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Russia Resorting To Spam Tactics In Online War Against Ukraine: Meta

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 23: Russia is resorting to spammer tactics to spread Ukraine war propaganda after more sophisticated influence operations at Facebook and Instagram have been thwarted, Meta said on Thursday.

Tactics have included deploying thousands of fake accounts to hijack online conversations about the war and setting up bogus versions of legitimate news outlet websites at similar online addresses, Meta said in a threat report.

"This activity bears a closer resemblance to what you might see from a spammer's playbook rather than the more stealthy and sophisticated Russian influence operations we have disrupted in the past," Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a briefing.

Meta shares what it finds with researchers and other social networks to expose deception campaigns, he added.

After Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago this week, Meta took measures to prevent state news outlets from using its platform to spread misinformation or make money from bogus reports about the war, Gleicher recounted.

User engagement with Russian state news outlet misinformation dropped more than 80 percent, according to Meta.

"While overt activity by Russian state-controlled media on our platforms has decreased, attempts at covert activity have increased sharply," said Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg.

Last year, Meta took down two Russian covert influence campaigns that tried to hijack online exchanges about the war with comments from armies of fake accounts, according to Clegg.

"Rather than trying to build up convincing fake personas these campaigns resembled smash-and-grab operations that use thousands of fake accounts across social media, not just our platforms, in an attempt to overwhelm the conversation with their content," Clegg said.

Both operations targeted many social media platforms, including Telegram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, Meta reported.

Those operations continue to try to revive ousted fake accounts, according to Gleicher

"There's almost a bit of desperation around this effort; they're not having a lot of success," Gleicher said.

Ex-Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga Nominated By US President To Lead World Bank

WASHINGTON, Feb 23: US President Joe Biden said Thursday that Washington is nominating former Mastercard Chief Executive Ajay Banga to lead the World Bank, after its current chief David Malpass announced plans to step down early.

The development lender has just started accepting candidate nominations in a process set to run until March 29, with the bank saying that women candidates would be "strongly" encouraged.

The president of the World Bank is typically American, while the leader of the International Monetary Fund is customarily European.

Banga, 63, is Indian-American and currently serving as vice chairman at equity firm General Atlantic.

He was previously chief executive at Mastercard.

Banga has "critical experience mobilizing public-private resources to tackle the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate change," said Biden in a statement.

Last week current World Bank President Malpass -- who was nominated to the post by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump in 2019 -- said he would step down nearly a year early, ending a tenure that was clouded by questions over his climate stance.

His term would originally have ended in 2024.

Banga's nomination comes amid a push for development lenders to revamp and address global problems like environmental issues more effectively.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier said that lenders' core models, where countries borrow to make specific investments addressing developmental constraints, is "insufficient to meet the moment."

The United States is the World Bank's largest shareholder.

Speaking to reporters, a senior US administration official said: "At Mastercard and General Atlantic, Ajay has made combating climate change and mobilizing private capital to help power the green transition a priority."

"These are experiences and priorities that will guide and drive his work in the years ahead at the World Bank," the official said.

In a separate statement, Yellen said Thursday that she applauded Biden's decision.

Banga "has the right leadership and management skills, experience living and working in emerging markets, and financial expertise to lead the World Bank at a critical moment in its history," Yellen said.

She added that his record of forging partnerships between the public sector, private sector and non-profits will serve him in helping to "mobilize the private capital and press for the reforms needed to meet our shared ambitions."

Asked about the World Bank's encouragement for women candidates, a US official told reporters that Banga -- who was born, raised and spent an early part of his career in emerging market India -- had a "personal conviction and excellent track record" in promoting diversity in his work.

US Warns Putin Over Russia-Ukraine War

MUNICH: The Biden administration formally concluded that Russia has committed "crimes against humanity" during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine, US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Saturday.

"In the case of Russia's actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity," Harris, a former prosecutor, said at the Munich Security Conference.

"And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held to account."

The official determination, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the US State Department, carries with it no immediate consequences for the ongoing war.

