Mid-February Sitrep Support

Mid-February Sitrep Support



FBI Issues Warning that Chinese Hackers Are Targeting US Infrastructure 

FBI Director Christopher Wray informed a congressional committee that Chinese government-linked hackers are targeting critical U.S. infrastructure with plans to cause "real-world harm." Water treatment plants, the electric grid, oil and gas pipelines, and transportation hubs are among the targets of these state-sponsored hacking operations. Wray's testimony coincided with the announcement of the disruption of a significant Chinese cyber-spying operation by U.S. officials. He highlighted that the threat extends beyond political and military targets, indicating a willingness to inflict harm on civilians. Wray clarified that U.S. government concerns are not against Chinese Americans or Chinese nationals in the U.S. The hearing took place amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, covering topics like Taiwan, military buildup, economic competition, and human rights. Wray reiterated China's attempts to undermine the U.S. through espionage and cyberattacks, emphasizing the need to address these growing threats. 

Senate Releases “Border” Bill with Most of the Funding Going to Ukraine 

The U.S. Senate has proposed a $118 billion bipartisan border security bill, which also includes aid for Ukraine and Israel. Despite President Biden’s endorsement, the bill faces opposition from the House of Representatives, with Speaker Mike Johnson declaring it “dead on arrival”. The bill, which took months to negotiate, includes $20.23 billion for border security, $60.06 billion for Ukraine, $14.1 billion for Israel, and billions more for other global security concerns. However, it has been criticized for not providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. An additional $10 billion is allocated for humanitarian assistance in conflict zones, but funds are barred from going to the U.N. agency for Palestinians, UNRWA. Despite opposition, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to hold an initial vote on the bill on Wednesday. 

The $20 billion from the immigration reform bill will be allocated in the following ways within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP): 

  1. Detention: Immigration and Customs Enforcement would receive almost $8 billion in emergency funding, rivaling the agency’s regular annual budget of about $9 billion. The emergency funding would include more than $3 billion for increased detention capacity. 
  2. Asylum: The plan would set a goal of speeding up the review of asylum claims, striving to let no cases last more than six months — often by allowing asylum officers to close out a claim rather than going through immigration courts. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would get nearly $4 billion to help shoulder that new workload, including for hiring more than 4,300 asylum officers. The measure would require asylum seekers to show greater proof to seek refuge in the U.S. and would ensure they are allowed a lawyer if they are facing rapid deportation. All unaccompanied children under 14 years old would also be granted lawyers during removal proceedings, covered by an infusion of $350 million for the Department of Health and Human Services 
  3. Local support: $1.4 billion would be disbursed to help states and local governments handle the influx of immigrants. In New York alone, Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month proposed spending $2.4 billion to provide services to migrants in her annual budget. 
  4. Border Patrol: Customs and Border Protection would get nearly $7 billion in emergency funding, a massive infusion above its current yearly budget of about $21 billion. That extra funding would include $723 million to cover increased hiring of Border Patrol agents and overtime pay.  The bill would also give DHS more flexibility in hiring Border Patrol agents and create yearly training requirements for non-lethal force, protecting due process and preserving civil and human rights.

If Border Bill not Passed Schumer Warns US Troops Will Be Fighting in Ukraine 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that if the Senate border bill, which includes $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, is not passed, U.S. troops could be sent to eastern Europe. He stated that without aid, Russia could dominate Ukraine, potentially leading to conflict involving NATO allies. President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have expressed similar concerns. Schumer also warned that without the bill, which includes $14 billion for Israel, the Israeli-Hamas conflict could continue indefinitely. He argued that without humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza, mass starvation could occur. Schumer admitted that the border situation is chaotic, despite the bill containing $20 billion for border issues. He praised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell but blamed former President Trump for the growing Republican opposition to the bill. Schumer warned that the situation could worsen if the bill is not passed. 

        In Pre-Dawn Vote Senate Passes Ukraine Funding Bill 

        The Senate approved a $95 billion emergency defense spending bill, with $60 billion allocated for Ukraine, following a marathon session that ended after 5 a.m. Conservative opponents, including Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee, filibustered through the night before the bill passed with a 70-29 vote. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and a group of Republicans joined Democrats to support the bill, despite objections raised during the filibuster. Two Democrats, Sens. Jeff Merkley and Peter Welch, voted against the bill due to concerns over supporting Israel's military campaign in Gaza. McConnell emphasized the importance of passing the bill for American security and credibility with allies. The measure also includes humanitarian aid for Gaza, the West Bank, and Ukraine, along with funding to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific and defend against Iranian-backed Houthi attacks. However, Speaker Mike Johnson threatened to block the bill in the House, citing its silence on border security issues. Despite the opposition, senators expressed hope for strong bipartisan support if the bill reaches the House floor. 

