Drone Certification TestFurious Over Sub Deal, France Recalls Ambassadors to U.S. and Australia

September 18, 2021by helo-10

Daily Political Briefing

Sept. 18, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ET

Sept. 18, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ET

Credit…Angelos Tzortzinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PARIS — Calling American and Australian behavior “unacceptable between allies and partners,” France announced on Friday that it was recalling its ambassadors to both countries in protest over President Biden’s decision to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

It was the first time in the history of the long alliance between France and the United States, dating back to 1778, that a French ambassador has been recalled to Paris in this way for consultations. The decision by President Emmanuel Macron reflects the extent of French outrage at what it has a called a “brutal” American decision and a “stab in the back” from Australia.

In a statement, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said the decision was made by Mr. Macron, who is understood to be furious about the way the United States, Britain and Australia negotiated the deal without informing France.

Australia on Wednesday canceled a $66 billion agreement to purchase French-built, conventionally powered submarines, hours before the deal with Washington and London was announced.

“At the request of the President of the Republic, I have decided to immediately recall our two ambassadors to the United States and Australia to Paris for consultations,” the statement said. “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States.”




French Ambassador to Australia Leaves Embassy

Jean-Pierre Thebault, France’s ambassador to Australia, called the submarine deal between the United States, Britain and Australia “a huge mistake” as he left the French Embassy in Canberra, Australia, after being recalled to France.

I’m very sad to be forced to leave. But there needs to be some reassessment being made. We shouldn’t underestimate the strength of the relations, people to people, you know. and I think this does not affect in any way the relations, which is so deep running among our two countries, among the people. There’s so many things we’re doing, so many projects we’re leading, and I’m still confident in the French-Australian, Australian-French cooperations. I think this has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of a partnership. Because it was not a contract, it was a partnership. Partnerships are supposed to be based on trust, mutual understanding and also a partnership based, you know, on sincerity.

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Jean-Pierre Thebault, France’s ambassador to Australia, called the submarine deal between the United States, Britain and Australia “a huge mistake” as he left the French Embassy in Canberra, Australia, after being recalled to France.CreditCredit…AuBC via Associated Press

Strained as relations were between Europe and the Trump administration over issues including climate change, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the role of the European Union, they never deteriorated to the point of the recall of a European ambassador.

The temporary return of the ambassadors to Paris amounts to a severe diplomatic rebuke that is usually used against adversaries. Mr. Le Drian made it clear that his country saw the actions of the United States and Australia as a serious breach of trust.

In an editorial, Le Monde, the leading French daily, said: “For any who still doubted it, the Biden administration is no different from the Trump administration on this point: The United States comes first, whether it’s in the strategic, economic, financial or health fields. ‘America First’ is the guiding line of the foreign policy of the White House.”

The Biden administration, bent on containing the growing power of China, sees the nuclear submarine deal as a way to cement ties with a Pacific ally that is increasingly at odds with Beijing, while also making that ally more powerful.

Emily Horne, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said: “We have been in close touch with our French partners on their decision to recall Ambassador Etienne to Paris for consultations. We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance.”

She was referring to Philippe Etienne, the veteran diplomat who is the French ambassador in Washington.

The United States appears determined to play down the rift with France, portraying the conflict as just another disagreement among friends. France, however, appears to view the American decision as not only offensive in its secretive preparation but also indicative of a fundamental strategic shift that calls into question the very nature of the Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Le Drian’s statement said “the very conception we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe” would be affected. Where before France believed it could work hand-in-hand with the United States in confronting China, despite French reservations over perceived American aggressiveness, it now appears to be reconsidering that view.

Mr. Macron had made the growing French relationship with Australia a cornerstone of a strategy to expand Europe’s role in meeting the challenge of China’s rise. Because an American company, Lockheed Martin, was a partner in the French submarine deal with Australia, reached in 2016, the contract was viewed in Paris as an example of how France and the United States could work together in Asia.

That belief has now been shredded, replaced by bitterness, suspicion and a measure of incredulity that the Biden Administration would treat France this way.

A senior French diplomatic official described the fallout as a crisis in French-American relations. He said the French foreign and defense ministers had tried in vain, starting a week ago, to reach their American counterparts and speak to them on Monday or Tuesday.

He also said that until Mr. Macron received a letter Wednesday morning from the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, telling him the French submarine deal was scrapped, Australia had given no indication that it would pull out of the deal.

Australia had asked in June whether France believed its attack-class submarines were still up to meeting the threats they might face, and accepted French reassurances that they were, he said. American officials have suggested Australia made clear to France as early as June that the deal was dead.

Australia said in a statement on Saturday that it “understands France’s deep disappointment,” The Associated Press reported. The statement, from Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office, said the country’s decision “was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.”

American officials have conceded that they first informed the French about the deal on Wednesday morning, hours before Mr. Biden announced it. They also said that top American officials had tried, unsuccessfully, to schedule meetings with their French counterparts before news of the deal leaked in the Australian and American press — a mirror image of the French claim.

In the face of a disastrous imbroglio, both sides were trying to pass the blame. It appeared clear, however, that France had been blindsided by friends on an issue of critical strategic and economic importance.

In a briefing with reporters on Friday before the recall announcement by the French government, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, downplayed the damage to the relationship between the two countries.

“As the president said, we cooperate closely with France on shared priorities both in the Indo-Pacific region and we’ll continue to do so here in the Security Council,” she said. “Good friends have disagreements, but that’s the nature of friendship and that’s — because you’re friends, you can have disagreements and continue to work on those areas of cooperation.”

She added: “We don’t see those tensions changing the nature of our friendship.”

In Paris, however, there was no sign of words like “cooperation” and no indication that France was ready to declare anything remotely resembling business as usual.

Mr. Macron faces an election in seven months. With right-wing nationalists challenging him strongly, the way he responds to what is being portrayed here as a serious insult will be closely watched.

The French president is certain to turn to his European partners, and particularly Germany, as he reassesses the Western alliance and Asian policy.