But Washington hopes that it could help further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and galvanize legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through international courts and sanctions.

Harris' speech comes as senior Western leaders met in Munich to assess Europe's worst conflict since World War Two.

She said Russia was now a "weakened" country after Biden led a coalition to punish Putin for the invasion, but Russia is only intensifying assaults in Ukraine's east. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive, for which it is seeking more, heavier and longer-range weapons from its Western allies.

The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions from their homes, pummelled the global economy and made Putin a pariah in the West.

Washington had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes, as has a UN-mandated investigation, but the Biden administration conclusion that Russia's actions amount to "crimes against humanity" implies a legal analysis that acts from murder to rape are widespread, systematic and intentionally directed against civilians. In international law, it is seen as a more serious offence.

The UN-backed Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has not yet concluded that the war crimes it says it has identified amount to crimes against humanity.

In her remarks, Harris cited as "barbaric and inhumane" the scores of victims found in Bucha shortly after Russia's invasion last February; the March 9 bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital, that killed three people, including a child; and the sexual assault of a four-year-old by a Russian soldier that was identified by the UN report.

Organizations supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have documented more than 30,000 war crimes incidents since the invasion, according to the US government. Ukrainian officials said they were investigating the shelling of the city of Bakhmut just this week as a possible war crime.

Russia, which says it is conducting a "special military operation" in Ukraine to eliminate threats to its security and protect Russian-speakers, has denied intentionally targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

"Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown, justice must be served," Harris said.

The Biden administration has sought to bring alleged war criminals to justice, including training Ukrainian investigators, imposing sanctions, blocking visas and hiking penalties under US war crimes laws.

Washington has spent some $40 million on the efforts so far and says it is working with Congress to secure an additional $38 million for the efforts.

But the Biden administration's ability to enforce any such efforts beyond its borders - and certainly within Russia - is limited. Collecting evidence in the war-torn country, too, has proven difficult.

International legal bodies are also constrained. At the International Criminal Court, for instance, jurisdiction extends only to member states and states that have agreed to its jurisdiction, such as Ukraine but not Russia. Kyiv has been pushing for a new international war crimes organization to focus on the Russian invasion, which Moscow has opposed.

"If Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken," Harris said. "Time is not on his side."

India, US Share 'Defining Partnership' For This Century: Richard Verma

WASHINGTON, Feb 18: The relationship between India and the US is the "defining partnership" for the 21st century, America's former Ambassador to the country Richard Verma has told lawmakers and urged the Senate to confirm the next envoy to New Delhi at the earliest.

A strong advocate of deepening Indo-US ties, Verma played a key role in the Congressional passage of the civil nuclear deal. He was sworn in as the US Ambassador to India in 2014, becoming the first ever Indian-American to hold the post. He served as the US Ambassador to India from 2014 to 2017.

“I continue to believe this is the defining partnership for this century. The relationship is so consequential in so many ways, and having a senior official on the ground that represents the president makes a big difference,” Verma told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

Verma was responding to a confirmation of the next US Ambassador to India, a post that has been laying vacant for more than two years now.

“I think everyone hopefully appreciates the urgency with the need to put someone there as soon as possible. It's also, I would say, a morale issue for the team. But more importantly, just delivering on the president's priorities,” Verma said.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Chris van Hollen underscored the importance for the Senate to confirm an ambassador right away to represent the US in New Delhi.

In July last year, US President Joe Biden nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as his Ambassador to India. But because of the allegation of sexual assault by one of his senior staffers, the Democrats have been unable to muster enough support in the Senate.

Responding to a question on the current visa waiting period at the American diplomatic missions in India, Verma noted that this is “too long.” India was one of the very few countries where applications for US visas saw a major upswing after coronavirus-related travel restrictions were lifted.

There have been growing concerns in India over the long waiting period for first time visa applicants, especially for those applying under B1 (business) and B2 (tourist) categories. The waiting period of first time B1/B2 visa applicants in India was close to three years in October last year.

