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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reinforced security on the country’s frontier with Azerbaijan, whose conflict with Armenia has defied truce efforts.
Tanks, ground troops and military equipment have been deployed in the cities of Khoda Afarin and Jolfa, which are on the Azerbaijan border and also near Iran’s boundary with Armenia, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Sunday, quoting IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour.
Iran’s regular ground forces also announced the start of new military drills in the northwest, the Tasnim news agency reported, without giving details on the location.
France, Russia Call Azerbaijan, Armenia to Talks to End Fighting
A longstanding dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia last month and at least 80 civilians have so far been killed. Iran has warned its neighbors to contain the conflict after several stray rockets landed in Iranian border towns.
Iran’s northwestern frontier traverses Iraq, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan and is home to several ethnic minority populations — mostly Azeris, Iran’s largest minority, and Kurds.
The U.S. charged six current and former members of Russia’s military intelligence agency for allegedly carrying out some of the world’s most destructive hacking attacks from 2015 to 2019, including knocking out Ukraine’s power grid and causing almost $1 billion in damage to three American companies.
The hackers allegedly carried out attacks against the 2017 elections in France and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, according to an indictment unsealed by the Justice Department on Monday.
“According to the indictment, beginning in or around November 2015 and continuing until at least in or around October 2019, the defendants and their co-conspirators deployed destructive malware and took other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia, through unauthorized access to victim computers,” the department said.
Read the grand jury indictment unsealed on Monday
The hackers from the military intelligence unit known as GRU allegedly spread what is known as NotPetya malware, which damaged computers used for critical infrastructure, including impairing the administration of medical services by a hospital system in Pennsylvania.
“The attack caused the unavailability of patient lists, patient history, physical examination files and laboratory records,” according to the department.
The NotPetya attack also caused about $400 million in damages to a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. and more than $500 million in damages to a large U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer, which the indictment didn’t identify. Merck & Co. has been previously identified as one of the targets.
None of the charges involved the current U.S. presidential campaign, although the FBI and other agencies say Russia continues trying to interfere in U.S. politics.
“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and fits of spite,” John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, told reporters during a news conference on Monday.
Demers said the release of the indictment wasn’t particularly intended to send a message to Russia against interfering in the 2020 election. He said U.S. agencies haven’t seen evidence that hackers can compromise voting in this year’s election.
“Americans should be confident that a vote cast for their candidate will be counted for that candidate,“ Demers said.
The Justice Department also said the investigation was aided by social media companies Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., as well as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Cisco Systems Inc.
The hackers are part of a group known variously as “Sandworm Team” and “Voodoo Bear” among cybersecurity experts. The group’s espionage and sabotage hacking operations are “highly advanced” and consistent with “Russian economic and national objectives,” according to an analysis by the firm Crowdstrike Inc. The group has an interest in “targeting critical systems” and disrupting infrastructure, according to an analysis by the firm FireEye Inc.
The timing of the indictment, weeks before the U.S. presidential election, is notable. A separate hacking unit that is associated with Russia’s GRU meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, and Microsoft Corp. recently found that group attempting to hack political targets ahead of the 2020 election.
In addition, one of the defendants in the indictment unsealed on Monday was also charged in 2018 by the U.S. for hacking tied to the 2016 election. He conspired “to gain unauthorized access into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the administration of the 2016 U.S. elections,” according to the Justice Department.
The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Russia is attempting to help President Donald Trump succeed and hurt his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The U.S. also indicted hackers from GRU in October 2018, before the midterm elections. Russia denies any role.
From the outside, General Salvador Cienfuegos, with his stern visage, ramrod salute and beribboned chest, presented the image of a front-line warrior against drug traffickers.
As Mexico’s defense chief from 2012 to 2018, he directed his forces to brutally corner cartel chiefs and stealthily move patrol vehicles in pursuit of heroin shipments. Under his watch, Mexican marines arrested infamous kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman twice in two years.
But Cienfuegos, who was arrested by U.S. officials as he landed at Los Angeles International Airport late Thursday, was, according to their indictment, wielding the vast power of his office and military not to interrupt drug traffic but to help a cartel known as H-2.
