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News Slideshows (09/20/2020 15 hours)


  • 1/82   News Photos Slideshows
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    News Photos Slideshows - Hot Trends - Click on the image to view in augmented reality or in stereo 3D

    News Photos Slideshows - Hot Trends - Click on the image to view in augmented reality or in stereo 3D


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    Press Review


    Kane   Nars   Lo Celso   Dier   Danny Ings   tanguy   Mourinho   Waffle House   MySpace   Lamela   Rob Reiner   Usman   Promises   doyoung   María   Tarik Cohen   Flake   Woodley   Napoli   Ed Reed   Diamonds Dancing   WHO IS WE   Scotty Miller   Ali Velshi   Oracle   Emmy   DA VINKY   Widgetsmith   Pope   alexa demie   Bad Bunny   
  • 2/82   Oscars diversity rules: Progress or patronizing?
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    The Academy Awards will require Best Picture nominees to meet certain diversity requirements starting in 2024. Will the rules improve representation or are they an empty gesture?

    The Academy Awards will require Best Picture nominees to meet certain diversity requirements starting in 2024. Will the rules improve representation or are they an empty gesture?


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  • 3/82   Viola Davis’s message to white women: ‘Get to know me’
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    But Davis does see a path forward: empathy and becoming educated on one another’s experiences.

    But Davis does see a path forward: empathy and becoming educated on one another’s experiences.


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  • 4/82   Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys’s husband, says hip-hop industry lacks compassion
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    Iconic hip-hop producer and Alicia Keys’s husband, Swizz Beatz, isn’t afraid to tell his guy friends he loves them.

    Iconic hip-hop producer and Alicia Keys’s husband, Swizz Beatz, isn’t afraid to tell his guy friends he loves them.


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  • 5/82   Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino Is 'Having the Time of His Life' in Prison, Snooki Says
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino Is 'Having the Time of His Life' in Prison

    Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino Is 'Having the Time of His Life' in Prison


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  • 6/82   'Avengers: Endgame' tops 'Star Wars,' breaks previous pre-sale record
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    'Avengers: Endgame' tops 'Star Wars,' breaks previous pre-sale record originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com"Avengers: Endgame" tickets went on sale Tuesday and just like Thanos' famous snap, they were gone just like that. But way more than half.Fandango is reporting that "Endgame" has broken its pre-sale records, topping the previous holder, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."(MORE: New 'Avengers: Endgame' trailer features Captain Marvel, the battle to beat Thanos)Guess the force is strong with Earth's mightiest heroes. ...

    'Avengers: Endgame' tops 'Star Wars,' breaks previous pre-sale record originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com"Avengers: Endgame" tickets went on sale Tuesday and just like Thanos' famous snap, they were gone just like that. But way more than half.Fandango is reporting that "Endgame" has broken its pre-sale records, topping the previous holder, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."(MORE: New 'Avengers: Endgame' trailer features Captain Marvel, the battle to beat Thanos)Guess the force is strong with Earth's mightiest heroes. ...


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  • 7/82   Selma Blair reveals she cried with relief at MS diagnosis after being 'not taken seriously' by doctors
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    The 46-year-old actress is now revealing the agony she went through before receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) last August.'Ever since my son was born, I was in an MS flare-up and didn't know, and I was giving it everything to seem normal,' Blair told Robin Roberts in an interview that aired Tuesday on 'Good Morning America.' 'And I was self-medicating when he wasn't with me.  Blair recalled that she would get so fatigued prior to her diagnosis that she would need to pull over to take a nap after dropping her son, now 7, off at his school one mile away from their home.  During her interview with 'GMA' at her Los Angeles home, Blair was in an 'exacerbation' of MS, or an attack that causes new symptoms or the worsening of existing symptoms.

    The 46-year-old actress is now revealing the agony she went through before receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) last August.'Ever since my son was born, I was in an MS flare-up and didn't know, and I was giving it everything to seem normal,' Blair told Robin Roberts in an interview that aired Tuesday on 'Good Morning America.' 'And I was self-medicating when he wasn't with me. Blair recalled that she would get so fatigued prior to her diagnosis that she would need to pull over to take a nap after dropping her son, now 7, off at his school one mile away from their home. During her interview with 'GMA' at her Los Angeles home, Blair was in an 'exacerbation' of MS, or an attack that causes new symptoms or the worsening of existing symptoms.


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  • 8/82   They won't be loved: Maroon 5 play it safe with dullest halftime show of all time
    PEOPLE TOPIC NEWS

    Maroon 5 could have silenced their many haters with a spectacular performance. But they didn’t do that.

    Maroon 5 could have silenced their many haters with a spectacular performance. But they didn’t do that.


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  • 9/82   Do star athletes make too much money?
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    With athletes in America's biggest sports leagues raking in salaries worth $300 million and more, is it time to reign in the big spending or do superstars deserve the big bucks they make?

    With athletes in America's biggest sports leagues raking in salaries worth $300 million and more, is it time to reign in the big spending or do superstars deserve the big bucks they make?


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  • 10/82   Live animal mascots: Cute or exploitative?
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    Animal rights activists have repeatedly called for college sports teams to stop using real animals as their mascots. Are these complaints fair or an overreaction?

    Animal rights activists have repeatedly called for college sports teams to stop using real animals as their mascots. Are these complaints fair or an overreaction?


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  • 11/82   Does U.S. women's soccer deserve equal pay?
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    Has the U.S. women's soccer team done enough to warrant salaries that match their male counterparts? The 360 gives you all the angles on heavily-debated topics in the news.

    Has the U.S. women's soccer team done enough to warrant salaries that match their male counterparts? The 360 gives you all the angles on heavily-debated topics in the news.


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  • 12/82   After fighting for 9/11 victims, Jon Stewart turns to Warrior Games
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    The former “Daily Show” host is serving as the host and emcee of this week’s 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Tampa, where about 300 wounded, ill or injured active-duty and veteran military athletes are competing in 14 adaptive sports.

    The former “Daily Show” host is serving as the host and emcee of this week’s 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Tampa, where about 300 wounded, ill or injured active-duty and veteran military athletes are competing in 14 adaptive sports.


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  • 13/82   Kevin Love talks anxiety, depression and the time he thought he was going to die mid-game
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    “Dear Men” explores how men are navigating the evolution of manhood. NBA All-Star Kevin Love’s mental health journey began in a moment of anxiety on the basketball court during a November 2017 game against the Atlanta Hawks.

    “Dear Men” explores how men are navigating the evolution of manhood. NBA All-Star Kevin Love’s mental health journey began in a moment of anxiety on the basketball court during a November 2017 game against the Atlanta Hawks.


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  • 14/82   Is there a crisis with our boys? Expert says they need love, not discipline
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    “Dear Men” explores how men are navigating the evolution of manhood. You can watch the current week's full episode of “Dear Men” every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Roku. So why are young men struggling? So I don’t never hold back my tears when I'm feeling an emotional overload,” he said.

    “Dear Men” explores how men are navigating the evolution of manhood. You can watch the current week's full episode of “Dear Men” every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Roku. So why are young men struggling? So I don’t never hold back my tears when I'm feeling an emotional overload,” he said.


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  • 15/82   Aly Raisman on Larry Nassar assault: Sometimes people forget I'm still coping with it
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    It has been a year since former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for abusing more than 150 girls. But Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is still coming to terms with the sexual abuse she experienced as a teenager.

    It has been a year since former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for abusing more than 150 girls. But Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is still coming to terms with the sexual abuse she experienced as a teenager.


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  • 16/82   Aly Raisman on Larry Nassar assault: Sometimes people forget I’m still coping with it
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman tells the Yahoo News show “Through Her Eyes” that she sometimes finds it difficult to hear the graphic details in the sexual assault stories of others, as she is still coping with her own traumatic experience.

    Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman tells the Yahoo News show “Through Her Eyes” that she sometimes finds it difficult to hear the graphic details in the sexual assault stories of others, as she is still coping with her own traumatic experience.


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  • 17/82   For the love of the brain: One mother's fight for CTE awareness
    SPORTS TOPIC NEWS

    Karen Kinzle Zegel spends her days working on the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation website, fielding questions and giving out information on a disease she barely knew existed five years ago – until it took the life of her son, for whom the foundation is named. Karen remembers, “We were a football family, his dad was a coach, I would cheer and yell and you know, do all the things the football mom does. At the time, she was unaware of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head – and the role it was playing in Patrick’s life.

    Karen Kinzle Zegel spends her days working on the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation website, fielding questions and giving out information on a disease she barely knew existed five years ago – until it took the life of her son, for whom the foundation is named. Karen remembers, “We were a football family, his dad was a coach, I would cheer and yell and you know, do all the things the football mom does. At the time, she was unaware of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head – and the role it was playing in Patrick’s life.


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  • 18/82   PHOTOS: Fluorescent turtle embryo wins forty-fifth annual Nikon Small World Competition

    The winners of the 45th annual competition showcase a spectacular blend of science and artistry under the microscope.

    The winners of the 45th annual competition showcase a spectacular blend of science and artistry under the microscope.


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  • 19/82   7 tax scams to watch out for this year

    In case wringing your hands over the tax man weren’t enough, criminals are out there trying to swipe your hard-earned cash and personal information from right under your nose.

    In case wringing your hands over the tax man weren’t enough, criminals are out there trying to swipe your hard-earned cash and personal information from right under your nose.


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  • 20/82   Mother Angry After School's Robocall Keeps Mispronouncing Daughter's Name As A Racial Slur

    The daughter's name is Nicarri.

    The daughter's name is Nicarri.


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  • 21/82   What the CIA thinks of your anti-virus program

    PARIS (AP) — Peppering the 8,000 pages of purported Central Intelligence Agency hacking data released Tuesday by WikiLeaks are reviews of some of the world's most popular anti-virus products.

    PARIS (AP) — Peppering the 8,000 pages of purported Central Intelligence Agency hacking data released Tuesday by WikiLeaks are reviews of some of the world's most popular anti-virus products.


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  • 22/82   Google Patents Sticky Car Hood to Trap Pedestrians in a Collision

    The patent calls for a giant sticker to be placed on the front end of a vehicle, with a special coating over the layer that is only broken when something collides with the vehicle, exposing the adhesive and helping the colliding object to remain on the vehicle.  The idea is to prevent a pedestrian from being thrown after the impact and potentially sustaining even more injuries.

    The patent calls for a giant sticker to be placed on the front end of a vehicle, with a special coating over the layer that is only broken when something collides with the vehicle, exposing the adhesive and helping the colliding object to remain on the vehicle. The idea is to prevent a pedestrian from being thrown after the impact and potentially sustaining even more injuries.


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  • 23/82   Relax, Your Instagram Feed Likely Won't Change Tomorrow

    Relax, your Instagram feed likely isn't changing tomorrow.The great "Insta-freakout" of 2016 was unleashed this morning by a slew of celebrities, bloggers and social media aficionados after they alerted followers to turn on post notifications for future access to their photos, videos and messages. ...

    Relax, your Instagram feed likely isn't changing tomorrow.The great "Insta-freakout" of 2016 was unleashed this morning by a slew of celebrities, bloggers and social media aficionados after they alerted followers to turn on post notifications for future access to their photos, videos and messages. ...


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  • 24/82   'Hack the Pentagon' and get paid legally in new program

    Attention hackers: Time to re-watch “WarGames” and crack your knuckles, the Pentagon is about to pay you to break into some government systems.

    Attention hackers: Time to re-watch “WarGames” and crack your knuckles, the Pentagon is about to pay you to break into some government systems.


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  • 25/82   Elon Musk's Hyperloop Vision Could Be Ready for Passengers by 2018

    The Hyperloop, Elon Musk's vision of launching humans through pods inside a high-speed transportation system, could be ready for passengers by 2018, according to a company building a transportation track in California.  One company working to make Musk's vision a reality, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said it has filed for construction permits in Quay Valley, California, for a 5-mile track.  'We are announcing the filing of the first building permit to Kings County to the building of the first full-scale hyperloop, not a test track,' Bibop Gresta, the chief operating officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during a CNBC/TradeShift event.

    The Hyperloop, Elon Musk's vision of launching humans through pods inside a high-speed transportation system, could be ready for passengers by 2018, according to a company building a transportation track in California. One company working to make Musk's vision a reality, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said it has filed for construction permits in Quay Valley, California, for a 5-mile track. 'We are announcing the filing of the first building permit to Kings County to the building of the first full-scale hyperloop, not a test track,' Bibop Gresta, the chief operating officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, said today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during a CNBC/TradeShift event.


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  • 26/82   Avowed Apple Fan Jeb Bush Realizes His Apple Watch Can Take Phone Calls

    Jeb Bush's love of Apple products has been widely documented, and the Republican presidential candidate continues to wear his Apple Watch on the campaign trail. Yesterday, in a meeting with The Des Moines Register editorial board documented by USA Today, Bush stumbled upon a feature he didn’t realize his smartwatch was capable of: taking phone calls. Somehow Bush managed to take a call without picking up his iPhone, and the sound of a person’s voice saying hello breaks through the meeting noise, to which Bush responds, “My watch can’t be talking.”

    Jeb Bush's love of Apple products has been widely documented, and the Republican presidential candidate continues to wear his Apple Watch on the campaign trail. Yesterday, in a meeting with The Des Moines Register editorial board documented by USA Today, Bush stumbled upon a feature he didn’t realize his smartwatch was capable of: taking phone calls. Somehow Bush managed to take a call without picking up his iPhone, and the sound of a person’s voice saying hello breaks through the meeting noise, to which Bush responds, “My watch can’t be talking.”


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  • 27/82   Man Proposes by Text Message While Stranded at Chicago's O’Hare Airport

    An Arizona man waiting to fly home to propose to his girlfriend was forced to propose to her via text message after spending 50 hours stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.  Danny Roderique, of Phoenix, had the diamond engagement ring in his pocket but the delay got in the way of the proposal he’d planned.  “I’ve been stranded now in the airport for 50 hours,” Roderique told a reporter from ABC affiliate WLS-TV while still waiting at O’Hare on Monday.

    An Arizona man waiting to fly home to propose to his girlfriend was forced to propose to her via text message after spending 50 hours stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Danny Roderique, of Phoenix, had the diamond engagement ring in his pocket but the delay got in the way of the proposal he’d planned. “I’ve been stranded now in the airport for 50 hours,” Roderique told a reporter from ABC affiliate WLS-TV while still waiting at O’Hare on Monday.


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  • 28/82   Twitter Warns Some Users Over Possible Government Hacking

    It's unclear how many people received a letter from Twitter.  In October, Facebook said it would begin issuing alerts to users who the social network believes are being targeted by state-sponsored hackers, according to a message posted by Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.

    It's unclear how many people received a letter from Twitter. In October, Facebook said it would begin issuing alerts to users who the social network believes are being targeted by state-sponsored hackers, according to a message posted by Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.


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  • 29/82   Facebook Notifications Get Even More Personal

    Facebook notifications may now be your first stop in the morning to catch up on everything from friends' news to weather, sports scores and what to expect later in the day.  The social network announced this week it will be rolling out expanded, personalized notifications in the Facebook across iOS and Android devices for users in the United States.  The mobile update is bringing a set of new card-like notifications that will include information such as sports scores for teams you have liked, TV shows, weather information and friends' life events, among other updates.

    Facebook notifications may now be your first stop in the morning to catch up on everything from friends' news to weather, sports scores and what to expect later in the day. The social network announced this week it will be rolling out expanded, personalized notifications in the Facebook across iOS and Android devices for users in the United States. The mobile update is bringing a set of new card-like notifications that will include information such as sports scores for teams you have liked, TV shows, weather information and friends' life events, among other updates.


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  • 30/82   How to Tell Which Apps Are Draining Your iPhone Battery

    Some iOS 9 users have complained Facebook's app has been excessively eating away at their battery life, even when the background app refresh setting is disabled.  It's unclear what possible issue may be causing the battery drain.  Tapping the list will show how much of the battery drain was spent when the app was running in the background.

    Some iOS 9 users have complained Facebook's app has been excessively eating away at their battery life, even when the background app refresh setting is disabled. It's unclear what possible issue may be causing the battery drain. Tapping the list will show how much of the battery drain was spent when the app was running in the background.


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  • 31/82   Armed Robbery Suspect Tries Using Uber as Getaway Car, Police Say

    A 23-year-old man suspected of armed robbery tried to take an Uber car to help him get away after he held up a store outside Baltimore, police said.  The suspect, Dashawn Terrell Cochran, was at a store in Parkville, Maryland, early Wednesday morning when he allegedly took a bottle of Tylenol cold medicine to the register, the Baltimore County Police Department said.  Cochran was seen getting into the back of a silver Lexus, and when officers pulled the car over, the driver said he was an Uber driver, police said.

    A 23-year-old man suspected of armed robbery tried to take an Uber car to help him get away after he held up a store outside Baltimore, police said. The suspect, Dashawn Terrell Cochran, was at a store in Parkville, Maryland, early Wednesday morning when he allegedly took a bottle of Tylenol cold medicine to the register, the Baltimore County Police Department said. Cochran was seen getting into the back of a silver Lexus, and when officers pulled the car over, the driver said he was an Uber driver, police said.


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  • 32/82   Drone Popularity Draws Concern From Pilots, Federal Officials

    Roughly 700,000 drones are expected to be sold in the United States this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.  The Federal Aviation Administration plans to meet with Walmart, which has 19 different kinds of drones for sale on its website, to teach salespeople about what it should tell its customers about safe drone operation.  The Consumer Electronics Association projects the U.S. drone market to climb above $100 million in revenue this year, an increase of more than 50 percent from last year’s total.

    Roughly 700,000 drones are expected to be sold in the United States this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to meet with Walmart, which has 19 different kinds of drones for sale on its website, to teach salespeople about what it should tell its customers about safe drone operation. The Consumer Electronics Association projects the U.S. drone market to climb above $100 million in revenue this year, an increase of more than 50 percent from last year’s total.


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  • 33/82   Carly Fiorina: Why She Wants Everyone to Throw Out Their Flip Phones

    Carly Fiorina is putting flip phone users on notice: You’re going to have to upgrade under a President Fiorina.  “How many of you have a flip phone?” Fiorina recently asked a town hall in South Carolina.  It’s all part of a vision the Republican presidential candidate has to give citizens a direct line of communication – literally – to the president.

    Carly Fiorina is putting flip phone users on notice: You’re going to have to upgrade under a President Fiorina. “How many of you have a flip phone?” Fiorina recently asked a town hall in South Carolina. It’s all part of a vision the Republican presidential candidate has to give citizens a direct line of communication – literally – to the president.


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  • 34/82   How a 'Programming Error' Led to an Oregon Couple's $2 Million Cell Phone Bill

    A couple in Oregon say they spent 10 months trying to clear up a whopping $2 million phone bill, which they say has prevented them from buying the home of their dreams.  Ken Slusher and his girlfriend, of Damascus, Oregon, have a balance of $2,156,593.64 on a Verizon Wireless bill that was for a wireless account that they opened in November.  'Yeah, it's been very stressful to say the least,' Slusher told KPTV.com.

