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Covid: Vaccine or no vaccine, we have to get through this first

Nick Triggle, Health correspondent @nicktriggleon Twitter

Bus in Liverpool

After the euphoria of a vaccine breakthrough, it did not take long for the virus to provide a reality check. Within days of the news that an effective vaccine may have been found, it was being announced the UK was the first European country to pass the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths. This was quickly followed by a record rise in new cases with 33,400 reported on Thursday.

Both are a clear reminder, if we needed one, that there are many more difficult days to come. So what’s in store?

The vaccine is no magic wand

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised the NHS will be ready to start rolling out the vaccine from 1 December if its passes its final regulatory hurdles.

But that doesn’t mean the epidemic will be brought to a sudden halt. There is a huge logistical exercise in vaccinating large numbers of people – the UK has bought enough for 20 million people. And don’t forget, unlike the flu vaccine, this one requires two doses.

Health and care workers along with older age groups will be prioritised. But given it takes a month from the first dose for an individual to get the full protection and the fact there are 12 million over 65s – nine in 10 deaths have been in this age group – winter is likely to be well gone by the time significant numbers are protected.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam was unequivocal this week when he said he didn’t see the vaccine “making any difference” this winter.

Infection rates are high

In the meantime, infection rates remain high. Despite seeing over 30,000 cases on Thursday, the UK is averaging over 20,000 confirmed infections a day.

However, estimates from the government’s surveillance run by the Office for National Statistics suggests the true figure may be double that.

Chart tracking daily cases and seven-day average

The situation has left hospitals dangerously close to capacity in the most hard-hit regions. NHS trusts in Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Bradford have all announced the cancellation of non-urgent work to free up beds.

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents hospital managers, warns staff are “exhausted” and “traumatised”. If hospital cases keep rising it will quickly begin to affect non-Covid work even more, he says.

Lockdown may be followed by… lockdown

We were always warned lockdown, which is underway in England, would take time to have an impact. The good news is that cases had started to stabilise before it came in, with strong evidence the regional tiers had begun to have an impact.

If the rise in cases on Thursday is a blip – there are suggestions it may be linked to a last bout of socialising before lockdown came in – the expectation is the number of infections will soon start to drop. Friday’s figures were 6,000 cases down on the day before,

Prof Tim Spector, who runs the Covid Symptom Study, an app which one million people use, believes the crucial R number – the measure of how many people an infected person passes the virus on to on average – is now below one. This would mean the epidemic should start to shrink.

But no-one knows exactly what sort of impact lockdown will have. There have been suggestions the number of infections could be reduced by three-quarters.

But the early evidence from Wales’ 17-day fire-break is that it stemmed the rise in cases rather than significantly shrinking it. There could be a delayed impact and England’s lockdown is longer, but clearly, nothing is guaranteed. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has just extended some of its national restrictions because of concern about infection levels.

And the problem is that once lockdown is lifted in England, cases are likely to take off again. It is, after all, winter, when respiratory viruses tend to thrive.

Does that mean another lockdown in a few months? This is the nagging fear.

Ministers are just “deferring the problem”, says Prof Mark Woolhouse, an expert in infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, who sits on the government’s committee on modelling. Even if we had had the lockdown earlier, as some scientists had argued, we would have already been talking about the next one.

More testing, more tracing, but enough isolating?

Those backing lockdown argued it could be used to fix the test-and-trace system, which identifies close contacts of infected individuals and asks them to isolate. Each nation runs its own tracing service, but all have faced the same problem – such high rates of infection make test-and-trace more difficult and less effective.

In England, councils are working hard to set up local teams to support the national system. But most of these are in their infancy and will take some time to bed in. The government has started piloting mass testing in the hope it could be a way of containing the virus given significant numbers of infected people show very mild, or even no, symptoms. The first pilot in Liverpool has been followed by others being set up in more than 60 local authority areas.

Soldiers talk to people at The Exhibition Centre, in Liverpool, which has been set up as a testing centre as part of the mass coronavirus disease
Soldiers have been brought in to help with the mass testing programme in Liverpool

But some question how effective this approach will be.

The rapid tests being used are “not fit for purpose” says Prof John Deeks, an expert in testing at Birmingham University. He points to evidence suggesting they may miss up to half of Covid cases.

He also says identifying previously undetected cases only works if those that test positive isolate. Evidence on those going through the standard testing process is that they are not always doing this. A need to work and earn money is, understandably, a key issue.

The virus isn’t going away

This brings us back to vaccination. While the breakthrough is great news, the jury is still out as to how much impact it will have. For example, we don’t know how well it works in the elderly, whether it stops people passing it on or simply stops them getting ill or how long immunity lasts.

Even with the vaccine the virus is “not going away”, says Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Sage advisory group.

Graph of deaths by age

It is, he says, now part of humanity and here to stay. Instead, the most we can hope for is providing some protection to those who are most at risk.

The sad reality is that, despite the vaccine breakthrough, we are still going to have to learn to live with Covid this winter – and beyond.

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Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Indian Billionaires Bet Big on Head Start in Coronavirus Vaccine Race

The world’s largest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute, announced a plan to make hundreds of millions of doses of an unproven inoculation. It’s a gamble with a huge upside. And huge risks.

Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.
Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times
Jeffrey Gettleman

By Jeffrey Gettleman
Aug. 1, 2020

PUNE, India — In early May, an extremely well-sealed steel box arrived at the cold room of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker.

Inside, packed in dry ice, sat a tiny 1-milliliter vial from Oxford, England, containing the cellular material for one of the world’s most promising coronavirus vaccines.

Scientists in white lab coats brought the vial to Building 14, carefully poured the contents into a flask, added a medium of vitamins and sugar, and began growing billions of cells. Thus began one of the biggest gambles yet in the quest to find the vaccine that will bring the world’s Covid-19 nightmare to an end.

The Serum Institute, which is exclusively controlled by a small and fabulously rich Indian family and started out years ago as a horse farm, is doing what a few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that is still in trials and might not even work.

But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive and the only child of the company’s founder, will become one of the most tugged-at men in the world. He will have on hand what everyone wants, possibly in greater quantities before anyone else.

His company, which has teamed up with the Oxford scientists developing the vaccine, was one of the first to boldly announce, in April, that it was going to mass-produce a vaccine before clinical trials even ended. Now, Mr. Poonawalla’s fastest vaccine assembly lines are being readied to crank out 500 doses each minute, and his phone rings endlessly.

  • Thanks for reading The Times.

National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.

“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.

Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world.
Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

With the coronavirus pandemic turning the world upside down and all hopes pinned on a vaccine, the Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.

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Everything you wanted to know about COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus

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Overview – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Live from WHO Headquarters – COVID-19 daily press briefing 20 March 2020

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The Corona Virus pandemic reaches the Caribbean

After BA Flight 2157 on Tuesday, March 10, could it be here in Montserrat? (What should we do?

BRADES, Montserrat, March 14, 2020 –  Over the past several days, first we learned that the Corona Virus had been confirmed in several regional territories. Then we learned how the UN Agency, the World Health Organisation, declared a pandemic – a globe-spanning epidemic.  Along the way, we heard of a Jamaican woman who flew home from the UK on March 4th to attend a funeral, and how authorities were taking steps to contain a possible outbreak. Since then schools have been closed as a second case then six more cases were diagnosed, totaling eight. Then,  it was confirmed that someone flying into Antigua from the UK on March 10 (on British Airways 2157), has been diagnosed with the virus.  Over eighty [80] passengers on that same aircraft came on their way to Montserrat, for the St Patrick’s Festival. (UPDATE: There is also a suspected case here, reported on ZJB.)

The Covid-19 virus attacks a cell,in an “isolate” from a patient(Cr: Australian Pharmacist & US CDC)

Suddenly, the Covid-19 Pandemic – global epidemic – is at our doorstep.