As Le Monde put it, “Beyond French sensibilities, it is the place of Europe and its role in the world that have been thrust into question. Where does Europe want to stand in the global realignment happening in the shadow of the America-China confrontation?”




How a U.S. Drone Strike Killed the Wrong Person

A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in a drone strike in Kabul last month that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.

[explosion] In one of the final acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.” What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members said spent the hours before he died running office errands, and ended his day by pulling up to his house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit with a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious moves of a terrorist may have just been an average day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water canisters he was bringing home to his family — not explosives. Using never-before seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, co-workers and witnesses, we will piece together for the first time his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years, he had worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota corollas, taking his colleagues to and from work and distributing the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Only three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were bracing for what they feared was another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on Aug. 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times pieced together the security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. It’s around this time that the U.S. military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, around five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the U.S. military said they tracked Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse, instructing the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped to get breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the N.G.O.’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his co-workers to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution at a new displacement camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s timestamp is off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. A 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulls out a hose, and then he and a co-worker fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring these same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a water shortage in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moves Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car pull into an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown compound. With the workday ending, an employee switched off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We don’t have footage of the moments that followed. But it’s at this time, the military said that its drone feed showed four men gingerly loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying — their laptops one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s co-workers said, were the water containers. Ahmadi dropped each one of them off, then drove to his home in a dense neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A U.S. official said the military feared the car would leave again, and go into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the courtyard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the moment to strike. A U.S. official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days after the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off other explosions, and that these likely killed the civilians in the courtyard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible to probable that explosives in the car caused another blast. We gathered photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard multiple times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown-out walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the courtyard was overturned by a large blast. No destroyed vegetation. All of this matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and triggered a large fire. There is one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before heading home. Even though the military said the drone team watched the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they weren’t aware of any water containers. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence that linked him to the Islamic State. But the morning after the U.S. killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State did launch rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven through the previous day. And the vehicle they used … … was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its strike, and says there is an investigation underway. They have also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer at a U.S. NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to receive refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the U.S. for protection, they instead became some of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers on this story. Our latest visual investigation began with word on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a U.S. drone strike, one of the final acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage, and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the strike aftermath. You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter.”

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A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in a drone strike in Kabul last month that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.CreditCredit…By The New York Times. Video frame: Nutrition & Education International.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that the last U.S. drone strike before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, after initially saying it had been necessary to prevent an attack on troops.

The extraordinary admission provided a horrific punctuation to the chaotic ending of the 20-year war in Afghanistan and will put President Biden and the Pentagon at the center of a growing number of investigations into how the administration and the military carried out Mr. Biden’s order to withdraw from the country.

Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, and then days, and then weeks after the Aug. 29 drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white Toyota sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in a densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said.

In short, the car posed no threat at all, investigators concluded.




Pentagon Admits It Made a ‘Tragic Mistake’ in Kabul Drone Strike

Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.

A comprehensive review of all the available footage and reporting on the matter led us to a final conclusion that as many as 10 civilians were killed in the strike, including up to seven children. At the time of the strike, based upon all the intelligence and what was being reported, I was confident that the strike had averted an imminent threat to our forces at the airport. Based upon that assessment, I and other leaders in the department repeatedly asserted the validity of this strike. I’m here today to set the record straight, and acknowledge our mistakes. I will end my remarks with the same note of sincere and profound condolences to the family and friends of those who died in this tragic strike. We are exploring the possibility of ex-gratia payments. And I’ll finish by saying that while the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect.

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Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The acknowledgment of the mistake came a week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a review of the military’s inquiry into the drone strike to determine, among other issues, who should be held accountable and “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”

Congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, said they wanted their own accounting from the Pentagon.

Senior Defense Department leaders conceded that the driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, had nothing to do with the Islamic State, contrary to what military officials had previously asserted. Mr. Ahmadi’s only connection to the terrorist group appeared to be a fleeting and innocuous interaction with people in what the military believed was an ISIS safe house in Kabul, an initial link that led military analysts to make one mistaken judgment after another while tracking Mr. Ahmadi’s movements in the sedan for the next eight hours.

“I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference on Friday.

The general said the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that ISIS was about to attack Kabul’s airport, as the organization had done three days earlier, killing more than 140 people, including 13 American service members.

Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The general said the Times investigation helped investigators determine that they had struck a wrong target. “As we in fact worked on our investigation, we used all available information,” General McKenzie told reporters. “Certainly that included some of the stuff The New York Times did.”

The findings of the inquiry by the military’s Central Command mirrored the Times investigation, which also included interviews with more than a dozen of the driver’s co-workers and family members in Kabul. The Times inquiry raised doubts about the U.S. version of events, including whether explosives were present in the vehicle. It also identified the driver and obtained security camera footage from Mr. Ahmadi’s employers that documented crucial moments during his day that challenged the military’s account.

Mr. Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said the missile was launched because the military had intelligence suggesting a credible, imminent threat to the airport, where U.S. and allied troops were frantically trying to evacuate people. General Milley later called the strike “righteous.”

On Friday, General Milley suggested that he spoke too soon.

“In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, but after deeper post-strike analysis, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” General Milley said in a statement. “This is a horrible tragedy of war and it’s heart-wrenching and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.”

General McKenzie said the conditions on the ground before the strike contributed to the errant strike. “We did not have the luxury to develop pattern of life,” he said.

The Pentagon will work with the families and other government officials on reparation payments, General McKenzie said. Without any American troops in Afghanistan, he said that the task may be difficult, but that “we recognize the obligation.”

Military officials said they did not know the identity of the car’s driver when the drone fired, but they had deemed him suspicious because of his activities that day: He had visited a suspected Islamic State safe house in a white Toyota Corolla, the same model that other intelligence that day indicated was involved in an imminent plot, and at one point he loaded the vehicle with what they thought could be explosives.

