TBR News April 29, 2017

Apr 29 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 29, 2017: “During his campaign, Trump said that many American businesses had moved their operations to China to take advantage of their cheaper labor. But now that North Korea is threatening everyone is sight with missiles, there has been a rapprochement with the Chinese leadership which could well lead to a constructive relationship. This still does not address the growing problems of unemployment in the United States but it does lessen the possibility of a Sino-American confrontation, say, in the South China Sea area.”

Table of Contents

  • ‘Broken by US power machine’: Trump’s 100 days prove his maverick image was fake
  • Congress averts a government shutdown hours before deadline
  • Making Sense of the Deportation Debate
  • North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure
  • Army announces new deployments for 5,700 soldiers
  • Turkey blocks Wikipedia, expanding censorship
  • Edward Snowden Can Stay as Long as He Likes, Says Russia
  • Russia’s Lavrov says ready to cooperate with U.S. on Syria: agencies
  • Turkey fires 3,900 in second post-referendum purge
  • Basic income scheme comes to Canada’s poor
  • Israel believes Trump will not seek to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem for now, officials say
  • NSA Backs Down on Major Surveillance Program That Captured Americans’ Communications Without a Warrant
  • Giant Skeleton Found under Maryland Mall!
  • DNA of extinct humans found in caves

 ‘Broken by US power machine’: Trump’s 100 days prove his maverick image was fake

April 29, 2017


Donald Trump’s election strategy relied to a degree on the image of an anti-establishment billionaire who could fix a broken DC. Instead, his actions in office have been aligned with the policies of the same special interests he used to speak out against.

Some of Trump’s critics say he was dishonest from the start. Others, like Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, believe he has been “broken” by the US establishment, which would not tolerate a president that wanted to improve relations with Moscow or stop America’s perpetual wars.

Either way, the 45th US president has proven himself consistently inconsistent during his first 100 days in office. Here are some of the issues Trump has done a 180 flip-flop on since taking the Oval Office.


The trans-Atlantic military bloc was an early target of Trump’s ire. During the election campaign, he branded the alliance “obsolete” and complained that its European members were benefiting from America’s protection, while failing to pay for it. Some British media outlets have even reported that he had handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a multibillion dollar bill for services rendered. Both governments have denied this, however.

Skipping forward, Trump now says NATO is a “bulwark of international peace and security.” So it may be just a matter of time before the US calls on its allies to bomb some country’s government out of power, regardless of what goes on in the UN Security Council, just as it did in Iraq in 2003.


China played the boogeyman in Trump’s campaign. It was blamed for lost US jobs and other maladies affecting of the American worker. Candidate Trump repeatedly accused Beijing of manipulating its currency, saying he would not allow it “to rape our country.” Moreover, he called the US’ decades-old “one China policy” into question, while complaining about China failing to reign in North Korea.

Now, he claims that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping developed a wonderful relationship during a meeting at the Mar-a-Lago resort over “the most beautiful chocolate cake.” However, the evening’s menu didn’t include a Big Mac, which Trump promised he would offer Xi before sitting down to work when he was a candidate. The Chinese media has been mocking the US leader’s U-turn.

‘Policeman of the world’

During the presidential campaign, Trump insisted that the US “cannot be the policeman of the world,” but now the president is apparently quite comfortable in that very position. Although he certainly didn’t shy away from sending Navy SEALS to raid Yemeni villages supposedly held by Al Qaeda shortly after his inauguration, it was the barrage of Tomahawk missiles he launched on a Syrian military airfield that set things straight on this issue.

The White House said its act of international aggression was a response to an alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government – which is yet to be properly investigated. Ironically, that chemical incident came just days after senior members of the Trump administration had stated that deposing the government in Damascus was no longer a goal for Washington.


Among the latest things Trump has backtracked on is the free trade deal between the US, Canada, and Mexico, better known as NAFTA. On the campaign trail, he called it the “single worst trade deal ever” and a “killer” of US jobs, but, on Thursday, the White House said the treaty would remain in place.

The Trump administration had reportedly been considering withdrawing from the deal via an executive order the same way it quashed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January.


Trump, who repeatedly promised during his campaign that he would improve America’s relations with Russia, saying that “it would be great,” doesn’t sound very committed anymore. Maybe it has something to do with US comedy shows lampooning him as a weakling blackmailed by the Kremlin or some vocal members of the media still crushed by Hillary’s loss, who constantly excoriate him for having ‘Russia ties’, regardless of whether they have any proof or not.

Or, maybe, America’s elusive ‘Deep State’, which so many in the US say doesn’t exist, is more powerful than the most powerful man in the world, as the person sitting in the Oval Office is often described. One can now wonder where the US and Russia will be after Trump’s four years and whether that place would have been any different if Hillary Clinton had been at America’s helm.

Congress averts a government shutdown hours before deadline

House and Senate approve stopgap spending measure while negotiators work to reach an agreement over a longer-term funding package

April 28, 2017

by Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs

The Guardian

Washington-Hours before a midnight deadline, Congress averted a government shutdown – at least for now – ensuring that the lights will stay on in Washington as Donald Trump marks his 100th day in office.

But the feat comes with a trade-off. Republicans failed to secure enough votes to advance their healthcare replacement plan despite pressure from the White House to hold a vote on the bill before the symbolic 100-day mark.

The House of Representatives approved a stopgap spending measure on Friday by a vote of 382 to 30 while negotiators worked to reach an agreement over a longer-term funding package – a deal congressional leaders from both parties say is nearly finalized. The Senate unanimously approved the measure less than a hour later.

The prospect of a shutdown faded earlier this week after Trump softened his demands for money to build a wall along the south-western border and backed off a threat to cease payments for a critical piece of the federal healthcare law, both “non-starters” for Democrats.

But in a twist on Thursday, Democrats threatened to oppose the short-term spending measure if Republicans succeeded in their an eleventh-hour push to hold a vote on healthcare by the end of the week.

