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US defense chief says China muscling neighbors, plundering resources in Pacific

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 11, 2022.

Singapore (CNN)US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called out China on Saturday for a series of coercive, aggressive and dangerous actions that threaten stability around Asia and vowed the United States would stand by partners to resist any pressure.

“Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias,” Austin said in a keynote speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense conference.
“The PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said, using the acronym to refer to the country by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.
He listed a series of areas where he said China is muscling its neighbors, including sending large numbers of warplanes into the skies near Taiwan, dangerously intercepting the patrol planes of US allies, and illegal fishing operations that “plunder the region’s provisions.”

US military confirms an interstellar meteor collided with Earth

One meteor traveled quite a long way from home to visit Earth.

Researchers discovered the first known interstellar meteor to ever hit Earth, according to a recently released United States Space Command document. An interstellar meteor is a space rock that originates from outside our solar system — a rare occurrence.
This one is known as CNEOS 2014-01-08, and it crash-landed along the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014.
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The finding came as a surprise to Amir Siraj, who identified the object as an interstellar meteor in a 2019 study he coauthored while an undergraduate at Harvard University.
Siraj was investigating ʻOumuamua, the first known interstellar object in our solar system that was found in 2017, with Abraham Loeb, professor of science at Harvard University.
Siraj decided to go through NASA’s Center for swarovski jewelry Near Earth Object Studies database to find other interstellar objects and found what he believed to be an interstellar meteor within days.
The meteor’s high velocity is what initially caught Siraj’s eye.
The meteor was moving at a high speed of about 28 miles per second (45 kilometers per second) relative to Earth, which is moving at around 18.6 miles per second (30 kilometers per second) around the sun. Because researchers measured how fast the meteor was moving while on a moving planet, the 45 kilometers per second was not actually how fast it was going.
The heliocentric speed is defined as the meteor’s speed relative to the sun, which is a more accurate way to determine an object’s orbit. It’s calculated based on the angle at which a meteor hits the Earth. The planet moves in one direction around the sun, so the meteor could have hit Earth head-on, meaning opposite the direction the planet is moving, or from behind, in the same direction the Earth is moving.
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Since the meteor hit the Earth from behind, Siraj’s calculations said the meteor was actually traveling at about 37.3 miles per second (60 kilometers per second) relative to the sun.
He then mapped out the trajectory of the meteor and found it was in an unbound orbit, unlike the closed orbit of other meteors. This means that rather than circling around the sun like other meteors, it came from outside the solar system.
“Presumably, it was produced by another star, got kicked out of that star’s planetary system and just so happened to make its way to our solar system and collide with Earth,” Siraj said.
Loeb and Siraj have been unable to get their findings published in a journal because their data came from NASA’s CNEOS database, which doesn’t divulge information such as how accurate the readings are.
After years of trying to obtain the additional information needed, they received official confirmation that it was, in fact, an interstellar meteor, from John Shaw, deputy commander of the US Space Command. The command is a part of the US Department of Defense and is responsible for military operations in outer space.
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“Dr. Joel Mozer, the Chief Scientist of Space Operations Command, the United States Space Force service component of U.S. Space Command, reviewed analysis of additional data available to the Department of Defense related to this finding. Dr. Mozer confirmed that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory,” wrote Shaw in the letter.
Siraj had moved onto other research and almost forgotten about his discovery, so the document came as a shock.
“I thought that we would never learn the true nature of this meteor, that it was just blocked somewhere in the government after our many tries, and so actually seeing coach outlet that letter from the Department of Defense with my eyes was a really incredible moment,” Siraj said.
Since receiving the confirmation, Siraj said his team is working to resubmit their findings for publication in a scientific journal.
Siraj would also like to put a team together to try and retrieve part of the meteor that landed in the Pacific Ocean but admitted it would be an unlikely possibility due to the sheer size of the project.
If researchers were able to get their hands on the “holy grail of interstellar objects,” Siraj said it would be scientifically groundbreaking in helping scientists discover more about the world beyond our solar system.

Madeleine Albright, first female US secretary of state, dies

Madeleine Albright, the first female US secretary of state and who helped steer Western foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War, has died. She was 84 years old.