Military officials on Friday defended their assessment that the safe house was a hub of ISIS planning, based on a combination of intercepted communications, information from informants and aerial imagery. Rockets were fired at the airport 24 hours after the U.S. drone strike, General McKenzie said.

But after reviewing additional aerial video and photographs, military investigators concluded that their initial judgment about the driver and his car were wrong, an error that prejudiced their views of every subsequent stop he made that day while driving around Kabul.

Times reporting had identified the driver as Mr. Ahmadi. The evidence suggests that his travels that day actually involved transporting colleagues to and from work. And an analysis of video feeds showed that what the military may have seen was Mr. Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water into his trunk to bring home to his family.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” Mr. Austin said in a statement, referring to an affiliate of the Islamic State.

The officials said on Friday that a subsequent review concluded, as did the Times investigation, that the suspicious packages were nothing more than water, and possibly a package the size of a laptop computer.

Senior Pentagon leaders, who were already preparing to brief lawmakers on the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, will probably face tough questioning on the last drone strike of that engagement.

“I’m devastated by the acknowledgment from the Department of Defense that the strike conducted on Aug. 29 was an utter failure that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 civilians,” Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona, said in a statement. “I expect the department to brief us immediately on the operation, focusing on a full accounting of the targeting processes and procedures which led to the determination to carry out such a strike.”

Civilian deaths from drone strikes have been a recurring problem in more than two decades of fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and are unlikely to go away as the Biden administration moves toward what officials call “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan — strikes launched against terrorist targets in the country from great distances away.

Since the Aug. 29 strike, U.S. military officials justified their actions by citing an even larger blast that took place afterward in the courtyard where Mr. Ahmadi, who worked as an electrical engineer for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid group, made his final stop.

But an examination of the scene of the strike, conducted by the Times visual investigations team and a Times reporter the morning afterward, and followed up with a second visit four days later, found no evidence of a second, more powerful explosion.

Experts who examined photos and videos pointed out that, although there was clear evidence of a missile strike and a subsequent vehicle fire, there were no collapsed or blown-out walls, no destroyed vegetation, and only one dent in the entrance gate, indicating a single shock wave.

Military officials said investigators now believed the second explosion was a flare-up from a propane tank in the courtyard, or possibly the gas tank of a second vehicle in the courtyard.

While the U.S. military initially said the drone strike might have killed three civilians, officials now say that 10 people, including seven children, were killed. The military reached that conclusion after watching aerial imagery that shows three children coming out to greet the sedan, one of them taking the wheel of the car after Mr. Ahmadi got out.

When Mr. Ahmadi pulled into the courtyard of his home, the tactical commander made the decision to strike his vehicle, launching a single Hellfire missile at 4:53 p.m.

Military officials defended the procedures the drone strike commander made in deciding to carry out the strike, with “reasonable certainty” there would be no civilian casualties, even as they described the badly flawed chain of events that led to that decision.

The commander overseeing the drone strike, an experienced operator whom the Pentagon did not identify, faced a difficult decision in his mind: Take the shot while the sedan was parked in a relatively isolated courtyard, or wait until the sedan drove even closer to the airport — and denser crowds — increasing the risk to civilians.

In the end, however, officials said on Friday, tragically, it was the wrong call.

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

A North Carolina court struck down the state’s voter identification law on Friday, citing “persuasive evidence” that a Republican-dominated state legislature had rushed it to passage at least in part to make it harder for Black voters to cast ballots.

It was the second time in five years that a court had invalidated a North Carolina voter identification law as racially discriminatory. In 2016, a federal appeals court ruled against a different version of the law, saying it had targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling on Friday, by a three-judge panel of the state Superior Court in Raleigh, effectively makes permanent a temporary ban on the law that a court had imposed after its passage in 2018.

In the 2-to-1 decision, the judges stated that they did not find that the Republican lawmakers who approved the law acted out of racial animus, but rather that they wanted to depress Black turnout because most African Americans cast ballots for Democrats.

That made no difference, the judges wrote, because the discriminatory effect is the same, even if done for partisan gain.

A dissenting judge argued that the court majority had relied on “mostly uncredible and incompetent evidence to find discriminatory intent.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which sued to block the law on behalf of five voters, said the ruling sent “a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated.”

“Should legislative defendants appeal today’s ruling, we’ll be prepared to remind them of what this court and the state’s constitution mandate: every vote matters,” Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the group, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether the legislature would appeal. Nor was it clear that the ruling would have any measurable impact on major elections, even in such a bitterly contested state. The North Carolina photo ID requirement was among the more lenient identification laws passed in recent years, and scholarly studies are divided over how much ID laws discourage people from casting ballots.

In an interview, Ms. Riggs said the coalition brought the suit in a state court instead of a federal one in part because provisions in the North Carolina Constitution are more protective of voting than those in the federal Constitution. Beyond that, the Superior Court ruling, should it be upheld, would not be reviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has become increasingly hostile to voting-rights arguments in recent years.

A separate lawsuit contesting the photo identification law is moving slowly through the federal courts, but the decision on Friday could make it moot if it is upheld.

The law at issue was the latest in a decade-long effort by Republicans in the state General Assembly to require voters to display identification, a cause the national Republican Party had embraced as an anti-fraud measure even though studies have shown that fraud at polling places was extremely rare.

An ID law passed in 2011 was vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor, Beverly E. Perdue. A second version, passed in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, relied on state data to compile a list of required IDs that Black voters disproportionately lacked, and exclude those they often held.

After that law was invalidated in 2016, the Legislature proposed an amendment to the state Constitution requiring voters to display identification at the polls. And when voters approved the amendment in the 2018 general election, the legislature called a lame-duck session to enact legislation setting out specific photo ID requirements.

A legal advocacy group, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, sued on behalf of five voters to overturn the law. At a trial in April, lawyers for the Republican-controlled Legislature argued that the new law not only was far less strict than the one struck down by the federal court, but counted a Black Democratic legislator as a sponsor.

