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How the Middle East Conflict Leads Back to US National Security

In the Biden Administration’s highest-level face-to-face visit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to the Middle East to seize momentum created by last week’s Gaza ceasefire in what could be the first step back toward peace talks.

The Biden Administration has been criticized for not taking more aggressive action to try and end the back-and-forth attacks prior to the agreement as some in Biden’s own party called for the US to take a tougher stance against Israel’s actions as it responded to a series of rocket attacks.

The Cipher Brief tapped our expert Norm Roule for a look at how an intelligence professional is looking at recent events in the Middle East and how they lead back to US national security.

Norman T. Roule served for 34-years in the CIA, managing numerous programs relating to Iran and the Middle East.  He served as the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 until September 2017.  As NIM-I, Norm was the principal Intelligence Community (IC) official responsible for overseeing all aspects of national intelligence policy and activities related to Iran, to include IC engagement on Iran issues with senior policy makers in the National Security Council and the Department of State.

We asked Norm to begin by sharing his top observations about what’s happened to date.

Roule:  A handful come to mind.

First and foremost, the world has just witnessed another spasm of violence in the Middle East that has left hundreds of civilians – including dozens of children – dead, more than a thousand wounded, and thousands homeless, without any meaningful change in the status quo. The post-conflict situation virtually guarantees that similar violence will reoccur.  Unfortunately, there is no sign that the international community – or Israeli and Palestinian leaders – are prepared to devote the diplomatic and political capital to achieve a settlement that would relieve the well-documented suffering of the Palestinian people and lethal threats to Israeli citizens.

Second, Israeli Arabs and Jews have engaged in inter-communal violence and social entropy to an extent not seen in decades, perhaps not since the founding of Israel. These long-simmering domestic tensions erupted in the view of the world, shattering Israel’s image of peaceful relations among its citizens of different faiths. We may be witnessing a taste of what a one-state solution might mean in practice.

Next, I think we have witnessed the consequences of years of Iranian support to Hamas to develop its weapons technologies. Despite successes in ending much of the arms smuggling from Sudan via Egypt, Israel’s repeated attacks in Syria to reduce Palestinian and Lebanese militant ability to acquire precision-guided weapons, and the constraints that maximum pressure placed on Iran’s resourcing of Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas’ offensive capabilities gradually developed into one of unprecedented reach. Hamas certainly lacks the capability to destroy Israel but it can shape the psychology of the conflict and threaten a large portion of Israeli territory. A new nuclear deal with Iran will almost certainly increase the funding, training, and weaponry Tehran provides these militants.

Fourth, the Biden administration has seen how hard it is to avoid involvement in Middle East crises. In the last few days, the President and senior officials have reached out to Israeli, Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian, and Qatari leadership in efforts to end the violence. I don’t think this episode will change the administration’s views on the need for America to devote less energy to the region, but it may accelerate the creation of architecture to manage its problems.  Related to this, an unprecedented number of Democrats criticized Israel and spoke of blocking U.S. military support to the Israeli military. This shift can’t be ignored by an administration that must be wondering how to sustain Democratic control of the House of Representatives in 2022.

The Cipher Brief:  How do you see this latest conflict in comparison to previous Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in recent years?

Roule:  Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, there have been six Israeli-Palestinian military conflicts, about one every eighteen months. Each event followed a similar path, but I can think of a few differences with this latest conflict.

First, Hamas succeeded in firing thousands of rockets at a greater number of civilian targets threatening millions of innocent Israelis, Americans, and other nationals, to include Palestinians.  Around 360,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, and Arabs in Israel number about 1.9 million, about 21% of the population.  Also, of the more than 4,000 rockets fired by Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad, almost 700 landed in Gaza itself.

The conflict provoked unprecedented inter-communal violence in Israel that will take years to overcome.  Finally, Israel demonstrated an intelligence capability that drove air operations that targeted militant military architecture and the individuals behind it.

The Cipher Brief:  Can either side claim a strategic victory at this point?

Roule:  Each side will claim that it demonstrated an ability to defend its people through stand-off tools, but neither can claim a strategic victory. Perhaps there is no better example than the iconic photographs of Palestinian rockets and Iron Dome defenses jousting in the night sky.  Each will point to such pictures as a defeat for the other.

The Cipher Brief:  How will the conflict impact the political fortunes of Israeli and Palestinian leaders?