Big Move By Biden Administration To Benefit Indians Seeking Long-Term Visa

WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The Biden administration has announced a policy manual update for the purpose of calculating a non-citizen's age in certain situations under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA), a move seen as a small but important step in addressing the issues of the aged-out children, a large number of whom are Indians, who came to the US legally with their parents.

For a child to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States based on their parent's approved petition for a family-sponsored or employment-based visa, the child generally must be under the age of 21. If the child turns 21 and “ages out” during the immigration process, the child generally is no longer eligible to immigrate with the parent based on the parent's petition.

"The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has officially made one of our long-requested policy changes. The USCIS will use the dates for the filing chart to determine CSPA age and any previously denied petition can be reopened,” said Dip Patel, from the improvethedream.org, which has been leading such an effort on behalf of aged-out children numbering over 200,000.

Under this new guidance, the USCIS will now use the Dates for Filing chart to calculate these non-citizens' ages for CSPA purposes, which provides these non-citizens with more certainty about their eligibility to adjust their status, the federal agency said.

Congress enacted the CSPA to protect certain noncitizen children from losing eligibility to obtain lawful permanent resident status based on an approved visa petition by providing a method to calculate the child's age that considers when an immigrant visa number “becomes available.”

The Department of State's Visa Bulletin is used to determine when a visa number becomes available. The Visa Bulletin has two charts -- the Dates for Filing chart and the Final Action Date chart. Under the previous CSPA guidance, USCIS considered a visa available for purposes of the CSPA age calculation based only on the Final Action Date chart, even if a noncitizen could apply for adjustment of status using the earlier date in the "Dates for Filing" chart.

This USCIS policy change is effective immediately and applies to pending applications. Therefore, some noncitizens with a pending application may now have a CSPA age that is under 21 based on this change. For example, between October and December 2020, certain noncitizens were permitted to file their adjustment of status applications under the Dates for Filing chart of the Visa Bulletin. However, the Final Action Date chart never advanced sufficiently for their applications to be approved. These noncitizens filed their adjustment of status applications with the requisite fee without knowing whether the CSPA would benefit them.

This USCIS policy change is effective immediately and applies to pending applications. Therefore, some non-citizens with a pending application may now have a CSPA age that is under 21 based on this change.

For example, between October and December 2020, certain noncitizens were permitted to file their adjustment of status applications under the Dates for Filing chart of the Visa Bulletin. However, the Final Action Date chart never advanced sufficiently for their applications to be approved. These non-citizens filed their adjustment of status applications with the requisite fee without knowing whether the CSPA would benefit them.

If these noncitizens are eligible to adjust their status because of the change in policy and they have filed for adjustment of status, they will also be eligible to apply for employment and travel authorisation based on their pending adjustment of status application, and they generally will not lose previously issued employment or travel authorisation, it said.

The USCIS said this Policy Manual update will not prevent all children from ageing out before an immigrant visa is available to them, nor will it prevent children from losing nonimmigrant status derived from their parents upon reaching the actual age of 21.

“The USCIS continues to explore all options available under the law to aid this population,” the federal agency said.

Patel said this is one of the few administrative changes that were easy for the administration to make, but it has obviously taken a long time pushing for it to get to this, so very glad to see it.

“This is considered a policy manual change to interpret how the CSPA age is calculated,” he said.

“My guess is at least a few thousand kids will benefit from those who have already aged out. But likely another several thousand will be protected for future years, especially because of the “retrogression” swings in the visa bulletins in past years,” Mr Patel said.

US Congresswoman Deborah Ross applauded USCIS for taking action to protect some of the 200,000 Documented Dreamers who call the United States home.

“This is an important step forward that will protect many individuals who contribute to our country and economy every single day, but we cannot stop here. We must pass my bipartisan America's CHILDREN Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for these inspiring young people and finally give them the certainty they deserve. I will not stop fighting for a solution,” Ross said.

In the 117th Congress, Ross led her House and Senate colleagues in efforts to protect Documented Dreamers. She introduced the bipartisan, bicameral America's CHILDREN Act to provide a path to permanent residency to Documented Dreamers. Her amendment to prevent Documented Dreamers from ageing out of the system passed the House of Representatives as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in July 2022.

