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Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist, dies at 95

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Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist, dies at 95

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh arrives for a great chanting ceremony at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City in 2007. Nhat Hanh, who helped pioneer the concept of mindfulness in the West, died at age 95 on Saturday.

AP file photo

AP file photo

HANOI, Vietnam — Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Zen Buddhist monk who helped pioneer the concept of mindfulness in the West and socially engaged Buddhism in the East, has died. He was 95.

A post on the monk’s verified Twitter page attributed to The International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism said that Nhat Hanh, known as Thay to his followers, died at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam.

The International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism announces that our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh passed away peacefully at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, at 00:00hrs on 22nd January, 2022, at the age of 95. #thichnhathanh #Buddhism

— Thich Nhat Hanh (@thichnhathanh) January 21, 2022

“We invite our beloved global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to come back to our mindful breathing, as we together hold Thay in our hearts,” a follow-up post read.

Born as Nguyen Xuan Bao in 1926 and ordained at age 16, Nhat Hanh distilled Buddhist teachings on compassion and suffering into easily grasped guidance over a lifetime dedicated to working for peace. In 1961 he went to the United States to study, teaching comparative religion for a time at Princeton and Columbia universities.

For most of the remainder of his life, he lived in exile at Plum Village, a retreat center he founded in southern France.

There and in talks and retreats around the world, he introduced Zen Buddhism, at its essence, as peace through compassionate listening. Still and steadfast in his brown robes, he exuded an air of watchful, amused calm, sometimes sharing a stage with the somewhat livelier Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama.

“The peace we seek cannot be our personal possession. We need to find an inner peace which makes it possible for us to become one with those who suffer, and to do something to help our brothers and sisters, which is to say, ourselves,” Nhat Hanh wrote in one of his dozens of books, “The Sun My Heart.”

Surviving a stroke in 2014 that left him unable to speak, he returned to Vietnam in October 2018, spending his final years at the Tu Hieu Pagoda, the monastery where he was ordained nearly 80 years earlier.

Nhat Hanh plunged into anti-war activism after his return to his homeland in 1964 as the Vietnam War was escalating. There, he founded the Order of Inter-being, which espouses “engaged Buddhism” dedicated to nonviolence, mindfulness and social service.

In 1966, he met the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in what was a remarkable encounter for both. Nhat Hanh told King he was a “Bodhisattva,” or enlightened being, for his efforts to promote social justice.

The monk’s efforts to promote reconciliation between the U.S.-backed South and communist North Vietnam so impressed King that a year later he nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We celebrate the life and global, humane influence of #ThichNhatHanh, an ally of Dr. King’s, who died Saturday.

Here’s a photo of the two at a news conference in Chicago in 1966. #MLK nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for a Nobel Peace Prize the next year.

📸: Edward Kitch/AP pic.twitter.com/CJTJ7zHKv2

— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) January 21, 2022

In his exchanges with King, Nhat Hanh explained one of the rare controversies in his long life of advocating for peace — over the immolations of some Vietnamese monks and nuns to protest the war.

“I said this was not suicide, because in a difficult situation like Vietnam, to make your voice heard is difficult. So sometimes we have to burn ourselves alive in order for our voice to be heard so that is an act of compassion that you do that, the act of love and not of despair,” he said in an interview with U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey. “Jesus Christ died in the same spirit.”

Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai academic who embraced Nhat Hanh’s idea of socially engaged Buddhism, said the Zen master had “suffered more than most monks and had been involved more for social justice.”

“In Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s, he was very exposed to young people, and his society was in turmoil, in crisis. He was really in a difficult position, between the devil and the deep blue sea — the Communists on the one hand, the CIA on the other hand. In such a situation, he has been very honest — as an activist, as a contemplative monk, as a poet, and as a clear writer,” Sivaraksa was quoted as saying.

According to Nhat Hanh, “Buddhism means to be awake — mindful of what is happening in one’s body, feelings, mind and in the world. If you are awake, you cannot do otherwise than act compassionately to help relieve suffering you see around you. So Buddhism must be engaged in the world. If it is not engaged, it is not Buddhism.”

Both North and South Vietnam barred Nhat Hanh from returning home after he went abroad in 1966 to campaign against the war, leaving him, he said, “like a bee without a beehive.”