As a result:

After this news hit our airwaves on Friday, March 13th, a call went out for these passengers to contact health authorities.

On Saturday the 14th the recently elected Premier Easton Taylor-Farrell summarised this development, stated that the passengers were traced, contacted and told to self-isolate, adding that events with more than fifty people were restricted.

Many churches announced that worship services are suspended.

Schools (which often serve as places where viral infections spread rapidly) are closed until Friday, April 3.

Such measures are to be extended if necessary.

In effect, the 2020 St Patrick’s Festival has been shut down. That’s why promoters for some events then went on radio to announce the cancelation.

Covid 19 is indeed at our doorstep.

Cross-Section of a Corona Virus. In an infection, the S-protein spikes bind to cell surfaces, allowing penetration. The cell is then hijacked to replicate and distribute further copies of the virus using the RNA in the virus (Cr: Wiki & Scientific Illustrations)

What will we do?

Why did it take a case of possible transmission on an eight-hour transatlantic flight to trigger such measures?

(On the worst-case – let us hope, such will not be actual! – that could be shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.)

Especially as, before the event, prominent local Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Jean Kelsick publicly advised us all on February 28:

he virus has surfaced, is spreading and has already killed people . . . . Should our visitors introduce the virus to Montserrat

will have to face some very hard questions over any deaths that may ensue . . . .  the financial cost and disappointment to the island and visitors [if the Festival were to be canceled] would be very unfortunate but a price cannot be put on lives.”

We are now in danger of both possibilities, the worst of both worlds. For, on the facts admitted by Premier Taylor-Farrell, [a] visitors have come who may be exposed AND [b] we are forced to restrict gatherings of more than fifty people. That suggests, that we did not act with sufficient prudence in good time.

Now, given the Covid-19 incubation period of up to two weeks (or possibly more in some cases) we will have to wait to see if the epidemic is here already where this virus can be spread by people before they have obvious symptoms. Also, many mild cases may be confused with an ordinary cold or could even go unnoticed.

In a further complication, there seem to be two strains, L and S. As ABC reports[1]:

“Scientists from China said they’ve identified two strains of COVID-19 linked to the recent outbreak.  Coronaviruses are a large family of RNA viruses, and when RNA viruses replicate quickly, they often mutate. Researchers analyzed 103 sequenced genomes using strains from China, and found that 70% of strains were one type, which they called ‘L.’ The ‘L’ strain was more aggressive than the remaining 30% of strains, which were dubbed ‘S.’”

There is some suggestion that it is possible to catch one strain then the other, in addition to the familiar problem of relapsing if one has not fully recovered from an infection. NewScientist gives background[2]:

Viruses are always mutating . . . When a person is infected with the coronavirus, it replicates in their respiratory tract. Every time it does, around half a dozen genetic mutations occur, says Ian Jones at the University of Reading, UK. When Xiaolu Tang at Peking University in Beijing and colleagues studied the viral genome taken from 103 cases, they . . . identified two types of the virus based on differences in the genome at these two regions: 72 were considered to be the “L-type” and 29 were classed “S-type” . . . . The first strain is likely to have emerged around the time the virus jumped from animals to humans. The second emerged soon after that, says the team. Both are involved in the current global outbreak. The fact that the L-type is more prevalent suggests that it is “more aggressive” than the S-type.”

Further, in a preprint article for the New England Journal of Medicine,[3] researchers have confirmed that “viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel . . .   Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for  multiple hours and on surfaces up to days.”

These specific experimental results are generally consistent with earlier reports that the virus can survive in the air for hours and on surfaces for up to a week or more. That immediately means that we have to be particularly vigilant to protect ourselves. Pix 11 of New York summarises some typical advice[4]:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

A distance of 6 feet can protect you from droplet transmission via coughs and sneezes.

Stay home if you feel you are sick.

Cough and sneeze into your elbow, or cover [your mouth and nose] with a tissue and immediately wash or sanitize your hands.

They add the US CDC instructions on proper handwashing:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

We can also note that for typical disinfectants, a “dwell time” of three to five minutes is advisable, to ensure maximum effect.

Of course, by definition a disinfectant can be hazardous, so we should follow instructions. Chlorine Bleach and Ammonia are particularly so, and must not be mixed. Mixing Bleach and detergents is also not advisable as chemical reactions that give off toxic gases are possible.

Alcohols are also toxic – yes, ethanol too . . . drunkenness is actually a first stage toxic reaction. Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol and Methanol (wood alcohol) should not be consumed; even though they look, taste and smell almost like White Rum. Again, follow instructions on the label.

Of course, a good newspaper is the people’s college, so we need to step back up to the policy level. Fair comment: twenty-five years ago, we were imprudent in managing the volcano crisis, often dismissing warnings as likely to cause a panic. Sometimes, we thought or even said that we needed to exercise faith that nothing bad would happen, trotting out scriptures on faith. On June 25, 1997, nineteen people died needlessly. Videos taken a few days before the fatal ash flows show people harvesting ground provisions in a field while hot ash ran down the ghaut next to them. Some of those people died in fatal flows.

We need a sounder approach: yes, we are to have faith and confidence and we must always pray, but we must also be well-informed, prudent and act in good time.

[1]           See ABC

[2]           See NewScientist

[3]           See van Doremalen of US NIH et al

[4]           See PIX11:

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Coronavirus: NHS England declares level four incident over outbreak

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The new orders from health bosses come amid predictions that one in five workers could be off sick when the virus peaks.

Tuesday 3 March 2020 22:59, UK

Britain...s prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he holds a press conference at Downing Street on the government...s coronavirus action plan in London, Tuesday, March 3, 2020.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Boris Johnson announces coronavirus plans

Why you can trust Sky News

NHS England has declared coronavirus a level four incident – the highest level of emergency preparedness planning.

It comes as confirmed cases in the UK rose to 51 and Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for dealing with the outbreak.

Under the level four alert, all hospitals in England have been told to “assume that they will need to look after COVID-19 cases in due course”.

Where coronavirus has spread in the UK

A national incident management team and coordination centre have been set up for the coronavirus.

NHS regions must report centrally and set up their own incident teams, including having a 24/7 contact for “patient management, alerts, referrals, and tracking”.

Everyone in intensive care with a respiratory infection must also now be tested, as should everyone in a Severe Respiratory Failure centre.

The guidance says it is “now appropriate” to put some patients in “wider infectious disease units” – rather than specialist COVID-19 units – and they could be grouped in “all acute units” if cases continue to rise.

An NHS emergency preparedness adviser, who did not want to be identified, explained: “Level one is a localised incident, like a small fire, where the NHS trust can manage by themselves without any intervention.

“Level two is a larger incident, like a small flood, where the commissioners would have to get involved.”

The former emergency department nurse, who was heavily involved in helping the NHS to cope during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, added: “A level three is declared when there is a regional emergency and level four, the highest emergency level, is declared when there is a national medical crisis.”

preview image

COVID-19: Who is most vulnerable?

Twelve new UK cases were identified on Tuesday: eight had travelled from Italy, one from Germany, one from Singapore, one from Japan and on from Iran.

They are from London, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Bury, Wirral, Greater Manchester, Humberside, and Kent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS had been “preparing for a pandemic virus for over a decade” and was still in the containment phase.

But he said if global cases continue rising – especially in Europe – “we may not be able to contain the virus indefinitely”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for assurances that workers not entitled to sick pay would not be forced to choose between self-isolation and earning a living if they get sick.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has detailed the government’s plan to deal with the virus.

He said police could be reduced to just dealing with very serious crimes and maintaining public order, while the NHS could be closed to all but critical care.

Emergency services all have measures in place to “fulfill critical functions” but they would have to reduce services should large numbers of staff become ill.

