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U.S. Labels Chinese Language Education Group a Diplomatic Mission

However, in recent years, American teachers and administrators have debated whether teachers in the Confucius Institutes or their educational material help disseminate Chinese government propaganda. In 2014, the University of Chicago ended its contract with the Confucius Institutes, and several other universities have done the same since. As a result, the number of institutes has dropped from above 100 at their peak.

Republican lawmakers, notably Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who promotes aggressive policies against China, have urged American schools to break ties with the institutes.

A 2018 report on Chinese government and Communist Party influence operations in the United States done by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society had details on the work and structure of the Confucius Institutes. It said the organization in Beijing that oversees the institutes, the Hanban, which is under the Education Ministry, has ties to the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The Hanban typically gives a $150,000 start-up grant to an American university, with grants of $100,000 and $200,000 per year afterward, the report said. It gives $50,000 in initial funding to secondary schools and $15,000 per year afterward.

“Most troublesome are two provisions in the Hanban contracts with U.S. host institutions: One forbids the C.I.s from conducting any activities that contravene Chinese law, while the other requires that the enabling contract remains confidential, making oversight by the academic community difficult,” the report said.

In summarizing its findings on the programs, the report said that “because C.I.s have had positive value in exposing students and communities to Chinese language and culture, this report does not generally oppose them. But it does recommend that more rigorous university oversight and standards of academic freedom and transparency be exercised over C.I.s.”

Outside the Confucius Institutes, many teachers and students of the Mandarin Chinese language at American universities have for decades used textbooks from mainland Chinese publishers that have lessons with overt government or party propaganda. American teachers and students have rarely objected to the material. For many university students, it has been easy to tell that the material is propaganda.

In a telephone call with reporters, David R. Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said on Thursday that the U.S. government would work with American educational institutions with a goal of “looking for other opportunities for Chinese language training and instruction,” but he did not give details.

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Our Collective Mission on Groundhog Day

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Commander James Lovell reflects on mission


50 years ago a Saturn rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center. On April 13, an oxygen tank exploded and the Apollo 13 crew was soon in a fight for their lives. Mission commander James Lovell recalls that moment turned what had become a routine trip into a life or death mission.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

LAKE FOREST, ILL. — When a Saturn rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center half a century ago, it carried three astronauts and a lunar lander to take two of them to the moon’s surface. 

On board with them was a bomb.

The Apollo 13 crew didn’t know the vulnerability of their journey until a couple of days later, when the explosion of an oxygen tank turned what had become a seemingly routine trip to Earth’s celestial neighbor into a life-or-death mission that kept America and the rest of the world glued to televisions and radios.

The footprints of a dozen Americans are on the lunar surface, but none are mission commander James Lovell’s, a bitter disappointment for an overachiever who was on his fourth voyage into outer space.

Former astronaut Captain James (Jim) Lovell talks about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. Lovell grew up in Milwaukee. (Photo: Bill Schulz / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

After two trips in the Gemini program, the Milwaukee native was among the first three people to orbit the moon in Apollo 8, a voyage made memorable for the Christmas Eve broadcast of the crew reading from the Book of Genesis.

Then came Apollo 13, and Lovell was supposed to be the fifth person to walk on the moon.

It was not to be.

Many years passed before the astronaut came to grips with what happened, for him to realize the failure of Apollo 13 was actually a triumph of ingenuity, hard work, innovation and perseverance.

“I’m very proud of 13 even though I didn’t land on the moon. That was a disappointment for me, but then a lot of people landed on the moon,” Lovell joked during an October interview at the Lake Forest Library near his home.

“And if 13 was a very successful flight, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today.”

Less than nine months after Neil Armstrong was the first to step into lunar dust, and five months after Apollo 12 landed two more astronauts, the American public shockingly had grown blasé about space travel.

Two days after Apollo 13 blasted off at 13:13 p.m., Houston time on April 11, 1970, the crew dutifully filmed a live broadcast to show everyone back home the inside of the space capsule, spinning their flashlights in weightlessness. Lovell held the camera as he, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert talked about their mission to visit the Fra Mauro crater before signing off with, “This is the crew of Apollo 13 wishing everyone there a nice evening.”

No one was watching.