        Majority of NATO Countries Set to Hit Military Spending Targets in 2024 

        Officials announced that nearly two-thirds of NATO's 31 member countries are expected to meet the defense spending target of two percent of GDP in 2024, nearly double the previous year's figure. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to reveal the new estimates, indicating around 20 allies are on track to meet the target. This comes after former US President Donald Trump's controversial remarks, suggesting he would not defend NATO members failing to meet financial obligations. Despite rebukes, Trump's pressure on NATO allies to increase defense spending may have accelerated progress. Only 11 allies met the target in 2023, with the United States accounting for the majority of defense expenditure. Russia's invasion of Ukraine heightened NATO's emphasis on meeting the two-percent target, with countries like Germany increasing defense spending. Trump's comments drew criticism from leaders like US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who warned against undermining NATO's collective defense guarantee. Trump defended his stance, claiming it strengthened NATO and led to increased contributions from member countries.  

        Armenia Warns Azerbaijan Appears to be Planning ‘Full-Scale War’  

        Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have escalated following a recent skirmish on their border, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warning of Azerbaijan's intentions for a "full-scale war." The conflict stems from Azerbaijan's recapture of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, populated by Armenians, in a swift military offensive last September. Pashinyan expressed concerns that Azerbaijan seeks to expand military action, potentially leading to a broader conflict. Armenia fears Azerbaijan may target its territory to establish a land bridge to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, re-elected recently, denied territorial claims against Armenia and criticized its stance. Despite previous talks, peace negotiations have failed to yield results. The recent border skirmish resulted in casualties on both sides, intensifying the already high tensions between the two countries. 


        CBP Reports Almost a Million Encounters Since October 

        Since the start of the fiscal year in October, border authorities have encountered over a million illegal migrants, marking the earliest they have reached this milestone. This figure surpasses last year's encounters by about 100,000, with a notable spike in Chinese migrants, now the fastest-growing group. More than 37,000 Chinese migrants were apprehended last fiscal year, and approximately 20,000 have been encountered since October. December saw a record-high of 302,000 migrant encounters, indicative of the ongoing surge. Texas has redirected over 100,000 migrants to sanctuary cities like New York City, Chicago, and Denver, overwhelming local resources. New York City alone has received nearly 175,000 migrants since spring 2022. Despite efforts to address the crisis, a bipartisan border deal faltered in the Senate, facing criticism from former President Trump. House Republicans attempted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the border crisis but vowed to persist despite the setback.

        Mayorkas Impeached by GOP-Led House in Historic Vote 

        The US House of Representatives has voted to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, Joe Biden’s secretary of homeland security, on political charges related to conditions at the southern border, as Republicans aim to capitalize on the issue in an election year. Despite staunch Democratic opposition, the House impeached Mayorkas 214-213, making him the first cabinet secretary facing charges in nearly 150 years. Three Republicans voted against party lines, arguing that the impeachment did not meet constitutional standards. President Biden criticized House Republicans for their "blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship." Mayorkas, while addressing the border crisis, attributed the situation to Congress's failure to update immigration laws. He emphasized that the administration is working within a broken system and called for congressional action. Republicans have targeted several Biden administration officials for impeachment, but Mayorkas's case is the most advanced. Homeland security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg condemned the impeachment as baseless and unconstitutional, contrasting it with bipartisan efforts to address border security challenges. 

        Unfenced Northern Border Sees Spike in Illegal Crossings 

        The Biden administration's handling of immigration has sparked concern as a surge of migrants overwhelms the southern border, with fears now growing over increased illegal crossings via the less guarded northern border with Canada. Customs and Border Protection data reveals a dramatic rise in apprehensions along the northern border, particularly in the Swanton Sector encompassing New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Migrants, many from diverse countries, are exploiting routes through Mexico to reach Canada, then entering the US from the north where enforcement is weaker. Politicians and experts highlight the vulnerability of the northern border, with calls for increased security measures including deployment of the National Guard. Recent revelations of migrant smuggling underscore the urgency of the situation. Republican leaders in New York advocate for state-level action amidst a broader immigration crisis exacerbated by federal inaction. The failure to address these challenges risks further escalation of the border crisis, now extending to both the southern and northern borders.  