Notably, the President's Advisory Commission on AAPIs (PAC-AAPI) in its previous meetings had made such recommendations as well. Among its recommendations, the commission had said that the USCIS should allow aged-out children to retain their parents' Green Card application priority date and permit aged-out children to file for their Green Card application using the parents' priority date of the visa petition filed by their parent's employers.

A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants to the US as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently.

The commission has recommended that the USCIS should amend its policy manual to calculate the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) application date of dependents based on the filing date of the underlying visa application.

There are more than 200,000 “Documented Dreamers” in the United States, predominantly from India, although they can come from any country in the world. These young people are those who have or will age out of temporary status that is derived from being dependent on their parent's; temporary, employment-based non-immigrant visas.

Because most non-citizens who come to the United States on temporary work visas do not have a clear path toward permanent legal status, if their dependent minor children come with them, those children face a dilemma. After turning 21 years old, they will “age out” of their temporary legal status derived through their parents' visas. At that point, they should leave the United States or face potential deportation, unless they can obtain a different temporary or permanent status themselves.

Because they maintain lawful status until they turn 21, Documented Dreamers are ineligible for the temporary deportation protections and work authorisation provided under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which requires a recipient to have “no lawful status on June 15, 2012.”

As per the official record, in April 2020, there were an estimated 253,293 children waiting to obtain permanent residency based on their parents' employment-based immigrant visa petitions and at risk of ageing out.

Without a legal status to remain in the United States, children who age out must attempt to transition to a new temporary status (such as a student visa classification), self-deport, or become undocumented and risk being subjected to enforcement action.

Those who manage to obtain temporary status often find themselves without any path to permanent status unless they can graduate college, qualify for temporary employment (such as being sponsored for an H-1B visa) and then be sponsored for an immigrant visa and re-enter the Green Card queue from the back of the line.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

How US Reacted To Tax Surveys At BBC's India Offices

WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The United States on Tuesday said it is aware of the survey operation conducted by the Indian tax authorities at the BBC office in Delhi but is not in a position to offer its judgement.

The Income Tax officials said the operation was part of a tax evasion investigation.

"We are aware of the search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities. I would need to refer you to Indian authorities for the details of this search. Beyond this discrete action, what I'll say more broadly is the general point that I've consistently made in this context, but in a universal context as well," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters here.

"We support the importance of free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country. It has strengthened India's democracy," Price said.

These universal rights are the bedrock of democracies around the world, he asserted.

When asked if this action went against some of the spirit or value of democracy, Price said, "I couldn't say. We're aware of the facts of these searches, but I'm just not in a position to offer a judgement." The Income Tax Department on Tuesday conducted a survey operation at the British Broadcasting Corporation's offices in Delhi and Mumbai.

The surprise action comes weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots and India.

Tax officials said the department is looking at documents related to the business operations of the company and those related to its Indian arm.

Indian-American Nikki Haley To Run For US President

WASHINGTON, Feb 14: Indian-American US politician Nikki Haley has announced she is running for US President in 2024. With this, she became the first Republican to challenge former US President Donald Trump in his bid for the White House.

Nikki Haley is positioning herself as a changemaker who can reinvigorate a party and country she says have lost their way in recent years.

She had famously said that she would not challenge Trump if he ran again, before changing her stance, arguing the US needs to look towards a different path.

Before entering the presidential ballot, she has to win the Republican Party's presidential primary which will start in January next year. The presidential election is scheduled to be held on November 5, 2024.

The 51-year-old was the two-term Governor of South Carolina and the former US Ambassador to the United Nations.

At 39, Haley was the youngest governor in the US when she took office in January 2011, and made history as South Carolina's first female governor.

Any surveillance balloons over the PRC is false: US

WASHINGTON, Feb 13: The White House on Monday denied Beijing's accusation that the United States has been sending balloons over China to conduct surveillance, as tensions about espionage rise between the two superpowers.

"Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on Twitter.

"It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across 5 continents."