He was only allowed back into the country in 2005, when the communist-ruled government welcomed him back in the first of several visits. Nhat Hanh remained based in southern France.

The dramatic homecoming seemed to signal an easing of controls on religion. Nhat Hanh’s followers were invited by the abbot of Bat Nha to settle at his mountain monastery, where they remained for several years until relations with the authorities began to sour over Nhat Hanh’s calls for an end to government control over religion.

By late 2009 to early 2010, Nhat Hanh’s followers were evicted from the monastery and from another temple where they had taken refuge.

Over nearly eight decades, Nhat Hanh’s teachings were refined into concepts accessible to all.

To weather the storms of life and realize happiness, he counseled always a mindful “return to the breath,” even while doing routine chores like sweeping and washing dishes.

“I try to live every moment like that, relaxed, dwelling peacefully in the present moment and respond to events with compassion,” he told Winfrey.

Nhat Hanh moved to Thailand in late 2016 and then returned to Vietnam in late 2018, where he was receiving traditional medicine treatments for the after-effects of his stroke and enjoyed “strolls” around the temple grounds in his wheelchair, according to the Buddhist online newsletter LionsRoar.com.

It was a quiet, simple end to an extraordinary life, one entirely in keeping with his love for taking joy from the humblest aspects of life. “No mud, no lotus,” says one of his many brief sayings.

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Attorney General pledges comprehensive response to violent crime

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Attorney General pledges comprehensive response to violent crime

People walk past the Sol Tribe tattoo shop where two women were shot and killed and a man injured on Dec. 27 in Denver, Colo. It was the first in a series of shootings that claimed five lives across the area.

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday said the federal government wants to create a “comprehensive” response to the scourge of gun crime that involves working more with cities and states.

“At the Justice Department, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the fight against violent crime and we will use every tool at our disposal to protect our communities,” Garland said in remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Friday.

The number of murders in the U.S. jumped by nearly 30% in 2020 from 2019, according to the FBI, the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

The Council on Criminal Justice think tank reported earlier this month that murders rose 7% last year, based on police data from large cities, with Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Portland and at least 10 other municipalities still seeing record numbers of homicides.

Looking beyond officers on the street

State and local police are on the front lines in the battle against gun violence, homicide and assault, and Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, said that communities need a variety of help from the federal government.

“The challenge of the last few years is that too much of the debate has been either-or,” said Lucas, who chairs the mayors conference’s Criminal and Social Justice Committee. “It is either law enforcement — police officers on the street and funding them — or you invest in programs in your community, violence interruption, cure violence models, etc.”

Kansas City saw 182 homicides in 2021, the second deadliest year in its history. Lucas said the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump flooded many cities with federal agents. Now Lucas wants another kind of flood.

“Resources that help us fund more of our social work programs, particularly our work with young people, that’s the sort of change we need from this administration,” he said. “And I think mayors are waiting to see when that will happen because, Lord knows, the problem isn’t easing up in any of our cities.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas addresses demonstrators with a bullhorn during a protest at the Country Club Plaza on May 31, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Justice Department under President Joe Biden has already launched five strike forces to disrupt illegal firearms traffic and share intelligence. Garland also has been using executive action: proposing new rules to curb the spread of ghost guns that lack serial numbers to and promote the safe storage of firearms so those weapons stay out of the wrong hands.

Last year the Justice Department handed out $139 million to spur the hiring of more cops on the street. But the Attorney General said on Friday that the department also wants to invest in social workers, community violence interrupters, and programs to help people with mental illness.

There’s a need for more enforcement of laws already on the books, and a new leader for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Kris Brown, president of Brady United Against Gun Violence. The Biden administration’s first choice for that job, David Chipman, withdrew his candidacy last September after opposition in the Senate and among gun rights groups.

The parents of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, the 14-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet fired by an LAPD officer at a North Hollywood clothing store last week, and their attorneys held a news conference Dec. 28, 2021.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

The ATF inspects only a small fraction of gun stores each year and less than one percent of federally licensed gun dealers have their licenses revoked even after serious infractions, Brown said. Her group had to sue for access to information about which gun dealers are responsible for many firearms used in crimes.

“We need this administration to put a director forward who understands the agency and make it work exactly the way it should,” Brown said.

The new threat: aggression toward election officials

The Justice Department is grappling with multiple challenges, including some 850 reports of threats to officials overseeing elections in states across the country.

