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Manchester Woman Linked to German Raid of Suspected Nerve Agent Facility

German authorities raided a chemical company this week connected to a Manchester woman who pleaded guilty to lying about her ties to the firm. 

The company, Riol-Chemie, is suspected by German authorities of sending chemicals used to make the deadly nerve agent Novichok to Russia, according to multiple German media reports.

Former Manchester resident Stela Sacara, 36, also known as Stela Secara and Stela Thomas, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about her role in several exporting firms that allegedly sent goods to Riol-Chemie.

According to German news program Tagesschau, executives at Riol-Chemie are suspected of “exporting toxic substances and special laboratory material to Russia in more than 30 instances over the past three and a half years without obtaining the necessary permits.”

Among the chemicals Riol-Chemie is alleged to have sent to Russia are materials to make mustard gas as well as Novichok.

“(T)he northern German company is suspected of having delivered protective equipment to Russia on several occasions – equipment that can also be used in the production of biological and chemical weapons and therefore falls under export restrictions. Investigators also apparently suspect that Riol-Chemie GmbH exported a chemical that can be used in the production of the nerve agent Novichok. This suspicion is evidently based on invoices found during a past inspection,” Tagesschau reports.

Russia’s chemical weapons production is highly secret, but Western intelligence agencies started investigating Riol-Chemie in 2018 after Novichok was used in an assassination attempt in Great Britain.

“Novichok became internationally known in March 2018, when former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the substance in the British town of Salisbury, very likely by two agents with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Novichok is also thought to have been used in the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny,” Tagesschau reports.

Sacara got one year of probation after she pleaded guilty in June of last year to one count of making a false statement to a federal agent. Records filed in the United States District Court in Concord indicate that Sacara may have been sending chemicals and lab equipment to military clients in countries that were under some form of embargo.

Sacara, a Moldavian national, was operating several companies out of her Chestnut Street apartment in Manchester, according to court records. At least one of the businesses was suspected of sending equipment to Riol-Chemie.

Special Agent Kyle Zavorotny, a specialist in espionage investigations, states that Sacara created emails for a fictitious company employee and sent messages to the agents to throw them off the investigation and keep what was being shipped overseas and to whom hidden from the investigators.

“Stela’s false statements regarding the identity of the company management and distancing herself from her role furthers this goal by minimizing her own knowledge of the end users and causing investigators to waste efforts attempting to locate individuals who do not exist,” Zavorotny wrote in the complaint filed against Sacara.

Zavorotny and Special Agent Courtney Rauch first interviewed Sacara in September of 2018 as the FBI and the United States Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement were trying to learn what she was doing with her businesses.

“Based on my training and experience, I know that entities in foreign countries will sometimes disguise the true end users of products acquired from the United States to prevent or impede the ability of the United States Government to determine the activities of these end users,” Zavorotny wrote. “In many instances, the end users being disguised are or are affiliated with the military or other agencies of the governments of the countries in which these end users are located.”

Sacara told the agents that she did not manage the business, but that she reported to another woman, Amy Johnson, who was based in Delaware. Sacara told the agents she did not have contact information for Johnson, according to the complaint.

Sacara claimed that Rochester Chemical acquired consumable laboratory equipment such as bottles, vials, glassware, etc. for use in laboratories from various manufacturers, repackaged them, and then shipped them to purchasers, Zavorotny wrote. Sacara told the investigators that the only company to which Rochester Chemical exports goods was Riol-Chemie.

The agents obtained a warrant for her bank records and other business information and determined that Sacara was in fact the managing member for Rochester Chemical and listed as the sole member of the corporation.

Knowing this, the investigators went back to Sacara in January of 2019 and confronted her:

“I asked Stela whether Johnson truly exists and showed her a copy of the Bank of America document in which she stated that she (Stela) was the sole member of the limited liability company,” Zavorotny wrote. “Stela stated she wished to speak with an attorney and declined to speak with us further. Stela was provided with my business card.”

