile system to within firing range of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shortly before it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The report by the Zvezda network clearly suggested that Ukraine may have shot down the plane amid its war with Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine, though Baturin did not specifically say that Ukrainian forces fired on MH17 with the Buk. The location in question, Baturin said, was the one previously identified by Russian weapons maker Almaz-Antey: a spot near the Ukrainian village of Zaroshchenske.
The Zaroshchenske claim is one of a range of uncorroborated theories that the Russian government and its proxies have proposed about the downing of MH17, including that it was brought down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
An international investigation has concluded that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile system fired from territory controlled by the separatists near the Ukrainian village of Snizhne. The Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led international investigation have both dismissed the Zaroshchenske theory, citing a broad range of evidence that includes forensic tests, eyewitnesses, and an intercepted phone call between separatist fighters.
The Buk system was brought in from Russia and smuggled back shortly after the shoot-down, the international investigation has concluded. Critics have accused Moscow of trying to muddy the waters of the investigation in order to deflect possible culpability from the separatists and itself.
The Zvezda report was picked up by numerous Russian media outlets, including the state-run TASS news agency and state-run television. But the man’s claims have yet to be corroborated by any other media outlets, leaving Zvezda as the only source. And within 24 hours of the original publication, Zvezda deleted — without explanation — its reports based on the interview.
But in early December, Baturin’s story was again published by Zvezda, this time in a slightly different interview format. Zvezda told the Russian news site Meduza that the original report was deleted because it wanted to give a more thorough treatment to his story.
As in the original story, Zvezda and Baturin strongly imply that a Ukrainian Buk shot down MH17 but note that the former Ukrainian soldier was unable to detect the launch of a missile from near Kharkiv, where he claimed to have been stationed at the time. The Ukrainian military confirmed to Meduza that Baturin had served in its air force but quit in 2016 due to “family circumstances.”
3. Syrian War (Video) Games
The Russian Defense Ministry in November accused the United States of cooperating with Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, alleging that Washington was providing cover to the extremist group as Russian and Syrian government forces were targeting IS fighters.
It was an incendiary claim, one that came shortly after an explosive BBC reportalleging that forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition struck a deal that ultimately allowed hundreds of IS militants to leave the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. (The coalition did not confirm the deal but conceded that IS fighters may have left the city along with a convoy of civilians.)
But the Russian military’s accusation, which it posted on Facebook and Twitter, included curious images that it described as “irrefutable evidence” of alleged U.S. help for IS militants. The images purported to show an IS convoy heading for the Syrian-Iraqi border.
But it didn’t take long for social-media users and investigative groups to discover that one of the images was actually a still from a 2015 promotional video for a video game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. The other images were taken from videos released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry in 2016 about anti-IS operations near Fallujah, online investigators found.
The fake images triggered a wave of ridicule, with some on social media mocking the ministry with footage from other video games, like the famous 1980s game Frogger.
The Russian military subsequently scrubbed the images and published new photos it claimed were “irrefutable evidence” of its accusation. The ministry concededthat the original photographs were fake and said a civilian employee was facing a probe in connection with the matter.
2. Bin Laden In the White House
The video-game hijinks weren’t the only time a Russian ministry perpetuated a hoax in 2017.
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s often-caustic spokeswoman, claimed during a political talk show on state TV in November that the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had once visited the White House.
Zakharova made the claim during a discussion about lobbying in the United States and the U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump’s campaign staff.
“Recall these fantastic, mind-boggling photographs of Bin Laden being hosted in the White House. This is classic lobbying in the true sense of the word,” Zakharova said.
The Saudi-born Bin Laden, who was killed in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan, never visited the White House. Zakharova did not specify during the program which “photographs” she had in mind, though some Russian media outlets speculated she was referring to a photoshopped image appearing to show former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with the Al-Qaeda leader.
That image, which has circulated online for years, is a fake. Bin Laden’s head in the photo, which was taken in May 2004, was superimposed over that of musician Shubhashish Mukherjee. The firebrand conservative site Tsargrad.tv cited Zakharova’s claim without noting that Bin Laden had never been to the White House.
Days later, Zakharova took to Facebook to say she didn’t mean to suggest that Bin Laden “personally” had visited the White House but rather “his colleagues, his advisers, so to speak.” She cited what she called her “favorite photograph” of U.S. President Ronald Reagan “hosting a Taliban delegation in the White House.”
The photograph in question, which Zakharova attached to her post, shows Reagan meeting with Afghan rebel leaders to discuss the fight against invading Soviet forces. The United States funded Afghan mujahedin fighting — alongside Bin Laden and other Arab fighters — against the Soviets; but the photograph in question of Reagan and the Afghans was taken in February 1983 — nine years before the Taliban was founded.
In October, a columnist writing for the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti published an angry screed decrying what he called “propaganda horror stories” about Russia that are regularly published in the Dutch media. The column, titled Muscovites Eat Rat: Who In Europe Is Writing Fake News About Russia, focused on a short November 2016 article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant about a Moscow restaurateur who serves nutria — a large rodent also known as a river rat.
The columnist, Vladimir Kornilov, delivered a highly skewed and, at times, outright false version of the original article to his readers. He incorrectly suggested that the article claimed Muscovites had started eating rat meat because they were “starving” due to Western sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“Nonsense, you say? You are correct. But the thing is, such nonsense about Russia is periodically published in the leading newspapers in the Netherlands — a country that is regularly presented as a leader in global media-freedoms ratings,” Kornilov wrote.
He also called the De Volkskrant article “enormous,” when in fact it clocked in at fewer than 400 words.
Kornilov’s column was picked up by several prominent Russian media outlets.
The original article — one of several published in the Western media at the time about Moscow restaurateur Takhir Kholikberdiyev and his nutria-based delicacies — said nothing about Russians going hungry due to sanctions, though it noted that the punitive measures have prompted restaurants to seek alternative and domestically produced ingredients.
“It remains a mystery why, almost a year after an entirely friendly article was published, a RIA Novosti columnist needed to distort its content,” the opposition-minded Russian news site The Insider wrote.
Kovalyov, the Russian media critic, debunked the false characterizations in the RIA Novosti column in a post on his website, Noodle Remover, with the headline: If The ‘Western Media’ Didn’t Lie, No Problem, We’ll Lie For Them And Then Expose Them!
“You are attributing words to the author of the article that he didn’t write,” Kovalyov wrote, addressing Kornilov, “and on the basis of these inventions are accusing ‘the Western media’ of creating fake news about Russia!”