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USAGM Told to Investigate Allegations of Wrongdoing at Agency

A federal office set up to protect whistleblowers has ordered the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other independent news networks to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by its own top officials.The December 2 letters, signed by an attorney in the Office of Special Counsel, said U.S. Agency for Global Media head Michael Pack has been ordered to investigate after the OSC found “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” based on details in whistleblower complaints.Since Pack’s appointment to the USAGM in June, network heads have been fired or resigned, Pack has stopped approving visa renewals for the agency’s foreign journalists, and his political appointees have conducted internal investigations of reporters and editors.The letters are a further blow to the new CEO after a federal court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pack and his appointees from interfering with editorial decisions or violating journalists’ First Amendment rights.Pack and his appointees were also barred from conducting investigations into news content or journalists, and from making personnel decisions involving individual staff members. The order is a stopgap measure to prevent further actions being taken until a legal complaint that alleges wrongdoing is resolved.FILE – Michael Pack, who then was President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, is seen at his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Pack’s nomination was confirmed June 4, 2020.Pack was confirmed by the Senate as CEO in June with a three-year term. However, after Pack fired several news executives upon his arrival, a spokesperson for the Joe Biden presidential election campaign told VOA that if elected, Biden would fire Pack.Pack failed to appear for a September House of Representatives hearing examining the controversy at USAGM, drawing criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.Representative Eliot Engel of New York, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told VOA last month, “I’m confident the Biden administration will appoint a competent leader at USAGM who understands our international broadcasting efforts, respects the law and can reverse the damage Mr. Pack has done during his short tenure.”The OSC told VOA it was unable to comment on or confirm open investigations.In the letters, the OSC said that while it believed the complaints appeared to show likelihood of wrongdoing, the investigation remained open.Heads of federal agencies are required by law to investigate cases in which the OSC believes there appears to be substantial likelihood of wrongdoing.The role that Pack might play in investigating USAGM actions under his watch wasn’t clear.Often the Office of Inspector General is asked to handle the investigation, but agency heads have discretion to use other investigative bodies.

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СБУ: обшуки в «Укрспецекспорті» та «Укроборонпромі» відбувалися в справі про державну зраду

Обшуки в «Укрспецекспорті» та «Укроборонпромі» відбувалися в межах кримінального провадження за ознаками державної зради, повідомила Служба безпеки України.

Діяльність посадовців нібито відбувалася «в інтересах однієї з країн Південної Азії на шкоду обороноздатності, державній, економічній та інформаційній безпеці України».

За даними слідства, протиправна діяльність представників спецекспортера пов’язана із штучним залученням посередницької іноземної структури, що призвело до можливої втрати Україною ринків озброєння в окремих країнах азійського регіону, гальмування чинних контрактів ДК «Укрспецекспорт», а також створення перешкод для укладання нових зовнішньоекономічних контрактів.

За попередніми оцінками, нанесена шкода державним інтересам становила близько 100 мільйонів доларів.

«Укроборонпром» повідомляв, що співпрацює зі слідчими Служби безпеки України. В «Укрспецекспорті» стверджували, що відбувалося «незаконне вилучення документів та інформації, які стосуються фінансово-економічної діяльності за всі роки існування компанії».

 

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Western Frustration With Turkey Likely to Build Under Biden Administration

