Costa Rica announces win against Canadian gold miner over cancelled concession

Chinese e-commerce companies popular in South Africa  

Johannesburg     — Rotondwa Mbadaliga is a self-professed “shopping addict.” The 25-year-old South African fashion influencer says she is a huge fan of Chinese-linked e-commerce companies Shein and Temu because she can get the latest trends at the cheapest prices delivered straight to her door.

Mbadaliga has more than 200,000 followers on TikTok where she mostly talks about fashion, sometimes posting videos of herself excitedly opening her newly arrived purchases from China.

“The variety is the main thing I really like and enjoy with shopping on Temu or Shein,” she says, adding that South African brands and shops aren’t as trendy.

“I don’t think you can beat the prices,” she adds.

But the prices of clothing on these e-commerce sites are expected to soon get more expensive.

South Africa’s tax authority plans to start imposing a 45% tariff and a value-added tax, or VAT, an indirect tax on the consumption of goods and services on orders of imported clothing that cost under 500 rand, or $27. Some consumers are pushing back with an online petition protesting the higher import duties.

Chinese e-commerce in South Africa

Shein, which has been available in South Africa since 2020, and Temu, which entered the market in January, have had huge success in the country, which has a growing middle class, tech-savvy youth and widespread internet access.

For women’s clothing purchases online, Shein is the top retailer with a 35% market share, according to data from Marketing Research Foundation, a nonprofit South Africa-based marketing survey group.

For its part, Temu is the most-downloaded app among iOS and Android users in South Africa.

Mbadaliga acknowledges that quality can sometimes be an issue.

“With shopping from China, you need to be OK with making a loss in some way,” she says, adding that she has a box of clothes bought on the platforms that didn’t fit or work out.

Her aunts in their 30s, who earn more, prefer to buy from foreign brands with brick-and-mortar stores in South Africa such as Zara because they believe the quality of clothing is better, Mbadaliga notes.

But she says longevity and quality don’t matter so much to her because she will only wear a garment while it is in style.

Industry pushback

South African retailers and local e-commerce platforms have been left reeling by the success of Chinese e-commerce and fearing their inability to compete.

Some South African companies and industry groups have lobbied the government to close an import tax loophole, a so-called de minimis rule, for small parcels of clothing. The loophole was introduced decades ago for items such as gifts before the advent of online shopping.

Under that system, small parcels pay a low 20% import duty. However, local clothing retailers, who order in bulk, pay a 45% tariff plus a VAT rate.

“We don’t mind competition … but what we find unpalatable, quite frankly, is an opportunity which is being taken advantage of where we believe we actually have an unfair and non-level playing field,” Michael Lawrence, executive director the National Clothing Retail Federation of South Africa, told VOA.

“We’re seeing 100,000 parcels a day, I’m told by some players, coming in. So, we’re not talking about an occasional occurrence. We’re talking about a significant commercial activity,” he says.

When South Africa’s tax authorities implement the higher tax rate for imported clothing under 500 rand, those shippers will be paying the same rate of 45% plus a VAT as the bulk shipments incur.

Contacted for comment, a Temu spokesperson told VOA: “Temu operates a direct-from-factory online marketplace that connects consumers with cost-efficient manufacturers. By reducing the number of intermediaries between consumers and producers, we can eliminate extra costs and pass those savings on to consumers through lower prices.”

“We compete fairly and transparently, adhering to the rules and regulations of each market we serve. Our growth does not rely on the de minimis policy. We support policy changes that benefit consumers and believe that as long as rules are applied fairly, they will not affect the competitive landscape,” the spokesperson added.

Shein did not respond to a request for comment.

Local alternatives

South Africa is not without its own e-commerce sites.

E-commerce company Takealot has accused the Chinese online shopping giants of exploiting tax loopholes.

“These platforms contribute to a market imbalance by flooding the market with inexpensive imports,” the company said last month in a statement. “Such trends pose significant challenges to the development and sustainability of domestic industries.”

“This form of commerce extracts value from South African consumers without contributing to local communities, ultimately harming small businesses, local manufacturers and the limited job opportunities available,” it continued.

To boost local industry, Takealot recently signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the government in South Africa’s Gauteng province, which includes the capital, Pretoria, and economic powerhouse Johannesburg. Called the Takealot Township Economy Initiative, it is focused on creating jobs and supporting small, Black-owned businesses.

Local online fashion retailer Zando launched its international e-commerce platform Zando Global earlier this year.

“With the rise of Shein and Temu, South African consumers have often found themselves hesitant to order internationally due to concerns about product quality, delivery reliability, and returns processes. Zando Global steps in as the local hero, offering a trustworthy alternative for those seeking international products without the uncertainties of ordering from abroad,” the company said in an April press statement.

When asked whether the market is already saturated by Shein and Temu, Zando Global’s CEO Morgane Imbert told VOA she believed the company could compete.

“We genuinely believe there is room for a player like Zando, because we think that we can offer a different experience, focusing on the quality of the product, the customer service and curated local and global fashion trends,” she says.

“We’re definitely supporting local brands and companies through the marketplace,” Imbert added.

US behemoth

Zando and Takealot must also compete with U.S. e-commerce company Amazon, which entered the South African market in May, its first foray into sub-Saharan Africa. Reports suggest Amazon had a slow start, but that could change.

On its website, Amazon says it is providing South African consumers with a “new online shopping experience.” It added, the site will include products from independent South African sellers and small and medium-size enterprises “to connect customers with businesses throughout the country.”

Still, like “shopping addict” Mbadaliga, many South Africans will not be easily weaned off Shein and Temu.

The on-line petition to the South African government aimed at stopping the import duty has garnered more than 21,000 signatures since June, hoping to change the minds of government authorities who have yet to implement the new tax rules originally set for July 1.

From basement to battlefield: Ukrainian startups create low-cost robots to fight Russia

Northern Ukraine — Struggling with manpower shortages, overwhelming odds and uneven international assistance, Ukraine hopes to find a strategic edge against Russia in an abandoned warehouse or a factory basement.