Prosecutors cite thousands of intercepted Blackberry messages to paint a picture of Cienfuegos, nicknamed “Padrino” or “Godfather,” as an all-powerful benefactor who made sure thousands of kilograms of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana made their way into U.S. cities, producing millions of dollars in illicit cash.
“The defendant prioritized his personal greed over his sworn duties as a public servant, and he assured the continued success and safety of one of Mexico’s most violent drug-trafficking organizations,” the prosecutors wrote in a letter accompanying his indictment.
He not only smashed rival gangs, prosecutors say. He stopped military operations against H-2, introduced the cartel to “other corrupt Mexican government officials,” arranged ships to move their supplies and helped them capture more territory. He warned H-2 when the U.S. was using witnesses to testify against them, leading to the murder of a cartel member, the documents say.
The cartel “committed countless acts of horrific violence, including torture and murder, in order to protect against challenges from rival drug-trafficking organizations, fight for territory and silence those who would cooperate with law enforcement,” the letter says.
The indictment dates from August 2019. Cienfuegos, 72, hadn’t set foot in the U.S. until now, when officials could nab him. It’s unclear why he saw no risk in visiting. Prosecutors are asking that he be held without bail and tried in New York City where, if convicted, he could face decades in prison.
He made a brief appearance by video conference before a judge in Los Angeles Friday, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. Cienfuegos agreed to be held in a federal jail until a detention hearing Tuesday. His lawyer, Duane Lyons, said he will ask that his client be released on bail at that time. Lyons didn’t respond to a request for comment after the hearing.
His arrest comes 10 months after the U.S. charged Mexico’s top police official with protecting a different drug gang in the 2000s. The pair of indictments speaks to a mind-boggling level of corruption and intermingling of Mexican crime and law enforcement.
The military has a central domestic role which has grown dramatically since then-President Felipe Calderon began using it to escalate the war against the cartels in the late 2000s.
Cienfuegos was a driving force behind that expansion, testifying to lawmakers that only the military could be trusted to fight organized crime. In 2017, he successfully pushed President Enrique Pena Nieto to codify the military’s role in the drug war into Mexican law.
Since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018, the military has moved far beyond combat operations. Soldiers now do everything from protecting oil facilities and ports to undertaking public works including airports and even government bank branches.
Its reputation as one of the country’s more efficient and less corrupt institutions has been central to its expansion. Where local police forces have long been seen as working hand-in-hand with the narcos, the military can rotate troops and commanders around different regions to stop those relationships from forming — and it has at least scored high-profile captures of major figures.
Its culture and framework may have left it open to abuse by a bad actor at the top.
“No one is going to question the secretary on what he does or doesn’t do,’’ said Craig Deare, a former assistant U.S. defense attache in Mexico City and author of a book on U.S.-Mexico military relations. “That’s a pretty strong characteristic of the Mexican army: Whatever the boss says, you do that.”
It’s clear from the indictment that Cienfuegos had collaborators at official levels, some witting and some perhaps unwitting.
“Whatever he did, he didn’t do alone,” said Athanasios Hristoulas, security expert and professor at ITAM, Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology, a private university. “There’s undoubtedly a whole bunch of other people in the army that are at least somehow co-conspirators in this.”
There were signs that Cienfuegos, while in office, might have, as U.S. prosecutors wrote, “no respect for public authority or the rule of law.”
Human rights groups railed against disappearances and extra-judicial killings allegedly committed by the military under his tenure, most notoriously in the unsolved kidnapping and murder of 43 students. “There was just an egregious failure” to hold people accountable under his reign, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an organized-crime expert at the Brookings Institution.
The prosecutors in New York say Cienfuegos wielded his considerable power to help not only the H-2 cartel, but other unnamed gangs. Witnesses testified to the cartel’s “regular employment of violence to further its drug trafficking, its use of bribery to ensure government protection, as well as the assistance of the defendant to the H-2 Cartel and other drug trafficking organizations,” they wrote. Cienfuegos was allegedly involved with H-2 when the organization was headed by Juan Patron Sanchez, who died in a 2017 shootout with the Mexican military. H-2 Cartel is a successor to the Beltran Leyva Organization, which was once led by Hector Beltran Leyva and operated in the Mexican states Nayarit and Sinaloa.
