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State Department to Let 2 House Members See Classified Afghanistan Document 

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said two top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee could view a redacted version of a classified cable about the chaotic August 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan sought by the committee’s Republican chairperson. 

The chairperson, Representative Michael McCaul, scheduled a committee meeting next week to consider a contempt of Congress charge against Secretary of State Antony Blinken over his refusal to release the cable, sent by U.S. diplomats via the department’s “dissent channel.” The channel allows State Department officials to air concerns to supervisors. 

The State Department will let McCaul and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Gregory Meeks, view a redacted version to protect the identity of those using the dissent channel, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters. 

In an interview on CNN, McCaul said the State Department’s offer to make the cables available was “a really significant step forward.” He said if the department agreed to allow the entire committee to see the cables, “then I think we’ve resolved a litigation fight in the courts.” 

In a letter to McCaul, the department said it would make the material available as soon as possible.  

“The department has engaged extensively with the committee to respond to your requests. We have provided numerous briefings, thousands of pages of documents, and public testimony from the department’s senior leaders,” the letter said, adding that it was important to protect the dissent channel. 

“The accommodations that the department has provided to date are extraordinary and, as stated in our prior correspondence, already create a serious risk of chilling both future use of, and future candor in, dissent channel cables,” the letter said. 

McCaul has launched an investigation into the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Republicans — and some Democrats — say there has never been a full accounting of the chaotic operation, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed at Kabul’s airport. 

McCaul has for months been seeking a “dissent channel” cable sent in July 2021 that a Wall Street Journal article in August 2021 said warned top officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Montana Becomes First US State to Ban TikTok

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed legislation to ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state, making it the first U.S. state to ban the popular short video app.

Montana will make it unlawful for Google’s and Apple’s app stores to offer the TikTok app within its borders. The ban takes effect January 1, 2024.

TikTok has over 150 million American users, but a growing number of U.S. lawmakers and state officials are calling for a nationwide ban on the app over concerns about potential Chinese government influence on the platform.

In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew about whether the Chinese government could access user data or influence what Americans see on the app.

Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”

TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said in a statement the bill “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” adding that they “will defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The company has previously denied that it ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said it would not do so if asked.

Montana, which has a population of just over 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violated the ban. Apple and Google could also face fines of $10,000 per violation per day if they violate the ban.

The ban will likely face numerous legal challenges on the ground that it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of users. An attempt by then-President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.

TikTok’s free speech allies include several Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gianforte also prohibited the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices.

TikTok is working on an initiative called Project Texas, which creates a standalone entity to store American user data in the U.S. on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle.

USAID Chief to Congress: Foreign Aid Key in Countering Chinese, Russian Influence

A top Republican lawmaker said Wednesday the funding priorities for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) do not go far enough in addressing the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Biden administration has requested $32 billion in foreign assistance for USAID — $3 billion more than the amount appropriated by Congress in 2023.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said in a hearing with USAID administrator Samantha Power that it is not clear how the agency plans to spend the requested $400 million in the fund for countering Chinese influence.

“Our foreign aid must serve as a clear alternative to the CCP and our adversaries while also saving lives and projecting U.S. global leadership around the world,” McCaul said.

Budget hearings with agency heads are an annual exercise on Capitol Hill, with funding requests serving as a starting point for negotiations.

“The People’s Republic of China and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin are ready to step in — whether through opaque loans on unfavorable terms or with mercenaries in tow,” Power told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “An international order that values democracy and human rights and respects international borders is not a given. Indeed, authoritarian actors are challenging and aiming to reshape it. We have to invest in the stable and more humane world that we need.”

Power told lawmakers that House Republicans’ budget legislation addressing the looming debt ceiling crisis would cause significant harm to USAID’s worldwide mission and America’s global influence. Last month, the Republican-majority House of Representatives passed legislation that has no chance of adoption in the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate. But their proposal, if passed, would increase the debt limit in return for cuts to government spending, including decreasing USAID funding by up to 22%.

“China and Russia aren’t slashing their international affairs budget by nearly one-third. In fact, they are growing and expanding their foreign assistance programs as a means to advance their national interests and exert influence on the global stage. We’re losing ground,” Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking member on the committee, said Wednesday.

On Sunday, McCaul told ABC News “This Week” that “defaulting is not the right path to go down. … Our adversaries look at this very closely. They look at when we’re divided. … I think they would love nothing more, particularly China, to see us default in our full faith and credit under the Constitution.”

He added that Republicans have laid out a plan to avoid it.

“I think we were reasonable,” McCaul said. “We’re willing to raise the debt ceiling, but we want meaningful spending cuts and capping spending … at 2022 levels.”

Power said 2019 USAID funding had increased at half the rate that its programming had grown. According to public opinion polls, many Americans perceive the investment in foreign aid to be much higher than it actually is. Surveys consistently show that the public believes 25% of the U.S. budget is spent annually on foreign assistance when in fact, it is less than 1%.

“It absolutely goes without saying that nothing that I’m proposing here should come at the expense of the appropriate investments in our defense and in the competition that we are in with the PRC globally,” Power told lawmakers.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Microwave device could be less invasive treatment for HPV-caused cancers

Researchers seeking alternative to cutting or burning away affected cells turn to device used on verrucas

A medical device that uses microwaves to destroy verrucas could provide a less invasive way of treating pre-cancers and cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), as well as genital warts.

Almost all cervical cancers and most cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis and anus are caused by HPV. Certain variants of the virus cause genital warts, a sexually transmitted infection that affects 3-4% of British adults.

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