The cause was cancer, Albright’s family said in a statement Wednesday.
Albright was a central figure in President Bill Clinton’s administration, first serving as US ambassador to the United Nations before becoming the nation’s top diplomat in his second term. She championed the expansion of NATO, pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe.
President Joe Biden paid tribute to Albright in a lengthy statement Wednesday, calling her a “force” and saying working with her during the 1990s while he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was among the highlights of his Senate career.
“When I think of Madeleine, I will always remember her fervent faith that ‘America is the indispensable nation,'” said Biden, who ordered flags at the White House and all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff in Albright’s honor.
“Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served,” Clinton red wing shoes said in a statement. “As a child in war-torn Europe, Madeleine and her family were twice forced to flee their home. When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became America’s voice at the UN, then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights.”
Clinton later told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had recently spoken with his former top diplomat.
She “spent the entire conversation talking about how Ukraine had to be defended and that we had put a lot of those who said we had made a mistake to expand NATO — she said (Russia’s) not going after NATO yet,” Clinton said on “The Situation Room.”
“She just wanted to support whatever we could do to back Ukraine. And that’s all she wanted to talk about. She was happy. She was upbeat,” he added. “And she didn’t want to venture into her health challenges. She said, ‘I’m being treated, I’m doing the best I can. The main thing we can all do now is to think about the world we want to leave for our kids.'”
Albright was a face of US foreign policy in the decade between the end of the Cold War and the war on terror triggered by the September 11, 2001, attacks, an era heralded by President George H.W. Bush as a “new world order.” The US, particularly in Iraq and the Balkans, built international coalitions and occasionally intervened militarily to roll back autocratic regimes, and Albright — a self-identified “pragmatic idealist” who coined the term “assertive multilateralism” to describe the Clinton administration’s foreign policy — drew from her experience growing up in a family that fled the Nazis and communists in mid-20th century Europe to shape her worldview.
She saw the US as the “indispensable nation” when it came to using diplomacy backed by the use of force to defend democratic values around the world.
“We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” she told NBC in 1998. “I know that the American men and women in uniform are always prepared to sacrifice for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.”
Perhaps most notable were her efforts to bring about an end to violence in the Balkans, and she was crucial in pushing Clinton to intervene in Kosovo in 1999 to prevent a genocide against ethnic Muslims by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. She was haunted by the earlier failure of the Clinton administration to end the genocide in Bosnia.
The breakup of communist Yugoslavia into several independent states, including Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, in the 1990s generated savage bloodshed unseen on the continent since World War II. The term “ethnic cleansing” became synonymous with Bosnia, where Serb forces loyal to Milosevic tried to carve out a separate state by forcing out the non-Serb civilian population.
The Clinton administration did not intervene until the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, when Serbs killed 8,000 thorogood boots Muslim men and boys, which led to the US-brokered Dayton Peace Plan. But when Milosevic then tried to move his ethno-nationalist plan to Kosovo, the Clinton administration gathered a coalition to stop him doing there what he had gotten away with in Bosnia.
Albright accused Milosevic of creating “a horror of biblical proportions” in his “desire to exterminate a group of people” — Kosovo’s Muslim majority. She came under heated criticism in Washington at the time, with some calling the NATO airstrikes “Albright’s War” while others accused her of misjudging Milosevic’s resolve. To that end, Albright said in 1999, “I take full responsibility along with my colleagues for believing that it was essential for us not to stand by and watch what Milosevic was planning to do,” adding that “we cannot watch crimes against humanity.”
Ultimately, the US-led coalition did stop Serbian aggression, and Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Russia has requested military and economic assistance from China, US officials say

National security adviser Jake Sullivan talks to reporters at the White House on December 7, 2021, in Washington, DC.

It’ll be ‘very difficult’ to get detained US basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia, lawmaker says

For days, family and friends have been clamoring for the release of two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner after she was detained in Russia on drug charges.

