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U.S. intel chief on Russia using up ammunition in Ukraine

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Destroyed Russian vehicles and tanks in Mykhailivska Square on Nov. 19, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians are facing severe power disruptions after recent waves of Russian missile and drone strikes reportedly left almost half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure disabled and in need of repair, as temperatures plunge.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian forces in Ukraine are burning through ammunition faster than the country’s defense industry can replace it, U.S. National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said Saturday.

Russia is using up ammunition “quite quickly,” prompting Moscow to look to other countries for help, including North Korea, Haines told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell at a panel at the Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Asked how fast Russia was using up ammunition, Haines said: “I don’t think I can give you precise numbers in this forum. But quite quickly. I mean, it’s really pretty extraordinary.”

She added: “And our own sense is that they are not capable of indigenously producing what they are expending at this stage.

So that is going to be a challenge.”

The Pentagon said last month that Russia is firing off a staggering 20,000 artillery rounds a day, even as it has suffered a series of setbacks on the battlefield. Echoing previous statements from Biden administration officials, Haines said that Russia was using up precision munitions even faster than its conventional ammunition.

The Biden administration previously said Russia has turned to North Korea to secure more supplies of artillery ammunition. Haines said that the extent of North Korea’s assistance appeared limited but that it was something the intelligence community would continue to monitor closely.

“We’ve indicated we’ve seen some movement, but it’s not been a lot at this stage,” she said of North Korea’s role.

The looming shortage of ammunition was just one of a number of challenges facing Russia’s military, Haines said, citing problems with morale and logistics as well. 

The intelligence chief said that the tempo of the war in Ukraine appeared to be slowing down with the onset of winter and that both militaries would be trying to reset and regroup for more fighting in the spring. But she said the intelligence community had a “fair amount of skepticism” that Russian forces would be sufficiently prepared for renewed clashes in March. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was “surprised” at his military’s disappointing performance after its invasion of Ukraine in February, according to Haines.

“I do think he is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia. But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture at this stage of just how challenged they are,” Haines said.

Putin has not changed his political objective to effectively control Ukraine, but it is unclear whether he would accept scaled back military ambitions, Haines said.

“I think our analysts would say he may be willing to do that on a temporary basis with the idea that he might then come back at this issue at a later time,” she said. 

Although recent protests pose no serious challenge to Putin’s grip on power, criticism of the conduct of the war inside Russia has been on the rise from political figures, and that could influence his decision making on the conflict, according to Haines.

“I think it is fair to say, from our perspective, that Xi’s voice on this is going to be, obviously, among the most compelling to Putin on this issue,” Haines said. 

“I think it is fair to say, from our perspective, that Xi’s voice on this is going to be, obviously, among the most compelling to Putin on this issue,” Haines said. 

China and Tik-Tok

As for recent protests in China over Covid-19 quarantine rules, Haines said the public displays of anger did not pose a risk to overall stability or the survival of the regime. But she said, “How it develops will be important for Xi’s standing.”

The widespread protests contradicted the Chinese government’s narrative about how the country functions more smoothly than more chaotic democracies, and the Covid-19 restrictions had negatively affected the Chinese economy, Haines said.

Despite the challenges in having to balance containing the virus, addressing public anger over quarantine protocols and ensuring economic growth, Xi has been “unwilling to take a better vaccine from the west,” she said.

The U.S. intelligence director, the first woman to hold the job, also said there were good reasons to be concerned about Chinese-owned Tik-Tok.

Asked whether parents should be worried about their children using the popular video platform, Haines said: “I think you should be.”

China is developing frameworks for collecting foreign data and had the capacity to “turn that around and use it to target audiences for information campaigns or for other things, but also to have it for the future so that they can use it for a variety of means that they’re interested in,” Haines said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently warned that he had serious concerns about Tik-Tok, saying that the Chinese government could use it to collect data on millions of users or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used to intentionally sway public opinion.

Haines said that more than two months of women-led protests in Iran were “remarkable” but that the Iranian regime did not see the unrest as posing an imminent threat to staying in power. However, the deteriorating economy and the protests over time could fuel unrest and instability, she said.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s intelligence services have adopted an “extraordinarily aggressive” stance targeting critics both at home and abroad, according to Haines.

Haines’s office is overseeing an assessment of the potential risk to national security from the disclosure of documents taken from former President Donald Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago. But she and other intelligence officials have declined to comment on the case, which is a Justice Department investigation.

NBC News’ Mitchell asked Haines what would happen if an intelligence officer removed classified documents and then resisted handing them back. 

After a long pause, Haines laughed and said: “Please don’t do this!”



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U.S. is behind on supply chain independence from China

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'We have to make sure we have a diversified supply chain': Biden presidential coordinator

The U.S. has some rapid catching up to do if it is to secure the reliability of its supply chain and its independence from competitors like China, a top White House advisor admitted this week.

“Look, this is a major concern for the U.S. and I think for the rest of the world. As we are going into a cleaner, greener, an entirely new energy system, we have to make sure we have a diversified supply chain,” Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Monday.

“We can’t have a supply chain that is concentrated in any country, doesn’t matter which country that is,” he said. “We have to make sure from the mining and refining process to the building of the batteries and wind turbines that we have a diversified system that we can be well supplied for. That is the only way this will work from an economy perspective.”

