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How does the U.S. decide which Russians to throw out of the country?

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The U.S. has expelled 60 Russian diplomats, and the Russians have now responded by expelling 60 U.S. diplomats.

In a statement Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that “based on the principle of reciprocity,” the 60 Americans in Moscow and Yekaterinburg “were declared ‘persona non grata’ for activities incompatible with diplomatic status.” The Americans have to leave the country before April 5, 2018.

“Persona non grata” is the same term the U.S. uses when it expels diplomats. National security types call the expulsions “PNGing,” from the initials.

So how do the U.S. and the Russians decide which diplomats to kick out? And does it have any impact?

Experts consulted by NBC News say the Russian diplomats who were expelled from the U.S. were really spies, for the most part, and PNGing dozens of them is more than symbolic — it has an immediate, if short-term, effect on the ability of Russia to collect intelligence inside the U.S.

Earlier this month, Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by nerve gas in the southwestern English city of Salisbury. British authorities immediately suspected the pair had been poisoned by Russian agents trying to silence Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who had been a double agent.

Twenty-six countries expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning. According to current and former U.S. officials, the Russians had violated one of the unwritten rules of espionage — no assassinations, especially not on another country’s soil.

One current official said there is a gentlemen’s agreement — “honor among thieves” — in which there are lines spies should not cross. If a line is crossed, the offended party can expel as PNGs those diplomats it thinks may have some link to the violation.

 People carrying luggage leave the Russian Embassy in London on March 20, 2018 and board a van bearing diplomatic plates. Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP – Getty Images file

In addition to murder, the official said offenses that have sparked past expulsions from Western nations include:

  • Internal political meddling, like Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election;
  • Preparations for the outbreak of war;
  • Acts of sabotage;
  • Stealing or trying to steal a nation’s “continuity of government plans,” i.e., how the top levels of government would react after a nuclear strike. FBI mole Robert Hanssen gave the U.S. plans to the Russians, and the U.S. expelled Russian diplomats after he was caught in 2001.

The phrase itself, PNG, comes from the 1961 Vienna Convention, an international treaty that defined rules for diplomatic relations. Article 9 of the treaty says that “without having to explain its decision,” the host nation can notify the “sending State” that “any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata.”

When the Russians summoned U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman to the Foreign Ministry, they were notifying the “sending State” that they planned to expel 60 Americans. When the Foreign Ministry announced publicly that the Americans had been chosen for expulsion for “activities incompatible with diplomatic status,” they were calling them spies without giving details.

Once declared persona non grata,a diplomat must leave the country “within a reasonable period” or risk losing diplomatic immunity.

 Russian consulate in Seattle. Lindsey Wasson / Reuters

The U.S. expulsion of 60 diplomats in March was the second such purge in less than 18 months. The Obama administration had PNGed 35 diplomats in late 2016 in retaliation for Russian cyber meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

According to the current and former U.S. officials, in both cases the FBI and CIA had previously identified the operatives and gave the list to policy makers, who made the final decisions. Many of the Russians who fill diplomatic positions in the U.S. are actually operatives working for the country’s various intelligence services.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that the U.S. gave Russia the names of the PNGed individuals after an interagency process that included the “weigh-in” of many “U.S. government partners,” like the FBI.

“We believe our country is safer by making these Russians go home,” said Nauert. “We know that they were not here to do good, but rather, they could have done something potentially bad … I think, if you look at the actions that took place against the British citizen and his daughter, it’s clear that, perhaps, our citizens were not safe.”

This month’s expulsion also included the shuttering of a consulate in Seattle. The Trump administration had shuttered the Russian consulate in San Francisco in 2017, and the Obama administration shut Russian recreation facilities in Maryland and New York in December 2016. Consulates and embassies can serve as hubs for human and electronic data collection, say the officials.

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'Find a solution!' Lord Hague demands EU shelve 'petty bureaucracy' to restart fish trade

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THE European Union have been ordered to give up their “petty bureaucracy” that is preventing easy trade between the bloc and the UK.

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Boris Johnson given 'final warning' to reach new deal with EU to stop Belfast riots

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BORIS Johnson has been given a “final warning” to reach a deal with the EU by the former leader of the Conservative Party William Hague.

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As GOP sticks with Trump, grassroots energy on the right has gone missing

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WASHINGTON — Tax Day 2009 was the start of the Tea Party protests against Barack Obama’s agenda.

But as we approach April 15, 2021 — even with the tax-filing deadline extended to May 17 — it’s become noticeable just how quiet the conservative grassroots have been during President Biden’s first three months in office.