Soon, the agents began getting emails from a company official named “Radu Bolocan” who claimed to be the current owner of Rochester Chemical. Bolocan claimed to live in Romania and did not speak English.

“(H)owever, the English in the email was nearly perfect,” Zavorotny wrote.

The agents tracked the digital information for Bolocan, as well as other emails from Sacara, and determined that the Bolocan email accounts were created by a user in Manchester right after the January interview with the agents. A review of several years’ worth of emails found that Sacara and her sister, Natalia Sacara, also known as Natalia Bolocan, were the owners and operators of the company, Zavorotny wrote.

Natalia Sacara was never charged for her alleged role in the companies.

The German investigation into Riol-Chemie is ongoing, according to the media reports.

Cold War Hero Walesa Wants U.S. to Once Again Lead the World

Nobel Prize winner and former president of Poland Lech Walesa said the United States can lead the world into a new era of peace and security. 

“Under American leadership, we can really improve this world,” Walesa said through an interpreter.

Walesa spoke to New Hampshire leaders on Thursday during a joint House and Senate session, as part of his speaking tour across the northeast United States. Walesa said the world has unfinished business with Russia. Now is the time for the world to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose rule is simply a continuation of the old Soviet Union, he said.

“Right now is that propitious moment to finish that task which I failed to accomplish,” he said.

Walesa wanted to completely “disintegrate” the Soviet Union in the 1990s, but was stopped at the time by American politicians, he told the Granite State lawmakers. With Putin sending his army into Ukraine to commit atrocities, the world needs to fight back, he said.

There must be a strong leader on the world stage, Walesa insisted.

“There is one condition for it to be successful, the United States really has to (step into) the role of the leader in the world,” he said. “This is the opportune moment for us to win the final victory.”

Walesa noted he led the Solidarity movement in Poland that helped defeat the old Communist order in his country, setting off the chain of events that would see the Soviet Union collapsed, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and Germany reunited. But the job wasn’t complete and the world has authoritarian holdovers from the Cold War in Russia and China.

Putin must be defeated in Ukraine, and the United States must impose a better political order on Russia, he said. Otherwise, another Putin will emerge in the next five to 10 years.

Walesa’s message included criticism of the current capitalist order in the West and a lack of guiding principles among people.

“Societies used to believe in a God and many societies have rejected God now,” he said. “This is a world where everyone wants to drive, but there are no traffic regulations.”

Walesa sees the future world as a democratic and globalist, with people moving beyond the need for barriers. It is a world with a free market that takes care of the poor and dispossessed. But to get there, the world needs the United States to lead people to freedom.

“Providence has given you such strong potential. If unwilling, share your potential with Poland and we will try to put it to good use,” he said.

Poland has long been caught between world powers seeking to dominate it.

“We’re between Germany and Russia, who enjoy military socializing if you may remember. They would visit and revisit one another,” he said.

Walesa reminded lawmakers that Poland tried to warn the world about Adolf Hitler before World II and about Josef Stalin at the start of the Cold War, only to be ignored. Now, Poland is leading by helping Ukraine and taking in more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees.

Walesa got standing ovations at the start and end of his speech. But some of his criticisms of capitalism were met with silence, as was his call to confront Russia in a final battle. It didn’t stop Granite State politicians from getting their photos taken with the Cold War icon or tweeting about his speech.

State Rep. Laura Telerski (D-Nashua) called his speech inspiring.

“I heard Lech Walesa speak in Gaston Hall before he served as president of Poland. Today he addresses the @NHHouseofReps and Senate in joint convention. He still inspires,” she tweeted.

“Truly an honor to meet former president of Poland Lech Walesa,” state Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-Hudson) tweeted.

Bolduc’s ‘Reckless’ Comments About Russia Spark Criticism, Calls to Withdraw

Gen. Don Bolduc’s appearance on Fox News was meant to highlight his military bona fides. Instead, it sparked a backlash from a respected Pentagon reporter and a call for him to drop out of the U.S. Senate race from at least one prominent Republican.

