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Senate report says Commerce unit embarked on "rogue" race-based investigations

The obscure Investigations and Threat Management Service within the Department of Commerce went "rogue" across multiple presidential administrations by conducting unauthorized "race-based" investigations into department employees, a Senate committee details in a new report.

Why it matters: The unit was allowed to abuse its authority unchecked for years and became what whistleblowers described as a “gestapo" within the department that habitually targeted people of Chinese and Middle Eastern descent.

The Commerce Department created the ITMS to provide security services to the secretary during the George W. Bush administration, but it began to take on a law enforcement role soon after its establishment, according to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee report.

  • The report details how ITMS, obsessed with concerns about rampant Chinese espionage in the United States, "broadly targeted departmental divisions with comparably high proportions of Asian-American employees."
  • "The ITMS collaborated with agencies in the Intelligence Community to conduct counterintelligence operations, despite lacking any form of legal authorization to participate in these activities," according to the report.

In one instance, ITMS investigated renowned Chinese-born hydrologist Sherry Chen based on allegations that she downloaded and distributed unclassified information to a foreign national.

  • ITMS agents reportedly interrogated her for seven hours, denied her counsel, ignored exculpatory evidence and forced her to draft an incriminating statement, Chen claimed in a lawsuit filed afterwards.
  • The agents then referred their investigation to the FBI, and Chen was arrested, though the Department of Justice dropped the criminal charges against her a week after her arrest.

What they're saying: "For sixteen years, the Investigations and Threat Management Service operated within the Department of Commerce without proper authority or meaningful oversight," the committee said.

  • "The unit regularly disregarded the rule of law, committing gross abuses of power and misusing taxpayer funds to perform missions the unit lacked authorization to undertake," it added.

The big picture: The Commerce Department ceased ITMS' investigative activities on May 14, 2021, after Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) sent a letter of concern to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

  • The committee recommended that the department "evaluate the future" of the ITMS, review its closed cases and refer potential criminal misconduct committed by its investigators to prosecutorial authorities.

National parks "drowning in tourists"

Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

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Facebook's next chapter: Build the "metaverse"

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

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CDC asks the vaccinated to help save the unvaccinated from themselves

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

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Least persuadable unvaccinated Americans are largely white and Republican

Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

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Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

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Simone Biles won't defend Olympic title at gymnastics all-around final in Tokyo

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.

— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Eric Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

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Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Katie Ledecky took home the gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday evening, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Driving the news: The long-distance 1,500m race has traditionally only been available to men at the Olympics, and the Tokyo Games mark the first time that it has been open to women.

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