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News Brief: CIA's Afghan Operations, Moïse's Funeral, Tokyo Olympics

NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. military is leaving Afghanistan. But some Americans will stay.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Diplomats will and so will American spies. The CIA will remain to gather intelligence in a country where the security situation is devolving.

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WILLIAM BURNS: The trend lines that all of us see today are certainly troubling. The Taliban are making significant military advances. They're probably in the strongest military position that they've been in since 2001.

MARTINEZ: That's new CIA Director William Burns speaking in an exclusive interview with our colleague, All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly.

KING: Who is with us now. Good morning, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning, you two.

KING: So we know that there are U.S. intelligence reports suggesting that the Afghan government could fall as soon as six months after U.S. troops leave. What did Director Burns tell you about that?

KELLY: He acknowledged that is definitely a possibility. But he also stressed the Afghan government retains significant military capabilities. Here he is.

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BURNS: The big question, it seems to me and to all of my colleagues at CIA and across the intelligence community, is whether or not those capabilities can be exercised with the kind of political willpower and unity of leadership that's absolutely essential to resist the Taliban. So as I said, the trend lines are certainly troubling. I don't think that that should lead us to foregone conclusions or a sense of imminence or inevitability.

KELLY: So not inevitable that the government will fall, Noel. But things sure don't look great. And he admitted it. And he said the key on how this tips is going to be - it will come down to the will of the Afghan government.

KING: And then, how did he say the CIA's work is going to change there once U.S. forces leave?

KELLY: So this is interesting because their work doesn't change. The mission stays the same. The CIA was - they were first on the ground after 9/11. And they - as you noted, they're going to stay after the U.S. military goes home. But I asked, what is going to be the impact of the military pullout on CIA? And here's his answer.

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BURNS: Well, it obviously has an impact. But we worked very closely with the military to help ensure that we retain the capability to collect on and counter, you know, those efforts to - for al-Qaida to reconstitute itself, because I have no doubt that they will make that effort.

KELLY: I mean, you're saying here and I've heard you testify that it's simply a fact that as the U.S. military goes, it becomes harder for the CIA to collect the intelligence you need to give to policymakers. Can you give any kind of example of what that - what you won't be able to do?

BURNS: Well, I think - I mean, the point I would stress is we'll still be able to do a lot, first. And second, al-Qaida is today not nearly the threat it was, you know, 20 years ago.

KELLY: So you hear him there, Noel, understandably declining to elaborate on how exactly the CIA is going to be handicapped going forward. But there is no question that they will without the support and the logistics and the bases that U.S. military troops have provided on the ground in Afghanistan for now of 20 years.

KING: Very different situation.

KELLY: Yeah.

KING: All right. Aside from Afghanistan, he also told you about how he wants to understand what's called Havana syndrome. This is a weird illness - for lack of a better word - that has affected around 200 U.S. officials since 2016. What did he tell you about this?

KELLY: Right. Since 2016 when it was first detected in Cuba, hence the name Havana syndrome, Burns has made this a major priority. He started meeting with victims Day 1 on the job. And that is because 100 or so of those people, the officials who are affected, are CIA, either CIA officers or family members. And it is weird. The symptoms range from ringing in your ears to vertigo to traumatic brain injury. So Burns has tripled medical personnel working on this. He has named a very seasoned officer who helped lead the hunt for bin Laden a decade ago to lead the task force, trying to figure out who is causing this. One of the stronger theories is Russia. I asked Burns, is it Russia? He said, could be.

KING: OK. Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're welcome.

KING: Mary Louise Kelly is the host of All Things Considered. And you can hear more of her interview with Director Burns later today on ATC.

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KING: The funeral of Haiti's assassinated president, Jovenel Moise, is today.

MARTINEZ: Investigators are still looking into what happened 2 1/2 weeks ago when gunmen entered into his home and shot him. There's been more than two-dozen arrests. But authorities have still not said who they think was behind the killing. Supporters of Moise are demanding justice for the slain president who had grown increasingly unpopular in Haiti and leaves behind a politically unstable country.

KING: NPR's Carrie Kahn covers Haiti. And she's with us this morning from Mexico City. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

KING: What do you know about the funeral service today?

KAHN: It's in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, which is close to the town where Moise hails from. And this is the last in what has been a week of ceremonies. Many top officials are there, as well as dignitaries from around the region. His wife, of course, who survived the assassination, is there with their three children. But it's not in the capital, so fewer people will attend. And there is a lengthy viewing period with an open casket, followed by a Catholic funeral mass.

KING: I was reading that there were protests in Haiti yesterday. What are those about?

