Russian Interference, Angela Merkel, Afghan Women: Your Wednesday Briefing

Russian Interference, Angela Merkel, Afghan Women: Your Wednesday Briefing

Russian Interference, Angela Merkel, Afghan Women: Your Wednesday Briefing

Russian Interference, Angela Merkel, Afghan Women: Your Wednesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering takeaways from a long-awaited Russian interference report in Britain, more about the E.U.’s stimulus plan and privacy issues in virus apps.

Russia has long tried to undermine Britain’s democracy and corrupt its politics, and British governments have looked the other way, a long-delayed report released on Tuesday said.

The report, by a parliamentary committee, examined Russia’s role in deepening conflict surrounding some of Britain’s most divisive political battles in recent years. It found that the government had shown little interest in investigating Russia’s efforts on the most consequential of those: the Brexit referendum.

Key takeaways:

  • According to the report, British intelligence agencies ignored threats from Russian interference that they should have seen coming. It was also difficult to establish which agency held responsibility for keeping elections safe.

  • The report did not show that Russia had swayed the referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. But it said that the government had not tried hard enough to look into it.

  • There were earlier signs: In 2014, Russia tried to interfere in a referendum in which Scotland opted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

  • Russian money, not just disinformation, plays a role. Britain has welcomed oligarchs and allowed them to cycle cash through “Londongrad,” as the capital has been dubbed.

  • The report’s release was delayed until after a general election in December in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a big majority.

The dynamic: With Britain gone, the Dutch prime minister and his Austrian counterpart have stepped forward to create a bloc of smaller countries, known as “the frugals,’’ which are trying to restrain the big-spending ambitions of France and poorer southern countries.

What to watch: Money to the governments of Hungary and Poland was protected and increased, despite questions about the misuse of those funds and attempts to condition the money on adherence to the rule of law. But Ms. Merkel promised more actions would be taken in Hungary for alleged anti-democratic abuses.

Of note: By tying the recovery fund into the seven-year budget, the first without Britain, E.U. leaders managed to solve two extremely difficult and tendentious problems at once.

President Trump departed from his rosy projections about the coronavirus on Tuesday, warning Americans in his first virus-focused news conference in weeks that the recovery would be bumpy.

“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

It came as the U.S. neared four million cases and the C.D.C. said the true number could be much higher. Mr. Trump appeared without Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx or Dr. Anthony Fauci, key members of the White House coronavirus task force, and he told citizens to wear masks.

Here are our latest updates and maps tracking the coronavirus pandemic.

In other virus developments:

Snapshot: Above, Portland, Ore., where protesters and the federal agents sent to quell them have clashed night after night. The city’s residents accused President Trump of trying to turn a place known for protests into political theater.

What we’re listening to: This Radiolab episode about the aftermath of the 1918 flu. “This episode will make you think twice about how pandemics shape our world,” writes Remy Tumin of the Briefings team.

Cook: This chicken and rice soup is simultaneously cozy and fresh. Lemon juice adds brightness, as does a lively mix of parsley, lemon, garlic and celery leaves strewn on top.

Listen: Here’s a collection of podcasts that lets you travel the world with your ears.

Watch: “The Old Guard,” an action movie about a group of immortal warriors out to save the world, is a fresh take on the superhero genre. We asked the director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, to narrate an action sequence from her film.

At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

Governments around the world have been racing to deploy apps to help track and stem the spread of the coronavirus. Natasha Singer, our reporter covering health technology, has been tracking these digital virus control tools. She spoke to the Briefings team about what’s working, what isn’t, and privacy issues.

Are apps an indispensable tool in fighting pandemics?

In countries with national health systems that are already doing mass-scale testing, epidemiologists say the apps can be helpful. South Korea, for instance, has used apps to make sure people under quarantine orders stay in their assigned locations.

Iceland’s app allows people who test positive for the virus to share their recent locations with health officials, making it easier to notify people who may have crossed paths with them. In countries with low rates of virus testing, the apps may not be very useful. As one German health official put it to me last week, “apps are not a vaccine.”

You have been looking at various virus-tracing and quarantine apps and found some serious flaws. What has been the most troubling finding?

It’s troubling that countries like South Korea and Qatar were in such a hurry to introduce virus apps that they prioritized speedy deployment over user privacy and security. But the larger risk is that some governments are using location-tracking apps and other digital tools to impose new forms of social control in the name of the pandemic. Those invasive surveillance measures could easily become permanent.

Which countries have been successful in their use of digital tools in this pandemic? Which countries seem to have fallen short?

Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Latvia and other countries recently introduced virus-tracing apps based on software from Apple and Google. The government apps are designed for maximum privacy. For instance, they use Bluetooth signals, not location tracking, to detect app users who come into close contact.

Even so, there is a privacy problem. To use the Bluetooth feature, Google requires Android users to turn on their phones’ location setting. And that can allow Google to determine their precise locations, depending on their settings. But European governments have chosen not to tell users about the Google issue. It’s a transparency failure which could undermine public trust in the apps.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the rush to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Soup served with chopsticks (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Jim Tankersley, our economics reporter, discussed the role the economy will play in the U.S. presidential election on C-SPAN.

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