TBR News April 6, 2017

Apr 06 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. April 6, 2018:” “A Pole walking along the road happens to spy a lamp. He picks it up, and as it is covered in rust he gives it quick rub. Out comes a genie. ‘I’m the genie of the lamp and I can grant you three wishes,’ the genie says. ‘OK,’ says the Pole. ‘I want the Chinese army to invade Poland.’ Odd choice, the genie thinks, but nevertheless he grants the wish, and the Chinese army comes all the way from China, invades, and goes back home. ‘Right, second wish. Maybe something more positive,’ says the genie. ‘No,’ replies the Pole, ‘I want the Chinese army to invade again.’ So the Chinese come all the way from China, lay waste to more of Poland, and then go home. ‘Listen,’ says the genie. ‘You have one last wish. I can make Poland the most beautiful and prosperous place on earth.’ ‘If you don’t mind, I want the Chinese army to invade one more time.’ So the Chinese army comes again, destroys what’s left of Poland, and then goes home for the last time. ‘ I don’t understand,’ says the genie. ‘Why did you want the Chinese army to invade Poland three times?.’ ‘Well,’ replies the Pole, ‘they had to go through Russia six times.'”


Table of Contents

  • Coming Attraction: Lunatic Loose in West Wing
  • Syrian Showdown: Trump vs. the Generals
  • Special Report: How a secret Russian airlift helps Syria’s Assad
  • Syria withdrawal dilemma: Trump’s Mideast strategy is as confused as ever
  • Are your phone camera and microphone spying on you?
  • Facebook scandal: Data scraping knows no borders
  • German court rejects extradition of former Catalan leader on rebellion charge
  • Secrecy News
  • Israel Is Prepared to Kill More Unarmed Protesters in Gaza


Coming Attraction: Lunatic Loose in West Wing

April 6, 2018

by Ray McGovern


John Bolton’s March 22 appointment-by-tweet as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has given “March Madness” a new and ominous meaning. There is less that a week left to batten down the hatches before Bolton makes U.S. foreign policy worse that it already is.

During a recent interview with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill (minutes 35 to 51) I mentioned that Bolton fits seamlessly into a group of take-no-prisoners zealots once widely known in Washington circles as “the crazies,” and now more commonly referred to as “neocons.”

Beginning in the 1970s, “the crazies” sobriquet was applied to Cold Warriors hell bent on bashing Russians, Chinese, Arabs – anyone who challenged U.S. “exceptionalism” (read hegemony). More to the point, I told Scahill that President (and former CIA Director) George H. W. Bush was among those using the term freely, since it seemed so apt. I have been challenged to prove it.

I don’t make stuff up. And with the appointment of the certifiable Bolton, the “the crazies” have become far more than an historical footnote. Rather, the crucible that Bush-41 and other reasonably moderate policymakers endured at their hands give the experience major relevance today. Thus, I am persuaded it would be best not to ask people simply to take my word for it when I refer to “the crazies,” their significance, and the differing attitudes the two Bushes had toward them.

George H. W. Bush and I had a longstanding professional and, later, cordial relationship. For many years after he stopped being president, we stayed in touch – mostly by letter. This is the first time I have chosen to share any of our personal correspondence. I do so not only because of the ominous importance of Bolton’s appointment, but also because I am virtually certain the elder Bush would want me to.

Scanned below is a note George H. W. Bush sent me eight weeks before his son, egged on by the same “crazies” his father knew well from earlier incarnations, launched an illegal and unnecessary war for regime change in Iraq – unleashing chaos in the Middle East.

Shut Out of the Media

By January 2003, it was clear that Bush-43 was about to launch a war of aggression – the crime defined by the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” (Think torture, for example.) During most of 2002, several of us former intelligence analysts had been comparing notes, giving one another sanity checks, writing op-eds pointing to the flimsiness of the “intelligence” cobbled together to allege a weapons-of-mass-destruction “threat” from Iraq, and warning of the catastrophe that war on Iraq would bring.

Except for an occasional op-ed wedged into the Christian Science Monitor or the Miami Herald, for example, we were ostracized from “mainstream media.” The New York Times and Washington Post were on a feeding frenzy from the government trough and TV pundits were getting high ratings by beating the drum for war. Small wonder the entire media was allergic to what we were saying, despite our many years of experience in intelligence analysis. Warnings to slow down and think were the last thing wanted by those already profiteering from a war on the near horizon.

The challenge we faced was how to get through to President George W. Bush. It had become crystal clear that the only way to do that would be to do an end run around “the crazies” – the criminally insane advisers that his father knew so well – Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

Bolton: One of the Crazies

John Bolton was Cheney’s “crazy” at the State Department. Secretary Colin Powell was pretty much window dressing. He could be counted on not to complain loudly – much less quit – even if he strongly suspected he was being had. Powell had gotten to where he was by saluting sharply and doing what superiors told him to do. As secretary of state, Powell was not crazy – just craven. He enjoyed more credibility than the rest of the gang and rather than risk being ostracized like the rest of us, he sacrificed that credibility on the altar of the “supreme international crime.”

