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Russia recruits sympathizers online for sabotage in Europe, officials say

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Russia recruits sympathizers online for sabotage in Europe, officials say


MUNICH — When a man was spotted taking photos last October of a U.S. military garrison in a Bavarian town where Ukrainian troops are trained to operate the M1 Abrams tank, it triggered an investigation that led to the first evidence Russia was planning sabotage attacks in Germany, security officials said.

The suspect, a German citizen born in Russia, was discussing over an encrypted messaging app potential targets in Germany — including on the U.S. facility in the town of Grafenwoehr — with an individual with ties to Russia’s military intelligence service, according to six Western security officials.

Dieter Schmidt, 39, and an alleged co-conspirator were charged with espionage in April, the first arrests in Germany of alleged saboteurs working for Moscow. Europe has in the months since been grappling with a rapid increase in Moscow-led sabotage attacks or plots as Russia turns its focus to increasing the cost of Western support for Ukraine.

“Russia is fighting the West in the West, on Western territory,” said a senior NATO official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive material. “Our focus is really sharpening on this.”

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “virtually every ally” at a NATO meeting in Prague last month raised the issue of “the Kremlin … intensifying its hybrid attacks against front-line states, NATO members, setting fire and sabotaging supply warehouses, disregarding sea borders and demarcations in the Baltics, mounting more and more cyberattacks, continuing to spread disinformation.”

The question of how far Moscow will escalate its efforts and how the West should respond will consume part of this week’s NATO summit in Washington. Western officials say the Russian operations they detected seem designed to stay below the threshold of an open armed attack while stirring public unease, and their numbers are growing.

In Britain, four men were charged in April with carrying out an arson attack on a London warehouse containing aid for Ukraine; authorities said the attack was paid for by Russian intelligence. At the beginning of May, a fire broke out at the Diehl weapons factory just outside Berlin — and investigators said they are examining a possible link to Russian intelligence. In Poland, also in May, an arson attack burned down a mall outside Warsaw and soon after Polish police arrested nine men, alleging they were part of a Russian ring involved in “beatings, arson and attempted arson,” including an arson attack at a paint factory in Wroclaw and at an Ikea store in Lithuania.

In June, French police arrested a Russian-Ukrainian dual national for allegedly planning a violent act after materials intended to build explosive devices were found at his hotel room outside Paris following an apparently accidental explosion in his room. The Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said a Latin American man accused of an attempted arson attack on a bus depot in Prague last month was “probably” financed and hired by Russian operatives.

A trove of Kremlin documents obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post illustrate the breadth of Russia’s efforts to identify potential recruits.

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The documents show that in July 2023, Kremlin political strategists studied the Facebook profiles of more than 1,200 people they believed were workers at two major German plants — Aurubis and BASF in Ludwigshafen — to identify employees who could be manipulated into stirring unrest.

The strategists drew up excel spreadsheets analyzing the profiles of every worker, highlighting posts that demonstrated the employees’ anti-government, anti-immigration or anti-Ukrainian views.

At the BASF chemical plant, special attention was paid to the workers’ attitudes toward the closure of several facilities at the plant in spring 2023 because of soaring production costs, including natural gas price hikes, which led to the loss of 2,600 jobs. At the Aurubis metals plant, the strategists noted anti-immigrant views in the posts of some of the workers, one of the documents shows.

“We can concentrate on inciting ethnic hatred,” one of the strategists wrote. “Or on organizing strikes over social benefits.”

German officials said they were unaware of any incidents at BASF or Aurubis that could be tied to Russia, but added they took the Kremlin activities very seriously and believe they illustrate how Moscow is using social media to recruit operatives.

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Daniela Rechenberger, a spokesperson for BASF, declined to discuss any workers but said the company is “constantly strengthening its capabilities to prevent, detect and respond to security risks.”

Christoph Tesch, a spokesperson for Aurubis said, “We have no evidence of this — nor are we aware of any social unrest in the company.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Post that the allegations of Russian sabotage activity were “no more than a stoking of Russophobic hysteria.”

“All these suppositions and allegations are not based on anything,” he said, adding that the authenticity of what was claimed was “more than doubtful.”

The expulsion of hundreds of suspected Russian intelligence officers serving under official cover as diplomats immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was aimed at curbing Moscow’s ability to conduct covert operations. But increasingly, officials said, Moscow is working through proxies including those it recruits online.

