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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


China

  • Oracle confirmed a deal with ByteDance to buy TikTok operations in the U.S.; however, the deal still needs U.S. government approval.

  • China is reportedly laying cables along a 70-km frontier in Ladakh—perhaps to help forward troops communicate along the tense and disputed border with India.

  • European Council President Charles Michel demanded “more fairness” from China on trade during a teleconference with Pres. Xi: “We want a more balanced relationship that also means reciprocity and a level playing field.”

Russia

  • Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is recovering well in Germany, and told a German prosecutor he plans to return to Russia after he’s fully recovered—rather than going into exile in Germany.

  • Though German doctors confirmed Navalny was poisoned with a form of Novichok, Russian officials are still peddling alternative theories, including a drug overdose and low blood sugar.

  • According to the NYT, the Navalny case has significantly damaged Germany-Russia ties: Chancellor Merkel used to speak to Pres. Putin once a week, but since Navalny’s poisoning has been “unusually clear in her sharp condemnation of Moscow.” Analysts don’t think Germany will give up on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline just yet, though.

Afghanistan

  • Intra-Afghan talks continue in Kabul, but haven’t yet produced any groundbreaking revelations. It sounds like the two sides have mostly been getting to know each other, which makes sense given that they’ve never before met for organized talks on this scale.

  • Despite ongoing talks, the chief of Zinda Jan in Herat was injured in a Taliban attack earlier today.

Libya

  • Libya’s coast guard intercepted three boats yesterday and one of them capsized, leaving at least 24 people missing and presumed dead.

Venezuela

  • Venezuela’s Attorney General, Tarek Saab, offered a few more scant details on the alleged “U.S. spy” / “mercenary” that was arrested on suspicions of planning an attack on oil refineries and a power plant. However, Saab didn’t show any photos of the suspect or offer any helpful details that show the plot actually existed. A Post article pasted below has more.

COVID-19

  • The OECD estimates that the damage the world’s major economies suffered due to coronavirus lockdowns was four times more severe than the impact of the 2009 global financial crisis, with a record 6.9% decline in G20 growth.

Other News

  • Astronomers detected a chemical in Venus’s atmosphere that could indicate life on the planet. The same chemical, phosphine gas, is produced on Earth by anaerobic organisms—although on Venus it could come from a different process altogether.

  • Yoshihide Suga was elected to lead Japan’s ruling party, which means he’ll likely become the new PM. Suga was close to outgoing PM Shinzo Abe, but critics worry about his tendencies to try to control the media: the Daily Beast called him a “control freak who muzzled the press.”

  • Greece’s president provoked Turkey by visiting Kastellorizo, a tiny island in the eastern Mediterranean whose presence challenges Turkey’s claims to oil and gas exploration in the area.

Venezuela says it has captured American ‘mercenary’ plotting to blow up power plants, oil refineries (WaPo)

Venezuela's authoritarian government claimed Monday that it had dismantled a covert operation to blow up power plants and oil facilities to destabilize the socialist state, saying it had detained eight plotters including an American traveling with heavy arms, explosives, surveillance footage and cash.

In a nationally televised address, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said active members of the Venezuelan military had aided the American, identified by authorities as Matthew John Heath. Saab said that Heath had a background working “as a mercenary” for U.S. intelligence in Iraq and that items in his possession had linked him to the CIA. Saab did not provide evidence for the claims.

“We have managed to neutralize an operation that could have been one of the worst in recent times,” Saab said. “A U.S. citizen and presumed military soldier was found to be carrying out espionage activities to destabilize Venezuelan territory. He had the help of Venezuelan citizens, both military and civilian.”

If true, the alleged plot would be the latest in a series of foiled operations against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. In May, two former U.S. Green Berets — Airan Berry, 42, and Luke Denman, 34 — were detained on the Venezuelan coast in connection with a ragtag raid aimed at capturing or ousting the autocratic leader.

In vague comments Friday, Maduro announced the arrest of a “U.S. marine” and “American spy” who had been apprehended a day earlier. Maduro said the U.S. citizen had been captured in a plot to blow up Venezuela’s El Palito refinery in Carabobo state.

“This is the vengeance of the Gringo Empire against Venezuela to stop our country from producing gas,” Maduro said.

On Monday, Saab offered more detail of an operation he said was designed to strike at Venezuela’s already troubled oil refineries and power grids.

State television broadcast images of weapons allegedly seized in the plot, including a grenade launcher, an Uzi submachine gun and packets of C4 explosives. They were splayed on a table alongside bundles of U.S. cash, cellphones and identification documents, including a grainy image of what appeared to be a copy of a U.S. passport.

Saab claimed Heath was detained in a car loaded with weapons and cash on a highway in the Venezuelan state of Falcón. He said Heath had entered the country illegally from Colombia with the aid of his Venezuelan ­co-conspirators. Saab said that Heath worked as “a contracted mercenary” in Iraq attached to MVM Inc., an Ashburn, Va.-based private security outfit, between 2006 and 2016.

Saab also said authorities had found a coin in Heath’s possession that linked him to the CIA. It was unclear whether he was referring to commonly issued souvenirs known as “challenge coins.”

Saab said Heath had a satellite phone and photos of several Venezuelan military installations and Venezuela’s largest oil refinery, located in Falcón state on the Caribbean coast.

Saab’s claims could not be verified independently. Unlike in the May arrest of the two former U.S. Green Berets, the Venezuelans produced no images or videos of Heath in custody or close-ups of his identification. Public records indicate a Matthew John Heath, 38, lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in the early 2000s. There was no response at a number believed to belong to him.

The CIA declined to comment. Neither MVM nor the State Department responded to requests for comment.

The Trump administration considers Maduro illegitimate. The United States cut diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government last year and now backs opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader.

Venezuela’s Maduro tries to recast his authoritarian image, and Guaidó confronts a rebellion

Berry and Denman were sentenced last month to 20 years in prison for conspiracy, illicit weapons trafficking and acts of terrorism for their roles in “Operation Gideon,” a bungled operation in which several dozen defectors from the Venezuelan military and police attempted to reenter the country to capture Maduro.

In a news conference shortly after that failed mission, Maduro showed a video of Denman’s apparent confession. Under interrogation by a man who was not visible, Denman said he worked with Jordan Goudreau, a Canadian-born naturalized U.S. citizen and former Green Beret who ran Silvercorp, a Florida-based security firm that helped organize the mission. A later video confession by Berry appeared to corroborate Denman’s account.

Denman’s relatives have said Goudreau, now a person of interest in an FBI investigation, falsely convinced Denman and Berry that they were taking part in a covert mission approved by the United States and the Venezuelan opposition. Goudreau could not be reached for comment Monday.

Venezuelan executive, detained in failed raid, says he was unwitting pawn

Venezuelan opposition figures have admitted to penning a preliminary deal with Goudreau last year to capture Maduro, but say they backed out after concluding he would be unable to pull off a mission successfully. The U.S. government denied involvement.

Sabotage of Venezuela’s crumbling refineries and power grid could severely damage Maduro, and such attacks have been among the many options discussed by factions of the Venezuelan opposition for months. Venezuela, an OPEC nation that harbors the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has very limited means to refine its own gasoline, and has suffered months of severe fuel shortages. Lines at the pump in some parts of the country have stretched for days, even weeks. Massive blackouts have grown common.

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