Now, hundreds of strangers have joined the effort as US-Russian tensions escalate amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Griner, 31, is a championship-winning oofos shoes player with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and spends her offseasons playing for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The Russian Federal Customs Service said an American at Sheremetyevo Airport was carrying hash oil. Russia’s Interfax News Agency quoted a statement from the Customs Service, which did not identify the traveler by name:
“As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage,” the statement said.
“The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”
The customs agency said the arrest happened in February, but the exact date was not given. The New York Times was first to report Griner’s arrest. Her whereabouts since her arrest also remain uncertain.
Griner’s ordeal comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its second week. President Vladimir Putin issued a series of threats Saturday against Ukraine and Western powers, saying the sanctions introduced on his country are “equivalent of a declaration of war.”
A member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.
“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday.
“Perhaps during the various negotiations coach outlet that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
He also noted that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” — though it’s not clear whether those rules and laws might impact Griner’s case.
But the Biden administration is working on trying to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday.
“The best news we got today was that they know about it and that she’s on the agenda,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, told reporters.
Noting a potential 10-year-sentence for Griner, Jackson Lee added: “We know about Britney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation.”

Hundreds petition for Griner’s release

More than 1,000 people have signed the “Secure Brittney Griner’s Swift and Safe Return to the U.S.” petition on Change.org.
Journalist Tamryn Spruill, who covers women’s basketball, started the online petition Saturday.
“Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others,” Spruill wrote on the petition’s web page.
“Griner was in Russia for work: playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where in 2021 she helped the team win its fifth EuroLeague Women championship.”
Spruill explained why many female professional basketball players in the US work overseas. “Like many athletes competing in the WNBA, Griner plays abroad during the WNBA offseason because her salary is exponentially higher in other countries,” Spruill wrote.
“For WNBA players, that means playing abroad, while NBA rookies who haven’t played a professional game yet are handed salaries many-times higher that what title-winning, All-Star designated WNBA veterans could ever hope for,” the petition says.
“These realities are not the fault of the players. They simply want to be paid their worth like their male counterparts, and they do not deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for doing so.”

‘There are no words to express this pain’

Griner’s wife described the agony of waiting in an Instagram post on Monday.
“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that swarovski jewelry goes by.” Cherelle Griner wrote.
“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting.”
On Saturday, she thanked supporters in a post and asked for privacy.
“I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details,” Cherelle Griner wrote. “Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”
But Griner’s fate remains unclear.
A criminal case has been opened against the US citizen arrested, Interfax reported, citing Russia’s customs service.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said the agency is “aware of reports of a US citizen arrested in Moscow.”
“Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services,” the spokesperson told CNN on Saturday.
CNN has reached out to Griner’s representative for comment.
Her high school basketball coach, Debbie Jackson, remembers Griner as an athlete with determination and grit.
But Jackson told CNN she worries Griner’s case will be used for political purposes.
“My biggest fear is that … she will become a political pawn,” Jackson said.

Playing in Russia for years

Griner has played with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015 during the WNBA offseason. In five games this season, she has averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The star player, who won the WNBA championship with the Mercury in 2014, averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season with Phoenix.
Griner is also a two-time medalist at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championship with Team USA.
USA Basketball, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Mercury and the WNBA players’ union publicly shared their concerns for Griner.
USA Basketball, the governing body for sport in the United States, said it is “aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia. Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.”
The WNBA said Griner has its “full support,” adding its main priority is “her swift and safe return to the United States.”
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it is “aware of the situation in Russia concerning one of our members, Brittney Griner.”
“Our utmost concern is BG’s safety and well-being,” the WNBPA said. “We will continue to closely monitor and look forward to her return to the US.”
The Phoenix Mercury said it is “closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia” as they remain in “constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

US Navy recovers wreckage of jet that crashed into aircraft carrier from South China Sea

US Navy service members recover the wreckage of a military aircraft from the bottom of the South China Sea on March 2.

US intelligence agencies make understanding Vladimir Putin’s state of mind a top priority

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with his Belarusian counterpart following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 18, 2022.

Guns overtake car crashes as leading cause of US trauma-related deaths, study says

The study found that suicides accounted for most of the deaths by firearms.

US says it has credible information about Russian ‘kill list’ in potential Ukraine invasion

The US has written to the top United Nations human rights official that it has “credible information” that Russian forces are identifying Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps” if it further invades Ukraine and occupies it.