On Friday, federal prosecutors brought their first criminal case against a Texas man who threatened officials in Georgia.

Chad Stark, 54, allegedly wrote it was time to “put a bullet” in one election official and pay a visit to another election worker and her family. The indictment cited a post to Craigslist dated Jan. 5, 2021, in which Stark said, “we will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family to visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife… we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country… death to you and all you communist friends.”

“Today’s charges are a milestone for the election threats task force I announced just last summer,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, in an exclusive interview with NPR. “It wasn’t just that we had seen a surge in threats but also frankly the alarmingly personal and violent and aggressive nature of the threats.”

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks during a news conference with other federal law enforcement officials at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building on Nov. 08, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Monaco said election workers are protecting democracy–and the Justice Department will protect them.

“Today’s charges are the first but they will not be the last,” Monaco said.

Justice Department officials said there are dozens of open investigations into election threats.

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The U.S. and Russia are talking, and Ukraine’s fate hangs in the balance

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The U.S. and Russia are talking, and Ukraine’s fate hangs in the balance

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting on Friday in Geneva.

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

No breakthroughs, but an agreement to keep talking.

That’s the upshot from a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Kremlin counterpart in Switzerland — the latest in a series of high-level talks that the Biden administration hopes will stave off a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At a news conference following his 1.5-hour-long face-to-face with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Blinken described the discussion as “frank and substantive,” saying, “We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I believe we are now on a clear path in terms of understanding each other’s concerns and each other’s positions.”

Blinken said he’d made clear the position of the U.S. and its allies, which is to “stand firmly with Ukraine in support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Russia, with an estimated 100,000 troops poised for a possible move across the border into Ukraine, is demanding written guarantees that Kyiv will never be allowed to join NATO. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it has any plans to invade.

The U.S. has been equally adamant that Ukraine should make its own decision on whether to join the alliance formed in 1949, originally as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in Western Europe.

“If any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion,” Blinken said in an apparent reference to the Kremlin’s 2014 occupation and annexation of Crimea. Military action would “be met with swift, severe, and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies,” he added.

The U.S. envoy also acknowledged that Russian provocations short of invasion, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics, would also be met with a “decisive, calibrated, and again, united response.”

The door is open for more talks

Even so, Blinken left the door open to addressing Russia’s “security concerns” and said that he and Lavrov “also talked about the way forward.”

“I told him that following the consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week,” Blinken said. “And we agreed to further discussions after that. We agreed as well that further diplomatic discussions would be the preferable way forward, but again, it is really up to Russia to decide which path it will pursue.”

Lavrov said the two diplomats “ended up with an agreement that we will receive written responses to all our proposals next week.”

Blinken and Lavrov started Friday’s discussion with a handshake before sitting down to talks at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, with both parties acknowledging that a breakthrough was unlikely.

The U.S. envoy arrived in Switzerland after meetings in Berlin with several NATO allies to try to shore up support for sanctions and present a united front against Russia. In his remarks in Germany, Blinken said that Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a simple but stark choice: “dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand; conflict and consequences on the other hand.”

Biden’s “minor incursion” remark muddies the waters

Blinken’s efforts follow remarks by President Biden earlier this week that have muddied the waters. Speaking on Wednesday, Biden said he thought the Kremlin “will move” against Ukraine resulting in a “disaster for Russia.” But he also suggested that anything short of a full invasion would leave the U.S. and its European allies in a quandary as to how to respond.

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.”

The White House has spent the last few days trying to clean up Biden’s remarks. While the dilemma they reflect is obvious, stating that dilemma publicly could send the wrong signal to Moscow. In any case, Biden’s comments sparked a response from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who in a tweet on Thursday said: “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. announced that it was providing $200 million in additional military aid to Ukraine that had been approved in December to help the country defend itself against a possible invasion.

Since 2014, when Russia occupied and annexed Crimea and began providing material support to separatists in Ukraine’s east, the U.S. has stepped up military aid to Kyiv.

Russia would likely have an upper hand in conflict against Ukraine

Ukraine’s military is considered formidable, with considerable battlefield experience in the separatist eastern Donbass region, where at least 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting, according to Kyiv.

A Russian tank T-72B3 fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia earlier this month.