An ecosystem of laboratories in hundreds of secret workshops is leveraging innovation to create a robot army that Ukraine hopes will kill Russian troops and save its own wounded soldiers and civilians.

Defense startups across Ukraine — about 250 according to industry estimates — are creating the killing machines at secret locations that typically look like rural car repair shops.

Employees at a startup run by entrepreneur Andrii Denysenko can put together an unmanned ground vehicle called the Odyssey in four days at a shed used by the company. Its most important feature is the price tag: $35,000, or roughly 10% of the cost of an imported model.

Denysenko asked that The Associated Press not publish details of the location to protect the infrastructure and the people working there.

The site is partitioned into small rooms for welding and body work. That includes making fiberglass cargo beds, spray-painting the vehicles gun-green and fitting basic electronics, battery-powered engines, off-the-shelf cameras and thermal sensors.

The military is assessing dozens of new unmanned air, ground and marine vehicles produced by the no-frills startup sector, whose production methods are far removed from giant Western defense companies.

A fourth branch of Ukraine’s military — the Unmanned Systems Forces — joined the army, navy and air force in May.

Engineers take inspiration from articles in defense magazines or online videos to produce cut-price platforms. Weapons or smart components can be added later.

“We are fighting a huge country, and they don’t have any resource limits. We understand that we cannot spend a lot of human lives,” said Denysenko, who heads the defense startup UkrPrototyp. “War is mathematics.”

One of its drones, the car-sized Odyssey, spun on its axis and kicked up dust as it rumbled forward in a cornfield in the north of the country last month.

The 800-kilogram (1,750-pound) prototype that looks like a small, turretless tank with its wheels on tracks can travel up to 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) on one charge of a battery the size of a small beer cooler.

The prototype acts as a rescue-and-supply platform but can be modified to carry a remotely operated heavy machine gun or sling mine-clearing charges.

“Squads of robots … will become logistics devices, tow trucks, minelayers and deminers, as well as self-destructive robots,” a government fundraising page said after the launch of Ukraine’s Unmanned Systems Forces. “The first robots are already proving their effectiveness on the battlefield.”

Mykhailo Fedorov, the deputy prime minister for digital transformation, is encouraging citizens to take free online courses and assemble aerial drones at home. He wants Ukrainians to make a million of flying machines a year.

“There will be more of them soon,” the fundraising page said. “Many more.”

Denysenko’s company is working on projects including a motorized exoskeleton that would boost a soldier’s strength and carrier vehicles to transport a soldier’s equipment and even help them up an incline. “We will do everything to make unmanned technologies develop even faster. [Russia’s] murderers use their soldiers as cannon fodder, while we lose our best people,” Fedorov wrote in an online post.

Ukraine has semi-autonomous attack drones and counter-drone weapons endowed with AI and the combination of low-cost weapons and artificial intelligence tools is worrying many experts who say low-cost drones will enable their proliferation.

Technology leaders to the United Nations and the Vatican worry that the use of drones and AI in weapons could reduce the barrier to killing and dramatically escalate conflicts.

Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups are calling for a ban on weapons that exclude human decision making, a concern echoed by the U.N. General Assembly, Elon Musk and the founders of the Google-owned, London-based startup DeepMind.

“Cheaper drones will enable their proliferation,” said Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “Their autonomy is also only likely to increase.”

Cash-starved Pakistan acquires $7 billion IMF loan

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan said Saturday that a newly secured multibillion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund would help improve the cash-starved country’s macroeconomic stability.

The official reaction came hours after the Washington-based global lender announced its preliminary agreement with Islamabad for a “37-month” loan of about $7 billion under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility arrangement.

“This agreement is subject to approval by the IMF’s executive board and the timely confirmation of necessary financing assurances from Pakistan’s development and bilateral partners,” stated Friday’s announcement by the IMF. It did not mention a date for board action, which typically is a formality before the disbursement of funds.

“The new program aims to support the authorities’ efforts to cement macroeconomic stability and create conditions for a stronger, more inclusive and resilient growth,” said the IMF statement.

On Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shared the news while meeting with his finance team and praised them for negotiating the staff-level agreement.

“The IMF [executive] board will now convene its meeting and will also approve it, God willing,” Sharif said in his televised remarks at a meeting of top finance ministry officials.

He emphasized the importance of timely implementation of economic reforms and structural changes “to improve our macroeconomic indicators … because only then can this be the final IMF program in the country’s history.” 

Pakistan’s fiscal year, which started July 1, will see roughly $25 billion in external debt payments, a significantly higher amount than its current level of foreign exchange reserves.

Sharif’s coalition government has implemented several unpopular reforms — such as imposing unprecedentedly high taxes and raising energy costs — to meet IMF requirements and secure the loan, triggering strong public opposition.

Inflation in Pakistan declined from 28% in January to 12% last month, but experts say the rate is still the highest in Asia.

Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan has received 23 bailout packages from the IMF, the most of any country. Critics blame chronic financial mismanagement, rampant corruption and repeated military-led dictatorial rules for hindering economic progress in the South Asian nation of more than 240 million people.

“The authorities have also committed to advance anti-corruption as well as governance and transparency reforms, and gradually liberalize trade policy,” Friday’s IMF statement quoted its mission chief to Pakistan, Nathan Porter, as saying.

Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, has stated that the new IMF loan would unlock investments from other international financial institutions and friendly countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Pakistan owes about $8.4 billion to the IMF, to be repaid over the next 3-4 years. The bailout package of $7 billion is less than this amount. There is nothing to celebrate,” Yousuf Nazar, a leading economic commentator and former Citigroup executive, wrote Saturday on social media platform X while commenting on the new IMF deal.

Demand for rare elements used in clean energy could help clean up abandoned coal mines in US

MOUNT STORM, West Virginia — Down a long gravel road, tucked into the hills in West Virginia, is a low-slung building where researchers are extracting essential elements from an old coal mine that they hope will strengthen the nation’s energy future.