    A couple in Oregon say they spent 10 months trying to clear up a whopping $2 million phone bill, which they say has prevented them from buying the home of their dreams. Ken Slusher and his girlfriend, of Damascus, Oregon, have a balance of $2,156,593.64 on a Verizon Wireless bill that was for a wireless account that they opened in November. 'Yeah, it's been very stressful to say the least,' Slusher told KPTV.com.


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  • 35/82   Social media welcomes Pope Francis to the United States

    Pope Francis gets the social media treatment upon arriving in the U.S. Tuesday.  As Pope Francis’s flight touched down in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Twitter unveiled a new batch of emojis created for the highly anticipated papal visit.  Until his departure from the United States on Sunday, Twitter users chronicling the Catholic leader’s East Coast journey will be able to include a cartoon image of the Pope’s face in front of the American flag on all Pope-related tweets by using the hashtag #PopeinUS.

    Pope Francis gets the social media treatment upon arriving in the U.S. Tuesday. As Pope Francis’s flight touched down in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Twitter unveiled a new batch of emojis created for the highly anticipated papal visit. Until his departure from the United States on Sunday, Twitter users chronicling the Catholic leader’s East Coast journey will be able to include a cartoon image of the Pope’s face in front of the American flag on all Pope-related tweets by using the hashtag #PopeinUS.


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  • 36/82   Slow-Moving Storm Beta is Set to Drench Texas, Louisiana Coasts
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    (Bloomberg) -- Beta, a slow-moving tropical storm, will bring flooding rains to Texas and Louisiana, as well as raking off-shore energy fields with high winds, but may not reach hurricane strength.Beta’s winds will likely hold at 60 miles (97 km) per hour as it approaches the Texas coast, where it could drop between 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of rain, including in flood-prone Houston, with some areas getting as much as 20 inches, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a Sunday advisory.The storm is forecast to come ashore near Corpus Christi. Category 1 Hanna also struck southern Texas this year, the first hurricane to make landfall in the Lone Star state since Harvey in 2017, and the first to hit in the month of July since Dolly in 2008.“The expected slow motion of Beta will produce a long duration rainfall event from the middle Texas coast to southern Louisiana,” John Cangialosi, a forecaster at the hurricane center wrote in an outlook. “Flash, urban, and river flooding is likely.”A tropical storm warning has been issued along the Texas and Louisiana coastline, and storm surge of as much as 4 feet is possible in many areas, including Galveston Bay. Initial forecasts called for Beta to become a hurricane, but wind shear tearing at its structure and dry air nearby have robbed it of strength, Cangialosi wrote.A flash flood watch has been posted in Houston and its immediate area, the National Weather Service said. The rains will put lives and structures at risk.Beta is the Atlantic’s 23rd storm for 2020 so far, the second most active season in records going back to 1851. So many storms have formed that the hurricane center has used up all the names on its official list and has begun designating new storms with Greek letters.Tropical Storm Alpha formed Friday off Portugal, whipping up high winds that briefly suspended play in a golf tournament there, and has since fallen apart.Summer of TroubleIf Beta comes ashore in Texas it would be the ninth storm to hit the U.S. this year, tying a record set in 1916, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal forecast.The 2020 summer has brought a string of natural disasters to the U.S., from hurricanes and tropical storms to a derecho that left wreckage from Iowa to Indiana, to fires in the West that have killed dozens of people and scorched millions of acres.Across the Gulf, nearly 17.5% of off shore oil production and 12.5% of natural gas remains shut in following Hurricane Sally, which struck Alabama last week, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Close to 4% of offshore platforms remain evacuated.The evacuations and shut-ins could increase as Beta starts to close in on the area, said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist with the Energy Weather Group. Oil refineries from Houston to Texas City and Galveston will also be at risk for outages due to flooding rains, the potential for storm surge and winds.In addition to Beta, Tropical Storm Wilfred and Hurricane Teddy are churning in the central Atlantic. While Wilfred isn’t a threat, Teddy could sweep close to Bermuda and possibly even strike Nova Scotia or Newfoundland next week.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    (Bloomberg) -- Beta, a slow-moving tropical storm, will bring flooding rains to Texas and Louisiana, as well as raking off-shore energy fields with high winds, but may not reach hurricane strength.Beta’s winds will likely hold at 60 miles (97 km) per hour as it approaches the Texas coast, where it could drop between 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of rain, including in flood-prone Houston, with some areas getting as much as 20 inches, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a Sunday advisory.The storm is forecast to come ashore near Corpus Christi. Category 1 Hanna also struck southern Texas this year, the first hurricane to make landfall in the Lone Star state since Harvey in 2017, and the first to hit in the month of July since Dolly in 2008.“The expected slow motion of Beta will produce a long duration rainfall event from the middle Texas coast to southern Louisiana,” John Cangialosi, a forecaster at the hurricane center wrote in an outlook. “Flash, urban, and river flooding is likely.”A tropical storm warning has been issued along the Texas and Louisiana coastline, and storm surge of as much as 4 feet is possible in many areas, including Galveston Bay. Initial forecasts called for Beta to become a hurricane, but wind shear tearing at its structure and dry air nearby have robbed it of strength, Cangialosi wrote.A flash flood watch has been posted in Houston and its immediate area, the National Weather Service said. The rains will put lives and structures at risk.Beta is the Atlantic’s 23rd storm for 2020 so far, the second most active season in records going back to 1851. So many storms have formed that the hurricane center has used up all the names on its official list and has begun designating new storms with Greek letters.Tropical Storm Alpha formed Friday off Portugal, whipping up high winds that briefly suspended play in a golf tournament there, and has since fallen apart.Summer of TroubleIf Beta comes ashore in Texas it would be the ninth storm to hit the U.S. this year, tying a record set in 1916, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal forecast.The 2020 summer has brought a string of natural disasters to the U.S., from hurricanes and tropical storms to a derecho that left wreckage from Iowa to Indiana, to fires in the West that have killed dozens of people and scorched millions of acres.Across the Gulf, nearly 17.5% of off shore oil production and 12.5% of natural gas remains shut in following Hurricane Sally, which struck Alabama last week, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Close to 4% of offshore platforms remain evacuated.The evacuations and shut-ins could increase as Beta starts to close in on the area, said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist with the Energy Weather Group. Oil refineries from Houston to Texas City and Galveston will also be at risk for outages due to flooding rains, the potential for storm surge and winds.In addition to Beta, Tropical Storm Wilfred and Hurricane Teddy are churning in the central Atlantic. While Wilfred isn’t a threat, Teddy could sweep close to Bermuda and possibly even strike Nova Scotia or Newfoundland next week.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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  • 37/82   Blue Ridge Bankshares (NYSEMKT:BRBS) Shareholders Booked A 34% Gain In The Last Five Years
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    If you buy and hold a stock for many years, you'd hope to be making a profit. Better yet, you'd like to see the share...

    If you buy and hold a stock for many years, you'd hope to be making a profit. Better yet, you'd like to see the share...


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  • 38/82   Biden to weigh in on fight over Trump's next Supreme Court nomination
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will speak in Philadelphia on Sunday about his rival President Donald Trump's plan to name a third justice to the Supreme Court, a move that would cement a 6-3 conservative majority.  Trump on Saturday said he will make his nomination this week and named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible candidates to fill the vacancy created by Friday's death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will speak in Philadelphia on Sunday about his rival President Donald Trump's plan to name a third justice to the Supreme Court, a move that would cement a 6-3 conservative majority. Trump on Saturday said he will make his nomination this week and named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible candidates to fill the vacancy created by Friday's death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


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  • 39/82   Gangster capitalism and the American theft of Chinese innovation
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    There are thousands of entrepreneurs and hundreds of venture capitalists swarming Silicon Valley and the other American innovation hubs looking for the next great social app or building it themselves.  If that isn’t a recipe for economic disaster, I don’t know what is.

    There are thousands of entrepreneurs and hundreds of venture capitalists swarming Silicon Valley and the other American innovation hubs looking for the next great social app or building it themselves. If that isn’t a recipe for economic disaster, I don’t know what is.


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  • 40/82   Reflecting on BankFinancial's (NASDAQ:BFIN) Share Price Returns Over The Last Three Years
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it's worth striving to beat the returns from a market...

    In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it's worth striving to beat the returns from a market...


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  • 41/82   Saudi Firms Start Talks to Form $11 Billion Chemicals Maker
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Industrial Investment Group and National Petrochemical Co. started talks to merge, potentially creating a firm with $11 billion in assets as Middle Eastern energy companies assess their options in a lower oil-price environment. The shares climbed.The discussions are at an initial stage and no agreement has been reached, the companies said Sunday. Saudi Industrial owns 50% of National Petrochemical, and they had attempted a merger nine years ago.National Petrochemical’s shares closed at the highest level since 2014, giving it a market value of about 15 billion riyals ($4 billion). Saudi Industrial ended 5.5% higher in Riyadh.The possible merger comes as energy companies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates restructure their operations to cope with a market that’s under strain from lower demand.Last year, Saudi International Petrochemical Co. completed a buyout of Sahara Petrochemical Co. That was followed by Saudi Aramco buying a majority stake in the largest Saudi chemical maker in a deal that was valued at about $70 billion(Updates with previous merger attempt in second paragraph and closing share prices in third paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Industrial Investment Group and National Petrochemical Co. started talks to merge, potentially creating a firm with $11 billion in assets as Middle Eastern energy companies assess their options in a lower oil-price environment. The shares climbed.The discussions are at an initial stage and no agreement has been reached, the companies said Sunday. Saudi Industrial owns 50% of National Petrochemical, and they had attempted a merger nine years ago.National Petrochemical’s shares closed at the highest level since 2014, giving it a market value of about 15 billion riyals ($4 billion). Saudi Industrial ended 5.5% higher in Riyadh.The possible merger comes as energy companies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates restructure their operations to cope with a market that’s under strain from lower demand.Last year, Saudi International Petrochemical Co. completed a buyout of Sahara Petrochemical Co. That was followed by Saudi Aramco buying a majority stake in the largest Saudi chemical maker in a deal that was valued at about $70 billion(Updates with previous merger attempt in second paragraph and closing share prices in third paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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  • 42/82   What Kind Of Investors Own Most Of Alpha Pro Tech, Ltd. (NYSEMKT:APT)?
    TECHNOLOGY TOPIC NEWS

    A look at the shareholders of Alpha Pro Tech, Ltd. (NYSEMKT:APT) can tell us which group is most powerful. Insiders...

    A look at the shareholders of Alpha Pro Tech, Ltd. (NYSEMKT:APT) can tell us which group is most powerful. Insiders...


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  • 43/82   As Trump courts Black voters, critics see a 'depression strategy'
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    While the president’s team touts its efforts to court a community that Republicans have long ignored, critics describe them as part of a cynical “depression strategy” designed to minimize Black American turnout.

    While the president’s team touts its efforts to court a community that Republicans have long ignored, critics describe them as part of a cynical “depression strategy” designed to minimize Black American turnout.


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  • 44/82   Sources: Russian aggression against U.S. intelligence satellites sparks congressional briefing
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    Over recent days, officials from the U.S. Space Force and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed congressional committees on an “uptick” in Russian military activity in space targeting U.S. defense and intelligence satellites.

    Over recent days, officials from the U.S. Space Force and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed congressional committees on an “uptick” in Russian military activity in space targeting U.S. defense and intelligence satellites.


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  • 45/82   Mass suspension of German police officers who shared pictures of Hitler and doctored images of refugees in gas chambers
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    The officers allegedly shared extremist content in chatrooms and WhatsApp groups. Some face charges of spreading Nazi propaganda and hate speech.

    The officers allegedly shared extremist content in chatrooms and WhatsApp groups. Some face charges of spreading Nazi propaganda and hate speech.


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  • 46/82   Rochester: Two killed and 14 wounded after mass shooting at party in New York state
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    Police say incident is ‘tragedy of epic proportions’

    Police say incident is ‘tragedy of epic proportions’


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  • 47/82   Ginsburg, a feminist icon memorialized as the Notorious RBG
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    Ginsburg died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington at 87, the court said.  Late in her court tenure, she became a social media icon, the Notorious RBG, a name coined by a law student who admired Ginsburg’s dissent in a case cutting back on a key civil rights law.  “In the word the current generation uses, it’s awesome,” Ginsburg said in 2016, shortly before she turned 83.

    Ginsburg died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington at 87, the court said. Late in her court tenure, she became a social media icon, the Notorious RBG, a name coined by a law student who admired Ginsburg’s dissent in a case cutting back on a key civil rights law. “In the word the current generation uses, it’s awesome,” Ginsburg said in 2016, shortly before she turned 83.


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  • 48/82   An elementary school teacher asked parents to wear clothes and avoid appearing with 'big joints' in the background of Zoom classes
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    "This is not a party. This is a school," Edith Pride, an elementary school teacher in Boca Raton, Florida, reminded parents.

    "This is not a party. This is a school," Edith Pride, an elementary school teacher in Boca Raton, Florida, reminded parents.


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  • 49/82   Firefighter who died battling California blaze mourned as wildfires rage
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    Blazes in the state have so far destroyed 3.5 million acres.

    Blazes in the state have so far destroyed 3.5 million acres.


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  • 50/82   T cell shortage linked to severe COVID-19 in elderly; antiseptic spray may limit virus spread
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    A lower supply of a certain type of immune cell in older people that is critical to fighting foreign invaders may help explain their vulnerability to severe COVID-19, scientists say.  When germs enter the body, the initial 'innate' immune response generates inflammation not specifically targeted at the bacteria or virus.  Within days, the more precise 'adaptive' immune response starts generating antibodies against the invader along with T cells that either assist in antibody production or seek out and attack infected cells.

    A lower supply of a certain type of immune cell in older people that is critical to fighting foreign invaders may help explain their vulnerability to severe COVID-19, scientists say. When germs enter the body, the initial 'innate' immune response generates inflammation not specifically targeted at the bacteria or virus. Within days, the more precise 'adaptive' immune response starts generating antibodies against the invader along with T cells that either assist in antibody production or seek out and attack infected cells.


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  • 51/82   Planned Black community in Georgia draws interest for a reality TV show
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    Last week, nearly two dozen families in Georgia made headlines for pooling money to purchase land in a Georgia town with a vision to build a safe-haven community for Black people.  The news garnered widespread attention, including interest from big wigs in the entertainment sphere hoping to develop a reality TV show about the forthcoming community dreamed to be Freedom, Georgia, per TMZ.  The group of 19 families, led by Ashley Scott and Renee Walters, bought 97 acres of land in Toomsboro, Georgia, a rural town of about 500 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, about two hours south of Atlanta.

    Last week, nearly two dozen families in Georgia made headlines for pooling money to purchase land in a Georgia town with a vision to build a safe-haven community for Black people. The news garnered widespread attention, including interest from big wigs in the entertainment sphere hoping to develop a reality TV show about the forthcoming community dreamed to be Freedom, Georgia, per TMZ. The group of 19 families, led by Ashley Scott and Renee Walters, bought 97 acres of land in Toomsboro, Georgia, a rural town of about 500 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, about two hours south of Atlanta.


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  • 52/82   State Department, Officials Accidentally Feature Navy Planes in Air Force Birthday Messages
    POLITICS TOPIC NEWS

    The State Department on Friday posted a tweet to honor the Air Force, but used a photo of the Blue Angels.

    The State Department on Friday posted a tweet to honor the Air Force, but used a photo of the Blue Angels.


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  • 53/82   Amgen drug shrinks tumors in lung cancer patients with KRAS gene mutation - study
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    The median length of time that patients given the drug sotorasib lived before their disease worsened was 6.3 months for lung cancer patients and 4 months for colorectal cancer patients, the company said.  Patients in the Phase I trial involving several types of cancer were treated with once daily sotorasib.  The oral medication is designed to target a mutated form of a gene known as KRAS that occurs in about 13% of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer.

    The median length of time that patients given the drug sotorasib lived before their disease worsened was 6.3 months for lung cancer patients and 4 months for colorectal cancer patients, the company said. Patients in the Phase I trial involving several types of cancer were treated with once daily sotorasib. The oral medication is designed to target a mutated form of a gene known as KRAS that occurs in about 13% of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer.


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  • 54/82   New types of polar lights are upending what we know about the aurora. Amateur scientists and interns made the latest discoveries.
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Aurorae happen on other planets, too, as charged particles from the sun surge through the solar system.

    Aurorae happen on other planets, too, as charged particles from the sun surge through the solar system.


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  • 55/82   Far-right conspiracy theorists say 94% of US COVID-19 deaths don't count because those Americans had underlying conditions. That's bogus.
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    In August, the CDC reported that 94% of Americans who died of COVID-19 had underlying conditions. But that doesn't mean the virus only killed 6%.

    In August, the CDC reported that 94% of Americans who died of COVID-19 had underlying conditions. But that doesn't mean the virus only killed 6%.


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  • 56/82   Russia's top space official tried to claim that the planet Venus belongs to the Kremlin
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    The head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, also said the country plans to send its own mission to Venus.

    The head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, also said the country plans to send its own mission to Venus.


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  • 57/82   Underwater and on fire: US climate change magnifies extremes
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    America's worsening climate change problem is as polarized as its politics.  The already parched West is getting drier and suffering deadly wildfires because of it, while the much wetter East keeps getting drenched in mega-rainfall events, some hurricane related and others not.  Climate change is magnifying both extremes, but it may not be the only factor, several scientists told The Associated Press.

    America's worsening climate change problem is as polarized as its politics. The already parched West is getting drier and suffering deadly wildfires because of it, while the much wetter East keeps getting drenched in mega-rainfall events, some hurricane related and others not. Climate change is magnifying both extremes, but it may not be the only factor, several scientists told The Associated Press.


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  • 58/82   The world's first reality show in space plans to send one winner on a 10-day trip to the space station, filming the whole time
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Space Hero, Inc., a US-based production company, has announced plans to produce a reality show that would send one person into space in 2023.

    Space Hero, Inc., a US-based production company, has announced plans to produce a reality show that would send one person into space in 2023.


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  • 59/82   Bristol Myers' Opdivo with Exelixis drug cuts kidney cancer death risk - study
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Bristol Myers Squibb Co's cancer immunotherapy Opdivo in combination with Exelixis Inc's Cabometyx reduced the risk of death by 40% in previously untreated patients with advanced kidney cancer, according to data from a late-stage study to be presented on Saturday.  The drug combination also doubled patients' median length of time before their cancer began to worsen to 16.6 months compared to progression-free survival of 8.3 months for patients treated with the chemotherapy sunitinib, an older Pfizer Inc drug sold under the brand name Sutent.  'There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a major player' as an initial treatment for advanced kidney cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Toni Choueiri from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

    Bristol Myers Squibb Co's cancer immunotherapy Opdivo in combination with Exelixis Inc's Cabometyx reduced the risk of death by 40% in previously untreated patients with advanced kidney cancer, according to data from a late-stage study to be presented on Saturday. The drug combination also doubled patients' median length of time before their cancer began to worsen to 16.6 months compared to progression-free survival of 8.3 months for patients treated with the chemotherapy sunitinib, an older Pfizer Inc drug sold under the brand name Sutent. 'There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a major player' as an initial treatment for advanced kidney cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Toni Choueiri from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.