Roule:  In general, the leadership of Hamas and Israel will likely see a temporary spike in popularity that will fade in passing weeks.  Right-wing leaders are likely to dominate their respective political spheres for the foreseeable future.  If I had to assign a winner in this category, I would say it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Only days before the fighting began, Netanyahu appeared likely to lose office. This would probably have meant the end of his political career.  However, he once again proved correct the adage that “cats wish they had as many lives as Netanyahu.”  The conflict collapsed efforts by Israeli politician Yair Lapid to form a new coalition and forced such rivals as Naftali Bennett to support Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.  Israel now faces the prospect of a fifth general election in two years and Netanyahu has another chance at leadership.

On the other side, Hamas will argue that it restored the Palestinian issue to the front burner of the world’s attention. It will also claim that, unlike the Palestinian Authority, Hamas has the leadership and ability to defend Palestinian rights, especially in Jerusalem.  Abbas was largely irrelevant in recent events but will likely find the international community eager to engage in an unlikely effort to enhance his stature against Hamas and find some way to restore momentum to the moribund peace process.

The Cipher Brief:  What about tactical successes?

Roule:  Each side can list important tactical successes, and both demonstrated a capability to strike adversaries using long-range weapons.


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The post How the Middle East Conflict Leads Back to US National Security appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

What a Future Russia House Must Look Like

Next month’s planned meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to include conversations on Ukraine, COVID-19 and the recent diversion of a flight by officials in Belarus, but as tensions between the two countries remain tense, there are bigger issues at play, like the hacking of the Colonial Pipeline,  SolarWinds, election interference, disinformation campaigns and of course, targeted assassinations in the UK and elsewhere.

There is little disagreement that with emerging technology and a host of geopolitical developments, the relationship has changed so US collection efforts on Russia need to change as well.

The Cipher Brief tapped two former senior CIA officers with decades of experience on Russia to talk about what Putin really wants and what should come next in the US-Russia relationship.

This brief was part of The Cipher Brief’s International Summit, co-hosted by Cipher brief CEO Suzanne Kelly and Senior Member of the British Foreign Office Nick Fishwick.  The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  You can also watch the full brief on The Cipher Brief YouTube channel.

Paul Kolbe, Former Senior CIA Officer

Cipher Brief Expert Paul Kolbe is Director of The Intelligence Project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  Prior to this, Kolbe led BP’s global Intelligence and Analysis team and before that, he served 25 years as an operations officer in the CIA. 

Daniel Hoffman, Former Senior CIA Officer

Cipher Brief Expert Daniel Hoffman is a former Chief of Station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of distinguished government service included high-level positions in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in both the Middle East and South Asia. He is currently a FOX News Contributor. 

 

Kolbe:  Let’s start with some myth busting.  We can be quick to fall into the old paradigm that we’re fighting a new Cold War with Russia, that we are back in conflict with the Soviet Union. But for a bunch of reasons, we’re not in a new Cold War.  It’s not an ideological struggle.  It’s not an economic struggle. Russia poses no economic challenge in terms of fundamental systems.  And it’s not just about Putin. While he’s driving many things, he represents just the tip of the iceberg, which is largely in line with his policies and his worldview.

Russia is not a fragile country. We’re constantly saying, ‘well, Russia is fragile. It’s a declining power. It faces democratic demographic problems.’ It is enormously powerful and surprisingly resilient in many different ways.

And another myth: that Putin is just a clever tactician. Well, no, he’s actually proved himself to be a much better strategist than just about everyone in the U.S. Government across administrations. He has sustained his influence over 20 years, and through five different administrations and he has remained remarkably consistent in his goal to restore Russian power, and to degrade a unipolar world, as he sees it.  He has been able to drive wedges between allies to maximize his own power and allow Russia to form alliances of convenience. So, I think that means there’s a very different set of requirements that the intelligence community and the national security community needs to address that are very different from those that we addressed during the Cold War.

Hoffman: Russia is a revisionist power. The Kremlin is trying to reshape what we like to call the international rules-based order, consistent with its authoritarian model. And in order to guarantee his regime security, Russia is entering into what is probably a decades-long partnership with China. There are lots of areas of potential strategic conflict with China, including in Central Eurasia and the Arctic among other places, but for now, they see value in partnering to counter the United States.

Let’s look at what happened with the Colonial Pipeline, which is a key intelligence requirement for our Intelligence Community. There is a spectrum of possible explanations, which ranges from the Kremlin knowing about the existence of the Dark Side hacking group to knowing about the hack or ordering it to take place.

I almost liken it to al Qaeda homesteading in ungoverned space in Afghanistan before 9/11. If you listen to an international lawyer, they’ll tell you that if DarkSide is enjoying ungoverned space in Russia, so the Kremlin should held accountable at the very least for allowing them to operate from their territory.  It is a big issue for the United States IC because DarkSide hit our critical infrastructure.