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“The way that we tried to react was the way that we would have acted during the Cold War. But it is not the way that Russia operates right now,” said Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, in an interview. “Social media alone provides a lot of opportunities to find people who would assist them in their activities. So you might not need to even have a handler in NATO countries if you can do it online.”

While operating through social media presents a greater risk of detection, Moscow seems willing to cast an indiscriminate net in its search for allies. Communications through encrypted apps and a seemingly random target set add to the challenges in uncovering Russian operations, officials said.

“It is extremely decentralized,” said Landsbergis. “It could be refugees, people who are down on their luck. It could be criminals, basically, anybody who thinks that earning a couple thousand euros [committing sabotage for Russia] is a good idea and maybe the risk is not too high.”

Russia may also believe outsourcing such operations offers it a degree of deniability while still maximizing the potential for creating chaos, officials said. “They do what is possible,” one senior European security official said.

One Russian academic with close ties to senior Russian diplomats insisted it was not possible to connect Moscow to all of the incidents cited by Western security officials. “But if this conflict continues, then each side will turn more and more to such distorted methods of battle,” he added.

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Schmidt, the man arrested for casing the U.S. military facility in Germany, had posted on Facebook about his exploits fighting with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and 2016. His deployment appears to be a successful case of identifying potential ideological allies, German security officials said. Law enforcement officials said they are still investigating whether Schmidt received any financial compensation for his efforts.

Schmidt, who has both German and Russian citizenship and moved to Germany as a teenager, was also tasked with finding others within the German-Russian community in Bayreuth, his hometown in Bavaria, who could assist with the sabotage mission, investigators said.

One such recruit was Alexander Jungblut, another Russian-born German, who was arrested in April alongside Schmidt and also charged with espionage.

“Jungblut mainly did internet research and supported Schmidt,” a German security official said, including gathering information on an American company with branches in Bavaria.

Attorneys for Schmidt and Jungblut did not respond to requests for comment.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in June that alliance defense ministers had agreed to increased intelligence exchange, enhanced protection of critical infrastructure and further restrictions on Russian intelligence operatives to curb Moscow’s operations.

But Lithuania’s Landsbergis said a much greater effort was required. “It doesn’t look from our perspective that Russia is specifically avoiding casualties,” Landsbergis said. “It is just a coincidence there haven’t been any yet. We will need to have a reaction … When Russia is escalating into our territory, the best way to react is to allow Ukraine to escalate back.”

Belton reported from London and Rauhala from Brussels. Cate Brown in Washington and Ellen Francis in Brussels contributed to this report.



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Transgender cyclists take top 3 spots in Washington women's relay championship

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Transgender cyclists take top 3 spots in Washington women's relay championship


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Transgender athletes won first, second and third place at a recent women’s cycling competition held in Washington.

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The annual Marymoor Grand Prix kicked off on Friday at the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome with at least three transgender athletes taking part in a 2-person relay of the Elite Women’s division.

According to results made available on Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome’s website, the top three teams each had one biological male. They included Jordan Lothrop, Jenna Lingwood and Eva Lin.

Fox News Digital reached out to the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome for comment.

TRANSGENDER WOMAN FINISHES IN FIRST PLACE AT NEW YORK CITY CYCLING EVENT, SPARKS OUTRAGE

At least three transgender athletes took part in the annual Marymoor Grand Prix over the weekend. (iStock)

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WASHINGTON SCHOOL BOARD PRES TAKES STAND ON GIRLS’ SPORTS AFTER TRANS RUNNER WIN: ‘WE’RE EXCLUDING GIRLS’

Lingwood, who placed second, was previously referenced in an amicus brief filed by Hannah Arensman, a 35-time winner on the national cyclocross circuit, to the Supreme Court in 2023. Arensman revealed that she had retired from cycling after being forced to compete with Lingwood and another transgender athlete.

Several cycling organizations have put in place restrictions and regulations on transgender athletes.

In July 2023, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced that it would no longer allow transgender cyclists to compete in women’s divisions if they began transitioning after puberty.

A few months later, USA Cycling announced similar restrictions, categorizing transgender athletes into “Group A” and “Group B” categories based on the race.

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Group A athletes must provide medical documentation showing a testosterone level in serum that has been below 2.5 nmol/L for at least 24 months, completed 90 days prior to the first race.