They aren’t mining the coal that powered the steel mills and locomotives that helped industrialize America — and that is blamed for contributing to global warming.

Rather, researchers are finding that groundwater pouring out of this and other abandoned coal mines contains the rare earth elements and other valuable metals that are vital to making everything from electric vehicle motors to rechargeable batteries to fighter jets smaller, lighter or more powerful.

The pilot project run by West Virginia University is now part of an intensifying worldwide race to develop a secure supply of the valuable metals and, with more federal funding, it could grow to a commercial scale enterprise.

“The ultimate irony is that the stuff that has created climate change is now a solution, if we’re smart about it,” said John Quigley, a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

The technology that has been piloted at this facility in West Virginia could also pioneer a way to clean up vast amounts of coal mine drainage that poisons waterways across Appalachia.

The project is one of the leading efforts by the federal government as it injects more money than ever into recovering rare earth elements to expand renewable energies and fight climate change by reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

For the U.S., which like the rest of the West is beholden to a Chinese-controlled supply of these valuable metals, the pursuit of rare earth elements is also a national security priority.

Those involved, meanwhile, hope their efforts can bring jobs in clean energy to dying coal towns and clean up entrenched coal pollution that has hung around for decades.

In Pennsylvania alone, drainage from coal piles and abandoned mines has turned waterways red from iron ore and turquoise from aluminum, killing life in more than 8,000 kilometers of streams. Federal statistics also show about 1,200 square kilometers of abandoned and unreclaimed coal mine lands host more than 200 million tons of coal waste.

The metals that chemists are working to extract from mine drainage here are lightweight, powerfully magnetized and have superior fluorescent and conductive properties.

One aim of the Department of Energy is to fund research that proves to private companies that the concepts are commercially viable and profitable enough for them to invest their own money.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from President Joe Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law is accelerating the effort.

Department officials hope that by the middle of the 2030s this infusion will have spawned full-fledged commercial enterprises.

The two most advanced projects funded by the department are the one in West Virginia treating mine drainage and another processing coal dug up by lignite mining in North Dakota.

The first could be an important source of a number of critical metals, such as yttrium, neodymium and gadolinium, used in catalysts and magnets. The latter could be a major source of germanium and gallium, used in semiconductors, LEDs, electrical transmission components, solar panels and electric vehicle motors.

Researchers at each site are designing a commercial-scale operation, based on their pilot projects, in hopes of landing a massive federal grant to build it out.

The alternative would be to develop new mines, disturb more land, get permits, hire workers, build roads and connect power supplies, tasks that take years.

“With acid mind drainage, that’s already done for you,” said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Ziemkiewicz began the mine drainage project almost a decade ago, helped by federal subsidies. He had envisioned it as a way to treat runoff, recover critical minerals and raise money for more mine cleanups in West Virginia.

But the Biden administration’s ambitious funding for clean energy and a domestic supply of critical minerals broadened that goal.

At the facility, drainage from a one-time coal mine — now closed and covered by a grassy slope — emerges from two pipes, and dumps about 3,028 liters per minute into a retention pond.

From there the water is routed through massive indoor pools and a series of large tanks that, with the help of lime to lower the acidity, separate out most of the silicate, iron and aluminum. That produces a pale powdery concentrate that is about 95% rare earth oxides, plus water clean enough to return to a nearby creek.

The Department of Energy is funding research on coal wastes in various states.

“There are literally billions of tons of coal ash and coal waste lying around, across the country. And so if we can go back in and remine those, there’s decades worth of materials there,” said Grant Bromhal, the acting director of the Department of Energy’s Division of Minerals Sustainability.

Not only coal, but old copper and phosphate mines also hold potential, Bromhal said.

The country won’t be able to recover metals from all of them right away, but technologies the department is helping develop can satisfy a substantial part of demand in the next 20 to 30 years, Bromhal said.

“So if we get into the tens of percents or 50%, I think that’s in the realm of possibility,” he said.

Other solutions to obtain more of these metals are retrieving them from discarded devices and shifting sourcing to friendly nations and away from geopolitical rivals or unstable countries, analysts say. For now, there is only a handful of critical or rare earth mineral mines in the United States, although many more are being proposed.

One final subsidy will be required from the federal government: buy the reclaimed metals at a price that guarantees a commercially viable operation, Ziemkiewicz said.

That way China can’t simply buy up the product or use its market dominance to drive down prices and scare away private investors, he said.

Quigley, a former environmental protection secretary of Pennsylvania and a one-time small-city mayor in coal country, hopes to see a facility like Ziemkiewicz’s come to the Jeddo mine tunnel system in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Jeddo has defied decades of efforts to treat its flow, which drains a vast network of abandoned underground mines.

It is a massive source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, producing an estimated 114,000 to 151,000 liters per minute.

Bringing the Little Nescopeck Creek back to life could put people to work cleaning up the stream and creating recreational opportunities from a newly revived waterway, Quigley said.

“This could mean a lot to coal communities, to a lot of people in the coal region,” Quigley said. “And to the country.”

EU: X’s blue checks are deceptive ‘dark patterns’ that breach social media laws

EU says online platform falls short on transparency and accountability requirements

US consumer inflation eases to 3.0% in June

Washington — U.S. inflation edged down in June as analysts expected, government data showed Thursday, a reassuring development for President Joe Biden as he fights to win confidence on his economic record in his reelection bid. 

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 3.0 percent last month from a year ago, said the Labor Department, as a fall in gas prices more than offset housing costs.

A measure that strips out volatile food and energy prices saw the smallest annual rise since 2021.

The world’s biggest economy has been on a bumpy path to reining in inflation, which soared to a blistering 9.1 percent in mid-2022.

This prompted the central bank to rapidly hike interest rates in hopes of easing demand and bringing down price increases.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week that inflation has since shown “modest” progress.

In June, overall CPI declined 0.1 percent on-month for the first time since 2020, the latest Labor Department report showed.

The “core” CPI index excluding the volatile food and energy segments came in at 3.3 percent on-year, the smallest jump since April 2021.

