Greg Myre

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A CIA investigation has not found evidence that a foreign country was responsible for mysterious ailments suffered by hundreds of U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials in multiple countries in recent years.

Most of the illnesses appear related to previously undiagnosed medical conditions or stress, according to an interim report by the spy agency.

However, the CIA emphasized that it is still investigating around two dozen cases that cannot be explained, and which were first reported by officials at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2016.

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Top U.S. and Russian diplomats said they had constructive talks Monday in Geneva, but they did not achieve a breakthrough in their attempt to defuse tensions regarding the Russian troop buildup on the Ukraine-Russia border.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emerged from the nearly eight hours of talks and declared, "There are no plans or intentions to attack Ukraine." He went on to say, "There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario."

But the Russian troops remain in place, and Ukraine and its supporters describe them as a serious threat.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

At the start of this year, people knew that President Biden had promised to end the war in Afghanistan. They did not know how it would conclude.

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Let's start with the laugh.

Desmond Tutu will always be remembered as the South African Anglican cleric who won the Nobel Peace Prize, helped bring down apartheid and served as the moral beacon of a troubled nation for decades. The towering figure has died at age 90.

On Christmas Day 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sat down at a table deep inside the Kremlin and prepared to deliver a monumental speech. Associated Press reporter Alan Cooperman was among the few journalists allowed in.

"We were ushered down into some kind of underground chamber where they had a formal television studio with those big, Soviet-era tripods and huge cameras." Cooperman recalled. "We sat there for a while and then Gorbachev came in."

When Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, he immediately called on the Russian military.

It's not exactly classified information — former President Donald Trump and the intelligence community didn't get along. But in an updated book, Getting To Know The President, the story is told from the inside.

It's pretty rare for U.S. spies to gather at a conference and talk openly about the most pressing national security threats.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

The U.S. government wants to know why some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are getting sick. It's called Havana syndrome, after the illnesses turned up in Havana. Many say they've suffered debilitating migraines, dizziness and memory loss.

Some history may be relevant. Years before the first Havana cases were reported, the U.S. government documented microwave radiation being directed at a U.S. embassy and at officials abroad. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has the backstory.

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In 1996, Michael Beck and a colleague at the National Security Agency were sent to a "hostile country" on a brief assignment. After being detained at the airport for about an hour, they were allowed to go, but they knew they were being closely watched.

A few days into the assignment, Beck woke up at his hotel feeling terrible.

"It was extreme fatigue and weakness. I was a bowl of jelly and couldn't get moving," said Beck. He was suspicious of the cause, but the symptoms went away.

In many parts of the U.S., China remains a huge business opportunity despite recent friction. That's the country where Apple makes its phones and Nike stitches its shoes. U.S. farmers sell soybeans to China and Wall Street investors trade Chinese stocks.

Yet inside the Washington Beltway, China is a security threat. Full stop. It's one of the few things Democrats, Republicans and most everyone else in the capital agree on.

"An adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geo-political test," CIA Director William Burns said in congressional testimony.

Consider these recent steps by President Biden and his team: selling nuclear submarines to Australia, outlining their approach to trade with China and hosting a White House gathering with key U.S. partners in Asia.

The CIA has removed its station chief in Vienna, in part because of his handling of cases involving what's known as "Havana syndrome," according to current and former government officials.

A growing number of U.S. intelligence officials in Vienna have reported symptoms in recent months consistent with Havana syndrome, which include dizziness, migraines and memory loss.

As President George W. Bush flew back to Washington on Air Force One on Sept. 11, he was accompanied by Michael Morell, the CIA officer who briefed the president daily.

Morell was in touch with CIA headquarters, which gave him heart-stopping intelligence that he had to urgently deliver to the president.

So what have we learned in the 20 years since 9/11?

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan encapsulated much of the past two decades. A war that began remarkably well for the U.S. had long since turned messy, frustrating and complicated, expanding to include a sprawling mix of goals and aspirations that never really went according to plan.

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, a former Afghan army colonel named Mohammed became part of the massive crush of people trying to flee at the Kabul airport last week.

Mohammed and his family — a wife and five children — waited for hours to reach a Taliban checkpoint outside the airport. He presented identification documents that included his U.S. Social Security card and a Texas driver's license, both acquired during two training stints at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, more than a decade ago.

He hit a wall of hostility.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time's running out for the U.S. evacuation effort from Afghanistan. The White House says more than 100,000 people have been evacuated, including more than 5,000 U.S. citizens. But people still continue to gather around Kabul Airport, even after this week's attacks by the group by ISIS-K. Master Sergeant Kevin Haunschild leads the team that's responsible for air traffic control at Hamid Karzai International and joins us now. Master Sergeant, thanks for being with us.

KEVIN HAUNSCHILD: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Updated August 24, 2021 at 10:09 AM ET

CIA Director William Burns met Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

The meeting between Burns and Baradar marks the highest level meeting so far between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the group took over in Afghanistan on Aug. 15.

Journalist Hollie McKay was in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif when Afghan security forces fled ahead of advancing Taliban fighters last weekend. In the aftermath, the road out of town was littered with U.S.-made armored vehicles that the Afghan military had left behind.

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team made headlines in 2017 when they came to Washington for an international competition just a few blocks from the White House.

Most members of the team were born after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, symbolizing a new Afghanistan where girls were free to go to school and women were getting at least some opportunities that had been long denied.

But with the Taliban back, the future of these girls — some of them now young women — has turned precarious.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The last time the Taliban rolled into Kabul and took control of Afghanistan, back in 1996, they immediately established a reputation for harsh rule and brutal tactics.

Public executions were carried out by stoning at a soccer stadium. Women were barred from work and girls from school. Television, videos and music were banned. Men were beaten if they didn't pray five times a day or cut their beards.

The Taliban quickly alienated many Afghans, who now fear more of the same with the group seizing control of the capital on Sunday.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we are going to hear now from NPR's Mara Liasson. She is joining us. Hang on one second. We're having a little bit of a computer problem here. Hey, Mara, you with me?

MARIA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes, I'm here.

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