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  • 60/82   Bristol Myers' Opdivo with Exelixis drug cuts kidney cancer death risk: study
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Bristol Myers Squibb Co's cancer immunotherapy Opdivo in combination with Exelixis Inc's Cabometyx reduced the risk of death by 40% in previously untreated patients with advanced kidney cancer, according to data from a late-stage study to be presented on Saturday.  The drug combination also doubled patients' median length of time before their cancer began to worsen to 16.6 months compared to progression-free survival of 8.3 months for patients treated with the chemotherapy sunitinib, an older Pfizer Inc drug sold under the brand name Sutent.  'There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a major player' as an initial treatment for advanced kidney cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Toni Choueiri from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

    Bristol Myers Squibb Co's cancer immunotherapy Opdivo in combination with Exelixis Inc's Cabometyx reduced the risk of death by 40% in previously untreated patients with advanced kidney cancer, according to data from a late-stage study to be presented on Saturday. The drug combination also doubled patients' median length of time before their cancer began to worsen to 16.6 months compared to progression-free survival of 8.3 months for patients treated with the chemotherapy sunitinib, an older Pfizer Inc drug sold under the brand name Sutent. 'There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a major player' as an initial treatment for advanced kidney cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Toni Choueiri from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.


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  • 61/82   Thousands of people say they are suffering from lingering symptoms of COVID-19 months after testing positive
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Coronavirus "long-haulers" are still experiencing symptoms like fevers, brain fog, memory loss, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and blurry vision.

    Coronavirus "long-haulers" are still experiencing symptoms like fevers, brain fog, memory loss, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and blurry vision.


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  • 62/82   NASA touts lunar landing tech, and Blue Origin says there’ll be a flight test ‘soon’
    SCIENCE TOPIC NEWS

    Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong famously had to dodge a boulder-strewn crater just seconds before the first moon landing in 1969 — but for future lunar touchdowns, NASA expects robotic eyes to see such missions to safe landings. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture is helping to make it so. Today NASA talked up a precision landing system known as SPLICE (which stands for Safe and Precise Landing - Integrated Capabilities Evolution). The system makes use of an onboard camera, laser sensors and computerized firepower to identify and avoid hazards such as craters and boulders. NASA says… Read More

    Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong famously had to dodge a boulder-strewn crater just seconds before the first moon landing in 1969 — but for future lunar touchdowns, NASA expects robotic eyes to see such missions to safe landings. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture is helping to make it so. Today NASA talked up a precision landing system known as SPLICE (which stands for Safe and Precise Landing - Integrated Capabilities Evolution). The system makes use of an onboard camera, laser sensors and computerized firepower to identify and avoid hazards such as craters and boulders. NASA says… Read More


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  • 63/82   Coronavirus: Test rules set for Covid-19 African herbal remedies
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    Sound science "will be the sole basis" for safe and effective therapies to be adopted, the WHO says.

    Sound science "will be the sole basis" for safe and effective therapies to be adopted, the WHO says.


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  • 64/82   Janusz Walus: Why far-right Polish football fans idolise a murderer in South Africa
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    Janusz Walus killed anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani in 1993, sparking fears of a racial civil war.

    Janusz Walus killed anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani in 1993, sparking fears of a racial civil war.


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  • 65/82   US sends armoured vehicles to Syria as UN urges Turkey to probe militia's human rights abuses
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    The US military has sent half a dozen armored vehicles on a 90-day mission to reinforce its troops in eastern Syria, less than a month after four US soldiers were injured during an altercation with Russian troops in the area. The military said fewer than 100 soldiers would accompany the vehicles. There are currently less than 1,000 US troops in Syria, a number that has remained approximately the same since the end of the US military offensive that deprived the Islamic State [IS] of most of the territory in Syria. Russia has deployed military forces to Syria in support of the Syrian regime, while US troops conduct joint patrols and operations with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia it backed in 2015 to fight against IS. The US and Russia have previously clashed with each other in Syria, such as a 2017 incident that led to the deaths of around 300 Russian military contractors. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command. Also on Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Turkey to investigate war crimes committed by groups it backs in northern Syria. Turkey began launching major military operations in 2016 in order to remove Syrian Kurdish militia groups, including the US-supported SDF, from areas they controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border.

    The US military has sent half a dozen armored vehicles on a 90-day mission to reinforce its troops in eastern Syria, less than a month after four US soldiers were injured during an altercation with Russian troops in the area. The military said fewer than 100 soldiers would accompany the vehicles. There are currently less than 1,000 US troops in Syria, a number that has remained approximately the same since the end of the US military offensive that deprived the Islamic State [IS] of most of the territory in Syria. Russia has deployed military forces to Syria in support of the Syrian regime, while US troops conduct joint patrols and operations with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia it backed in 2015 to fight against IS. The US and Russia have previously clashed with each other in Syria, such as a 2017 incident that led to the deaths of around 300 Russian military contractors. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command. Also on Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Turkey to investigate war crimes committed by groups it backs in northern Syria. Turkey began launching major military operations in 2016 in order to remove Syrian Kurdish militia groups, including the US-supported SDF, from areas they controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border.


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  • 66/82   Analysis: US to hit 200K dead; Trump sees no need for regret
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the United States in March, President Donald Trump set out his expectations.  If the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump said, it would indicate that his administration had “done a very good job.”

    As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the United States in March, President Donald Trump set out his expectations. If the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump said, it would indicate that his administration had “done a very good job.”


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  • 67/82   Iran says US 'isolated' as world powers dismiss sanctions
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    Iran said Sunday its arch-foe the United States was "isolated" after a US unilateral declaration that UN sanctions are back in force against the Islamic republic was dismissed by other major powers.

    Iran said Sunday its arch-foe the United States was "isolated" after a US unilateral declaration that UN sanctions are back in force against the Islamic republic was dismissed by other major powers.


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  • 68/82   Iran's rial hits record low as tension spikes with the U.S.
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    The Iranian rial fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on  the unofficial market on Sunday, a day after the U.S. President Donald Trump's administration declared all United Nations sanctions on Tehran had been restored.  The dollar was offered for as much as 273,000 rials, up from 267,800 rials on Saturday, according to foreign exchange site Bonbast.com, which tracks the unofficial market.  Iran has dismissed the U.S. move as 'void and illegal' and  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Saturday he cannot take any action on the U.S. declaration because 'there would appear to be uncertainty' on the issue.

    The Iranian rial fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Sunday, a day after the U.S. President Donald Trump's administration declared all United Nations sanctions on Tehran had been restored. The dollar was offered for as much as 273,000 rials, up from 267,800 rials on Saturday, according to foreign exchange site Bonbast.com, which tracks the unofficial market. Iran has dismissed the U.S. move as 'void and illegal' and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Saturday he cannot take any action on the U.S. declaration because 'there would appear to be uncertainty' on the issue.


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  • 69/82   Uganda Makerere University fire: 'Ivory Tower' gutted
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    An overnight blaze leaves a distinctive building at one of Africa's oldest universities a shell.

    An overnight blaze leaves a distinctive building at one of Africa's oldest universities a shell.


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  • 70/82   Trump Makes America More Like Russia Every Day
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    Russian spies have undermined America for nearly a century. Their goals during and after the cold war were the same: Subvert the United States, sabotage its power, poison the body politic. They used the weapons of political warfare: deception, disinformation, espionage.Their American agents held positions of power and authority. They infiltrated the Justice Department, the State Department, and all of America’s national-security agencies. Turncoats at the FBI and the CIA gave the Russians keys to the kingdom of American intelligence. Their treason went undetected for many years. A Nazi-hunting congressman, Samuel Dickstein of New York, became a Kremlin spy in 1937. His work stayed secret for six decades.Four years ago, the KGB veteran Vladimir Putin pulled off the greatest coup of political warfare since the Trojan Horse: He helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Ever since, Trump has been a priceless asset for the Russians, a point man for their war on American democracy. It’s no secret that Trump echoes Russia’s political propaganda, stands with Putin against American spies and soldiers, and undermines the pillars of American national security. No secret that he tried to erase the evidence of Russia’s attacks on the last presidential election. Now he’s trying to drown out warnings that they’ll attack the next one.The mystery is why.I’m not saying Putin pays him. No one has a grainy photo of Trump pocketing Kremlin gold. But there are many kinds of secret agents in the annals of political warfare. Some were compromised by money troubles or blackmailed over sex. Some served their cause without comprehending Russia’s goals—they were poleznyye duraki, useful idiots. Some were in thrall to Russia’s authoritarian ideology. And most served Russia without ever being recruited. They volunteered.Trump’s Fury at Intel Briefing Shows Putin’s Bet Keeps Paying OffTrump serves Putin in a very specific way. He’s an agent of influence.That’s someone in a position of authority who’s under the sway of a hostile government. Someone who can use their power to influence public opinion or make political decisions that benefit whoever manipulates them. That’s how American intelligence defines it. The Russians, who first perfected the concept, see it a little differently. To them, an agent of influence doesn’t have to be controlled, recruited, or paid. They just have to be useful.Leon Panetta, who ran the CIA and the Pentagon under President Obama, has no doubt about it. He told me that, by any definition, “Trump, for all intents and purposes, acts as an agent of influence of Russia.”I’ve interviewed veteran American spies, spymasters, and spy-catchers all summer for a podcast called Whirlwind, based on my new book, The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare: 1945-2020. Almost all concur with Panetta. But they have other theories as well. There’s the useful idiot scenario. Or maybe it’s money: the Russians might have kompromat—compromising information—about Trump’s finances. And some think it might be worse than that.All agreed with Fiona Hill, who served under Trump as the National Security Council’s director for Russia, that Moscow sized him up as a mark long ago.Putin’s KGB experience made him an expert at “manipulating people, blackmailing people, extorting people,” she told the impeachment inquiry last year. “That’s exactly what a case officer does. They get a weakness, and they blackmail their assets.” She concluded: “I firmly believe he was also targeting President Trump.”Trump had almost all the traits Russian intelligence officers love to exploit: his transactional sex life, his greed, his corruption, his ego. He first visited Moscow in 1987, a vainglorious businessman seeking to build a luxury hotel across Red Square from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government. Then he started dropping hints about running for president, and he took out full-page ads in The New York Times and the Washington Post arguing for dismantling America’s strategic alliances in Asia and the Middle East. Soon shady Russians were sidling up to him at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. And a generation later, he was still running for president—and still trying to build that hotel in Moscow, though he denied it.“I have no doubt that Donald Trump was a target” from his days as a businessman, said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA station chief in Moscow. He sees Trump’s increasingly authoritarian ideology as a key factor in his adherence to Putin. “The most disturbing thing I've learned about Donald Trump is the level to which he identifies with Putin,” he told me. “I'm saying this as a CIA officer who's trained to look for this as the most important element of a sure-fire recruitment case—where you can get someone who's on your ideological side. And Donald Trump exhibits a shocking degree of ideological solidarity with Vladimir Putin, doesn't he?”Is the president of the United States really a Russian asset—witting or unwitting? The CIA veteran John Sipher, who served in Moscow and ran spy operations against the Russians for more than 20 years, said that Trump “is certainly being used and manipulated, and is witting and willing to a certain extent. The question is whether the Russian success is because Trump is simply so easy to read and manipulate—or is he complicit over some fear of kompromat? Is he an asset, in the English language sense of the term, to the Russians? Yes, he is. He's essentially following their playbook. He is essentially mouthing their talking points. Somehow people are getting Russian talking points in front of him. And he's doing them.”We don’t know how much Trump’s casinos and his real estate empire and his resurrection from bankruptcy depended on KGB capitalists or Kremlin-connected oligarchs—or whether his financial connections with Russians gave them kompromat to use against him. We won’t know until criminal investigators take a deep look at his finances. And one day soon, they likely will.“I do believe that there is probably kompromat that the Russians were able to collect on Trump,” Steve Hall, who also served as a CIA station chief in Moscow, told me. “But really, in my mind, I think that probably the most important thing that Vladimir Putin has figured out, and he has over Trump, is that Trump so much values himself as a powerful self-made man.” He continued: “The ability of Vladimir Putin to call Trump up on the phone—in one of these many phone calls that we don't end up hearing much about—or perhaps private meetings where nobody else is there,” and saying, “‘Hey, Donald, let's not forget why it is that you're where you are.’”“He had significant help and a lot of it came from the Kremlin,” Hall said. “That would really be a useful piece of compromising information over Donald Trump.”Trump, of course, has insisted that his business empire has “nothing to do with Russia.” He’s said a thousand times that the idea that he has a nefarious connection with Russians is “a hoax.” We might know more about his ties to Russia if the FBI had ever conducted a serious counterintelligence investigation of the matter. But Trump’s Justice Department seems to have killed the case, fearing the repercussions of a mole hunt at the White House.The CIA veteran Mowatt-Larssen spent years tracking down the CIA and FBI traitors who served the KGB in the ’80s and ‘90s. He put on counterintelligence hat when I asked him, “Given the flattery, the praise, the political support that Putin has lavished on Donald Trump—and given Trump's desire to be an autocrat in the style of Putin—when it comes to the president of the United States serving the interests of the Kremlin, Putin doesn't have to recruit Trump. Trump recruited himself. Right?”He thought long and hard about this. “That’s true,” he said. “But then I have to ask the obvious question: Is that all it is? Is it only that Putin is such a master manipulator and that Trump is so vain that he loves it? Or is there a deeper explanation for this inexplicable behavior? Because I cannot, I could never have imagined that an American president could essentially, whether it's witting or unwitting, betray American interests so thoroughly to the Russians as has occurred in the last four years.”Trump hammers away at America’s alliances. He smiles upon dictators and autocrats. When great throngs of people in Hong Kong and Prague and Minsk take to the streets demanding their right to liberty, the silence of the White House is deafening.No less than Putin, Trump conducts political warfare against the American government. He attacks the rule of law, the freedom of the press, and the legitimacy of elections. He spews propaganda and hatred into political discourse. He denounces his political foes as criminals and threatens them with prison.In Trump’s vision of America, all power resides in the president: Congress can’t control him, courts can’t judge him, and laws can’t constrain him. His insistence that his official acts are infallible requires Americans to reject the evidence of their eyes and ears. He works to erase the criminal record of the Kremlin’s political warfare, and to promote conspiracy theories absolving Russia of its attacks on the last election and the next, thus “abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s,” in the words of the former CIA chief John Brennan.He undermines the architecture of American national security. He shuts his eyes to the CIA’s reporting when it clashes with his invincible ignorance, and he scorns his Pentagon chiefs on matters of life and death. He defames distinguished American ambassadors as “human scum,” trashes FBI agents as subversive traitors, and vilifies CIA officers as Nazis. He has now purged the national intelligence directorate, installed dishonest partisans, and cut off the flow of intelligence reporting to Congress and the American people, a smoke screen obscuring the threat of Russian attacks intended to help him win re-election.The president, no less than Putin’s political warriors, infects the American body politic with falsehoods, inflaming anger, poisoning discourse. Trump’s billion-dollar reelection operation uses digital disinformation strategies adopted from the Russians. His response to the coronavirus is a torrent of lying and denying, evoking the Soviet reaction to Chernobyl. With the Kremlin backing Trump as the chaos candidate, there is no foretelling the lengths he will go to stay in power, how he will react if and when the people put an end to his presidency, whether he will surrender the White House peacefully if defeated, or rule as a despot if he prevails.Almost 40 years ago, as the cold war raged, Ronald Reagan held his first news conference as president. He said that the Russians played by different rules than Americans: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” he said. “We operate on a different set of standards.” But if those standards ever held true, they don’t anymore.The tragedy is that Trump will lie, and he will cheat, to stay in power.And in that way, he has made America more like Russia.The terrible question at the heart of the matter remains: What is the influence that Putin has on Trump? And that mystery never has been fully investigated. Not by the FBI. Not by the CIA. Not by Robert Mueller. Not by Congress. I asked Mowatt-Larssen what he would do if he were in charge of American intelligence and the FBI came to him and said, "We have a national security nightmare on our hands. We are afraid that the president of the United States is, in some unknowable way, in the sway of Vladimir Putin."He said he would tell the CIA and the FBI to create a small team of mole-hunters to see “if there is any merit to the possibility that the president is a Russian spy.” He continued: “I’d give them carte blanche to look at anything they need to do, over as long as they needed to do it, in total secrecy. So no one would be even aware of the existence of the unit.”I asked, “And you do this knowing that that investigation could last for years and for decades?”“You have to,” he said. “And the reason you have to is that's what history suggests we may have to be prepared for.”Adapted from THE FOLLY AND THE GLORY: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945–2020 by Tim Weiner. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2020 by Tim Weiner. All rights reserved.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