House Republican leaders worked late into the night on Thursday trying to convince wary moderates to support the revised healthcare bill. Ultimately, they came up short. Emerging from a closed-door meeting on Thursday night, the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, told reporters: “We are not voting on healthcare this week.”

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, tried to downplay the likelihood that the bill would come up for a vote before the end of the week, telling reporters on Thursday morning: “We’re going to go when we have the votes.” Throughout the day, a handful of centrist and moderate Republicans either came out against or expressed a reluctance to support the legislation.

Their failure to deliver for the president on healthcare, however, paved the way for lawmakers to keep the government running. Minority whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said on Thursday that he would oppose the stopgap funding plan – and threaten a shutdown – if Republicans brought the healthcare bill up for a vote before the end of the week.

The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, described Republicans’ healthcare predicament a “lose-lose-lose situation”. “The minute they cast that vote, they put doo‑doo on their shoe, tattoo on their forehead,” Pelosi said, referring to the healthcare bill.

For seven years, Republicans promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. And as a candidate, Trump promised to repeal Obamacare “on day one”. But Republicans’ failure to craft legislation that wins support from enough members of their own party is evidence of just how tricky it will be to dismantle the 2010 healthcare law.

Republicans’ first attempt to pass repeal legislation drew fierce criticism from moderates and conservatives. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the plan 24 million Americans would lose health insurance.

The new version would allow states to obtain exemptions from certain Obamacare insurance rules, including a requirement that plans cover benefits such as maternity care, mental healthcare and prescription drugs. Protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions would also be at risk under the amendment, with the potential for insurers to charge more for certain enrollees with pre-existing conditions, or those who are older.

The bill has won support from the Freedom Caucus, the group of arch-conservatives who were instrumental in sinking the first effort. But now it’s moderates who Republicans are failing to bring onboard.

The government was due to run out of money at midnight on Friday. A bipartisan team of negotiators are working on a package that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, on 3o September.

The trillion-dollar budget proposal is expected to include increased funding for border security and defense spending with the understanding that the money is not for the construction of Trump’s wall.

Making Sense of the Deportation Debate

How Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Laid the Groundwork for Trump’s Immigration Policies

April 29, 2017

by Aviva Chomsky


Ever since he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 and swore to build his “great wall” and stop Mexican “rapists” from entering the country, undocumented immigrants have been the focus of Donald Trump’s ire. Now that he’s in the Oval Office, the news has been grim. A drumbeat of frightening headlines and panicked social media posts have highlighted his incendiary language, his plans and executive orders when it comes to immigrants, and the early acts of the Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when it comes to round-ups and deportations. The temperature has soared on the deportation debate, so if you think we’re in a completely unprecedented moment when it comes to immigration and immigrants, you’re in good company.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are flooding the United States, causing crime waves, and depleting social service budgets.  Never mind that the number of such immigrants has been in steady decline since 2008, that immigrant crime rates are lower than citizen crime rates, that the undocumented have no access to most social welfare programs, and that crime figures, too, have generally been on the decline in recent years.

The media has played its own role in fanning the flames.  Since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, news reports have proliferated about rising raids, arrests, detentions, and deportations.  These suggest that something new, terrifying, and distinctly Trumpian — something we’ve simply never seen before — is underway, including mass sweeps to deport individuals who would have been protected under the previous administration.

The numbers tell a different story.  A Washington Post scare headline typically read: “ICE Immigration Arrests of Noncriminals Double Under Trump.”  While accurate, it was nonetheless misleading.  Non-criminal immigration arrests did indeed jump from 2,500 in the first three months of 2016 to 5,500 during the same period in 2017, while criminal arrests also rose, bringing the total to 21,000.  Only 16,000 were arrested during the same months in 2016.  The article, however, ignores the fact that 2016 was the all-time low year for arrests under President Obama.  In the first three months of 2014, for example, 29,000 were arrested, far more than Trump’s three-month “record.”

And even though arrests went up during Trump’s first three months in office, deportations actually went down, mostly due to the fact that the number of immigrants crossing the border declined.

To those who have been following deportation politics in this country, Trump’s policies, as they are now unfolding, have an eerie resonance.  They seem to be growing directly out of policies first instituted in the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  True, President Obama liked to talk about “our tradition of welcoming immigrants,” while our new president has tossed such liberal humanitarian rhetoric in the garbage can, instead playing up a harsh nativism.  Still, the fact is that two Democratic presidents laid the groundwork for Trump’s developing policies.

It was, after all, President Clinton who oversaw the draconian “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act” of 1996.  It drastically increased all levels of immigration “enforcement,” expanding the Border Patrol, criminalizing numerous types of low-level immigration violations, and facilitating and expanding deportation procedures.  (A similar emphasis on casting blame on individuals for structural and systemic problems was also at the heart of Clinton’s welfare reform of that same year.)

In many ways, Donald Trump is only reiterating, with more bombast, ideas and policies pioneered under Clinton, that then became a basic part of Barack Obama’s approach to immigration. Those policies drew directly on racist tough-on-crime and anti-terrorism police tactics that also helped foment white racial fears.

Anecdotally speaking, there have already been numerous cases of detention and deportation that appear to go far beyond what was occurring in the Obama years.  But a closer look at those cases and at the numbers suggests surprisingly more continuity than change.  Both the mainstream media and social media have highlighted what appear to be extreme cases of the arrest of DACA (“deferred action for childhood arrivals”) youth, also known as “Dreamers,” as well as of individuals appearing for routine check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, or other arbitrary detentions and deportations.  Most of these cases, however, have been far more in line with Obama-era policies than readers of such news might imagine.  Then, too, “low-priority immigrants” were swept up surprisingly often in what the New York Times in 2014 called “the net of deportation.”

Obama’s Legacy: A Three-Part System

At first glance, President Obama’s legacy on immigration enforcement appears contradictory indeed.  He claimed to be a humanitarian who sought to deport only “felons, not families,” while granting relief from deportation to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.  At the same time, he was dubbed the “deporter-in-chief” for a reason.  He oversaw historic rises in deportation rates.