The latest CPI report adds to a series of encouraging data that could give officials confidence that inflation is coming down to their two-percent target.

This, in turn, would allow them to start cutting decades-high interest rates. 

EU accepts Apple plan to open iPhone tap-to-pay to rivals

Brussels — The EU on Thursday approved Apple’s offer to allow rivals access to the iPhone’s ability to tap-to-pay within the bloc, ending a lengthy probe and sparing it a heavy fine.

The case dates back to 2022 when Brussels first accused Apple of blocking rivals from its popular iPhone tap payment system in a breach of EU competition law.

“Apple has committed to allow rivals to access the ‘tap and go’ technology of iPhones. Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“From now on, competitors will be able to effectively compete with Apple Pay for mobile payments with the iPhone in shops. So consumers will have a wider range of safe and innovative mobile wallets to choose from,” she said.

The EU previously found that Apple enjoyed a dominant position by restricting access to “tap-as-you-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices to interconnect within a very short range, to favor its own system.

Now competitors will have access to the standard technology behind contactless payments to offer alternative tap-to-pay tools to iPhone users in the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Only customers with an Apple ID registered in the EEA would be able to make use of these outside apps, the European Commission said in a statement.

The changes must remain in force for 10 years and a “monitoring trustee” must be chosen by Apple to report to the commission during that period on their implementation.

Apple had risked a fine of up to 10% of its total worldwide annual turnover. Apple’s total revenue in the year to September 2023 stood at $383 billion.

“Apple Pay and Apple Wallet will continue to be available in the EEA for users and developers, and will continue to provide an easy, secure and private way to pay, as well as present passes seamlessly from Apple Wallet,” the company said in a statement.

The probe’s conclusion comes at a particularly difficult moment in relations between the EU and Apple, especially over the bloc’s new competition rules for big tech.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) seeks to ensure tech titans do not privilege their own services over rivals, but the iPhone maker says it puts users’ privacy at risk.

One of the DMA’s main objectives is to give consumers more choice in the web browsers, app marketplaces, search engines and other digital services they use.

The EU in June accused Apple of breaching the DMA by preventing developers from freely pointing consumers to alternative channels for offers and content outside of its proprietary App Store.

It also kickstarted another probe under the DMA into Apple’s new fees for app developers.

The company could face heavy fines if the DMA violations are confirmed.

In March, the EU slapped a $1.9 billion fine on Apple in a different antitrust case but the company has appealed the penalty in an EU court.

Brussels also forced Apple last year to scrap its Lightning port on new iPhone models, in a change that was introduced worldwide and not just in Europe.

Namibia struggles with growing seal population that threatens fishing industry

Windhoek, Namibia — Namibia will attempt to reduce the local seal population by 80,000 this year, officials recently announced, despite opposition from animal rights groups.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources said the reduction is necessary to maintain balance in the ecosystem and keep the seals from hurting the nation’s fishing industry.

Seal numbers increased from 1.3 million to 1.6 million over the past three years, said Annely Haifene, executive director of the marine ministry.

She told VOA this is an indication of a healthy marine ecosystem but is also a threat to the $10 billion fishing industry, which is one of the largest contributors to Namibia’s economy, because seals prey on the fish.

Last year’s seal harvest was disappointing, Haifene said, with the companies that hold rights to catch seals along Namibia’s Atlantic coastline harvesting less than 50% of the “total allowable catch.”

“The challenge is really the market,” she said. “There is no demand for pup’s products, and therefore, even if you harvest them, you will likely not get any economic sense out of the pups.”

Markets for the bulls are difficult, too, she said.

The main market for seal pelts and food products is China, but demand has dropped because of an international ban on seal fur.

Last year, the total allowable catch for seal pups was 80,000. Only 3,764, or 5% of the target, was harvested. The companies harvested a larger proportion of adult seals, catching about 3,100 of the 6,000 allowed.

Haifene blamed animal rights groups for last year’s the low numbers.

Naude Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia said Namibia’s attempts to reduce the seal population is having the opposite effect of what the ministry is trying to achieve.

“By taking out the biggest bulls in the group, you are messing with the harem structures in the groups,” he said. “Normally a big bull will have up to 50 females underneath him, which he would then be fighting with other big bulls to keep them exclusively his. By taking out those big bulls, this allows much younger males to come in and do the mating.”

Namibia is the only country in the Global South where seal harvesting takes place. Other countries that harvest seals include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

Namibian seals live in three colonies along the country’s 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) coastline.

This year’s harvest is set to end in November. Authorities believe the harvest will be less than last year’s due to declining interest in seal products on the international market.

Kenyan president warns of huge consequences over debt plan failure

NAIROBI, Kenya — The ballooning debt in East Africa’s economic hub of Kenya is expected to grow even more after deadly protests forced the rejection of a finance bill that President William Ruto said was needed to raise revenue. He now warns “it will have huge consequences.”

Facing public calls to resign, Ruto said the government will turn to slashing a $2.7 billion budget deficit by half and borrowing the rest, without saying from where.

After anger over bloated bureaucracy and luxurious lives of senior officials helped to fuel the protests, Ruto also promised funding cuts in his own office and said funding would stop for the offices of the first lady, the wife of the vice president and the wife of the prime Cabinet secretary. Almost four dozen state enterprises with overlapping roles will be closed.

Ruto has become deeply unpopular in his two years in office over his quest to introduce taxes meant to enable Kenya to repay its $80 billion public debt to lenders that include the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and China. 

The public debt makes up about 70% of Kenya’s gross domestic product, the highest in 20 years.

How Ruto’s administration will find the money to pay off debt without further angering millions of Kenyans barely getting by, and without slowing down the economy, is the key question. The economy grew 5.6% in 2023.

Economist Mbui Wagacha, a former adviser to previous President Uhuru Kenyatta, said Kenya needs a professional budget and management body like the Office of Management and Budget in the United States. Currently, Kenya’s treasury makes budget estimates and forwards them to the parliamentary finance committee, which creates the finance bills.