    Russian spies have undermined America for nearly a century. Their goals during and after the cold war were the same: Subvert the United States, sabotage its power, poison the body politic. They used the weapons of political warfare: deception, disinformation, espionage.Their American agents held positions of power and authority. They infiltrated the Justice Department, the State Department, and all of America’s national-security agencies. Turncoats at the FBI and the CIA gave the Russians keys to the kingdom of American intelligence. Their treason went undetected for many years. A Nazi-hunting congressman, Samuel Dickstein of New York, became a Kremlin spy in 1937. His work stayed secret for six decades.Four years ago, the KGB veteran Vladimir Putin pulled off the greatest coup of political warfare since the Trojan Horse: He helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Ever since, Trump has been a priceless asset for the Russians, a point man for their war on American democracy. It’s no secret that Trump echoes Russia’s political propaganda, stands with Putin against American spies and soldiers, and undermines the pillars of American national security. No secret that he tried to erase the evidence of Russia’s attacks on the last presidential election. Now he’s trying to drown out warnings that they’ll attack the next one.The mystery is why.I’m not saying Putin pays him. No one has a grainy photo of Trump pocketing Kremlin gold. But there are many kinds of secret agents in the annals of political warfare. Some were compromised by money troubles or blackmailed over sex. Some served their cause without comprehending Russia’s goals—they were poleznyye duraki, useful idiots. Some were in thrall to Russia’s authoritarian ideology. And most served Russia without ever being recruited. They volunteered.Trump’s Fury at Intel Briefing Shows Putin’s Bet Keeps Paying OffTrump serves Putin in a very specific way. He’s an agent of influence.That’s someone in a position of authority who’s under the sway of a hostile government. Someone who can use their power to influence public opinion or make political decisions that benefit whoever manipulates them. That’s how American intelligence defines it. The Russians, who first perfected the concept, see it a little differently. To them, an agent of influence doesn’t have to be controlled, recruited, or paid. They just have to be useful.Leon Panetta, who ran the CIA and the Pentagon under President Obama, has no doubt about it. He told me that, by any definition, “Trump, for all intents and purposes, acts as an agent of influence of Russia.”I’ve interviewed veteran American spies, spymasters, and spy-catchers all summer for a podcast called Whirlwind, based on my new book, The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare: 1945-2020. Almost all concur with Panetta. But they have other theories as well. There’s the useful idiot scenario. Or maybe it’s money: the Russians might have kompromat—compromising information—about Trump’s finances. And some think it might be worse than that.All agreed with Fiona Hill, who served under Trump as the National Security Council’s director for Russia, that Moscow sized him up as a mark long ago.Putin’s KGB experience made him an expert at “manipulating people, blackmailing people, extorting people,” she told the impeachment inquiry last year. “That’s exactly what a case officer does. They get a weakness, and they blackmail their assets.” She concluded: “I firmly believe he was also targeting President Trump.”Trump had almost all the traits Russian intelligence officers love to exploit: his transactional sex life, his greed, his corruption, his ego. He first visited Moscow in 1987, a vainglorious businessman seeking to build a luxury hotel across Red Square from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government. Then he started dropping hints about running for president, and he took out full-page ads in The New York Times and the Washington Post arguing for dismantling America’s strategic alliances in Asia and the Middle East. Soon shady Russians were sidling up to him at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. And a generation later, he was still running for president—and still trying to build that hotel in Moscow, though he denied it.“I have no doubt that Donald Trump was a target” from his days as a businessman, said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA station chief in Moscow. He sees Trump’s increasingly authoritarian ideology as a key factor in his adherence to Putin. “The most disturbing thing I've learned about Donald Trump is the level to which he identifies with Putin,” he told me. “I'm saying this as a CIA officer who's trained to look for this as the most important element of a sure-fire recruitment case—where you can get someone who's on your ideological side. And Donald Trump exhibits a shocking degree of ideological solidarity with Vladimir Putin, doesn't he?”Is the president of the United States really a Russian asset—witting or unwitting? The CIA veteran John Sipher, who served in Moscow and ran spy operations against the Russians for more than 20 years, said that Trump “is certainly being used and manipulated, and is witting and willing to a certain extent. The question is whether the Russian success is because Trump is simply so easy to read and manipulate—or is he complicit over some fear of kompromat? Is he an asset, in the English language sense of the term, to the Russians? Yes, he is. He's essentially following their playbook. He is essentially mouthing their talking points. Somehow people are getting Russian talking points in front of him. And he's doing them.”We don’t know how much Trump’s casinos and his real estate empire and his resurrection from bankruptcy depended on KGB capitalists or Kremlin-connected oligarchs—or whether his financial connections with Russians gave them kompromat to use against him. We won’t know until criminal investigators take a deep look at his finances. And one day soon, they likely will.“I do believe that there is probably kompromat that the Russians were able to collect on Trump,” Steve Hall, who also served as a CIA station chief in Moscow, told me. “But really, in my mind, I think that probably the most important thing that Vladimir Putin has figured out, and he has over Trump, is that Trump so much values himself as a powerful self-made man.” He continued: “The ability of Vladimir Putin to call Trump up on the phone—in one of these many phone calls that we don't end up hearing much about—or perhaps private meetings where nobody else is there,” and saying, “‘Hey, Donald, let's not forget why it is that you're where you are.’”“He had significant help and a lot of it came from the Kremlin,” Hall said. “That would really be a useful piece of compromising information over Donald Trump.”Trump, of course, has insisted that his business empire has “nothing to do with Russia.” He’s said a thousand times that the idea that he has a nefarious connection with Russians is “a hoax.” We might know more about his ties to Russia if the FBI had ever conducted a serious counterintelligence investigation of the matter. But Trump’s Justice Department seems to have killed the case, fearing the repercussions of a mole hunt at the White House.The CIA veteran Mowatt-Larssen spent years tracking down the CIA and FBI traitors who served the KGB in the ’80s and ‘90s. He put on counterintelligence hat when I asked him, “Given the flattery, the praise, the political support that Putin has lavished on Donald Trump—and given Trump's desire to be an autocrat in the style of Putin—when it comes to the president of the United States serving the interests of the Kremlin, Putin doesn't have to recruit Trump. Trump recruited himself. Right?”He thought long and hard about this. “That’s true,” he said. “But then I have to ask the obvious question: Is that all it is? Is it only that Putin is such a master manipulator and that Trump is so vain that he loves it? Or is there a deeper explanation for this inexplicable behavior? Because I cannot, I could never have imagined that an American president could essentially, whether it's witting or unwitting, betray American interests so thoroughly to the Russians as has occurred in the last four years.”Trump hammers away at America’s alliances. He smiles upon dictators and autocrats. When great throngs of people in Hong Kong and Prague and Minsk take to the streets demanding their right to liberty, the silence of the White House is deafening.No less than Putin, Trump conducts political warfare against the American government. He attacks the rule of law, the freedom of the press, and the legitimacy of elections. He spews propaganda and hatred into political discourse. He denounces his political foes as criminals and threatens them with prison.In Trump’s vision of America, all power resides in the president: Congress can’t control him, courts can’t judge him, and laws can’t constrain him. His insistence that his official acts are infallible requires Americans to reject the evidence of their eyes and ears. He works to erase the criminal record of the Kremlin’s political warfare, and to promote conspiracy theories absolving Russia of its attacks on the last election and the next, thus “abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s,” in the words of the former CIA chief John Brennan.He undermines the architecture of American national security. He shuts his eyes to the CIA’s reporting when it clashes with his invincible ignorance, and he scorns his Pentagon chiefs on matters of life and death. He defames distinguished American ambassadors as “human scum,” trashes FBI agents as subversive traitors, and vilifies CIA officers as Nazis. He has now purged the national intelligence directorate, installed dishonest partisans, and cut off the flow of intelligence reporting to Congress and the American people, a smoke screen obscuring the threat of Russian attacks intended to help him win re-election.The president, no less than Putin’s political warriors, infects the American body politic with falsehoods, inflaming anger, poisoning discourse. Trump’s billion-dollar reelection operation uses digital disinformation strategies adopted from the Russians. His response to the coronavirus is a torrent of lying and denying, evoking the Soviet reaction to Chernobyl. With the Kremlin backing Trump as the chaos candidate, there is no foretelling the lengths he will go to stay in power, how he will react if and when the people put an end to his presidency, whether he will surrender the White House peacefully if defeated, or rule as a despot if he prevails.Almost 40 years ago, as the cold war raged, Ronald Reagan held his first news conference as president. He said that the Russians played by different rules than Americans: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” he said. “We operate on a different set of standards.” But if those standards ever held true, they don’t anymore.The tragedy is that Trump will lie, and he will cheat, to stay in power.And in that way, he has made America more like Russia.The terrible question at the heart of the matter remains: What is the influence that Putin has on Trump? And that mystery never has been fully investigated. Not by the FBI. Not by the CIA. Not by Robert Mueller. Not by Congress. I asked Mowatt-Larssen what he would do if he were in charge of American intelligence and the FBI came to him and said, "We have a national security nightmare on our hands. We are afraid that the president of the United States is, in some unknowable way, in the sway of Vladimir Putin."He said he would tell the CIA and the FBI to create a small team of mole-hunters to see “if there is any merit to the possibility that the president is a Russian spy.” He continued: “I’d give them carte blanche to look at anything they need to do, over as long as they needed to do it, in total secrecy. So no one would be even aware of the existence of the unit.”I asked, “And you do this knowing that that investigation could last for years and for decades?”“You have to,” he said. “And the reason you have to is that's what history suggests we may have to be prepared for.”Adapted from THE FOLLY AND THE GLORY: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945–2020 by Tim Weiner. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2020 by Tim Weiner. All rights reserved.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


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  • 71/82   Did Russian Spies Use Diplomatic Cover to Run a Global Cocaine-Smuggling Operation?
    WORLD TOPIC NEWS

