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Biden Appeared to Overstate the Role of Al Qaeda’s Leader



GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In announcing last week that the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Biden described the long-sought terrorist as “a mastermind” behind the U.S.S. Cole bombing in 2000.

Mr. Biden also said that al-Zawahri was “deeply involved in the planning” of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

There is no doubt that al-Zawahri was the leader of a terrorist movement whose global jihad has killed thousands of people. He was the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and took over the organization in 2011.

But as a matter of historical accuracy, Mr. Biden’s words went well beyond how the government and terrorism specialists have described al-Zawahri’s record with regard to those two particularly notorious attacks.

Mr. Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri as a key plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks was echoed in many news accounts about his speech, including in The New York Times. But it surprised counterterrorism experts, as did the characterization of al-Zawahri’s role in the Cole bombing.

The remarks also raised new questions in the Sept. 11 and U.S.S. Cole death-penalty cases, which have been mired in pretrial hearings for more than a decade. By Friday, lawyers in both cases said they had formally requested evidence from prosecutors to support Mr. Biden’s statements.

Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who worked with Islamist fighters battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and later wrote several books about terrorism networks and radicalization, said he was puzzled by Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri and wondered where the purported role came from.

“Zawahri is a legitimate target,” he said on Tuesday, a day after the president’s address. “But the justification they gave yesterday was inaccurate. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, defended Mr. Biden’s characterization of al-Zawahri’s record in relation to the specific attacks as accurate. The Justice Department had charged al-Zawahri, along with Bin Laden and many others, as conspirators in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the official noted, adding that the government saw “a through line from that to Al Qaeda’s major attacks in 2000, 2001 and beyond.”

During a briefing with reporters shortly before Mr. Biden delivered his remarks, a different senior administration official described al-Zawahri as Bin Laden’s “deputy during the 9/11 attacks,” which is not in dispute. That official did not mention the Cole.

Prosecutors in federal civilian court and in the military commissions system at Guantánamo Bay have filed multiple indictments against Qaeda operatives accused of helping plot the Cole bombing. Those documents are dozens of pages long, laying out the government’s understanding of the participants, meetings, financial transfers and other moves that made up the conspiracy.

They do not portray al-Zawahri as a mastermind of the operation, a suicide bombing by two men in a skiff that killed 17 American sailors.

A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that way in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo Bay. A C.I.A. profile at the time of his transfer in 2006 referred to him as “the mastermind and local manager of the bombing in October 2000.” His charges mention al-Zawahri as one of 26 participants in a Qaeda conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in general, but not as the mastermind.

A military charge sheet filed in 2012 against five Guantánamo detainees who were accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks mentioned al-Zawahri only for his joint declaration of war with Bin Laden in 1998, in describing the group’s history.

Within hours of President Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used similar language on Twitter, calling al-Zawahri “one of the masterminds” of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But defense lawyers said the language did not match the descriptions in the case at Guantánamo.

“The 9/11 charges, discovery and proof so far make almost no mention of al-Zawahri,” said James G. Connell III, a capital defense lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is commonly described as their architect of the attack.

The senior military defense lawyer in the Cole case, Capt. Brian L. Mizer of the Navy, said that al-Zawahri figured in pretrial evidence only as a deputy in Al Qaeda, not as someone who had a specific role in the operation.

Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who investigated Al Qaeda in the period surrounding both attacks, said al-Zawahri was not the operational mastermind of either plot. But as a senior leader, he said, al-Zawahri helped set the strategic direction for Al Qaeda’s major actions during that time.

“He was involved in greenlighting operations and advising Bin Laden,” Mr. Soufan said.

Specifically, Mr. Soufan said, there is evidence that at a council meeting of senior Qaeda leaders, some opposed the Sept. 11 plot, fearing repercussions for their safe haven in Afghanistan, but al-Zawahri backed Bin Laden’s desire to go forward with it.

Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence service officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the C.I.A., said al-Zawahri was absolutely an important target. “We don’t put $25 million on the head of a small fish,” he said.

But he considered al-Zawahri to be more of a “strategic thinker of Al Qaeda.”

The senior administration official who defended Mr. Biden’s remarks also pointed to comments by Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole at the time of the attack. Mr. Lippold said on a news program last week that al-Zawahri, along with Bin Laden, had been “intimately involved in the planning.”

But Mr. Lippold, who declined to comment for this article, did not cite any specific basis for portraying al-Zawahri as intimately involved in the planning. In his 2012 memoir about the incident, “Front Burner: Al Qaeda’s Attack on the U.S.S. Cole,” Mr. Lippold mentioned Bin Laden about two dozen times but did not mention al-Zawahri.

Mark Fallon, who was the commander of a Navy task force that investigated the Cole bombing and later oversaw investigations in the military commissions system, said he recalled speculation that al-Zawahri might have been involved in planning both attacks, but he was not aware of evidence supporting a direct link.

“It’s just not a factual narrative that they’re telling,” he said. “It’s a talking point.”

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills



The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists



This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’



Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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