In terms of policy, I would just say that with Russia we’re looking at a Venn diagram where there’s some shaded space, where our interests coincide, a lot of unshaded space where they do not, and some grey areas, where there is an opportunity for diplomacy. We’ve already seen the extension of the new START agreement. Arms control is one area where we can and do work on together. I think the Biden Administration would like to work on climate change and maybe counterterrorism, including Afghanistan.  The opium trade flows to Russia. That’s a major problem for them, even though they were providing material support to the Taliban, the Kremlin might be open to working with the U.S.

Vladimir Putin does find it useful to create the image of a bipolar world, which was one reason he wanted a summit with President Biden. It enhances his stature. Russia’s GDP is the size of Italy’s.It is critically important for the IC to collect on Putin’s plans and intentions.  Open source reporting will not cut it.

The Cipher Brief: How might this impact that we are seeing from Russia create new IC requirements in the future?

Kolbe:  I’m breaking requirements into three new areas. Of course, there are the traditional areas. Counterintelligence is an enduring requirement with Russia.  And, military capability, new weapons systems, et cetera. I will note that we’ve probably degraded many resources that had been focused on that over the decades and we are probably scrambling to rebuild them now.  Of course, plans and intentions is always a standing requirements.  As Dan said, we require quite particular resources. But I’d add to that, three new areas to focus on and I lump them into matrix buckets.

One is Russia’s corrosive operations. I’d put under that, disinformation and truth decay. This includes Russia’s fabulously successful efforts to inject doubt, to inject falsehoods, to inject alternate narratives into both domestic and international narratives.

Then I’d add to that cyber operations. Dan correctly addressed that right off the top. The ability to have both direct impact for example the SolarWinds attack, and direct state sponsored attacks on both traditional and non-traditional targets in both the government and the private sector. And then indirect operations like we saw with the Colonial Pipeline hack. It’s possible that attack could be traced back to an order from the Kremlin. But I suspect that this was an entrepreneurial operation, that is facilitated and enabled by a regime that is perfectly happy to have these folks sitting there. And probably folks in FSB or SVR or GRU. taking a cut of the proceeds. I suspect there’s a finder’s fee for feeding them particular information targets. But also, there is plausible deniability in that.

There’s a second bucket of the threat matrix that I’d call disruptive targets. These are frozen conflicts, and the ability to dial up and dial down pressure and tension as the Kremlin sees fit. And that’s combined with their expeditionary operations in Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, and now Mozambique. And other areas where you see them using unconventional capabilities in a quite facile way to establish influence or to support old friends and to remain consistent in that.

And then the final bucket I’d put in is the values bucket, where Putin is quite explicitly portraying Russia as a defender of Orthodox Christendom and traditional values. All of which supports autocracy, manifests in intolerance and manifests in repression. This cuts directly counter to the Western liberal democratic values. And moreover, using the West’s own tools of social media and open societies against them.  This will require a whole new collection and analysis paradigm.


The Cipher Brief hosts private briefings with the world’s most experienced national and global security experts.  Become a member today.


The Cipher Brief:  The U.S is not the only victim of these types of operations. The US hasn’t yet seen the types of assassination efforts or poisonings that the UK has experienced. However, with election meddling and the disinformation there’s certainly been an increase in meddling. So, where are the red lines?

Hoffman:  If there’s one thing I learned at CIA and I learned from Paul – who was one of my mentors – it’s that empathy matters. Seeing the world through Vladimir Putin’s eyes. And so, when we think about our red lines, we’ve got to be thinking about their red lines. And I actually would suggest for consideration, that I think Vladimir Putin is actually at his weakest right now. He’s dealing with a horrifically bad response to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s dealing with the reduced demand for hydrocarbons, on which Russia’s economy relies. He’s dealing with a populist uprising in Belarus, which is failing but still causing tension in the region. And then he’s dealing with protests all across the country, which Russia is snuffing out by denying people their basic freedoms.

And Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is actually using social media against Putin, which I find deliciously ironic. I think for all of us who have seen Vladimir Putin use our wide-open cyberspace, our social networking and media sites against us especially during the 2016 election, to see Navalny turning the internet against Putin. Navalny’s group set up protests using apps and is putting out videos on YouTube of Vladimir Putin’s palatial estate. All of those things sting Putin, who for his own regime security must demonstrate that he’s still the most ruthless guy on the block, because he learned his lesson from the KGB’s failed coup against Gorbachev.  Gorbachev couldn’t keep the Soviet Union together. And the KGB recognized that and turned against him.