    > This is a joint investigation by The Daily Beast and the Dossier Center.Six men await trial in Moscow and Buenos Aires, charged with operating one of the craziest, most ambitious narco-trafficking rings in history. Russia’s embassy in Argentina was the storage depot and Russian government transport was intended to move a cartel-sized consignment of virtually uncut cocaine from South America to Moscow. It was a transnational crime that astounded and confused the world, not least because authorities allege it was carried out by a small but resourceful cabal including one dirty embassy employee, one corrupt cop, and one charismatic chameleon who used some of the most secure Russian state real estate to store and smuggle $60 million worth of drugs. According to the official narrative, they did it all right under the noses of innocent diplomats and intelligence officers—and they would have gotten away with it without the plucky joint police work of Russian and Argentinian law enforcement. But what if that neat conclusion, which will soon be presented in court, is intentionally incomplete, a whitewash designed to protect more senior officials in the Russian government?The Daily Beast, in collaboration with the London-based Dossier Center, has obtained the documents from both the Russian and Argentinian investigations of the notorious 2018 cocaine bust, including hundreds of hours of telephone wiretap recordings, reams of witness and suspect interrogation transcripts, and nearly 10,000 pages of police and intelligence case files. These files were leaked to the Dossier Center from two separate sources, including one in Argentina connected with that country’s investigation who believes these forensic materials cast doubt on the alleged involvement in the affair of two indicted Argentines. The other source is close to the Russian investigation. All told, both sets of files show gaping holes, contradictions, discrepancies and implausible conclusions, which often border on the ludicrous.  At best, these documents suggest a staggering level of incompetence, with credible leads not followed up and government officials credibly implicated in the course of the joint investigation not investigated or prosecuted. At worst, they paint a darker picture of a coordinated, hemisphere-spanning coverup designed to protect those government officials and possibly other unnamed co-conspirators higher up in the food chain in Russia.One U.S. federal drug enforcement agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity thinks that all indications point to the latter. “According to our information, some members of the Russian embassy in Argentina... were aware of drug-related activities and were associated with the drug mafia. At some point there was a leak. The Argentinian authorities found out about the cocaine and contacted the embassy, after which the Russian side decided it was safer to ‘find’ the drugs. The scandal was resolved at a diplomatic level and no real investigation was conducted by Argentina.”But that’s not the public line of the Argentinian government. On Feb. 22, 2018, Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s national security minister, lit up Twitter. She posted to her official account videos of the seizure of almost 400 kilograms of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. “The investigation lasted more than a year, both in Argentina and Russia, and together we detained 6 members of this group that planned to transport a cargo worth more than 50 million euro,” one of Bullrich’s tweets read.The extraordinary location and sheer volume of the narcotics uncovered made this an explosive international story. It became an even bigger news event when Bullrich announced that Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer at the Institute of Public Security, Buenos Aires’s police academy, had been arrested in connection with the same drug case. Yet the evidence for his participation in the drug-running syndicate rests almost entirely on the word of a Russian embassy security official, who, by his own admission, adopted a see-no-evil approach for several months to the presence of 12 strange suitcases stored on embassy grounds.Bliznyuk and a fellow Argentine, the U.S. drug enforcement agent said, “were detained in order to deflect suspicion from the embassy and [Russian] Foreign Ministry officials who used diplomatic channels for smuggling and were the drugs’ real beneficiaries.” An officer in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency agrees that there were other embassy staff members involved, and adds that they likely had connections to Russian intelligence owing to the tradecraft and planning involved in the abortive scheme.At the center of this complex web of alleged criminality sits the main defendant in the case, Andrei Kovalchuk. He claims he is the victim of a vast conspiracy and ran afoul of the very intelligence organs he had faithfully served for years—the organs of two countries, in fact, Russia and Germany. “My misfortunes began,” he wrote from a prison cell in Berlin where he awaited extradition to Moscow, “after the operation to join the Crimea to Russia in 2014, in which I took part, for which I was awarded a medal for this operation, which is located here, in Berlin.” Kovalchuk’s lawyer insists his client has helped nab terrorists, mobsters, and gun-runners from Lower Saxony to Düsseldorf. He denies all of the charges.At once a cipher and a changeling, Kovalchuk is full of fantastical tales about himself and his various clients, cronies and accomplices but this much can be solidly established: He maintained lasting relationships with a series of security officials in various countries, as well as employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He had an excellent working knowledge of the layout and protocols of Russian missions, not to mention the protocol for wrapping and diplomatic parcels. And he allegedly seconded a host of Russian government vehicles and aircraft to move not just drugs but jewelry, clothes, and pharmaceuticals across national borders. Based on the Argentine and Russian indictments, we are invited to believe that all of this was arranged privately by Kovalchuk with a little cash and a lot of cognac, cigars, and candies courtesy of a burly and hirsute business associate, a camera-friendly Russian exile in Germany who’s taken to calling himself a “baron.”An international man of mystery requires manifold identities. Over a remarkable 20-year career, Kovalchuk has passed himself off not only as a spook, but also a diplomat, a Gazprom representative, a shrink, a philanthropist, and a man of leisure. Yet in spite of all his extraordinary Moscow connections, this Ukrainian-born grifter was never even a legal Russian citizen; all of his passports, the case files show, were invalid. Thus the main perpetrator sitting in pretrial detention in Moscow is technically stateless. Did Kovalchuk spy for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or was it the GRU, its military service? Both deny he was one of theirs. “Kovalchuk is a man of intelligence, perhaps retired, but still serving the Russian government,” a source in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency told us. This Russian Spy Agency Is in the Middle of EverythingThat would certainly explain why the functionaries in the Russian Foreign Ministry clearly implicated in the case files as Kovalchuk’s blackmarket handmaids were never investigated or suspended or fired from their jobs. In fact, they all seem to have been untroubled by this scandal, all, that is, save the one who committed “suicide” outside his Moscow apartment three weeks after the cocaine was discovered at the embassy in Buenos Aires. Kovalchuk is also being tried in closed Russian court, a dispensation normally reserved for minors, sex offenders or those for whom publicized due process risks compromising matters of national security.Both the Russian and Argentinian governments have failed to account for how Kovalchuk, a man of limited financial resources, acquired eight-figures worth of high-purity marching powder or to determine its ultimate beneficiaries. At times, the investigators simply failed to follow up on obvious leads, such as investigating the possible involvement of the Sinaloa drug cartel as the manufacturers of the cocaine or following up on a Dutch phone number said to belong to the intended buyer or recipient of it.Still another curiosity of this affair is why Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of the National Security Council, the former director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and one of the most powerful strongmen in Vladimir Putin’s inner sanctum, flew to and from Argentina, allegedly on the same Russian government plane used in the sting operation that snared Kovalchuk. And why did the Kremlin then deny that his aircraft (and possibly also Patrushev himself) had been involved in this drug-trafficking story?Whoever Andrei Kovalchuk is, or was, before his name appeared in bold multilingual print, his alleged coke-smuggling plan required a network of well-placed fixers and mules. He found his first alleged courier in an embassy. The First Mule?In 2012, Ali Abyanov, the head of the administrative and economics department at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, said he received a call from someone who introduced himself as Andrei Kovalchuk, a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin. According to the case files, Kovalchuk told his ostensible colleague that he’d be traveling to Argentina in the middle of the year and would very much like to meet. Abyanov later told Russian investigators that he didn’t know why this person had called him or why he wanted to meet him but he consented anyway. Kovalchuk must have made an excellent first impression because Abyanov agreed to drive him back to Buenos Aires International Airport by diplomatic car. Once they arrived at the airport Kovalchuk removed his luggage from the vehicle—all but one suitcase weighing between 25 and 30 kilograms. The heft, he told Abyanov, owed to the gustatory contents: wine, coffee grounds, and cookies. According to Abyanov’s interrogation, Kovalchuk then gave the property manager $1,000 and asked if he wouldn’t mind mailing the suitcase to Russia on Kovalchuk’s behalf at a later date. Abyanov said he took his new acquaintance’s word at face value and never opened the parcel. Around the end of year, Kovalchuk allegedly called Abyanov and told him it was time to send his package: a Russian cargo plane scheduled to fly to Moscow out of Montevideo, Uruguay, was leaving at the end of 2012 and his stuff should be on it. Montevideo is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Buenos Aires in good traffic, but Abyanov couriered the suitcase, then submitted it as cargo on the departing flight. The Argentinian ConnectionThe following year, 2013, Kovalchuk visited Argentina three times, now with an entirely different occupation. No longer a former security officer attached to the embassy in Berlin, he was now an employee of Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company. On one of these three trips, Kovalchuk met Nikolai Shelepov, the first secretary of the Russian embassy in Argentina, whose job is that of assistant head of security for the ambassador, a job often filled by an intelligence officer. They went to a cafe and Kovalchuk said he’d come to town to check on the “feasibility of Gazprom acquiring a historic building in the center of Buenos Aires,” according to Shelepov, who said Kovalchuk also boasted of his many contacts in the Russian Foreign Ministry.Shelepov was also sufficiently impressed with his vouched-for compatriot. He decided to introduce Kovalchuk to Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer of the Institute of Public Safety, the point of contact for international relations at the Buenos Aires police academy. Bliznyuk is an Argentine of Russian heritage; he had three children but lived on a modest state wage and he “dreamed of finding a job with Gazprom,” according to Shelepov. As part of our investigation, we wrote to Bliznyuk about his role, and he confirmed that Kovalchuk had passed himself off as a Gazprom employee who needed a keyed-in local to help buy “a building in Buenos Aires for their headquarters... That’s why Shelepov invited me for a beer at a bar and introduced us to each other there.”According to the case files, Kovalchuk returned to Argentina in 2014, Abyanov told investigators, and handed off two more suitcases to his mule. He again told Abyanov they were filled with wine, coffee and cookies, only this time he had a special set of shipping instructions, as Abyanov recalled: “to pack the suitcases specially with paper, string and wax seal. Usually, this is how diplomatic mail is packed, which is not subject to inspection.” Kovalchuk is alleged to have paid $1,000 per suitcase. Abyanov might not have been the snooping type but nor was he under any illusions as to why he was so handsomely compensated, $1,000 goes a long way in Argentina. He sent them from Montevideo to Moscow aboard a Russian military transport plane. In his testimony to Russian investigators, Abyanov contradicted himself as to what he suspected he was transporting for Kovalchuk. First, in 2017, he said, he believed the packages contained “prohibited” items but in a separate interrogation, in 2019, he said he never suspected Kovalchuk was anything but above-board owing to his familiarity with “everyone at the embassy” and his frequent attendance at embassy receptions. The Policeman’s BallAt the invitation of the Russian Interior Ministry, a delegation of police officers from Buenos Aires, including Bliznyuk, traveled to Moscow. After the official ceremonies concluded, the guests decided to take a trip to St. Petersburg, and Bliznyuk was tasked with organizing the excursion. He asked Shelepov back at the embassy about how best to conduct a guided tour for the Spanish-speaking delegation of police officers , who are known as gendarmes in Argentina, through Russia’s cultural capital. Shelepov thought of Kovalchuk, the well-connected Gazprom rep, who was only too happy to help. He linked Bliznyuk up with one of his old friends and business associates from Germany, Baron Konstantin von Bossner. Konstanin Loskutnikov, as he was born, is a bearded bear of a man with more than a passing resemblance to Robbie Coltrane’s ex-KGB mafioso Valentin Zukovsky in the James Bond films. He owns a Berlin-based company, Bossner, which hawks chocolate, hand-rolled Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars, ostrich and python purses, crocodile shoes, Georgian wine, and its own signature brand of cognac, Bossner X.O. All of these products, the company website notes, are “designed to cause joy and positive emotions.” Bossner is as devoted to God as he is to bespoke leather accessories; he founded the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, a German-registered charity, in 2010, and was awarded the Order of Honor in Germany earlier this year for his philanthropic work. According to the investigative files, the Baron made sure Bliznyuk showed the Argentinian cops a good time. They were feted with Bossner staples—cognac, chocolate and cigars— and taken on a boating trip along the rivers and canals of Russia’s most European city. Kovalchuk at times portrayed himself as a representative of the Bossner company, someone who came into these many “samples” of booze and cigars, which he’d share with grateful officials and influencers from many nations. A letter from Bossner’s Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, signed by Bossner, shows that Kovalchuk was an official representative of the Berlin-based charity. According to the wiretap transcripts, Kovalchuk even asked Bossner’s wife if she’d become his son’s godmother, an honor she accepted. Bossner, however, maintained throughout his Interior Ministry interrogations that he had no substantive relationship with Kovalchuk, whom he portrayed as a huckster and schnorrer, eager to lap up those free “samples” of the exile’s finest luxury goods as an advance on investments which never came. “Several years ago [Kovalchuk] was brought to my office by a high-ranking employee of Gazprom in Germany and introduced as a colonel, the head of the special services, who deals with consulates in Europe, Asia, Latin America and other rubbish,” Bossner told Germany’s OstWest TV in 2018. “Mr. Kovalchuk, like many others, tried our products, smoked our cigars, drank our cognac, then, over the years… asking for one sample, [then] another sample, [he told us] he will try to find a client, that he flies around to the whole world that he will try to organize the sale of our products, and naturally wants to make money on this. We are always open to any kind of cooperation, so it often comes from us samples of cigarettes and cognac, but not a single deal, not a single contract was concluded.”  A New Hiding Place, a New FriendKovalchuk flew back to Argentina three times in 2015, according to travel records. On his third trip, adhering to a now-established tradition, he gave Abyanov two suitcases and $2,000. Abyanov said he hid these away in a car garage attached to the embassy school where the diplomats sent their kids, awaiting Kovalchuk’s notice of when and how they should leave the country. In February 2016, a delegation of Russian policemen flew to Argentina as part of a kind of exchange program following the highly successful Argentinian delegation from the year before. Kovalchuk was in town and attended a reception in honor of the visiting officers at the Russian embassy. Abyanov said he introduced him to Oleg Vorobiev, the new first secretary and embassy security chief, who had replaced Shelepov. No longer a Gazprom rep, Kovalchuk was presented as a security official attached to the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk relayed greetings to Vorobiev from his predecessor Shelepov, now back in Moscow. Vorobiev and Kovalchuk struck up a friendship and started to communicate. In March 2016, Kovalchuk told the security chief he’d been appointed the Berlin representative of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach arm, according to Vorobiev. (Vorobiev later told investigators that he never asked for nor saw a business card from Kovalchuk, even as the latter’s occupation morphed throughout their relationship.) An Impossible ScoreKovalchuk returned to Argentina several more times in the spring and summer of 2016, always stopping by the embassy, and, checking in to see Abyanov and Vorobiev, according to their statements to investigators. According to the Russian case files, including Abyanov’s statement to investigators, sometime in the middle of 2016, Kovalchuk gave 10 suitcases, all supposedly filled with wine and semiprecious gems, to Abyanov, who moved them to the same garage in the embassy school where he’d stowed the previous two. He asked another embassy employee to pack these suitcases as diplomatic mail. Abyanov then moved all 12 suitcases from the garage to a little-used utility room in the school. It was a seemingly ideal hiding spot, among broken tables, chairs, old computers and other junk.Each of the 12 suitcases, as would later be discovered, were filled with 30 briquettes of nearly undiluted cocaine, with each briquette containing a little over a kilogram. The value of 389 kilograms, the possible total weight in Kovalchuk’s alleged consignment, is around $60 million. Drug enforcement experts from multiple countries said that such a sizable score cannot have been purchased from local drug dealers. Kolvachuk, they said, would have needed a longstanding and trusted relationship with high-level narco traffickers to acquire and move that kind of volume. Neither the Argentinian nor Russian investigators tried to uncover the supply chain or find out how Kovalchuk, an alleged Russian spy, who had no significant sources of wealth, ended up with drugs worth tens of millions of dollars. Three types of cartel stamps—a star within a star, a horseshoe and the initials “LG”—were found on the briquettes. The first two are typically associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. Nothing in the Argentinian or Russian documents we have pored through indicates that this piece of evidence was investigated.  The Second Mule?On July 19, 2016, Abyanov’s embassy contract expired. A new property manager, Igor Rogov, took his place.Sometime during the month-long handover period, Abyanov says he told his successor about the presence of 12 boxes in the utility room, adding that he didn’t know what they contained but that they all belonged to Kovalchuk. Rogov didn’t know who Kovalchuk was and asked Abyanov about him. “Abyanov answered me that Kovalchuk is a person ‘from the center,’ that is, from the Russian Foreign Ministry,” Rogov told Russian investigators. “Abyanov spoke very well of Kovalchuk and said that Kovalchuk had visited Argentina many times and knew many people, including the embassy staff.”Several months went by. Then, in a Skype chat, Rogov said Abyanov asked him to send the suitcases to Moscow by special military plane, which was due to arrive at the Montevideo airport in early December 2016. Rogov needed help for the job. “I unsuccessfully turned to one or another embassy employee,” he told investigators, “eventually reaching the military attaché and even the Ambassador Viktor Koronelli."Koronelli had been ambassador since 2011, a year before Kovalchuk first made contact with Ali Abyanov. And yet, in spite of Kovalchuk’s frequent appearances at the embassy, Koronelli told investigators that he’d only met him once, in March 2016. It was at the request of Abyanov, who’d introduced Kovalchuk as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, an employee, in other words, of Bossner’s charity. Kovalchuk took that occasion to name-drop several mutual friends and acquaintances, according to Ambassador Koronelli’s statement to investigators. Koronelli added that he never bothered to check on his interlocutor’s bona fides.“It’s incredibly easy to check on someone’s credentials from an embassy,” said Jan Neumann, a former FSB officer from Directorate K, the same financial crimes unit tasked with investigating the Kovalchuk case. Neumann defected to the United States in 2008 and became a CIA and FBI informant. “You put a call into Moscow. If the person you’re checking on claims to have been posted to another Russian mission, Moscow then calls that mission to verify he’s legit. All of this takes minutes. And it’s simply not possible that the head of security in the embassy in Argentina didn’t check on Kovalchuk. It’s a necessary protocol.”Koronelli’s term as ambassador to Argentina ended in June 2018, about four months after the cocaine scandal was publicized. Koronelli is now Russia’s ambassador to Mexico; he declined to comment on this story.According to the transcript of an Argentinian wiretap of Bliznyuk, Koronelli quarreled with Kovalchuk, a fact Koronelli did not recount to Russian investigators after saying he’d only met Kovalchuk once, casually, at the embassy. This conversation, dated Oct. 11, 2017, has never before been made public and undercuts Koronelli’s claim of a one-off encounter with the alleged primary drug smuggler. It also complicates the two Argentinian defendants’ role as alleged accomplices, as it suggests that Kovalchuk hadn’t paid Bliznyuk or Alexander Chikalo as part of the scheme.> Bliznyuk: Sanya [Alexander], we from Andriukha [Kovalchuk], neither I nor you, have not received a penny in all this time.> > Chikalo: Not once, nothing.> > Bliznyuk: Especially since the suitcases are at the embassy. First, the embassy issues... well, he [Kovalchuk] had a fight with Koronelli.> > Bliznyuk: Yes, the new ambassador will arrive soon.  