KAHN: Yes. Supporters of Moise did block some roads in the north and have been shooting guns in the air and protesting. They want - they're demanding justice for him. They say they don't want the elites or corrupt politicians who may have contributed to Moise's death to attend his funeral. He has a lot of supporters up there in the north. But Moise faced a lot of opposition in the country, too, particularly in the last two years. There were increasingly protests calling for his removal from office. He was a very polarizing figure. And I spoke with Robert Fatton, who's a political science professor at the University of Virginia, about Moise's legacy. And he says supporters and those in power from his party now are just portraying him as this - a poor man who was a Democrat fighting for Haiti's disenfranchisement. And he called that a gross exaggeration. He says, all you have to do is look at the conditions for Haitians the four years since Moise took office.

ROBERT FATTON: Corruption persists. The government has become totally dysfunctional. And you have a security situation that has degenerated because of the presence of gangs.

KAHN: Gangs, Fatton says, who don't just prey on Haiti's wealthy now but are also attacking the poor.

KING: What is the latest on the investigation?

KAHN: There have been more than two-dozen arrests, including three Haitian police officers. More are under preventative detention. It's similar to administrative leave. Those are officers detailed to Moise's security. And then, there's the rest of the 18 Colombians - former military. A lot of focus is also on this one Haitian doctor who was a pastor in south Florida. And he reportedly hired the Colombians as security guards, as he was planning to make this triumphant return to Haiti as some sort of national savior. But investigators aren't saying a whole lot about what they're turning up. And it's still unclear who financed the plot and, the bigger question, why was the president killed?

KING: After Moise was killed, there were a couple of people who claimed to be the head of state. Now, that was settled earlier this week, as you reported. What has the new prime minister said?

KAHN: The new prime minister is Ariel Henry. And he insists he's going to bring the country together in unity, bring the opposing groups together and include Haitian non-governmental actors into account when making decisions. But his appointment was already being met with skepticism. He - they say he's being imposed by foreign forces. He was endorsed by a group of key foreign diplomats that hold heavy sway in Haiti. So Henry is starting off his administration with this cloud over him.

KING: Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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KING: All right. The opening ceremony of the Olympics is today.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. But like so many things over the past 16 or so months, this one will be different. There won't be any fans in the stands because of the pandemic. And every day, more athletes and staffers get a diagnosis of COVID.

KING: NPR's Mandalit del Barco is in Tokyo covering the Olympics. Hey, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hey, greetings from Japan.

KING: Greetings to you. So usually, this is a chance for the host country to show off, for all these people to crowd around, cheer on the athletes. And what's going on this time?

DEL BARCO: Well, it's going to be very different. We're told that fewer than a thousand people will be watching in-person at the Olympic Stadium, which seats 68,000. And among the world leaders and country representatives expected is First Lady Jill Biden. But some of those world leaders are choosing to stay away from the ceremony. And many athletes who would typically march are not going to be marching. Some are competing later in the Olympics, so they're not here yet. And others don't want to be - risk being around other people. Basketball star Sue Bird is one of the flag bearers who will lead Team U.S.A. And she talked about how different it was going to be from past Olympics she's been at.

SUE BIRD: There's going to be no roaring. It's just us walking in there to an empty stadium. In some weird way, I think women's basketball, men's basketball as well, from our WNBA, NBA experiences are kind of used to this, you know, bubble-like atmosphere. We did this last summer. And it was really awkward and strange first playing a game with no crowd. And then you kind of get used to it. So I think that's kind of what we're all anticipating and expecting.

KING: OK. So in addition to the pandemic making things different, there's also some messiness that is not related to the pandemic around the opening ceremony.

DEL BARCO: Yeah. The backstory, things behind the scenes, have been really dramatic. Just yesterday, the creative director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired. The Japanese comedian and manga artist apologized for a skit he did in the 1990s, during which he held up paper dolls and joked, let's play Holocaust. Now, in March, Kobayashi had replaced another man who was fired for making offensive comments, reportedly suggesting that a plus-sized actress dress up as a pig during the opening ceremony. And that's two creative directors gone. And earlier this week, musician Keigo Oyamada, who's known as Cornelius, he was fired from participating after it was revealed that he had boasted of humiliating and abusing classmates who were disabled.

KING: OK. That is a lot. And in the meantime, COVID cases are still going up in Japan, yeah?

DEL BARCO: That's right. The pandemic is still raging. Japan is still under a state of emergency. And so far, at least 11 athletes here at the Olympics have tested positive for the coronavirus and won't be able to compete. Despite all the COVID protocols and assurances that the games are safe, the Japanese public is still very much against these games starting. There are protests outside venues. And some are calling this a cursed Olympics. Here's how Susanne Lyons, the board chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, put it today.

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SUSANNE LYONS: I think it's going to be a delayed gratification, in a sense, for everyone. If all goes the way that we hope and expect that it will, the memory of this games should not be that it was the COVID games. It should be that it was a games that really showed the world the resilience of humanity, that gave hope at a time when the entire world needs hope.

DEL BARCO: So this is really the start of an Olympics like no other.

KING: NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Tokyo on NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "UNKNOWN DESIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.