Vladimir Putin understands there are insiders who threaten his rule. And that’s why I think he targeted Boris Nemtsov. It’s why he targeted Navalny. They’re not existential threats to Putin, but Putin needs to demonstrate that he’s still in charge and still capable of being ruthless with his enemies.

Vladimir Putin wants to look like he’s still in charge. That’s why he wants a summit. That’s why that summit that he’s hoping to get with President Biden matters so much. And we should exact a price from him for doing it. That means maybe removing more than just 20,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine. Maybe a little bit more than that. And having those diplomatic discussions is important, but we need to see the world through Putin’s eyes.

Kolbe:  I really agree with Dan on that piece about looking through Russia’s eyes. It’s absolutely critical and I think the U.S does a pretty poor job of it. Because all of the things that we’ve talked about in terms of red lines come down to history, identity, preservation of power and respect. And those are all areas of red lines for Putin and Russia. If you’re undertaking activities which they see as undermining the Kremlin’s grip on power, that’s seen as a red line and provokes a response. If you see history being denied, in terms of Russia, that’s a red line. For example, Russia’s contributions in World War II and carrying the burden. That’s a red line. Crossing historical borders, which create extreme neuralgia and will create war: Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea. These are areas that are red lines. But they’re not as much about geography as they are about geography in the mind of Russian identity. Those are things that the U.S needs to keep in mind.

The Cipher Brief:  Let’s talk more about the alliance forming between Putin and Xi and what that could mean for the U.S. What should western allies expect?

Hoffman: I don’t think we have an ally, even within NATO, with whom we would share 100% of the same views on Russia. Those are all miniature Venn diagrams, too. Now, we share a lot with our allies, but think about Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Israel, they’re all our allies. But they’ve got some serious interests with Russia and especially Turkey, having bought the S-400 air defense system. I think Secretary Blinken has been right about having to do the hard work of diplomacy with our allies. We’ve made it clear that we want to work with our allies, particularly NATO allies, but not exclusively. That’s really important. We are extraordinarily value-added on leadership and substance and can really drive the strategy towards Russia as we have when we’ve been effective against the Soviet Union, and later Russia. It was with great U.S leadership. And when we don’t have that leadership, we all suffer as a result.

It’s up to Secretary Blinken to build a coherent strategy for dealing with Russia but be cognizant that there are going to be things that we’re going to have to iron out diplomatically, whether it’s the NordStream pipeline or the Turkey-Russia, relationship.

The Cipher Brief:  Final question, do you think the Russians understand US and UK red lines?

Hoffman:  I’ll just say on US red lines, I think that they change. They change from one administration to the next, but I think that the Russians are really good at collecting intelligence on us. And it’s a little bit easier for them at times than it is for us because they get to read all the open-source reporting. I think that for us, just in a general sense, speaking as a retired intelligence officer, it’s about hardening our defense. That means making our democracy stronger so we’re not as vulnerable to Russian attacks as we have been. And it’s about detecting those multifarious threats from the Kremlin, so that we can take the proper steps with our allies when appropriate to preempt them before they’re visited on our shores. If you look at SolarWinds and the Colonial Pipeline, among a host of other things that Vladimir Putin has done to us, we didn’t do a great job of getting out in front of those. And that is ultimately the challenge for the Intelligence Community.

Kolbe:  Thanks Dan. We need to make sure that our own house is in order, that our own capability and defense is strong. I recently wrote a piece that was published in The Cipher Brief on cyber, making the argument that the best offense is a good defense. And I think Colonial Pipeline shows it. As long as we’re pervasively, massively, enticingly vulnerable, we’re going to still get hit by Russia and everyone else. So, we really need systemic incentives to improve our cyber defenses and capabilities.

The second thing is we need to be a bit more consistent at sustained focus on the threats that we face. We need to put resources commensurate with the level of threat we face. I would bet dollars to donuts that even today, the amount of resources that we have in the IC devoted to Russia, as opposed to counter-terrorism issues, or as opposed to even ISIS, are vanishingly small and not commensurate with the focus that we need to have on it.

And we need to be able to sustain that for decades to produce the officers, the experts, the linguists, the technology that provides us clarity and insight into what both plans and intentions are – what mechanisms are – and how to identify and exploit opportunity. And it’s really important to lead on the notion that we can’t look at Russia as just a threat. We really do need to have a nuanced view of, ‘Okay, how do we counter in this area?’ But make sure that we’re building relationships, building connections, building institutional ties and maximizing interests. That, over time, can actually have a difference in a new environment and a new administration.

Read more expert-driven national security insight, perspective and analysis in The Cipher Brief

The post What a Future Russia House Must Look Like appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

Congress has oversight responsibility it cannot ignore.