In those days Bolton did not hesitate to run circles around – and bully – the secretary of state and many others. This must be considered a harbinger of things to come, starting on Monday, when the bully comes to the china shop in the West Wing. While longevity in office is not the hallmark of the Trump administration, even if Bolton’s tenure turns out to be short-lived, the crucial months immediately ahead will provide Bolton with ample opportunity to wreak the kind of havoc that “the crazies” continue to see as enhancing U.S. – and not incidentally – Israeli influence in the Middle East. Bear in mind, Bolton still says the attack on Iraq was a good idea. And he is out to scuttle the landmark agreement that succeeded in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon any time soon.

Trying to Head Off War

In August 2002, as the Bush-43 administration and U.S. media prepared the country for war on Iraq, the elder Bush’s national security advisor, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and Secretary of State James Baker each wrote op-eds in an attempt to wean the younger Bush off the “crazies’” milk. Scowcroft’s Wall Street Journal op-ed of August 15 was as blunt as its title, “Don’t Attack Saddam.” The cautionary thrust of Baker’s piece in the New York Times ten days later, was more diplomatic but equally clear.

But these interventions, widely thought to have been approved by Bush-41, had a predictable opposite effect on the younger Bush, determined as he was to become the “first war president of the 21st Century” (his words). It is a safe bet also that Cheney and other “crazies” baited him with, “Are you going to let Daddy, who doesn’t respect ANY of us, tell you what to do?”

All attempts to insert a rod into the wheels of the juggernaut heading downhill toward war were looking hopeless, when a new idea occurred. Maybe George H. W. Bush could get through to his son. What’s to lose? On January 11, 2002 I wrote a letter to the elder Bush asking him to speak “privately to your son George about the crazies advising him on Iraq,” adding “I am aghast at the cavalier way in which the [Richard] Perles of the Pentagon are promoting the use of nuclear weapons as an acceptable option against Iraq.”

My letter continued: “That such people have the President’s ear is downright scary. I think he needs to know why you exercised such care to keep such folks at arms length. (And, as you may know, they are exerting unrelenting pressure on CIA analysts to come up with the “right” answers. You know how that goes!)”

In the letter I enclosed a handful of op-eds that I had managed to get past 2nd-tier mainstream media censors. In those writings, I was much more pointed in my criticism of the Bush/Cheney administration’s approach to Iraq than Scowcroft and Baker had been in August 2002.

Initially, I was encouraged at the way the elder Bush began his January 22, 2003 note to me: “It is only ‘meet and right’ that you speak out.” As I read on, however, I asked myself how he could let the wish be father to the thought, so to speak. (Incidentally, “POTUS” in his note is the acronym for “President of the United States;” number 43, of course, was George Jr.)

The elder Bush may not have been fully conscious of it, but he was whistling in the dark, having long since decided to leave to surrogates like Scowcroft and Baker the task of highlighting publicly the criminal folly of attacking Iraq. The father may have tried privately; who knows. It was, in my view, a tragedy that he did not speak out publicly. He would have been very well aware that this was the only thing that would have had a chance of stopping his son from committing what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as “the supreme international crime.”

It is, of couse, difficult for a father to admit that his son fell under the influence – this time not alcohol or drugs, but rather the at least equally noxious demonic influence of “the crazies,” which Billy Graham himself might have found beyond his power to exorcise. Maybe it is partly because I know the elder Bush personally, but it does strike me that, since we are all human, some degree of empathy might be in order. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be a former President with a son, also a former President, undeniably responsible for such widespread killing, injury and abject misery.

Speaking Out – Too Late

It was a dozen years too late, but George H.W. Bush finally did give voice to his doubts about the wisdom of rushing into the Iraq War. In Jon Meacham’s biography, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” the elder Bush puts most of the blame for Iraq on his son’s “iron-ass” advisers, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, while at the same time admitting where the buck stops. With that Watergate-style “modified, limited hangout,” and his (richly deserved) criticism of his two old nemeses, Bush-41 may be able to live more comfortably with himself, hoping to get beyond what I believe must be his lingering regret at not going public when that might have stopped “arrogant” Rumsfeld and “hardline” Cheney from inflicting their madness on the Middle East. No doubt he is painfully aware that he was one of the very few people who might have been able to stop the chaos and carnage, had he spoken out publicly.

Bush-41’s not-to-worry note to me had the opposite effect with those of us CIA alumni alarmed at the gathering storm and the unconscionable role being played by those of our former CIA colleagues still there in manufacturing pre-Iraq-war “intelligence.” We could see what was going on in real time; we did not have to wait five years for the bipartisan conclusions of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation. Introducing its findings, Chairman Jan Rockefeller said: “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Back to January 2003: a few days after I received President Bush’s not-to-worry note of January 22, 2003, a handful of us former senior CIA officials went forward with plans to create Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). We had been giving one another sanity checks before finalizing draft articles about the scarcely believable things we were observing – including unmistakable signs that our profession of intelligence analysis was being prostituted. On the afternoon of February 5, 2003, after Powell misled the UN Security Council, we issued our first (of three) VIPS Memoranda for the President before the war. We graded Powell “C” for content, and warned President George W. Bush, in effect, to beware “the crazies,” closing with these words:

“After watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Team B

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency in August 1974, the White House was a center of intrigue. Serving as Chief of Staff for President Ford, Donald Rumsfeld (1974-75), with help from Dick Cheney (1975-76), engineered Bush’s nomination to become CIA Director. This was widely seen as a cynical move to take Bush out of contention for the Republican ticket in 1976 and possibly beyond, since the post of CIA director was regarded as a dead-end job and, ideally, would keep you out of politics. (Alas, this did not turn out the way Rumsfeld expected – damn those “unknown unknowns.”)