The 2018 law accepted as valid student and tribal identification cards that the 2013 law excluded, made free IDs available at driver’s license and election offices and permitted voters who still lacked a photo identification to cast a provisional ballot.

But lawyers for the Southern Coalition argued that none of that outweighed the state’s recent and proven history of racial discrimination aimed at voters. The Republican supermajority that enacted the ID law was later ruled to be the product of racial gerrymandering, they argued.

Moreover, they said, even if the photo identification law improved on its predecessor, it still had a lopsided impact on Black voters. Republicans rejected Democratic proposals to add public assistance and high-school ID cards to the list of accepted identification, they noted, and an expert witness testified that Black voters were about 39 percent more likely to lack an accepted ID than were white voters.

Credit…via C-SPAN

A prominent cybersecurity lawyer pleaded not guilty on Friday to a charge of lying to the F.B.I. during a meeting five years ago about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia.

The lawyer, Michael A. Sussmann, appeared before a magistrate judge in Washington, where he was indicted a day earlier. After a brief hearing, he was released on certain conditions, including travel restrictions.

The indictment centers on whether Mr. Sussmann lied about who he was representing at a September 2016 meeting with a top F.B.I. lawyer. At that meeting, Mr. Sussmann provided analysis by cybersecurity researchers who said that unusual internet data might indicate a covert communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and with Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution.

The indictment says Mr. Sussmann falsely told the F.B.I. lawyer that he had no clients, but he was really representing both a technology executive and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers deny that he ever said he had no clients, and contend that he was there on behalf of only the executive and not Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

The F.B.I. looked into the concerns about Alfa Bank but found insufficient evidence to support them, and the special counsel who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the matter in his final report.

Mr. Sussmann is a former computer crimes prosecutor who worked for the Justice Department for 12 years. In 2016, he represented the Democratic National Committee on issues related to Russia’s hacking of its servers.

Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers have accused the special counsel, John H. Durham, of seeking an indictment of their client for political reasons. Mr. Durham was tapped in 2019 by Trump administration officials to review the F.B.I.’s investigation after the president and his allies cast doubt on its legitimacy and the Justice Department’s inspector general found major problems with one aspect of the inquiry — wiretapping surveillance applications — and in one related instance, criminal conduct.

In the weeks before the presidential election, then-Attorney General William P. Barr appointed Mr. Durham as special counsel, ensuring the inquiry would continue no matter who won the White House. In a news release announcing the indictment on Thursday, the Justice Department said Mr. Durham’s investigation was continuing.




Law Enforcement Heightens Security at the Capitol Ahead of Rally

J. Thomas Manger, chief of the Capitol Police, said authorities were aware of and prepared to address threats of violence associated with a protest at the Capitol Saturday for defendants charged in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

The U.S. Capitol Police department has been working around the clock for the last several weeks to ensure that we have a safe event tomorrow. But perhaps more importantly, over the last eight months, the leadership of the U.S. Capitol Police Department has been preparing working to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of Jan. 6. They have been working on ensuring that we have the adequate resources for our police officers, training, equipment, staffing to ensure that, again, we can accomplish our mission. Our mission tomorrow, as is our mission every day, and that is to protect everyone’s rights, to free speech and to allow them to lawfully demonstrate. And again, we are planning for a safe event tomorrow. But there have been some threats of violence associated with this — the events for tomorrow — and we have a strong plan in place to ensure that it remains peaceful and that if violence does occur, that we can stop it as quickly as possible. We’re not going to tolerate violence, and we will not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind. The American public and the members of Congress have an expectation that we protect the Capitol. And I’m confident with the plan we have in place that we’re going to be able to meet that expectation. We would be foolish not to take seriously the intelligence that we have at our disposal. How credible it is, how likely it is. people can make those judgments. But the fact of the matter is that we are hearing, we are hearing some chatter that I think would be responsible for us to plan the way we’ve been planning and put the precautions in place.

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J. Thomas Manger, chief of the Capitol Police, said authorities were aware of and prepared to address threats of violence associated with a protest at the Capitol Saturday for defendants charged in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 riot.CreditCredit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is deploying scores of National Guard troops to secure a fenced-off Capitol during a rally on Saturday for defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, bracing for violence as the authorities toil to correct the security failures that led to the deadly assault eight months ago.

In what the Capitol Police chief called the “new normal” of security amid rising threats from domestic extremists, the administration will deploy 100 unarmed National Guard troops to downtown Washington on Saturday. The additional military presence comes after intelligence officers tracked online threats made against members of Congress and reported that some rally attendees supportive of former President Donald J. Trump “may seek to engage in violence.”

“We are aware of a small number of recent online threats of violence referencing the planned rally, including online discussions encouraging violence the day before the rally,” intelligence officers from the Department of Homeland Security wrote in an assessment obtained by The New York Times.

The officials are preparing for violence to erupt with “little-to-no warning,” although they have not identified any “specific or credible plot associated with the event,” according to the document, which is dated Thursday.

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Security Memo on the Sept. 18 Rally

Read the memo prepared by the Department of Homeland Security assessing the possibility of violence at a rally in Washington Saturday, protesting the charges against members of the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Read Document

Still, the report points to concerning chatter on social media, noting that intelligence officials have found that some people had discussed storming the Capitol on Friday night, “and one user commented on kidnapping an identified member of Congress.” Others on the internet have mentioned targeting elected officials, Jewish institutions and “liberal churches.”

“We would be foolish not to take seriously the intelligence we have,” J. Thomas Manger, the chief of the Capitol Police, told reporters Friday on Capitol Hill. “The chatter we heard before Jan. 6, many of those threats turned out to be, in fact, credible. We’re not taking any chances.”

The changes are an about-face for a police agency that has long been known as secretive and was caught flat-footed by the violence of Jan. 6. Instead of dismissing threats and keeping intelligence to a small group of analysts, as they did before the January riot, Capitol Police leaders have spent the past week distributing warnings of even unconfirmed threats to rank-and-file officers, lawmakers and the news media. The agency has canceled time off for the entire force and asked for help, early and often, from other police departments and the National Guard — something officials had been reluctant to do in the run-up to Jan. 6. They also reflect a shift by the Biden administration to focus on domestic extremism, which officials agree is one of the most lethal threats to the United States, after decades of prioritizing terrorism overseas.