“Don Bolduc made reckless, dangerous, irresponsible comments regarding the escalation of the Ukraine war which renders him unqualified to serve as a U.S. Senator,” said Republican Corky Messner. “There are 100 Senators who will be called upon during these times to make critical decisions. Bolduc cannot be trusted to make those decisions.”

Messner defeated Bolduc in the 2020 GOP primary before going on to lose to incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. He was outraged by Bolduc’s comments on “The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton” Sunday night. And he wasn’t alone.

In the interview, Bolduc repeatedly claimed there were direct military actions the U.S. and NATO could take against Russian forces in Ukraine. He suggested the CIA or military could “get in there on the ground” in Ukraine, using “indirect fires and direct capabilities” to attack Russian targets. At one point, he said the U.S. could use “special operations troops in a way that we get in there,” though without “boots on the ground.”

His comments were viewed as so extreme, Fox News Pentagon correspondent Jennifer Griffin called them out when she appeared on the show a few minutes later.

“I have to respond to comments from Gen. Bolduc,” Griffin said. “He really was way off the mark talking about what the U.S. really could do on the ground.

“Clearly, Brig. Gen. Bolduc is not a student of history. He’s a politician. He ran for Senate in New Hampshire and failed. He is not a military strategist. To suggest the U.S. would put an indirect fire or special operations or CIA on the ground to give Putin any excuse to broaden this conflict is extremely dangerous talk at a time like this.”

“I was surprised to hear it,” the host replied.

It was not Bolduc’s first media misstep. In November, he was roundly criticized for calling Republican Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer” whose family business “supports terrorism.” Bolduc also claimed he drove the governor from the U.S. Senate race.

Messner says enough is enough.

“Politician Bolduc has a reputation for outrageous, divisive political comments which demonstrates that he has very poor judgment. In the past, Bolduc’s comments could be laughed off, walked back, or cleaned up by his supporters,” Messner said.

“But now, Bolduc’s extreme comments are dangerous to all Americans, your sons and daughters, Ukraine, Europe, and the world. Politicians must have the prudence and judgment to avoid statements that potentially could push the Ukraine conflict to a wider war. Don Bolduc does not have that prudence and judgment.

“I am calling for politician Don Bolduc to withdraw from the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race and to end his campaign.”

Not surprisingly, the Bolduc campaign is not ready to fold up its tent. Asked about Jennifer Griffin’s criticism, the campaign declined to comment.

UPDATE: After this article was published, Bolduc’s spokesperson Jimmy Thompson sent this statement:

“If recent world events have taught us anything, it’s that American leadership matters on the international stage. As usual, Senator Hassan has been missing in action, and needs to be replaced. But you can’t defeat a career politician like Senator Hassan with another career politician like State Senator Morse or Town Manager Smith. It’s going to take a true outsider like General Bolduc, and that’s why he is the frontrunner in this race.”

 

‘Saddened, Not Surprised:’ NH Ukrainians React to Russia’s Invasion

Ukrainian Americans in the Granite State are hopeful that their home country will stand strong against Russian aggression.

“They are fighting for their lives, and they are fighting for the rest of the world,” said Christina Pasicznyk Vogel of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manchester.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of neighboring Ukraine this week after years of aggression. Vogel said Ukraine has been the victim of Russian antagonism since 2014, when the Ukrainians overthrew the Russian-backed government. 

“I’m saddened but not surprised,” she said.

Vogel is part of the New Hampshire Ukrainian community, watching in horror as their home country is under siege by Russian military forces. 

Jonathan Messer, who is studying to be a deacon in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said Putin’s incursion into Ukraine could be the start of a third world war. It is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

“It is horrific and unprovoked. I think Putin is being a madman,” he said. 