To grasp the contradictory nature of his policies, it’s necessary to explore three geographically different policy realms when it comes to the undocumented: interior enforcement, border enforcement, and the Mexican Southern Border Program.  In the area of interior enforcement, Obama created several protection and priority programs for undocumented immigrants already in the country that did indeed shield whole groups of people from deportation.  Immigrant rights supporters who emphasize the humanitarian nature of what Obama did focus on such protections, while downplaying the two border prongs of his policies.  Yet, though not much attended to, even the humanitarian programs incorporated a darker side, criminalizing and targeting those not eligible for them.

When it came to interior enforcement, President Obama called on ICE to exercise “prosecutorial discretion.”  Immigrants who were parents, students, hard-working, had close family and community ties, or served in the military, he suggested, should be granted relief from deportation.

In the process, however, he offered a language of innocence versus criminality and the illusion that, when it came to immigrants, the notion of criminality was self-evident and universally agreed upon.  By dividing them into felons versus families, he actually contributed to the criminalization of large groups of immigrants and so fed directly into Trump’s future rhetoric.  He also drew on Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies in ways that linked the criminalization of people of color with the deportation of “criminal” immigrants (also overwhelmingly people of color).

As immigration scholars Alan Aja and Alejandra Marchevsky explain:

“The criminalization of immigrants in part resulted from more aggressive policing of communities of color. In the 1980s and ’90s, law enforcement agencies across the nation implemented broken windows and stop-and-frisk strategies, claiming that mass arrests for low-level offenses would prevent more serious crime. As the immigrants who lived in these communities fell victim to racialized policing and mass incarceration, the federal government’s rosters of the criminal immigrant exploded.”

Once criminalized, they then fell into a separate-and-unequal immigration enforcement system in which due process was eliminated and deportation, the ultimate draconian penalty, could be implemented regardless of the seriousness of the “crime.”  Worse yet, the ever harsher over-policing of communities of color and the expansion of mass incarceration produced, Aja and Marchevsky point out, “a reservoir of immigrants with criminal records, creating an endless chain of detentions and deportations.”

As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has made strikingly clear, all of this — the redefinition of minor crimes as felonies, the increasing pressure on those charged to plea bargain, and measures that then excluded felons from public housing, employment, welfare rolls, voting booths, and other aspects of society — relegated a significant number of black men to a permanent underclass. Undocumented immigrants were also caught in this web, with some special twists.

In the wake of Clinton’s 1996 immigration law, for instance, convictions of just about any sort, including the most minor crimes, became grounds for deportation — even retroactively.  So a long-ago violation that resulted in probation and community service, or a small fine, now became evidence of an immigrant’s “criminal” status from which deportation naturally followed.

And there was another new catch-22 category as well: so-called immigration crimes. Those with a record of illegal reentry and those who engaged in what was termed “immigration fraud” were automatically re-categorized as “criminals” under President Obama’s priority enforcement policy.  “Illegal reentry” is, in fact, the most curious of crimes, since it distinguishes between those who succeed in entering the country without inspection on their first try and those who are caught and only succeed on a subsequent try.  “Immigration fraud,” a broad category, includes common practices like using a false social security number in order to work.

Obama’s interior deportation scheme relied heavily on this expansive notion of the criminality of the undocumented, who might otherwise have qualified as people trying to get by as best they could.  Now, President Trump is extending that criminalization further by ruling that anybody convicted of, charged with, or even suspected of a crime constitutes a priority for deportation.  In the process, he’s expanded the concept of the “criminal” even as he’s built directly on the Clinton-Obama legacy.

At the Border and Beyond

What earned President Obama the moniker of “deporter-in-chief,” however, was his policy towards border enforcement, since it was there that the number of deportees rose most sharply.  This was in part because he prioritized “recent border crossers” for deportation; everyone, that is, who had crossed without authorization, which essentially meant everyone apprehended in the border region, was now criminalized.  Under previous administrations, most of those caught there had been granted what was called “voluntary departure.”  In other words, they were returned to the Mexican side of the border without legal sanction.  During the Clinton and Bush administrations, more than a million people a year were returned to Mexico in this manner without being transformed into criminals and so were not included in the usual deportation figures.

In the Obama years, those apprehended at the border began to be formally charged and fingerprinted before being issued a deportation order.  In this way, they were redefined as “criminals,” and if they were caught attempting a second border crossing, as criminal “repeat immigration offenders.”  It also meant that formal deportations began to skyrocket, although the numbers crossing the border, those apprehended at the border, and those sent back to Mexico were all beginning to fall.

Soon enough, immigration crimes came to rival drug crimes in the federal court system.  Obama became the deporter-in-chief not because he deported more people than previous administrations, but because he criminalized more of those he deported. This, then, was how he managed to protect many from deportation, while also racking up deportation statistics far beyond those of his predecessors.  In fact, the situations of many of those caught at the border proved remarkably similar to those being granted prosecutorial discretion in the interior.  They had family, including children, in the United States, or jobs and strong community ties, or had lived in the country for years.  Because they had left and tried to return, however, they were redefined as criminals.

Finally, one aspect of immigration enforcement under the Obama administration generally goes unmentioned: the president’s role in pressuring Mexico into collaborating by arresting and deporting Central Americans heading north (including families and unaccompanied children) before they reached the border with the United States.  In 2014, under growing pressure from Washington, the Mexican government implemented the Southern Border Program.  While U.S. law was being repeatedly updated to provide humanitarian treatment to families and children apprehended at the border, when the Mexicans got to them first, they simply deported them.

In 2014, only 3% of the minors apprehended in the U.S. were deported; in Mexico, the figure was 77%, or 18,269.  As one report summed up the situation: “The United States is outsourcing its border enforcement to Mexico.”  As in the United States, so Mexico’s increasing militarization and repression on its southern border did not actually slow the flow of migrants. It merely made the voyage far more dangerous, while giving ever more power to smugglers and gangs that now prey upon Central American migrants desperately trying to evade Mexican border controls.