Cienfuegos’s arrest has raised the question of how deep the alleged corruption goes in Mexico’s armed forces.
When Lopez Obrador appointed current Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval in 2018, he thanked Cienfuegos for his “collaboration” in the decision-making. Cienfuegos soon lavished praise on Sandoval. At a press conference on Friday, Lopez Obrador said he had rejected all of Cienfuegos’s suggested candidates and that Sandoval was comprehensively vetted.
The president promised to remove anyone shown to be involved in the case, but gave little sign that he plans to rein in the armed forces’ power. The military and navy “are pillars of the Mexican state,” he said. “They are so strong that not even such lamentable matters as the involvement of a secretary of defense in narco-trafficking will weaken them.”
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Top U.S. military commanders are “in good shape” after self-quarantining last week, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a radio interview. The U.S. added 54,600 cases of Covid-19 infection, the fourth consecutive days with increases of more than 50,000.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state is doing “very well” outside of hot spots that have caused concern for the last two weeks. He renewed his warning that those areas will be targeted for increased enforcement of public-health measures.
President Donald Trump was flagged by Twitter for declaring himself immune to the Covid-19 virus, a day before returning to the campaign trail.
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Brazil reported 290 virus-related deaths in its latest daily count, the fewest since April 5, according to Health Ministry data. Weekly new cases fell to the lowest since early June during the seven days that ended Saturday.
The country, which has the most reported infections behind the U.S. and India, added 12,342 cases, bringing the total to almost 5.1 million. The official death toll rose to 150,488.
U.S. Joints Chiefs in Good Shape, Chairman Tells NPR (5:10 p.m. NY)
U.S. military leaders who quarantined last week after exposure to the coronavirus have kept Covid-19 at bay without thwarting their work, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a National Public Radio interview.
“We’ve been strictly adhering to the CDC protocols and none of us are symptomatic and so in good shape,” Milley told NPR in an interview set to air Monday. ”The Joint Chiefs of Staff are fully functional, even though we’re functional from home.”
Milley is among the top officers who quarantined last week after the Coast Guard’s vice commandant, Admiral Charles Ray, tested positive and attended meetings with members of the Joint Chiefs. The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, General Gary L. Thomas, subsequently tested positive.
Military leaders had attended a Sept. 27 ceremony at the White House honoring fallen service members and the Gold Star families they left behind.
Fauci Says Trump Ad Is Out of Context (3:12 p.m. NY)
Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says he’s being taken out of context in a campaign advertisement that touts President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, CNN reported.
The ad, released by the Trump campaign after the president was discharged from a hospital where he was treated for Covid-19, shows a clip of an interview with Fauci saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more.”
“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci, who heads the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement to CNN.
California Cases Climb, Texas Slows (2 p.m. NY)
California reported 3,803 new coronavirus cases, a 0.5% increase from the previous day, to 846,579, according to the health department’s website. The increase is greater than the previous week’s daily average. Deaths rose by 64 to 16,564.
Texas recorded 31 additional deaths for a total of 16,557. The number of new cases increased by 2,262, the least in six days, to 792,478.
New French Cases Decline (1:46 p.m. NY)
France reported a drop in new coronavirus cases to 16,101, the lowest number in five days following two record-breaking 24-hour periods. Deaths have increased at a slower pace.
Several provincial cities have been added to a list of urban centers, including Paris, that are on the highest alert for spread of Covid-19. The most recent is Toulouse, where bars will be ordered to shut down.
Trump, Pelosi Spar Over Stimulus (1:06 p.m. NY)
President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed each other for a lack of progress on new plan to support the U.S. economy, while a senior White House aide said he expects talks to continue and a Fed official called for fiscal help.