The State Department responded with a similar rejection, and called Beijing's accusation "the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control."

"It has repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the United States was a weather balloon and to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

Earlier Monday China hit back against US charges of balloon espionage, accusing the United States of having sent more than 10 balloons into its airspace since January 2022.

Washington's response marked the latest development in an increasingly tense saga that included the downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month, after it had traversed much of the United States.

The US military subsequently shot down three other unidentified objects over North America in recent days, sparking widespread jitters and speculation as to their origins.

Only the first object has been officially attributed to China, with Beijing insisting it was a civilian craft that had blown off course.

On Monday, White House spokesman John Kirby said US authorities "haven't been able to gain access" yet to the latest three objects shot down, due largely to weather conditions which have slowed search and recovery operations.

China 'Humiliated' And 'Caught Lying': Top US Senator On Balloon Incident

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: A top American Senator on Sunday blasted China in the wake of the US shooting down a suspected surveillance balloon, saying Beijing was "humiliated" and "caught lying" after the incident.

A US F-22 fighter jet on Saturday shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada, a day after another similar object was downed near Alaskan waters, and a week after the American military brought down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast.

"I think the Chinese were humiliated. They were caught lying, and it is a step back for them," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on ABC "This Week" programme.

The top Senator, however, urged the Biden administration to have a continued relationship with Beijing.

"We can't just have a Cold War with them. We have to have a relationship with them. But China has taken advantage of us over and over and over again. And this administration has been just about tougher than any other," Schumer added.

The Pentagon said the object that was shot down on Saturday over Yukon territory in north-west Canada, was first observed in Alaska the night before, and military officials closely tracked it.

The decision to shoot down the object was taken following a phone call between US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, the White House said.

Saturday's incident follows the downing of another unidentified object on Friday over Alaska and the shooting down of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on February 4, by a US F-22 fighter jet.

In another interview with CNN, Republican Congressman Mike Turner, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said the recent episodes have underscored Washington's need to have adequate radar systems.

"We certainly don't have an integrated missile defence system. We're going to have to begin to look at the United States' airspace as one that we need to defend and that we need to have appropriate sensors to do so," he said.

"This shows some of the problems and gaps that we have. We need to fill those as soon as possible because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat," Turner said.

The US now needs to declare that it will defend its airspace, which, of course, is going to be difficult for an administration that has difficulty controlling the ground sovereignty to declare air sovereignty, he observed.

"But we need to do so," he noted.

Turner said it's certainly a new, recent development that the Chinese are being so aggressive in entering other countries' airspace, and doing so for clear intentions to spy with sophisticated equipment.

"The very scale of this balloon and of the technology that was deployed by China in spying on the US is unprecedented. No other nation has anything like it and no other nation has attempted it," Turner said.

"But certainly, there are things at times that come and go from our airspace that we track, that we try to determine if it's going to be a threat that doesn't rise to the level of the very large, sophisticated Chinese spy balloon," Turner added.

China has denied the balloon -- which first entered US airspace on January 28 -- was used for spying purposes, saying it was a weather device gone astray.

The US, however, said the balloon is part of a fleet of surveillance balloons that have flown over five continents.

After the first balloon incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to Beijing.

US Jet Shoots Down 'Unidentified Object' Over Canada, 2nd Strike In 2 Days

OOTTAWA, Feb 11: A U.S. F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada on Saturday, the second such instance in as many days, as North America appeared on edge following a week-long Chinese spying balloon saga that drew the global spotlight.

Separately, the U.S. military also scrambled fighter jets in Montana to investigate a radar anomaly that triggered a brief federal closure of airspace.

"Those aircraft did not identify any object to correlate the radar hits," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced Saturday's shootdown over the northern Yukon territory, saying Canadian forces would recover and analyze the wreckage.

Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand declined to speculate about the origin of the object, which she said was cylindrical in shape.

She stopped short of calling it a balloon but said it was smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down off South Carolina's coast a week ago, though similar in appearance.

Aloft at 40,000 feet (12,200 m), it posed a risk to civilian air traffic and was shot down at 3:41 EST (2041 GMT), she added.