        DHS Under Biden Plan to ‘Mass Release’ Illegals Into US 

        The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Joe Biden is considering a "mass release" of thousands of illegal aliens from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody into American communities due to a budget shortfall. The plan comes after the failure of a Senate border bill that would have addressed a $700 million deficit. Some of the proposed cost-saving measures include attrition through deportations, but a significant portion would involve the mass release of detainees. Critics argue that DHS is mismanaging funds, as Congress allocated more money for detention space than requested. Already, ICE has reduced the number of illegal aliens in custody, including those with pending criminal charges or convictions. The Biden administration's plan could lead to the release of individuals with criminal records into the U.S. interior. Additionally, the administration has signaled a reduction in deportations unless Congress approves additional funding for DHS.

        White House Threatens that ICE Will Reduce Deportations if Ukraine Funding Not Passed 

        The White House threatened that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be compelled to scale back operations at the southern border due to budget constraints. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attributed this reduction to Republicans' failure to pass a bipartisan border security agreement, which includes funding for Israel and Ukraine. With Congress providing less funding than requested, ICE faces challenges in maintaining removal operations and detention capacity. Jean-Pierre emphasized the potential harm to national security and public safety if ICE cannot carry out its duties. The announcement follows a record-high of over 3.2 million encounters with illegal immigrants reported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The bipartisan border security bill, negotiated by Senators Lankford, Sinema, and Murphy, faces criticism from both GOP senators and Democrats, raising concerns about its effectiveness and impact on migrants seeking asylum. 


        Pentagon Reveals Over $1 Billion in Weapons Missing in Ukraine 

        An internal audit from the Department of Defense reveals a failure to properly track $1 billion worth of weapons provided to Ukraine. The DOD is mandated to use enhanced end-use monitoring techniques to safeguard high-value weapons like smaller, advanced weaponry, but these protocols are not being followed in Ukraine due to various issues. As of June 2023, 59% of the $1.7 billion designated weapons are considered "delinquent" in inventory reports. While it's unclear if the weapons are being used appropriately or have been stolen, the 59% delinquency rate represents an improvement from previous figures. The missing weapons include night-vision devices, anti-tank missiles, attack drones, and small-diameter bombs. Although officials stress that the weapons may still be intact, the revelation raises concerns about accountability. The Biden administration's substantial aid to Ukraine faces scrutiny, especially as Republican leaders seek to block additional funding. This incident highlights ongoing challenges in DOD's financial oversight and accountability.

        US Navy Supplier Bottlenecks Threaten Efforts to Grow Arms Stockpiles 

        In a hypothetical scenario where the U.S. must defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, military planners prioritize targeting Chinese amphibious ships, crucial for the invasion. Mark Cancian, who led a wargame examining this scenario, emphasizes the need to sink these ships, which would require overcoming a protective ring of combatants. U.S. submarines would exhaust their torpedoes quickly, while Navy jets would face limitations due to a shortage of Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles. To address this, the Navy aims to increase its stockpile of key munitions, including the LRASM, MK 48 torpedo, and Maritime Strike Tomahawk. However, supply chain challenges hinder production, particularly for components like rocket motors and electronics. Despite efforts to address bottlenecks, such as allocating funds and initiating procurement contracts, industry executives stress that resolving supply chain issues will take time. Navy officials acknowledge the complexity of resuming torpedo production after a long hiatus and anticipate continued challenges in scaling up munitions production. 

        To Meet Munitions Output Goals, US Army Hunts Explosives to Meet Targets 

        The U.S. Army aims to increase its production of 155mm munitions to 100,000 per month by the end of 2025 but faces challenges in securing enough explosives to meet this target. Doug Bush, the Army's acquisition chief, highlighted the need for a significant increase in explosive production capacity, as the U.S. currently lacks the capability to produce the required amount domestically. To address this, the Army has awarded contracts to companies in the U.S., Canada, India, and Poland to boost global production of 155mm artillery rounds, including procuring 14.2 million pounds of explosives. Additionally, the Army seeks congressional approval for a supplemental budget request to support Ukraine and Israel, which includes funding to triple IMX-104 explosive production and upgrade facilities for propellant production. Plans also include constructing a domestic TNT production facility, as the U.S. currently relies on allies for TNT supply. The Army aims to complete the construction of the TNT facility within 48 months after awarding a contract.

        Palestinians Shielded from Deportation by Biden, Vows to Give them US Jobs 

        President Joe Biden has implemented measures to protect Palestinians in the United States from deportation, granting them "Deferred Enforced Departure" for at least 18 months amidst the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian-supported Hamas. This memorandum ensures that most Palestinians cannot be deported for the next year and a half, a plan advocated by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Biden's directive also allows for Palestinians with deferred removal to seek employment opportunities, urging the Department of Homeland Security to relax regulations for those on F-1 student visas. However, this move aligns with the Biden administration's broader economic agenda, which aims to expand the labor market with millions of newly arrived immigrants, a strategy criticized for suppressing wages. Critics argue that this agenda has disproportionately affected American workers, with employment opportunities increasingly going to foreign-born individuals rather than native-born Americans. 