Immigrants, Criminalization, and the Labor Market

Long before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, this “tough on crime” approach to immigration fit into a broader pattern of the criminalization of people of color that fed the prison-industrial complex, made the U.S. the globe’s leading incarcerator, and encouraged the proliferation of private prisons.  It helped justify the increasing militarization of the police in those years and the over-policing of communities of color.  It also fed a national sense of insecurity that contributed to political passivity, disempowerment, and the kind of nativism that Trump has thrived on.

Criminalization plays a role as well in the country’s growing economic inequality.  It justifies both high rates of unemployment and low wages among people of color, while warehousing those whose labor has become superfluous. And it plays a particular role when it comes to immigrants and the labor market.

Immigrants actually experience significantly higher labor force participation and lower unemployment rates than the native-born, making them an exception among people of color.  However, they earn less ($681 week) than do native-born workers ($837 a week), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for 2015.  For employers in recent years, the criminalization of the already unstable status of immigrants (and their inability generally to access social services), makes them a uniquely exploitable and so desirable work force.  They tend to be hired to do jobs so dismal, arduous, or dangerous that they fail to attract native-born workers.  Anthropologist Nicholas de Genova has suggested that the very “deportability” of undocumented immigrants makes them desirable to such employers.

Meanwhile, the criminalization of people of color and of immigrants in particular lent a distinct helping hand to Donald Trump in his campaign for president, even as it helped the prison-industrial complex and the police justify ever-increasing budgets and employment.

The Trump administration’s multipronged approach to immigration relies on and promotes the criminalization of immigrants.  Whether halting the entry of refugees or persons with visas from particular countries, hiring thousands of new ICE and Border Patrol agents, promising to build a “great, great wall,” denying federal money to sanctuary cities, or publishing lists of crimes committed by immigrants, Trump’s immigration policies follow in the footsteps but also intensify those of his predecessors and continue to create fear, justify exploitation, and rationalize authoritarianism.

North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure

April 29, 2017

by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park


SEOUL-North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.

The test came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula, where it began exercises with the South Korean navy on Saturday, about 12 hours after the failed launch, a South Korean navy official said.

Tillerson, in a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea on Friday, repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options were on the table if Pyongyang persisted with its nuclear and missile development.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said the launch was an affront to China, the North’s sole main ally.

“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” Trump said in a post on Twitter after the launch.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.N. meeting it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang said.

In a commentary on Saturday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said both North Korea and the United States needed to tread cautiously.

“If both sides fail to make such necessary concessions, then not only will the two countries, but the whole region and the whole world end up paying a heavy price for a possible confrontation.”

Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for “trying very hard” on North Korea but warned a “major, major conflict” was possible.

The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks over fears the North may conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test, around the time of the April 15 anniversary of its state founder’s birth.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the test as a grave threat to the international order.

“I urged Russia to play a constructive role in dealing with North Korea,” Abe told reporters in London. “Japan is watching how China will act in regard to North Korea.”

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the North Koreans had probably tested a medium-range missile known as a KN-17 and it appeared to have broken up within minutes of taking off.

The South Korean military said the missile reached an altitude of 71 km (44 miles) before disintegrating. It said the launch was a clear violation of U.N. resolutions and warned the North not to act rashly.

With North Korea acting in defiance of the pressure, the United States could conduct new naval drills and deploy more ships and aircraft in the region, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The dispatch of Carl Vinson to the waters off the Korean peninsula is a “reckless action of the war maniacs aimed at an extremely dangerous nuclear war,” the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary on Saturday.

Inter-continental ballistic rockets will fly into the United States “if the U.S. shows any slight sign of provocation,” the newspaper said.


Kim Dong-yub, an expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said North Korea might have got the data it wanted with the missile’s short flight, then blown it up in a bid to limit the anger of China, which warned Pyongyang against further provocation.

North Korea rattled world powers in February when it successfully launched a new intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could carry a nuclear weapon. It also successfully tested ballistic missiles on March 6.

It is not clear what has caused the series of failed missile tests since then.

The Trump administration could respond to the test by speeding up its plans for new U.S. sanctions, including possible measures against specific North Korean and Chinese entities, said the U.S. official, who declined to be identified.

“Something that’s ready to go could be taken from the larger package and expedited,” said the official.

The U.N. Security Council is likely to start discussing a statement to condemn the missile launch, said diplomats.

But condemnations and sanctions resolutions since 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, have done little to impede its push for ballistic missiles and nuclear arms.

The South Korean politician expected to win a May 9 presidential election, Moon Jae-in, called the test an “exercise in futility”.

“We urge again the Kim Jong Un regime to immediately stop reckless provocative acts and choose the path to cooperate with the international community,” Park Kwang-on, a spokesman for Moon, said in a statement, referring to the North Korean leader.

Moon has advocated a more moderate policy on the North and been critical of the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in the South intended to counter North Korea’s missile threat, which China also strongly objects to.

(This story has been refiled to clarify timing of naval exercise in paragraph three.)

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO, John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI and Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton at the UNITED NATIONS, William James and Alistair Smout in LONDON; Editing Lincoln Feast and Robert Birsel)

 Army announces new deployments for 5,700 soldiers

April 27, 2017

Army Times

More than 5,700 soldiers will deploy this summer and fall, with some going to Europe and others to Afghanistan, the Army announced Thursday.

About 4,000 of those soldiers — from the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team — will deploy this fall to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The Fort Riley, Kansas-based brigade will be the second armored BCT to deploy to Europe as part of the Army’s new nine-month rotations there. They will replace soldiers from 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division, which deployed to Europe early this year.

“The Dagger Brigade is looking forward to deploying back to Europe,” said Col. David Gardner, the commander of 2nd BCT, 1st Infantry. “The brigade has served most of its 100-year history in support of our European allies and will arrive after a year of training ready to do so again.”