None of the networks, which had so breathlessly broadcast virtually every moment of Apollo 11, carried Apollo 13’s transmission. Instead anyone sitting in front of TVs on the evening of April 13, 1970, watched “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in” on NBC, “Here’s Lucy” on CBS or a forgettable spy caper called “Where the Bullets Fly” on ABC.

NASA officials didn’t have the heart to tell Apollo 13’s crew.

Then things got interesting.

‘His eyes were wide as saucers’

Six minutes after the broadcast ended, while Haise and Lovell were still in the lunar module, mission control asked Swigert to perform a routine maneuver called stirring the “cryo tanks.” Swigert flipped switches inside the command module. 

“I heard just a big sharp bang and the spacecraft rocked back and forth,” recalled Lovell, now 92. “Then as I got into the command module I looked at Jack Swigert and his eyes were wide as saucers.”

Apollo missions were launched into orbit on top of Saturn rockets. The rockets pushed the spacecraft free of Earth’s gravity, then dropped away to leave the cone-shaped command module, where the crew sat on liftoff and re-entry, and the attached service module, which provided electrical power and the engine, as well as storage for equipment, food and water. The lunar lander for part of the trip was attached to the nose of the command module, accessible by a small tunnel.


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To produce electricity, water and heat for the Apollo missions, an ingenious system of two oxygen and two hydrogen tanks was installed in the service modules. Inside the tanks, gases were kept in a super cold, cryogenic state, hence the nickname “cryo tanks.” As oxygen and hydrogen flowed from the tanks into three attached fuel cells, the gases were turned into everything the crew needed, including almost all of their breathable air.

Inside the oxygen tanks were two electrical probes that worked as a heater, fan, and thermostat. The fans were used to occasionally stir up the gases. 

The oxygen tank that exploded was originally destined for the Apollo 10 spacecraft. During installation, it was dropped to the ground. A different tank took its place; the dropped one was set aside, then later checked and installed on Apollo 13.

A variety of mistakes conspired to cause the explosion. Tubing in the tank had been damaged when it was dropped. Thermostatic switches inside the tank should have been converted from handling 28 volts of power to handling 65 volts of power.

A test to fill the tanks with liquid oxygen a few weeks before liftoff failed. Technicians believed the problem with the oxygen tank could be fixed using 65 volt power at the launchpad. What they didn’t realize was that inside the tank — still capable of handling only 28 volts — temperatures spiked to 300 to 400 degrees, melting internal wiring.

Before liftoff, liquid oxygen was put in for the flight. “From that time, the tank was a bomb waiting to go off,” Lovell said.

All that was needed was a spark. That happened at 55 hours and 55 minutes into the journey when Swigert flipped the switches to “stir” the oxygen tanks. 

Upon hearing the bang, Swigert told Mission Control there was a problem. When NASA asked the crew to repeat, Lovell uttered the immortal words “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” 

The crew watched the gauges on one of the two oxygen tanks and one of the three fuel cells drop to zero, and start to lower on the other tank and fuel cells. Lovell looked out one of the portholes. He watched his ship, his world, bleeding to death.

This is the official NASA photo of the Apollo 13 crew. From left: Commander, James A. Lovell, Command Module pilot, Thomas K. Mattingly and Lunar Module pilot, Fred W. Haise. Mattingly was exposed to German measles before the mission and was replaced by his backup, Command Module pilot, John L.”Jack” Swigert Jr. (Photo: NASA)

“I saw escaping at a high rate of speed, sort of a fan system of a gaseous substance,” he said, spreading his fingers. “It didn’t take much intelligence on my part to understand … that we were losing all of our liquid oxygen.”

In a heartbeat Lovell knew his dream of walking on the moon was also venting out the side of the service module.

The astronauts and Mission Control realized they had to move quickly to shut everything down in the service module to preserve the remaining fuel and oxygen and move into the lunar module, which had batteries and oxygen for the two-day trip to the moon’s surface. The lunar module became a lifeboat.

Shutting down the service module was tricky, with numerous switches to be flipped in precisely the right sequence. At the same time that was happening, the lunar module needed to be powered up. 

Mission control couldn’t help

Apollo 8 did not carry a lunar module. The craft was still being developed and built in December 1968 when Lovell first circled the moon. Had an Apollo 13-type accident happened then, Lovell and his companions would have died.