If, at the same time, Rumsfeld and Cheney could brand GHW Bush soft on communism and brighten the future for the Military-Industrial Complex, that would put icing on the cake. Rumsfeld had been making evidence-impoverished speeches at the time, arguing that the Soviets were ignoring the AMB Treaty and other arms control arrangements and were secretly building up to attack the United States. He and the equally relentless Paul Wolfowitz were doing all they could to create a much more alarming picture of the Soviet Union, its intentions, and its views about fighting and winning a nuclear war. Sound familiar?

Bush arrived at CIA after U.S.-Soviet detente had begun to flourish. The cornerstone Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was almost four years old and had introduced the somewhat mad but stabilizing reality of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Crazies and neocons alike lived in desperate fear of losing their favorite enemy, the USSR. Sound familiar?

Bush was CIA Director for the year January 1976 to January 1977, during which I worked directly for him. At the time, I was Acting National Intelligence Officer for Western Europe where post-WWII certainties were unravelling and it was my job to get intelligence community-wide assessments to the White House – often on fast breaking events. We almost wore out what was then the latest technology – the “LDX” (for Long Distance Xerography) machine – sending an unprecedentedly high number of “Alert Memoranda” from CIA Headquarters to the White House. (“LDX,” of course, is now fax; there was no Internet.)

As ANIO, I also chaired National Intelligence Estimates on Italy and Spain. As far as I could observe from that senior post, Director Bush honored his incoming pledge not to put any political gloss on the judgments of intelligence analysts.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, of course, had made no such pledge. They persuaded President Ford to set up a “Team B” analysis, contending that CIA and intelligence community analyses and estimates were naively rosy. Bush’s predecessor as CIA director, William Colby, had turned the proposal down flat, but he had no political ambitions. I suspect Bush, though, saw a Rumsfeld trap to color him soft on the USSR. In any case, against the advice of virtually all intelligence professionals, Bush succumbed to the political pressure and acquiesced in the establishment of a Team B to do alternative analyses. No one was surprised that these painted a much more threatening and inaccurate picture of Soviet strategic intentions.

Paul Warnke, a senior official of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at the time of Team B, put it this way:

“Whatever might be said for evaluation of strategic capabilities by a group of outside experts, the impracticality of achieving useful results by ‘independent’ analysis of strategic objectives should have been self-evident. Moreover, the futility of the Team B enterprise was assured by the selection of the panel’s members. Rather than including a diversity of views … the Strategic Objectives Panel was composed entirely of individuals who made careers of viewing the Soviet menace with alarm.”

The fact that Team B’s conclusions were widely regarded as inaccurate did not deter Rumsfeld. He went about promoting them as valid and succeeded in undermining arms control efforts for the next several years. Two days before Jimmy Carter’s inauguration Rumsfeld fired his parting shot, saying, “No doubt exists about the capabilities of the Soviet armed forces” and that those capabilities “indicate a tendency toward war fighting … rather than the more modish Western models of deterrence through mutual vulnerability.”

GHW Bush in the White House

When George H. W. Bush came into town as vice president, he got President Reagan’s permission to be briefed with “The President’s Daily Brief” and I became a daily briefer from 1981 to 1985. That job was purely substantive. Even so, my colleagues and I have been very careful to regard those conversations as sacrosanct, for obvious reasons. By the time he became president in 1989, he had come to know, all too well, “the crazies” and what they were capable of. Bush’s main political nemesis, Donald Rumsfeld, could be kept at bay, and other “crazies” kept out of the most senior posts – until Bush the younger put them in positions in which they could do serious damage. John Bolton had been enfant terrible on arms control, persuading Bush-43 to ditch the ABM Treaty. On Monday, he can be expected to arrive at the West Wing with his wrecking ball.

Even Jimmy Carter Speaks Out

Given how difficult Rumsfeld and other hardliners made it for President Carter to work with the Russians on arms control, and the fact that Bolton has been playing that role more recently, Jimmy Carter’s comments on Bolton – while unusually sharp – do not come as a complete surprise. Besides, experience has certainly shown how foolish it can be to dismiss out of hand what former presidents say about their successors’ appointments to key national security positions. This goes in spades in the case of John Bolton.

Just three days after Bolton’s appointment, the normally soft-spoken Jimmy Carter became plain-spoken/outspoken Jimmy Carter, telling USA Today that the selection of Bolton “is a disaster for our country.” When asked what advice he would give Trump on North Korea, for example, Carter said his “first advice” would be to fire Bolton.

