Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of southern Russia’s restive Chechnya region, on Wednesday was hit with financial sanctions by the United States over alleged human rights violations.
A second Chechen official, law enforcement officer Ayub Kataev, was designated for sanctions under a U.S. law specific to human rights violations in Russia, over his alleged involvement in a campaign against homosexuals in Chechnya that provoked international outrage.
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control charged that Kadyrov “oversees an administration involved in disappearances and extra-judicial killings.’’
The U.S. statement cited a Kadyrov opponent believed to had been killed on the leader’s orders, “after making allegations of torture and ill-treatment taking place in Chechnya, including alleged torture carried out by Kadyrov personally.’’
Three other Russians, Yulia Mayorova, Andrei Pavlov and Alexei Sheshenya, were also sanctioned under the 2012 Magnitsky Act on allegations that they were involved in a lucrative fraud scheme exposed by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Shortly after he revealed the existence of the scheme, Magnitsky was thrown in a Moscow jail and died there under mysterious circumstances.
Dozens of Russians have been sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.
Relations between the U.S. and Russia have in the last few years plummeted to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The U.S. has sanctioned numerous Russian officials and businesses over Russia’s annexation of neighbouring Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and its continuing support for rebel groups waging war in Ukraine’s east.
U.S Navy engineer, wife charged for trading nuclear secrets to foreign country
The Navy neclear engineer, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his 45-year-old high school teacher wife, Diana, were said to have “passed, and continues to pass, Restricted Data as defined by the Atomic Energy Act . . . to a foreign government . . . with the witting assistance of his spouse, Diana Toebbe.” This was according to a criminal complaint filed in West Virginia and unsealed Sunday.
According to the Washington Post, the court papers say that in December 2020, an FBI official received a package that had been sent to the foreign country containing U.S. Navy documents, a letter and instructions for how to conduct encrypted communications with the person offering the information.
The letter in the package said: “I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax.”
FBI agents then posed as spies for the foreign country and began communicating by email with the person, suggesting a meeting, but the person said that was too risky, noting that they were risking their life in offering the information to the foreign government.
The court papers show an email conversation that began nearly a year ago in which Toebbe allegedly discussed espionage tradecraft and payments with someone he thought was a foreign spy but was in fact an undercover FBI agent.
“Your thoughtful plans indicate you are not amateur,” the FBI wrote to Toebbe. “This relationship requires mutual comfort.”
The emails show that at first Toebbe remained cautious but that he came to trust the undercover agent in part because of the money he was paid and because the FBI arranged to “signal” Toebbe from the country’s embassy in Washington over the Memorial Day weekend. The papers do not describe how the FBI was able to arrange such a signal.
Toebbe allegedly asked for $100,000 in cryptocurrency, saying, “I understand this is a large request. However, please remember I am risking my life for your benefit and I have taken the first step. Please help me trust you fully.”
The undercover FBI agent persuaded Toebbe to conduct a “dead drop” of information in late June in West Virginia’s Jefferson County after Toebbe received about $10,000 worth of cryptocurrency, according to the charging papers.
The FBI later recovered the package Toebbe left behind and inside found a 16-gigabyte data card. The card, authorities said, “was wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich. The half sandwich was housed inside of a plastic bag.”
Authorities said another payment of $20,000 followed, and the dead drops continued, with data cards hidden in a Band-Aid wrapper and a chewing gum package.
His wife, Diana Toebbe, appeared to be “acting as a lookout” when he dropped off the material, according to the court filing.
After receiving $70,000 in cryptocurrency, Toebbe provided a decryption key to read the contents of one of the data cards, officials said.
Toebbe and his wife were charged with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data. The couple were arrested Saturday in West Virginia and are due to make their first court appearance on Tuesday.
The information Toebbe turned over included details of the design, operations and performance of Virginia-class nuclear submarine reactors, according to court papers. Virginia-class subs carry cruise missiles and incorporate “the latest in stealth, intelligence-gathering, and weapons system technology,” according to court papers. Each costs about $3 billion to build.