AP

AP

However, Russia’s much larger and more modern army would likely have the upper hand in any military scenario. Its troops at the border are also likely to be backed by heavy artillery and an updated version of Russia’s venerable T-72 tank.

The Russian advantage in armor has made Kyiv especially keen to get its hands on U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles — a request that Washington has obliged.

In 2018, Ukraine’s request for the Javelin missiles figured prominently in a telephone call between Zelenskyy and then-President Donald Trump that led to Trump’s first impeachment.

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Yemen has lost internet after Saudi-led airstrikes

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Yemen has lost internet after Saudi-led airstrikes

A man inspects the wreckage of a building after it was damaged in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Hani Mohammed/AP

Hani Mohammed/AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen lost its connection to the internet nationwide early Friday after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, an advocacy group said, plunging the war-torn nation offline.

NetBlocks said the disruption began around 1 a.m. local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthi rebels who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since late 2014.

Yemen was “in the midst of a nation-scale internet blackout following airstrike on (a) telecom building,” NetBlocks said, without immediately elaborating.

The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.

The Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.

The undersea FALCON cable carries internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship’s anchor also caused widespread internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen’s civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.

A Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to back its ousted government. The war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes killing civilians and targeting the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

The war reached into the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, on Monday when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three and wounding six.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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Adele postpones Vegas show in tearful post, saying half of her team is out with COVID

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Adele postpones Vegas show in tearful post, saying half of her team is out with COVID

Adele performs at Genting Arena in March 2016 in Birmingham, England. The British singer and songwriter announced that her Las Vegas residency has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

British singer Adele announced Thursday the postponement of her Las Vegas residency due to COVID-related issues — just one day before it was slated to begin.

“I’m so sorry, but my show ain’t ready. We’ve tried absolutely everything that we can to put it together in time, and for it to be good enough for you, but we’ve been absolutely destroyed by delivery delays and COVID,” the award-winning singer and songwriter said in a video posted to her social media.

“Half my crew, half my team are down with COVID. They still are. And it’s been impossible to finish the show. And I can’t give you what I have right now,” she continued.

Her residency, titled “Weekends With Adele,” was scheduled to begin this Friday at the Colosseum of Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace Hotel. The residency was expected to run through the middle of April, featuring her most recent album, “30,” which was released last November.

“It’s been impossible to finish the show,” Adele says, as she tears up in the video. “And I’m so upset, and I’m really embarrassed, and I’m so sorry to everyone that traveled again. I’m really, really sorry.”

New dates for Adele’s residency have yet not been announced. However, the singer wrote in the video caption that more information will be “coming soon.”

Following her Las Vegas residency dates, Adele is slated to perform at London’s Hyde Park in July. She did not say in the video whether her July concert was also subject to change.

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How Biden is trying to clean up his comments about Russia and Ukraine

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How Biden is trying to clean up his comments about Russia and Ukraine

President Biden planned to talk about infrastructure on the anniversary of his inauguration. But first, he had to clean up some comments he had made about Russia and Ukraine.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden and his White House on Thursday tried to clean up comments he made about Russia during a lengthy news conference the previous day.

On Wednesday, Biden had predicted Russia would invade Ukraine, but suggested there was a split among NATO members about how to respond if Moscow took action that stopped short of sending its troops across the border — something Biden referred to as a “minor incursion.” He said:

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.”

The president’s unusually frank comments came at a delicate time. U.S. and European officials are working to find a diplomatic way to end tensions after months of Russian troop movements around the Russia-Ukraine border.

They immediately raised alarms at home — and overseas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that there was no such thing as “minor incursions.”

The uproar left White House officials spending the one-year anniversary of Biden’s time in office doing a lot of damage control.

We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power 🇺🇦

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 20, 2022

The White House quickly issued a walk-back

Shortly after Biden wrapped up his press conference, his press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement trying to explain what he meant:

“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies.”

She said that “aggression short of military action” like cyberattacks and paramilitary hits “will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

Then Biden offered his own clarification

On Thursday morning, the president began an unrelated infrastructure event seeking to fix the fallout and clarify his stance.

“If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said, adding that it would result in a “severe and coordinated economic response” that he has discussed with allies.

“Let there be no doubt at all that if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” the president said. But he also said the United States needed to be prepared for other scenarios beyond overt military tactics, such as paramilitary operations or cyber attacks.