In sum, if you asked Bush-41, Carter’s successor as president, how he would describe John Bolton, I am confident he would lump Bolton together with those he called “the crazies” back in the day, referring to headstrong ideologues adept at blowing things up – things like arms agreements negotiated with painstaking care, giving appropriate consideration to the strategic views of adversaries and friends alike. Sadly, “crazy” seems to have become the new normal in Washington, with warmongers and regime-changers like Bolton in charge, people who have not served a day in uniform and have no direct experience of war other than starting them.


Syrian Showdown: Trump vs. the Generals

April 6, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan


With ISIS on the run in Syria, President Trump this week declared that he intends to make good on his promise to bring the troops home.

“I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home,” said the president. We’ve gotten “nothing out of the $7 trillion (spent) in the Middle East in the last 17 years. … So, it’s time.”

Not so fast, Mr. President.

For even as Trump was speaking he was being contradicted by his Centcom commander Gen. Joseph Votel. “A lot of good progress has been made” in Syria, Votel conceded, “but the hard part … is in front of us.”

Moreover, added Votel, when we defeat ISIS, we must stabilize Syria and see to its reconstruction.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been even more specific:

“It is crucial to our national defense to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Syria, to help bring an end to that conflict, as they chart a course to achieve a new political future.”

But has not Syria’s “political future” already been charted?

Bashar Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, has won his seven-year civil war. He has retaken the rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. He now controls most of the country that we and the Kurds do not.

According to The Washington Post, Defense Secretary James Mattis is also not on board with Trump and “has repeatedly said … that U.S. troops would be staying in Syria for the foreseeable future to guarantee stability and political resolution to the civil war.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who fears a “Shiite corridor” from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, also opposes Trump. “If you take those (U.S.) troops out from east Syria,” the prince told Time, “you will lose that checkpoint … American troops should stay (in Syria) at least for the mid-term, if not the long-term.”

Bibi Netanyahu also wants us to stay in Syria.

Wednesday, Trump acceded to his generals. He agreed to leave our troops in Syria until ISIS is finished. However, as the 2,000 U.S. troops there are not now engaging ISIS – many of our Kurd allies are going back north to defend border towns threatened by Turkey – this could take a while.

Yet a showdown is coming. And, stated starkly, the divide is this:

Trump sees al-Qaida and ISIS as the real enemy and is prepared to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria as soon as the caliphate is eradicated. And if Assad is in power then, backed by Russia and Iran, so be it.

Trump does not see an Assad-ruled Syria, which has existed since the Nixon presidency, as a great threat to the United States. He is unwilling to spill more American blood to overturn the outcome of a war that Syria, Iran and Russia have already won. Nor is he prepared to foot the bill for the reconstruction of Syria, or for any long-term occupation of that quadrant of Syria that we and our allies now hold.

Once ISIS is defeated, Trump wants out of the war and out of Syria.

The Israelis, Saudis and most of our foreign policy elite, however, vehemently disagree. They want the U.S. to hold onto that slice of Syria east of the Euphrates that we now occupy, and to use the leverage of our troops on Syrian soil to effect the removal of President Assad and the expulsion of the Iranians.

The War Party does not concede Syria is lost. It sees the real battle as dead ahead. It is eager to confront and, if need be, fight Syrians, Iranians and Shiite militias should they cross to the east bank of the Euphrates, as they did weeks ago, when U.S. artillery and air power slaughtered them in the hundreds, Russians included.

If U.S. troops do remain in Syria, the probability is high that Trump, like Presidents Bush and Obama before him, will be ensnared indefinitely in the Forever War of the Middle East.

President Erdogan of Turkey, who has seized Afrin from the Syrian Kurds, is threatening to move on Manbij, where Kurdish troops are backed by U.S. troops. If Erdogan does not back away from his threat, NATO allies could start shooting at one another.

As the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria are both uninvited and unwelcome, a triumphant Assad is likely soon to demand that we remove them from his country.

Will we defy President Assad then, with the possibility U.S. planes and troops could be engaging Syrians, Russians, Iranians and Shiite militias, in a country where we have no right to be?

Trump is being denounced as an isolationist. But what gains have we reaped from 17 years of Middle East wars – from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen – to justify all the blood shed and the treasure lost?

And how has our great rival China suffered from not having fought in any of these wars?


Special Report: How a secret Russian airlift helps Syria’s Assad

April 6, 2018

by Rinat Sagdiev, Maria Tsvetkova and Olena Vasina

MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – In a corner of the departures area at Rostov airport in southern Russia, a group of about 130 men, many of them carrying overstuffed military-style rucksacks, lined up at four check-in desks beneath screens that showed no flight number or destination.

When a Reuters reporter asked the men about their destination, one said: “We signed a piece of paper – we’re not allowed to say anything. Any minute the boss will come and we’ll get into trouble.

“You too,” he warned.

The chartered Airbus A320 waiting on the tarmac for them had just flown in from the Syrian capital, Damascus, disgorging about 30 men with tanned faces into the largely deserted arrivals area. Most were in camouflage gear and khaki desert boots. Some were toting bags from the Damascus airport duty-free.