About 1,700 soldiers from two different units will deploy to Afghanistan, the Army also announced Thursday.

This summer, about 200 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters, from Fort Stewart, Georgia, will deploy to replace the 1st Cavalry Division headquarters.

Once in Afghanistan, the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters will be stationed at Bagram Airfield as U.S. Forces-Afghanistan’s National Support Element.

This is a mission the division has performed before, having deployed to Afghanistan for this very task in 2015.

The Marne Division is trained and ready to deploy in support of this important mission,” said Maj. Gen. James Rainey, the division commander. “The number one priority at the 3rd Infantry Division is readiness, and I am confident our soldiers are ready to serve our nation’s call.”

Also going to Afghanistan are about 1,500 soldiers from 1st BCT, 82nd Airborne Division. The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based paratroopers will deploy in the summer to support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“The ‘Devils in Baggy Pants’ are well-trained, well-equipped, and ready to assist our Afghan partners as part of the Resolute Support mission,” said Col. Toby Magsig, commander of 1st BCT, 82nd Airborne.

The paratroopers’ deployment is part of the regular rotation of forces, officials said.

 Turkey blocks Wikipedia, expanding censorship

Turkish authorities have blocked access to the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. No official reason was given, but local media said the move was related to associating Turkey with terrorism.

April 29, 2017

by Chase Winter


Turkey on Saturday blocked access to all content of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the latest squeeze on information access in the country.

Turkey Blocks, an organization that monitors internet censorship, said an administrative order blocked all language versions of the online encyclopedia.

Several major internet operators had complied with the order.

“The loss of availability is consistent with internet filters used to censor content in the country,” Turkey Blocks said.  It added an administrative order was usually followed by a full court order.

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) said the administrative measure was taken after “technical analysis and legal consideration on Law Nr. 5651.”

The 18-page Law Nr. 5651 deals broadly with “fighting crimes” published on the internet.

More sophisticated and prepared internet users were still able to access Wikipedia using virtual private networks (VPN).

No reason was given for blocking the world’s fifth most popular website, but critics on social media speculated it may have to do with this month’s controversial constitutional referendum or an entry about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s private NTV television network, which itself has come under criticism for censoring anti-government content, said access to Wikipedia was blocked for content supporting terrorism. It also said the block was implemented due to entries “placing Turkey on the same level as the ‘Islamic State'” despite requests to remove the content.

NTV said the block would be lifted after the US-based Wikipedia implemented four demands: opening a representative office in Turkey; complying with court orders; acting in line with international law; and refraining from taking part in “operations to denigrate” Turkey.

Edward Snowden Can Stay as Long as He Likes, Says Russia

April 28, 2017

by Damien Sharkov


Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden can stay in Russia until he decides to leave, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

“I think that that is something he will decide himself,” Zakharova said on Thursday when Yahoo News anchor Katie Couric asked her how long Snowden’s sojourn in Russia will continue. The former NSA contractor has been living in Russia since 2013, after leaking thousands of classified intelligence documents and fleeing the U.S.

“I have never met him, I have never talked to him. I don’t know. It is up to him to decide. He is just a human being. He’s a person and he has his own will to decide where he will stay,” she said.

Zakharova refused to provide additional comment on whether or not Russia would consider extraditing him to the U.S. where he would be tried, saying: “This is not my field.”

The interview was combative from the start, with Zakharova questioning Couric’s choice of words when she referred to the Russian government as a “regime.” She insisted President Vladimir Putin’s government was elected in a “democracy.”

“Do you use the same word—regime—for the American administration?” Zakharova asked.

The spokeswoman was also cagey on the issue of reports of detentions and  abductions of gay Russian nationals in the region of Chechnya, which, despite being a federal republic that enjoys a great degree of autonomy from Moscow on social policy, is close to Putin.

Independent reports have estimated up to six detention centers for LGBT people in Chechnya operate covertly.

“This is not my issue,” Zakharova said.

She refused to comment on allegations that Moscow was keeping deliberately quiet on the issue and promised to return with more comment from relevant agencies.

Zakharova concluded the interview speaking about the “lack of trust” between the U.S. and Russia and about Peggy Whitson, the NASA astronaut that logged the most space hours in the agency’s history earlier this week.

“Those pictures [of Whitson] could be like a symbol of the Russian-American relationship in the future,” she said. “You know why? Because her space suit which she was wearing was made in Russia.”

Russia’s Lavrov says ready to cooperate with U.S. on Syria: agencies

April 29, 2017


Moscow is ready to cooperate with the United States on settling the Syrian crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported.

Russian authorities reiterate periodically that they stand ready to renew cooperation with Washington on Syria and, more globally, on fighting terrorism.

Relations between the two countries, however, are seen reaching another low after U.S. fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow’s ally for its suspected use of poison gas earlier in April. Russia condemned the U.S. action.

Lavrov’s deputy Mikhail Bogdanov also said on Saturday that Russian authorities hope that Syrian armed opposition will take part in Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan’s Astana on May 3-4, Interfax reported.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Toby Chopra)

 Turkey fires 3,900 in second post-referendum purge

April 29, 2017

by Humeyra Pamuk and Ercan Gurses


ISTANBUL/ANKARA-Turkey on Saturday expelled more than 3,900 people from the civil service and military as threats to national security, in the second major purge since President Tayyip Erdogan was granted sweeping new powers.

Erdogan won those concessions in a referendum in mid-April, which rights groups and some Western allies believe has brought the country, a NATO-member and European Union candidate, closer to one-man rule.

The expulsions – carried out in conjunction with media curbs – affected prison guards, clerks, academics, employees of the religious affairs directorate and 1,200 members of the armed forces including nearly 600 officers.

They were fired for suspected links to “terrorist organizations and structures presenting a threat to national security”, according to a decree in the Official Gazette.

On Wednesday more than 9,000 police were suspended and another 1,000 detained for alleged links to the network of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a coup attempt last July in which he has denied all involvement.