"There is no reason to believe that the impact of the object in Canadian territory is of any public concern," Anand told a news conference.

The Pentagon said NORAD detected the object over Alaska late on Friday.

U.S. fighter jets from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, monitored the object as it crossed over into Canadian airspace, where Canadian CF-18 and CP-140 aircraft joined the formation.

"A U.S. F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory, using an AIM 9X missile following close co-ordination between U.S. and Canadian authorities," Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the U.S. military to work with Canada to take down the high-altitude craft after a call between Biden and Trudeau, the Pentagon said.

The White House said Biden and Trudeau agreed to continue close coordination to "defend our airspace."

"The leaders discussed the importance of recovering the object in order to determine more details on its purpose or origin," it said in a statement.

A day earlier, Biden ordered another shootdown of an unidentified flying object near Deadhorse, Alaska.

On Saturday, the U.S. military remained tight-lipped about what, if anything, it had learned as recovery efforts were underway on the Alaskan sea ice.

On Friday, the Pentagon offered only a few details, such as that the object was the size of a small car, was flying at about 40,000 feet (12,200 m), could not maneuver and appeared to be unmanned.

U.S. officials have been trying to learn about the object since it was first spotted on Thursday.

"We have no further details at this time about the object, including its capabilities, purpose, or origin," Northern Command said on Saturday.

It mentioned difficult Arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow, and limited daylight that can hinder search and recovery.

"Personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety," it added.

On Feb. 4, a U.S. F-22 fighter jet brought down what the U.S. government called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina following its week-long journey across the United States and portions of Canada.

China has said it was a civilian research vessel.

Some U.S. lawmakers criticized Biden for not shooting down the Chinese balloon sooner. The U.S. military had recommended waiting until it was over the ocean, for fear of injuries from falling debris.

U.S. personnel have been scouring the ocean to recover debris and the undercarriage of electronic gadgetry since the shootdown of the 200-foot (60-meter) -tall Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon.

The Pentagon has said a significant amount of the balloon had already been recovered or located, suggesting American officials may soon have more information about any Chinese espionage capabilities aboard.

Sea conditions on Feb. 10 "permitted dive and underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) activities and the retrieval of additional debris from the sea floor," Northern Command said.

"The public may see U.S. Navy vessels moving to and from the site as they conduct offload and resupply activities."

Object Flying 40,000 Feet High Over Alaska Shot Down By US Jets

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: A US fighter jet shot down an unidentified object drifting high over Alaska on Friday, the White House said, just six days after the downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon sparked a fresh diplomatic rift with Beijing.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was unclear what the purpose or origin of the new object was, but said that it was taken down because, floating at 40,000 feet, it was a threat to civil aviation.

"The president ordered the military to down the object," Kirby said.

Questioned about the incident by reporters at the White House, Biden said the shoot-down "was a success."

Kirby said the object was much smaller than a huge Chinese balloon that crossed the United States last week and was shot down by a US fighter jet off the Atlantic coast on Saturday.

It was "roughly the size of a small car," he said.

"We do not know who owns it, whether state owned or corporate owned," he said. "We don't understand the full purpose."

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said an F-22 Raptor used an AIM-9X missile to bring down the object -- the same aircraft and munition used to target the alleged Chinese spy balloon.

The incident took place amid a new alarm over what US officials say is an ongoing program by China to fly surveillance balloons to collect intelligence around the world.

US officials said such balloons have flown over 40 countries, including at least four times previously over United States territory.

The Chinese balloon last week sparked particular concern as it overflew areas where the United States keeps nuclear missiles in underground silos and bases strategic bombers.

The incident led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an imminent trip to Beijing that had been long in planning and aimed at improving communications between the two rival superpowers.

Kirby said the new object was detected late Thursday, and shot down Friday afternoon Washington time.

It went down in northern Alaska near the Canadian border and fell over a frozen body of water, making recovery feasible, Kirby said.

"We do expect to be able to recover the debris," he said.