        Three NATO Allies Sign Deal to Streamline Eastern Flank Military Deployments  

        Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland have signed a deal aimed at streamlining the movement of troops and weapons along a key corridor from the North Sea to NATO's eastern flank. This move comes as NATO and the European Union accelerate preparations for potential military conflicts with Russia, with NATO currently engaged in its largest military drills since the end of the Cold War. In the event of a conflict, major military reinforcements are expected to be sent via North Sea ports through Germany and Poland to the eastern front. NATO has highlighted the issue of bureaucratic obstacles hindering troop movements across Europe, warning that addressing these challenges is crucial for effective military mobility during potential crises or wars. 


        House Intel Committee Raises Alarms Over Destabilizing New Russian Space Threat 

        The Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Turner, has stirred attention by publicly urging President Joe Biden's administration to declassify information concerning a significant and destabilizing national security threat, reportedly linked to Russia's space-related capabilities. Turner's cryptic statement prompted speculation, with media outlets suggesting Russia's development of a nuclear, space-based anti-satellite weapon. While details remain undisclosed, Turner's call for declassification and subsequent statements from other officials underscore the gravity of the situation. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed surprise at Turner's public statement and scheduled a classified briefing for congressional leaders. However, Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio cautioned against rushing to disclose sensitive information. The nature of the threat, possibly tied to Russia's recent space activities, remains unclear. Yet, if confirmed, such capabilities would signify space as an active battlefield, necessitating new disclosures and defense strategies. Despite uncertainties, the situation underscores heightened concerns over emerging military technologies and geopolitical tensions.

        Space X to Deploy New US Missile Defense Satellites in Low-Earth Orbit 

        The U.S. military collaborated with SpaceX to deploy six missile-defense satellites into orbit, aiming to safeguard the nation against hypersonic missile threats. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched successfully from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carrying a payload to enhance national missile defense capabilities. Among the satellites launched, two are part of the Missile Defense Agency's hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor satellite program, while the remaining four belong to the Space Development Agency's tracking layer satellites initiative. These satellites aim to provide advanced missile warning, tracking, and defense capabilities. The HBTSS satellites can detect hypersonic missiles launched from various platforms and track them across satellite sensors. Despite the U.S. lagging behind China and Russia in hypersonic technology development, this launch represents a crucial step in bolstering national security. Additionally, SpaceX's successful landing of the Falcon 9's first stage marked a significant milestone in rocket reusability.

        Airmen Scramble to Keep B-52s Flying Due to Plack of Parts 

        The aging B-52H Stratofortress faces increasing challenges for the U.S. Air Force due to its outdated engines and dwindling spare parts supply. Maintenance crews resort to cannibalization, removing parts from one aircraft to repair another, a practice on the rise due to obsolete components and global supply chain disruptions. While efforts are made to locate spare parts from retired B-52s and explore new production sources, the situation remains critical. Modernization plans, including new engines and components, aim to alleviate maintenance burdens, but until implemented, the strain on maintainers persists. Challenges stem from the shrinking defense-industrial base, leading to lengthy lead times for crucial parts. Pratt & Whitney has been awarded a contract to sustain TF33 engines, aiming to address spare parts shortages. Maintainers eagerly await the promised reliability of new engines, hoping to shift focus to other B-52 systems. Despite ongoing efforts, maintainers grapple with limited resources, resorting to creative solutions to keep the B-52 flying and mission-ready. 


        House Rejects Republicans’ Standalone Bill to Fund Israel 

        The US House of Representatives rejected a Republican-sponsored standalone bill on Tuesday that aimed to allocate $17.6 billion in aid to Israel. Falling short of the required two-thirds majority, the vote of 250 to 180 underscored Democrats' preference for a broader measure encompassing assistance to Ukraine, international humanitarian funding, and border security. Critics labeled the Israel aid bill a political maneuver to divert attention from their opposition to a comprehensive Senate bill combining immigration reform, border security funding, and emergency aid for Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific region. While the standalone bill had bipartisan support for aiding Israel in response to recent attacks, it faced opposition from Democrats who perceived it as an obstruction to the larger aid package. President Biden threatened to veto the standalone bill, viewing it as an attempt to undermine the broader bipartisan negotiations. Despite arguments for swift support to Israel, the standalone bill was viewed as a partisan tactic by Democratic leaders. 

