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U.S. Intelligence Agencies Point to Potential Russian Invasion of Ukraine Within a Month’s Time

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  • Russia’s cyberwar campaign against Ukraine exploded in December, a pattern that U.S. intelligence agencies believe could signal a ground invasion within a month’s time.
  • The new time frame was one of several details that White House press secretary Jen Psaki shared Friday about Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine, a longtime U.S. ally.
  • Some American military analysts believe Russia has “prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” Psaki said.

WASHINGTON – Intelligence agencies monitoring Russian cyber operations against Ukraine believe Russia’s pattern of activity could signal a ground invasion of Ukraine within the next 30 days, the White House said Friday.

The new time line is the latest sign of how imminent the Biden administration believes a Russian attack against Ukraine could be, and how urgent its effort to negotiate a peaceful settlement has become.

In response to NBC’s questions at briefings this week, officials declined to say whether the U.S. would arm Ukrainian militias to counter a Russian invasion. But now they are signaling to the Russians that such a plan is under consideration.

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The U.S. has pledged to respond to any military incursion with unprecedented economic sanctions on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. But that could trigger retaliatory moves by Moscow against the West – up to and including cuts in the energy that flows from Russia to the rest of the world. Russia is the largest supplier of oil, natural gas and coal to Europe, experts say.

A senior U.S. official and a former U.S. official confirmed to NBC News late Friday that the Biden administration is considering arming Ukrainian insurgents who would in essence fight a guerilla war against Russian forces if Putin invades Ukraine.

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, the military reserve of the Ukrainian Armes Forces, holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles, take part in a military exercise near Kiev on December 25, 2021.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, the military reserve of the Ukrainian Armes Forces, holding wooden replicas of Kalashnikov rifles, take part in a military exercise near Kiev on December 25, 2021.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. defense analysts had first noticed a sharp uptick in December of coordinated social media misinformation via Russian-backed channels aimed at destabilizing the Ukrainian government.

“The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” Psaki said.

The revelation came just hours after Russian cyber operatives had disabled Ukraine’s main government agency websites, replacing the agency homepages with a message to all Ukrainians that read, in part: “Be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”

A laptop screen displays a warning message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a massive cyberattack, in this illustration taken January 14, 2022.

Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

A laptop screen displays a warning message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a massive cyberattack, in this illustration taken January 14, 2022.

The threat facing Ukraine is far more serious than a mere cyberattack. More than 200,000 Russian troops are currently positioned along the country’s border with Ukraine. Based on the troop movements, U.S. military analysts see the potential for numerous different invasion routes.

U.S. intelligence agencies also believe Russia has already “prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” Psaki said. “The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.”

These Russian operatives are part of a broader effort by Moscow that is “laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion” of Ukraine, Psaki said at her daily briefing.

As part of this false narrative, Psaki said Russian proxies on social media are already accusing Ukraine of readying an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian service member stands in a trench on the front line at the industrial zone of government-held town of Avdiyivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 17, 2021.

Oleksandr Klymenko | Reuters

A Ukrainian service member stands in a trench on the front line at the industrial zone of government-held town of Avdiyivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 17, 2021.

That way, if the prepositioned Russian operatives were to carry out a stealth attack on Russian-backed forces in Ukraine, Moscow could point to its prior accusation and blame the Ukrainians for the attack.

With a population of 44 million and a democratically elected government, post-Cold War Ukraine is a close ally of the United States and a perennial target for Moscow.

Fruitless negotiations

The latest revelations from Psaki came on the heels of multiple high-stakes discussions between U.S. and European officials and their Russian counterparts.

For months, the Ukrainian government has warned the U.S. and European allies that Russian troops were massing along its eastern border. The buildup has evoked Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked an international uproar and triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow.

The seizure of Crimea also saw Russia’s removal from the “Group of 8,” or G-8, referring to the eight major global economies.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has issued repeated warnings that the U.S. is prepared to inflict greater economic countermeasures if Moscow further invades Ukraine.