In all, some 120,000 people have been suspended or sacked from their jobs and more than 40,000 arrested in the aftermath of the failed putsch, which killed 240 people, mostly civilians.

The mass detentions were initially supported by many Turks, who supported Erdogan in blaming Gulen.

But criticism has mounted as the arrests widened, with relatives of many of those detained or sacked denying their involvement in the coup and calling them victims of a purge.


Since the attempted putsch, Ankara has also faced widespread western criticism of its record on freedom of speech, and authorities on  Saturday banned some television dating programs, which Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said last month were at variance with Turkey’s faith and culture.

“In radio and television broadcasting services, shows where people are introduced and/or brought together to find friends … cannot be made,” said the Gazette, the state publication in which official decrees are announced. Advertising for matchmaking services was also banned.

Hours earlier Turkey blocked online encyclopedia Wikipedia, with the telecommunications watchdog citing a law allowing it to ban access to websites deemed obscene or a threat to national security.

A government official told Reuters the dating show ban would only apply to satellite channels that “do advertising for sexual products”, and not to prime time television.

Europe has long harbored concerns about Erdogan’s commitment to Western-style democracy, given his roots in political Islam, but he has remained defiant in the face of the criticism.

“Our concern is not what George, Hans or Helga say,” he told flag-waving supporters in a speech this month. “Our concern is what Hatice, Ayse, Fatma, Ahmet, Mehmet, Huseyin, Hasan say, what God says.”

Turkey last year jailed 81 journalists, more than any other country, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

(Additional reporting by Can Sezer, Umit Bektas and Yesim Dikmen; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Ros Russell and John Stonestreet)

 Basic income scheme comes to Canada’s poor

The Canadian province of Ontario plans to give up to 4,000 low-income households a guaranteed basic income for three years. Finland recently began its own basic income experiment

April 29, 2017

by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours


Toronto-Canada’s most populous province will soon join a growing list of places around the world that are exploring ways to give their citizens a guaranteed, basic income every month.

Ontario will launch the basic income pilot later this spring in the Hamilton and Thunder areas, in south- and north-western Ontario, and in Lindsay, a town of about 20,000 residents around two hours east of Toronto, next fall.

Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 living on a lower income in one of the three test locations will be chosen at random, and up to 4,000 people will receive monthly payments.

A single person may receive up to $16,989 Canadian dollars (about 11,500 euros) annually, while a couple could get as much as $24,027 Canadian dollars.

Participants will be allowed to earn additional money, but their basic income allotments will decrease by up to 50 percent of the income they earn by working.

“It’s not an extravagant sum by any means … But even that amount may make a real difference to someone who’s striving to reach a better life,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as she unveiled the project earlier this week (April 24) in Hamilton.

The province will spend $50 million Canadian dollars annually for the three-year duration of the pilot program.

“We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive difference in peoples’ lives, whether this new approach gives them the ability to begin to achieve their potential, and whether it’s an approach that can be adopted across our province as a whole,” Wynne said.

Security ‘most beneficial’

Elizabeth McGuire chairs the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability, which advocates for people who rely on Ontario’s basic welfare system and receive work and disability benefits in Hamilton.

She said, “basic income would bring security” to residents living in poverty in the city, which is home to about 750,000 residents and has historically relied on steel manufacturing for much of its economy.

“And it’s that security that is the most beneficial aspect of basic income,” McGuire said.

She said that low-income Ontarians often first want to know how a basic income system might impact the other social programs they need, including housing support, mental health services and medical transportation.

The government must also make sure it supports basic income participants in other ways, McGuire said, including helping them relearn daily life skills, like banking, budgeting and shopping for food.

“Basic things that you and I might take for granted, but have been lost by a lot of people because the system has been so, so punitive over so many years,” she said.

While the project has been met with cautious optimism across the province, this isn’t the first time basic income has been considered in Canada.

Between 1974 and 1979, every family in the rural community of Dauphin, in the central province of Manitoba, was eligible to receive a monthly stipend as part of a basic income experiment called “MINCOME.”

While the government never wrote a final report or analyzed the data, a 2011 study found that the program had some positive results, including a drop in hospitalizations among participants, especially for mental health diagnoses, accidents and injuries.

Interest in basic income growing

Proposals to institute a basic income have gained attention around the world and have been embraced by individuals, organizations and governments on both ends of the political spectrum.

Supporters of a basic income say it may be a way to lift low-income households out of systemic poverty, lead to entrepreneurship and even the playing field in an increasingly competitive market where jobs are disappearing.

Opponents, meanwhile, fear a basic income system may erode a country’s social safety net, lead to the privatization of government services or allow employers to get away with offering predominantly low-wage, part-time jobs.

Others say basic income programs may be too costly and will not actually spur citizens to find work.

In January, Finland began a basic income experiment of its own, offering 2,000 unemployed citizens between the ages of 25 and 58 a guaranteed monthly income of 560 euros. The project will last for two years.

“The main goal here … is to see how this kind of mechanism of basic income would increase the incentive to take on work,” said Marjukka Turunen, head of the legal affairs unit at Kela, Finland’s social security body, which administers the project.

Turunen told DW it is too early to talk about results or analyze the data that has been collected to date.

She said, however, that basic income “is not the one solution for every problem,” but that the experiment may bring other solutions to the table, including ways Finland can ease the bureaucracy in its unemployment benefit system, or reform its social security framework.

Turunen said Ontario should use its three-year project to gather as much information it can about what does and does not work in its own system.

“[Whether] this becomes a permanent mechanism in our system or not, we will have extremely useful information from it, and I think that [Ontario] will, too,” she said.

In the meantime, McGuire said the basic income pilot should not prevent Ontario from improving the system now by raising its social welfare rates, and not denying benefits to those who need them.

“I think we have to keep up our fight to raise the rates, [and] to improve the service,” McGuire said. “There’s still a lot of people suffering.”