Peloton the Womens Tour Down Under UCI in 2023

The UCI previously ruled transgender athletes cannot take part in women’s races if they went through male puberty. (BRENTON EDWARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Group B athletes must complete self-identity verification request to document the change in gender identity 30 days prior to the first race.

In a comment to Fox News Digital, Independent Women’s Law Center Director May Mailman responded to the results, saying, “Males accelerate 20% faster and are 30% stronger than women with similar body mass. So this isn’t a competition, it’s a joke. Female athletes are in a tough spot, faced with either turning away from what they’ve worked for or engaging in a hopeless endeavor. To support women, the adults running the show should make women’s sports for women again and stop the madness.”

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Breaking Baz: Denzel Washington & Jake Gyllenhaal Task Up-And-Comer Molly Osborne To Make Broadway Debut As Desdemona In ‘Othello’

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Breaking Baz: Denzel Washington & Jake Gyllenhaal Task Up-And-Comer Molly Osborne To  Make Broadway Debut As Desdemona In ‘Othello’


EXCLUSIVE: Deadline can reveal that Denzel Washington and Jake Gyllenhaal will be joined by fast-rising West End actress Molly Osborne, who will play Desdemona opposite them, in the spring 2025 Broadway revival of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Upon seeing Osborne’s audition tape, Washington and others were so impressed that they are said to have expressed a keenness to cast her immediately.

Washington, soon to be seen in Gladiator 2 with Paul Mescal, will play the title character, while Gyllenhaal, currently starring in the Presumed Innocent series on Apple TV+, will take on the part of the manipulative Iago.

Othello producer Brian Anthony Moreland confirmed that both stars had seen Osborne’s reel, and pointedly reasoned that “obviously she wouldn’t be doing it if they hadn’t” seen it and approved her.

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Moreland explained that he, director Kenny Leon and casting director Duncan Stewart of ARC Casting searched widely for an artist to perform alongside Washington and Gyllenhaal.

“The role is such a heavy role in the canon of Shakespeare’s work,” Moreland remarked, and he understood that whoever was cast as Othello’s wife would be working with great “beasts,” as he put it, of the stage.

“I call them people who eat the stage, people who you can’t take your eyes off them,” Moreland exclaimed. “They devour every single moment that they’re there. They make multiple notes out of that one note,” he said, adding that on a hunch he decided to look at actors in London.

He started looking at Olivier Award-winning people, and then at who else was in their category and “well, who was their understudy? Who was their standby? Who else, who replaced them?”

Moreland smiled, then said, ”And the name that kept popping up was Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly!”

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As Moreland and his colleagues reached out to more of their theatre colleagues in London, he kept hearing the same chants.

Moreland contacted Osborne’s manager, Steven Kavovit at Thruline Entertainment and her longtime London agent Lou Coulson at Lou Coulson Associates.

Osborne, who made her London theatre debut as Tzeitel in an acclaimed revival of Fiddler on the Roof — directed, beautifully, by Trevor Nunn at the Menier Chocolate Factory (it later transferred into the West End’s Playhouse Theatre) — put herself on tape.

Leon watched it, Moreland said. “Kenny immediately called back and said, ‘That’s her!’ And I said, ‘I agree. That’s her.’ Kenny got on a plane, he went over to visit her. And he called as soon as he was done meeting with her and said, ‘That’s our Desdemona.’ That’s how we got her,” said Moreland, who was a producer of the superb 2019 production of Sea Wall/A Life that starred Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge at the Hudson Theatre.

More recently, Moreland produced The Piano Lesson with Samuel L. Jackson, Danielle Brooks and John David Washington, and the current revival of The Wiz at the Marquis Theatre.

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In a statement, Leon said, “I am so excited to welcome Molly Osborne to our Broadway cast of Othello as ‘Desdemona.’ Her unique blend of heart and intellect, coupled with a natural vulnerability, makes her a truly captivating actress. I am thrilled to welcome her to our theatre community and eagerly anticipate collaborating with her on her Broadway debut.”

Osborne let out a huge sigh of relief when we met for breakfast on a recent sunny morning at the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho. “I’ve sort of been keeping it under wraps for so long,” she said, smiling brightly.

Molly Osborne

Pip Bourdillon

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She told how Kavovit, her manager, contacted her about making an audition tape.