The men were private Russian military contractors, the latest human cargo in a secretive airlift using civilian planes to ferry military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his six-year fight against rebels, a Reuters investigation of the logistical network behind Assad’s forces has uncovered.

The Airbus they flew on was just one of dozens of aircraft that once belonged to mainstream European and U.S. aviation companies, then were passed through a web of intermediary companies and offshore firms to Middle Eastern airlines subject to U.S. sanctions – moves that Washington alleges are helping Syria bypass the sanctions.

The flights in and out of Rostov, which no organization has previously documented, are operated by Cham Wings, a Syrian airline hit with U.S. sanctions in 2016 for allegedly transporting pro-Assad fighters to Syria and helping Syrian military intelligence transport weapons and equipment. The flights, which almost always land late at night, don’t appear in any airport or airline timetables, and fly in from either Damascus or Latakia, a Syrian city where Russia has a military base.

The operation lays bare the gaps in the U.S. sanctions, which are designed to starve Assad and his allies in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah militia of the men and materiel they need to wage their military campaign.

It also provides a glimpse of the methods used to send private Russian military contractors to Syria – a deployment the Kremlin insists does not exist. Russian officials say Moscow’s presence is limited to air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops.

Reuters reporters staked out the Rostov airport, logged the unusual flights using publicly available flight-tracking data, searched aircraft ownership registries and conducted dozens of interviews, including a meeting at a fashionable restaurant with a former Soviet marine major on a U.S. government blacklist.

Asked about the flights and the activities of Russian private military contractors in Syria, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin referred Reuters to the Defence Ministry – which didn’t reply to the questions. The Syrian government also didn’t reply to questions.

In response to detailed Reuters questions, Cham Wings said only that information on where it flies was available on its website.

The flights to Rostov aren’t mentioned on the site. But the journeys do appear in online flight-tracking databases. Reporters traced flights between the Rostov airport and Syria from Jan. 5, 2017, to March 11, 2018. In that time, Cham Wings aircraft made 51 round trips, each time using Airbus A320 jets that can carry up to 180 passengers.

The issue of military casualties is highly sensitive in Russia, where memories linger of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan that dragged on for years. Friends and relatives of the contractors suspect Moscow is using the private fighters in Syria because that way it can put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers, whose deaths have to be accounted for.

Forty-four regular Russian service personnel have died in Syria since the start of the operation there in September 2015, Russian authorities have said. A Reuters tally based on accounts from families and friends of the dead and local officials suggests that at least 40 contractors were killed between January and August 2017 alone.

One contractor killed in Syria left Russia on a date that tallies with one of the mysterious nighttime flights out of Rostov, his widow said. The death certificate issued by the Russian consulate in Damascus gave his cause of death as “haemorrhagic shock from shrapnel and bullet wounds.”


To sustain his military campaign against rebels, Assad and his allies in Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah militia need access to civilian aircraft to fly in men and supplies. Washington has tried to choke off access to the aircraft and their parts through export restrictions on Syria and Iran and through Treasury Department sanctions blacklisting airlines in those countries. The Treasury Department has also blacklisted several companies outside Syria, accusing them of acting as middlemen.

“These actions demonstrate our resolve to target anyone who is enabling Assad and his regime,” John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in testimony to a congressional committee in November. In recent years, dozens of planes have been registered in Ukraine to two firms, Khors and Dart, that were founded by a former Soviet marine major and his onetime military comrades, according to the Ukraine national aircraft register. The planes were then sold or leased and ended up being operated by Iranian and Syrian airlines, according to the flight-tracking data.

One of the companies, Khors, and the former marine major, Sergei Tomchani, have been on a U.S. Commerce Department blacklist since 2011 for allegedly exporting aircraft to Iran and Syria without obtaining licenses from Washington.

But in the past seven years, Khors and Dart have managed to acquire or lease 84 second-hand Airbus and Boeing aircraft by passing the aircraft through layers of non-sanctioned entities, according to information collated by Reuters from national aircraft registers. Of these 84 aircraft, at least 40 have since been used in Iran, Syria and Iraq, according to data from three flight-tracking websites, which show the routes aircraft fly and give the call sign of the company operating them.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department added Khors and Dart to its sanctions blacklist, saying they were helping sanctioned airlines procure U.S.-made aircraft. Khors and Dart, as well as Tomchani, have denied any wrongdoing related to supplying planes to sanctioned entities.

The ownership histories of some of the aircraft tracked by Reuters showed how the U.S. restrictions on supplies to Iranian and Syrian airlines may be skirted. As the ownership skips from one country to the next, the complex paper trail masks the identity of those involved in Syria’s procurement of the planes.

One of the Cham Wings Airbus A320 jets that has made the Rostov-Syria trip was, according to the Irish aircraft register, once owned by ILFC Ireland Limited, a subsidiary of Dublin-based AerCap, one of the world’s biggest aircraft-leasing firms.

In January 2015, the aircraft was removed from the Irish register, said a spokesman for the Irish Aviation Authority, which administers the register. For the next two months, the aircraft, which carried the identification number EI-DXY, vanished from national registers before showing up on the aircraft register in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian register gave its new owner as Gresham Marketing Ltd, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. The owners of the company are two Ukrainians, Viktor Romanika and Nikolai Saverchenko, according to corporate documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Ukrainian business records show they are managers in small local businesses. Contacted by phone, Romanika said he knew nothing and hung up. Saverchenko couldn’t be reached by phone and didn’t respond to a letter delivered to the address listed for him.

