Russian intelligence operatives are using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain ahead of the presidential election in November, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort directed at American and Western audiences, U.S. government officials said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it. Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about the particular websites and to expose a connection between the sites and Russian intelligence.
Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, a trio of websites published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed at propping up Russia and denigrating the U.S.
Meanwhile, the baseball season descended deeper into crisis, states such as Mississippi and South Carolina cast about for more hospital beds, and governors in some of the hardest-hit places staunchly resisted calls to require masks, despite soaring cases of the coronavirus.
Major League Baseball suspended the Miami Marlins’ season through Sunday because of an outbreak that has spread to at least 15 of the team's players, and a series of games this week between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies was called off as a precaution.
With states like Florida, Arizona and Texas in dire condition, the virus has also been spreading farther north in recent days, causing alarm among public health officials who fear states are not doing enough to avoid catastrophic outbreaks like those in the Sun Belt.
The virus is blamed for approximately 4.3 million confirmed infections and about 150,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 16.5 million people have been infected, and more than 655,000 have died.
In other developments:
- The differences over the next coronavirus aid package are vast: Democrats propose $3 trillion in relief and Republicans have a $1 trillion counteroffer. At stake are millions of Americans' jobless benefits, school reopenings and eviction protections. Striking any agreement between Congress and President Donald Trump by Friday's deadline for expiring aid will be daunting.
- A Republican proposal to slash the $600 weekly benefit boost for those left jobless because of the coronavirus shutdown could result in weeks or even months of delayed payments in some states. Older computer systems that took weeks to set up for the initial federal unemployment enhancement would need to be reprogrammed again twice under the GOP plan.
- One of the nation's largest teachers unions is authorizing its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper safety measures in the middle of the global pandemic. The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, issued a resolution saying it will support any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans.
- Restaurants, bars and other merchants struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic are desperately reaching out for a lifeline from insurers that in turn contend they are being miscast as potential saviors.
- In a sign of how the pandemic is remaking Hollywood traditions, AMC Theatres and Universal Studios announced an agreement to shorten the exclusive theatrical window to just 17 days for the studio's films.
- Global air travel is recovering more slowly than expected and it will take until 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels, the trade association for the airline industry said.
- The NCAA is allowing all major college football teams to begin their seasons as early as Aug. 29 to give flexibility around coronavirus. The association confirmed that the football oversight committee had requested a blanket waiver to permit any school to push up the start of its season to the so-called Week Zero.
- Concerns over a “second wave” of coronavirus infections brought on by returning vacationers are wreaking havoc on Europe's tourism industry, particularly in Spain, following Britain's effective ban on travel to the country.
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