The “Justice for J6” rally, slated for Saturday, is being organized by Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign operative, and his organization, Look Ahead America. The organization has demanded that the Justice Department drop charges against what the group calls “nonviolent protesters” facing charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot. Organizers have secured a permit for 700 attendees at the rally, according to the document.

Chief Manger said his officers had also been in touch with rally organizers and their security team, and in preparation for the event, security officials have restored a security perimeter around the Capitol including a high fence like the one erected in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.

The rally is the latest effort to rewrite history of the deadly mob attack on the Capitol, which sought to disrupt Congress’s count to formalize President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, and which prosecutors say led to as many as 1,000 assaults against police officers. Federal authorities have issued multiple intelligence reports this year warning that the attack on Jan. 6 may not have been an isolated episode, and that domestic extremists have been emboldened by the mob attack and false narratives around the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump issued a statement from his office on Thursday, with no mention of the rally, but saying, “Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the Jan. 6 protest concerning the rigged presidential election.” He added: “Justice will prevail!”

The Biden administration has made a point of drawing a contrast between its strategy on domestic extremism and that of the previous administration, which redirected resources toward countering leftist groups despite advice from some top law enforcement officials that militias and white supremacists were the most lethal threat to the United States.

Federal officials had a call on Thursday with police agencies across the country to prepare for violence on Sept. 18 and in the days ahead, according to an administration official.

The latest report, titled “Prospects for Violence at ‘Justice for J6’ Rally in Washington, D.C.,” warns of possible violence both by participants in the rally and by counterprotesters — a possibility that Chief Manger alluded to on Friday.

“If they decide they want to breach the fence, if they decide they want to attack law enforcement, we’ll be ready for those kinds of violence,” he said.

Those seeking to commit violence could use encrypted communication platforms, making it difficult for law enforcement to disrupt any plans, according to the document.

Still, homeland security officers have found fractured support for the rally among those who have supported the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Some individuals sympathetic to those who breached the Capitol have claimed online that the event is a “‘false flag’ planned by authorities to target potential attendees for arrest and have encouraged like-minded individuals to not attend,” according to the document. Users of Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, have referred to the rally as a “clout trap,” an event where organizers are trying to make a name for themselves on the backs of the true believers.

Members of Congress and law enforcement officials have said the security preparations for the rally on Saturday are a stark contrast to the planning in the weeks before Jan. 6. A report by two Senate committees found that authorities failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials and share intelligence before the riot earlier this year.

Unlike the riot of Jan. 6, where the Capitol Police were severely outnumbered, the agency plans to be at full staffing for the Sept. 18 rally, and has issued an “emergency declaration” that allows officers from other agencies to be deputized with police powers on Capitol grounds.

On Jan. 6, officers at the Capitol waited for hours to receive help from the National Guard. But for the Sept. 18 rally, the department has already asked the Defense Department to be ready to send in the National Guard.

Chief Manger said Saturday’s rally was an opportunity to practice the agency’s new security protocols.

In addition to restoring the fence, the Capitol Police has installed new security camera technology to better monitor a wider range of activity around the complex, and has streamlined its intelligence-sharing and planning processes after the attack.

Elizabeth Neumann, the former assistant homeland security secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention under Mr. Trump, welcomed the preparation. But she said when dealing with groups focused on targeting government facilities and officials, sending additional camouflaged troops and federal officers could also carry the risk of emboldening the extremists.

“It creates a target,” she said. “As a security official, what you’re making the bet against is that if you don’t protect, are you opening yourself up for another Jan. 6 repeat.”

Congressional leaders have said they are encouraged by briefings they’ve received from the Capitol Police about preparations for Sept. 18.

“I believe that they are well prepared, thorough, professional, and I think they are better prepared than people were before Jan. 6,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said after receiving a briefing on the precautions.

Adam Goldman and Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Friday that the Bureau of Land Management will move its headquarters back to Washington, a reversal of a heavily criticized Trump administration decision to relocate the public lands agency to Grand Junction, Colo.

According to data released by the Biden administration earlier this year, more than 87 percent of the staff of the agency, which oversees oil and gas development as well as recreation on millions of acres of federal lands, left when its leaders established the new headquarters.

Those who remained began working in a building shared by Chevron and an oil and gas lobbying association. Critics contended that driving longtime employees to leave was the ultimate motive behind the move, driven by an administration promising to “drain the swamp” of Washington bureaucrats.

In announcing the return to Washington, Ms. Haaland said that the past few years had been “incredibly disruptive” to the agency, and said the B.L.M. must have “the appropriate structure and resources” to address climate change and expand access to public lands.

“There’s no doubt that the B.L.M. should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C., like all the other land-management agencies, to ensure that it has access to the policy, budget and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Haaland said the Grand Junction office will remain intact and “will grow and expand as the bureau’s official Western headquarters.”

Democrats and environmental groups applauded the move. Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, said he was “disappointed” that his state was losing the headquarters but called the creation of a new Western office “a very positive development.”

Republicans called the dual-office compromise a waste of federal tax dollars. Senator Steve Daines, Republican of Montana (not Colorado, as an earlier post said), accused the Biden administration of taking the agency in the “wrong direction” by moving those who make decisions about public lands farther away from the resources they manage.

“Clearly, they are more interested in ballooning the D.C. bureaucracy than in making government work better for the people,” he said.




Biden Urges World Leaders to Accelerate Action on Climate Crisis

At a virtual forum, President Biden pressed for a global allegiance in fighting climate change less than two months before a United Nations conference where nearly 200 nations are expected to announce new emissions-cutting targets.