“Parliament has abdicated its mandate on the public finances in the Constitution, and it’s looking after its own interests,” Wagacha said in an interview.

He said further borrowing by Kenya could be “disastrous” and proposed a strategy of using diplomacy to attract investment and restructuring the debt to get creditors to write off some of it.

Another economist, Ken Gichinga, agreed that government borrowing will slow down Kenya’s economy. Businesses still haven’t recovered from the effects of the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine, he said.

“When the government borrows more, interest rates go up. And when interest rates go up, businesses slow down, the economy slows down, due to the high cost of repayment,” Gichinga said.

Kenya’s president has advocated self-sustainability, saying the country should raise more revenue instead borrowing. “If we are a serious state, we must be able to enhance our taxes,” he said in May.

But Kenyans have rejected attempts to raise taxes as they struggle with rising prices on basic goods, even storming parliament during the recent protests.

Last week, days after announcing he would not sign the finance bill he once championed, Ruto said that he had worked hard “to pull Kenya out of a debt trap” and that huge consequences lie ahead.

Wagacha said economic growth must come before the government increases revenue targets and tax collection.

“You create an expanded economy with employment and with investment, and people have money in their pockets. It’s much easier for them to hear about your request for taxes,” he said.

He suggested making access to low-interest credit easier for businesses in key sectors such as tourism and agriculture, saying small businesses hold the key to Kenya’s economic growth as they tend to absorb many employees. That could help address high youth unemployment.

The government should give incentives to businesses to create jobs with low taxation and lower interest rates, Gichinga said. “At the end of the day, we need a jobs-centered economic policy. That’s what we’ve been lacking,” he said.

The IMF, which had suggested some of the controversial tax changes, has been a target of Kenya’s public dissatisfaction. Some protesters had posters with messages such as “IMF stop colonialism.”

In a statement late last month, the IMF said it was monitoring the situation in Kenya, adding that its main goal was to help it “overcome the difficult economic challenges it faces and improve its economic prospects and the well-being of its people.”

The IMF needs to do more for Kenya beyond focusing on debt sustainability and be a “strong development partner,” Gichinga said.

Russian election meddlers hurting Biden, helping Trump, US intelligence warns

WASHINGTON — Russia is turning to a familiar playbook in its attempt to sway the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, looking for ways to boost the candidacy of former President Donald Trump by disparaging the campaign of incumbent President Joe Biden, according to American intelligence officials. 

A new assessment of threats to the November election, shared Tuesday, does not mention either candidate by name. But an intelligence official told reporters that the Kremlin view of the U.S. political landscape has not changed from previous election cycles.

“We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections,” the official told reporters, agreeing to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity.

The official said that preference has been further cemented by “the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.”

The caution from U.S. intelligence officials comes nearly four years after it issued a similar warning about the 2020 presidential elections, which pitted then-President Trump against Biden.

Moscow was using “a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” William Evanina, the then-head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at the time.

“Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” he added. 

A declassified post-election assessment, released in March 2021, reaffirmed the initial findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized “influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party” while offering support for Trump, the report said. 

U.S. intelligence officials said they have been in contact with both presidential campaigns and the candidates but declined to share what sort of information may have been shared.

Trump pushback

The Trump campaign Tuesday rejected the U.S. intelligence assessment as backward.

“Vladimir Putin endorsed Joe Biden for President because he knows Biden is weak and can easily be bullied, as evidenced by Putin’s years-long invasion of Ukraine,” national press secretary Karoline Leavitt told VOA in an email.

“When President Trump was in the Oval Office, Russia and all of America’s adversaries were deterred, because they feared how the United States would respond,” she said.

“The only people in America who don’t see this clear contrast between Biden’s ineffective weakness versus Trump’s effective peace through strength approach are the left-wing stenographers in the mainstream media who write false narratives about Donald Trump for a living,” she added.

The Biden campaign has so far not responded to questions from VOA about the new U.S. assessment.

Russian sophistication

Russian officials also have not yet responded to requests for comment on the latest allegations, which accuse the Kremlin of using a “whole of government” approach to see Trump and other American candidates perceived as favorable to Moscow win in November.

“Moscow is using a variety of approaches to bolster its messaging and lend an air of authenticity to its efforts,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “This includes outsourcing its efforts to commercial firms to hide its hand and laundering narratives through influential U.S. voices.”

Russia’s efforts also appear focused on targeting U.S. voters in so-called swing states, states most likely to impact the outcome of the presidential election, officials said.

Some of those efforts have already come to light.

Russia and AI

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the seizure of two internet domains and of another 968 accounts on the X social media platform, part of what officials described an artificial intelligence-driven venture by Russian intelligence and Russia’s state-run RT news network.

A Justice Department statement said Russian intelligence and RT used specific AI software to create authentic-looking social media accounts to mimic U.S. individuals, “which the operators then used to promote messages in support of Russian government objectives.”

A joint advisory, issued simultaneously by the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, warned Russia was in the process of expanding the AI-fueled influence operation to other social media platforms.

The U.S. intelligence official who spoke to reporters Tuesday described such use of AI as a “malign influence accelerant,” and warned the technology had already been deployed, likely by China, in the run-up to Taiwan’s elections this past January.

China waiting

For now, though, U.S. intelligence officials see few indications Beijing is seeking to interfere in U.S. elections, as it did in 2020 and 2022. 

China “sees little gain in choosing between two parties that are perceived as both seeking to contain Beijing,” said the U.S. intelligence official, noting things could change.

“The PRC is seeking to expand its ability to collect and monitor data on U.S. social media platforms, probably to better understand and eventually manipulate public opinion,” the official said. “In addition, we are watching for whether China might seek to influence select down-ballot races as it did in the 2022 midterm elections.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, which has denied previous U.S. allegations, responded by calling the U.S. “the biggest disseminator of disinformation.”

“China has no intention and will not interfere in the US election, and we hope that the US side will not make an issue of China in the election,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email.

‘Chaos agent’

The new U.S. election threat assessment warns that in addition to concerns about Russia and China, there is growing evidence Iran is seeking to play the role of a “chaos agent” in the upcoming U.S. vote.