Biden ordered the shoot-down because at the altitude it was flying, Kirby said, the object posed "a reasonable threat" to civil aviation.

Kirby said the US military sent a plane to observe the object before it was taken down and "the pilot's assessment was that this was not manned."

The Chinese surveillance balloon had clear abilities to propel and maneuver itself, he noted.

It "was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons," a senior State Department official said Thursday.

"It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications," the official.

The official also tied the balloon to China's People's Liberation Army, without saying directly that it had been deployed by the PLA.

The Pentagon's Ryder said the US recovery teams have finished mapping the debris field from the downed Chinese balloon and "are in the process of searching for and identifying debris on the ocean floor."

"Debris that's been recovered so far is being loaded on the vessels, taken ashore, catalogued and then moved onwards to labs for subsequent analysis," he added.

Beijing has rejected US allegations that it sent the balloon to spy on the United States, and said it had simply drifted by accident into US airspace.

But since Saturday China has rejected an overture by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak by phone about the issue.

"The US insisted on using force to attack the airship, which seriously violated international practice and sets a bad precedent," the Chinese defense ministry said in a statement.

US Blacklists 6 Companies For Supporting China's Balloon Programme

WASHINGTON, Feb 11: The US Commerce Department said Friday it has blacklisted six Chinese entities for supporting Beijing's military modernization efforts, particularly relating to aerospace programs including airships and balloons.

The move came a day after US lawmakers unanimously denounced China's use of a suspected spy balloon that flew over North America last week.

The balloon's days-long flyover from Alaska to South Carolina captured the attention of regular Americans and officials, before the US military shot it down off the country's east coast Saturday.

Companies added to the so-called Entity List are restricted from obtaining US items and technologies without government authorization.

"The (People's Republic of China's) use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens US national security," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez in a statement on Friday.

"Today's action makes clear that entities that seek to harm US national security and sovereignty will be cut off from accessing US technologies," he added.

The six companies include Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technology Co; China Electronics Technology Group Corporation 48th Research Institute; and Dongguan Lingkong Remote Sensing Technology Co.

The other three are Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Co.; Guangzhou Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation Technology Co.; along with Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Co.

In a document, the Commerce Department said China's military is utilizing high-altitude balloons "for intelligence and reconnaissance activities," adding that this was contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests.

China insists the balloon was a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes."

But a State Department official has indicated the US believes the balloon to be under the control of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, and is part of a fleet that China has sent over more than 40 countries on five continents to collect intelligence information.

Friday's action indicates concerted efforts to identify and disrupt China's use of surveillance balloons, "which have violated the airspace of the United States and more than forty countries," said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement Matthew Axelrod.

"Export Enforcement will vigilantly monitor and prevent shipments to the listed parties and investigate any efforts to circumvent these restrictions," he said.

Chinese spy balloon contained technology to monitor communication signals: US

WASHINGTON, Feb 9: The Biden administration has determined that the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed the United States last week was operating with electronic surveillance technology capable of monitoring US communications, according to a senior State Department official.

The balloon “was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations” and was part of a fleet that had flown over “more than 40 countries across five continents.”

“We know the PRC used these balloons for surveillance,” the official said. “High resolution imagery from U-2 flybys revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations.”

Signals intelligence refers to information that is gathered by electronic means – things like communications and radars.

US officials disclosed new details about the balloon’s capabilities and the US decisions on how and when to bring it down across classified briefings and public hearings on Thursday, while lawmakers passed a resolution condemning China and demanded the Biden administration provide more answers to Congress.

The FBI has started its initial stages of evaluating the pieces of the balloon that were recovered and brought to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia for analysis, senior FBI officials said Thursday.

Only evidence that was on the surface of the ocean has been delivered to FBI analysts so far, one official said, which includes the “canopy itself, the wiring, and then a very small amount of electronics.” The official said analysts have not yet seen the “payload,” which is where you would expect to see the “lion’s share” of electronics.

The officials added that understanding the components of the balloon is vital intelligence and could be “important pieces of evidence for future criminal charges that could be brought.”