In March 2015, Gresham leased EI-DXY to Dart, according to the Ukrainian aircraft register. The identification number was changed to a Ukrainian number, UR-CNU. On Aug. 20, 2015, Khors became the aircraft’s operator, the register showed.

A representative of the Ukraine State Aviation Service said the register was not intended as official confirmation of ownership but that there had been no complaints about the accuracy of its information.

From April that year, the aircraft was flown by Cham Wings, according to data from the flight-tracking websites.

Gillian Culhane, a spokeswoman for AerCap, the firm whose subsidiary owned the plane in 2015, didn’t respond to written questions or answer repeated phone calls seeking comment about what AerCap knew about the subsequent owners and operators of the plane. Dart and Khors didn’t respond to questions about the specific aircraft.

Four lawyers specializing in U.S. export rules say that transactions involving aircraft that end up in Iran or Syria carry significant risks for Western companies supplying the planes or equipment. Even if they had no direct dealings with a sanctioned entity, the companies supplying the aircraft can face penalties or restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, the lawyers said.

The lawyers, however, said that the legal exposure for aircraft makers such as Boeing and Airbus was minimal, because the trade involves second-hand aircraft that are generally more than 20 years old, and the planes had been through a long chain of owners before ending up with operators subject to sanctions.

Two of the lawyers, including Edward J. Krauland, who leads the international regulation and compliance group at law firm Steptoe & Johnson, said U.S. export rules apply explicitly to Boeing aircraft because they’re made in the United States. But they can also apply to Airbus jets because, in many cases, a substantial percentage of the components is of U.S. origin.

Boeing said in a statement: “The aircraft transactions described that are the subject of your inquiry did not involve The Boeing Company. Boeing maintains a robust overall trade control and sanctions compliance program.” An Airbus spokesman said, “Airbus fully respects all applicable legal requirements with regard to transactions with countries under U.N., EU, UK and U.S. sanctions.”


When Reuters sent a series of questions to Khors and Dart about their activities, Tomchani, the former marine major, called the reporter within minutes.

He said he was no longer a shareholder in either firm but was acting as a consultant to them, and that the questions had been passed on to him. He invited the reporter to meet the following day at the high-end Velyur restaurant in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

In the 90-minute meeting, he denied providing aircraft to Iran or Syria. Instead, he said, Khors and Dart had provided aircraft to third parties, which he did not identify. Those third parties, he said, supplied the planes on to the end users.

“We did not supply aircraft to Iran,” Tomchani, a man of military bearing in his late 50s, said as he sipped herbal tea. “We have nothing to do with supplying aircraft to Cham Wings.”

Neither Dart nor Khors could have sold or leased aircraft to Cham Wings because they were not the owners of the aircraft, he said.

Tomchani used to serve in a marine unit of the Soviet armed forces in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific coast. In 1991, after quitting the military with the rank of major, he set up Khors along with two other officers in his unit. Tomchani and his partners made a living by flying Soviet-built aircraft, sold off cheap after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in war zones.

Khors flew cargoes in Angola for the Angolan government and Defence Ministry and aid agencies during its civil war. Tomchani said his companies also operated flights in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, transporting private security contractors.

Ukraine’s register of business ownership showed that Tomchani ceased to be a shareholder in Khors after June 2010 and that he gave up his interest in Dart at some point after April 2011. He told Reuters he sold his stakes to “major businessmen,” but declined to name them.

He did say, however, that the people listed at the time of the interview in Ukraine’s business register as the owners of the two companies were merely proxies. One of the owners in the register was a mid-ranking Khors executive, one was an 81-year-old accountant for several Kiev firms, and another was someone with the same name and address as a librarian from Melitopol in southeast Ukraine.

According to the business register, the owner of 25 percent in Khors is someone called Vladimir Suchkov. The address listed for him in the register is No. 33, Elektrikov Street, Kiev. That’s the same address as the one listed in Ukrainian government procurement documents for military unit No. A0515, which comes under the command of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate.

Tomchani said he and Suchkov were old acquaintances. “He wasn’t a bad specialist,” Tomchani said. “A young lad, but not bad.” He said he believed Suchkov was living in Russia.

Reuters was unable to contact Suchkov. A telephone number listed for him was out of service. The Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate’s acting head, Alexei Bakumenko, told Reuters that Suchkov doesn’t work there.

Reuters found no evidence of any other link between the trade in aircraft and Ukraine’s broader spy apparatus. Ukrainian military intelligence said it has no knowledge of the supply of aircraft to Syria, has no connection to the transport of military contractors from Russia to Syria, and hasn’t cooperated with Khors, Dart or Cham Wings.

On Jan. 9 this year, Dart changed its name to Alanna, and listed a new address and founders, according to the Ukrainian business register. On March 1, a new company, Alanna Air, took over Alanna’s assets and liabilities, the register showed.