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has complained about an international conspiracy forming against Turkey, and he says it’s attempting to frustrate his projection of Turkish power and influence abroad.Domestic and foreign critics counter that there isn’t yet a conspiracy, but if one does emerge, it largely will be due to his picking fights with his country’s neighbors, including the European Union and Turkey’s NATO allies. They are exasperated by his threats, whenever he is crossed, to throw open the doors for migrants to once again flock into Europe.Erdogan has in recent months frequently blamed invisible, malevolent foreign enemies for Turkey’s sharply deteriorating economy. For most of this year, foreign investors have shunned the country, and an already weak Turkish lira plunged last month to record lows in value against the dollar and euro. Western critics say Turkish economic woes are the result of his own mishandling of the economy.FILE PHOTO: A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2019.Additionally, the Turkish leader and his aides have accused European nations of ganging up to sabotage his geopolitical ambitions, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is locked in an escalating maritime quarrel with Greece and Cyprus that risks getting out of hand over lucrative gas and oil drilling rights.The huge energy potential of the eastern Mediterranean has drawn other powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East into the destabilizing standoff. Western Europeans and Turkey’s other regional neighbors say maritime law is on the side of Athens and Cyprus, accusing Ankara of brinkmanship in a deadlock that’s seen opposing warships come close to clashing.“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] in a speech last month. “However, this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” he added.Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey, Feb. 15, 2020.In October, as European criticism mounted about Turkish adventurism, including a military intervention into northern Syria aimed at dislodging Syrian Kurds, Erdogan, retorted, “Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: If you try to frame our operation as an invasion, our task is simple — we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”Conspiracy theories have long been a feature of cultural and political life in Turkey, certainly since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And during his 17-year-long rule, political critics have accused Erdogan of stoking the long-held Turkish fear of being surrounded by foreign powers and beset by shadowy outside forces eager to weaken the country and to prevent it from restoring Ottoman greatness.“In fueling the current disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the [Turkish] leadership is using a narrative revolving around themes such as conquest—referring to the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul—battles and wars, a huge [and undefined] foreign conspiracy, and a return to glory,” Marc Pierini, an analyst at the research group Carnegie Europe, noted in a posted commentary.Erdogan’s frequent complaint about an anti-Turkish foreign conspiracy risks turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy, warn some analysts and Western diplomats.French President Emmanuel Macron greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Jan. 5, 2018.From a diplomatic row with NATO ally France over the enforcement of an international arms embargo on Libya, to the deployment of special forces and Ankara-paid mercenaries to the strife-torn North Africa country, from military adventurism in northern Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, to Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, the Turkish leader is amassing an impressive list of opponents.Ankara seems ever more willing to challenge allies and enemies alike in pursuit of a larger role on the world stage. If Western nations, and Turkey’s near neighbors, start coordinating containment strategies, it will be as a consequence of Erdogan’s aggressive aim to expand, through assertive diplomacy and military means, Turkish influence in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, say Western diplomats and analysts.There are increasing signs that Turkey’s NATO partners are tiring with Erdogan’s assertive geopolitical ambitions and irredentist claims against his neighbors. “The totality of Turkey’s policies and actions have now reached a point of dangerous escalation,” according to analysts Heather Conley and Rachel Ellehuus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.They noted in a commentary for CSIS that Erdogan’s actions “substantially challenge the coherence of NATO’s collective defense posture in the Mediterranean and weaken its political cohesion.”“To avoid this,” they say, Western allies “should approach the growing instability in the Mediterranean through an integrative policy that seeks to de-escalate tensions and define, with Ankara, common interests by identifying some agreed principles to guide regional behavior.” They add: “If Turkey is unwilling to join such an initiative, greater transatlantic tensions lie ahead.”NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak to the media after their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 5, 2020.Turkey’s wrangling with allies and neighbors have increased since 2015, when Erdogan adopted as policy the so-called Blue Homeland Doctrine, originally drawn up by Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz in 2006. The doctrine outlined an ambitious goal to expand Turkish influence with an aim to improve access to important energy and other economic resources. Its implementation has seen Erdogan resorting to ad hoc arrangements, reversing bilateral understandings, and backsliding on multilateral agreements and Turkish obligations to NATO—creating even greater regional instability, say critics.Despite his complaints about an anti-Turkey international conspiracy, some analysts say Erdogan has been helped by the absence of coordination between Western allies and by their circumspection.They say Western officials have held off imposing further sanctions on Turkey or enforcing sanctions that have already been announced. In July, EU foreign ministers asked the bloc’s diplomatic corps to draw up possible enforcement options for sanctions imposed on Turkey for its gas and oil drilling activities in Cypriot territorial waters and what they see as Ankara’s “gunboat diplomacy” in the eastern Mediterranean.A man reads walks past Cypriot newspaper with a front page carrying a photo montage about Turkey’s actions over Cyprus and international companies exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Feb. 13, 2018.Likewise, the U.S. has held back. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters is “unacceptable,” but the Trump administration hasn’t followed up with concrete action and has not yet imposed sanctions for Turkey’s recent purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, an acquisition seen as breaching Ankara’s NATO commitments.Western diplomats and analysts say there are increasing signs, though, that Turkey’s NATO partners are wary of Erdogan’s adventurism and go-it-alone strategy. Impatience is likely to build quickly next year when U.S. President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.Erdogan clashed often with Donald Trump, but Washington backed off confronting Ankara and opted for backroom deal-making. The two leaders were at least united in antipathy toward the EU. But that won’t be the case next year, and Erdogan is likely to find himself dealing with a less forgiving U.S. leader, according to Western diplomats.FILE – Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak speaks during a conference to ease investor concerns about Turkey’s economic policy, in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 8, 2020.Since the U.S. election, Erdogan has shown signs he knows he will need to adjust. Hours after the U.S. election, Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, resigned as Turkey’s economy minister. Albayrak had a close friendship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.The Turkish president has also since the election vowed to launch a period of economic and legal reforms, saying he will prioritize legislation to strengthen democracy and improve human rights, an announcement widely seen as anticipating the changed circumstances in Washington. Biden has promised to host next year a global Summit for Democracy.