Part of it is due to the fact that Biden has never been the lightning rod for the right that Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and even AOC are.

But another part is the 2020 defeated candidate who decided to stick around: Donald Trump.

In the 21st century, we’ve seen grassroots political movements — whether real, AstroTurf, or activated by cable news — replace defeated presidential candidates and unpopular presidents. (With the previous leadership either politically discredited by the results or voluntarily leaving day-to-day politics, new players rush to fill the vacuum and voters look for signals as to what they should be doing next and how their party can rebrand.)

The anti-war protests during George W. Bush’s presidency blossomed after John Kerry’s loss in 2004.

The Tea Party came alive after John McCain’s defeat in 2008, as well as Bush 43’s exit from the political stage.

And the Women’s March — the day after Trump’s inauguration — came after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.

Sure, conservatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene are raising lots of money.

Also to be sure, there’s always been lots of grassroots energy behind Trump (though that has dissipated after Jan. 6).

But when we’re talking about grassroots movement and energy to bolster a political party and stop the opposition’s agenda, the energy on the right has been largely MIA.

And it’s all taking place in a political environment where Nikki Haley says she won’t run in 2024 if Trump does, as well as where Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, is presenting Trump with a trophy bowl.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6: The number of women who developed rare blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, prompting federal health agencies to call for a pause on its use.

5: The number of Democratic pollsters who have signed on to a statement acknowledging “major errors” in 2020 polling.

31,401,163: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 70,733 more than yesterday morning.)

566,645: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 548 more than yesterday morning.)

189,692,045: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

20.3 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

16: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Just asking

Another school shooting. Another police officer killing a Black man during a traffic stop.

Why aren’t guns and police reform higher on the political agenda?

Remembering when Ron DeSantis’ own mail-in ballot got rejected

Here’s another angle to the continuing story of GOP-led state legislatures trying to place more restrictions on access to the ballot: There’s no guarantee that GOP skepticism of mail-in voting will be a permanent feature of every election in the future. After all, it wasn’t before 2020.

Case in point: Florida, where Republicans once dominated in mail voting, particularly with older voters — and where both former President Trump and now-Gov. Ron DeSantis made frequent use of the method.

In fact, as Noah Pransky of NBCLX reminds us, then-Rep. DeSantis had his own ballot rejected in 2016 due to a mismatched signature. (Pransky himself reported on the ballot’s rejection back in 2018.)

Pransky writes:

“When then-Congressman Ron DeSantis cast his mail ballot for Florida’s primary election in 2016, election workers in his hometown flagged the signature as a mismatch.”

“When DeSantis provided the canvassing board a new signature as a backup to the signatures already on-file, they determined that handwriting also had “no similarities” to the signature on DeSantis’ ballot and rejected the vote, according to Flagler County elections officials.”

More: “DeSantis’s public voting history — obtained through public records requests from the St. Johns and Flagler supervisors of elections — shows he regularly took advantage of Florida’s no-excuse absentee option, casting votes by mail in six out of seven elections between March 2016 and August 2020. The only time he voted in-person during that period was at a well-choreographed photo opportunity, when he appeared atop the ballot during his 2018 gubernatorial run.”

“Now, DeSantis is leading the charge in Florida to change how voters obtain a mail ballot, as well as how easily they can drop it off at their local elections offices.”

Still More: “[He] is also advocating a change to voter signature-matching that would order elections officials to use only a voter’s most-recent signature to determine authenticity.”

McCrory expected to jump into N.C. Senate race

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday is expected to announce a bid for the state’s vacated Senate seat next year, and he’ll be joining a potentially crowded GOP field of candidates, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes.

The field already includes Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who took a shot at McCrory on Twitter, and it could also include Trump daughter-in-law Lara Trump, as well as Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Top private law firms are joining forces to form a “SWAT team”-style response to new voting restrictions, NBC’s Jane Timm writes.

The Biden administration is increasingly at odds with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the coronavirus surge in her state.

The NCAA says it won’t hold championship events in states that restrict transgender athletes’ participation in sports.

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has cast himself as a big Trump fan. That wasn’t always the case, NBC’s Henry Gomez notes.

Speaking of Trump and GOP candidates, one Republican in Texas is taking an explicitly anti-Trump stance.

Progressive Democrat Charles Booker is mulling a race against Rand Paul.

How much difference would Biden’s proposed new actions on guns actually make?

The New York Times checks in on Andrew Cuomo’s continuing attempts to ride out his scandals.



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