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Possible ‘Havana Syndrome’ Incidents Probed in Harris Delay from Singapore to Vietnam

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HANOI – U.S. officials are continuing to investigate two possible cases of so-called Havana Syndrome health incidents that delayed Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip from Singapore to Vietnam.

The investigation was in its early stages and officials deemed it safe for Harris to make her scheduled stop in Vietnam, after initially hitting pause for a few hours on Tuesday. Havana Syndrome is the name for a rash of mysterious health incidents first reported by American diplomats and other government employees in the Cuban capital beginning in 2016. Harris on her trip is reassuring Asian allies after the tumultuous evacuation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had not yet confirmed the latest reported Havana Syndrome case, and it did not involve anyone traveling with Harris, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. In light of the reports, “there was an assessment done of the safety of the vice president, and there was a decision made that she could continue travel along with her staff,” Psaki said.

There have been two separate cases of unexplained health incidents reported by U.S. personnel in Vietnam within the past week, U.S. officials said. It was not immediately clear who was impacted by the syndrome, though officials said it was not someone who worked for the vice president or the White House, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

On Wednesday, Harris appeared before U.S. diplomatic staff in Hanoi to sign a lease to a new embassy there. She didn’t weigh in directly on the Havana Syndrome situation but expressed gratitude to those working for the U.S. across the globe.

“Here’s my message to embassy staff: thank you. The people who work in our embassies around the world are extraordinary public servants who represent the best of what the United States believes itself to be and aspires to be, which is a good neighbor for our partners and our allies around the globe,” she said.

On Wednesday Harris was highlighting the announcement that the U.S. will send 1 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, bringing the total U.S. vaccine donation to that country to 6 million doses.

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The U.S. will also provide $23 million to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to vaccines, combat the pandemic and prepare for future disease threats. The Defense Department is also delivering 77 freezers to store vaccines throughout the country.

Some of those impacted by Havana Syndrome report hearing a loud piercing sound and feeling intense pressure in the face. Pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes follow.

Similar, unexplained health ailments have since been reported by Americans serving in other countries, including Germany, Austria, Russia and China. A variety of theories have been floated to explain the incidents, including targeted microwaves or sonic attack, perhaps as part of an espionage or hacking effort.

Particularly alarming are revelations of at least two possible incidents in the Washington area, including one case near the White House in November in which an official reported dizziness. Administration officials have speculated that Russia may be involved, a suggestion Moscow has denied.

Congress has raised alarms over such incidents, finding rare bipartisan support in the House and Senate for continued government-wide investigation into the syndrome, response as well as support for American personnel receiving medical monitoring and treatment.

The Biden administration is facing new pressure to resolve the mystery as the number of reported cases of possible attack has sharply grown. But scientists and government officials aren’t yet certain about who might have been behind any attacks, if the symptoms could have been caused inadvertently by surveillance equipment — or if the incidents were actually attacks.

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Delta Airlines: Unvaccinated Workers Must Pay Extra for Health Care

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Delta Airlines warned its unvaccinated employees they will have to pay an additional $200 per month for their company-sponsored health care plan if they don’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Ed Bastian, chief executive officer of the U.S. air carrier, notified workers of the surcharge in a memo Wednesday and said it would take effect November 1.

Bastian said the surcharge was necessary because the average hospital stay to treat COVID-19 costs the airline $50,000, exposing the company to more financial risk.

Bastian said 75% of the company’s workers have been vaccinated, an increase from 72% in mid-July. He said all Delta workers who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.

Delta also said Wednesday it would stop providing paid leave starting September 30 to workers who become infected. The airline said it will also require unvaccinated workers to undergo weekly testing beginning September 12 and to wear masks in all indoor settings.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called on companies and local governments to get their employees vaccinated. A number of companies have complied, including United Airlines, which requires employees to get vaccinated by September 27 or face termination.

American and Southwest airlines are among the other large major U.S. airlines that say they are urging workers to get vaccinated but have not required it.

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Pentagon: 19,000 More Evacuated from Afghanistan

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With less than a week remaining before it pulls its last troops out of Afghanistan, the United States in the last 24 hours evacuated another 19,000 Americans and Afghans who want to leave their homeland, the Defense Department said Wednesday.

Even so, officials said another 10,000 people have crammed into the international airport in Kabul hoping to escape the country controlled by Taliban insurgents.

A total of 90 U.S. military and international flights flew from Kabul in the last day, one every 39 minutes during some periods. In all, about 88,000 people have been evacuated since the operation began a few weeks ago.

The scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains tense and chaotic, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it “will not be an American responsibility” to control airport security there after August 31, the date U.S. President Joe Biden set for ending U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Officials said they know there “are a lot of desperate people who want to leave.”

The Pentagon said that all Afghans who supported U.S. operations over the last two decades and secured visas to enter the U.S. and have reached the airport will be evacuated. That could leave many others behind, unable to reach the airport past Taliban checkpoints.

The U.S. military said it plans to continue its evacuation effort from the airport until the Tuesday deadline if needed, but toward the end will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment. Kirby said there are currently 5,400 U.S. troops at the Kabul airport.

Pentagon officials urged U.S. lawmakers to not travel to Kabul to witness the evacuation after Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Peter Meijer, a Republican — both of whom served military tours of duty in the Mideast — made an unannounced trip to the Afghan capital this week to assess the situation.

“We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers released their statement after flying out of Kabul on a chartered plane. They said that in their view, after seeing the situation firsthand and speaking to commanders on the ground, “we won’t get everyone out” before Biden’s Tuesday deadline.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday saying travel to the region by members of the House of Representatives would divert resources from the evacuation operation.

“Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some (lawmakers) to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” Pelosi said.

“However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that (lawmakers) not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger. Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan.”

The Associated Press cited a senior U.S. official saying the Biden administration viewed the visit by Moulton and Meijer as unhelpful, and other officials said it was seen as a distraction to the troops who have been tasked with securing the airport to facilitate evacuation flights.

South Korea announced Wednesday it planned to evacuate around 380 people who supported the country’s official activities in Afghanistan.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Florida Building Collapse Lawsuits Seek to Get Answers, Assign Blame

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Even as the search continues over a week later for signs of life in the mangled debris of the fallen Champlain Towers South, the process of seeking answers about why it happened and who is to blame is already underway in Florida’s legal system.

Authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the collapse of the oceanfront condominium building, which left at least 28 confirmed dead and more than 117 unaccounted for. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle pledged to bring the matter soon before grand jurors, who could recommend criminal charges or simply investigate the cause to suggest reforms.

And at least five lawsuits have been filed on behalf of residents who survived or are feared dead. One lawyer involved in the litigation said the collapse raises widespread concerns about infrastructure issues and the trust we put in those responsible for them.

“We deserve to be able to walk into buildings without worrying that they’re going to come crumbling around us and to know that our loved ones can go to bed at night without worrying that they’re going to plummet 12 stories to the ground below in their sleep,” said Jeffrey Goodman, whose Philadelphia-based firm filed suit on behalf of the children of missing resident Harold Rosenberg.

The lawsuits filed to date accuse the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, and in some cases a local architect and engineer, of negligence for failing to address serious structural problems noted as far back as 2018. A Surfside town building inspector had also been part of the discussions, and Goodman’s firm has given notice of plans to add the town as a defendant.

“The role of building owners and architects and engineers and inspectors and safety professionals is to make sure that buildings are safe for their occupants to be in,” Goodman said.

At a hearing Friday, a judge appointed a receiver to represent the condominium association’s interests given the trauma experienced by board members, one of whom remains missing. The board has about $48 million in insurance coverage, while the oceanfront land is valued at $30 million to $50 million, the judge was told.

The judge said he hoped the litigation could be resolved quickly, perhaps within a year. Until then, he authorized the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, to provide $10,000 each to residents for temporary housing and $2,000 to cover funeral expenses.

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who also represents the Rosenberg family and is seeking access to the site, said cases such as these are not just about the money.

“They want to make this a quest to find out what happened,” Mongeluzzi said. “We believe that evidence is still there.”

Attorneys for the condominium association did not respond to emails seeking comment, nor did board members themselves.

One prior case with possible legal parallels involves the 2013 collapse in Philadelphia of an unbraced wall of a building that was being demolished. It toppled onto an adjacent Salvation Army store, killing six people and injuring 13, with one woman found alive 13 hours later losing both legs and forced to endure more than 30 surgeries before her death this year.

In the trials that followed, a civil jury found the Salvation Army, the building’s owner and his architect largely responsible, and the parties agreed to pay $227 million in damages.

On the criminal side, the architect received immunity in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors, while a food cart operator-turned-contractor was acquitted of third-degree felony murder charges but sentenced to 15 to 30 years for involuntary manslaughter; a forklift driver who was taking prescription drugs for an injury also went to prison.

The collapse also prompted the city of Philadelphia to send inspectors out to examine demolition sites and led to toughened regulations.