The government also said plans were in place to draft in the Army, if necessary, to maintain public order.

Mr. Johnson said there were “long-established plans by which the police will, obviously, keep the public safe but they will prioritise those things that they have to do”.

What happens now with the coronavirus quarantine?

Coronavirus quarantine: What happens now?

He added: “And the Army is of course always ready to back-fill as and when, but that is under the reasonable worst-case scenario.”

The 27-page plan also warned of a depletion in workforces across the UK and said one in five workers could be absent when the virus peaks.

The government said it would consider closing schools and universities, encourage working from home and a reduction in large gatherings.

Key points:

  • Police would “concentrate on responding to serious crimes” if they lose a “significant” amount of staff to illness
  • UK has stockpiles of medicines for the NHS, along with protective clothing and equipment for medical staff
  • If coronavirus becomes widespread, there will be a focus on essential services for those “most at risk”
  • The Ministry of Defence will provide support as needed
  • There will be increased government communication with parliament, the public, and the media
  • Social distancing strategies could be implemented, which would include school closures, home-working, and reducing the number of large scale gatherings
  • Non-urgent operations and procedures could be canceled and hospital discharges monitored to free up beds
  • Measures would come into place to help businesses with short-term cash flow problems
  • A distribution strategy for sending out key medicines and equipment to NHS and social care patients
The government has taken extra measures to combat COVID-19
Image: The number of cases in the UK stands at 51

Speaking at a news conference, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said restricting travel once the epidemic was “everywhere” would make “no difference at all”.

He also said there was “no reason” for people to stockpile food and other goods.

Mr. Johnson told reporters he continued to shake hands with people, adding: “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands. The infection numbers in real time Daily updates figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University

“People must make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is… our judgment is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.”

The government plan outlines its response in four stages.

They include containing the outbreak, delaying its spread, mitigating the impact of the disease once it becomes established, and implementing a research program aimed at improving diagnostics and treatment.

Officials are hoping to delay the peak of the outbreak until the spring and summer months when health services are less busy.

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Legislation allowing the government to use extra powers to help control COVID-19 is expected to be passed by the end of the month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also pledged more funds to fight the virus and has promised more cash in next week’s budget.

Meanwhile, there have been concerns over the viability of events and large gatherings, including the London Marathon just eight weeks away.

The health secretary told MPs that “reacting too early or over-reacting carries its own risk”, saying that the government would, therefore, “seek to minimise social disruption”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: A woman wears a face mask while waiting for a tube train at Bank underground station on March 01, 2020 in London, England. There has been three more reported cases of the coronavirus - COVID-19 tested positive in the UK, bringing the total to twenty three. (photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Image: Concerns have been raised about the virus spreading on transport networks

But Mr. Hancock admitted some of the action would be “uncomfortable” but insisted the government was “quite prepared to do that if it’s necessary”.

However, speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast show earlier, he said the government was seeking “as targeted as an approach as possible” with the focus on the elderly and others likely to suffer most from the virus.

There are currently more than 90,000 cases of coronavirus around the world and more than 3,000 deaths.

Virus Outbreak: Global Emergency – Watch a special Sky News programme on coronavirus at 6 pm weekdays.

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Exxon Makes 13th Oil Discovery Offshore Guyana

Guyana announces the arrival of first oil production vessel

Exxon Makes 13th Oil Discovery Offshore Guyana
Exxon drilling for oil – Guyana


GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CMC  – Guyana’s first oil production vessel – the Lisa Destiny has arrived in the country.

Director of the Department of Energy, Dr. Mark Bynoe said this is a historic occasion for the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and all Guyanese. 

“The FPSO’s (Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading) vessel’s arrival means that we are no more just talking about first oil. First oil is on the horizon. The Liza Destiny’s arrival means that our timetable has moved forward and, as a policy-related body, we are also called upon to advance our timetable,” Bynoe said.

The FPSO vessel journeyed for 42 days and nearly 11,000 miles from the Keppel Shipyard in Singapore.

The vessel took off on its journey after First Lady, Sandra Granger was named the ‘godmother’ of the vessel, at a ceremony hosted in June 2019 in Singapore.

The Director of Energy said the Liza Destiny’s arrival should engender a new spirit of nationalism, pride and expectation.

“As Guyanese, we should begin to recognise that it is a vessel that will be paid for by Guyanese, pumping Guyanese fuel which will be bringing in revenue for Guyanese to help our country to ultimately be transformed positively from an economic development perspective. It is imperative that as Guyanese we begin to appreciate that the direct and the indirect benefits that emanate from this sector goes far beyond anything that we have seen thus far,” Bynoe said.

After clearing customs, the vessel will be connected to the spread mooring before hook-up and installation begins in preparation for production, storage and offloading of Guyana’s oil.

The Liza Destiny FPSO was converted from oil tanker, “Tina”, a 1999 Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC). The conversion included upgrading of the hull and integration of 14 topside processing modules, totalling 16,000 metric tonnes, ExxonMobil Guyana said.

This FPSO is a significant component of the Liza Phase 1 development which involves four undersea drill centres with 17 production wells. It has a production capacity of 120,000 barrels of oil per day and an overall storage volume of 1.6 million barrels.

During normal operations, there will be at least 80 persons living and working onboard the vessel.

ExxonMobil Guyana remains on target for first oil by early 2020.

See earlier:

Exxon Makes 13th Oil Discovery Offshore Guyana

by  Valerie Jones|Rigzone Staff|Friday, April 19, 2019

ExxonMobil made a new oil discovery at the Yellowtail-1 well offshore Guyana, marking its 13th discovery on the Stabroek Block.

ExxonMobil made a new oil discovery at the Yellowtail-1 well offshore Guyana, the company announced Thursday.

This marks the 13th discovery on the Stabroek Block and adds to the already 5.5-billion barrels of oil equivalent in the block.

Yellowtail-1 is also the fifth discovery in the Turbot area, which is expected to become a major development hub.

Yellowtail-1, which is located about six miles northwest of the Tilapia discovery, was drilled to a depth of 18,445 feet (5,622 meters) in 6,046 feet (1,843 meters) of water. Drilling on the well commenced March 27.

“Similar to the Liza area, successive discoveries in the Turbot area have continuously grown its shared value,” Mike Cousins, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Exploration and New Ventures said in a company statement. “Our success here can be attributed to our industry-leading upstream capabilities, the strength of our partnerships and our ongoing commitment to growing Guyana’s offshore potential.”

ExxonMobil previously stated there was potential for at least five floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels on the Stabroek Block producing more than 750,000 barrels of oil per day by 2025.

ExxonMobil affiliate Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited is the operator and holds 45 percent interest in the Stabroek Block while Hess Guyana Exploration Ltd. holds 30 percent interest and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNOOC Limited, holds 25 percent interest.

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Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images

Exclusive: Russia carried out a ‘stunning’ breach of FBI communications system, escalating the spy game on U.S. soil

Zach Dorfman, Jenna McLaughlin and Sean D. Naylor

Reporters, Yahoo News

September 16, 2019  –  The U.S. forced to extract top spy from Russia after Trump revealed classified information to Russians in Oval Office meeting

On Dec. 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced that it was giving nearly three dozen Russian diplomats just 72 hours to leave the United States and was seizing two rural East Coast estates owned by the Russian government. As the Russians burned papers and scrambled to pack their bags, the Kremlin protested the treatment of its diplomats, and denied that those compounds — sometimes known as the “dachas” — were anything more than vacation spots for their personnel.

The Obama administration’s public rationale for the expulsions and closures — the harshest U.S. diplomatic reprisals taken against Russia in several decades — was to retaliate for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But there was another critical, and secret, reason why those locations and diplomats were targeted.