A New Exit StrategyFor some reason, Kovalchuk allegedly changed his cocaine exfiltration scheme, and sped up the timeline. Instead of letting Rogov dispatch the suitcases by special military plane in December, Kovalchuk flew back to Argentina on Nov. 25 to retrieve the items himself. When he arrived, he spent a day roaming the city but stayed clear of the embassy, usually one of his first ports of call. It’s not known what he got up to that day, nor with whom, but the 24-hour interregnum cost him dearly.On Nov. 25, the day Kovalchuk touched down at Buenos Aires International Airport, Rogov finally told Vorobiev about the suitcases, according to Rogov’s testimony to Russian investigators. Vorobiev, he said, decided to check on their contents. He found the briquettes. “Vorobiev ripped the packaging off one of them, and we saw a compressed white powder inside,” Rogov said in his interrogation. “We realized that it could be drugs.”Vorobiev then notified Ambassador Koronelli, according to the Russian case files. Koronelli phoned the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The 9th Division of the K-Directorate of the Economic Security Service of FSB and the 14th Division of the Main Drug Control Directorate of the Interior Ministry opened an investigation. Except the Russian government hasn't kept the story of how it unfolded straight.Most of the files from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office indicate that the suitcases of cocaine were officially “found”—meaning through a purposive search for them, not an accidental discovery—on the evening of Dec. 8, 2016, when, at the direction of the Foreign Ministry, embassy staff reopened them. The staff did so, according to these files, in the presence of FSB representatives who had flown to Buenos Aires from Moscow after Koronelli alerted the Foreign Ministry. And yet, in one FSB document the suitcases are recorded as having been “found” on Dec. 4 and opened the next day. That document makes no mention of FSB representatives from Moscow being present for this earlier unveiling. A similar discrepancy concerns the total weight of the evidence. Depending on which document you’re looking at, the 12 suitcases contain amounts of cocaine ranging from 357 to 389 kilograms, a shortfall of 32 kilograms, or $5 million worth of cocaine. (The true weight may never be known: In August 2018, the Argentinians burnt all the cocaine in accordance with what they say were the protocols of evidence destruction.) “Under the Federal Rules for Evidence, the date discrepancy and the weight discrepancy would potentially jeopardize any criminal prosecution of those responsible,” the U.S. drug enforcement agent said. “The evidence is not exact and the drug amount and weight need to be verified and weighed by a laboratory and a clear chain of custody must be intact. The Argentinian-Russian case reeks of evidence mishandling... of the investigation and prosecution.” The SwitcherooOn the evening of Dec. 13, Koronelli had a meeting with Patricia Bullrich, the Argentinian security minister, formally briefing her about the presence of hundreds of kilos of cocaine in the Russian embassy. At the same meeting, according to the case files, Vorobiev suggested to his Argentine counterparts that one of the smugglers was likely Ivan Bliznyuk, the point-man at the Argentinian police academy.On Dec. 14, a special operation was launched by the Argentinian gendarmerie to catch the domestic side of this narco-trafficking ring. The 12 suitcases were removed from the embassy and loaded onto a pickup truck and driven to a police facility. They recorded the procedure. There, the cases were opened, and the drugs were weighed. The officers then swapped the cocaine for a mixture of sand and flour, repackaged in bags rather than briquettes, and resealed everything as it had been. The suitcases were then returned to the embassy, where the gendarmes installed three cameras on the school premises. GPS systems were allegedly placed inside suitcases.Argentinian law enforcement opened their own criminal investigation and tapped Bliznyuk’s phones as well as those of Chikalo, a close friend and sometime neighbor in Buenos Aires. These wiretaps soon established that both men were in constant communication with Andrei Kovalchuk. So Russian authorities subsequently tapped Kovalchuk’s phones. The Smuggler’s DilemmaThe alleged main actor in what was now a seemingly compromised smuggling ring is accused of spending the next year or so attempting different exfiltration schemes. One, for instance, involved bringing Russian cadets to Argentina on a trip bankrolled by the fun-loving Bossner, the idea being that the cadets would fly home with undeclared cargo, easily explained away as souvenirs or somesuch. For various reasons, all of Kovalchuk’s alleged gambits fizzled. Then, on Oct. 11, 2017, he notified Vorobiev and Rogov he was coming back to Buenos Aires himself, unaware they were now part of a government plot to catch him.The FSB and Interior Ministry investigators weren’t quite ready to close the net. Instead, they ordered Rogov to leave town on a business trip to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, leaving Kovalchuk without his only keymaster for the embassy school utility room. We know what happened when Kovalchuk arrived in Buenos Aires because we have the wiretaps of Bliznyuk and Chikalo discussing it on Oct. 11. Kovachulk, Bliznyuk said on the phone, had asked him to move suitcases he’d left at the embassy in exchange for $10,000. Bliznyuk told Chikalo that Kovalchuk had said the cases contained “sea lion skins” from Uruguay that could be sold at high prices in Russia and Germany. Judging from their conversation, Bliznyuk and Chikalo clearly thought Kovalchuk was untrustworthy and suspect; Bliznyuk told his friend he’d have no part in Kovalchuk’s nutty scheme. We also know what Bliznyuk did next, based on another wiretap: he immediately called Vorobiev on Oct. 12, a day after his conversation with Chikalo, to tell the embassy security chief about Kovalchuk’s solicitation and the presence of suspicious parcels on embassy grounds, which Bliznyuk said probably contained “forbidden elements.” Vorobiev was now part of the sting operation to catch Kovalchuk and so he played dumb, casting doubt on the story. But on that same call Vorobiev asked Bliznyuk if the latter intended to help Kovalchuk, to which Bliznyuk answered, “Can’t do it and that’s all. Why would I mess with this?” The Latvian DeceptionAs Kovalchuk allegedly saw it, he was running out of time and willing or available intermediaries to get his drugs out of Argentina. Investigators claim that Kovalchuk first turned to a familiar pretext: the largesse of Baron Konstanin von Bossner when it came to spoiling friendly foreigners. According to this stratagem, an embassy car would drive to the airport to collect Bossner’s cognac and chocolate intended for the Argentinian policemen from the St. Petersburg delegation. The “gifts” would be flown to Buenos Aires from Berlin, where Bossner’s office was, on a private jet. For the return flight, Kovalchuk’s “sea lion skins” and the supposed paraphernalia of diplomats—in reality, the drugs—would allegedly be loaded onboard. Except the jet wasn’t flying directly to Berlin. First it would land in Riga, Latvia, where Kovalchuk allegedly said he had cronies who’d move the goods past customs without any problem. Flying on to Berlin would then mean facing no inspection hurdle owing to the European Union’s Schengen area of unrestricted travel across borders. One of Kovalchuk’s  business partners in Moscow, Ishtimir Khudjamov, said he was asked to help with the operation. On Oct. 14, 2017, Khudjamov flew to Berlin and picked up a box of cognac and sweets from Bossner’s office. To justify the stopover in Riga on the way back, Khudjamov said he picked up something else: three Latvian nationals who weren’t told of their real role as decoys in a drug-running operation. Instead, Khudjamov told the Latvians to pose as a technical crew attached to Zvezda, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV station. All they knew was that they’d be delivering the gifts to Argentina, then transporting things on the way home. (Khudjamov now pleads innocence and ignorance to being a narcotrafficker at all; he told Russian investigators that Kovalchuk had claimed the return cargo was a rare and expensive brand of coffee beans.)The problem was Rogov was still away on his concocted “business trip” when the Bossner presents were due to arrive. And, as the property manager was still the only one who could access the utility room in the embassy school, investigators allege Kovalchuk couldn’t retrieve his drugs on time. On Oct. 18, the jet left Buenos Aires, light of the cognac and chocolate, but also any coke.Although it was a bust, the plan demonstrated Kovalchuk’s well-honed tradecraft. The TrapLess than a month later, on Nov. 8, Kovalchuk called Rogov and Vorobiev and told them he’d be back in Argentina in two days. This time Rogov wasn’t told to feign a work excursion. With Vorobiev's permission, he met Kovalchuk and told him the suitcases could be shipped aboard a Russian government aircraft the following month. Around the same time, Kovalchuk spoke to Khudjamov, according to Argentinian wiretaps. They discussed “200 kilograms” without specifying the substance (although we can probably guess) which were somewhere in Uruguay. Kovalchuk said he wanted that consignment flown out of Buenos Aires on the Russian plane.He was finally in luck, or so it may have seemed. On Nov. 13, his suitcases found themselves entered onto the manifest. His luggage was supposed to be transferred by RA-96023, a newish Ilyushin-96 long-haul airliner operated by Russia’s Special Flight Detachment, the property, no less, of Russia’s Presidential Administration used most frequently by Nikolai Patrushev. Patrushev is one of the most influential members of the Kremlin inner circle and a decision-maker when it comes to Russian foreign policy. He succeeded Vladimir Putin as director of the FSB when Putin was appointed prime minister of Boris Yeltsin’s government in 1999. Patrushev is now Secretary of the National Security Council and RA-96023 is so associated with his overseas jaunts that it’s colloquially known in Russia as “Patrushev’s plane.”On Feb. 27, 2018 Yelena Krylova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Presidential Affairs Directorate, denied that the aircraft was involved in the “cocaine case.” “Journalists made conclusions based on inaccurate information—in this case, photographs that can be easily falsified thanks to modern technology,” Krylova said. Her denial, however, contradicts what’s in the Argentinian case file, according to which the FSB informed Buenos Aires as early as Nov. 17, 2017 that Patrushev’s plane was to be used for the special operation. The plane number 96023 is clearly visible not only in the photographs publicly released by the Argentinian gendarmerie but also in the video, uploaded on their official YouTube channel on Feb. 23, 2018. The Argentinian files also confirm that RA-96023 was indeed used “during the visit” of Patrushev to Argentina, suggesting that’s how the Russian official got there and back. Yet someone in the Russian government doesn’t want this fact to be publicly acknowledged. Shortly after Russian media reports surfaced about Patrushev’s plane possibly being used in a covert drug bust, the website with the relevant flight data, russianplanes.net, went offline. Moreover, the creator of that website removed the russianplanes.net group from VKontakte, a popular social media network, as well as his personal VKontakte page and a sister portal, russianships.net, dedicated to tracking seafaring vessels. “I just took it all and deleted it, maybe something didn’t work out right there,” the website operator, identified as “Kiba,” said in an interview with independent Russian outlet Mediazona. “I’m a little tense now, so I went and removed it, I don’t want to set anyone up.” Patrushev’s plane was scheduled to arrive from Moscow on Dec. 4, delivering Patrushev for one of those jaunts, a visit to Argentina. It was scheduled to return to Moscow with the national security secretary on board on Dec. 6. This is the conveyance Kovalchuk allegedly thought wise to transport almost 400 kilos of high-grade cocaine across multiple time zones.On Nov. 15, Kovalchuk and Khudjamov left Argentina. Shortly before departing, Kovalchuk spoke to Rogov and made a few final touches to his plan. He allegedly asked him to remove from the suitcases the name of the Russian diplomat they ostensibly belonged to: Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the consular department of the Foreign Ministry. Kovalchuk allegedly instructed Rogov to simply write Kovalchuk’s Russian telephone number on the cases and use the abbreviation “CD,” likely standing for “Corps Diplomatique,” which is carried by all diplomatic licenses overseas.On Dec. 4, Vorobiev drove the suitcases filled with sand and flour to Buenos Aires International Airport and loaded them onto Patrushev’s Ilyushin. There is every indication, based on both the public record and the Argentinian case files, that Patrushev was on board the plane when it departed Argentina for Russia, making the former FSB director and one of Putin’s most trusted national security advisers a party to the sting operation. “A Close Partnership”On the morning of Dec. 7, Patrushev’s plane touched down in Moscow. So did the suitcases allegedly belonging to Kovalchuk, which were sent directly to an FSB storage facility. The next day the FSB called Kovalchuk’s telephone number, scrawled on the cargo. He picked up; the FSB officer on the other end introduced himself as a courier from the Foreign Ministry and asked about the pickup. Kovalchuk said his associate Vladimir Kalmykov would come to collect the parcels. On Dec. 9, Argentinian gendarmes arrived in Russia to assume their role in the special operation to snatch the smugglers.On Dec. 12, Kalmykov and Khudjamov arrived at a Foreign Ministry facility to take custody of the suitcases. They were immediately arrested by the FSB. According to documents from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the intended recipient of the suitcases could be in Belgium or the Netherlands. Yet no attempt was made to look for them. Moreover, a Dutch mobile phone number allegedly affiliated with the ultimate beneficiary of the cargo was never investigated. On the evening that Kalmykov and Khudjamov were nabbed, Ali Abyanov, the former property manager of the embassy in Buenos Aires, was also arrested at his apartment in Moscow. Kovalchuk wasn’t, however, as he was abroad.According to a source in his company at the time, he remained remarkably calm. When his friends advised him to flee to a country with no extradition treaty with Russia, he insisted he had nothing to worry about. On Dec. 19, Moscow declared Kovalchuk a wanted man at home and internationally. Interpol issued a “red notice” for his arrest.  Despite the arrests of Kalmykov, Abyanov, and Khudjamov in Russia, the Argentine suspects remained at large for several months. Ivan Bliznyuk even took a vacation with his wife to Italy before he and Alexander Chikalo were arrested in late February 2018. Bliznyuk, in fact, was taken into custody at the airport as he returned home. A day later, Bullrich, the national security minister, issued the statement about the discovery of cocaine in the Russian embassy. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, followed suit the next day, announcing an 18 month-long joint operation to disrupt a narcotrafficking syndicate. “As the investigation discovered,” Zakharova’s statement read, “the cargo belonged to a former maintenance worker who had by that time completed his fixed term employment contract,” referring solely to Abyanov. “This experience serves as further evidence of the close partnership that has developed between our countries in different areas, including law enforcement.” On March 1, Kovalchuk was arrested in Germany. A month later Berlin received a request about his extradition to Russia. Several days after filing that request, however, Russia’s Federal Migration Service found that Kovalchuk was not, in fact, a citizen of the country. All three of his Russian passports had been issued illegally, a wrinkle which didn’t interfere with his extradition proceedings. On July 27, Kovalchuk was flown to Moscow from Germany and was immediately remanded to the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center.The Argentines burnt all the cocaine the following month. According to Bliznuyk’s lawyer, they did so without a court order and in a civilian crematorium when a gendarmerie crematorium would have typically been used for such purposes. As of this writing the Argentinian prosecution has yet to provide Bliznyuk’s counsel with evidence of a proper court order for the evidence destruction.Actions in Buenos Aires should also have repercussions in Moscow. According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, evidence must be stored until a court order to destroy it is in force. Thus, the cases against Kovalchuk, Abyanov, Kalmykov and Khudjamov is set to be heard without the main evidence against them in existence.Germany, too, has questions to answer as to how and why it sent one of these defendants to Russia. Kovalchuk is a “stateless person,” according to Sergey Safonov, a senior prosecutor of the criminal and judicial department of the Moscow prosecutor’s office. And yet, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office consistently referred to him as a citizen of the Russian Federation in several requests made for his extradition. Alexander Hamburg, one of his lawyers in Germany, said Kovalchuk was extradited through an accelerated procedural mechanism that robbed him of the necessary time to file an appeal.  The Talented Mr. KovalchukThe criminal case against Andrei Kovalchuk gives him no nationality; it simply states he was born in Hertz. It does, however, note that on his various passport applications, Kovalchuk filled in Form No. 1P as having no definite place of residence and no form of employment—yet he was still granted three different Russian passports. Hertz is in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine; Kovalchuk was born there in 1968. In 1986 he was drafted into the army in Kaliningrad; two years later he graduated from the 75th paratrooper school in Kirov, and then served for a year as a technician at the aviation school in Barnaul. He was officially discharged from the Soviet military in March 1989 for unknown reasons.His whereabouts and his activities disappeared into a black hole for about 10 years until he turned up in Germany in the late ’90s. Kovalchuk registered for a correspondence course in psychology at St. Petersburg State University. He stopped his higher education after only a few classes, according to the university’s psychology department chief, who said there was a rumor circulating at the time that Kovalchuk might have been arrested.According to the testimony of his friend Vadim Zhmurov, Kovalchuk next claimed to work as a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin in 2000. Witnesses interrogated by the Interior Ministry say that in the mid-2000s Kovalchuk lived in Amsterdam with his sister Irina Kuzmenko and her daughter Anastasia. There he met his first wife, Nadezhda Sorokina. In 2006, the entire family relocated to Germany, where Kovalchuk and Sorokina rented an apartment in the building used by Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry science and cultural arm.At some point in his Berlin period, Kovalchuk is accused of beginning to move goods through diplomatic channels. Irina, his sister, owned Irgotrade GmbH, a cargo transportation company registered in Berlin, which Kovalchuk allegedly used to embark on his smuggling career. On several occasions, his ventures were foiled. In August 2011, employees of Irgotrade tried to ferry 3.7 tons of goods, including 216 kilograms of silver, medicine, jewelry, and clothing, from Latvia to Russia. All of the freight, the company claimed, belonged to Sergei Sedykh, an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Sedykh’s signature was even on the declarations presented to Latvian border guards, who confiscated the contraband and impounded the vehicle. In Russia, two criminal investigations were opened. A customs official was arrested and the jewelry company listed as one of the intended buyers of the cargo was ordered to pay a fine of about $47,000.Sedykh denied all responsibility. He said he hadn’t given anyone a power of attorney to move items on his behalf, nor had he filled out a declaration and signed any documents. He couldn’t say how the driver of the car had got a copy of his diplomatic passport. He didn’t have to: Sedykh was neither investigated nor fired from his job at the Foreign Ministry. He’s not alone in this respect; officials caught helping Kovalchuk with his illicit schemes have often mysteriously been given the all-clear by the Russian authorities. Friends in High PlacesA trio of high-ranking officials in the Consular Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow—Alexander Dudka, Lev Pausin and Alexander Nezimov—all facilitated Kovalchuk’s alleged contraband business, according to their own testimonies contained in the Russian case files. All of them—individually or collectively—accorded Kovalchuk privileged information about the movement of special government transports; issued him passes to roam around sensitive ministry facilities; introduced him to others who would act as fixers; and provided him with other material assistance in what they must have at least suspected was a blackmarket business. To Dudka, the chief adviser of the Consular Department, Kovalchuk was a self-declared technical officer for Rossotrudnichestvo in Berlin, the Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach agency. He told Russian investigators that he met Kovalchuk in Berlin in 2011 while on a “business trip.” Then, in December 2017, shortly before the dozen suitcases of flour and sand arrived in Moscow, Dudka said Kovalchuk asked him to find a diplomatic vehicle to transport “12 boxes” from Russia to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Dudka subsequently gave Kovalchuk the relevant schedules of Foreign Ministry vehicles driving along those routes. How a Soviet Triple Agent Recruited New Spies in the WestDespite his admission that he allowed Kovalchuk to requisition government vehicles for alleged international smuggling, Dudka is still employed at the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk named Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the Consular Department, as one of his “bosses,” without specifying what he meant by that term. “Goodbye, no comments,” Nezimov said when reached for comment on this story.The other alleged boss, Peter Polshikov, was the chief adviser of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry. He was found dead in Moscow in December 2016, three weeks after the discovery of the cocaine in the embassy. Polshikov had been shot in the head; an automatic pistol was found next to his corpse, outside his apartment. Authorities ruled it a suicide. Polshikov’s neighbors recalled that before his death he had been acting strangely and had stopped communicating with his friends.  The ‘Spy’ Who Loved ManyKovalchuk serially and convincingly posed as an intelligence officer, the Russian case file states, either attached to the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or the GRU, its military intelligence service. But the official Russian report concluded he was really neither. “In the light of these events, relevant inquiries were made to those institutions and agencies, the responses of which indicated that Kovalchuk is not an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry, is not an employee of any law enforcement agency of Russia, and is not a representative in foreign institutions of Russia. Kovalchuk used his cunning and ingenuity for his personal, selfish purposes, in most cases achieving the results he needed.”Several of his contacts still maintain he was a spy. Sergey Borshchev at the Nakhimov Naval School of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the school that sent the Russian cadets to Argentina, thought Kovalchuk was an officer of the SVR. “According to Kovalchuk,” Borshchev told investigators, “he often came [to Russia] to work in the Russian Foreign Ministry, to meet with top officials of the Ministry, as well as to the SVR. Also, I had no doubts about his service, since he would often bring gifts from the SVR: calendars, key rings and other gifts with the symbols of the SVR.” Russian army officer Mikhail Kazantsev met Kovalchuk in 2011 when Kovalchuk’s nephew was serving in Kazantsev’s unit, 3641. Kazantsev told investigators that, in 2015, Kovalchuk offered him an opportunity to transport “goods other than food” from Germany to Russia using diplomatic channels. Kazantsev, too, believed Kovalchuk was a Russian intelligence officer and even claimed to have seen his SVR ID: “I believed Kovalchuk, as he spoke very convincingly, and when we met, he once showed me an ID card of an officer of the SVR, where his photograph was, and the rank of colonel was indicated. I would like to clarify that I perceived this document as genuine and not a fake.”There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kovalchuk may have been entangled in some way with Russia’s vast national security apparatus. In his pretrial sessions in Moscow, media and relatives of all the defendants were removed from the courtroom to maintain secrecy. According to the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, a closed trial is permitted if the case concerns minors, sexual inviolability or state secrets, or if an open hearing may threaten the safety of the participants in the process. Regarding the “cocaine case,” as it’s commonly known in Moscow, there was no hint of the first two preconditions; only the last two could have plausibly served as grounds to keep the press and families out of the courtroom.  Out of the Embassy, Into the ShadowsJan Neumann, the FSB defector, said he sees one of two likely scenarios for what really happened, based on plot holes and elisions in the Argentinian and Russian investigations. “The first scenario: Russian intelligence was tracking a narcotrafficking network from South America to Russia and the whole sting operation was compromised, possibly through leaks. So they hastily covered everything up with this elaborate show involving Patrushev’s plane. “The second scenario: Russian intelligence was using one of its agents and his narco-trafficking network in South America to finance its own clandestine operations. It’s not uncommon for the Russian services to engage in questionable behavior to keep a ‘black budget’ going for something highly classified and sensitive.”Inside the KGB’s Super Power DivisionIf scenario two is closer to the reality, we may never know what that “something” is or was intended to be. In any event, the shadow cast over this remarkable crime saga far exceeds any light that’s been shone on it by two separate governments. As we’ve seen, wiretaps show that Ivan Bliznyuk and Alexander Chikalo talked freely with each other about how they hadn’t received any money from Kovalchuk in all the time they knew him; they described him as a chancer and liar who tried to convince them that his 12 suitcases contained sea lion skins, not drugs. If Bliznyuk and Chikalo were his witting accomplices, as Argentine prosecutors argue, then why would Kovalchuk have lied to them about the material he was trying to export? And why did Bliznyuk, who declined Kovalchuk’s alleged offer of $10,000 to help move the suitcases, quickly alert Vorobiev, the embassy security official, to their presence on embassy grounds? It was Blizynuk, the evidence in the wiretaps shows, who blew the whistle on a drug-smuggling operation he declined to be a part of. Yet he and Chikalo nevertheless await trial on narco-trafficking charges.We still don’t know who, exactly, Andrei Kovalchuk is or who he worked for. Is he the Slavic George Jung, a charismatic and unlikely cocaine smuggler who managed to suborn diplomats and cops with smooth talk, mutable covers, and modest bribes? Was he an asset or officer of one of Russia’s spy agencies? A con man? A patsy?  Or he is that postmodern commonplace in Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”: a forbidding combination of all of the above?Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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    > This is a joint investigation by The Daily Beast and the Dossier Center.Six men await trial in Moscow and Buenos Aires, charged with operating one of the craziest, most ambitious narco-trafficking rings in history. Russia’s embassy in Argentina was the storage depot and Russian government transport was intended to move a cartel-sized consignment of virtually uncut cocaine from South America to Moscow. It was a transnational crime that astounded and confused the world, not least because authorities allege it was carried out by a small but resourceful cabal including one dirty embassy employee, one corrupt cop, and one charismatic chameleon who used some of the most secure Russian state real estate to store and smuggle $60 million worth of drugs. According to the official narrative, they did it all right under the noses of innocent diplomats and intelligence officers—and they would have gotten away with it without the plucky joint police work of Russian and Argentinian law enforcement. But what if that neat conclusion, which will soon be presented in court, is intentionally incomplete, a whitewash designed to protect more senior officials in the Russian government?The Daily Beast, in collaboration with the London-based Dossier Center, has obtained the documents from both the Russian and Argentinian investigations of the notorious 2018 cocaine bust, including hundreds of hours of telephone wiretap recordings, reams of witness and suspect interrogation transcripts, and nearly 10,000 pages of police and intelligence case files. These files were leaked to the Dossier Center from two separate sources, including one in Argentina connected with that country’s investigation who believes these forensic materials cast doubt on the alleged involvement in the affair of two indicted Argentines. The other source is close to the Russian investigation. All told, both sets of files show gaping holes, contradictions, discrepancies and implausible conclusions, which often border on the ludicrous.  At best, these documents suggest a staggering level of incompetence, with credible leads not followed up and government officials credibly implicated in the course of the joint investigation not investigated or prosecuted. At worst, they paint a darker picture of a coordinated, hemisphere-spanning coverup designed to protect those government officials and possibly other unnamed co-conspirators higher up in the food chain in Russia.One U.S. federal drug enforcement agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity thinks that all indications point to the latter. “According to our information, some members of the Russian embassy in Argentina... were aware of drug-related activities and were associated with the drug mafia. At some point there was a leak. The Argentinian authorities found out about the cocaine and contacted the embassy, after which the Russian side decided it was safer to ‘find’ the drugs. The scandal was resolved at a diplomatic level and no real investigation was conducted by Argentina.”But that’s not the public line of the Argentinian government. On Feb. 22, 2018, Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s national security minister, lit up Twitter. She posted to her official account videos of the seizure of almost 400 kilograms of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. “The investigation lasted more than a year, both in Argentina and Russia, and together we detained 6 members of this group that planned to transport a cargo worth more than 50 million euro,” one of Bullrich’s tweets read.The extraordinary location and sheer volume of the narcotics uncovered made this an explosive international story. It became an even bigger news event when Bullrich announced that Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer at the Institute of Public Security, Buenos Aires’s police academy, had been arrested in connection with the same drug case. Yet the evidence for his participation in the drug-running syndicate rests almost entirely on the word of a Russian embassy security official, who, by his own admission, adopted a see-no-evil approach for several months to the presence of 12 strange suitcases stored on embassy grounds.Bliznyuk and a fellow Argentine, the U.S. drug enforcement agent said, “were detained in order to deflect suspicion from the embassy and [Russian] Foreign Ministry officials who used diplomatic channels for smuggling and were the drugs’ real beneficiaries.” An officer in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency agrees that there were other embassy staff members involved, and adds that they likely had connections to Russian intelligence owing to the tradecraft and planning involved in the abortive scheme.At the center of this complex web of alleged criminality sits the main defendant in the case, Andrei Kovalchuk. He claims he is the victim of a vast conspiracy and ran afoul of the very intelligence organs he had faithfully served for years—the organs of two countries, in fact, Russia and Germany. “My misfortunes began,” he wrote from a prison cell in Berlin where he awaited extradition to Moscow, “after the operation to join the Crimea to Russia in 2014, in which I took part, for which I was awarded a medal for this operation, which is located here, in Berlin.” Kovalchuk’s lawyer insists his client has helped nab terrorists, mobsters, and gun-runners from Lower Saxony to Düsseldorf. He denies all of the charges.At once a cipher and a changeling, Kovalchuk is full of fantastical tales about himself and his various clients, cronies and accomplices but this much can be solidly established: He maintained lasting relationships with a series of security officials in various countries, as well as employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He had an excellent working knowledge of the layout and protocols of Russian missions, not to mention the protocol for wrapping and diplomatic parcels. And he allegedly seconded a host of Russian government vehicles and aircraft to move not just drugs but jewelry, clothes, and pharmaceuticals across national borders. Based on the Argentine and Russian indictments, we are invited to believe that all of this was arranged privately by Kovalchuk with a little cash and a lot of cognac, cigars, and candies courtesy of a burly and hirsute business associate, a camera-friendly Russian exile in Germany who’s taken to calling himself a “baron.”An international man of mystery requires manifold identities. Over a remarkable 20-year career, Kovalchuk has passed himself off not only as a spook, but also a diplomat, a Gazprom representative, a shrink, a philanthropist, and a man of leisure. Yet in spite of all his extraordinary Moscow connections, this Ukrainian-born grifter was never even a legal Russian citizen; all of his passports, the case files show, were invalid. Thus the main perpetrator sitting in pretrial detention in Moscow is technically stateless. Did Kovalchuk spy for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or was it the GRU, its military service? Both deny he was one of theirs. “Kovalchuk is a man of intelligence, perhaps retired, but still serving the Russian government,” a source in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency told us. This Russian Spy Agency Is in the Middle of EverythingThat would certainly explain why the functionaries in the Russian Foreign Ministry clearly implicated in the case files as Kovalchuk’s blackmarket handmaids were never investigated or suspended or fired from their jobs. In fact, they all seem to have been untroubled by this scandal, all, that is, save the one who committed “suicide” outside his Moscow apartment three weeks after the cocaine was discovered at the embassy in Buenos Aires. Kovalchuk is also being tried in closed Russian court, a dispensation normally reserved for minors, sex offenders or those for whom publicized due process risks compromising matters of national security.Both the Russian and Argentinian governments have failed to account for how Kovalchuk, a man of limited financial resources, acquired eight-figures worth of high-purity marching powder or to determine its ultimate beneficiaries. At times, the investigators simply failed to follow up on obvious leads, such as investigating the possible involvement of the Sinaloa drug cartel as the manufacturers of the cocaine or following up on a Dutch phone number said to belong to the intended buyer or recipient of it.Still another curiosity of this affair is why Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of the National Security Council, the former director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and one of the most powerful strongmen in Vladimir Putin’s inner sanctum, flew to and from Argentina, allegedly on the same Russian government plane used in the sting operation that snared Kovalchuk. And why did the Kremlin then deny that his aircraft (and possibly also Patrushev himself) had been involved in this drug-trafficking story?Whoever Andrei Kovalchuk is, or was, before his name appeared in bold multilingual print, his alleged coke-smuggling plan required a network of well-placed fixers and mules. He found his first alleged courier in an embassy. The First Mule?In 2012, Ali Abyanov, the head of the administrative and economics department at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, said he received a call from someone who introduced himself as Andrei Kovalchuk, a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin. According to the case files, Kovalchuk told his ostensible colleague that he’d be traveling to Argentina in the middle of the year and would very much like to meet. Abyanov later told Russian investigators that he didn’t know why this person had called him or why he wanted to meet him but he consented anyway. Kovalchuk must have made an excellent first impression because Abyanov agreed to drive him back to Buenos Aires International Airport by diplomatic car. Once they arrived at the airport Kovalchuk removed his luggage from the vehicle—all but one suitcase weighing between 25 and 30 kilograms. The heft, he told Abyanov, owed to the gustatory contents: wine, coffee grounds, and cookies. According to Abyanov’s interrogation, Kovalchuk then gave the property manager $1,000 and asked if he wouldn’t mind mailing the suitcase to Russia on Kovalchuk’s behalf at a later date. Abyanov said he took his new acquaintance’s word at face value and never opened the parcel. Around the end of year, Kovalchuk allegedly called Abyanov and told him it was time to send his package: a Russian cargo plane scheduled to fly to Moscow out of Montevideo, Uruguay, was leaving at the end of 2012 and his stuff should be on it. Montevideo is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Buenos Aires in good traffic, but Abyanov couriered the suitcase, then submitted it as cargo on the departing flight. The Argentinian ConnectionThe following year, 2013, Kovalchuk visited Argentina three times, now with an entirely different occupation. No longer a former security officer attached to the embassy in Berlin, he was now an employee of Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company. On one of these three trips, Kovalchuk met Nikolai Shelepov, the first secretary of the Russian embassy in Argentina, whose job is that of assistant head of security for the ambassador, a job often filled by an intelligence officer. They went to a cafe and Kovalchuk said he’d come to town to check on the “feasibility of Gazprom acquiring a historic building in the center of Buenos Aires,” according to Shelepov, who said Kovalchuk also boasted of his many contacts in the Russian Foreign Ministry.Shelepov was also sufficiently impressed with his vouched-for compatriot. He decided to introduce Kovalchuk to Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer of the Institute of Public Safety, the point of contact for international relations at the Buenos Aires police academy. Bliznyuk is an Argentine of Russian heritage; he had three children but lived on a modest state wage and he “dreamed of finding a job with Gazprom,” according to Shelepov. As part of our investigation, we wrote to Bliznyuk about his role, and he confirmed that Kovalchuk had passed himself off as a Gazprom employee who needed a keyed-in local to help buy “a building in Buenos Aires for their headquarters... That’s why Shelepov invited me for a beer at a bar and introduced us to each other there.”According to the case files, Kovalchuk returned to Argentina in 2014, Abyanov told investigators, and handed off two more suitcases to his mule. He again told Abyanov they were filled with wine, coffee and cookies, only this time he had a special set of shipping instructions, as Abyanov recalled: “to pack the suitcases specially with paper, string and wax seal. Usually, this is how diplomatic mail is packed, which is not subject to inspection.” Kovalchuk is alleged to have paid $1,000 per suitcase. Abyanov might not have been the snooping type but nor was he under any illusions as to why he was so handsomely compensated, $1,000 goes a long way in Argentina. He sent them from Montevideo to Moscow aboard a Russian military transport plane. In his testimony to Russian investigators, Abyanov contradicted himself as to what he suspected he was transporting for Kovalchuk. First, in 2017, he said, he believed the packages contained “prohibited” items but in a separate interrogation, in 2019, he said he never suspected Kovalchuk was anything but above-board owing to his familiarity with “everyone at the embassy” and his frequent attendance at embassy receptions. The Policeman’s BallAt the invitation of the Russian Interior Ministry, a delegation of police officers from Buenos Aires, including Bliznyuk, traveled to Moscow. After the official ceremonies concluded, the guests decided to take a trip to St. Petersburg, and Bliznyuk was tasked with organizing the excursion. He asked Shelepov back at the embassy about how best to conduct a guided tour for the Spanish-speaking delegation of police officers , who are known as gendarmes in Argentina, through Russia’s cultural capital. Shelepov thought of Kovalchuk, the well-connected Gazprom rep, who was only too happy to help. He linked Bliznyuk up with one of his old friends and business associates from Germany, Baron Konstantin von Bossner. Konstanin Loskutnikov, as he was born, is a bearded bear of a man with more than a passing resemblance to Robbie Coltrane’s ex-KGB mafioso Valentin Zukovsky in the James Bond films. He owns a Berlin-based company, Bossner, which hawks chocolate, hand-rolled Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars, ostrich and python purses, crocodile shoes, Georgian wine, and its own signature brand of cognac, Bossner X.O. All of these products, the company website notes, are “designed to cause joy and positive emotions.” Bossner is as devoted to God as he is to bespoke leather accessories; he founded the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, a German-registered charity, in 2010, and was awarded the Order of Honor in Germany earlier this year for his philanthropic work. According to the investigative files, the Baron made sure Bliznyuk showed the Argentinian cops a good time. They were feted with Bossner staples—cognac, chocolate and cigars— and taken on a boating trip along the rivers and canals of Russia’s most European city. Kovalchuk at times portrayed himself as a representative of the Bossner company, someone who came into these many “samples” of booze and cigars, which he’d share with grateful officials and influencers from many nations. A letter from Bossner’s Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, signed by Bossner, shows that Kovalchuk was an official representative of the Berlin-based charity. According to the wiretap transcripts, Kovalchuk even asked Bossner’s wife if she’d become his son’s godmother, an honor she accepted. Bossner, however, maintained throughout his Interior Ministry interrogations that he had no substantive relationship with Kovalchuk, whom he portrayed as a huckster and schnorrer, eager to lap up those free “samples” of the exile’s finest luxury goods as an advance on investments which never came. “Several years ago [Kovalchuk] was brought to my office by a high-ranking employee of Gazprom in Germany and introduced as a colonel, the head of the special services, who deals with consulates in Europe, Asia, Latin America and other rubbish,” Bossner told Germany’s OstWest TV in 2018. “Mr. Kovalchuk, like many others, tried our products, smoked our cigars, drank our cognac, then, over the years… asking for one sample, [then] another sample, [he told us] he will try to find a client, that he flies around to the whole world that he will try to organize the sale of our products, and naturally wants to make money on this. We are always open to any kind of cooperation, so it often comes from us samples of cigarettes and cognac, but not a single deal, not a single contract was concluded.”  A New Hiding Place, a New FriendKovalchuk flew back to Argentina three times in 2015, according to travel records. On his third trip, adhering to a now-established tradition, he gave Abyanov two suitcases and $2,000. Abyanov said he hid these away in a car garage attached to the embassy school where the diplomats sent their kids, awaiting Kovalchuk’s notice of when and how they should leave the country. In February 2016, a delegation of Russian policemen flew to Argentina as part of a kind of exchange program following the highly successful Argentinian delegation from the year before. Kovalchuk was in town and attended a reception in honor of the visiting officers at the Russian embassy. Abyanov said he introduced him to Oleg Vorobiev, the new first secretary and embassy security chief, who had replaced Shelepov. No longer a Gazprom rep, Kovalchuk was presented as a security official attached to the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk relayed greetings to Vorobiev from his predecessor Shelepov, now back in Moscow. Vorobiev and Kovalchuk struck up a friendship and started to communicate. In March 2016, Kovalchuk told the security chief he’d been appointed the Berlin representative of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach arm, according to Vorobiev. (Vorobiev later told investigators that he never asked for nor saw a business card from Kovalchuk, even as the latter’s occupation morphed throughout their relationship.) An Impossible ScoreKovalchuk returned to Argentina several more times in the spring and summer of 2016, always stopping by the embassy, and, checking in to see Abyanov and Vorobiev, according to their statements to investigators. According to the Russian case files, including Abyanov’s statement to investigators, sometime in the middle of 2016, Kovalchuk gave 10 suitcases, all supposedly filled with wine and semiprecious gems, to Abyanov, who moved them to the same garage in the embassy school where he’d stowed the previous two. He asked another embassy employee to pack these suitcases as diplomatic mail. Abyanov then moved all 12 suitcases from the garage to a little-used utility room in the school. It was a seemingly ideal hiding spot, among broken tables, chairs, old computers and other junk.Each of the 12 suitcases, as would later be discovered, were filled with 30 briquettes of nearly undiluted cocaine, with each briquette containing a little over a kilogram. The value of 389 kilograms, the possible total weight in Kovalchuk’s alleged consignment, is around $60 million. Drug enforcement experts from multiple countries said that such a sizable score cannot have been purchased from local drug dealers. Kolvachuk, they said, would have needed a longstanding and trusted relationship with high-level narco traffickers to acquire and move that kind of volume. Neither the Argentinian nor Russian investigators tried to uncover the supply chain or find out how Kovalchuk, an alleged Russian spy, who had no significant sources of wealth, ended up with drugs worth tens of millions of dollars. Three types of cartel stamps—a star within a star, a horseshoe and the initials “LG”—were found on the briquettes. The first two are typically associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. Nothing in the Argentinian or Russian documents we have pored through indicates that this piece of evidence was investigated.  The Second Mule?On July 19, 2016, Abyanov’s embassy contract expired. A new property manager, Igor Rogov, took his place.Sometime during the month-long handover period, Abyanov says he told his successor about the presence of 12 boxes in the utility room, adding that he didn’t know what they contained but that they all belonged to Kovalchuk. Rogov didn’t know who Kovalchuk was and asked Abyanov about him. “Abyanov answered me that Kovalchuk is a person ‘from the center,’ that is, from the Russian Foreign Ministry,” Rogov told Russian investigators. “Abyanov spoke very well of Kovalchuk and said that Kovalchuk had visited Argentina many times and knew many people, including the embassy staff.”Several months went by. Then, in a Skype chat, Rogov said Abyanov asked him to send the suitcases to Moscow by special military plane, which was due to arrive at the Montevideo airport in early December 2016. Rogov needed help for the job. “I unsuccessfully turned to one or another embassy employee,” he told investigators, “eventually reaching the military attaché and even the Ambassador Viktor Koronelli."Koronelli had been ambassador since 2011, a year before Kovalchuk first made contact with Ali Abyanov. And yet, in spite of Kovalchuk’s frequent appearances at the embassy, Koronelli told investigators that he’d only met him once, in March 2016. It was at the request of Abyanov, who’d introduced Kovalchuk as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, an employee, in other words, of Bossner’s charity. Kovalchuk took that occasion to name-drop several mutual friends and acquaintances, according to Ambassador Koronelli’s statement to investigators. Koronelli added that he never bothered to check on his interlocutor’s bona fides.“It’s incredibly easy to check on someone’s credentials from an embassy,” said Jan Neumann, a former FSB officer from Directorate K, the same financial crimes unit tasked with investigating the Kovalchuk case. Neumann defected to the United States in 2008 and became a CIA and FBI informant. “You put a call into Moscow. If the person you’re checking on claims to have been posted to another Russian mission, Moscow then calls that mission to verify he’s legit. All of this takes minutes. And it’s simply not possible that the head of security in the embassy in Argentina didn’t check on Kovalchuk. It’s a necessary protocol.”Koronelli’s term as ambassador to Argentina ended in June 2018, about four months after the cocaine scandal was publicized. Koronelli is now Russia’s ambassador to Mexico; he declined to comment on this story.According to the transcript of an Argentinian wiretap of Bliznyuk, Koronelli quarreled with Kovalchuk, a fact Koronelli did not recount to Russian investigators after saying he’d only met Kovalchuk once, casually, at the embassy. This conversation, dated Oct. 11, 2017, has never before been made public and undercuts Koronelli’s claim of a one-off encounter with the alleged primary drug smuggler. It also complicates the two Argentinian defendants’ role as alleged accomplices, as it suggests that Kovalchuk hadn’t paid Bliznyuk or Alexander Chikalo as part of the scheme.> Bliznyuk: Sanya [Alexander], we from Andriukha [Kovalchuk], neither I nor you, have not received a penny in all this time.> > Chikalo: Not once, nothing.> > Bliznyuk: Especially since the suitcases are at the embassy. First, the embassy issues... well, he [Kovalchuk] had a fight with Koronelli.> > Bliznyuk: Yes, the new ambassador will arrive soon.  