There’s a real consensus, a real consensus, that while the climate crisis poses an existential threat, there is a silver lining. The climate crisis also presents real and incredible economic opportunities to create jobs and lift up the standard of living for people around the world. We’ve got to bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions, those that have not yet done so, time is running out. For our part in America, I’m working to pass the historic investment and to modernize our climate resilient infrastructure to build a clean energy future that creates millions of jobs and ushers in new industries of the future. As part of this work, the United States is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 50 and 52 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The countries representing the Major Economies Forum account for 80 percent of global emissions. Without adequate commitments from every nation in this room, the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees slips through our hands, and that’s a disaster. The finding from the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change represents a code red for humanity and the time to act is really narrowing, as the Secretary just pointed out, to get to close to a point of no return. We don’t have a lot of time. So we have to act. All of us, we have to act. We have to act now.

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At a virtual forum, President Biden pressed for a global allegiance in fighting climate change less than two months before a United Nations conference where nearly 200 nations are expected to announce new emissions-cutting targets.CreditCredit…Angus Mordant/Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday announced that the United States and Europe have pledged to work to cut global methane emissions by a third in the coming decade and urged other nations to join their effort to curb a potent greenhouse gas that is warming the planet.

In a virtual meeting hosted by the White House that included nine heads of state, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and ministers from a handful of other countries, Mr. Biden called the methane target an “ambitious but realistic goal” that the United States will help developing countries meet.

The effort comes less than two months before a United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland where all nations will be expected to announce more ambitious efforts over the next decade to cut the emissions that primarily arise from burning fossil fuels. Scientists say the world needs to sharply pivot away from oil, gas and coal or suffer catastrophic impacts from climate change.

“I need to tell you the consequences of inaction,” Mr. Biden said. “Over the last two weeks, I’ve traveled across the United States to see the damage and destruction from record hurricanes, record floods, and wildfires” that, he noted, are worsening because of warming temperatures.

Nodding to the cascade of disasters in recent months around the globe from flooding across Germany and Belgium to fires raging in Australia and Russia and a record temperature of 118 degree Fahrenheit recorded in the Arctic Circle, Mr. Biden told leaders, “We don’t have a lot of time.”

But observers noted the absence Friday of some key leaders — notably, President Xi Jinping of China.

China did send Xie Zhenhua, the country’s climate envoy. But coming on the heels of Mr. Biden’s announcement of a new military pact with Australia and Britain as a strategic deterrent to China, experts said Mr. Xi’s absence on Friday was a worrisome sign that tension between Washington and Beijing could undermine climate cooperation.

“It is problematic,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University who closely follows international climate negotiations.

He added, “We have evolved from cooperation in the Obama years to confrontation — on trade, Hong Kong democracy, security in the South China Sea and intellectual property.”

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

China and the United States are the world’s top two climate polluters, in that order. Mr. Biden has promised to cut U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Achieving that goal, however, depends in large part on passage of a $3.5 trillion budget bill that is facing headwinds in Congress.

China, meanwhile, has promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 but has so far not announced fresh targets to cut emissions over the coming decade.

“Unless China commits in the next month to peak their overall emissions before 2025, they risk being isolated in the run up to Glasgow, and perhaps deemed responsible if the overall negotiations fail,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser with the Progressive Policy Institute.

Brazil, another top emitter, did not attend, according to the White House.

Participants included the leaders of Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Britain. The presidents of the E.U. council and commission attended and India, Russia and Germany sent envoys.

John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also attended the meeting.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is now readying stringent new regulations on the oil and gas sector, which is the largest industrial source of the pollutant.

Carbon dioxide makes up most of the greenhouse gases in the U.S., and stays in the atmosphere for centuries. Methane lingers in the atmosphere for only about a decade but in that time is far more potent at warming the Earth.

“Cutting methane pollution is the single fastest, most effective strategy we have to slow the rate of warming. The benefits will be almost immediate,” Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.

Adam Bernstein, managing director of North Sky Capital, an investment firm that specializes in clean technology, called the global goal “doable.”

“There is no real technological leap that it takes. The technology exists today it’s just a question of getting the state and local policies in place to support that goal,” he said.

Credit…Paul Handley/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

FORT MEADE, Md. — A military judge overseeing the Sept. 11, 2001, case abruptly canceled a hearing on Friday at Guantánamo Bay because of illness related to the coronavirus pandemic, ending this month’s pretrial session a day early.

Lawyers, the defendants and the judge, Col. Matthew N. McCall of the Air Force, were due in court Friday morning for the final day of arguments in a two-week hearing in the case when a clerk sent word, moments before it was to begin at 9 a.m., that the judge had canceled it “in light of recent developments” related to Covid-19 and “in an abundance of caution.”

The concern on Friday was triggered by word reaching Guantánamo before the hearing began that a journalist who had been on base last week discovered on Thursday that he had been infected with the virus. Around the same time, a senior defense lawyer who had experienced a symptom of the virus went to the hospital for testing Friday morning, rather than court, then quarantined until he learned later in the day that he was not infected. Testing of lawyers and other war court personnel who had spent time with the journalist continued into the evening.

The cancellation came on what was to be the final day of the first set of hearings amid the coronavirus pandemic in the long-stalled death-penalty case that accuses Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men of conspiring in the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

Mr. Mohammed and three of the defendants were already at the court compound on Friday when the judge decided to cancel the hearing. They were to be tested before they were returned to the general population at the prison, although military officials would not provide results of the defendants’ tests, citing health privacy protections.

“The medical care provided to detainees aligns with the Geneva Conventions, which requires medical treatment similar to that available to U.S. service members,” said Maj. Gregory J. McElwain of the Army, a spokesman for the Southern Command.

The Pentagon currently has 39 wartime detainees at Guantánamo, spread across two prison facilities. A few have refused the vaccination. A 100-member military medical staff cares for the prisoners as well as the 1,500 troops and contractors who are assigned to Guantánamo’s detention operations, Major McElwain said.