Both compounds, and at least some of the expelled diplomats, played key roles in a brazen Russian counterintelligence operation that stretched from the Bay Area to the heart of the nation’s capital, according to former U.S. officials. The operation, which targeted FBI communications, hampered the bureau’s ability to track Russian spies on U.S. soil at a time of increasing tension with Moscow, forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to former U.S. officials. It even raised concerns among some U.S. officials about a Russian mole within the U.S. intelligence community.

Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images
Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images

“It was a very broad effort to try and penetrate our most sensitive operations,” said a former senior CIA official.

American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.

These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. They provided the Russians opportunities to potentially shake off FBI surveillance and communicate with sensitive human sources, check on remote recording devices and even gather intelligence on their FBI pursuers, the former officials said.

Part of the Russian Federation's riverfront compound on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Part of the Russian Federation’s riverfront compound on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

“When we found out about this, the light bulb went on — that this could be why we haven’t seen [certain types of] activity” from known Russian spies in the United States, said a former senior intelligence official.

The compromise of FBI systems occurred not long after the White House’s 2010 decision to arrest and expose a group of “illegals” – Russian operatives embedded in American society under deep non-official cover – and reflected a resurgence of Russian espionage. Just a few months after the illegals pleaded guilty in July 2010, the FBI opened a new investigation into a group of New York-based undercover Russian intelligence officers. These Russian spies, the FBI discovered, were attempting to recruit a ring of U.S. assets — including Carter Page, an American businessman who would later act as an unpaid foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The breaches also spoke to larger challenges faced by U.S. intelligence agencies in guarding the nation’s secrets, an issue highlighted by recent revelations, first published by CNN, that the CIA was forced to extract a key Russian asset and bring him to the U.S. in 2017. The asset was reportedly critical to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally directed the interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump speaks, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Yahoo spoke about these previously unreported technical breaches and the larger government debates surrounding U.S. policies toward Russia with more than 50 current and former intelligence and national security officials, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss sensitive operations and internal discussions. While the officials expressed a variety of views on what went wrong with U.S.-Russian relations, some said the United States at times neglected to appreciate the espionage challenge from Moscow, and paid a significant price for a failure to prioritize technical threats.

“When I was in office, the counterintelligence business was … focused entirely on its core concern, which is insider threats, and in particular mole hunting,” said Joel Brenner, the head of U.S. counterintelligence and strategy from 2006 to 2009. “This is, in fact, the core risk and it’s right that it should be the focus. But we were neither organized nor resourced to deal with counterintelligence in networks, technical networks, electronic networks.”

The discovery of Russia’s newfound capacity to crack certain types of encryption was particularly unnerving, according to former U.S. officials.

“Anytime you find out that an adversary has these capabilities, it sets off a ripple effect,” said a former senior national security official. “The Russians are able to extract every capability from any given technology. … They are singularly dangerous in this area.”


The FBI’s discovery of these compromises took place on the heels of what many hoped would be a breakthrough between Washington and Moscow — the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” initiative, which sought to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Despite what seemed to be some initial progress, the reset soon went awry.

In September 2011, Vladimir Putin announced the launch of his third presidential campaign, only to be confronted during the following months by tens of thousands of protesters accusing him of electoral fraud. Putin, a former intelligence officer, publicly accused then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of fomenting the unrest.

It was around this time that Putin’s spies in the United States, operating under diplomatic cover, achieved what a former senior intelligence official called a “stunning” technical breakthrough, demonstrating their relentless focus on the country they’ve long considered their primary adversary.

A December 2011 protest in Moscow against the alleged rigging of parliamentary polls. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)
A December 2011 protest in Moscow against the alleged rigging of parliamentary polls. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

That effort compromised the encrypted radio systems used by the FBI’s mobile surveillance teams, which track the movements of Russian spies on American soil, according to more than half a dozen former senior intelligence and national security officials. Around the same time, Russian spies also compromised the FBI teams’ backup communications systems — cellphones outfitted with “push-to-talk” walkie-talkie capabilities. “This was something we took extremely seriously,” said a former senior counterintelligence official.

The Russian operation went beyond tracking the communications devices used by FBI surveillance teams, according to four former senior officials. Working out of secret “listening posts” housed in Russian diplomatic and other government-controlled facilities, the Russians were able to intercept, record and eventually crack the codes to FBI radio communications.

Some of the clandestine eavesdropping annexes were staffed by the wives of Russian intelligence officers, said a former senior intelligence official. That operation was part of a larger sustained, deliberate Russian campaign targeting secret U.S. government communications throughout the United States, according to former officials.

The two Russian government compounds in Maryland and New York closed in 2016 played a role in the operation, according to three former officials. They were “basically being used as signals intelligence facilities,” said one former senior national security official.

An estate in Oyster Bay, N.Y., one of two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in late 2016 as punishment for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. (Photo: Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP)
An estate in Oyster Bay, N.Y., one of two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in late 2016 as punishment for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. (Photo: Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

Russian spies also deployed “mobile listening posts.” Some Russian intelligence officers, carrying signals intelligence gear, would walk near FBI surveillance teams. Others drove vans full of listening equipment aimed at intercepting FBI teams’ communications. For the Russians, the operation was “amazingly low risk in an angering way,” said a former senior intelligence official.

The FBI teams were using relatively lightweight radios with limited range, according to former officials. These low-tech devices allowed the teams to move quickly and discreetly while tracking their targets, which would have been more difficult with clunkier but more secure technology, a former official said. But the outdated radios left the teams’ communications vulnerable to the Russians. “The amount of security you employ is the inverse of being able to do things with flexibility, agility and at scale,” said the former official.

A former senior counterintelligence official blamed the compromises on a “hodgepodge of systems” ineffective beyond the line of sight. “The infrastructure that was supposed to be built, they never followed up, or gave us the money for it,” said the former official. “The intelligence community has never gotten an integrated system.”

The limitations of the radio technology, said the former senior officials, led the FBI’s surveillance personnel to communicate on the backup systems.

“Eventually they switched to push-to-talk cellphones,” said a former counterintelligence executive. “The tech guys would get upset by that, because if they could intercept radio, they might be able to intercept telephones.”

That is indeed what happened. Those devices were then identified and compromised by Russian intelligence operatives. (A number of other countries’ surveillance teams — including those from hostile services — also transitioned from using radios to cellphones during this time, noted another former official.)

The FBI seal outside the bureau's headquarters in Washington. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)
The FBI seal outside the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. intelligence officials were uncertain whether the Russians were able to unscramble the FBI conversations in real time. But even the ability to decrypt them later would have given the Russians critical insights into FBI surveillance practices, including “call signs and locations, team composition and tactics,” said a former intelligence official.

U.S. officials were also unsure about how long the Russians had been able to decipher FBI communications before the bureau realized what was happening. “There was a gap between when they were really onto us, and when we got onto them,” said a former senior intelligence official.

Even after they understood that the Russians had compromised the FBI teams’ radios, U.S. counterintelligence officials could not agree on how they had done it. “The intel reporting was they did break our codes or got their hands on a radio and figured it out,” said a former senior intelligence official. “Either way, they decrypted our comms.”

Officials also cautioned, however, that the Russians could only crack moderately encrypted communications, not the strongest types of encryption used by the U.S. government for its most sensitive transmissions. It was nonetheless “an incredible intelligence success” for the Russians, said the former senior official.

While the Russians may have developed this capability by themselves, senior counterintelligence officials also feared that someone from within the U.S. government — a Russian mole — may have helped them, said former officials. “You’re wondering, ‘If this is true, and they can do this, is this because someone on the inside has given them that information?’’ said another former senior intelligence official.