On Monday, Putin delivered what historians and political scientists described as a “bizarre” speech laying out his justifications for taking military action against Ukraine. He described Ukraine as “historically Russian land” that was stolen from the Russian empire and has since fallen into the hands of neo-Nazis and corrupt “puppets” controlled by the West. He also described the country as an invention of the U.S.

Ukrainian member of parliament Natalya Pipa, an outspoken Putin opponent who deals with education policy in the government, gave Putin’s history lesson a failing grade during an interview on the NHJournal podcast Thursday.

“Ukraine has been a country for ten centuries. Our church is from the year 1019 A.D. It’s older than Moscow,” Pipa said. “It could be funny if it would be not so sad.”

Vogel said there are things the West, and the United States in particular, can do to counter Putin, 

“Sanctions are a start,” she said.

President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Russia on Thursday, though he has to impose sanctions on Putin himself and specifically excluded Russia’s energy sector. It could take weeks or months to know if the sanctions work. In the meanwhile, Ukraine is on its own to defend itself.

Russian tanks were reportedly within 20 miles of the capital, Kyiv, on Thursday night.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Vogel said. ‘He is engaging in crimes against the international community and crimes against humanity.”

Messer said the western nations need to do more. Ukraine needs military assistance, and the Ukrainian people need humanitarian assistance.

“The western powers aren’t doing enough,” Messer said. “Boots on the ground is what is needed, and unfortunately it would lead to World War III,” he said.

Vogel said the Russian people do not want war, and she hopes Russian soldiers will turn away from the violent invasion.

Messer has been trying to get aid to a Ukrainian orphanage, but the last few weeks of tension with Russian have made the effort difficult. The package of medicine and clothing has been shipped to the 30 to 40 orphans, but not yet delivered, he said. It may never get to the children now with the invasion underway.

Biden has pledged that no U.S. soldiers would be deployed to Ukraine, but the U.S. would lend military assistance to NATO allies.

Ukraine has been targeted by Russia and other countries for centuries, Vogel said. She thinks the only reason for the continued existence of Ukraine is the faith of the Ukrainian people.

‘It’s a miracle they still exist,” she said. “The reason there is still a Ukraine is they have not forgotten God.”

 

Dartmouth Professor Concerned About Spread of Liberal Conspiracy Theories on Social Media

One hears about right-wing media sites, like Breitbart, InfoWars, and Gateway Pundit, spreading conservative conspiracy theories almost on a daily basis. The latest comes from Fox News’s Sean Hannity who kept talking about the debunked theory that Seth Rich, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee who was shot dead near his Washington, D.C. home, had supplied DNC documents to WikiLeaks and was killed for it. While those stories get covered extensively by mainstream media, a Dartmouth professor is concerned that liberal conspiracy theories are also being spread across social media.

In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio last week, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College and New York Times contributor, explained there are many conspiracy theories or fake news stories about President Donald Trump and his possible campaign connections to Russia.

“I’m seeing a disturbing trend of people taking the very serious and real questions about Russian interference and using that as a pretext for all sorts of wild and unsupported conspiracy theories. These are often coming from internet personalities and people who work on social media, but they’re infiltrating into the discourse more generally through liberal elites who are amplifying them. So we’re seeing a spread of these claims out into the mainstream in a way that I think is potentially worrisome.”

He points to several examples in the past few weeks of the spread of misinformation online that has reached a mainstream audience. On Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC show “The Last Word,” he gave legs to the theory that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the chemical weapons massacre in Syria to help Trump’s popularity ratings by encouraging him to launch a missile strike.

“It’s important to remember Democrats spent the last eight years complaining about the birther myth and all sorts of conspiracy theories around Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and now just a few months later, here we are,” Nyhan said.

The rise of liberal conspiracy websites or social media personalities, especially on anything related to Trump and Russia, has been analyzed by a few media outlets.

“Liberals desperate to believe that the right conspiracy will take down Donald Trump promote their own purveyors of fake news,” wrote Sarah Jones of The New Republic.