        IDF Begins Series of Air Strikes on Lebanon 

        The Israeli military has initiated a series of air strikes in Lebanon, escalating fears of a war between the two nations. The strikes followed an incident where fire from Lebanon injured several people in northern Israel. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces since the Gaza war outbreak, has not claimed responsibility for the rocket launches. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, stated that the attacks from southern Lebanon would cease once there is a ceasefire in Gaza. The possibility of a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is increasing, with significant displacement on both sides. Since the Hamas-Israel war began on October 7, at least 243 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 30 civilians. On the Israeli side, nine soldiers and six civilians have been reported dead. 


        Weapons Shortages in Ukraine as Conflict Reaches 2-Year Mark

        Ukraine is reportedly facing a shortage of weapons, including artillery shells and munitions, crucial for protecting its cities. The failure of Ukraine's 2023 counteroffensive has led President Zelenskiy to seek a more assertive approach to the conflict. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, now entering its third year, has evolved into trench warfare, limiting opportunities for surprise attacks. Ukraine's need for a consistent supply of weapons, particularly artillery shells, is crucial for its "active defense." Western allies are facing challenges in providing the required support, leaving Kyiv's forces struggling against Moscow's troops. Ukraine's air defenses are also reportedly less effective in countering incoming weapons. Russia's Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, has called for an increase in artillery production to meet President Putin's targets, emphasizing the urgency of addressing battlefield needs. 

        Russia Can Expect ‘Surprises’ on the Battlefield According to US Diplomat 

        U.S. veteran envoy Victoria Nuland visited Kyiv, expressing support for Ukraine and suggesting that Russia should expect "surprises" on the battlefield. Nuland, the acting deputy secretary of state, visited amid uncertainty over fresh U.S. aid to Ukraine, with some Republican lawmakers questioning continued support. She left Kyiv encouraged about unity and strategic importance for Ukraine in 2024. Nuland expressed confidence in Ukraine's strengthening defenses, hinting at surprises for Vladimir Putin's forces. She praised Ukraine for inflicting "massive damages on Putin's land forces" during the two-year conflict. However, Ukraine's counter-offensive has seen limited success, and the front has remained relatively stable. While Putin claimed Russian forces were holding ground near Avdiivka, Ukraine's military spy chief suggested the Russian offensive might slow in the coming months. 

        If Attacked by NATO, Former Russian President Warns ‘No Choice’ but to Unleash Nuclear ‘Apocalypse’ 

        Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev reiterated his warning about the catastrophic consequences of a direct conflict between Moscow and NATO, emphasizing the potential for a nuclear apocalypse. Medvedev's statement, shared on Telegram, follows recent remarks by European leaders urging citizens to prepare for war. He dismissed NATO accusations of Russia seeking broader conflict as "dangerous drivel" aimed at justifying increased military support for Ukraine. Medvedev stressed that Russia's response to NATO aggression would be "asymmetrical," involving the use of ballistic and cruise missiles with special warheads to defend territorial integrity. This blunt assertion of Russia's military capabilities underscores the gravity of the situation amid escalating tensions, particularly as Ukraine's security services target Russian oil refineries. Concerns persist about the possibility of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO, fueled by accusations of proxy warfare and Western involvement in attacks on Russian soil. The risk of conflict intensifies as both sides maneuver amidst heightened hostility. 


        DoD Lists Dozens of Dozens of Chinese Military Companies Operating in the US 

        The U.S. Department of Defense revealed that 46 Chinese military companies, including subsidiaries, are operating within the United States under the guise of civilian entities. This disclosure is part of the ongoing effort to counter China's Military-Civil Fusion strategy. The strategy aims to support the modernization goals of the People's Liberation Army by acquiring advanced technologies and expertise developed by seemingly civilian entities. The list includes well-known names like Huawei Investment & Holdings Company and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), with seven subsidiaries. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has been scrutinizing these entities for potential violations of federal export-control rules. The U.S. government has expressed concerns about Huawei's recent smartphone developments, utilizing 7-nanometer chips supporting 5G technology manufactured by SMIC, allegedly violating export controls. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that China is collaborating with nations hostile to the U.S., emphasizing the need for increased awareness and actions against Chinese aggression. 