Vladimir Putin, then Russia's prime minister, in September 2011, around the time he announced he would stand for president in 2012. (Photo: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, in September 2011, around the time he announced he would stand for president in 2012. (Photo: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has a clear interest in concealing how it gets its information, further muddying the waters. According to a former senior CIA officer who served in Moscow, the Russians would often try to disguise a human source as a technical penetration. Ultimately, officials were unable to pinpoint exactly how the Russians pulled off the compromise of the FBI’s systems.

Mark Kelton, who served as the chief of counterintelligence at the CIA until he retired in 2015, declined to discuss specific Russian operations, but he told Yahoo News that “the Russians are a professionally proficient adversary who have historically penetrated every American institution worth penetrating.”

This remains a core worry for U.S. spy hunters. The number of ongoing espionage investigations into U.S. government personnel — at the CIA, the FBI and elsewhere — including those potentially recruited by Russia, “is not a little, it’s a lot,” said another former senior counterintelligence official.

Once the compromises of FBI communications devices were confirmed, U.S. officials scrambled to minimize the exposure of mobile surveillance team operations, quickly putting countermeasures in place, according to former senior officials. There was a “huge concern” about protecting the identities of the individuals on the teams — an elite, secret group — said the former senior counterintelligence official. U.S. officials also conducted a damage assessment and repeatedly briefed select White House officials and members of Congress about the compromise.

After the FBI discovered that its surveillance teams’ cellphones had been compromised, they were forced to switch back to encrypted radios, purchasing different models, according to two former officials. “It was an expensive venture,” said one former counterintelligence official.

But the spying successes went both ways. The U.S. intelligence community collected its own inside information to conclude that the damage from the compromises had been limited, partly due to the Russians’ efforts to keep their intelligence coup secret, according to a former senior intelligence official. “The Russians were reticent to take steps [that might reveal] that they’d figured it out,” the former senior official said.


Even so, the costs to U.S. intelligence were significant. Spooked by the discovery that its surveillance teams’ communications had been compromised, the FBI worried that some of its assets had been blown, said two former senior intelligence officials. The bureau consequently cut off contact with some of its Russian sources, according to one of those officials.

At the time of the compromise, some of the FBI’s other Russian assets stopped cooperating with their American handlers. “There were a couple instances where a recruited person had said, ‘I can’t meet you anymore,’” said a former senior intelligence official. In a damage assessment conducted around 2012, U.S. intelligence officials concluded the events may have been linked.

The impact was not limited to the FBI. Alerted by the bureau to concerns surrounding Russia’s enhanced interception capabilities, the CIA also ceased certain types of communications with sources abroad, according to a former senior CIA official. The agency “had to resort to a whole series of steps” to ensure the Russians weren’t able to eavesdrop on CIA communications, the former senior official said. There was a “strong hint” that these newly discovered code-breaking capabilities by Russia were also being used abroad, said another former senior intelligence official.

The CIA has long been wary of Russian spies’ eavesdropping efforts outside of the United States, especially near U.S. diplomatic facilities. U.S. officials have observed Russian technical officers repeatedly walking close to those compounds with packages in their hands, or wearing backpacks, or pushing strollers, or driving by in vehicles — all attempts, U.S. officials believe, to collect information on the different signals emanating from the facilities. While the tools used by the Russians for these activities were “a bit antiquated,” said a former senior CIA official, they were still a “constant concern.”

It’s not unusual for intelligence officers operating from diplomatic facilities, including the United States’s own operatives, to try and intercept the communications of the host nation. “You had to find ways to attack their surveillance,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former head of counterintelligence at the Department of Energy and a former CIA officer who first served in Moscow in the 1980s. “The Russians do everything in the U.S. that we did in Moscow.”

Indeed, the focus on cracking radio communications was no different.

“We put extraordinary effort into intercepting and monitoring the FSB surveillance radio networks for the purpose of understanding whether our officers were under surveillance or not,” said another former senior CIA officer who also served in Moscow.

Entrance to a Russian diplomatic compound in Maryland that was shuttered in late 2016 in retaliation for alleged election hacking. (Photo: Brian Witt/AP)
Entrance to a Russian diplomatic compound in Maryland that was shuttered in late 2016 in retaliation for alleged election hacking. (Photo: Brian Witt/AP)

The discovery of the Russians’ new code-breaking capabilities came at a time when gathering intelligence on Russia and its leaders’ intentions was of particular importance to the U.S. government. U.S. national security officials working on Russia at the time received rigorous security training on how to keep their digital devices secure, according to two former senior officials. One former U.S. official recalled how during the negotiations surrounding the reset, NSC officials, partially tongue in cheek, “would sometimes say things on the phone hoping [they] were communicating things to the Russians.”

According to a former CIA official and a former national security official, the CIA’s analysts often disagreed about how committed Russia was to negotiations during the attempted reset and how far Putin would go to achieve his strategic aims, divergences that confused the White House and senior policy makers.

“It caused a really big rift within the [National Security Council] on how seriously they took analysis from the agency,” said the former CIA official. Senior administration leaders “went along with” some of the more optimistic analysis on the future of U.S.-Russia relations “in the hopes that this would work out,” the official continued.

Those disagreements were part of a “reset hangover” that persisted, at least for some inside the administration, until the 2016 election meddling, according to a former senior national security official. Those officials clung to the hope that Washington and Moscow could cooperate on key issues, despite aggressive Russian actions ranging from the invasion of Ukraine to its spying efforts.

“We didn’t understand that they were at political war with us already in the second term once Putin was reelected and Obama himself was reelected,” said Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia during the Obama administration.


As high-level hopes for the U.S.-Russia “reset” withered, concerns about the threat of Russian spying made their way to Capitol Hill. Top officials at the FBI and CIA briefed key members of Congress on counterintelligence issues related to Russia, according to current and former U.S. officials. These included briefings on the radio compromises, said two former senior officials.

Mike Rogers, a former Republican lawmaker from Michigan who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2011 to 2015, alluded to counterintelligence concerns at a conference earlier this year in Washington, D.C.

One of those concerns was a massive intelligence failure related to the secret internet-based communications system the CIA used to communicate with agents. The extent of that failure, first reported publicly by Yahoo News in 2018, got the attention of Congress earlier.

But the problems were broader than that issue, according to Rogers.

“Our counterintelligence operations needed some adjustments,” said Rogers, adding that he and his Democratic counterpart from Maryland, Dutch Ruppersberger, requested regular briefings on the subject from agency representatives. “We started out monthly until we just wore them out, then we did it quarterly to try to make sure that we had the right resources and the right focus for the entire community on counter[intelligence].”

Rogers later told Yahoo News that his request for the briefings had been prompted by “suspected penetrations, both physical and technical, which is the role of those [Russian and Chinese] intelligence services,” but declined to be more specific.

The former committee chairman said he wanted the intelligence community to make counterintelligence a higher priority. “Counterintelligence was always looked at as the crazy uncle at the party,” he said. “I wanted to raise it up and give it a robust importance.”


The briefings, which primarily involved counterintelligence officials from the FBI and CIA and were limited to the committee leadership and staff directors, led to “some useful inquiries to help focus the intelligence community,” Rogers said. The leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were also included in some of the inquiries, according to Rogers and a current U.S. government official.

Spokespeople for the current House and Senate intelligence committees did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI and CIA declined to comment. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a request for comment.

The briefings were designed to “get the counterintelligence house in order,” said Jamil Jaffer, senior counsel at the House intelligence committee from 2011 to 2013, and to ensure that Congress and the intelligence agencies were “on the same page” when it came to such matters. “There were some concerns about what the agencies were doing, there were some concerns about what Congress knew, and all of these issues, of course, had China-Russia implications.”

Rogers and Jaffer declined to provide further details about what specific counterintelligence issues the committee was addressing, but other former officials indicated that worries weren’t limited to the compromise of FBI radio systems. Senior U.S. officials were contemplating an even more disturbing possibility: that the Russians had found a way to penetrate the communications of the U.S. intelligence community’s most sensitive buildings in and around Washington, D.C.