After a week of shifting signals on the amount of stimulus and how to get there, Trump said on Fox News that Republicans are “having a hard time with Nancy Pelosi.” Pelosi labeled the administration’s offer on dealing with the health impact of the virus pandemic “grossly inadequate.”
“Is is hard to understand who is shaping their approach, which to date has been a miserable and deadly failure,” Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers released on Sunday. “Until these serious issues are resolved, we remain at an impasse.”
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said earlier he expects Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Pelosi to hold more talks this week.
New York Vows Enforcement in Hot Spots (12:17 p.m. NY)
New York’s surge in cases slowed slightly, as it reported 1,143 new infections, a 0.2% rise compared with the average 0.3% daily increase over the previous seven days. It was the sixth consecutive day with more than 1,000 cases as the state battles hot spots in New York City and upstate.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday the state is doing “very well” overall, with a 0.84% positive test rate when excluding the hot spots. The rate in “clusters” where cases are elevated is 5.7%, he said in a telephone briefing.
“The clusters are generating the new cases, proportionately, because that’s what clusters do,” he said. Last week, Cuomo ordered schools and non-essential businesses closed in the worst-affected areas, and he repeated that those areas will be targeted for increased enforcement of public health measures.
Trump Says He’s Now Immune, Unlike Biden (12:02 p.m. NY)
President Donald Trump pitched what he called his post-infection immunity to Covid-19 as an advantage over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in his first interview since doctors certified he was no longer at risk of transmitting the deadly virus.
“Once you do recover, you’re immune, so you don’t have a president who has to hide in his basement, like his opponent,” Trump said Sunday in a lengthy interview on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“It looks like I’m immune for, I don’t know, maybe a long time, maybe a short time, it could be a lifetime, nobody really knows -- but I’m immune,” Trump said, adding that he had a “protective glow.”
Twitter took issue with a Trump tweet on the subject, flagging it as a rules violation for “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to Covid-19.”
The Centers for Disease Control said in guidance last month that the agency “does not know if someone can be re-infected with Covid-19,” but also said there were no confirmed reports of reinfection within 3 months of initial infection.
Italy Cases Above 5,000 for Third Day a Row (11:10 a.m. NY)
Italy reported 5,456 new cases on Sunday, the second highest since late March, despite that lower numbers of testing were processed. The positivity rate, which has almost doubled in the last 10 days, jumped to 5.2%.
Italy’s government is considering reinforcing measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic as infections surge. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and some members of the ruling coalition reviewed additional measures Saturday including restrictions on private parties, amateur sport activities and social gatherings, according to SkyTG24.
Ontario’s Infections Slow (11:04 a.m. NY)
Ontario’s new cases declined to 649 cases Saturday from 809 on Friday and a record 939 registered a day earlier, according to the public health agency.
Starting yesterday, the government of Canada’s most populous province imposed a set restrictions in Toronto, Ottawa and the Peel suburban region west of Toronto where are the regions recording most of the new cases.
New cases in Quebec also fell Saturday for a second straight day to 942, from 1,097 Friday from 1,102 a day earlier. The province has registered more than 1,000 cases in five of the last seven days.
Patriots-Broncos Game Postponed (10:07 a.m. NY)
The National Football League said the Denver Broncos-New England Patriots game set for Oct. 12 has been postponed. The Patriots’ facility was shut Sunday after another positive test. A new date and time for the game wasn’t announced.
“The decision was made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts,” the NFL tweeted.
3:21 PM · Oct 11, 2020
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Coronavirus Can Persist on Banknotes, Study Finds (9:40 a.m. NY)
The new coronavirus may remain infectious for weeks on banknotes, glass and other common surfaces, according to research by Australia’s top biosecurity laboratory that highlights risks from paper currency, touchscreen devices and grab handles and rails.
Scientists at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness showed SARS-CoV-2 is “extremely robust,” surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as glass found on mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes at room temperature, or 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). That compares with 17 days survival for the flu virus.