Despite the latest revelations about the capabilities of the spy balloon, the Pentagon has insisted since the vessel was first acknowledged publicly that it does not give China capabilities above and beyond what they already have from spy satellites or other means.

“We did not assess that it presented a significant collection hazard beyond what already exists in actionable technical means from the Chinese,” said Gen. Glenn VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command and NORAD, on Monday.

US will act to protect if China threatens its sovereignty: Biden

WASHINGTON, Feb 8: US President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union Address on Wednesday. While addressing the gathering, he said that the US will act to protect if Beijing threatens its sovereignty.

Amidst growing tension with China over a suspected surveillance balloon, Biden said: “I am committed to working with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world. But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”

Referring to the ongoing war in Europe, Biden said, as he slammed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for military aggression, that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has been a test for the ages, and a test for the world.

“Would we stand for the most basic of principles? Would we stand for sovereignty? Would we stand for the right of people to live free from tyranny? Would we stand for the defence of democracy?” Biden posed a series of questions in his speech.

Asserting that the US democracy was “unbowed”, Biden pledged to work with the Republican party and cited progress in a post-pandemic economy and stressed that a bitterly divided Congress could overcome its differences.

“We’re often told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. But over the past two years, we proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong,” said Biden.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well.”

Blinken Postpones China Visit After Spy Balloon Found In US: Report

WASHINGTON, Feb 3: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will postpone his visit to China after a spy balloon was detected flying over the continental United States, according to media reports on Friday.

Blinken did not want the balloon to dominate his meetings with Chinese officials, ABC News reported, citing an unnamed US official. Bloomberg News also reported the trip will be postponed.

US Says Russia Not Complying With Last Remaining Nuclear Treaty

WASHINGTON, Feb 1: The United States said Tuesday that Russia was not complying with New START, the last remaining arms control treaty between the world's two main nuclear powers, as tensions soar over the Ukraine war.

Responding to a request from Congress, the State Department faulted Russia for suspending inspections and canceling talks but did not accuse its Cold War rival of expanding nuclear warheads beyond agreed limits.

"Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory," a State Department spokesperson said, charging that Moscow's refusal "threatens the viability of US-Russian nuclear arms control."

"Russia has a clear path for returning to full compliance. All Russia needs to do is allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under the New START Treaty, and meet in a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission," he said, referring to the formal talks set up under the treaty.

"There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from traveling to the United States and conducting inspections."

Moscow announced in early August that it was suspending US inspections of its military sites under New START. It said it was responding to American obstruction of inspections by Russia, a charge denied by Washington.

Diplomacy between the two powers has ground to a bare minimum over the past year as the United States leads a drive to punish Russia economically and arm Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons as it fights back an invasion from Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, reviving Cold War era fears of an apocalyptic war.

Russia indefinitely postponed talks under New START that had been due to start on November 29 in Cairo, accusing the United States of "toxicity and animosity."

President Joe Biden shortly after taking office extended New START by five years until 2026, giving time to negotiate while preserving what the Democratic administration sees as an important existing treaty.

The previous administration of Donald Trump had ripped up previous arms control agreements and had been hesitant to preserve New START in its current form, saying that any nuclear treaty must also include China, whose arsenal is rapidly growing but still significantly below those of Russia and the United States.

The Biden administration indicated that it wanted to preserve New START, saying the treaty was meant "to make the world safer."

"To fully deliver on the promise of the treaty by ensuring it remains an instrument of stability and predictability, Russia must fully implement and comply with its obligations," the State Department spokesperson said.

Republican lawmakers, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, had asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to report by Tuesday whether Russia was in violation of New START.

In a letter last week, the Republican heads of the committees on foreign affairs, armed services and intelligence said that Russia's actions and statements "at a minimum raise serious compliance concerns."

New START, signed by then president Barack Obama in 2010 when relations were warmer, restricted Russia and the United States to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each -- a reduction of nearly 30 percent from the previous limit set in 2002.

It also limits the number of launchers and heavy bombers to 800, still easily enough to destroy Earth.





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