This one just came through as a tape and as always, these things are so exciting,” but she didn’t expect anything to come of it. “You send the tape, and then forget about it, as lots of people do,” she said, noting that several months prior she had flown to New York to audition in person for something else, which she didn’t get.

For her Othello tape she read from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. “I just focused on the text and the language and on harnessing the poetry,” she said, and she recited a poem and told a funny story, all of which clearly resonated with Moreland and Leon — and Washington and Gyllenhaal.

A few weeks later, Leon was in town and had arranged to meet with Osborne at Coulson’s office.

However, Osborne spotted Leon, per chance, the night before at the West End opening of (Broadway-bound) The Picture of Dorian Gray, which starred the incredible Sarah Snook, where she was helping out the show’s Story House PR press team doing vox pop interviews on the red carpet. 

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It’s just one of many jobs the hard-working thespian takes on in between acting work. 

Leon directed Washington previously in the 2010 Fences produced by Scott Rudin (Washington won the best actor Tony], and they teamed again on the 2014 production of Raisin in the Sun for which Leon took the Tony for best director of a play.

The director talked with Osborne at Coulson’s office the following day.

“We had a really nice chat and we said goodbye,” Osborne recalled.

It was several weeks before she heard from her manager who informed her that there might be a chemistry test with Washington and Gyllenhaal. When she didn’t hear back about that, she was resigned to thinking that it wasn’t to be.

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Weeks went by until one day, when she was in Coulson’s office, she heard that Leon and Moreland had cast her as Desdemona.

She was in a daze for two days “before I then burst into tears,” Osborne said.

It’s a breathtaking moment for an actor who has never had her name up in lights before. And it’s hard to recall the last time a promising Brit was catapulted across the Atlantic to star in play opposite not one but two enormous Hollywood stars, who, by the way, are as at home on stage as they are on the big screen, often more so.

To be sure though, to paraphrase Presidential hopeful Vice President Kamala Harris, Osborne earned it before she won it.

Osborne, a native of Wivenhoe in north-eastern Essex, near Colchester, had a love for performing at a young age. With her parents’ encouragement, she moved to London at the age of 18 to study musical theater at the celebrated Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

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Her first role after graduating was in Nunn’s superb production of Fiddler on the Roof. The famed director, a former artistic chief of the Royal Shakespeare Company, makes his actors rigorously investigate the text as thoroughly as if they would a play by Shakespeare.

She later returned to the Menier Chocolate Factory to play Chana in Paula Vogel’s Indecent directed by Rebecca Taichman. Recently she has appeared in the world premiere musical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button directed by Jethro Compton at the Southwark Playhouse.

She has also appeared in PBS’ Call the Midwife and she has a role in the Prime Video series Anansi Boys, based on a Neil Gaiman graphic novel.

Her parents are artistic, she described her father as being “musical,” but they never went into the business. And her 94-year-old grandfather “still enjoys singing along to Frank Sinatra.”

At school Osborne would do plays, and she was lucky enough to have a bunch of singing lessons. “My parents would drive me back from rehearsals and they really encouraged my passion,” she said.

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I’m lucky to have seen several of her stage performances and she has always stood out. When I first saw her in Fiddler on the Roof, I remember writing down her name and made a point of keeping up with her career, as I do with scores of other future stars.

Osborne’s prepping, whenever she gets the opportunity, for her Broadway debut next year. She has read and re-read Othello to help her get inside Desdemona’s head and she has explored the psychology of love, jealousy, evil and race, the themes Shakespeare explored in the tragedy. She also visited the Imperial War Museum to help her try and understand men of war who are at war with themselves.

A video call is being planned when all the roles have been cast (some exciting names are being talked about) for the company to “meet” ahead of rehearsals early in the new year.

“I’ve been told to be ready to be in New York from January. I can’t wait to meet them and dive into it,” Osborne enthused.

“We’re delighted to have Molly,” Moreland said.

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Othello will open at a yet to be announced Shubert theater in the spring.



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Harris, Trump hold dueling events as a new presidential race takes shape

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Harris, Trump hold dueling events as a new presidential race takes shape


Vice President Harris plans to speak Wednesday afternoon at the Indianapolis convention of a historically Black sorority, delivering one of her first speeches as the likely Democratic nominee for president to women who represent the base voters she needs to energize.