Although Moscow denies it is sending private military contractors to Syria, plenty of people say that’s untrue. Among them are dozens of friends and former colleagues of the fighters and people associated with the firm that recruits the men – a shadowy organization known as Wagner with no offices, not even a brass plaque on a door.

It was founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former military intelligence officer, according to people interviewed during this investigation. Its first combat role was in eastern Ukraine in support of Moscow-backed separatists, they said. Reuters was unable to contact Utkin directly. The League of Veterans of Local Conflicts, which according to Russian media has ties to Utkin, declined to pass on a message to him, saying it had no connection to the Wagner group.

Russia has 2,000 to 3,000 contractors fighting in Syria, said Yevgeny Shabayev, local leader of a paramilitary organization in Russia who is in touch with some of the men. In a single battle in February this year, about 300 contractors were either killed or wounded, according to a military doctor and two other sources familiar with the matter.

A Russian private military contractor who has been on four missions to Syria said he arrived there on board a Cham Wings flight from Rostov. The flights were the main route for transporting the contractors, said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Vladimir. He said the contractors occasionally use Russian military aircraft too, when they can’t all fit on the Cham Wings jets.

Two employees at Rostov airport talked to Reuters about the men on the mysterious flights to Syria.

“Our understanding is that these are contractors,” said an employee who said he assisted with boarding for several of the Syria flights. He pointed to their destination, the fact there were no women among them and that they carried military-style rucksacks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Reuters wasn’t able to establish how many passengers were carried between Russia and Syria, and it is possible that some of those on board were not in Syria in combat roles. Some may have landed in Damascus, then flown to other destinations outside Syria.

Interviews with relatives of contractors killed in Syria also indicate the A320 flights to Rostov are used to transport Russian military contractors. The widow of one contractor killed in Syria said the last time she spoke to her husband by phone was on Jan. 21 last year – the same day, according to flight-tracking data, that a Cham Wings charter flew to Syria.

“He called on the evening of the 21st … There were men talking and the sound of walkie-talkies. And by the 22nd he was already not reachable. Only text messages were reaching him,” said the woman, who had previously visited her husband at a training camp for the contractors in southern Russia.

After he was killed, she said, his body was delivered to Russia. She received a death certificate saying he had died of “haemorrhagic shock from shrapnel and bullet wounds.”

The widows of two other contractors killed in Syria described how their husbands’ bodies arrived back home. Like the first widow, they spoke on condition of anonymity. They said representatives of the organization that recruited their husbands warned of repercussions if they spoke to the media.

The two contractors had been on previous combat tours, their widows said. The women said they received death certificates giving Syria as the location of death. Reuters saw the certificates: On one, the cause of death was listed as “carbonization of the body” – in other words, he burned to death. The other man bled to death from multiple shrapnel wounds, the certificate said.

One of the widows recounted conversations with her husband after he returned from his first tour of duty to Syria. He told her that Russian contractors there are often sent into the thick of the battle and are the first to enter captured towns, she said.

Syrian government forces then come into the town and raise their flags, he told her, taking credit for the victory.

Additional reporting by Christian Lowe, Anton Zverev, Gleb Stolyarov and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow and Joel Schectman and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; editing by Kari Howard and Richard Woods

 Syria withdrawal dilemma: Trump’s Mideast strategy is as confused as ever

April 6, 2018

by F. Michael Maloof


President Trump for now has decided to allow about 2,000 US troops to remain in Syria. But the controversy over whether or not to withdraw them is symptomatic of Washington’s lack of overall strategy for the Middle East.

This indecisiveness has prompted Trump to warm up further with Saudi Arabia, the same country that helped finance and logistically support the rise of jihadist Salafists, including Al-Qaida and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). Now, Trump wants the Saudi kingdom to financially underwrite US efforts to consolidate the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq against what both Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman regard as a threat from Iran spreading its influence throughout the region.

It also can be seen as a desperate move by the Trump administration to maintain some modicum of influence in the Middle East in the face of its role rapidly being replaced by the influence of Russia, Iran and now Turkey.

Russia and Iran were invited by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to assist in fighting jihadist Salafist fighters, many being foreign fighters, along with Al-Qaida and Islamic State. However, US troops never were invited by the Syrian government and have been labeled as an occupying force. In addition, the US Congress never authorized such a move.

Now, Trump has become impatient with the progress of a resolution of the Syrian civil war and sees how expensive and complicated it has become and would rather refocus on US infrastructure reconstruction. He has reverted back to promises made during the presidential campaign in which his foreign policy, in effect, has become his domestic policy.

“Leaving U.S. forces there for a ‘short term’ is a compromise but those who guess we’ll stay long-term may want to re-think,” said Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria.

“Trump will remember the applause he heard at the Ohio rally when he said he’d pull the forces back out. In my own travels around the US speaking about Syria, I’ve yet to meet any audience anywhere that wants us to get more involved in the Syrian civil war.”

But the president has been bombarded by national security experts who caution against such a sudden removal of American troops, pointing to what occurred following US military departure from Iraq in 2011 and following the initial defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

These experts point out that the US has maintained a military presence in Germany, Japan, and South Korea more than 60 years following conflicts with those countries.