        Cyber Warning Reveals Chinese Hackers Spent 5 Years in US Infrastructure, Ready to Attack 

        Federal agencies, including those from the U.S. and allied countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K., have issued a stark cybersecurity warning, revealing that Chinese hackers have infiltrated U.S. infrastructure, remaining undetected for up to five years. The hackers, allegedly backed by China's intelligence services, have targeted critical sectors such as communications, energy, transportation, and waste management across the continental U.S. and its territories. The warning underscores fears that these infiltrations could escalate into destructive cyberattacks in the event of a conflict, particularly if the U.S. intervenes in a situation like China's potential invasion of Taiwan. Notably, the report highlights the stealthiness of the hackers' tactics, making it challenging for infrastructure owners to detect breaches. This disclosure marks the first public acknowledgment of the extent and duration of China's cyber espionage efforts within U.S. infrastructure. 


        Iran Now Has Enough Uranium for a Nuclear Weapon According to Agency Reports

        Iran now has enough weapons-grade uranium to produce a nuclear weapon within a week, according to a report by the Institute for Science and International Security. The threat level has entered its “extreme danger” rating for the first time, due to the dramatic increase in Iran’s nuclear program since May 2023. The report suggests that the ongoing conflicts are leading to the neglect of the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran is also concealing its nuclear program, including building an underground facility to evade U.S. bunker buster bombs. The report identifies the nuclear breakout time for Iran as a major concern. Iran could produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon in a week and could have enough for twelve weapons in five months. The report criticizes the Obama-Biden Iran nuclear deal and Biden’s attempts to resurrect it. The situation with Iran is “trending very negative,” according to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

        Iran’s IRGC Launches Missile from Shipping Container at Sea 

        Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has launched two “Fateh class” ballistic missiles from a sea base-like vessel, Shahid Mahdavi, using launchers disguised as standard shipping containers. This method, unseen until now, significantly extends the potential reach of these weapons. The launch was a collaboration between the IRGC’s naval and aerospace forces, and at least one missile successfully hit a target in Iran’s central desert. The exact launch date, missile variant, and distance covered remain unclear. Footage shows the missiles firing from the containers and the resulting explosion upon impact. The launch date is speculated to be between January 25-27, based on open-source intelligence accounts. The launch location is believed to be between the cities of Jask and Chabahar along the Iranian coastline in the Gulf of Oman. The missile type is uncertain, with suggestions ranging from Dezful medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) to Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The use of shipping containers as missile launchers is not new, with Russia having previously used similar methods.


        Revenue and Profit Declines Force UPS to Cut 12,000 Jobs 

        UPS has announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs, following a challenging year that saw a significant decline in its 2023 revenue and profit. The shipping giant reported a $6.7 billion profit for the full year, down almost 42% from 2022. UPS CEO Carol Tomé stated that the company aims to cut about $1 billion in costs through reductions in management positions and contractors. The job cuts will amount to approximately 14% of management headcount and will take place at UPS locations worldwide over the next several months. The cuts are not expected to affect the vast unionized workforce of UPS drivers, package handlers, and others. UPS has been adjusting its operational headcount through attrition and reducing operations. The company reported a 9.3% decline in revenue in 2023 to about $91 billion. 

        40% Increase Coming to IRS Enforcement Workforce by Year-End 2024 

        The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) plans to increase its enforcement personnel by 40% by the end of fiscal year 2024, adding 5,462 employees, primarily revenue agents tasked with conducting face-to-face audits of complex returns. The agency aims to enhance enforcement efforts to address the growing tax gap, which reached $688 billion in 2021. The increase in staffing is funded by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which allocated $79.4 billion to the IRS until September 2031. However, concerns have been raised about prioritizing enforcement over taxpayer services, especially as the agency faces call wait time complaints. The IRS collected a record $4.9 trillion in taxes in fiscal year 2022, with $72 billion from enforcement activities. There are worries that IRA funds might be used to increase audits for individuals earning less than $400,000 annually. With a potential shortfall in fiscal 2024 appropriations, the IRS may need to divert IRA funds, impacting modernization efforts. 


        EIA Reports that the US Imported Russian Oil Cargo in November 

        Despite a U.S. ban on Russian oil enacted by Congress two years ago, Energy Information Administration (EIA) data revealed that a cargo of 10,000 barrels of Russian crude arrived in the United States in November. The official Russian oil import chart by the EIA indicates a halt to imports in April 2022. However, Global Witness reported last year that fuel made from Russian crude continued to enter the U.S. This involved shipping Russian crude abroad, refining it, and then legally exporting it to the U.S. India played a central role in processing Russian crude and exporting it globally, including to the U.S. The European Union and Japan have also been importing fuels made from Russian crude despite official restrictions. Brazil, a fellow BRICS member, has become a major buyer of Russian oil, with imports of Russian diesel surging by 6,000% in 2023 to 6.1 million tons. 