“We are very ready and aligned with our partners and allies to impose those severe costs,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Monday.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg , Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin are seen during NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

POOL | REUTERS

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg , Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin are seen during NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

Sherman, who kicked off talks with her Russian counterpart on Monday in Geneva, told reporters on a conference call that the sanctions look to target key Russian financial institutions and export controls on crucial industries.

Victoria Nuland, U.S. under secretary of State for political affairs, said Tuesday that the Biden administration was coordinating measures with NATO allies, the European Council as well as G-7 members.

Moscow defiant

Since 2002, Ukraine has sought entry into NATO, where the group’s Article 5 clause states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all of them.

Russian officials said in a press briefing this week that it is “absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO.”

“We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, but guarantees,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

The Russian president has previously insisted that despite the deployment of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border, Moscow is not preparing for an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor. Putin has also defended the right to deploy troops on Russia’s borders and has accused NATO of escalating tensions by building up militaries in states adjacent to Russia.

Russia has described NATO’s eastward expansion as a “red line” that poses security threats to Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021.

The White House via Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021.

Last month, President Joe Biden spoke with Putin twice amid the significant military buildup on the Ukrainian border. During the first call on Dec. 7, Biden declined to accept Putin’s “red lines” on Ukraine.

During the leaders’ most recent call, on Dec. 30, Biden reiterated concerns and renewed threats that his administration would “respond decisively” alongside allies and partners if Russia invades Ukraine.

— CNBC’s Patti Domm contributed to this story.

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Police search for man who stole a woman’s purse in Tamarac

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TAMARAC. FLA. (WSVN) – Police are on the lookout for a man who stole a woman’s purse in Tamarac.

Surveillance video captured the purse snatching as it unfolded.

The man walked into a store and stole a mother’s purse from her baby’s stroller and then took off running.

It happened earlier in January at a beauty store near the 3100 block of West Commercial Boulevard.

If you have any information on this theft, call Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000.

Copyright 2021 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Browns DT McDowell arrested in Fla. in attack on officer

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who was given a second chance by the team after serving jail time, was arrested Monday in Florida on charges of beating a police officer and public exposure.

Police in Deerfield Beach, Florida, said they were responding to a “naked male walking near a school” when an officer approached McDowell, who was sitting on a curb, according to the arrest report. The officer said McDowell stood up, uttered an obscenity at him and “charged at me full speed with a closed fist.”

The officer said he was unable to avoid McDowell’s attack or use any “de-escalation tactics.” McDowell slammed into the officer and punched him in the right eye and on the top of the head, according to the report.

McDowell fled before he was stopped using a stun gun and handcuffed. The officer said his right eye was nearly closed because of swelling from the punches he absorbed in the attack and there is a “likelihood that I sustained permanent injury to my eye.”

McDowell was charged with aggravated battery on an officer, resisting an officer/obstructing with violence and exposure of sex organs in public. Bail was posted at $25,000. It was unclear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

The Browns released a statement on McDowell, who was under contract with the team for only one season, saying they were seeking more information.

“We are aware of the very concerning incident and arrest involving Malik McDowell and are in the process of gathering more information,” the team said. “We understand the severity of this matter and our thoughts are for the well-being of all involved. We will have no further comment at this time.”

McDowell came to the Browns with a troubled past.

A second-round pick by Seattle in 2017 out of Michigan State, the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder never played for the Seahawks after suffering a brain injury in an ATV accident that was followed by several arrests and an 11-month stay in a Michigan jail.

In 2019, McDowell was charged with assault, resisting arrest and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. In a video capturing the incident, McDowell fought two police officers even after they used a stun gun on him.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry took a chance on McDowell, who was a long shot to make the roster when training camp opened but impressed the team with his size, strength and potential after not playing for more than two years.

McDowell played well in stretches this season, finishing with three sacks in 14 starts. It was possible the Browns were going to re-sign him as an exclusive rights free agent.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Fla. State Sen. Ileana Garcia On Critical Race Theory: ‘I Have Been Discriminated On All Fronts. Should We Take It Personally?’

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to prohibit critical race theory from being taught in schools or used in employee training sessions began moving forward Tuesday in the Florida Senate, as outnumbered Democrats warned that the legislation would stifle educators and lead to frivolous lawsuits.

The Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee approved the bill (SB 148) in a 6-3 vote along party lines. The measure came after the governor last month proposed what he dubbed the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act,” or Stop WOKE Act. DeSantis for months has targeted critical race theory, which is based on the premise that racism is embedded in American institutions, from the workplace to classrooms.

READ MORE: Hearing Held Ahead Of The Start Of Dayonte Resiles’ Murder Trial

In part, the bill would prohibit employers from subjecting “any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity” that is centered on a number of race-related concepts.

For example, the proposal would prohibit employers from conducting training that “compels” people to believe that they bear “responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.”

This past Sunday, on Facing South Florida, CBS4’s Jim DeFede asked Republican State Senator Ileana Garcia about why she supports the bill.

“Critical race theory is I think that bringing to the public, bringing to the plate the fact that in the past we have had situations where there have been discrimination. As a Hispanic, I have been discriminated on all fronts. Should we take it personally? I don’t think that we should take it personally,” said Garcia.

“I do know of conversations where teachers come in and feel that they need to have this conversation with students and suggest that this is something that that they need to be aware of, that there is a division.”

DeFede asked her, “You don’t think that the African American experience today is different than the experience by either yourself or someone like me.?”

Garcia said, “No, not at all. As a matter of fact… That’s why we had Obama as a president. That’s the best example in the world. Obama was president now for four years for eight.”

Senate sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, told reporters after the committee meeting: “The intention of the bill … is to make sure that these trainings that occur are objective, and that we’re not finding a person guilty of something just because of their ethnic background or the color of their skin. I think that we have to go back to the premise that all of us are created equal, and we should be judged on our individual merits, or deeds, not a blanket statement.”

Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who is an attorney, said the part of the bill that deals with employer training is “awful for the business community” and criticized what she called vague language in the measure.

“We’re telling a company if they want to teach anti-discrimination, they want to teach diversity, they want to teach unconscious bias, which is a course in the Florida Senate, that they will potentially be creating the cause of action from a disgruntled employee,” Polsky said. “I do this all the time, people bring lawsuits because they get terminated and they’re really upset. And they try to find a reason as to why they were terminated.”

Opposing critical race theory has become a political rallying cry for Republicans across the country.

READ MORE: Hate Ends Now: The Holocaust Cattle Car Experience

The Senate bill does not specifically mention critical race theory. But it effectively seeks to cement into law a ban on critical race theory as part of Florida’s curriculum standards. The State Board of Education passed such a ban during the summer.

The proposal would allow teachers to facilitate discussions “in an age-appropriate manner” about topics like sexism, slavery and racial oppression and segregation. “However, classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection (of law) or state academic standards,” the bill said.

Democrats have repeatedly argued that the controversy over critical race theory is a distraction from real issues facing the state and that the theory is not taught in Florida public schools. Diaz, however, said that “a lot of us have heard from individual parents with concerns,” and that the measure is a preemptive attempt to provide “clarity.”

But Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, argued that such legislation would suppress teachers’ freedom to teach certain subject areas.

“All this legislation is going to do is to promote ignorance of race-related content and other content that children should know about and should have access to,” said Jones, who was formerly a classroom teacher.

Neisha-Rose Hines, a lobbyist representing the ACLU of Florida, similarly said the legislation is a “censorship bill” and would have a chilling effect on educators’ ability to teach topics like history.

But Diaz argued several times that the bill simply aims to ensure that topics like history are taught with “accuracy”

“I reject that premise. I think it’s clearly stating in the bill that it encourages these conversations that need to be had. What we cannot do is have a perspective imposed on students that is not an actual part of our history,” Diaz told reporters.

The measure is missing one key part of the plan that DeSantis laid out in his proposed “Stop WOKE” act. DeSantis said it would aim to allow parents to sue schools that teach the theory, and to recover attorney fees if they are successful in the litigation.

Diaz’s bill does not include such a provision. Asked by reporters about whether a cause of action for parents would be added to the bill, Diaz said “it’s a work in progress like every other bill in this process.”

A similar House bill (HB 7) is awaiting committee action.

MORE NEWS: In Unusual Move, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis Submits Redistricting Map

(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Ryan Dailey contributed to this report.)

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