“Iran seeks to stoke social divisions and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions around the elections,” according to an unclassified version of the assessment. 

It also warned that Tehran “has demonstrated a long-standing interest in exploiting U.S. political and societal tensions through various means, including social media.”

As an example, officials Tuesday pointed to newly declassified intelligence showing Iran trying to exploit pro-Gaza protests across the U.S.

“We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters,” said National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.

Haines cautioned, though, that Americans who interacted with the Iranian actors “may not be aware that they are interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government.”

Iranian officials have not yet responded to VOA’s request for comment.


Burkina Faso’s internally displaced scramble to make a living

Burkina Faso is home to many people internally displaced by years of insecurity and conflict. Most of them live in various towns across the country, and some are now trying to find jobs in the capital, Ouagadougou, or starting businesses. VOA’s Gildas Da has this report, narrated by Anthony LaBruto.

Federal Reserve’s Powell says US making ‘modest’ progress on inflation

Washington — The U.S. Federal Reserve is making “modest” progress in its inflation fight, the head of the U.S. central bank told lawmakers Tuesday, on the first of two days of testimony in Congress.

When prices surged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed responded by hiking interest rates to a two-decade high as it attempts to cool down the U.S. economy and return inflation to its long-term target of two percent.

Inflation has eased significantly since it peaked in 2022, but progress stalled in the first quarter of this year, effectively putting the Fed’s fight on pause.

The data in the second quarter has been more encouraging, prompting some cautious optimism from some policymakers in recent weeks.

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee that the most recent readings “have shown some modest further progress” since the first quarter of the year.

“More good data would strengthen our confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward two percent,” he added, according to prepared remarks.

The Fed is widely expected to hold interest rates again when it meets to set interest rates later this month, but could begin cutting rates in September.

Futures traders have assigned a probability of more than 75% that the Fed will make its first rate cut by September.

LogOn: Unfired earth blocks surpass modern building codes

 A new homebuilding method with ancient roots in adobe offers protection from wildfires, earthquakes, high winds and floods, while being climate friendly and sustainable. The secret ingredient: compressed earth blocks made from mud. Shelley Schlender has the story in this week’s episode of LogOn from Superior, Colorado.

TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?

new york — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin in 2018. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion. 

The popularity of TikTok — coupled with its roots in Beijing — led the U.S. Congress — citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its Chinese parent company sells its stake. Both the company, ByteDance, and TikTok have sued on First Amendment grounds. 

But while the platform faces uncertain times, its influence remains undisputed. 

Interest in bright pink blush and brown lipstick soared last year, for example, after the cosmetics were featured in TikTok videos with looks labeled as “cold girl” and “latte” makeup. An abundance of clothing fads with quirky names, from “cottagecore” to “coastal grandma,” similarly owe their pervasiveness to TikTok.   

Plenty of TikTok-spawned crazes last only a week or two before losing steam. Yet even mini trends have challenged businesses to decipher which ones are worth stocking up for. A majority of the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok belong to the under-30 age group coveted by retailers, according to the Pew Research Center. Whether fans of the platform or not, shoppers may have a #tiktokmademebuyit moment without knowing the origin story behind an eye-catching product. 

Platform’s algorithm is ‘secret sauce’

What made TikTok such a trendsetter compared to predecessor platforms? Researchers and marketing analysts have often described the platform’s personalized recommendation algorithm as the “secret sauce” of TikTok’s success. The company has disclosed little about the technology it employs to populate users’ “For You” feeds.   

Jake Bjorseth, founder of the advertising agency Trndsttrs, which specializes in Generation Z, thinks the app’s use of an interest-based algorithm instead of personal contacts to connect like-minded people is what gave TikTok the edge. 

TikTok also changed the standard for what was considered desirable in social media content. The beginner-friendly platform featured videos made without filters, lighting setups or production-level audio. TikTok creators could develop more intimate relationships with their followers because they appeared more authentic, Bjorseth said. 

The platform has plenty of critics. Some experts argue that TikTok, like other social media sites, can be addictive and promote unnecessary spending. Others accuse TikTok of encouraging harmful behavior, like girls engaging in skin care rituals intended for older women. 

Yet for all the detractors who won’t mourn TikTok if it goes away, a vocal base of fans hopes it doesn’t come to that. 

Influencing fashion, accessories

Casey Lewis, a trend analyst based in New York, said TikTok’s clout in the fashion arena first became apparent to her when videos about Birkenstock’s Boston clogs overtook her “For You” feed in 2022.   

As the number of TikTok videos exploded, creators advised their followers where they could find the suddenly sold-out clogs. Lewis thought it was odd since her brother, whom she described as a “frat boy” and not a fashionista, wore the cork-soled comfort shoes in college.   

“I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure there’s some psychology where your brain goes from thinking like, ‘How weird? Is that fashion?’ And then suddenly you’re obsessed with it,” she said.   

The pace with which TikTok-shaped trends pop can be dizzying. In the last year, the hot pink ensembles of “Barbiecore” coexisted with the deliberately unsexy looks of “dadcore” — think chunky white sneakers, baggy jeans and polo shirts. The linen-draped “coastal grandma” aesthetic gave way to “eclectic grandpa.”   

While the rotating cast of “cores” may not drive their adherents to buy entire wardrobes, they’re “influencing spending in small ways, and that adds up,” Lewis said.   

Influencers provide tips, tricks

Daniella Lopez White, 21, a recent college graduate on a tight budget, said TikTok influencers provided tips on finding affordable clothes but also connected her to plus-size creators featuring fashions for larger-bodied women, which made her more confident. 

“Those TikTok trends really helped me figure out what parts of my body I want to accentuate and feel cute in, and still incorporate my sense of style,” she said. 

A go-to spot

With easy-to-follow cooking videos and clever hacks, TikTok became a go-to spot for home cooks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform made humble ingredients a star and earned endorsements from some of the stars of the food world.   