The court papers note that Toebbe, who was on active duty in the Navy until 2017, had worked on nuclear propulsion for submarines, a technology that the United States recently agreed to provide to Australia. Previously, the United States had only shared the technology with Britain, also a partner in the deal with Australia. The agreement scuttled an Australian deal with France, igniting a diplomatic row between Washington and Paris.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the charges show “a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.”
The court papers do not identify the foreign country that Toebbe allegedly thought was buying the secrets, nor do they explain how the FBI came to possess in December 2020 the package Toebbe first sent to the foreign country, but the filing notes the postmark on the package was many months earlier — April 1, 2020.
Toebbe, 42, has worked since 2012 for the Navy. He and his wife, 45, live in Annapolis, Md. They were arrested after they allegedly placed another data card at a secret dead-drop site. After the arrest, their home was searched by FBI agents and Navy investigators, according to officials.
In total, Toebbe allegedly provided thousands of pages of documents, and officials said his espionage ambitions had been building for years.
“The information was slowly and carefully collected over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention and smuggled past security checkpoints a few pages at a time,” Toebbe allegedly wrote to the foreign country, adding that he no longer had access to classified data but could answer any technical questions the foreign country might have.
He also allegedly wrote that he hoped the foreign government would be able to extract him and his family if he was ever discovered, adding “we have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”
Biden mourns 700,000 Americans lost to COVID-19
U.S. President Joe Biden has mourned the about 700,000 Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19.
Biden, in his twitter handle on Saturday night, said: “Today, we mark another grim and heartbreaking milestone in this pandemic: over 700,000 Americans lost.
“As we acknowledge the tragic scale of this death toll, we must remember each person and the life they lived.’’
The White House, also in a statement, described the 700,000 deaths to COVID-19 as a “painful milestone”.
“To heal we must remember, and as our nation mourns the painful milestone of 700,000 American deaths due to COVID-19, we must not become numb to the sorrow.
“On this day, and every day, we remember all those we have lost to this pandemic and we pray for their loved ones left behind who are missing a piece of their soul.
“As we do, the astonishing death toll is yet another reminder of just how important it is to get vaccinated.
“The vaccines are safe, free, and easy—and we have made extraordinary progress in our fight against COVID-19 over the last eight months because of the vaccines,’’ he said.
Biden sued by 20 states after allowing biological males in girls’ sports
Twenty US states have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration after the US Department of Education ordered schools to allow biological males to compete in girls’ sports teams.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and his counterparts in 19 other states in the lawsuit filed in the US district court in Knoxville on Monday August 30, asked the judge to allow them to separate restrooms, showers and locker rooms according to ‘biological sex’.
The suit also seeks for schools to be able to separate sports teams based on ‘biological sex’ and enforce dress codes as such, and not have to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns.
Slatery said the legal interpretations by the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are based on a faulty view of U.S. Supreme Court June 2020 landmark civil rights law, which in Title VII, protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment.
In June 2021, the Department of Education said discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education. A legal analysis by the department concluded there is “no persuasive or well-founded basis” to treat education differently than employment.
The education directive reversed President Donald Trump-era policies that removed civil rights protections for transgender students. In 2017, the Trump administration lifted President Barack Obama-era guidance allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities.
Also in June 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released guidance about what could constitute discrimination against LGBTQ people and advised the public about how to file a complaint.
With its guidance, the Biden administration in part took a stand against laws and proposals in a growing number of states that aim to forbid transgender girls from participating on female sports teams. The state attorneys general contend that the authority over such policies “properly belongs to Congress, the States, and the people.”
However the plaintiffs said;
“The guidance purports to resolve highly controversial and localized issues such as whether employers and schools may maintain sex-separated showers and locker rooms, whether schools must allow biological males to compete on female athletic teams, and whether individuals may be compelled to use another person’s preferred pronouns.
“But the agencies have no authority to resolve those sensitive questions, let alone to do so by executive fiat without providing any opportunity for public participation.”
Joining Tennessee in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. They are all Republican-led states, except for three.
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