Residents in Poland as well as Belarusians living in the country joined together to protest the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich on Monday. Activists condemned the arrest after Belarus authorities grounded the plane citing a bogus security threat.
Protasevich, a vocal critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, was taken into custody after the Belarusian government forced his Lithuania-bound flight to land in Minsk.
Pilots on flight FR4978 were ordered to “divert to the nearest airport,” citing a potential bomb threat aboard the plane. Belarusian state media reported it was Lukashenko who gave an “unequivocal order” to ground the jet.
Protestors used paper airplanes as a visual prop to symbolize the aircraft being diverted to Minsk.
Protasevich’s arrest drew international outrage as EU leaders condemned the forced grounding of the flight and called for the “immediate release” of Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, who was also escorted off the flight.
The European Union took action to isolate Belarus on Monday, ordering all EU-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace. The EU also banned Belarusian airlines from occupying the bloc’s airspace and using its airports.
The EU’s move to sever Belarus air ties isn’t the first time the bloc cracked down on the Belarusian government. Late last year, the EU imposed sanctions on several Belarusian officials – including President Aleksandr Lukashenko – in the wake of the contested presidential elections in August.
The Armament Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry of Defense published a release stating that an intergovernmental agreement has been signed on April 12, 2021, concerning the delivery of five C-130H airlifters to Poland.
The deal is a part of the Excess Defense Articles grant program. The aircraft would be partially retrofitted with new equipment, made flightworthy, and then they would fly to Poland.
The agreement has a relatively low value – USD $14.3 million. The US side, the Polish MoD reports, assumes that five C-130H airframes that the Polish Air Force would receive. They are worth $60 million, as per the US quote. The deliveries would be finalized by mid-2024, with the first aircraft arriving this year.
According to the Polish MoD, the aircraft procured rolled off the production line in 1985 and then were decommissioned in 2017. After that, they were stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group facility (AMARG) in Tucson, Arizona. The above makes them 15 years younger than the C-130s currently operated by the Polish Air Force.
The technical status of the aircraft was assessed during the so-called Joint Visual Inspection procedure. It took place at AMARG in Tucson, stated the Inspectorate. The cost of the transfer to Poland was also a subject of this process.
Then, after the transfer, the aircraft would undergo the periodic, scheduled maintenance (Programmed Depot Maintenance – PDM) at the WZL Nr 2 S.A. facility in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Bydgoszcz is also going to be the place where extra equipment, as required by the Polish Air Force, would be fitted onto the aircraft. Then the airframes are expected to become a part of the inventory of the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz.
It has been pointed out by the experts that both the engines, as well as the propellers, along with the avionics, may need to be upgraded. What upgrades would be done within that scope remains unclear. However, to make the acquisition reasonable, the AMARG restoration work should also include an upgrade similar to the ones carried out in case of the ANG aircraft: a set of new T-56 Rolls Royce 3.5 engines and NP2000 eight-bladed propellers with electronic controls.
The PGZ Group’s WZL facility in Bydgoszcz provides the Polish Air Force with a relevant maintenance capability regarding the Hercules.
The Polish MoD was putting the airlift capability enhancements in the modernization plans – the procurement was designated as the Drop program. It involved Leonardo S.p.A., Airbus Defence & Space, Embraer, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, but it was ultimately suspended in July last year. It seems that Poland went with second-hand airframes to serve as an intermediary gap-filler solution.
Krzysztof Płatek, spokesman for the Armament Inspectorate told us that the Drop program is to follow a schedule that is confidential. Procurement of the AMARG C-130s would diminish the pressure caused by deadlines and time.
Facebook allowed authoritarian governments to use its platform to generate fake support for their regimes for months despite warnings from employees about the disinformation campaigns, an investigation from the Guardian revealed this week.
A loophole in Facebook’s policies allowed government officials around the world to create unlimited amounts of fake “pages” which, unlike user profiles, don’t have to correspond to an actual person – but could still like, comment on, react to, and share content, the Guardian reported.