White House officials talked to Ukraine and others

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Berlin, meeting with allies. He plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

Bernd Von Jturczenka/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Bernd Von Jturczenka/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke about the situation with top officials from nine allies on NATO’s eastern flank, and his counterpart in Japan, the White House said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who is slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday — spoke with allies in Berlin.

“We have been in touch at a high level with Ukrainian officials and leaders,” Psaki told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

She also spent time explaining Biden’s comments on major U.S. television networks.

It’s not clear how the U.S. would respond to a paramilitary or cyber hit

Psaki confirmed during Thursday’s press briefing that paramilitary and cyber attacks would be considered “minor incursions” and said “we need to be prepared for a range of scenarios, and we have a range of tools and tactics at our disposal.”

She insisted the White House’s intention was not to diminish the efforts of previous administrations to treat cyberwarfare as a threat that is as dangerous as physical military invasions — though she would not say what kind of response a Russian cyber hit would receive.

Psaki downplayed the specter of a NATO split:

“On NATO, what he was conveying is that we have been focused in ensuring that we remain united with NATO. Now united doesn’t mean that everything will be identical — it means we’re united in taking action should they decide to invade.”

Will Biden talk to Putin again?

During his press conference, Biden was asked whether he was considering another summit with Putin to find a diplomatic solution. “Yes,” Biden replied. “I think that is a possibility.”

Washington has repeatedly warned Russia not to invade Ukraine. Biden spoke with Putin twice last month in the hopes of deescalating the situation.

Psaki said she had nothing to predict about further calls or meetings. “I expect when Secretary Blinken comes back, they’ll discuss with the national security team what the right next steps are,” she said.

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Cyberattack on Red Cross compromised sensitive data on over 515,000 vulnerable people

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Cyberattack on Red Cross compromised sensitive data on over 515,000 vulnerable people

A flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross flutters above the humanitarian organization’s headquarters in Geneva on Sept. 29, 2021. The ICRC is pleading with hackers to keep stolen data confidential.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The International Committee of the Red Cross has revealed that hackers have stolen data on over 515,000 “highly vulnerable people,” recipients of aid and services from at least 60 affiliates of the charitable organization worldwide.

During the investigation into the extent of the attack, which targeted a contractor in Switzerland that was storing the data, the Red Cross has been forced to temporarily halt a program that reunites families torn apart by violence, migration or other tragedies.

The biggest concern is that the hackers will ransom, leak or sell sensitive information on the families and their locations to bad actors who might seek to cause further harm to victims. The Red Cross says it typically reunites 12 missing people with their families every day, work that will be interrupted for fear of further danger.

The aid organization, known for its role in armed conflicts, on Wednesday pleaded directly with the hackers in a statement to keep the data confidential.

“The real people, the real families behind the information you have now are among the world’s least powerful,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director-general. “Please do the right thing. Do not sell, leak, or otherwise use this data.”

The Red Cross did not immediately attribute the attack to specific cybercriminals, terrorists or nation-state hackers, nor did it provide any information or speculation about potential motivation for the cyberattack on its contractor in Switzerland.

A spokesperson for the ICRC in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Shaw, told NPR that “there have been no demands” from the hackers in exchange for stolen data, indicating that the breach was likely not a ransomware attack.

The Red Cross has partnered with “highly specialized firms” to help deal with what it’s calling a “sophisticated” attack, Shaw said. “Our message is to underscore that real people, real families are behind the data and sharing, selling or using it has the potential to harm,” she wrote in an email to NPR.

It’s still unclear why the hackers accessed the information, particularly as they haven’t communicated any demands. However, vulnerable people can make for ideal targets for other possible scams and extortion, while refugees can become political pawns in broader geopolitical conflicts. Aid organizations could be espionage targets as well. Both the United Nations and the State Department’s Agency for International Development were breached in 2021.

The families themselves, already victims of conflict and suffering, will be separated from family members longer periods of time, now fearful that they could be vulnerable to having their personal information exposed. “This cyber-attack puts vulnerable people, those already in need of humanitarian services, at further risk,” Mardini said.

Chris Painter, the president of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise and the former top cyber diplomat at the State Department, told NPR the breach “highlights the human cost to hacking,” rather than simply the financial cost to most companies and organizations that are victims of cyberattacks.