Mission Control decided the safest way for Apollo 13 to return home was to continue its journey away from Earth and use the moon as a slingshot. But that meant changing their course, with Lovell maneuvering a lunar module that steered like a school bus dragging a semitrailer truck.

Lovell was a cool customer, at ease in a pilot’s seat. Before becoming an astronaut, the University of Wisconsin-Madison student and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, whose cell phone ring tone today is “Anchors Away,” had landed jets on aircraft carriers in the middle of the night in the Pacific Ocean. But even for him, this was a steep learning curve.

The lunar module was designed to disengage from the service module with Lovell and Haise inside. It would zip down to the moon as Swigert stayed behind, spend a couple of days on the surface, then blast back into space before rendezvousing with the service module.

Lovell quickly realized the lunar module controls worked differently with the service module still attached.

“The center of gravity went way out into left field, and therefore controlling the lunar module with its jets, with the center of gravity way out there, if I wanted to pitch it down it went into wild gyrations,” recalled Lovell. 

“If I wanted to go left, it went right. I had to learn to fly the lunar module all over again.”

Mission Control couldn’t help him. Lovell figured it out, though, and the space ship was eventually oriented in the right direction for the return trip.

The lunar module was not comfortable, with three men having to spend four days in a space designed to support two men for two days. The trio soon had to power down almost all of the life support systems to ensure they would have enough fuel and power to return home and still be alive when they splashed into the ocean. 

Temperatures dropped as low as 38 degrees and carbon dioxide levels began to rise from the men’s breathing. Mission Control devised an innovative device to reduce carbon dioxide. Still, the men found it very difficult to sleep, crammed together in the small lunar module without seats. Haise got sick from a urinary tract infection.

If it sounds seat of the pants, it was. Unlike in the Oscar-winning movie “Apollo 13,” there was no tension between the three men; Swigert ably filled in at the last moment for Ken Mattingly. Still, the accident was not a part of any training scenario. 

“We never thought this would happen. There’s only so many accidents or incidents you can have. You train for the most obvious ones,” Lovell said.

Snakebit, and yet incredibly fortunate

Though it’s fair to say Apollo 13 was snakebit and unlucky, in reality, Lovell, Haise and Swigert were incredibly fortunate.

The oxygen tank exploded when the space ship was 200,000 miles away from the astronauts’ home planet. That’s the only time and place the explosion could have happened in which the end result was the crew surviving.

If it had happened when the ship was in lunar orbit or while Lovell and Haise were on the moon, there would not have been enough fuel to return home. 

When the astronauts neared Earth, they moved back into the command module, turned the power back on — again, something astronauts did not train to do in space — jettisoned their lifeboat and service module and settled into their seats. As the damaged service module floated away they snapped a few photos and saw for the first time the gaping holes blown out of the side.

They could see damage near the heat shield on the underside of the command module and wondered if the shield designed to protect the men from 5,000 degree heat on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere would hold. But if it didn’t, there was nothing the astronauts could do about it.

Tried not to think of the odds of survival

Lovell met his future wife at Milwaukee’s Juneau High School in the cafeteria’s hot lunch line when she was a freshman and he was a junior; they married at the Naval Academy’s chapel a few hours after he graduated in 1952. While orbiting the moon on Apollo 8 and looking for landmarks to aid future missions, Lovell saw a triangular-shaped mountain he named after his wife.

While many astronauts left letters to be opened by their families in case they didn’t come back, Lovell never did that. Not on Gemini 7 or 12. Not on Apollo 8, even though his shipmates, Frank Borman and Bill Anders, had written goodbye letters. In fact, before the third flight, Lovell arranged for Neiman Marcus to deliver a mink jacket to his wife Marilyn with a note wishing her a Merry Christmas “from the man in the moon.” 

He didn’t write Marilyn a goodbye letter on Apollo 13 either. Lovell knew well the danger involved in space flight. He served as a pall bearer at the funeral of Ed White, a close friend who died in a fire during pre-launch testing of Apollo 1. As a backup to White on Gemini 4, Lovell learned they had met years before at an Army-Navy game when Lovell exchanged one of his Naval Academy cufflinks with White, a West Point cadet.

Lovell admits now the odds of Apollo 13’s crew returning safely were pretty low after the explosion, but at the time he tried not to think of his family possibly going through what White’s family endured.