“Every day, honestly, I am blown away by the creativity from the FoodTok community,” restaurateur and chef Gordon Ramsay said in a TikTok video late last year.   

Like the clothing styles of earlier eras, foods that had fallen out of fashion were resurrected via TikTok. U.S. sales of cottage cheese jumped 34% between April 2022 and April 2024 after videos promoting cottage cheese ice cream, cottage cheese toast and other recipes racked up millions of views. 

Ben Sokolsky, the general manager of sales and marketing for Dallas-based dairy company Daisy Brand, said cottage cheese is seeing its highest sustained growth in nearly 50 years. The curdled milk product used to be a “secret sensation,” but social media helped expose new customers to its benefits, Sokolsky said. 

Topics that went viral on TikTok have even spawned analog equivalents. Last summer, TikToker Olivia Maher posted what she called her “girl dinner” of bread, cheese, pickles and grapes. It was a hit, with more than 1.6 million views. A handful of “girl dinner” cookbooks soon followed.   

But the eagerness to try trendy foods had a downside. A 14-year-old in Massachusetts died after trying a challenge involving an extremely spicy tortilla chip that appeared on TikTok and other social media sites. An autopsy of the boy, who had a congenital heart defect, found that eating a large quantity of chile pepper extract caused his death. Paqui, the maker of the chip, pulled it off the market. 

Upending cosmetic industry

TikTok has upended the cosmetics industry by causing ingredients to get labeled as the next miracle cure or to be avoided and featuring videos of people gleefully applying or panning the contents of their latest shopping hauls. 

Influencers on TikTok and elsewhere have made freckles an asset with clips showing how to add faux ones with eyebrow pencils or broccoli florets. The “clean girl” aesthetic, a renamed version of the no-makeup makeup look, prompted both luxury and drugstore brands to rush out their own versions of skin tints and lip oils. 

Some veteran users of TikTok have noted the platform is almost too good in its role as both a tastemaker and a shopping search engine. A popular category of beauty videos shows influencers “decluttering” drawers filled with piles of barely used lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadow palettes. 

Though the desire for clicks can encourage creators to follow the same hair and makeup trends, TikTok’s defenders credit the platform with forcing brands to create products for a wider range of skin tones and hair types. 

Tiffany Watson, who currently has more than 31,00 followers on TikTok and has done paid partnerships with brands like Colourpop Cosmetics, said the platform has promoted a more inclusive image of beauty compared to other sites. 

“I see more diversity on TikTok because (with) every video you’re swiping, you’re seeing somebody new,” she said. 

Russian-linked cybercampaigns focus on Olympics, French elections

paris — Photos of blood-red hands on a Holocaust memorial. Caskets at the Eiffel Tower. A fake French military recruitment drive calling for soldiers in Ukraine, and major French news sites improbably registered in an obscure Pacific territory, population 15,000.

All are part of disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia and targeting France, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States. France’s legislative elections and the Paris Olympics sent them into overdrive.

More than a dozen reports issued in the past year point to an intensifying effort from Russia to undermine France, particularly the upcoming Games, and President Emmanuel Macron, who is one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Europe.

The Russian campaigns sowing anti-French disinformation began online in early summer 2023, but first became tangible in October, when more than 1,000 bots linked to Russia relayed photos of graffitied Stars of David in Paris and its suburbs.

A French intelligence report said the Russian intelligence agency FSB ordered the tagging, as well as subsequent vandalism of a memorial to those who helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Photos from each event were amplified on social media by fake accounts linked to the Russian disinformation site RRN, according to cybersecurity experts. Russia denies any such campaigns. The French intelligence report says RRN is part of a larger operation orchestrated by Sergei Kiriyenko, a ranking Kremlin official.

“You have to see this as an ecosystem,” said a French military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal information about the Russian effort. “It’s a hybrid strategy.”

The tags and the vandalism had no direct link to Russia’s war in Ukraine, but they provoked a strong reaction from the French political class, with denunciations in the legislature and public debate. Antisemitic attacks are on the rise in France, and the war in Gaza has proven divisive.

The Stars of David could be interpreted either as support for Israel or as opposition. The effect was to sow division and unease. French Jews in particular have found themselves unwittingly thrust into the political fray despite, at just 500,000 people, making up a small proportion of the French population.

In March, just after Macron discussed the possibility of mobilizing the French military in Ukraine, a fake recruitment drive went up for the French army in Ukraine, spawning a series of posts in Russian- and French-language Telegram channels that got picked up in Russian and Belarusian media, according to a separate French government report seen by The Associated Press. On June 1, caskets appeared outside the Eiffel Tower, bearing the inscription “French soldiers in Ukraine.”

The larger disinformation efforts show little traction in France, but the Russian audience may have been the real target, officials said, by showing that Russia’s war in Ukraine is, as Putin has said, really a war with the West.

Among the broader goals, the French military official said, was a long-term and steady effort to sow social discord, erode faith in the media and democratic governments, undermine NATO, and sap Western support for Ukraine. Denigrating the Olympics, from which most Russian athletes are banned, is a bonus, according to French officials monitoring the increasingly strident posts warning of imminent unrest ahead of the Games.

On June 9, the French far-right National Rally trounced Macron’s party in elections for the European Parliament. The party has historically been close to Russia: One of its leading figures, Marine Le Pen, cultivated ties to Putin for many years and supported Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. And its leading contender for prime minister, Jordan Bardella, has said he opposes sending long-range weapons to Kyiv.

In more than 4,400 posts gathered since mid-November by antibot4navalny, a collective that analyzes Russian bot behavior, those targeting audiences in France and Germany predominated. The number of weekly posts ranged from 100 to 200 except for the week of May 5, when it dropped near zero, the data showed. That week, as it happens, was a holiday in Russia.

Many of the posts redirect either to RRN or to sites that appear identical to major French media, but with the domain — and content — changed. At least two of the more recent mirrored sites are registered in Wallis and Futuna, a French Pacific territory 10 time zones from Paris. A click on the top of the fake page redirects back to the real news sites themselves to give the impression of authenticity. Other posts redirect to original sites controlled by the campaign itself, dubbed Doppelganger.