The naval base in Cuba, with about 6,000 residents and a small hospital, has so far been able to avoid a major coronavirus outbreak through isolation, testing and quarantines. Three residents who traveled to the base this month were discovered after their arrival to be infected by the virus and were quarantined for two weeks, including a fully vaccinated schoolteacher.

Colonel McCall, the judge, is new to the case. He said on Monday that the trial would not begin for at least a year. He had set aside Friday morning to hear arguments over ongoing requests by defense lawyers for information about the defendants’ treatment in C.I.A. custody from 2002 to 2006.

In one request, lawyers for the defendant Ramzi bin al-Shibh were asking the judge to order the government to provide details about the prisoner’s forced shaving while held by the C.I.A. and later at Guantánamo in 2007. Prosecutors have acknowledged that “forced shaving occurred” in January 2007, but declined to name those who did it.




F.D.A. Panel Greenlights Pfizer Boosters for High-Risk Individuals

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech boosters be made available to people 65 and older and those at high risk of severe Covid, but voted against giving blanket boosters to people 16 and older.

“This is the voting question No. 2 that we will ask the committee to consider: Based on the totality of scientific evidence available, including the safety and effectiveness data from Clinical Trial C4591001: Do the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster dose administered at least six months after completion of the primary series for use in individual 65 years of age and older, and individuals at high risk of severe Covid-19?” “We do have a unanimous 18 out of 18 who voted ‘yes’ for this question.”

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A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech boosters be made available to people 65 and older and those at high risk of severe Covid, but voted against giving blanket boosters to people 16 and older.CreditCredit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

A key advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration overwhelmingly rejected recommending Pfizer booster shots for most recipients of the company’s coronavirus vaccine, instead endorsing them only for people who are 65 or older or at high risk of severe Covid-19.

The vote — the first on boosters in the United States — was a blow to the Biden administration’s strategy to make extra shots available to most fully vaccinated adults in the United States eight months after they received a second dose. The broader rollout was to start next week.

Committee members appeared dismissive of the argument that the general population needed booster shots, saying the data from Pfizer and elsewhere still seemed to show two shots protected against severe disease or hospitalization and did not prove a third shot would stem the spread of infection. Some also criticized a lack of data that an additional injection would be safe for younger people.

“It’s unclear that everyone needs to be boosted, other than a subset of the population that clearly would be at high risk for serious disease,” said Dr. Michael G. Kurilla, a committee member and official at the National Institutes of Health.

But the panel’s final recommendation left some room for the White House to argue that the core of its booster strategy remains intact. Depending on how “at high risk” is defined, tens of millions of Americans could conceivably wind up eligible for additional shots of the Pfizer vaccine.

The committee of largely outside experts voted 16 to 2 against a Pfizer booster for people 16 and older after a tense daylong public discussion that put divisions within the agency and the administration on public display. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health joined infectious disease experts and doctors in voting against additional shots for such a broad swatch of the population.

Dr. Paul Offit, a committee member and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, questioned whether extra shots would do much at all to change the arc of the pandemic. “We all agree that if we really want to impact this pandemic, we need to vaccinate the unvaccinated,” he said.

But the panel unanimously embraced a fallback position to limit additional shots to the elderly and others at high risk of severe Covid illness. Then, after an informal poll pushed by a senior F.D.A. official, committee members specified that health care workers, emergency responders and others whose jobs put them at special risk should also be eligible for the booster shots. The official — Dr. Peter Marks, who oversees the F.D.A.’s vaccine division — said the at-risk group would also include teachers.

Biden aides noted that under the White House’s plan to offer booster shots eight months after the second injections, that same group would be first in line because they were vaccinated earliest.

Pfizer praised the decision, with Kathrin U. Jansen, senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development, saying it underscored “our belief that boosters can be a critical tool in the ongoing effort to control the spread of this virus.”

The F.D.A. has the final word on vaccine approvals, and while it is not obliged to follow the committee’s recommendations, it typically does. The agency will likely issue a decision by early next week.

An advisory committee of the C.D.C. is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday to discuss booster shots before that agency, which sets vaccine policy, issues recommendations on who should get them.

Critics of the administration’s booster strategy as overly broad or premature said the advisory committee acted as a necessary check Friday.

The meeting “put the F.D.A. back in the driver’s seat,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the agency. The expert panel, she said, “was allowed to maintain its scientific independence. It understood there were significant limitations with the data presented and that the F.D.A. needs to review the data carefully before making a decision.”

Apoorva Mandavilli and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Calling former President Donald J. Trump “a cancer for the country,” Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio, said in an interview on Thursday that he would not run for re-election in 2022, ceding his seat after just two terms in Congress rather than compete against a Trump-backed primary opponent.

Mr. Gonzalez is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to retire rather than face ferocious primaries next year in a party still in thrall to the former president.

The congressman, who has two young children, emphasized that he was leaving in large part because of family considerations and the difficulties that come with living between two cities. But he made clear that the strain had only grown worse since his impeachment vote, after which he was deluged with threats and feared for the safety of his wife and children.

Mr. Gonzalez said that quality-of-life issues had been paramount in his decision. He recounted an “eye-opening” moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at the Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security precautions taken after the impeachment vote.

Mr. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday, was the sort of Republican recruit the party once prized. A Cuban American who starred as an Ohio State wide receiver, he was selected in the first round of the N.F.L. draft and then earned an M.B.A. at Stanford after his football career was cut short by injuries. He claimed his Northeast Ohio seat in his first bid for political office.

Mr. Gonzalez, a conservative, largely supported the former president’s agenda. Yet he started breaking with Mr. Trump and House Republican leaders when they sought to block the certification of last year’s presidential vote, and he was horrified by Jan. 6 and its implications.

Still, he insisted he could have prevailed in what he acknowledged would have been a “brutally hard primary” against Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was endorsed by the former president in February.

His decision to leave rather than fight, however, ensures that the congressional wing of the party will become only more thoroughly Trumpified.

Credit…Amanuel Sileshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Biden signed an executive order on Friday threatening sweeping new sanctions against leaders in the widening war in northern Ethiopia, the strongest effort yet by the United States to halt the fighting and allow urgently needed humanitarian aid to flow into the region.