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A transnational institution could prosecute those whose governments are unable or unwilling to

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France’s Far Right Suffers Setback in Regional Vote

The National Rally scored worse than expected, but still could capture at least one region, setting the tone for next year’s presidential race.

PBS NewsHour full episode, June 21, 2021

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Monday on the NewsHour, we examine the Supreme Court ruling that college athletes can receive additional education related benefits. Then, how the Taliban is seizing more territory from the Afghan government as the U.S. military withdraws. Also, a look at the mental toll of the pandemic and police killings over the past year on Black Americans. And, analysis from our Politics Monday team.

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News Wrap: Iran's Ebrahim Raisi asks for end to US sanctions
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What the SCOTUS ruling means for student athletes, the NCAA
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Taliban gains territory, may seek 'complete return to power'
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In NYC, a crowded mayoral race to save a city 'gone to hell'
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Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his party won a commanding majority in snap parliamentary elections, while he signaled bitter divisions over last year’s war defeat to Azerbaijan will only grow wider.

Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 53.9%, according to preliminary results, beating rivals backed by each of the Caucasus republic’s three previous presidents since Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Calling it Armenia’s “second revolution in the last three years,” Pashinyan said at his campaign headquarters that the vote result was a “mandate” for his party and would be implemented “in all ministries, departments, local governments.”

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Today in History for June 22nd

Highlights of this day in history: France falls to Nazi Germany on what becomes a day of several key events during World War II; Joe Louis knocks out Max Schmeling in their boxing rematch; Entertainers Judy Garland and Fred Astaire die. (June 22)

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Citizen Donald Trump’s money man Allen Weisselberg continues to resist cooperating with prosecutors as the DA presses for "evidence implicating Trump," according to the Washington Post. The Post also reports that prosecutors are now closing in on Trump’s former bodyguard turned Trump Organization executive as the investigation heats up. MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent breaks down the latest updates in the case with NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray, former RNC Chair Michael Steele, and Tristan Snell, a prosecutor who helped lead the investigation of Trump University.
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“The Beat with Ari Melber” covers politics, law and culture on MSNBC nightly at 6pm ET, anchored by Emmy-winning journalist and attorney Ari Melber (@arimelber). The Beat focuses on original reporting and in-depth interviews with a wide variety of guests, and was nominated for a 2020 Emmy in the Outstanding Interview category.

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As CBS News' Manuel Bojorquez reports, the U.S. remains divided over coronavirus vaccines as experts worry this could trigger another surge. Then, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, joins CBSN's Elaine Quijano to discuss how to overcome the lag in shots and other coronavirus news headlines.

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Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out as gay on Monday, becoming the first active player in the National Football League to do so. "Just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay," Nassib said in an Instagram video. "I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest." CBS Los Angeles' Jim Hill reports.

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Traffic controls, extensive bike paths and paved sidewalks aren’t exactly common in Brazil. The city of Belo Horizonte is setting a good example with its transport planning. A low speed limit zone and children’s play areas have transformed one area.

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PBSNewsHour's YouTube Videos: PBS NewsHour full episode, June 21, 2021
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Monday on the NewsHour, we examine the Supreme Court ruling that college athletes can receive additional education related benefits. Then, how the Taliban is seizing more territory from the Afghan government as the U.S. military withdraws. Also, a look at the mental toll of the pandemic and police killings over the past year on Black Americans. And, analysis from our Politics Monday team.

WATCH TODAY’S SEGMENTS
News Wrap: Iran's Ebrahim Raisi asks for end to US sanctions
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXnerhrlbes
What the SCOTUS ruling means for student athletes, the NCAA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g92CUnSYAFY
Taliban gains territory, may seek 'complete return to power'
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nOB4vEakds
In NYC, a crowded mayoral race to save a city 'gone to hell'
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK0dVPB8qK8
Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on NYC mayor's race, vaccines
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzGWc2KjQKU
The mental toll of COVID, police violence on Black Americans
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIPr1x2I2zA
Doctored baseballs? MLB's sticky situation explained
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovOIKXLrM4E

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2644246 PBSNewsHour's YouTube Videos
Three people, including a veteran Arvada police officer, were killed Monday afternoon in a shooting in Olde Town Arvada that forced...
How Putin Made a Fool of Tucker Carlson  Yahoo News
Путин призвал провести осенние выборы в Думу честно и прозрачно  Интерфакс
Путин заявил об отбитом «наиболее жестком ударе» коронавируса  Lenta.ru
Доля россиян, назвавших Путина среди самых выдающихся личностей в истории, сократилась вдвое с 2017 года  Forbes Россия

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