The redirects shifted focus for the European elections and continued after Macron called the surprise legislative elections with just three weeks to spare. Three-quarters of posts from the week ahead of the June 30 first-round legislative vote that were directed toward a French audience focused on either criticizing Macron or boosting the National Rally, antibot4navalny found in data shared with The Associated Press.

One post on a fake site purported to be from Le Point, a current affairs magazine, and the French news agency AFP, criticizing Macron.

“Our leaders have no idea how ordinary French people live but are ready to destroy France in the name of aid for Ukraine,” read the headline on June 25.

Another site falsely claimed to be from Macron’s party, offering to pay 100 euros for a vote for him — and linking back to the party’s true website. And still another inadvertently left a generative artificial intelligence prompt calling for the rewrite of an article “taking a conservative stance against the liberal policies of the Macron administration,” according to findings last week from Insikt Group, the threat research division of the cybersecurity consultancy Recorded Future.

“They’re scraping automatically, sending the text to the AI and asking the AI to introduce bias or slants into the article and rewrite it,” said Clément Briens, an analyst for Recorded Future.

Briens said metrics tools embedded within the site are likely intended to prove that the campaigns were money well-spent for “whoever is doing the payouts for these operations.”

The French government cybersecurity watchdog, Viginum, has published multiple reports since June 2023 singling out Russian efforts to sow divisions in France and elsewhere. That was around the time that pro-Kremlin Telegram feeds started promoting Olympics has Fallen — a full-length fake Netflix film featuring an AI-generated voice resembling Tom Cruise that criticized the International Olympic Committee, according to the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center.

Microsoft said this campaign, which it dubbed Storm-1679, is fanning fears of violence at the Games and last fall disseminated digitally generated photos referring, among other things, to the attacks on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

The latest effort, which started just after the first round of the elections on June 30, merges fears of violence related to both the Olympics and the risk of protests after the decisive second round, antibot4navalny found. Viginum released a new report Tuesday detailing the risks ahead for the Games — not for violence but for disinformation.

“Digital information manipulation campaigns have become a veritable instrument of destabilization of democracies,” Viginum said. “This global event will give untold informational exposure to malevolent foreign actors.” The word Russia appears nowhere.

Baptiste Robert, a French cybersecurity expert who ran unsuccessfully as an unaffiliated centrist in the legislative elections, called on his government — and especially lawmakers — to prepare for the digital threats to come.

“This is a global policy of Russia: They really want to push people into the extremes,” he said before the first-round vote. “It’s working perfectly right now.”

Kenyan president bows to pressure, makes major concessions

Nairobi, Kenya — Kenyan President William Ruto on Friday ordered significant cuts in the federal budget along with other government reforms to pay off a crushing debt burden in a move seen as a concession to popular disapproval of a tax bill that sparked violent protests.

Following weeks of protests during which dozens of people reportedly were killed, Ruto withdrew a finance bill intended to raise $2.7 billion — most of it from tax increases — to pay off debt.

Ruto instead offered a compromise: a plan is to cut $1.39 billion from the budget and borrow the difference.

To make it work, Ruto said, his government will eliminate 47 state corporations with overlapping or duplicative functions and reduce by 50% the number of government advisors, among many other actions.

Filling the positions of chief administrative secretaries is suspended, Ruto said, and government funds will not be used for the operations of the offices of the first lady, the spouse of the deputy president and the prime cabinet secretary.

And there’s more.

“Public servants who attain retirement age of 60 shall be required to immediately proceed on retirement with no extensions,” Ruto said.

Also, government purchase of new motor vehicles is suspended for 12 months, except for security agencies, and all nonessential travel by state and public officers is suspended, the president said.

Some of the actions were on a list of demands made by protesters.

Ruto also said he has appointed an independent task force to carry out a comprehensive, forensic audit of the country’s public debt.

“This audit will provide Kenyans with clarity on the extent and nature of our debt and how public resources have been expanded and also recommend proposals for managing public debt in a manner that is sustainable and does not burden future generations,” he said.

Nearly 40 people died and 360 were injured nationwide since the protests started three weeks ago, according to Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights.

Australia plans to build secret data centers with Amazon

SYDNEY — Australia said Thursday a $1.35 billion deal with U.S. technology giant Amazon to build three secure data centers for top-secret information will increase its military’s “war-fighting capacity.”

The data centers are to be built in secret locations in Australia and be run by an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. technology company Amazon Web Service, the government said.

The deal is part of Australia’s National Defense Strategy, outlining its commitment to Indo-Pacific security and maintaining “the global rules-based order.” The country has a long-standing military alliance with the United States and is a member, with the United Kingdom, U.S., Canada and New Zealand, of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Australian officials said the project would create a “state-of-the-art collaborative space” for intelligence and defense agencies to store and gain access to sensitive information in a centralized network.

Andrew Shearer, director-general of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, said in a statement that the project would allow “greater interoperability with our most important international intelligence partners.”

Similar data clouds have been set up in the United States and Britain, allowing the sharing of information among agencies and departments.

Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister, told reporters that highly sensitive national security data will be safely secured in the new system.

“If you consider that any sensor which is on a defense platform, which in turn feeds that data to a high tech capability, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which will use that to engage in targeting or perhaps to defend itself from an in-coming threat, or … to defend another asset, such as a ship — all of that is top secret data,” Marles said.

The government said the Amazon Web Services storage system will use artificial intelligence to detect suspected intrusions and to retrieve data.

Richard Buckland, a professor in CyberCrime, Cyberwar and Cyberterror at the University of New South Wales, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the storage plan has risks.

“Putting more data together in a central spot and sharing it widely as people intend to do obviously increases the risk of a data breach,” he said.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services’ managing director in Australia, Iain Rouse, said the system would “enable the seamless sharing of classified data between Australia’s National Intelligence Community and the Australian Defense Force.”

The so-called top-secret cloud is scheduled to be in operation by 2027.