“Disturbing information recently obtained by the United States that indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned,” Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, the US Representative to the Office of the United Nations hey dude and Other International Organizations in Geneva, alleges in a letter to Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons,” reads the letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post and obtained by CNN.
“Specifically, we have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation. We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations,” the letter says.
The letter did not say how the US obtained the information. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that it received the message.
Crocker added that the aim for sharing this information with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was to give “an early warning that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine may create a human rights catastrophe.” She said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised these concerns to the Security Council on February 17. “In particular, he stated that the United States has information that indicates Russia will target specific groups of Ukrainians,” Crocker added.
The Kremlin on Monday denied the claim regarding a kill list and called it “absolute fiction.”
“This is an absolute hoax, this is a lie,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN. Pressed on if he is aware of the existence of such a list, Peskov said, “I know that this is absolute fiction, there is no such list, it is fake news.”
CNN reported on Friday that multiple US and western government officials confirmed to CNN that the US has intelligence that Russia has drawn up lists of current political figures that it would target for removal in the event it invades Ukraine and topples the current government in Kyiv.
Sources familiar with the intelligence said the target lists are red wing boots part of Russian planning to replace the current administration in Kyiv with a more Russia-friendly government, bolstering a previous disclosure by the British government identifying pro-Moscow figures it said Russia planned to install.
The most likely outcome for those politicians and public figures whom Moscow has targeted to be ousted in the event Kyiv falls, these sources said to CNN, is jail or assassination.
CNN has not seen the underlying intelligence intercepts or the documents that name the targets or the purported collaborators and their supposed positions in a pro-Russia administration.
Blinken said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” over the weekend that the US would continue supporting Ukrainians if there is an invasion and a Ukrainian insurgency is left to fight.
“(President Joe Biden) said that we will, in the event of an invasion, double down on our support for Ukraine, and that means in terms of security assistance, economic assistance, diplomatic assistance, political assistance, humanitarian assistance, you name it,” Blinken said.

US says Russia has added 7,000 troops along Ukraine border, despite claims of pullback

Russian forces massed along Ukraine’s borders have increased by approximately 7,000 troops in recent days, the United States alleged Wednesday evening, despite claims from Moscow it was pulling back.

A senior US administration official said the increase renders Russia’s assertion of withdrawal “false,” and warned President Vladimir Putin’s public openness to diplomacy was a guise.
“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk, and make claims about de-escalation, while privately mobilizing for war,” the official said.
The new estimates would place the number of Russian forces north of the 150,000 figure President Joe Biden cited in a televised address earlier this week. Western leaders had already greeted Russia’s claims of withdrawal with skepticism. On Tuesday, Biden said during a speech in the East Room that a withdrawal of Russian troops would be “good,” but that he had yet to see any evidence that such a pullback was underway.
“Our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position,” Biden said. “And the fact remains right now Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine’s border.”
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, Russian armored vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia.
he senior official again warned Russia could use a false pretext for an attack, including making claims about NATO activity or an incursion into Russian territory, or alleging atrocities were occurring in the eastern Donbas region, which has been under the control of Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
“We should expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days,” the official said. “We don’t know what form the false pretext will take. But we hope the world is ready.”
The announcements, delivered on an early evening briefing call, painted a stark picture as the US and Europe wait on tenterhooks for Putin to signal his intentions. American officials have said the window is open for a potential invasion but that the enigmatic Russian leader will still need to make the final decision.
A day earlier, Biden had seized on signals hoka shoes from Moscow that it is willing to resume negotiations, saying there was “plenty of room for diplomacy.” But the official speaking a day later largely discounted those prospects while still saying talks would continue.
“We will continue to pursue diplomacy over the coming days while being prepared to respond swiftly and decisively,” the official said. “Russia keeps saying it wants to pursue a diplomatic solution; their actions indicate otherwise. We hope they will change course before starting a war that will bring catastrophic death and destruction.”
On Tuesday, Putin claimed Russia was sending some troops back to base after completing drills in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014.
But US and European leaders uniformly cast doubt on the claim.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had not yet seen “any sign of de-escalation on the ground,” but added that “signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue” were grounds for cautious optimism.
The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told a news conference in Kyiv that he was abiding by a rule when it comes to Russian claims: “Do not hear and then believe. But do see and then believe.”
And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a morning interview Wednesday there is “a difference between what Russia says and what it does.”