A New Exit StrategyFor some reason, Kovalchuk allegedly changed his cocaine exfiltration scheme, and sped up the timeline. Instead of letting Rogov dispatch the suitcases by special military plane in December, Kovalchuk flew back to Argentina on Nov. 25 to retrieve the items himself. When he arrived, he spent a day roaming the city but stayed clear of the embassy, usually one of his first ports of call. It’s not known what he got up to that day, nor with whom, but the 24-hour interregnum cost him dearly.On Nov. 25, the day Kovalchuk touched down at Buenos Aires International Airport, Rogov finally told Vorobiev about the suitcases, according to Rogov’s testimony to Russian investigators. Vorobiev, he said, decided to check on their contents. He found the briquettes. “Vorobiev ripped the packaging off one of them, and we saw a compressed white powder inside,” Rogov said in his interrogation. “We realized that it could be drugs.”Vorobiev then notified Ambassador Koronelli, according to the Russian case files. Koronelli phoned the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The 9th Division of the K-Directorate of the Economic Security Service of FSB and the 14th Division of the Main Drug Control Directorate of the Interior Ministry opened an investigation. Except the Russian government hasn't kept the story of how it unfolded straight.Most of the files from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office indicate that the suitcases of cocaine were officially “found”—meaning through a purposive search for them, not an accidental discovery—on the evening of Dec. 8, 2016, when, at the direction of the Foreign Ministry, embassy staff reopened them. The staff did so, according to these files, in the presence of FSB representatives who had flown to Buenos Aires from Moscow after Koronelli alerted the Foreign Ministry. And yet, in one FSB document the suitcases are recorded as having been “found” on Dec. 4 and opened the next day. That document makes no mention of FSB representatives from Moscow being present for this earlier unveiling. A similar discrepancy concerns the total weight of the evidence. Depending on which document you’re looking at, the 12 suitcases contain amounts of cocaine ranging from 357 to 389 kilograms, a shortfall of 32 kilograms, or $5 million worth of cocaine. (The true weight may never be known: In August 2018, the Argentinians burnt all the cocaine in accordance with what they say were the protocols of evidence destruction.) “Under the Federal Rules for Evidence, the date discrepancy and the weight discrepancy would potentially jeopardize any criminal prosecution of those responsible,” the U.S. drug enforcement agent said. “The evidence is not exact and the drug amount and weight need to be verified and weighed by a laboratory and a clear chain of custody must be intact. The Argentinian-Russian case reeks of evidence mishandling... of the investigation and prosecution.” The SwitcherooOn the evening of Dec. 13, Koronelli had a meeting with Patricia Bullrich, the Argentinian security minister, formally briefing her about the presence of hundreds of kilos of cocaine in the Russian embassy. At the same meeting, according to the case files, Vorobiev suggested to his Argentine counterparts that one of the smugglers was likely Ivan Bliznyuk, the point-man at the Argentinian police academy.On Dec. 14, a special operation was launched by the Argentinian gendarmerie to catch the domestic side of this narco-trafficking ring. The 12 suitcases were removed from the embassy and loaded onto a pickup truck and driven to a police facility. They recorded the procedure. There, the cases were opened, and the drugs were weighed. The officers then swapped the cocaine for a mixture of sand and flour, repackaged in bags rather than briquettes, and resealed everything as it had been. The suitcases were then returned to the embassy, where the gendarmes installed three cameras on the school premises. GPS systems were allegedly placed inside suitcases.Argentinian law enforcement opened their own criminal investigation and tapped Bliznyuk’s phones as well as those of Chikalo, a close friend and sometime neighbor in Buenos Aires. These wiretaps soon established that both men were in constant communication with Andrei Kovalchuk. So Russian authorities subsequently tapped Kovalchuk’s phones. The Smuggler’s DilemmaThe alleged main actor in what was now a seemingly compromised smuggling ring is accused of spending the next year or so attempting different exfiltration schemes. One, for instance, involved bringing Russian cadets to Argentina on a trip bankrolled by the fun-loving Bossner, the idea being that the cadets would fly home with undeclared cargo, easily explained away as souvenirs or somesuch. For various reasons, all of Kovalchuk’s alleged gambits fizzled. Then, on Oct. 11, 2017, he notified Vorobiev and Rogov he was coming back to Buenos Aires himself, unaware they were now part of a government plot to catch him.The FSB and Interior Ministry investigators weren’t quite ready to close the net. Instead, they ordered Rogov to leave town on a business trip to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, leaving Kovalchuk without his only keymaster for the embassy school utility room. We know what happened when Kovalchuk arrived in Buenos Aires because we have the wiretaps of Bliznyuk and Chikalo discussing it on Oct. 11. Kovachulk, Bliznyuk said on the phone, had asked him to move suitcases he’d left at the embassy in exchange for $10,000. Bliznyuk told Chikalo that Kovalchuk had said the cases contained “sea lion skins” from Uruguay that could be sold at high prices in Russia and Germany. Judging from their conversation, Bliznyuk and Chikalo clearly thought Kovalchuk was untrustworthy and suspect; Bliznyuk told his friend he’d have no part in Kovalchuk’s nutty scheme. We also know what Bliznyuk did next, based on another wiretap: he immediately called Vorobiev on Oct. 12, a day after his conversation with Chikalo, to tell the embassy security chief about Kovalchuk’s solicitation and the presence of suspicious parcels on embassy grounds, which Bliznyuk said probably contained “forbidden elements.” Vorobiev was now part of the sting operation to catch Kovalchuk and so he played dumb, casting doubt on the story. But on that same call Vorobiev asked Bliznyuk if the latter intended to help Kovalchuk, to which Bliznyuk answered, “Can’t do it and that’s all. Why would I mess with this?” The Latvian DeceptionAs Kovalchuk allegedly saw it, he was running out of time and willing or available intermediaries to get his drugs out of Argentina. Investigators claim that Kovalchuk first turned to a familiar pretext: the largesse of Baron Konstanin von Bossner when it came to spoiling friendly foreigners. According to this stratagem, an embassy car would drive to the airport to collect Bossner’s cognac and chocolate intended for the Argentinian policemen from the St. Petersburg delegation. The “gifts” would be flown to Buenos Aires from Berlin, where Bossner’s office was, on a private jet. For the return flight, Kovalchuk’s “sea lion skins” and the supposed paraphernalia of diplomats—in reality, the drugs—would allegedly be loaded onboard. Except the jet wasn’t flying directly to Berlin. First it would land in Riga, Latvia, where Kovalchuk allegedly said he had cronies who’d move the goods past customs without any problem. Flying on to Berlin would then mean facing no inspection hurdle owing to the European Union’s Schengen area of unrestricted travel across borders. One of Kovalchuk’s  business partners in Moscow, Ishtimir Khudjamov, said he was asked to help with the operation. On Oct. 14, 2017, Khudjamov flew to Berlin and picked up a box of cognac and sweets from Bossner’s office. To justify the stopover in Riga on the way back, Khudjamov said he picked up something else: three Latvian nationals who weren’t told of their real role as decoys in a drug-running operation. Instead, Khudjamov told the Latvians to pose as a technical crew attached to Zvezda, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV station. All they knew was that they’d be delivering the gifts to Argentina, then transporting things on the way home. (Khudjamov now pleads innocence and ignorance to being a narcotrafficker at all; he told Russian investigators that Kovalchuk had claimed the return cargo was a rare and expensive brand of coffee beans.)The problem was Rogov was still away on his concocted “business trip” when the Bossner presents were due to arrive. And, as the property manager was still the only one who could access the utility room in the embassy school, investigators allege Kovalchuk couldn’t retrieve his drugs on time. On Oct. 18, the jet left Buenos Aires, light of the cognac and chocolate, but also any coke.Although it was a bust, the plan demonstrated Kovalchuk’s well-honed tradecraft. The TrapLess than a month later, on Nov. 8, Kovalchuk called Rogov and Vorobiev and told them he’d be back in Argentina in two days. This time Rogov wasn’t told to feign a work excursion. With Vorobiev's permission, he met Kovalchuk and told him the suitcases could be shipped aboard a Russian government aircraft the following month. Around the same time, Kovalchuk spoke to Khudjamov, according to Argentinian wiretaps. They discussed “200 kilograms” without specifying the substance (although we can probably guess) which were somewhere in Uruguay. Kovalchuk said he wanted that consignment flown out of Buenos Aires on the Russian plane.He was finally in luck, or so it may have seemed. On Nov. 13, his suitcases found themselves entered onto the manifest. His luggage was supposed to be transferred by RA-96023, a newish Ilyushin-96 long-haul airliner operated by Russia’s Special Flight Detachment, the property, no less, of Russia’s Presidential Administration used most frequently by Nikolai Patrushev. Patrushev is one of the most influential members of the Kremlin inner circle and a decision-maker when it comes to Russian foreign policy. He succeeded Vladimir Putin as director of the FSB when Putin was appointed prime minister of Boris Yeltsin’s government in 1999. Patrushev is now Secretary of the National Security Council and RA-96023 is so associated with his overseas jaunts that it’s colloquially known in Russia as “Patrushev’s plane.”On Feb. 27, 2018 Yelena Krylova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Presidential Affairs Directorate, denied that the aircraft was involved in the “cocaine case.” “Journalists made conclusions based on inaccurate information—in this case, photographs that can be easily falsified thanks to modern technology,” Krylova said. Her denial, however, contradicts what’s in the Argentinian case file, according to which the FSB informed Buenos Aires as early as Nov. 17, 2017 that Patrushev’s plane was to be used for the special operation. The plane number 96023 is clearly visible not only in the photographs publicly released by the Argentinian gendarmerie but also in the video, uploaded on their official YouTube channel on Feb. 23, 2018. The Argentinian files also confirm that RA-96023 was indeed used “during the visit” of Patrushev to Argentina, suggesting that’s how the Russian official got there and back. Yet someone in the Russian government doesn’t want this fact to be publicly acknowledged. Shortly after Russian media reports surfaced about Patrushev’s plane possibly being used in a covert drug bust, the website with the relevant flight data, russianplanes.net, went offline. Moreover, the creator of that website removed the russianplanes.net group from VKontakte, a popular social media network, as well as his personal VKontakte page and a sister portal, russianships.net, dedicated to tracking seafaring vessels. “I just took it all and deleted it, maybe something didn’t work out right there,” the website operator, identified as “Kiba,” said in an interview with independent Russian outlet Mediazona. “I’m a little tense now, so I went and removed it, I don’t want to set anyone up.” Patrushev’s plane was scheduled to arrive from Moscow on Dec. 4, delivering Patrushev for one of those jaunts, a visit to Argentina. It was scheduled to return to Moscow with the national security secretary on board on Dec. 6. This is the conveyance Kovalchuk allegedly thought wise to transport almost 400 kilos of high-grade cocaine across multiple time zones.On Nov. 15, Kovalchuk and Khudjamov left Argentina. Shortly before departing, Kovalchuk spoke to Rogov and made a few final touches to his plan. He allegedly asked him to remove from the suitcases the name of the Russian diplomat they ostensibly belonged to: Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the consular department of the Foreign Ministry. Kovalchuk allegedly instructed Rogov to simply write Kovalchuk’s Russian telephone number on the cases and use the abbreviation “CD,” likely standing for “Corps Diplomatique,” which is carried by all diplomatic licenses overseas.On Dec. 4, Vorobiev drove the suitcases filled with sand and flour to Buenos Aires International Airport and loaded them onto Patrushev’s Ilyushin. There is every indication, based on both the public record and the Argentinian case files, that Patrushev was on board the plane when it departed Argentina for Russia, making the former FSB director and one of Putin’s most trusted national security advisers a party to the sting operation. “A Close Partnership”On the morning of Dec. 7, Patrushev’s plane touched down in Moscow. So did the suitcases allegedly belonging to Kovalchuk, which were sent directly to an FSB storage facility. The next day the FSB called Kovalchuk’s telephone number, scrawled on the cargo. He picked up; the FSB officer on the other end introduced himself as a courier from the Foreign Ministry and asked about the pickup. Kovalchuk said his associate Vladimir Kalmykov would come to collect the parcels. On Dec. 9, Argentinian gendarmes arrived in Russia to assume their role in the special operation to snatch the smugglers.On Dec. 12, Kalmykov and Khudjamov arrived at a Foreign Ministry facility to take custody of the suitcases. They were immediately arrested by the FSB. According to documents from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the intended recipient of the suitcases could be in Belgium or the Netherlands. Yet no attempt was made to look for them. Moreover, a Dutch mobile phone number allegedly affiliated with the ultimate beneficiary of the cargo was never investigated. On the evening that Kalmykov and Khudjamov were nabbed, Ali Abyanov, the former property manager of the embassy in Buenos Aires, was also arrested at his apartment in Moscow. Kovalchuk wasn’t, however, as he was abroad.According to a source in his company at the time, he remained remarkably calm. When his friends advised him to flee to a country with no extradition treaty with Russia, he insisted he had nothing to worry about. On Dec. 19, Moscow declared Kovalchuk a wanted man at home and internationally. Interpol issued a “red notice” for his arrest.  Despite the arrests of Kalmykov, Abyanov, and Khudjamov in Russia, the Argentine suspects remained at large for several months. Ivan Bliznyuk even took a vacation with his wife to Italy before he and Alexander Chikalo were arrested in late February 2018. Bliznyuk, in fact, was taken into custody at the airport as he returned home. A day later, Bullrich, the national security minister, issued the statement about the discovery of cocaine in the Russian embassy. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, followed suit the next day, announcing an 18 month-long joint operation to disrupt a narcotrafficking syndicate. “As the investigation discovered,” Zakharova’s statement read, “the cargo belonged to a former maintenance worker who had by that time completed his fixed term employment contract,” referring solely to Abyanov. “This experience serves as further evidence of the close partnership that has developed between our countries in different areas, including law enforcement.” On March 1, Kovalchuk was arrested in Germany. A month later Berlin received a request about his extradition to Russia. Several days after filing that request, however, Russia’s Federal Migration Service found that Kovalchuk was not, in fact, a citizen of the country. All three of his Russian passports had been issued illegally, a wrinkle which didn’t interfere with his extradition proceedings. On July 27, Kovalchuk was flown to Moscow from Germany and was immediately remanded to the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center.The Argentines burnt all the cocaine the following month. According to Bliznuyk’s lawyer, they did so without a court order and in a civilian crematorium when a gendarmerie crematorium would have typically been used for such purposes. As of this writing the Argentinian prosecution has yet to provide Bliznyuk’s counsel with evidence of a proper court order for the evidence destruction.Actions in Buenos Aires should also have repercussions in Moscow. According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, evidence must be stored until a court order to destroy it is in force. Thus, the cases against Kovalchuk, Abyanov, Kalmykov and Khudjamov is set to be heard without the main evidence against them in existence.Germany, too, has questions to answer as to how and why it sent one of these defendants to Russia. Kovalchuk is a “stateless person,” according to Sergey Safonov, a senior prosecutor of the criminal and judicial department of the Moscow prosecutor’s office. And yet, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office consistently referred to him as a citizen of the Russian Federation in several requests made for his extradition. Alexander Hamburg, one of his lawyers in Germany, said Kovalchuk was extradited through an accelerated procedural mechanism that robbed him of the necessary time to file an appeal.  The Talented Mr. KovalchukThe criminal case against Andrei Kovalchuk gives him no nationality; it simply states he was born in Hertz. It does, however, note that on his various passport applications, Kovalchuk filled in Form No. 1P as having no definite place of residence and no form of employment—yet he was still granted three different Russian passports. Hertz is in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine; Kovalchuk was born there in 1968. In 1986 he was drafted into the army in Kaliningrad; two years later he graduated from the 75th paratrooper school in Kirov, and then served for a year as a technician at the aviation school in Barnaul. He was officially discharged from the Soviet military in March 1989 for unknown reasons.His whereabouts and his activities disappeared into a black hole for about 10 years until he turned up in Germany in the late ’90s. Kovalchuk registered for a correspondence course in psychology at St. Petersburg State University. He stopped his higher education after only a few classes, according to the university’s psychology department chief, who said there was a rumor circulating at the time that Kovalchuk might have been arrested.According to the testimony of his friend Vadim Zhmurov, Kovalchuk next claimed to work as a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin in 2000. Witnesses interrogated by the Interior Ministry say that in the mid-2000s Kovalchuk lived in Amsterdam with his sister Irina Kuzmenko and her daughter Anastasia. There he met his first wife, Nadezhda Sorokina. In 2006, the entire family relocated to Germany, where Kovalchuk and Sorokina rented an apartment in the building used by Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry science and cultural arm.At some point in his Berlin period, Kovalchuk is accused of beginning to move goods through diplomatic channels. Irina, his sister, owned Irgotrade GmbH, a cargo transportation company registered in Berlin, which Kovalchuk allegedly used to embark on his smuggling career. On several occasions, his ventures were foiled. In August 2011, employees of Irgotrade tried to ferry 3.7 tons of goods, including 216 kilograms of silver, medicine, jewelry, and clothing, from Latvia to Russia. All of the freight, the company claimed, belonged to Sergei Sedykh, an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Sedykh’s signature was even on the declarations presented to Latvian border guards, who confiscated the contraband and impounded the vehicle. In Russia, two criminal investigations were opened. A customs official was arrested and the jewelry company listed as one of the intended buyers of the cargo was ordered to pay a fine of about $47,000.Sedykh denied all responsibility. He said he hadn’t given anyone a power of attorney to move items on his behalf, nor had he filled out a declaration and signed any documents. He couldn’t say how the driver of the car had got a copy of his diplomatic passport. He didn’t have to: Sedykh was neither investigated nor fired from his job at the Foreign Ministry. He’s not alone in this respect; officials caught helping Kovalchuk with his illicit schemes have often mysteriously been given the all-clear by the Russian authorities. Friends in High PlacesA trio of high-ranking officials in the Consular Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow—Alexander Dudka, Lev Pausin and Alexander Nezimov—all facilitated Kovalchuk’s alleged contraband business, according to their own testimonies contained in the Russian case files. All of them—individually or collectively—accorded Kovalchuk privileged information about the movement of special government transports; issued him passes to roam around sensitive ministry facilities; introduced him to others who would act as fixers; and provided him with other material assistance in what they must have at least suspected was a blackmarket business. To Dudka, the chief adviser of the Consular Department, Kovalchuk was a self-declared technical officer for Rossotrudnichestvo in Berlin, the Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach agency. He told Russian investigators that he met Kovalchuk in Berlin in 2011 while on a “business trip.” Then, in December 2017, shortly before the dozen suitcases of flour and sand arrived in Moscow, Dudka said Kovalchuk asked him to find a diplomatic vehicle to transport “12 boxes” from Russia to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Dudka subsequently gave Kovalchuk the relevant schedules of Foreign Ministry vehicles driving along those routes. How a Soviet Triple Agent Recruited New Spies in the WestDespite his admission that he allowed Kovalchuk to requisition government vehicles for alleged international smuggling, Dudka is still employed at the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk named Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the Consular Department, as one of his “bosses,” without specifying what he meant by that term. “Goodbye, no comments,” Nezimov said when reached for comment on this story.The other alleged boss, Peter Polshikov, was the chief adviser of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry. He was found dead in Moscow in December 2016, three weeks after the discovery of the cocaine in the embassy. Polshikov had been shot in the head; an automatic pistol was found next to his corpse, outside his apartment. Authorities ruled it a suicide. Polshikov’s neighbors recalled that before his death he had been acting strangely and had stopped communicating with his friends.  The ‘Spy’ Who Loved ManyKovalchuk serially and convincingly posed as an intelligence officer, the Russian case file states, either attached to the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or the GRU, its military intelligence service. But the official Russian report concluded he was really neither. “In the light of these events, relevant inquiries were made to those institutions and agencies, the responses of which indicated that Kovalchuk is not an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry, is not an employee of any law enforcement agency of Russia, and is not a representative in foreign institutions of Russia. Kovalchuk used his cunning and ingenuity for his personal, selfish purposes, in most cases achieving the results he needed.”Several of his contacts still maintain he was a spy. Sergey Borshchev at the Nakhimov Naval School of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the school that sent the Russian cadets to Argentina, thought Kovalchuk was an officer of the SVR. “According to Kovalchuk,” Borshchev told investigators, “he often came [to Russia] to work in the Russian Foreign Ministry, to meet with top officials of the Ministry, as well as to the SVR. Also, I had no doubts about his service, since he would often bring gifts from the SVR: calendars, key rings and other gifts with the symbols of the SVR.” Russian army officer Mikhail Kazantsev met Kovalchuk in 2011 when Kovalchuk’s nephew was serving in Kazantsev’s unit, 3641. Kazantsev told investigators that, in 2015, Kovalchuk offered him an opportunity to transport “goods other than food” from Germany to Russia using diplomatic channels. Kazantsev, too, believed Kovalchuk was a Russian intelligence officer and even claimed to have seen his SVR ID: “I believed Kovalchuk, as he spoke very convincingly, and when we met, he once showed me an ID card of an officer of the SVR, where his photograph was, and the rank of colonel was indicated. I would like to clarify that I perceived this document as genuine and not a fake.”There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kovalchuk may have been entangled in some way with Russia’s vast national security apparatus. In his pretrial sessions in Moscow, media and relatives of all the defendants were removed from the courtroom to maintain secrecy. According to the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, a closed trial is permitted if the case concerns minors, sexual inviolability or state secrets, or if an open hearing may threaten the safety of the participants in the process. Regarding the “cocaine case,” as it’s commonly known in Moscow, there was no hint of the first two preconditions; only the last two could have plausibly served as grounds to keep the press and families out of the courtroom.  Out of the Embassy, Into the ShadowsJan Neumann, the FSB defector, said he sees one of two likely scenarios for what really happened, based on plot holes and elisions in the Argentinian and Russian investigations. “The first scenario: Russian intelligence was tracking a narcotrafficking network from South America to Russia and the whole sting operation was compromised, possibly through leaks. So they hastily covered everything up with this elaborate show involving Patrushev’s plane. “The second scenario: Russian intelligence was using one of its agents and his narco-trafficking network in South America to finance its own clandestine operations. It’s not uncommon for the Russian services to engage in questionable behavior to keep a ‘black budget’ going for something highly classified and sensitive.”Inside the KGB’s Super Power DivisionIf scenario two is closer to the reality, we may never know what that “something” is or was intended to be. In any event, the shadow cast over this remarkable crime saga far exceeds any light that’s been shone on it by two separate governments. As we’ve seen, wiretaps show that Ivan Bliznyuk and Alexander Chikalo talked freely with each other about how they hadn’t received any money from Kovalchuk in all the time they knew him; they described him as a chancer and liar who tried to convince them that his 12 suitcases contained sea lion skins, not drugs. If Bliznyuk and Chikalo were his witting accomplices, as Argentine prosecutors argue, then why would Kovalchuk have lied to them about the material he was trying to export? And why did Bliznyuk, who declined Kovalchuk’s alleged offer of $10,000 to help move the suitcases, quickly alert Vorobiev, the embassy security official, to their presence on embassy grounds? It was Blizynuk, the evidence in the wiretaps shows, who blew the whistle on a drug-smuggling operation he declined to be a part of. Yet he and Chikalo nevertheless await trial on narco-trafficking charges.We still don’t know who, exactly, Andrei Kovalchuk is or who he worked for. Is he the Slavic George Jung, a charismatic and unlikely cocaine smuggler who managed to suborn diplomats and cops with smooth talk, mutable covers, and modest bribes? Was he an asset or officer of one of Russia’s spy agencies? A con man? A patsy?  Or he is that postmodern commonplace in Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”: a forbidding combination of all of the above?Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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  • 82/82   Children transmit the coronavirus, Utah study suggests, but don't get sick themselves
    HEALTH TOPIC NEWS

    The new findings could help shape the debate about how to reopen schools safely as the coronavirus continues to sicken thousands and kill hundreds daily.

    The new findings could help shape the debate about how to reopen schools safely as the coronavirus continues to sicken thousands and kill hundreds daily.


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Voice Sythesis
The Microsoft SAPI 5 ActiveX object is needed.
In the security option of your browser, you must not disable the initialization of non signed ActiveX controls.
You can install and use any English voice compatible with SAPI 5.
(such as the speech component of Microsoft).
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