By the time Apollo 13 blasted off “things were routine. The chances of a big accident were less and less after we had a couple of successful flights,” said Lovell. “So I concentrated on not what’s going to happen if I don’t get home, and instead on what can I do to get home.”

Lovell recalls the exact moment when he knew he, Haise and Swigert would survive: when drops of water hit the windows of the command module on splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The Apollo 13 crew removed a small mirror from the lunar module, framed it and presented it to Mission Control with an inscription from a grateful Apollo 13 crew “to ‘reflect the image’ of the people in Mission Control who got us back!”

When the Apollo Mission Operations Control room at Johnson Space Center in Houston was meticulously recreated to what it looked like in July 1969 and opened to the public last year for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, only one object was out of place for the time period. After the extensive restoration project, the inscribed Apollo 13 mirror again was hung above the room’s water fountain. 

A big thumbs down

Apollo 13 was the only trip in space for Swigert, who died in 1982. Haise, now 86, was scheduled to command Apollo 19, but the program was canceled after Apollo 17. Haise participated in the Space Shuttle program and was due to command the second shuttle mission, but because of program delays he retired before it launched and never returned to orbit above Earth. 

Lovell wrote a best-selling book “Lost Moon” which was turned into the 1995 blockbuster movie with Tom Hanks portraying him. He continues to make appearances and visited EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 13 with Haise and some of the Mission Control officials. 

He did, for one fleeting moment, consider asking NASA for another mission. Before Apollo 11 and 12, NASA leaders told those crews that if they needed to abort before actually landing on the moon, they would be assigned to the next flight. Officials didn’t make the same promise to Apollo 13.

At a press conference soon after Apollo 13 returned, a journalist asked Lovell if he wanted another chance at a lunar landing. For a brief moment, Lovell thought: Here’s my chance.

“So I was about ready to say, ‘Well, I…’ and then I look at the back of the audience and there was a hand that went up” giving a big thumb’s down.

It was his wife Marilyn. 

“And so I said ‘Well, I think we better let some other people try it,’ ” he remembered.

The Lovells will celebrate their 68th anniversary in June.

Follow reporter Meg Jones on Twitter: @MegJonesJS

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More: Trump executive order calls for commercializing the solar system, mining the moon


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OSCE to deploy first-ever election observation mission to Uzbekistan

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Dec. 14

By Fakhri Vakilov – Trend:

More than 50 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly are going to Uzbekistan for observing the 22 December parliamentary elections, Trend reports citing OSCE’s press service.

It is the first time for the OSCE PA observing an election in Uzbekistan.

OSCE PA President George Tsereteli (MP, Georgia) will serve as Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission, following an appointment by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak. Tsereteli has led a number of observer missions in the past, including to Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

“As we are deploying for the first time a full-fledged observation mission to the country, this is also the first time that Uzbekistan’s new reforms are really put to the test. We hope to see good-faith implementation in line with OSCE election-related commitments,” said Tsereteli.

Tsereteli has appointed OSCE PA Vice-President Kari Henriksen (MP, Norway) to lead the OSCE PA observer delegation.

“As observers, we will look at all aspects of the election system, as well as the media environment and political climate, and will offer a fair and balanced assessment,” said Henriksen. “Our election observation is a check on progress and part of a larger process in supporting democratic development across the OSCE area.”

For the 22 December parliamentary elections, the OSCE PA will work closely with observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. They will deliver the post-election statement of preliminary findings and conclusions at a press conference in Tashkent on 23 December.

The elections will be assessed for their compliance with commitments found in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.

Follow author on Twitter:@vakilovfaxri

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NATO’s New Mission

There is little argument that the 70-year-old NATO Alliance today finds itself in one of the most complicated security environments it has ever seen. China and Russia continue to pose significant challenges, the fast-paced development of new technology is adding borderless perimeters that must be defended and the organization is managing internal strife from its own members including Turkey and the United States.

As part of a joint statement issued Wednesday, leaders said, “We, as an Alliance, are facing distinct threats and challenges emanating from all strategic directions.  Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all.  State and non-state actors challenge the rules-based international order. Instability beyond our borders is also contributing to irregular migration. We face cyber and hybrid threats.”

