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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


Russia

  • Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is in a coma after a suspected poisoning. His spokeswoman said the only thing he ate or drank that day was a cup of black tea he sipped at an airport café before boarding his flight. The flight was diverted to an emergency landing in Omsk, where an unconscious Navalny was wheeled off into a waiting ambulance. Navalny’s people say the doctors treating him are being evasive—perhaps because they were bullied by police.

Belarus

  • The EU rejected Pres. Lukashenko’s win and said it was preparing sanctions on Lukashenko and others involved in meddling in the election and repressing protests.

China

  • A new U.S. intel report concluded that local officials in Wuhan and Hubei kept details about the early coronavirus outbreak secret even from central Party leadership in Beijing, out of fear that Beijing would demote or outmuscle them.

  • Several U.S. universities—including Princeton and Harvard—are introducing measures to protect students and faculty from prosecution under China’s new security law for Hong Kong, which prohibits dissent and applies outside of the territory. Professors will be able to anonymize students’ work or offer them opportunities to opt out of sensitive sessions about China. A WSJ article pasted below has more.

U.S.

  • Yesterday Apple became the first U.S. company to reach a $2 trillion valuation. The NYT points out that it took Apple 42 years to reach a $1 trillion valuation, but just two more years to double that—thanks, in part, to a 40%+ boost amidst the rising tide tech stocks have enjoyed during the pandemic.

Afghanistan

  • Pres. Ghani said that “all barriers and excuses have been removed” for intra-Afghan talks to start—although he didn’t mention the major outstanding barrier, which is that the government is refusing to release the last 320 Taliban prisoners until the Taliban frees more government hostages. It’s unlikely the Taliban would sit down to talks before that happens.

Middle East

  • The White House is reportedly planning to sell F-35 fighter jets and advanced drones to the UAE (although PM Netanyahu called that “fake news”). Now that the UAE and Israel have normalized diplomatic relations, the Israeli government might actually lend this deal its support—without which the U.S. Congress would probably vote against it (assuming it’s not fake news).

  • Israel and Sudan announced that they’re working on a deal to normalize relations, too.

  • An Iranian-backed group claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. supply convoy in Anbar, Iraq on Aug. 16th. The U.S. has not commented.

Sahel

  • Despite growing international condemnation against the coup on Mali, the putschists remain in power today. The African Union (AU) suspended Mali, saying military coups are: “something of the past which we cannot accept anymore.”

  • The AU suspended Mali after its last military coup in 2012, too, but reinstated it seven months later after the military leadership introduced a plan for new elections. The same thing will probably happen this time, assuming the coup leaders do steer towards fresh elections as they said they would.

Libya

  • At least 45 would-be migrants died after their overcrowded boat sank off the coast of Libya. It’s the deadliest such incident this year, although 37 survivors were rescued by local fishermen.

  • Al Jazeera reports that Egypt is lobbying Libyan tribes for their support before it intervenes against the GNA and its Turkish allies. (Grain of salt, though: Al Jazeera is owned by the Qatari government, which also backs the GNA).

Venezuela

  • U.S. Chargé d’Affaires for Venezuela James Story complained in an interview with an independent Venezuelan media outlet that Venezuela was holding around 800 U.S. citizens captive, despite repeated U.S. offers to pay to bring the Americans home and send Venezuelans stuck in the U.S. back to their country.

  • The U.S. is thinking about ending exemptions on Venezuelan oil sanctions by October. Those exemptions allowed some European and Asian customers to keep buying Venezuelan oil; ending them would further threaten Venezuela’s primary source of foreign cash.

  • Scientists say it could take 50 years or more to clean up an underreported oil spill that may have come from PDVSA’s El Palito oil refinery. Venezuela’s “Ministry of Ecosocialism” said it’s contained the spill and is working on cleanup, but didn’t offer further details on its cause or the ecosocialist outlook for the area’s natural environment.

North Korea

  • Kim Jong Un delegated some of his powers to his sister, Kim Yo Jong, and gave a speech to ruling party leaders lamenting “unexpected and inevitable challenges” that had “seriously delayed” his development goals. Critical analysts suspect that his motive in delegating authorities to his sister is to deflect blame for their failures under him.

DRC

  • George Clooney’s The Sentry published a report alleging that North Korea took advantage of spotty oversight in DRC’s banking system to launder money and evade sanctions: apparently two North Korean nationals were able to obtain a USD-denominated account at Afriland First Bank, despite sanctions that should have blocked them from doing so.

Other News

  • The U.S. informed the UK that it would not seek the death penalty when prosecuting two of the Islamic State members dubbed “the Beatles.” That was an important assurance the UK demanded for turning over information to be used in the trial (the UK is adamantly against the death penalty, and wants no part in inflicting it—even on terrorists).