Suspected Russian intelligence officers were seen conspicuously loitering along the road that runs alongside the CIA’s headquarters, according to former senior intelligence officials. “Russian diplomats would be sitting on Route 123, sometimes in cars with diplomatic plates, other times not,” a former senior intelligence executive said. “We thought, they’re out doing something. It’s not just taking down license plates; those guys are interrogating the system.”

Though this behavior dated back at least to the mid-2000s, former officials said those activities persisted simultaneously with the compromise of the FBI’s communication system. And these were not the only instances of Russian intelligence operatives staking out locations with a line of sight to CIA headquarters. They were “fixated on being in neighborhoods” that gave them exposure to Langley, said a former senior official.

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)
FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)

Over time, U.S. intelligence officials became increasingly concerned that Russian spies might be attempting to intercept communications from key U.S. intelligence facilities, including the CIA and FBI headquarters. No one knew if the Russians had actually succeeded.

“The question was whether they had capabilities to penetrate our comms at Langley,” said a former senior CIA official. In the absence of any proof that that was the case, the working theory was that the Russian activities were provocations designed to sow uncertainty within the CIA. “We came to the conclusion that they were trying to get into our heads,” the former senior official said.

A major concern was that Russian spies with physical proximity to sensitive U.S. buildings might be exfiltrating pilfered data that had “jumped the air gap,” i.e., that the Russians were collecting information from a breach of computers not connected to the Internet, said former officials.

One factor behind U.S. intelligence officials’ fears was simple: The CIA had already figured out how to perform similar operations themselves, according to a former senior CIA officer directly familiar with the matter. “We felt it was pretty revolutionary stuff at the time,” the former CIA officer said. “It allowed us to do some extraordinary things.”

While no one definitively concluded that the Russians had actually succeeded in penetrating Langley’s communications, those fears, combined in part with the breach of the bureau’s encrypted radio system, drove an effort by U.S. intelligence officials around 2012 to fortify sensitive Washington-area government buildings against potential Russian snooping, according to four former officials.

At key government facilities in the Washington area, entire floors were converted to sensitive compartmented information facilities, or SCIFs. These are specially protected areas designed to be impenetrable to hostile signals intelligence gathering.

The normal assumption was that work done in a SCIF would be secure, but doubts arose about the safety of even those rooms. “The security guys would say, your windows are ‘tempested’”—that is, protected against the interception of emissions radiating from electronic equipment in the building —“you’re in a SCIF, it’s fine,” a former senior counterintelligence executive recalled. “The question was, ‘Is it true?’”

Increasingly, U.S. officials began to fear it was not.

New security practices were instituted in sensitive government facilities like the FBI and CIA headquarters, according to former officials. “It required many procedural changes on our part to make sure we were not susceptible to penetrations,” said a former senior CIA official. These included basic steps such as moving communication away from windows and changing encryption codes more frequently, as well as more expensive adjustments, said four former officials.

Revelations about the Russian compromise of the radio systems, recalled a former senior intelligence official, “kick-started the money flowing” to upgrade security.


While the breaches of the FBI communications systems appeared to finally spur Congress and the intelligence agencies to adopt steps to counter increasingly sophisticated Russian eavesdropping, it took the Putin-directed interference in the 2016 election to get the White House to expel at least some of those officials deemed responsible for the breaches, and to shut down the facilities that enabled them.

Even then, the decision was controversial. Some in Washington worried about retribution by the Russians and exposure of American intelligence operations, according to a former senior U.S. national security official directly involved in the discussions. The FBI consistently supported expulsions, said another former national security official.

More than two years later, the Russian diplomatic compounds used in the FBI communications compromises remain shuttered. The U.S. government has prevented many of the Russian spies expelled by the United States from returning, according to national security experts and senior foreign intelligence officials. “They are slowly creeping back in, but [the] FBI makes it hard,” said a senior foreign intelligence official. “The old guard is basically screwed. They need to bring in a whole new generation.”

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In the meantime, those familiar with Russian operations warn that the threat from Moscow is far from over. “Make no mistake, we’re in an intelligence war with the Russians, every bit as dangerous as the Cold War,” said a former senior intelligence officer. “They’re trying all the time … and we caught them from time to time,” he said. Of course, he added, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

That’s the same message that special counsel Robert Mueller tried to convey during the highly contentious hearings to discuss his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. “They are doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” Mueller told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee about covert Russian involvement in U.S. politics.

But a number of observers believe Mueller’s message about the threat from Russia was largely lost amid a partisan battle on Capitol Hill over President Trump.

During his Washington conference appearance earlier this year, Rogers, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also lamented that the current politicized state of the intelligence committees would make spy agencies more hesitant to admit their failures.

“They’re not going to call you to say, ‘I screwed up.’ They’re going to say, ‘God, I hope they don’t find that,’” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen. I’ll guarantee it’s happening today.”


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A 92.2% pass rate has been recorded by the MCC in this year’s CAPE Exams

Southern entrance of the MCC – (file photo)

The Montserrat Community College has recorded a 92.2% overall pass rate for this year’s May/June CXC Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).

The college reported that out of 179 exam sittings, they recorded 165 passes.

The college’s 92.2 percent pass rate is a marginal increase of 92 percent in 2018. 52 students wrote CAPE in 24 subject areas.

And the college had reported that there were 100 percent passes in 17 of the 24 subjects areas, namely accounting units 2; Caribbean studies, communications studies, computer science units 1 and 2, digital media, entrepreneurship units 1 and 2. Environmental science units 1 and 2, geography unit 2, Information technology units 1 and 2, management of business unit 1, pure mathematics unit 1, sociology and tourism unit 2. Passes of 60 percent and above were obtained in the remaining seven subject areas.

As a comparison and show that the college has improved well over the past recent years. In 2013, the College recorded 146 subject passes from 163 entries, achieving pass a rate of 89.6%, also up from last year’s pass rate of 79.4%. 

That year the College achieved a 100% pass rate in Applied Mathematics Unit 1, Communication Studies, Computer Science Unit 2, Information Technology Unit 2 and Environmental Science Unit 1.

A Principal Paul Payne release stated that the College entered 49 candidates, which included seven part-time students, two of whom were absent for the examinations.

The students were registered under the College to write 13 CAPE Units for a total of 167 subject entries, but with two candidates reporting absent, these results are based on 163 subject entries, which the students actually wrote.   This was an increase from the 42 students who registered for 144 subject entries in 16 CAPE Units in 2012.

Students heading to the MCC may find this story beneficial: See link below.

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Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed in lunar orbit during the moon landing.

Apollo 11 at 50: A Complete Guide to the Historic Moon Landing

By Chelsea Gohd 9 hours ago Spaceflight 

Relive the drama!


On July 20, 1969, 600 million people watched with anxious excitement as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. took their first steps on the moon’s surface.

The first humans ever to leave footprints in the lunar regolith, Aldrin and Armstrong made history — and a permanent impression on the world — as they bravely ventured beyond Earth. This summer marks 50 years since Aldrin, Armstrong and Michael Collins made their daring journey to the moon.

But this historic achievement belongs to many more Americans than just this trio of astronauts: Behind the scenes, more than 400,000 people worked on the mission and made it possible for to land on the moon. All told, it was one of the greatest feats that we humans have ever pulled off. 

The mission, dubbed Apollo 11, was the climax of the Apollo program, which pushed human spaceflight forward faster than ever before. In October 1968, the first crewed flight of the Apollo program lifted off; less than a year later, Apollo 11 launched. Within just a few short years, a total of six missions landed 12 U.S. astronauts on the surface of the moon. A seemingly impossible goal, the first human landing on the moon was a major victory for the United States in the ongoing space race with Cold War rival the Soviet Union. 