Donald Trump, her Republican opponent, is set to take the stage a few hours later in Charlotte for his first rally since President Biden withdrew from the 2024 race — an event that will set the stage for Trump’s new campaign against Harris.

The dueling appearances are a chance for each candidate to frame the stakes of the race as it plunges into uncharted territory, with Trump no longer running against his ideal opponent and Harris seeking to take charge of the Democratic ticket a little more than 100 days before the election. Democrats are hoping that Harris can refocus the contest on Trump’s flaws, while Republicans want to quickly define Harris and saddle her with Biden’s weaknesses.

Biden’s exit — triggered by a dismal June debate performance — has filled Democrats with new hope for November. In a Wednesday morning memo, Harris campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon said the vice president is less known than Trump and Biden and “opens up additional persuadable voters,” especially in groups that lean Democratic. “This race is more fluid now,” she wrote.

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Trump’s team, meanwhile, is bracing for a “Harris honeymoon” that it says could intrude on Trump’s summer of momentum and polling gains. In a Tuesday memo, Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio predicted that Harris would see a polling bump starting in the next few days — but he said it would pass. With voters upset about inflation, the border and other issues, he wrote, the “fundamentals of the race stay the same.”

Harris plans to arrive in Indianapolis just after noon on Wednesday and deliver a keynote speech there at the Grand Boulé, the national convention of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Zeta Beta Phi is one of the “Divine Nine,” a group of historically Black sororities and fraternities that includes Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Democrats are hopeful that Harris — who is Black and Indian American and would be the first female president — can motivate key left-leaning constituencies in a way that Biden did not. In interviews, Black women gathered for the Grand Boulé said they were excited about Harris’s candidacy but also nervous about her chances. They worried that voters would hold her race and gender against her.

“If you had your eyes closed and you just go based on her qualifications versus [Trump’s] qualifications, yes, she’d definitely win,” said Lora Rice, 55, from Georgia. “But they’re not going to do that.” She said Biden, “the White guy,” would have had a better shot.

Democratic leaders and delegates to next month’s nominating convention have quickly rallied behind Harris. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who made history as the country’s only female presidential nominee from a major party, voiced support for Harris in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday.

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“I know a thing or two about how hard it can be for strong women candidates to fight through the sexism and double standards of American politics,” wrote Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016. She warned that Harris’s “record and character will be distorted and disparaged” as she runs against Trump, and that “she and the campaign will have to cut through the noise.”

In her memo, O’Malley Dillon laid out her case for confidence in Harris. She led the charge on abortion rights, an issue on which Democrats have demonstrated a clear political advantage. In Milwaukee on Tuesday, she drew the campaign’s largest crowd to date. Some $126 million in donations have flooded into the campaign since Sunday, when Biden dropped out and endorsed Harris.

O’Malley Dillon said the campaign would continue its focus on the so-called “Blue Wall” states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — as well as the “Sun Belt” battlegrounds of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina. “We intend to play offense in each of these states, and have the resources and campaign infrastructure to do so,” she wrote.

Biden, before he dropped out, had increasingly looked to the Blue Wall as his path to victory — as other states slipped further from his grasp and as Trump threatened to put Democrats on defense in traditionally blue states. And Trump’s campaign is still trying to expand the map: The former president has another rally planned for Saturday evening in Minnesota, a state that Biden won by seven points in 2020.

Even as Trump’s campaign pivots to attacking Harris, the former president has tried keep attention on Biden.

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“Does Lyin’ Kamala Harris think Joe Biden is fit to run the U.S.A. for the next six months? She must answer the question,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media site, on Tuesday.

Biden is scheduled to give a speech Wednesday night from the White House about his decision to bow out, which came after weeks of pressure from other Democratic leaders and a debate in which Biden repeatedly appeared to lose his train of thought.

Harris heads to Houston on Wednesday after the sorority event. Trump’s team, eager to needle Harris about immigration policy, quickly highlighted her planned proximity to the southern border.

Trump has several events lined up later this week. He plans to speak Friday evening in West Palm Beach, Fla., at an event hosted by the conservative group Turning Point Action. On Saturday, he will deliver a keynote speech at the Bitcoin Conference in Nashville, underscoring his newfound interest in cryptocurrency. Trump was once skeptical of cryptocurrency but has embraced it after aggressive lobbying by executives in the industry.

Sabrina Rodriguez in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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