China’s National-Security Law Reaches Into Harvard, Princeton Classrooms (WSJ)

Professors at elite U.S. universities turn to code names, warning labels to protect students

The effect of the new national-security law that China imposed on Hong Kong is extending far beyond the territory to American college campuses.

Classes at some elite universities will carry a warning label this fall: This course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China. And schools are weighing measures to try to shield students and faculty from prosecution by Chinese authorities.

At Princeton University, students in a Chinese politics class will use codes instead of names on their work to protect their identities. At Amherst College a professor is considering anonymous online chats so students can speak freely. And Harvard Business School may excuse students from discussing politically sensitive topics if they are worried about the risks.


The issue has become particularly pressing because at least the first semester at many universities will be taught online, meaning some students from China and Hong Kong will connect with their U.S. classmates via video links. Some academics fear the classes could be recorded and ultimately end up in the hands of Chinese authorities.

Almost 370,000 Chinese students and roughly 7,000 from Hong Kong enrolled at U.S. universities in the 2018-19 school year, and academics in the U.S. say they often opt to take classes on Chinese law, culture and politics because they want to understand more about their country and how the world views it.

“We cannot self-censor,” said Rory Truex, an assistant professor who teaches Chinese politics at Princeton. “If we, as a Chinese teaching community, out of fear stop teaching things like Tiananmen or Xinjiang or whatever sensitive topic the Chinese government doesn’t want us talking about, if we cave, then we’ve lost.”

His course will now come with a warning that some of the material might be sensitive and of concern to China’s government, and he said he was introducing blind grading. Students will hand in work bearing a code rather than their name, to prevent any student from being linked to particular views or arguments.

A spokesman for Princeton declined to comment.

Meg Rithmire, who teaches political science at Harvard Business School, plans similar measures on a compulsory first-year course for roughly 800 students seeking a master’s degree in business administration. One of the case studies discussed requires students to read diaries from Uighur Muslims held in camps in China’s Xinjiang region—where Beijing is accused of large-scale human-rights abuses—and also covers Hong Kong, Taiwan and the legitimacy of the Communist party.

“There is no way that I can say to my students, ‘You can say whatever you want on the phone call and you are totally free and safe here,’” she said. “It’s more about harm mitigation.”

Harvard Business School is looking to introduce an amnesty for students—including Americans—worried about the implications of openly discussing sensitive topics, Prof. Rithmire said. Class participation is normally an element of students’ grades, but if the amnesty is put in place they won’t be penalized for opting out. A Harvard Business School spokesman declined to comment.

The new national-security law—which bars what it calls sedition, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces—allows China to pursue and prosecute people seen as violating it even outside Hong Kong. A naturalized American citizen from Hong Kong, Samuel Chu, reportedly was recently included on a list of fugitives being sought under the law after he lobbied the U.S. Congress to punish China for eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“China has always been hostile to Western journalists and academics, and this amps it up,” said Dr. Truex.

Avery Goldstein, a professor in the political science department at the University of Pennsylvania, said as soon as students enroll for his course online he plans to send out the syllabus and flag that it may contain sensitive information. A security breach of his online classes could now compromise students’ safety, he said—or his own, if he were to travel to China.

“We have to leave it up to the students whether they enroll, because it is ultimately their lives that are going to be affected,” he said. “I will make it clear that there is nothing I can do to protect them.”

The University of Pennsylvania didn’t return requests for comment.

Concerns about China’s influence on academics around the world have grown over the past two decades, as some educational institutions set up campuses in China and many increasingly rely on fees paid by Chinese students, who account for more foreign students in the U.S. than any other country.

There are indications that Chinese students in the U.S. could fall afoul of Chinese laws. A University of Minnesota student was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after returning home to the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. He was convicted of “provocation” for tweets he wrote while studying in the U.S. that allegedly mocked Chinese leaders.

With remote learning changing teaching methods, academics are discussing how to handle students living under other authoritarian regimes. China’s new law and the large number of Chinese students studying at U.S. colleges have made it a more urgent priority.

Part of the challenge is the growing list of subjects Beijing considers off-limits, said Kerry Ratigan, an assistant professor of political science at Amherst College. In the mid 2000s, she could openly discuss public policy with China-based academics, but that is now sensitive, she said.

“It’s a moving target,” said Dr. Ratigan, who fears increased risks for students who are Chinese citizens or have close family in China.

Amherst College declined to comment.

Along with providing warnings for students taking her classes she’s looking at ways to hold anonymous online chats so that students—her classes number about 20—could express opinions openly without fear of recrimination.

“It’s very difficult. In an ideal world we could have these more sensitive conversations in person,” she said.

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