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 mission, people around the globe are once again reflecting on and celebrating the moon landing, the odds that were stacked against it and how it continues to influence spaceflight.

Slideshow: How NASA’s Apollo Astronauts Went to the Moon

We choose to go to the moon 

“We choose to go to the moon,” U.S. President John. F. Kennedy famously declared in 1962 to a captivated crowd at Rice Stadium in Texas.

This speech invoked a new urgency in the space race, which had been going on between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The two Cold War rivals were both determined to outdo the other and land humans on the lunar surface first. 

The U.S. efforts in this contest included two predecessors to Project Apollo: Project Mercury, which began in 1958, and Project Gemini, which followed in 1961. But until the moon landing itself, the Soviet space program was ahead overall, with successful missions including Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth, and Luna 2, the first space probe to touch the moon.

“I think in America, at least, there [was] a feeling of a great lack of self-confidence, a feeling of ‘We are falling behind,'” Asif Siddiqi, a space historian at Fordham University in New York, told “Pretty much every single major event in the space race in the early days was a triumph of Soviet space achievement.”Image 1 of 6

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed in lunar orbit during the moon landing.
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed in lunar orbit during the moon landing.
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins in 2011 at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins in 2011 at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a photo taken by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong before the lunar landing.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a photo taken by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong before the lunar landing.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses in 2019 wearing his NASA astronaut pin.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses in 2019 wearing his NASA astronaut pin.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1991 as he was honored by the City of Lancaster, California.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1991 as he was honored by the City of Lancaster, California.

After World War II, Siddiqi explained, the U.S. was feeling on top as the country’s economy grew. “There’s an expectation that if anything’s going to happen in science and technology, America’s going to be first,” Siddiqi said. But this expectation was not realized in the space race, and the Soviet Union beat the U.S. to space milestones again and again.

So, in 1961, Kennedy decided to take charge and proposed to Congress the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth” by the end of the decade. (The idea of a moon mission was first discussed during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, but it’s most strongly associated with Kennedy’s declaration.) This seemingly impossible task quickly became the ultimate goal of the Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo. 

Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice Stadium the next year inspired Americans to dream big. The announcement lit a fire under the teams at NASA to complete the task on a seemingly impossible timeline. 

But the ambitious goal required an equally ambitious budget. The U.S. government ended up allocating $25 billion in 1960s dollars to the Apollo program, or about 2.5% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) at the time annually for approximately 10 years. 

Project Apollo ran from 1961 to 1972, even though NASA accomplished Kennedy’s goal in 1969. Although other astronauts visited the lunar surface after Apollo 11, the triumphant first landing remains a pinnacle in spaceflight history.See the Apollo 11 Landing Site from Lunar Orbit

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Trial and error 

Apollo 11 was successful only because of the missions that came before it. Those flights set the stage for the lunar landing and served as the testing grounds for the burgeoning technologies and strategies that were eventually used in that mission.

Apollo 1, originally named Apollo Saturn-204 or AS-204, was to be the program’s first crewed mission, set to orbit Earth with three astronauts aboard. However, tragedy struck on Jan. 27, 1967, when a fire ignited within the Apollo 1 command module while the crew was performing a prelaunch test. All three astronauts inside — Ed White, Roger B. Chaffee and Gus Grissom — died in the fire.

At the time, it seemed like the Apollo program might be over before it really even began. But the deaths instead forced NASA to improve astronaut safety requirements. The agency put crewed missions on hold while it reevaluated its systems to make sure they were safe enough to fly. The astronauts of the Apollo 1 crew would be the only fatalities of NASA’s push to land on the moon. After this first disaster, NASA tested its capabilities and resolved outstanding safety issues with uncrewed missions dubbed AS-201, AS-202, AS-203, and Apollo missions 4 through 6.

Crewed flights resumed with Apollo 7, which launched on Oct. 11, 1968, orbited Earth for more than a week and splashed back down on Oct. 22. Aboard Apollo 7, the crew demonstrated the functionality of the command and service module. The mission also showcased how the mission-support facilities could work together with the vehicles and the crewmembers.Almost Stranded on Moon: Buzz Aldrin Talks Circuit Breaker Issue

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Apollo 7 was soon followed by the first Apollo lunar mission, Apollo 8, which launched on Dec. 21, 1968, and returned home a week later, on Dec. 27. Apollo 8 was a major step forward in the program, as it was the first flight that took humans beyond low-Earth orbit to the moon’s orbit and back again.

The Apollo 8 mission was an important testing ground for the spacecraft systems and navigation techniques that NASA had developed for approaching and orbiting the moon. These systems and techniques made the future lunar landing possible.

Additionally, on this flight, astronaut Bill Anders took the famous “Earthrise” photo, showing the planet seeming to hover above the moon’s surface. Besides being “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” as nature photographer Galen Rowell said, the image showed the incredible progress that had been made in human spaceflight.Advertisement

Apollo 9 soon followed, launching on March 3, 1969, and splashing down just over a week later, on March 13, after orbiting Earth. During this mission, the Apollo 9 astronauts tested all aspects and functionalities of the lunar module in Earth orbit and demonstrated that the craft could operate independently as it performed its docking and rendezvous maneuvers. These tests mimicked what NASA expected would happen during a lunar landing. 

The Apollo 10 mission flew a command and service module dubbed “Charlie Brown” and a lunar module known as “Snoopy.” This mission, which launched on May 18, 1969, just two months before Apollo 11, proved that the crew, the vehicles and the mission-support facilities at NASA were prepared for a lunar landing. The mission was a “dry run” for the moon landing, as the Apollo 10 astronauts performed all of the operations that were scheduled for Apollo 11 except for the actual moon landing. 

All of this hurried preparation paved the way for NASA to finally launch the Apollo 11 mission — astonishingly less than a year after the first successful crewed Apollo flight.Apollo 11’s Michael Collins Was Not Lonely, Worried About Mice

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Inside the spacecraft 

When it was finally time to send humans to the moon, NASA decided to launch the mission on a Saturn V rocket

That rocket lofted three modules into Earth’s orbit, including the command module to carry the astronauts to and from the moon and the lunar module to land Aldrin and Armstrong on the surface. 

Saturn V

The massive Saturn V rocket stood an impressive 363 feet (111 meters) tall on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Saturn V was a type of extremely powerful rocket known as a heavy lift vehicle, and with a liftoff thrust of 7.6 million lbs. (34.5 million newtons), Saturn V is not just the tallest but also the most powerful rocket ever launched. (After the Apollo program, the ultrapowerful rocket was used to launch the Skylab space station.) The rocket’s first crewed launch was Apollo 8. 

Saturn V weighed 6.2 million lbs. (2.8 kilograms) and could launch about 50 tons (43,500 kg) of cargo and crew to the moon. For the Apollo program, the Saturn V was outfitted with three stages. The first stage had the most powerful engines on the rocket, to lift the craft off the ground. 

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This first stage separated from the rocket with the “dead-weight” launch escape tower, leaving the second stage to carry the rocket almost into orbit. The third stage then broke the vehicle out of Earth’s orbit and sent it toward the moon. Advertisement

Related: Could NASA Build the Famous Saturn V Today? It’s Working on It, with a Twist

Apollo spacecraft 

On top of the Saturn V rocket, Apollo 11 launched the command and service module — made up of the service module and the command module spacecraft — and the lunar module spacecraft. 

The command module housed the astronaut crew along with the spacecraft’s operation systems and the equipment needed for reentry. Standing 10.6 feet (3.2 m) tall and 12.8 feet (3.9 m) wide at its base, the command module didn’t leave much room for the astronauts inside to move around. At 210 cubic feet (6 cubic m), the space inside of the command module has been compared to the interior of a car. 