Israel believes Trump will not seek to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem for now, officials say

Trump on embassy move: Ask me in a month Israeli officials say president will follow his predecessors’ policy, will sign waiver delaying implementation of U.S. law to move embassy in late May

April 28, 2017

by Barak Ravid


Israel believes that U.S. President Donald Trump will not seek to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem at this time, despite his possible visit to the country in a few weeks, senior Israeli officials with knowledge of the issue told Haaretz.

In an interview with Reuters overnight, Trump was asked about moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Trump avoided answering the question, saying: “Ask me in a month on that.”

Trump also told Reuters that, “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”

Since a law mandating a move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was passed in Congress in the mid-1990s, all U.S. presidents have signed a waiver postponing the law’s implementation every six months, citing national security reasons. The waiver, which President Barack Obama signed about a month before leaving office, is due to expire at the end of May.

The senior Israeli figures, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Israel believes the president will not depart from U.S. policy for now and will sign the presidential waiver at the end of May.

During his election campaign, Trump said repeatedly that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but postponed the move after coming into office. One reason was pressure by several Arab countries on the White House as well as Israeli concerns that the move would escalate security tensions.

Ahead of a possible visit by Trump to Israel around the same time as events marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, many on the Israeli and the American right said they hoped the president would use the occasion to announce that he would not sign the waiver, therefore enabling the embassy move. On Thursday, at an event in Washington, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis said the timing of the president’s visit is not coincidental and he believed Trump was signaling his intention to realize his election promise and bring the embassy to Jerusalem.

But senior Israeli figures say that it is highly likely that Trump will renew the current presidential waiver, postponing a decision on the matter for at least another six months. The president is not likely to use the potential upcoming visit to change policy, the senior figures said. They added that Trump wants to try to jump-start the peace process with the Palestinians and a decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem could significantly compromise such an attempt.

The new American ambassador, David Friedman, is expected to arrive in Israel on May 15. A senior Israeli official said that in light of the possible presidential visit, the Americans have asked that the date of Friedman’s presentation of his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin be moved up so that he will have officially taken up his post in time for the American president’s arrival in Israel.

An American delegation landed in Israel Thursday to begin preparations for a possible Trump visit. According to a senior Israeli official, the Americans said during talks on Thursday in Jerusalem with officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Residence that the White House is considering May 22 as a possible date for the visit.

During Thursday’s talks, the Americans said the visit is not certain. They said a final decision had not been made on the matter and that preliminary preparations of the type they were making at this time did not necessarily indicate that the visit would take actually take place. They said they were only at the preliminary stages of putting such a visit together.

If the visit does happen, Trump would land in Israel on May 22 at 11 A.M. and leave 26 hours later, on May 23 at 1 P.M. Trump is expected to come with a large entourage including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. The members of the American delegation said that one option was that Trump would also go to the Palestinian Authority during his lightening visit.

If the visit takes place, Trump is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Rivlin, visit Yad Vashem and make a speech, although the speech would not be given at the Knesset because the visit is not defined as a state visit. The American delegation is scheduled on Friday to visit the sites Trump is likely to go to while in Israel, such as the Western Wall, the Old City, Masada and the Allenby Bridge crossing on the border with Jordan.

Talks on a potential Trump visit to Israel come about a week before the U.S. president’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. The meeting with Abbas comes after Trump held a series of meetings with Netanyahu and leaders of Arab countries, discussing among other things restarting the peace process and achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

NSA Backs Down on Major Surveillance Program That Captured Americans’ Communications Without a Warrant

April 28 2017

by Dan Froomkin

The Intercept

The National Security Agency on Friday suddenly announced it is curtailing one of its major surveillance programs.

Under pressure from the secret court that oversees its practices, the NSA said its “upstream” program would no longer grab communications directly from the U.S. internet backbone “about” specific foreign targets — only communication to and from those targets.

This is a major change, essentially abandoning a bulk surveillance program that captured vast amounts of communications of innocent Americans – and turning instead to a still extensive but more targeted approach.

“This change ends a practice that could result in Americans’ communications being collected without a warrant merely for mentioning a foreign target,” Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement. “For years, I’ve repeatedly raised concerns that this amounted to an end run around the Fourth Amendment. This transparency should be commended. To permanently protect Americans’ rights, I intend to introduce legislation banning this kind of collection in the future.”

The “upstream” surveillance program is one of two controversial programs authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is scheduled to expire in December unless it is reauthorized by Congress. It was among several programs whose existence was a secret until being revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Until now, upstream was examining every Internet communication that traveled on the huge telecommunication cables going in and out of the U.S., searching through every word, grabbing sometimes very big chunks of data that included even a single mention of a specific target, and then putting everything into a database for NSA analysts to look through.

Communications between people, including Americans, was being captured and examined not because they were suspected of anything, but because of what they were saying. And the program wasn’t even efficient at limiting it to that.

The NSA statement on Friday said the move came “after a comprehensive review of mission needs, current technological constraints, United States person privacy interests, and certain difficulties in implementation.”

But reading between the lines, it wasn’t voluntary.

In a companion statement, the NSA acknowledged that it had failed to follow the rules the FISA court established for “about” collection in 2011: “NSA discovered several inadvertent compliance lapses,” is how they put it.

“NSA self-reported the incidents to both Congress and the FISC, as it is required to do. Following these reports, the FISC issued two extensions as NSA worked to fix the problems before the government submitted a new application for continued Section 702 certification. The FISC recently approved the changes after an extensive review.”

In other words, after giving the NSA two extensions, the court refused to reauthorize the wider program until it stopped “about” searches entirely.

That is less surprising considering that the 2011 FISC decision establishing the new rules came after a judge was shocked to learn that the 702 program wasn’t just snatching communications to and from targets, but was in fact looking through everything. Judge John Bates wrote at the time:

Based upon the government’s descriptions of the proposed collection, the Court understood that the acquisition of Internet communications under Section 702 would be limited to discrete “to/from” communications between or among individual account users and to “about” communications falling within [redacted] specific categories that had been first described to the Court in prior proceedings.

The independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded in its 2014 report that “certain aspects of the Section 702 program push the program close to the line of constitutional reasonableness.” One of those aspects: “the use of ‘about’ collection to acquire Internet communications that are neither to nor from the target of surveillance.”

Laura K. Donahue, the director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University – and now an amicus for the FISC – wrote in a seminal 2015 law review article that the “about” collection “significantly expands the volume of Internet intercepts under Section 702.” She noted that “to obtain ‘about’ communications, because of how the Internet is constructed, the NSA must monitor large amounts of data” and was “not just considering envelope information (for example, messages in which the selector is sending, receiving, or copied on the communication) but the actual content of messages.”

And she said it was clearly unconstitutional. “While the targeting procedures and the interception of information to or from non-U.S. persons located outside the United States meet the Fourth Amendment’s standard of reasonableness, when looked at in relation to Section 702, the inclusion of communications ‘about’ targets or selectors and the knowing interception of entirely domestic conversations shift the program outside constitutional bounds.”

Privacy activists expressed delight over the change Friday, although they retained their mistrust of the NSA and their demand that Congress refuse to reauthorize Section 702 as is.

“The NSA should never have been vacuuming up all of these communications, many of which involved Americans, without a warrant. While we welcome the voluntary stopping of this practice, it’s clear that Section 702 must be reformed so that the government cannot collect this information in the future,” said Michelle Richardson, Deputy Director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement.

“As a baseline, this makes a statutory ban on ‘about’ collection much more feasible. It becomes much harder for the NSA to justify the necessity of something they’re not doing,” said Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Constitution Project.

The change does not affect the other major program that operates under Section 702, called Prism. That program warrantlessly harvests communications to and from foreign targets from major Internet companies like Facebook and Google. But like upstream, Prism “incidentally” sweeps up innocent Americans’ communications as well. Those are then entered into a master database that a Justice Department lawyer once described as the “FBI’s ‘Google’ of its lawfully acquired information.” Critics call those “backdoor searches” of warrantless surveillance.

Wyden and other members of Congress have been trying to understand the scope of 702 surveillance for years, but the government has refused to provide even a ballpark figure.

Giant Skeleton Found under Maryland Mall!

April 29, 2017

by Benjamin Dova

Secret Science Revealed

On February 4, 2017, sewer repair workers in Marcussen, Maryland were repairing a broken main under the FlowerTime mall when they uncovered the skeleton of a man that was seen to be “at least twenty feet tall.”

Professor Wendell Lupus from the Croissant Valley Community College was called in by authorities and confirmed that the bones indeed were those of a giant human.

Apparently buried with him were artifacts to include a giant pair of badly rusted garden shears over four feet in length, a bronze belt buckle two feet across that depicted giants dancing around what appeared to be a huge pyramid with an antenna on the peak and a pair of dice a foot in diameter.

The bones were immediately photographed and then sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington for further examination.

“The Bible has instructed us that there were giants in the land,” Professor Lupus said, “and my book ‘Giants Among Us’ clearly proves this. Last year they found a 700 foot long rowboat on a mesa in Arizona and in Peru there are mummies nearly 70 feet tall! There is a landing strip there nearly three miles long which is indeed positive proof that huge space ships carrying giants were regular visitors to our planet.”

Mall owners objected to leaving the excavation open for further exploration and it was duly filled in.

“There still could be wonderful discoveries there,” Professor Lupus said, “but now we’ll never know. It’s so sad.”

DNA of extinct humans found in caves

April 28, 2017

BBC News

The DNA of extinct humans can be retrieved from sediments in caves – even in the absence of skeletal remains.

Researchers found the genetic material in sediment samples collected from seven archaeological sites.

The remains of ancient humans are often scarce, so the new findings could help scientists learn the identity of inhabitants at sites where only artefacts have been found.

The results are described in Science.

Antonio Rosas, a scientist at Spain’s Natural Science Museum in Madrid, said: “This work represents an enormous scientific breakthrough.

“We can now tell which species of hominid occupied a cave and on which particular stratigraphic level, even when no bone or skeletal remains are present.”

The researchers also found the DNA of many animals – some of them extinct

“We know that several components of sediments can bind DNA,” said lead researcher Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“We therefore decided to investigate whether hominin DNA may survive in sediments at archaeological sites known to have been occupied by ancient hominins.”

The team collaborated with researchers excavating at seven dig sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia and Spain.

They collected sediment samples covering a time span from 14,000 to 550,000 years ago.

Back in the lab, they fished out tiny fragments of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – genetic material from the mitochondria, which act as the “powerhouses” of biological cells. Even sediment samples that had been stored at room temperature for years yielded DNA.

Dr Meyer and his team members were able to identify the DNA of various animals belonging to 12 mammalian families, including extinct species such as the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, cave bear and cave hyena.

The scientists looked specifically for DNA from ancient humans in the samples.

“From the preliminary results, we suspected that in most of our samples, DNA from other mammals was too abundant to detect small traces of human DNA,” said co-author Viviane Slon, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany.

“We then switched strategies and started targeting specifically DNA fragments of human origin.”

The team members managed to retrieve DNA from Neanderthals in the cave sediments of four archaeological sites, including in layers where no human skeletal remains have been discovered.

In addition, they found new samples of Denisovan DNA in sediments from Denisova Cave in Russia.

“The technique could increase the sample size of the Neanderthal and Denisovan mitochondrial genomes, which until now were limited by the number of preserved remains,” co-author Spanish National Research Council scientist Carles Lalueza-Fox told the AFP news agency.

“And it will probably be possible to even recover substantial parts of nuclear genomes.”

Svante Pääbo, director of the Evolutionary Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, commented: “By retrieving hominin DNA from sediments, we can detect the presence of hominin groups at sites and in areas where this cannot be achieved with other methods.

“This shows that DNA analyses of sediments are a very useful archaeological procedure, which may become routine in the future.”




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