The administration has not yet applied the sanctions, hoping to shift the course of the war without directly punishing officials from Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and an important strategic ally. With both sides pushing hard for a military victory, critics said the latest measures may be too little, or too late.

Just 10 percent of required humanitarian aid reached the Tigray region last month as a result of Ethiopian government obstruction, according to two American officials who provided a background briefing to reporters.

Fighters from various factions have been accused of atrocities against civilians, with the latest accusations including the Tigrayan forces that are fighting the Ethiopian central government. And Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has intensified a mass recruitment drive, and acquired new weapons, in advance of an expected surge in fighting next month, the officials said.

“Nearly one million people are living in famine-like conditions, and millions more face acute food insecurity as a direct consequence of the violence,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Humanitarian workers have been blocked, harassed and killed. I am appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations.”

The sanctions threatened by the order would target individuals and entities from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Amhara regional government, who face possible asset freezes and travel bans.

They are a step up from weaker and largely ineffectual measures, including visa restrictions, imposed by the United States in May. For now, the new sanctions have yet to be imposed on anyone, and one of the administration officials who provided background declined to give a timeline.

But action would be a matter of “weeks not months,” she said.

To avoid sanctions, leaders on both sides must agree to negotiations without preconditions and accept mediation under the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, an African Union envoy who is scheduled to land in Ethiopia this weekend.

Credit…Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

The Washington State home of Robert M. Gates — closer to Canada than to Seattle, adorned with a mounted elk head and occupied by one of America’s semiretired spymasters — would seem an improbable place to try to reshape college sports in less than six months.

But perhaps this was inevitable for Gates, the 77-year-old former defense secretary and director of central intelligence. He is, after all, still bristling over the strictures of college athletics 19 years after he became Texas A&M’s president, the post he left in 2006 for the Pentagon’s top job.

“You know, God figured out how to give the rules to all mankind in 10 declarative sentences,” Gates said this week. “You’d think that the N.C.A.A. could figure out how to do intercollegiate sports in something short of several hundred pages.”

Gates, the consummate insider with a rebel’s bent and bluntness, is now getting a chance to figure it out.

Named this summer as chairman of a committee assigned to rewrite the N.C.A.A.’s constitution, Gates could help save or condemn an association with roughly 1,100 member colleges, about a half-million athletes and longstanding sway over how young people play sports and how universities pull in billions of dollars.

Gates’s 28-member committee is expected to make its recommendations by mid-November, and the full association could vote on them in January.

The N.C.A.A.’s newfound sense of urgency is not exclusively of its own making. Bombarded by the courts, Congress, state legislatures and even conference commissioners about matters like gender equity and prohibitions on college athletes’ profiting from their fame, the association has been under enormous pressure to make changes that will stave off more legal and political battles that threaten its power.

In an interview with The New York Times, his first with a news organization in his role as the committee’s chairman, Gates acknowledged the difficulty of determining how the N.C.A.A. should function. The constitution that spells out the association’s basic principles and structures runs 43 pages, followed by hundreds of pages of “operating bylaws.”

“There is absolutely nothing anybody can do to alleviate the skepticism toward this endeavor except to make it work, except basically to come forward with something that people recognize as meaningful and significant,” Gates said. “I mean, people’s skepticism is simply based on past history.”


Credit…Peter van Agtmael for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jen Psaki, President Biden’s press secretary, may be the most prominent spokeswoman in American politics, but political fame hits different in the post-Trump era.

The daily White House briefing, once a highly rated staple of daytime TV, rarely appears anymore on cable news. Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, two former Trump press secretaries, became B-list celebrities; after nine months on the job, Ms. Psaki has not even rated an impersonation on “Saturday Night Live.”

But a cult of Psaki has proliferated online, where clips of her restrained, if occasionally withering exchanges with reporters have established this once obscure political strategist as an unlikely cultural force. Her retorts to critical questions earn “yas queen” praise from liberals, while conservatives jeer her attempts at spin, particularly over the past month, when the confluence of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, extreme weather and coronavirus confusion meant the questions were more pointed and the answers more scrutinized.

Ms. Psaki, 42, a veteran communications operative who was twice passed over for the top job under her previous boss, former President Barack Obama, is an unlikely avatar for the smack-down-happy, we-have-no-choice-but-to-stan culture of modern social media. A onetime competitive swimmer who grew up with a Republican father in Greenwich, Conn., she was until this past year barely recognized beyond the Beltway in-crowd, who knew her as a capable technocrat type with deep ties to Democratic leadership.

Now the hashtag #jenpsaki has 139 million views on TikTok, and its pun of a cousin, #psakibomb (the P in Psaki is silent — get it?), has racked up more than 13 million. She posed for Annie Leibovitz in Vogue magazine and answered questions on the N.P.R. show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Olivia Rodrigo stood next to her for a briefing. Her exchanges with a regular foil, the Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, often get memed.

As the TikTok user “fabiantiktoks30sclub” put it, in a clip with 65,000 likes: “Yassss queen jen psaki let the clown doocey have it!!”

Another moment caught fire online this month, as Texas was passing a law that effectively banned abortion in the state. A reporter from a Catholic news service pressed Ms. Psaki on why Mr. Biden, a Catholic, supported abortion rights.

“He believes that it’s up to a woman to make those decisions with her doctor,” Ms. Psaki replied. “I know you’ve never faced those choices. Nor have you ever been pregnant, but for women out there who have faced those choices, this is an incredibly difficult thing.”

Crisp and precise in her answers, even if she does not always respond directly to a reporter’s questions, Ms. Psaki, in her speaking style, is a contrast to Mr. Biden and his circuitous folksiness. In interviews, Washington correspondents often used the word “professional” — high praise in D.C. — to describe interactions with her, deeming her straightforward, detail-dense briefings a relief after an era where Mr. Trump’s minions repeatedly insulted, denigrated and frequently ignored journalists.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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