        US Cattle Declines to Lowest Level in Decades 

        The cattle population in the United States has plummeted to its lowest level in decades, raising concerns among ranchers about the future of the U.S. beef industry. John Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, emphasized the severity of the situation, attributing it to a decline of 1 billion pounds in beef production compared to the previous year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), beef cattle inventory nationwide has dropped to 28.2 million, the lowest since the 1970s, with total cattle and calf inventory reaching its lowest point since 1951. Factors such as persistent drought, high input costs, and inflation have exacerbated the situation. Despite strong beef demand following the COVID-19 pandemic, beef prices are expected to rise further. Boyd and others criticize the Biden administration for neglecting the crisis, warning of its implications for consumers and cattle farmers alike. 


        Ohio Officials Warn Travelers May Have Been Exposed to Measles in Cincinnati Airport 

        Health officials in Ohio issued a warning of potential measles exposure at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Travelers passing through Terminal A on specific dates in January may have been exposed. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is collaborating with the CDC and local authorities to identify and notify those at risk. The alert follows the confirmation of a measles case in a Montgomery County child. Symptoms typically manifest in two stages, starting with fever, runny nose, and cough, followed by a rash. Measles, caused by a virus, is highly contagious and can be severe, especially in children. The CDC recommends the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for prevention. This warning echoes a previous advisory in Washington, D.C., regarding possible measles exposure at Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

        Syphilis Cases Surge Causing Some Providers to Ration Penicillin 

        The surge in syphilis cases, particularly in Tennessee's Hamilton County, has become a national concern, with rates reaching a 70-year high across the United States. The epidemic is exacerbated by a shortage of penicillin, the primary treatment for syphilis, leading to significant challenges in managing the infection, especially among pregnant patients. Despite efforts to address the shortage and provide alternative treatments, such as desensitization for penicillin-allergic patients, the demand for the injectable form remains high. Manufacturing challenges and increased demand due to the syphilis surge have strained the supply chain. Pfizer, the primary manufacturer, is investing in expanding production, but the shortage is expected to persist until spring. Healthcare providers like Stephen Miller's clinic in Chattanooga are facing logistical and financial hurdles in managing the outbreak. Collaborative efforts between healthcare providers and public health departments are crucial in addressing the rising cases and ensuring comprehensive care for affected individuals. 

        Human Case of Bubonic Plague Confirmed in Oregon, Likely Caused by Cat 

        A case of bubonic plague has been reported in Oregon, marking the state's first human case in eight years. Health officials in Deschutes County attribute the likely cause to contact with an infected cat. The affected individual and their pet's close contacts have been provided with medication to prevent illness. While the disease is typically spread through flea bites or contact with infected animals, human-to-human transmission is rare. Fortunately, the case was identified early, and swift treatment has minimized the risk to the community. The plague, infamous for its historical devastation, is now easily treatable with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can lead to severe illness and death. Symptoms typically manifest within days of exposure and include fever, nausea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes. While plague cases persist in rural parts of the West, preventive measures such as keeping pets leashed outdoors are recommended by health authorities. 

        First Case of ‘Alaskapox’ Reported near Anchorage 

        Alaska reports its first fatal case of Alaskapox virus (AKPV) in an elderly man from the Kenai Peninsula, raising concerns about the virus' spread. Initially noticing a red bump in his armpit in September, the man's condition worsened, leading to hospitalization in November due to an extensive infection. Despite treatment, he succumbed to kidney failure in late January. The bulletin from the Alaska Section of Epidemiology highlights this as the seventh documented AKPV infection, expanding beyond the Fairbanks area. State epidemiologist Julia Rogers stresses the importance of raising awareness among clinicians to identify symptoms. The bulletin includes recommendations for testing and managing potential cases. Meanwhile, speculations about political implications arise, with Democrats potentially seeing absentee voting as crucial amidst the emergence of new viruses. The mention of "Disease X" at the World Economic Forum adds to global concerns about emerging infectious diseases.


        BRICS Confirms Addition of 5 New Members 

        Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, and Iran have officially confirmed their membership in the BRICS group of emerging economies, according to South Africa. These countries, along with Argentina, were invited to join the bloc during a summit held in Johannesburg in August. Argentina, however, has decided not to proceed with its application to become a full member. The announcement was made during the handover of the BRICS chair to the Russian Federation. The BRICS summit also discussed the use of local currencies for payments among member countries to address what was described as an unfair and costly international payment system heavily reliant on the U.S. dollar. The BRICS group, originally formed in 2006 with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, added South Africa in 2010. 

