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Russia’s Newest Fear-Mongering Tactic: Making Up Dolphin Wars

The Russian daily Izvestia would like you to believe that the first direct confrontation between American and Russian forces could come in the form of clashes between the two countries' combat dolphins swimming in the Black Sea.

According to the paper, the U.S. Navy plans to deploy 20 combat dolphins and 10 sea lions in the Black Sea, where they are to conduct exercises and test new gear. The detailed article even quotes a Navy official telling the paper that the dolphins will be testing a new form of armor developed at the University of Hawaii.

There's only one problem: Almost none of it is true.

Ed Budzyna, the deputy director of public affairs at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, called the story "completely erroneous" and fabricated. "The person quoted has been retired for 8 or 9 years," Budzyna told Foreign Policy, referring to the Navy spokesperson Tom LaPuzza to whom Izvestia had sourced the report.

The story was nonetheless picked up by the English-language news service RIA Novosti, and several outlets piled on with coverage, including Britain's the Mirror and the Atlantic's The Wire

The falsified report about the deployment of America's mammalian warriors comes after reports surfaced last month that the Russian army would be absorbing Ukraine's combat dolphin program, which was based in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia. An employee at Sevastopol's oceanarium told RIA Novosti that the formerly Ukrainian dolphins would be receiving new equipment from their new Russian caretakers.

So with Russian dolphins gearing up with new technology, it's perhaps not surprising that Izvestia's fabricated report claimed that America's dolphins would be testing "new armors" in the waters of the Black Sea. (Could there be a weird weaponized dolphin arms race brewing? Alas.)

Navies use dolphins and their sonar capabilities to perform a variety of underwater duties -- everything from attaching buoys to sea mines to patrolling waters for enemy divers. Both the United States and the Soviet Union launched their marine mammal programs at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. The American dolphins were deployed in the Persian Gulf in the late eighties to protect U.S. flagged ships and Kuwaiti tankers, while the Soviet dolphin program remained in Ukrainian waters after the Union collapsed.

But for now, at least, we won't be finding out whether the Ukrainian combat dolphins Russia has pressed into service will remain loyal to their new motherland and battle their American opponents in the Black Sea.

EPA PHOTO PA/THE TIMES/MOD POOL/SIMON WALKER

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No One Is Mourning the Death of Bitcoin Giant Mt. Gox

Since peaking at more than $1,100 in late November, Bitcoin's trading value has fallen by half. On Wednesday, a Japanese court delivered a death blow to Mt. Gox, once the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, which had collapsed after hackers stole a huge trove of the cryptocurrency from the company's servers. By denying the exchange's application to rebuild under bankruptcy protection, the court sent the exchange hurtling toward liquidation.

But for the Bitcoin faithful, the death knell for Mt. Gox isn't the end of Bitcoin -- it's just the end of amateur hour. "Mt. Gox was like a slow motion implosion," said Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Mt. Gox had struggled with funding, in the run-up to its shuttering, and many were skeptical about the reliability of its software. "Anyone who was paying attention knew months in advance that the end was around the corner."

The currency's survival since Mt. Gox's demise serves as a testament to the rapidly growing cryptocurrency industry. "If this had happened to Gox two years ago, it would have been a much bigger setback," says Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for ConvergEx, a brokerage firm in New York. While Mt. Gox is an embarrassing milestone for the currency, a sufficient number of other exchanges, such as Coinbase and CoinX, have emerged to preserve its future.

In fact, since news broke in February that Mt. Gox had been hacked and robbed of some $500 million in Bitcoin, the currency's profile and availability has only continued to grow. Bitcoin ATMs are popping up in Australia, the United States, and even mainland China, where the government has threatened to crack down on banks that handle the currency. The online retailer Overstock.com began accepting Bitcoin in early January. Two months later the company reported that its customers had purchased $1 million worth of goods using the cryptocurrency. (Amazon, however, remains unconvinced.)

Meanwhile, additional investment is promising to move Bitcoin out of your mom's basement and into the corridors of Wall Street. Firms like Perseus Telecom and Atlas launched a high-speed trading platform for the cryptocurrency, and New York is exploring a way to regulate virtual currency exchanges. For confirmation of the currency's mainstream appeal look no further than the Winklevoss twins, who have reportedly made a big investment in Bitcoin.

Some of those initiatives may very well fail, but risk has been sufficiently spread among players in the industry that the collapse of one company won't spell the currency's end. "We worry a lot in the U.S. about 'too big to fail.' There is now no too-big-to-fail institution with Bitcoin," says Cola.

Many, like Cola, think that the next step for the currency's rapid move toward mainstream acceptance will be increased transparency and regulation -- an indication of how investors rather than activists have become the driving force behind the currency's expansion. "I think the central bit of regulation needs to be consumer protection. It has to be robust." When hackers attacked Mt. Gox, users lost several hundred million of dollars worth of Bitcoin. It's exactly that kind of scenario that makes many ordinary consumers hesitant to adopt cryptocurrencies.

But whatever comes next, there isn't much in the way of nostalgia. "Mt. Gox is dead," says Brito. "Let it die."

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images