That loophole let governments spin up armies of what looked like real users who could then artificially generate support for and amplify pro-government content, what the Guardian called “the digital equivalent of bussing in a fake crowd for a speech.”
Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist on the company’s integrity team, blew the whistle dozens of times about the loophole, warning Facebook executives including vice president of integrity Guy Rosen, airing many of her concerns, according to the Guardian.
BuzzFeed News previously reported on Zhang’s “badge post” – a tradition where departing employees post an internal farewell message to coworkers.
But one of Zhang’s biggest concerns was that Facebook wasn’t paying enough attention to coordinated disinformation networks in authoritarian countries, such as Honduras and Azerbaijan, where elections are less free and more susceptible to state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, the Guardian’s investigation revealed.
Facebook waited 344 days after employees sounded the alarm to take action in the Honduras case, and 426 days in Azerbaijan, and in some cases took no action, the investigation found.
But when she raised her concerns about Facebook’s inaction in Honduras to Rosen, he dismissed her concerns.
“We have literally hundreds or thousands of types of abuse (job security on integrity eh!),” Rosen told Zhang in April 2019, according the Guardian, adding: “That’s why we should start from the end (top countries, top priority areas, things driving prevalence, etc) and try to somewhat work our way down.”
Rosen told Zhang he agreed with Facebook’s priority areas, which included the US, Western Europe, and “foreign adversaries such as Russia/Iran/etc,” according to the Guardian.
“We fundamentally disagree with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform. We aggressively go after abuse around the world and have specialized teams focused on this work,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told Insider in a statement.
“As a result, we’ve already taken down more than 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior. Around half of them were domestic networks that operated in countries around the world, including those in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and in the Asia Pacific region. Combatting coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority. We’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue before taking action or making public claims about them,” she said.
However, Facebook didn’t dispute any of Zhang’s factual claims in the Guardian investigation.
Facebook pledged to tackle election-related misinformation and disinformation after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russia’s use of its platform to sow division among American voters ahead of the 2016 US presidential elections.
“Since then, we’ve focused on improving our defenses and making it much harder for anyone to interfere in elections,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Key to our efforts has been finding and removing fake accounts – the source of much of the abuse, including misinformation. Bad actors can use computers to generate these in bulk. But with advances in artificial intelligence, we now block millions of fake accounts every day as they are being created so they can’t be used to spread spam, false news or inauthentic ads,” Zuckerberg added.
But the Guardian’s investigation showed Facebook is still delaying or refusing to take action against state-sponsored disinformation campaigns in dozens of countries, with thousands of fake accounts, creating hundreds of thousands of fake likes.
And even in supposedly high-priority areas, like the US, researchers have found Facebook has allowed key disinformation sources to expand their reach over the years.
A March report from Avaaz found “Facebook could have prevented 10.1 billion estimated views for top-performing pages that repeatedly shared misinformation” ahead of the 2020 US elections had it acted earlier to limit their reach.
“Failure to downgrade the reach of these pages and to limit their ability to advertise in the year before the election meant Facebook allowed them to almost triple their monthly interactions, from 97 million interactions in October 2019 to 277.9 million interactions in October 2020,” Avaaz found.
Facebook admits that around 5% of its accounts are fake, a number that hasn’t gone down since 2019, according to The New York Times. And MIT Technology Review’s Karen Hao reported in March that Facebook still doesn’t have a centralized team dedicated to ensuring its AI systems and algorithms reduce the spread of misinformation.
While not yet officially confirmed, Italian newspapers reported on December 18 that the government is due to announce a national lockdown active between December 24 and 27 and between December 31 and January 3.
“For the period from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, whether until the 3rd or 6th of January, the more restrictions there are, the better,” Francesco Boccia, Italy’s Minister for Regional Affairs, said Thursday.