The command module was made up of three compartments — the forward compartment in the nose cone, the aft compartment at the base of the module and the crew compartment. The forward compartment held parachutes for the Earth landing, while the aft compartment held propellant tanks, reaction-control engines, wires and plumbing. Within the crew compartment, astronauts sat on three couches facing forward in the middle of the craft, which offered the crew an opportunity to look out through five windows. The command module was also powered by five silver/zinc-oxide batteries that which supported the craft in reentry and landing after it separated from the service module. 

One of the command module’s most important features was its heat shield, which allowed the spacecraft to survive incredibly hot temperatures while reentering Earth’s atmosphere.Neil Armstrong’s ‘One Small Step’ That Changed The World | Video

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For most of the Apollo 11 mission, the service module was attached to the back of the command module. Holding fuel tanks, fuel cells and oxygen/hydrogen tanks, the service module provided the command module with power, propulsion and room for additional cargo. A cylinder-shaped craft, the service module was 24.6 feet (7.5 m) long and 12.8 feet (3.9 m) in diameter. 

Sitting beneath the command and service module, the Apollo 11 lunar module, also known as “Eagle,” was the final piece of the Apollo puzzle and carried Aldrin and Armstrong to the lunar surface during the historic mission. At 23 feet (7 m) tall and 14 feet (4 m) wide, the lunar module was made up of an upper ascent stage and a lower ascent stage.Advertisement

After Collins inspected the lunar module, Aldrin and Armstrong undocked it from the command and service module and headed for the lunar surface, leaving Collins to orbit the moon. The Apollo lunar modules were the first crewed spacecraft to operate only in space.

In addition to the astronauts themselves, the lunar module contained the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package. That package held a number of self-contained experiments that were designed to be left on the lunar surface.

The package also held additional scientific instruments and equipment for sample collection on the surface. Apollo 11 carried the first geological samples from the moon back to Earth. In total, Armstrong and Aldrin collected 48.5 lbs. (22 kilograms) of material from the moon, including 50 moon rocks, lunar soil, pebbles, sand and dust. The astronauts also sampled material from more than 5 inches (13 centimeters) below the lunar surface.

Related: Why the Lunar Module Looked So Much Like a Moon BugImage 1 of 5

The Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket rolling out to the launch pad on May 20, 1969.
Liftoff! The Saturn V rocket heads for the moon carrying the Apollo 11 command and service module and lunar module spacecraft.
Liftoff! The Saturn V rocket heads for the moon carrying the Apollo 11 command and service module and lunar module spacecraft.
The Apollo 11 CSM-107 being prepared for its move to the Vehicle Assembly Building before the mission's launch.
The Apollo 11 command and service module being prepared for its move to the Vehicle Assembly Building before the mission’s launch.
The Apollo 11 LM-5 being prepared to be placed in the spacecraft adapter before the mission's launch.
The Apollo 11 lunar module being prepared to be placed in the spacecraft adapter before the mission’s launch.
The Apollo 11 lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, standing on the moon's surface in July 1969.
The Apollo 11 lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, standing on the moon’s surface in July 1969.

The impact of Apollo 

An estimated 600 million people around the world watched as Armstrong and Aldrin left the first footprints on the lunar surface. The landing marked not just a historic milestone, but also the end of the Cold War space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Apollo program brought more missions and more landings, but Apollo 11 marked an unparalleled victory for the U.S. 

But the geopolitical tension had done more than just intensify the race to the moon; it also ignited a fevered excitement about space. Americans of all ages idolized the NASA astronauts.

“They were rock stars,” former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino told earlier this year. As Siddiqi said, the “sort of clean-cut, all-American archetype” was a positive diversion from the massive problems that plagued the U.S. at the time. The civil rights movement was growing in response to the incredible inequalities in the country as both the Cold War and Vietnam War continued. The Apollo astronauts were the romanticized, larger-than-life heroes that people could admire during those difficult times.

“The cultural imagery, the imagination of Apollo is very powerful if you think about the pictures and the astronauts,” Siddiqi said. And this superheroic imagery was only amplified as science fiction novels and movies continued to grow in popularity. Many people viewed a journey to the moon as the ultimate adventure and the Apollo astronauts as the perfect hero leads. 

The romanticization of the lunar landing program permeates space exploration even today. Fifty years after Apollo, NASA has sent spacecraft out beyond Pluto, to the surface of Mars and to the sun. Researchers have discovered exoplanets with Earth-like qualities, and our knowledge of the solar system and the universe at large has become profoundly more detailed over the decades.

But many still view the Apollo 11 lunar landing as the greatest achievement in spaceflight. People who remember watching the landing on television still recall the moment as if magic had been made real before their eyes.Image 1 of 6

Spectators watch the Apollo 11 mission launch from Florida on July 16, 1969.
Spectators watch the Apollo 11 mission launch from Florida on July 16, 1969.
Americans flocked to Florida to watch the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969.
Americans flocked to Florida to watch the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969.
ABC News covered the first humans landing on the moon live.
ABC News covered the first humans landing on the moon live.
Pope Paul VI watched the moon landing from his summer villa.
Pope Paul VI watched the moon landing from his summer villa.
An unidentified Japanese family watched U.S. President Richard Nixon speak as astronauts walked on the moon.
An unidentified Japanese family watched U.S. President Richard Nixon speak as astronauts walked on the moon.
In New York City, the moon landing was broadcast on giant screens in Central Park.
In New York City, the moon landing was broadcast on giant screens in Central Park.

We choose to return to the moon  

Humans haven’t stepped foot on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. For decades, people have wondered why we haven’t returned to the moon, and presidential administrations have toyed with the idea of doing just that. But currently, the moon is having a moment, and NASA has again set its aim on landing humans on the lunar surface. 

President Donald Trump’s administration recently announced a new, aggressive timeline to return astronauts to the moon. On March 26, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. would aim to land humans on the moon within the next five years.

According to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the agency will address that goal first by sending a crew close to the moon by 2022, then landing humans at the moon’s south pole by 2024. Bridenstine said this timeline will allow for a Mars landing by 2033.NASA’s ’We Are Going’ Video Narrated by William Shatner

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The new moon push, which has been dubbed the Artemis program, is also meant to be longer-lived than the Apollo program. “This time, when we go to the moon, we’re going to stay,” Bridenstine said at NASA headquarters on Feb. 14. 

The space agency has tenuous plans to build a space station that will orbit the moon as a platform for astronauts to use to reach more-diverse sites on the lunar surface. Pence said the administration’s plan also includes a permanent lunar base.

But NASA isn’t alone in its quest to return humans to the lunar surface. Instead, the agency is looking to build partnerships with other countries and with U.S. businesses. So far, the agency has hired Maxar to build the power and propulsion element of the lunar Gateway space station; NASA also announced that it would purchase rides to the lunar surface from Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond for the agency’s first Artemis program science experiments and technology demonstrations.NASA Chief Explains Artemis Phase 1, Announces Commercial Partner

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Other companies are looking to reach the moon on their own. SpaceX, for instance, has publicly stated that it intends to fly private citizens around the moon. Israeli startup SpaceIL’s robotic Beresheet mission ended with a crash, but the team has already expressed interest in building a new lander. 

Other countries also have their eyes on the moon. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is working to land astronauts on the moon by 2029 and is even designing a vehicle with Toyota to explore the lunar surface. 

In the nearer term, two lunar missions may launch this year. China opened the year by becoming the first country to land on the far side of the moon, with the robotic Chang’e 4 mission. And the country is targeting its next launch, of the Chang’e 5 sample-return mission, for later this year.

India has also been pursuing both crewed and robotic missions to the moon. That country plans to launch Chandrayaan-2, which includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover, later this year. 

Apollo 11 Giveaway!

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook. 

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