Similar to other sectors, the humanitarian community has benefited from advanced technology to more easily store data and improve response time in crises. However, those organizations don’t always have the resources for advanced cybersecurity.

Niel Harper, the chief information security officer for the U.N. Office for Project Services, and Daniel Dobrygowski, the head of governance and trust at the World Economic Forum, wrote a piece earlier this week on why humanitarian organizations need to invest in cybersecurity — and why more well-endowed funders as well as tech companies should shoulder some of the cost. “Donors must view cybersecurity as critical to aid operations,” they wrote.

Cybersecurity experts called for an international response to the cyberattack against the Red Cross.

“Exposing data of vulnerable people in the Red Cross database should be urgently addressed by international community and the perpetrators should be brought to justice,” wrote Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, the director of the Digital Society Institute in Berlin in an email to NPR. She previously served as Estonia’s ambassador-at-large for cyber diplomacy.

“This is another grim reminder that cyber risks have real world consequences, and should be dealt with utmost care and responsibility,” she added.

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Pope Benedict XVI failed to stop sex abuse when he was an archbishop, law firm says

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Pope Benedict XVI failed to stop sex abuse when he was an archbishop, law firm says

The former Pope Benedict XVI, seen here in 2010, did not intervene in four cases of sexual abuse when he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising, according to a law firm’s new report. The inquiry was commissioned by the archdiocese.

Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

A German law firm investigating the Catholic Church’s handling of child sexual abuse cases says former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action in four instances — including two that resulted in legal charges — while he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising.

“In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus there was a failure to act,” said attorney Martin Pusch of the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl, according to news site Deutsche Welle. Despite reports of abuse, Pusch said, the church allowed priests to continue working without restrictions.

In a summary of the findings, the Vatican’s news agency says:

  • At least 497 people were abused in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019;
  • 60% of the victims were between the ages of 8-14;
  • Most victims were young, with 247 male victims and 182 female;
  • There were 235 perpetrators of abuse, including 173 priests

The report, presented by Pusch and others at a lengthy news conference Thursday, contradicts Benedict’s long-running denial that he covered up or ignored abuse. For much of the time in question, he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He served in the Munich post from 1977 to 1982.

“Two of the cases involved two perpetrators who committed the abuse while Ratzinger was in office,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin. “The two were kept in pastoral work after being punished by the judicial system.”

“A third case involved a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany and was put back into service in the Munich archdiocese despite evidence showing Ratzinger knew of the man’s past.”

During the news conference, lawyer Ulrich Wastl pointed to records of a meeting in which Munich church leaders agreed to accept the transfer of an abusive priest in early 1980. Benedict denied being present at the meeting — but the minutes of the session show he was, Wastl said.

The law firm’s report also criticizes Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is currently the archbishop of Munich and Freising, for his role in two cases in 2008. Marx offered his resignation to Pope Francis last year, saying he was willing to take responsibility for his part in the sexual abuse crisis. But Francis did not accept his resignation.

Benedict, 94, resigned from the papacy in 2013, making him the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. His tenure lasted just under eight years.

The long-awaited report, “Sexual abuse of minors and adult wards by clerics and full-time employees in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 – 2019,” runs nearly 1,900 pages.

The church in Munich plans to respond publicly to the report in one week, according to Vatican News. The agency says the church did not get an advance copy of the report before it was released Thursday.

Westphal Spilker Wastl conducted the inquiry at the archdiocese’s request, looking into decades of records involving how Catholic leaders handled instances of priests abusing children and adolescents.

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COVID concerns will keep NBC announcers home from the Beijing Olympics

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COVID concerns will keep NBC announcers home from the Beijing Olympics

Staff members rehearse a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza last week. The venue will host some medal ceremonies at the upcoming winter Olympics.

Ng Han Guan/AP

Ng Han Guan/AP

With the 2022 winter Olympics taking place in Beijing in less than two weeks, NBC Sports announced Wednesday that it will not be sending any announcing teams to this year’s Olympics games — citing “COVID concerns.”

“The announce teams for these Olympics, including figure skating, will be calling events from our Stamford (Connecticut) facility due to COVID concerns,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said in an email to NPR.

The spokesperson confirmed that the network will still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing, saying its coverage of everything related to the games will be “first-rate as usual.”