In Florida, a grand jury is still reviewing the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that killed six people. And both manslaughter and third-degree felony murder charges were filed following the 1996 accidental crash of ValuJet 592 in the Everglades that killed 110 people.

Denis Bender, a tort law professor at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif, who studies wide-scale disasters, sees a growing tendency in such cases not just to seek damages but to pursue criminal charges, often for negligence. That may be because, more and more, we see them happen in real or near-real time, as happened with the harrowing images beamed from Surfside around the world in the last week.

“I think it’s increasing because of the media and social media — not necessarily because there’s a drumbeat out there, but everybody’s horrified by what they can see. And there’s this cry for justice,” Binder said.

“On something spectacular like this, in today’s world, there’s great pressure to find fault,” he said. “And there’s enough evidence already (in Surfside) that people have made bad decisions.”

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Pentagon cancels $10bn ‘Jedi’ contract

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The Pentagon is scrapping a multibillion dollar cloud computing contract, which sparked a row between Microsoft and Amazon.

The US Department of Defense said the $10bn contract no longer met its current needs due to the “shifting technology environment”.

Microsoft was awarded the contract, but Amazon claimed President Trump had influenced the decision.

Amazon and Microsoft will both have the opportunity to bid for a new contract.

After Microsoft won the massive Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (Jedi) contract, it drew complaints and a legal challenge from tech rival Amazon, which claimed that the choice was politically motivated.

The Department of Defense (DoD) said in a statement on Tuesday: “With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the Jedi Cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps.”

It added that it would seek new proposals “from a limited number of sources”, including both Amazon and Microsoft.

The two tech giants are the only suppliers it said would be capable of meeting the brief, although it would consider other firms.

The Jedi system was designed to replace the DoD’s ageing computer networks with one single cloud system, which would have hosted classified secrets and provided artificial intelligence-based analysis to the military.

But after the work was awarded to Microsoft in 2019, Amazon – which was seen as the favourite for the project – filed a legal challenge to object.

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3 More Bodies Found in Rubble of Collapsed Florida Condo

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Rescue workers on Monday found three more bodies in the rubble of the collapsed condominium building in South Florida, bringing the death toll to 27, even as 118 people are still unaccounted for.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava continued to describe operations in the beachside community of Surfside, now in their 12th day, as a “rescue” — not a “recovery” — in hopes more people will be found alive although none has been since the earliest hours of the search.

“There is hope there are voids to continue the search and rescue operation,” she said.

Demolition experts late Sunday imploded the remaining portion of the partially collapsed condominium, fearing that it was unstable and could come down in the face of high winds from an advancing tropical storm.

It took a matter of seconds for the remaining structure to fall after the demolition was triggered around 10:30 p.m. local time. A cloud of dust and debris rose and lingered in the sky for a few minutes afterward.

Levine Cava said the implosion went exactly as expected and that search crews, who had suspended their work Saturday, had been cleared to resume working at the collapse site.

“I feel relief because this building was unstable. The building was hampering our search efforts,” she said. “We were stuck that we couldn’t get to a certain part of the pile. I’ve heard them say that they think there are voids in this area, areas where they’ll be able to search.”

Local officials had warned people in the area surrounding the building to stay inside and keep their windows closed. Extra efforts were made to cover the original collapse site to make sure new debris did not interfere with search-and-rescue efforts there.

The 12-story condominium building in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami, partially collapsed without warning early on June 24.

Officials are watching the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said they expect the center of the storm to pass near or over the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday. That track would spare Surfside from a direct hit, but forecasters still expect the region to experience strong winds with gusts of at least 65 kilometers per hour.

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Russia, China declare friendship treaty extension, hail ties

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The leaders of Russia and China have hailed increasingly close ties between their countries and announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship treaty, a show of unity amid their tensions with the West

Surfside building collapse latest: 9 dead, 152 unaccounted for as search and rescue enters 5th day

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A massive search and rescue operation entered its fifth day Monday, as crews continued to carefully comb through the pancaked pile of debris in hopes of finding survivors. The partial collapse occurred at around 1:15 a.m. local time on Thursday at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah.

So far, 134 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the partial collapse have been accounted for, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who noted that the numbers are very fluid.

‘A frantic search’

The remaining structure that still stands was cleared by rescue crews last week and all resources have since shifted focus to on the debris, according to Jadallah. Hundreds of first responders and volunteers have been working around the clock to locate both survivors and human remains in the rubble. Crews have cut a 125-foot long, 20-foot wide and 40-foot deep trench through the pile to help enhance their search, according to Levine Cava.

