October 22, 2019

Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

A top-secret elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system is executing a coordinated campaign to destabilize Europe, Western security officials say.

Unit 29155, whose existence has not been previously reported, is on the secretive side of the so-called hybrid warfare promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which open warfare is paired with a blend of propaganda, hacking attacks and disinformation.

A retired Russian intelligence officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 said that it specialized in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.”

What has it done? The targets include a destabilization campaign in Moldova, the poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria and a thwarted coup in Montenegro. Members of the unit have been linked to the March 2018 poisoning of the former spy Sergei Skripal.

The White House intervened for the first time to block the testimony of a key witness, signaling that it would stonewall the House impeachment inquiry.

President Trump, defiant as investigators dig further into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to find dirt on his political rivals, called the inquiry “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”

Democrats quickly said they would regard as obstruction the president’s abrupt move to block Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators.

Related: The whistle-blower at the center of the investigation wrote in a memo that a White House official who listened in on President Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s leader called it “crazy,” “frightening” and “completely lacking in substance related to national security.”

The evidence: House investigators have been issuing near-daily requests or subpoenas. Here’s a look at what they’ve collected so far.

The N.B.A. defended its members’ right to free speech even as the firestorm spread from a basketball executive’s tweet supporting pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

China said it would not broadcast two N.B.A. preseason games this week in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and multiple Chinese companies, including Anta, a sportswear brand that sponsors N.B.A. players, suspended partnerships.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, said on Tuesday at an N.B.A. game in Tokyo. But he insisted he would not regulate “what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

The White House targeted a number of companies at the vanguard of China’s surveillance and artificial intelligence ambitions for a blacklist that bars them from buying American-made technology.

It’s the first public step by a major world government toward punishing Beijing for its detention of more than one million minority ethnic groups in re-education camps.

The move suggests that President Trump is increasingly willing to listen to the advice of U.S. officials concerned about China’s human rights abuses.

Context: The announcement of the new entrants to the blacklist will likely put a chill on trade talks set to begin this week.

Related: The new head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, warned that the U.S.-China trade tensions could cost the global economy around $700 billion by 2020 — equivalent to the size of Switzerland’s economy.

Nobel Prizes: The award in physics went to James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Dr. Peebles won for theories on how the universe swirled into galaxies, and the others were the first to discover an exoplanet, or a planet circling around a sun-like star. The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday.

Nissan: The troubled automaker said that it selected a new chief executive from among its managers, Makoto Uchida, 53, after the resignation of its leader last month over a pay scandal.

Markets: Hong Kong’s stock exchange retracted its surprise $37 billion offer of four weeks ago to buy its London competitor. It was a setback for the exchange’s long-running effort to build a closer connection to European markets.

Elephant disaster update: The bodies of five more elephants were discovered below a steep waterfall in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, officials said, bringing to 11 the number believed to have been swept away after a calf slipped and the others tried to save it.

Snapshot: Above, the landscape on the Kamchatka Peninsula, which most Russians consider the obscure end of their country. At the finish of a five-year assignment in Moscow, our bureau chief explored the region, forged by more than 300 volcanoes.

What we’re reading: This Vox article on Fat Bear Week at Katmai National Park in Alaska. “To be clear, this is not about fat-shaming — it’s about celebration,” according to a Katmai news release. Melina Delkic, on the briefings team, writes, “Use the sliding tool to look at my favorite bear Holly’s incredible transformation from July to September.”

Cook: You can master maduros, sweet fried plantains that are tender in the middle and crisp at the edges.

Listen: Silence — music’s negative space — can be eloquent. Consider these examples.

Read: In “Frankissstein,” Jeanette Winterson has stitched together that rarest of beasts: a novel that is thought-provoking and provocative, yet entertaining. Here’s our review.

Smarter Living: Let’s revisit one of our greatest hits. In July, we collected 10 hotel tips that can improve your stay, and the article is still going strong. People seem to like being reminded to clean the remote and rewash the water glasses. And everyone should know to check for bedbugs, and keep luggage and handbags off the bed to keep from inviting any home.

More currently, we collected some useful alternatives to environmentally unfriendly plastic straws.

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he wouldn’t allow a diplomat to testify at an impeachment inquiry because he considered it “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”

Paging Ron Ziegler! In July 1974, the White House press secretary attacked the House Judiciary Committee deliberating the impeachment of Richard Nixon as a “kangaroo court.”

The term — describing an irresponsible body that is preprogrammed to disregard justice — goes back at least as far as Aug. 24, 1841, when The Times-Picayune of New Orleans used it in reporting the lynchings of several men.

The Americanism spread to international English, but its full origins are a mystery.

Some speculate that the meaning may be linked to Australian immigrants, or derive from a similarity between a kangaroo’s jumping and a court’s jumping to conclusions.

That’s it for this briefing. Millions of people have decided that our journalism is worth paying for. Click here to subscribe to The New York Times.

See you next time.

— Victoria

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Jack Begg, our research manager, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about President Trump’s new policy in Syria.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Be the person your ___ thinks you are” (three letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Abdi Latif Dahir is joining The Times in Nairobi as our new East Africa correspondent. Abdi, who speaks Somali, Arabic and Swahili, comes to us from Quartz Africa.

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