“Our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics,” the spokesperson said.

As first reported by USA Today, NBC Sports scheduled broadcasting teams to announce from Beijing covering figure skating, Alpine skiing and snowboarding. However, as of Wednesday, those plans have been canceled.

NBC’s Olympic lead prime time host Mike Tirico will still be traveling to Beijing to cover the first few days of the games before traveling to Los Angeles to cover Super Bowl LVI, USA Today reported.

The Olympic logo is seen on a hillside at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou in northern China’s Hebei Province, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. The venue will host the freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions at the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Officials with NBC Sports told USA Today the network’s plan to cover the Olympics from its Stamford facility was a similar strategy used to cover the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics last year.

“We’ll have more personnel there than in the host city,” Molly Solomon, president of NBC Olympics Production, told USA Today.

Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee said no tickets will be sold for both the winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing due to the “grave and complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Instead, organizers announced this week that they would invite groups of spectators to attend the games in person.

“The organisers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event as pre-conditions for the safe and sound delivery of the Games,” the Beijing 2022 organizing committee said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee previously said they only would sell tickets to spectators living in mainland China who met certain COVID-19 safety protocols.

The winter Olympics will take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, and the winter Paralympic Games are scheduled for March 4th through the 13th.

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In Kyiv, Secretary Blinken vowed to stand with Ukraine as Russia tensions continue

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In Kyiv, Secretary Blinken vowed to stand with Ukraine as Russia tensions continue

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Kyiv, assuring Ukrainian officials of American support in the face of a threatened Russian invasion.


AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden says he believes Vladimir Putin will make some move on Ukraine but warned that Putin, in his words, quote, “has never seen sanctions like the ones I will impose if Russia does invade.” The president acknowledged there are differences among NATO’s allies on how to respond to a Russian incursion, depending on what exactly the incursion is.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv today, vowing to stand with Ukraine. The U.S. is promising the country financial and military aid, even as it urges Russia to take a diplomatic path. NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports from Kyiv.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken says the world is watching what Russia does in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: When Russia uses its strength to act with impunity against another sovereign nation, it makes other countries think that they too can violate the rules of international peace and security and put their narrow interests ahead of the shared interests of the international community.

KELEMEN: Despite intensive diplomacy aimed at easing tensions, Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine and moved more into Belarus over the weekend. Blinken warns that this gives Russian President Vladimir Putin the capacity to take further aggressive action on short order, and he says this will only bring U.S. and other NATO assets closer to Russia, which is precisely what Putin says he doesn’t want.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: We have given more security assistance to Ukraine in the last year than at any point since 2014. And as I say, we’re doing that on a sustained basis. Should Russia carry through with any aggressive intent and renew its aggression and invade Ukraine, we’ll provide additional material.

KELEMEN: A British cargo plane that just delivered weapons was still on the tarmac when Blinken arrived. That’s welcome news to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who’s sounding a confident note.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMYTRO KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “We have a strong military,” he says, “a strong diplomatic strategy and strong partners.” But he wants to make sure that the U.S. isn’t cutting any deals with Russia without Ukraine’s involvement. Secretary Blinken will be meeting his Russian counterpart Friday in Geneva.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “I want to wish Tony good luck,” Kuleba said, pointing out that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refuses to meet with him. He’s hoping the U.S. can convince Russia to be more constructive and less aggressive. Russia wants written guarantees that Ukraine will never become part of NATO and is making other demands of the Western alliance. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov sounded impatient today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEI RYABKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “We haven’t yet received written responses to our ideas from NATO and the U.S.,” he says, calling the matter urgent. He says Russia won’t wait forever. Blinken isn’t raising expectations about his meeting in Geneva.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: I won’t be presenting a paper at that time to Foreign Minister Lavrov. We need to see where we are and see if there remain opportunities to pursue the diplomacy and pursue the dialogue, which, again, as I said, is by far the preferable course.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken travels next to Berlin to meet his German, British and French counterparts to make sure they’re on the same page and ready to punish Russia with more sanctions if Russia tries to further destabilize Ukraine. Aside from military action, Ukraine fears that Russia is trying to scare off investors and hurt the Ukrainian economy. Secretary Blinken says he’s keeping a close watch on that, even as he urges Ukraine to continue on a path of reforms to make the country more resilient.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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