Alliance leaders have been focused this week on developing a strategy to address security concerns with China for the very first time, and considering the implications of Beijing’s global investments and growing military. They were also aiming for agreement on a defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, as well as considering new approaches to common threats like terrorism.

Internally, the Alliance has been challenged by Turkey’s seeming lean in toward Russia and with a consistent demand from the U.S. to address burden sharing among NATO members.

“Since 2016, Canada and European allies have added 130 billion more to their defence budgets. And this number will increase to 400 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. This is unprecedented. This is making NATO stronger and it shows that this Alliance is adapting, responding when the world is changing,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the opening of the two-day conference. “NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because we have been able to change when the world is changing. That is exactly what we are doing again. And the fact is that we are doing more together in this Alliance now then we have done in many decades.”

While there has been no shortage of theatrics among leaders this week, The Cipher Brief tapped two of its experts, both former NATO Supreme Allied Commanders Europe (SACEUR) to help cut through some of the rhetoric to understand the Alliance’s strategic importance today to both the U.S. and its allies.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove served as the 17th Supreme Allied Commander, NATO.  Prior to his position as SACEUR, General Breedlove served as the Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe; and Commander, U.S. Air Forces Africa.

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) served as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander, NATO and is currently an Operating Executive at The Carlyle Group.  His is the author of, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character.


  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in April 1949 with 12 initial nations signing on.
  • The Alliance was founded on three basic goals: to deter Soviet expansionism, to form a strong partnership with the United States to deter nationalist militarism in Europe and to encourage political integration throughout Europe.
  • U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower became NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander (a role always held by an American) in 1950.
  • On September 12, 2001, NATO invoked its mutual defense clause in support of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Today, NATO is comprised of 29 member countries including: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, The United Kingdom, and The United States.


Why is NATO so important right now?

General Philip Breedlove (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe

“The bottom line is we’re living in some of the most uncertain times of our history. We used to understand our opponents, who they were and where the lines on the ground and the lines in the sand were. Now, there are no lines out there for us to understand. There are all kinds of gray zone conflicts going on. Russia is attacking us in cyber every day. They’re engineering social media against the West every day. They’re interfering in elections, every single one of them including the French, German, U.S., and British elections. Where and how we draw lines and understand what our opponents are doing to us is critical. More than ever, we need NATO. In the last five years, Russia as a major world power, has used its military to cross internationally recognized borders into Crimea and into the Donbass and has changed internationally recognized borders by using their military. I don’t know what more we need to look for in order to understand how important NATO is.”


Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“I’ll give you three reasons. One is the challenges that we collectively face with Russian adventurism. I think there’s still a significant role for NATO in deterring Russia and by the very nature of its invasion of Ukraine, we see that Vladimir Putin is a gambler. He’s a risk taker and I think will continue to put pressure on the Alliance. Number two, cyber security. We are increasingly at risk in the world of cyber where the level of threat far outpaces the level of preparation. And I think it’s an area in which we would be collectively much, much stronger if we operated together. Third, and finally I think the Alliance matters because of its potential impact in the Middle East and here whether we’re working on counter terrorism, helping to calm the situation in Syria, or in working over-time to deter Iran from bad behavior. And I think there are still significant missions ahead for NATO. I just mentioned three. We also have a continuing mission in Afghanistan and we have challenges in the Arctic. There’s plenty for NATO to do and it’s still great value for the United States.”


What needs to happen in London?

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“I think we need the Alliance to take a deep breath and work on the overall center of gravity for this Alliance, which is political coherence. At the moment, you have the French pulling in one direction, you have the Turks distinctly pulling in a different direction to the South, you have questions about where Afghanistan is going and you have the American side, which continues to constantly talk only about funding and who’s paying what. So right now, the Alliance doesn’t feel like a synchronized political Alliance, although its military capability remains strong. So, I would say the number one thing we need is more coherence out of the leadership assembling in London.”


Gen. Philip Breedlove (Ret.), Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“What needs to happen in London is the same thing that should happen every time NATO meets at the senior level. And that is to reinforce the commitment by all of the allies to the alliance, and what the alliance stands for, to its Western values, and to the military commitment that we make to each other. There is essentially a commitment to collective defense, but there are also 28 individual bilateral commitments to defend each other.”


Access your full Cipher Brief debrief with Admiral James Stavridis here

Access your full Cipher Brief debrief with General Philip Breedlove here

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