Asked if the U.S. was behind in this endeavor, Hochstein, who also served in the Obama administration as chief energy envoy, replied: “Absolutely we’re behind.” But, he added, “It doesn’t mean that we’re out.”

Workers transport soil containing rare earth elements for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China October 31, 2010.

Stringer | Reuters

China controls roughly 60% of the world’s production of rare earth minerals and materials, according to a recent report by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Those resources include lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese and other rare earth elements crucial for making things like electric vehicles, batteries, computers and household goods.

They’re also essential for renewable technology like solar panels and wind turbines, which are central in the U.S.’s attempt at an energy transition away from fossil fuels. As just one example, China refines 95% of the world’s manganese — a chemical element used in batteries and steel manufacturing — despite mining less than 10% of its global supply.

For the U.S., whose relations with China can currently be described as tense at best, this poses several security risks, were China to decide to weaponize that market dominance at any point. The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have also highlighted the fragility of the global supply chain.

‘We have not invested’

The White House, in a Feb. 2022 fact sheet, wrote that “The U.S. is increasingly dependent on foreign sources for many of the processed versions of these minerals. Globally, China controls most of the market for processing and refining for cobalt, lithium, rare earths and other critical minerals.”

“We have to recognize that we have not invested, and that’s what the United States is trying to do now, is not only say the same old talk of we want to have partnerships,” Hochstein said. “We’re going to come to this table together with our G7 allies, we’re going to pool our resources, we’re going to make sure that the money is there.”

This includes dedicated financial and business incentives, Hochstein said. The Biden administration’s mammoth 2022 Inflation Reduction Act aims to invest heavily in the supply of and access to critical minerals in allied countries, and offers approximately $369 billion in funding and tax credits to boost renewable energy technology and critical mineral production.

“We’re giving the incentives, through the IRA, to tell companies ‘look, if you make sure you’re mining in the U.S. or in other countries and bring it to the U.S. for refining, processing and battery manufacturing, there’s going to be the kind of financial incentives there’,” he said.

U.S. is 'absolutely behind' on supply chain independence for crucial minerals: presidential adviser

Despite his warnings about supply chain risk, Hochstein rejected the idea that the U.S. was being held hostage to China.

“I don’t want to talk about being held hostage, at the end of the day China is doing what they think is right for them,” he said. “They’re trying to build an economic energy in the clean energy space and we all need to do the same.”

“We have to learn from what we went through in the oil and gas energy space, as we transition to a new energy market that relies still on natural resources,” he added.

“They may not be oil and gas, but they’re still natural resources — they’re not abundant everywhere in the world — so we have to make sure from the U.S. perspective that we have a supply chain for the United States, and that’s what the legislation that we passed in the United States is trying to do.”



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Boeing to slash about 2,000 white-collar jobs in finance and HR, report says

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Boeing expects to slash about 2,000 white-collar jobs this year in finance and human resources through a combination of attrition and layoffs, the planemaker confirmed to Seattle Times newspaper on Monday.

Last month, the Virginia-based company announced it would hire 10,000 workers in 2023, but some support positions would be cut.

Back then Boeing acknowledged it will “lower staffing within some support functions” – a move meant to enable it to better align resources to support current products and technology development.

“Over time, some of our corporate functions have grown quite large. And with that growth tends to come bureaucracy or disparate systems that are inefficient,” the newspaper quoted Mike Friedman, a senior director of communications at Boeing as saying. “So we’re streamlining.”

Boeing did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment. 

Last year, Boeing said it plans to cut about 150 finance jobs in the United States to simplify its corporate structure and focus more resources into manufacturing and product development.

Watch CNBC's full interview with Boeing's Dave Calhoun



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Trump appeals sanctions for ‘frivolous’ suit against Hillary Clinton

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presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attend campaign rallies in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, October 10, 2016 and Manchester, New Hampshire U.S., October 24, 2016 in a combination of file photos.

Mike Segar | Carlos Barria | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump and one of his lawyers said Monday they are appealing nearly $1 million in sanctions imposed on them for what a federal judge called their “frivolous” lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and more than two dozen other defendants.

The court filing about the appeal came days after a lawyer for Trump and his attorney Alina Habba told the judge in the case they were willing to put up a bond of $1,031,788 to cover the costs of the sanctions while the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit considered the matter.

In imposing those sanctions Jan. 19, Judge John Middlebrooks said in an order, “We are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”

Trump’s suit, which sought $70 million in damages, accused Clinton, former FBI officials, the Democratic National Committee and others of conspiring to create a “false narrative” that Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign against Clinton were colluding with Russia to try to win the election that year.

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Middlebrooks in September dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and barred Trump from refiling the complaint.

He later ordered Trump and Habba to pay more than $937,000 in sanctions.

Middlebrooks in his sanctions order called Trump “a mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process,” and a “prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries.”

A day after Middlebrooks issued that order, Trump voluntarily dropped another lawsuit he had pending before the same judge against New York Attorney General Letitia James. That suit was related to James’ pending $250 million fraud lawsuit against Trump and his company in Manhattan state court.

Jared Roberts, the lawyer for Trump and Habba, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC about the appeal.



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