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Report: US in Talks With Huawei Official on Resolving Criminal Charges

The U.S. Justice Department is discussing a deal with lawyers for Huawei’s finance chief, Meng Wanzhou, that would allow her to return to China from Canada, a person familiar with the matter said.Negotiations between Meng’s lawyers and the Justice Department picked up after the U.S. presidential election, the person said, but it is still unclear what kind of deal can be struck.Meng does not think she did anything wrong and therefore is reluctant to make admissions that she does not think are true, the person said.The source said the talks did not appear to be part of a larger deal with Huawei.The Wall Street Journal first reported on the possible deal.Meng, 48, was arrested in Canada in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States. She is facing charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC Holdings Plc about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions.Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and Canada’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

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Federal Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Discriminates Against US Workers 

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit Thursday saying social media giant Facebook was discriminating against U.S. workers and hiring cheaper foreign workers instead.Many of the temporary workers the DOJ accused Facebook of giving hiring preferences to were foreign workers with H-1B visas.H1-B visas allow U.S. companies to hire foreign workers in “specialty occupations.” Critics say companies, particularly in technology, exploit the visa program to hire foreigners for less money.The DOJ further alleged that Facebook “refused” to consider qualified U.S. workers for over 2,600 open jobs paying an average annual salary of $156,000.The move came after a two-year investigation into Facebook’s hiring practices, The New York Times reported.“Our message to workers is clear: If companies deny employment opportunities by illegally preferring temporary visa holders, the Department of Justice will hold them accountable,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, told the Times. “Our message to all employers — including those in the technology sector — is clear: You cannot illegally prefer to recruit, consider or hire temporary visa holders over U.S. workers.””Facebook has been cooperating with the DOJ in its review of this issue,” company spokesman Daniel Roberts told Reuters. “And while we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation.”Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with a personal wealth of about $100 billion, has long advocated for immigrants to work in the tech sector, the Times reported. In 2013, he created Fwd.us, a nonprofit advocating steps to make it easier to hire immigrants for technology jobs, according to the Times.The DOJ case against Facebook is another problem for Silicon Valley, which has come under fire in recent years for antitrust violations, anticompetitive practices, privacy concerns and content that some find offensive.

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Outgoing US Intel Chief Warns China Seeking Global Domination

U.S. President Donald Trump’s top intelligence official is calling out China, describing the government in Beijing as the most pressing threat to freedom and democracy since the Second World War.The warning from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is not the first of its kind from top U.S. intelligence or law enforcement officials, who for years have cautioned that China’s expanding economic and military strength presented a growing danger to the United States. But this call to action may be the most dire.FILE – Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe arrives to brief congressional leaders, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 2, 2020.”Beijing is preparing for an open-ended period of confrontation with the U.S.,” Ratcliffe wrote in an opinion piece published late Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. “Washington should also be prepared.”Ratcliffe, who was sworn in this past May after narrowly winning confirmation in the U.S. Senate, has consistently named China as one of his top intelligence priorities. Trump Loyalist Sworn in as US Director of National Intelligence White House expresses hope former Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe will follow in the footsteps of Richard Grenell, the outgoing ambassador to Germany who as acting DNI side-stepped lawmakers to push ahead with reforms
But in the months leading up to November’s presidential election, he repeatedly clashed with Democratic lawmakers, some of whom criticized him for promoting a “false narrative” by insisting China was a greater threat than Russia. .@SpeakerPelosi@RepAdamSchiff also charge @POTUS administration, @DNI_Ratcliffe of seeking to promote a “false narrative” w/#Russia#China#Iran & #Election2020″Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) August 29, 2020
 
“I don’t mean to minimize Russia,” Ratcliffe told Fox Business News this past August, defending his record. “But the threats that we face from China are significantly greater … anyone who sees intelligence knows that.”Economic, technological, military threatsUntil now, many of the warnings from intelligence and law enforcement officials have focused on China’s efforts to overtake the U.S. economy.According to the FBI, the number of economic espionage cases involving China has risen by about 1,300% over the past decade.As of July, the bureau said it was investigating more than 1,000 cases involving China related to either the actual or attempted theft of U.S. technology.But officials have also grown more wary of Beijing’s military, naming China, along with Russia, as one of the two main threats to the post-World War II international order in the latest U.S National Defense Strategy.FILE – Soldiers of People’s Liberation Army march in formation with a Chinese Communist Party flag during a rehearsal before a military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China, in Beijing, China, Oct. 1, 2019.And where U.S. military officials once saw China as a lesser threat than Russia, they say that is no longer the case.”I definitely see the People’s Liberation Army Air Force as the leader as the adversary,” General Kenneth Wilsbach, the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, told defense reporters last month, pointing to “unprecedented advancements” by Beijing.”Not that the Russians are a pushover, because they have considerable [air power] capability,” Wilsbach said. “I just believe the Chinese have outpaced them.”‘The intelligence is clear’Now, less than two months before President-elect Joe Biden installs his own director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe is hoping to make sure the Trump administration’s warnings about the threat from China do not go unheeded.”The intelligence is clear,” Ratcliffe wrote. “Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically.””There are no moral or ethical boundaries to their pursuit of power,” he added. “China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.”Ratcliffe argues the consequences of China’s refusal to play by any rules even extends to U.S. families. It is estimated the damage from economic espionage and subterfuge is in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, costing the average U.S. household $4,000 to $6,000 a year.And all the while, Chinese influence operations have expanded, Ratcliffe argues, targeting members of Congress and their aides “with six times the frequency of Russia and 12 times the frequency of Iran.”U.S. counterintelligence officials said Wednesday that China’s agents already have started targeting members of the incoming Biden administration. Chinese officials called the charge “ludicrous.”