Virus survival declined to less than a day at 40 degrees Celsius on some surfaces, according to the study, published Monday in Virology Journal. The findings add to evidence that the Covid-19-causing coronavirus survives for longer in cooler weather, making it potentially harder to control in winter than summer.
Czechs Plan ‘Improved’ Lockdown (8:10 a.m. NY)
The Czech government is likely to impose significantly stricter social-distancing rules to curb the European Union’s worst coronavirus surge -- without crippling the economy, according to the finance minister.
The cabinet on Monday will decide on more steps to limit human contacts after it banned cultural and sports events, shut some schools and ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m., Alena Schillerova said on Czech Television.
More Spanish Regions Tighten Restrictions (8:05 a.m. NY)
After a state of emergency was imposed on Madrid last week, other Spanish regions are tightening restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Authorities in Navarra said they plan to reduce capacity to 30% in restaurants and bars, which must now close by 10 p.m., and limit social gatherings to no more than six people, according to El Mundo. Unlike in Madrid, the Navarra government said it won’t forbid people from leaving the region.
U.S. Cases Top 50,000 for Fourth Day (8:00 a.m. NY)
The U.S. added 54,600 cases on Saturday, the fourth straight day over 50,000 as the nation’s caseload ticks up again, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.
The 0.7% rise was above the average 0.6% daily increase in the previous seven days. Total cases are 7,717,633. An additional 628 people died, in line with recent increases. Total fatalities are 214,367.
— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Yueqi Yang, Esteban Duarte, Linus Chua, Sarah Jacob, Tara Patel, Charlie Devereux, Chris Vellacott, Sonia Sirletti, Jason Gale, Justin Sink, and Jennifer A Dlouhy
During the Cold War, the Air Force wanted to push the boundaries of supersonic flight.
As a result, in 1967 the X-15 set the record for manned, powered flight, hitting Mach 6.7, or 4,520 mph.
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The Cold War was a great time for NASA and the US Air Force. It seemed like they were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted in the interest of just seeing if they could do it.
But the X-15 was much more than just a power play. Even though the Air Force already had the perfect spy plane, capable of flying across the planet at Mach 3, they still decided to up the game just a little further and came away with some important discoveries — discoveries that led to the creation of the Space Shuttle.
Not to mention the world's speed record for manned, powered flight — Mach 6.7.
The craft had to be drop-launched from the wing of a specially modified B-52 Stratofortress but could reach the very edge of space, setting altitude records for winged aircraft.
Once dropped from the wing of the "mother ship" the X-15 launched its XLR-99 rocket engine to propel the craft at hypersonic speeds. It was a unique plane because it was designed to operate in an environment where there was less air than other aircraft.
It was the world's first space plane, thus it used rocket thrusters to control its altitude at times. It could switch back and forth between conventional flight controls as needed for exoatmospheric flight as well as landing the craft.
There were three different X-15 airframes. One suffered from a landing accident in 1962 that injured pilot John McKay. As a result of this flight and the damage suffered to the airframe, the fuselage was lengthened, it was given extra drop tanks for fuel beneath the wings and was given an ablative coating to protect its pilot from the heat of hypersonic flight.
A second one was lost in 1967, just minutes after its launch. The craft had taken a video of the horizon at the edge of space and began its descent to the world below. As the craft descended, it entered a hypersonic spin. Even though its pilot, Michael J. Adams, was able to recover the plane at 36,000 feet, it then went into an inverted dive at Mach 4.7. The plane broke up under the stress and Adams was killed.
Pilots who flew the X-15 to its highest altitudes were eventually given astronaut wings by the US Air Force, considering the craft broke the USAF threshold for the edge of space at 50 miles above the surface of the earth. The craft would also make faster and faster hypersonic flights until October 3, 1967, when William J. "Pete" Knight took the craft to its maximum speed of 4,520 miles per hour.
Aside from these two achievements, the X-15 also had a number of notable firsts, including being the first restartable, throttle-controlled and man-rated rocket engine. It also tested the first spaceflight stellar navigation system and advanced pressure suits. The X-15 program was a direct ancestor of the modern Space Shuttle program, and without it, many notable achievements would not have happened.