“By embracing every single tweet or whisper as yet another piece of full-proof evidence of just how terrible Republicans are, Democrats run the risk of appearing like the boy who cried wolf to the public — and in the process taking some steam out of the very legitimate questions they are asking about the Trump administration,” wrote Chris Cillizza of CNN.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp calls it the “Russiasphere.”

“They worry that the unfounded speculation and paranoia that infect the Russiasphere risk pushing liberals into the same black hole of conspiracy-mongering and fact-free insinuation that conservatives fell into during the Obama years. The fear is that this pollutes the party itself, derailing and discrediting the legitimate investigation into Russia investigation. It also risks degrading the Democratic Party — helping elevate shameless hucksters who know nothing about policy but are willing to spread misinformation in the service of gaining power.”

Another theory was spread after Republicans passed the American Health Care Act earlier this month. A reporter tweeted about a large supply of beer in the Capitol. Liberals took that ammo and fired off theories that spread like wildfire on social media that the beer was going to a GOP meeting celebrating the bill’s passage.

The theory was later found to be false, and even though the reporter tweeted a correction, that tweet only got a handful of retweets. Mic’s headline is indicative of the early coverage: “Republicans celebrated taking away Americans’ health insurance with cases of beer.” (The millennial news site has since changed the headline to: “Reports of beer delivery to GOP health care celebration called into question.”)

But Nyhan said the damage was already done.

“People are looking for bits of factual information that seem to confirm a pre-existing narrative. This is the problem with confirmation bias,” he said. “We’re seeing that sort of pattern in much more serious circumstances when it comes to the Russia investigation where every piece of information that comes out is being spun and interpreted in the worst possible ways, and in some cases, we’re seeing outright fabrication and speculation being reported and amplified.”

Not everyone is convinced, though, that leftist conspiracy theories are being spread as much as conservative ones. Jeet Heer of The New Republic wrote a counterargument analysis saying while there’s no denying that conspiracy theories are spread on the left, only the Democratic Party acts “responsibly when faced with politically convenient, but obviously fantastic, stories.”

“There still exists a feedback loop on the left, so when a prominent person falls for a conspiracy theory, they are challenged by the media and willing to correct themselves,” he wrote. “Conversely, conservatives tend to adhere to a ‘no apologies’ ethos that makes admitting error verboten.”

In a survey administered by Survey Sampling International immediately after the election (Nov. 7-10, 2016), found that partisans’ conspiratorial predispositions can vary depending on which party holds political power. Democrats’ “conspiracy scores” increased significantly compared with a previous survey in July 2016.

The percentage of Democrats who agreed on average with the conspiracy claims in the scale increased from 27 percent before the election to 32 percent after the election. By contrast, Republicans’ willingness to endorse conspiratorial claims declined after the election over all, decreasing the percentage of Republicans who agreed on average with the false statements from 28 percent to 19 percent.

Nyhan said everyone plays a part in spreading misinformation and more people should be willing to publicly correct themselves if they get a fact wrong or spread a debunked theory.

“We all can take some responsibility for this in the kinds of information we share on social media,” he said. “We’re all potentially complicit in the spread of misinformation. Everyone will be fooled. That’s part of the medium, for better or for worse. What I’ve been disappointed to see is how many people don’t exercise the appropriate care in what they do amplify and fail to correct the record when the information they’ve circulated turns out to be wrong.”

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Hassan, Shaheen’s Town Hall Reveals Middle-of-Road Approach to Trump

U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen’s town hall-style meeting on Friday with their New Hampshire constituents was mostly a warm welcome back to the state. Unlike many of their Republican colleagues who have dealt with protesters, shouting, and many interruptions in their town halls during Congress’ recess week, Hassan and Shaheen received very few interruptions during their question-and-answer session, receiving mainly applause during the hour-long event.

While the positive feedback from the audience showed general approval of their job so far in the Senate, the town hall also revealed that Hassan and Shaheen aren’t some of President Donald Trump’s biggest opponents in the Democratic Party.