More than 80 rescuers are working on the pile at a time, trying to tunnel through and locate voids where people could be trapped. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Andy Alvarez, the deputy incident commander overseeing search and rescue efforts, described the process as both frantic and painstaking.

“This is a frantic search to continue to see that hope, that miracle, to see who we can bring out of this building alive,” Alvarez told ABC News in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.”

The conditions on the pile are “bad” and “not ideal” for rescuers, Alvarez said, due to heat, humidity and rain. But search and rescue efforts are still continuing 24-hours a day.

“We’re holding up because we’re all holding up for that hope, that faith that we are going to be able to rescue somebody,” he added. “We are working tirelessly to try to bring victims that are underneath that rubble and rescue them.”

Crews are using various equipment and technology, including underground sonar systems that can detect victims and crane trucks that can remove huge slabs of concrete from the pile, according to Alavarez.

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Fighting Corruption is Core National Security Interest, Biden Says

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WASHINGTON – The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is formally establishing the fight against corruption as a core national security interest.

Biden on Thursday issued his first national security memorandum, outlining his anti-corruption agenda.

“Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself,” the president said in his directive. “But by effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”

Biden’s memorandum is important because it serves as a formal notification from the president “that he expects all relevant federal departments and agencies to up their anti-corruption game in very specific ways,” a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call Thursday.

In part, the memo calls for combatting all forms of illicit finance in the country and with the international financial systems. It calls for American companies to report their beneficial owners to the Treasury Department and reduce offshore financial secrecy.

Treasury’s beneficial ownership registry is intended to effectively bar illicit assets from being hidden behind anonymous shell companies.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” acknowledged the senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on condition of not being named. “We have seen several instances over past years in which the proceeds of corruption have been funneled through shell companies and wound up in major metropolitan areas in the United States to offshore those ill-gotten gains. And so we’re going to be taking additional steps to make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future.”

In the action, the president calls for “corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators” to be held accountable, including by taking criminal enforcement action against them.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agency will also be involved in the anti-corruption effort, which will use “all the tools at our disposal to make sure that we identify corruption where it’s happening and take appropriate policy responses,” said a senior U.S. official.

Biden’s memo requests an interagency review to be completed within 200 days with a report and recommendations to be submitted to him for further direction and action.

“The United States will lead by example and in partnership with allies, civil society, and the private sector to fight the scourge of corruption,” said the president in a statement. “But this is a mission for the entire the world. And we must all stand in support of courageous citizens around the globe who are demanding honest, transparent governance.”

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Turkey Summons US Envoy Over Biden’s Armenian Genocide Declaration

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WASHINGTON – Turkey says it summoned the U.S. ambassador to Ankara to condemn President Joe Biden’s declaration that the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal told U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield late Saturday that Biden’s statement had no legal basis and that Ankara “rejected it, found it unacceptable and condemned [it] in the strongest terms.”

The Ankara government said the United States, a NATO ally, had caused a “wound in ties that will be hard to repair.”

Earlier Saturday, Biden became the first U.S. president to make the genocide declaration in connection with the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire — the predecessor to modern-day Turkey — between 1915 and 1923.

Armenians say they were purposely targeted for extermination through starvation, forced labor, deportation, death marches, and outright massacres.

Turkey denies a genocide or any deliberate plan to wipe out the Armenians. It says many of the victims were casualties of the war or murdered by Russians. Turkey also says the number of Armenians killed was far fewer than the usually accepted figure of 1.5 million.

Moments after Biden made his statement Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, “Words cannot change or rewrite history. We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.”

Biden’s statement fulfilled a campaign promise and came on the same day that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was observed in Armenia and by the Armenian diaspora.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said in a statement. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”

Biden had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Friday that he intended to make the genocide declaration, although Erdogan has yet to make a public statement about Biden’s decision. The two leaders also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels in June.

In a letter Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged Biden to become the first U.S. president to recognize the killings as genocide.

“The shameful silence of the United States Government on the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide has gone on for too long, and it must end,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to follow through on your commitments and speak the truth.”

Cavusoglu said last week that Biden’s recognition of the killings as genocide would harm relations between the NATO allies.

Cavusoglu said Saturday that Biden’s recognition “distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”

“We call on the U.S. president to correct this grave mistake, which serves no purpose other than to satisfy certain political circles, and to support the efforts aiming to establish a practice of peaceful coexistence in the region, especially among the Turkish and Armenian nations, instead of serving the agenda of those circles that try to foment enmity from history,” Cavusoglu added.

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