        NATO Member Estonian PM Kallas Put on Criminal Wanted List by Russia 

        Estonia's Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, has been placed on a wanted list in Russia due to her efforts to remove Soviet-era Second World War monuments in Estonia. This development comes amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, particularly amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The Russian Interior Ministry's register of people wanted on criminal charges now includes Kallas, although the specific charges against her were not specified. Estonia, along with fellow NATO members Latvia and Lithuania, has sought to remove Second World War monuments, which Russia considers a desecration of the memory of Soviet soldiers. Kallas, who has advocated for increased military assistance to Ukraine and stronger sanctions against Russia, is among several officials and lawmakers from Baltic nations included on the list. The move reflects Russia's efforts to respond to pressure from NATO allies and comes amidst concerns in Europe about the future of the alliance amid the U.S. presidential election.

        Putin Says He Wants ‘Typical’ ‘Predictable’ Biden to be the Next President 

        Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a preference for President Joe Biden to win re-election over former President Donald Trump during a recent interview with state television. Putin cited Biden's experience and predictability as factors influencing his choice, describing him as a politician of the old school. However, Putin emphasized that Russia would work with any U.S. president elected by the American people. Putin's remarks coincide with criticism of Biden's mental fitness for office following a report by Special Counsel Robert Hur that highlighted Biden's memory lapses and inability to recall key details. Despite efforts by Biden to demonstrate his mental acuity during a press conference, doubts persist. Putin defended Biden, noting that attacks on his age and mental fitness were becoming increasingly harsh. He also acknowledged the logic behind Trump's stance on NATO, particularly regarding European contributions to defense spending.  


        Trump Illegally Targeted by CIA and Foreign Intel Before 2016 Russia Collusion Claims 

        According to a report by independent journalists, the US Intelligence Community enlisted foreign spy agencies from the "Five Eyes" alliance to surveil 26 associates of Donald Trump before the 2016 election. Former CIA Director John Brennan reportedly identified these targets, requesting intelligence-sharing partners like the UK's GCHQ to make contact with or manipulate them. The surveillance allegedly aimed to collect information and spread misinformation about Trump's associates. GCHQ denies being asked to conduct wiretapping against Trump. Trump ordered the declassification of intelligence related to this effort, but the current whereabouts of the evidence remain unknown. The Trump campaign and CIA did not respond to requests for comment. Warrantless surveillance of US persons is prohibited by law. Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith's probation sentence for falsifying documents related to the Carter Page wiretap renewed scrutiny over the FBI's investigation into Trump's alleged collusion with Russia, which Special Counsel John Durham found to be flawed. The FBI stated it had implemented corrective actions since then. The journalists behind this report were previously involved in exposing Twitter's efforts to suppress news, including reporting on Hunter Biden's laptop. 

        Poll Says Nealy 90% of Americans Believe Biden Isn’t Fit to Serve 

        A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted after a challenging week for President Joe Biden revealed that a significant 86 percent of Americans doubt his ability to serve another term. This sentiment intensified after a Special Counsel report described Biden as an "elderly man with a poor memory," and his heated exchange with reporters on the issue. Surprisingly, the poll found that even within his own party, with 73 percent of Democrats and 91 percent of Independents, there are concerns about Biden's age affecting his fitness for office. The report also highlights comparisons with former President Donald Trump, emphasizing concerns about age for both candidates. Trump's criticism of Biden's cognitive abilities resurfaced during a rally, underscoring recent doubts about Biden's mental acuity. Additionally, buried in the report are findings suggesting that a significant portion of Americans believe Trump would handle key issues better than Biden, such as immigration, crime, the economy, and inflation. 

        VP Harris Says She’s ‘Ready’ to be President

        Vice President Kamala Harris expressed readiness to assume the presidency amid mounting concerns about President Joe Biden's mental fitness, exacerbated by a recent report from Special Counsel Robert Hur. The report detailed Biden's retention and disclosure of classified materials, citing memory lapses and a lack of recall about significant life events, fueling doubts about his competence. Biden's attempt to address these concerns in a press conference backfired, leading to further scrutiny. Top Democrats are privately alarmed over Biden's electability, with polls showing widespread doubts about his age and mental acuity. Harris, responding to questions about her readiness, affirmed her capacity to lead, stressing her demonstrated competence. Political observers note the spotlight now on Harris, with the potential for her to assume a larger role sooner than expected. Polls suggest she is a leading choice among Democratic voters if Biden chooses not to run again, despite previous ratings indicating public skepticism about her performance as vice president. 

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