While the two senators have made it clear that they do not approve of many policies and much of the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration, they have been more bipartisan in their approach to Trump than others.

For example, Hassan and Shaheen have both approved of seven of his Cabinet nominations and opposed seven of them. That puts them on the lower end of “no” votes in the Democratic Party, with only five Democrats and one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats having fewer “no” votes.

Senators in states that Trump won or who are expected to face tough reelections have fewer “no” votes, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Independent Angus King of Maine, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Mark Warner of Virginia. Most senators have eight or nine “no” votes for Trump’s nominees, with potential 2020 Democratic-presidential hopefuls disapproving of 12 or 11 of his appointments, including Sens. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats.

While Hassan and Shaheen’s cabinet votes weren’t the main focus of Friday’s town hall, their position on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, received the biggest disapproval.

Both Democrats rejected the idea of blocking a hearing for Gorsuch, resulting in audible boos and shouts of “no” from the audience.

“It is not in our interest to deny a hearing to Neil Gorsuch,” Shaheen said. “That’s what’s prescribed under the Constitution. Let me tell you something. I’m not going to go out and say it’s wrong for them and then say that it’s right for us.”

Shaheen was alluding to Republican Senate leadership’s refusal last year to hold a hearing for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Some Senate Democrats have previously stated they want to filibuster or block Trump’s nominee from ever getting a hearing, just like the GOP did to Garland.

Yet, neither senator said they have made a final decision yet on how they will vote for Gorsuch. His confirmation will require 60 votes, so some Democrats will have to cross party lines if he is to get the seat on the bench.

“I think it is absolutely appropriate and right for us to do our constitutional duty and have a hearing,” she said.

Hassan said she plans to meet with Gorsuch this week to discuss “the protection of civil rights for all Americans. In my view that includes the rights of the LGBT community. It includes the rights of women to make their own health care decisions.”

In addition to Hassan and Shaheen’s middle-of-the-road approach to the Supreme Court nominee, they have also not gone to the same extremes as other Senate Democrats when it comes to Trump and Russia.

“I never thought that I’d begin my tenure having to stand up to a president whose conflicts of interest and whose campaign and administration’s involvement with Russia would cause so many questions,” Hassan said. “I also think that it is concerning that a president who is so tough on our allies seems so soft on Russia. I think that raises real questions.”

Hassan and Shaheen have joined several Democrats who have called for an independent commission investigation of possible Trump administration ties to, and communication with, Russian officials, in addition to possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Several high-profile Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also said they support similar measures.

“The American people need to know what happened here, and then we need to take appropriate action,” Shaheen said.

However, Hassan and Shaheen didn’t go as far as other Democrats who have publicly talked about the possibility of impeaching Trump.

Hassan told WMUR after the town hall that impeachment talk was “premature,” yet restated her support for an independent investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.

“I think it’s really important that we investigate concerns we’ve heard about connections to Russia in the Trump administration, and I think it’s very important that we have a bipartisan commission for the same reason,” she said.

It makes sense for Hassan and Shaheen to take a more bipartisan approach to Trump given the political climate in New Hampshire.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the state over Trump by only three-tenths of a percent — 46.8 to 46.5 percent. Hassan’s victory over former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte was even narrower, winning only by 743 votes, and while the Granite State sent an entire Democratic delegation to Congress, the GOP won the majority in the Legislature and took back the corner office for the first time in 12 years. Many people call New Hampshire a “purple” state, since it usually swing back and forth between red and blue every election. Hassan and Shaheen can’t upset their base too much, but they also can’t alienate the independents and moderate Republicans in the state either.

Near the very end of the town hall, Shaheen and Hassan also said they would do what they can to address climate change. Yet, some in the room weren’t happy with what they saw, including one man who shouted that the two women were using plastic water bottles, instead of reusable ones.

Hassan stated she is willing to work with Republican senators, but not at the risk of undoing progress.

“There is a difference between constructive compromise and undermining the progress that we have made,” she said.

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