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FBI warns that China-linked hackers are targeting U.S. vaccine research

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…As U.S. certifies Iran, Syria, 3 others uncooperative on counterterrorism***

U.S. federal authorities on Wednesday warned that China-linked hackers were targeting U.S. research organisations to steal data on vaccines and treatments for the new coronavirus.

The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said health care, pharmaceutical and research institutions working on a pandemic response should all be aware they were the prime targets of this activity.

The agencies said that the institutions were to take the necessary steps to protect their systems.

“China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19,’’ the agencies said.

The potential theft of this information “jeopardises the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.”

According to the advisory, organisations should partner with CISA to help protect their efforts, while those suspecting suspicious activity should alert the FBI.

“More details on the threat will be released in the coming days,’’ the agencies said.

The warning is the latest in a series of efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to blame China for being the source of the pandemic and exploiting its aftermath.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently accused Beijing of being responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and the economic downturn.

Pompeo has also continued to pursue a theory that the virus came from a Chinese laboratory, in spite of presenting no evidence.

Also read:  U.S. virus expert Fauci, set to testify to Congress

Meanwhile, the United States Government has certified Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba as “not cooperating fully” with its counterterrorism efforts in 2019.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of State said it had notified Congress of the certification, done under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act.

By this action, the five countries are prohibited from the sale or license for export of defence articles and services, according to the statement.

It also formally notifies “the U.S. public and international community that these countries are not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts,” the statement added.

There have long been political and diplomatic frictions between the U.S. and the governments of the five countries.

Noting that this was Cuba’s first year on the register since 2015, the statement cited two major reasons for its certification.

First, it accused Cuba of harbouring members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a revolutionary left-wing armed group involved in the lingering conflict in neighbouring Colombia.

ELN is designated by the Department of State as a foreign terrorist organisation for alleged ransom kidnappings and armed attacks in Colombia, a U.S. ally.

It said Cuba had refused Colombia’s request to extradite 10 ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Colombia.

“The United States maintains an enduring security partnership with Colombia and shares with Colombia the important counterterrorism objective of combating organisations like the ELN.

“Cuba’s refusal to productively engage with the Colombian government demonstrates that it is not cooperating with U.S. work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people,” the statement said.

It also accused Cuba of accommodating several fugitives wanted on charges of political violence in the U.S., many of whom it said had been living in Cuba for decades.

For Iran, the statement said the Islamic republic remained the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.

It alleged that Iran continued to support Lebanese militant group, Hizballah, “Palestinian terrorist groups, and other terrorist groups operating throughout the Middle East.

The U.S. government said North Korea remained on the register for harbouring four Japanese involved in the hijacking of a Japan Airline flight in 1970.

“Syria has continued its political and military support for terrorist groups, including the provision of weapons and political support to Hizballah.

“The Assad regime’s relationship with Hizballah and Iran grew stronger in 2019 as the regime became more reliant on external actors to fight opponents and secure areas”, it said.

The statement said the government of President Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela continued to provide conducive environments for “terrorists in the region to maintain a presence”.

“While Maduro was not the recognised President of Venezuela during this period, his control within Venezuela effectively precluded cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism efforts.

“Individuals linked to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents (who remain committed to terrorism notwithstanding the peace accord) and the ELN were present in the country in 2019,” it said.

 

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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