Those who want the US to remain in Syria also think the US should provide Syria with humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

While Trump, for the moment, has reversed his decision to withdraw troops from Syria, he has not lifted his suspension of the $200 million earmarked for Syrian reconstruction.

A precipitous withdrawal “would send a frightening message” to the entire region, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the US, said at a conference recently held at the United States Institute of Peace.

The further concern is the threat to other Trump administration goals, such as blunting Iran’s influence in the region.

If the US withdraws from Iraq and Syria, it will just make the problems worse,” said Alireza Nader, consultant associated with the RAND Corporation. “The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is going to heat up. There might be a military conflict between Iran and Israel… If the US really wants to counter Iran in the region, it has to stay in Syria.”

The president also has surrounded himself with what has been labeled as a “war cabinet,” such as the neo-con John Bolton, his brand new national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to be his next Secretary of State.

Both are regarded as “hawks,” with Bolton having been an avid supporter of then-President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 when he was the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

These two, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have been pushing Trump to remain in Syria. They point to the creation of Islamic State after his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, pulled out US troops in Iraq in December 2011.

Jihadist Islamist fighters quickly filled the military vacuum created by their exit and were able to mount a formidable force capable of defeating the Iraqi military.

With its back against the wall after ISIS took over whole areas near Mosul to begin establishing their caliphate and liquidating large number of Iraqi military forces, Iraq was forced once again to invite back US forces. Their new mission wasn’t to actively engage in a combat role but to train and assist the nearly depleted Iraqi military to be able to defeat ISIS. US Special Forces remain in Iraq to this day.

The major argument by Trump’s national security advisers for keeping the troops in Syria in an area controlled by the Kurds is to create a number of bases, principally in eastern Syria, from which those forces can continue to attack remnants of Islamic State fighters who remain in this predominantly Sunni-portion of Syria. Some 95 percent of the ISIS fighters have been cleaned out, their caliphate no longer exists, but another five percent remain in the country.

Their argument is that if US forces suddenly withdrew, the ISIS fighters could regroup and once again become a serious threat.

In Syria, however, the US made a decision to create bases in Kurdish-controlled areas taken back by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is comprised mainly of Kurds and Arab fighters. This has put the US in a position of confrontation with Turkey. Ankara has made further military inroads into northern Syria against the Kurds who are opposite the southwestern portion of Turkey which is predominantly Kurdish.

Turkey regards the Kurds as a terrorist group, especially the US-backed SDF comprised mainly of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey says its occupation of Syria is to create a buffer against further Kurdish attacks into Turkey, and to hand over to the Assad government those areas it takes from the Kurds.

Given US backing of the Kurds in and around the northern Syrian city of Manbij, a military standoff appears to have developed between the US and Turkey. This could push the two NATO allies into a shooting war.

In continuing to occupy mostly the eastern portion of Syria and unite the Sunnis in that region, the US also seeks to control critical oil production in the region, a major source of revenue for the Syrian government.

In this sense, such a strategy suggests the US is reverting to an older mantra of regime change in Syria. Given that a principal author of that approach, John Bolton, now will become Trump’s national security adviser, that goal may once again be back on the table.

Inevitably, their strategy appears to be one of partitioning Syria altogether and isolating the Assad government to the western portion of Syria while giving the Kurds the northern portion across northern Syria and uniting it with northern Iraq. Meantime, these advisers envision being influential in the eastern portion of Syria that borders on the Sunni-controlled portion of western Iraq to help stymie the forward movement of Iran and the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq comprised mainly of Shiite fighters.

If the Saudis pony up with the money, it is quite conceivable that Trump will go along with this strategy as outlined by his hawks.

Trump is already planning to disassociate the US from backing the Iranian nuclear deal and may agree with the Saudi desire of stemming Iran’s influence stretching from Baghdad to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea by keeping US troops in the Sunni-controlled regions of Syria and Iraq. While this decision will help address Israel’s national security concerns, it also will mean no end in sight to US involvement in the Middle East.

However, it won’t mean that US influence will increase or improve conditions there as Russia, Iran and Turkey have laid out a plan to bring stability to Syria, thereby blunting whatever influence the US can assert.


Are your phone camera and microphone spying on you?

Taping over the lens is just the first step in keeping online snoopers out of your business

April 6. 2018

by Dylan Curran

The Guardian

Here is what the former FBI director James Comey said when he was asked back in September 2016 if he covered his laptop’s webcam with tape.

“Heck yeah, heck yeah. Also, I get mocked for a lot of things, and I am much mocked for that, but I hope people lock their cars … lock your doors at night. I have an alarm system, if you have an alarm system you should use it, I use mine.”

If he does, we all should.

Who could be accessing your camera and microphone?

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Viber

Felix Krause described in 2017 that when a user grants an app access to their camera and microphone, the app could do the following:

  • Access both the front and the back camera.
  • Record you at any time the app is in the foreground.
  • Take pictures and videos without telling you.
  • Upload the pictures and videos without telling you.
  • Upload the pictures/videos it takes immediately.
  • Run real-time face recognition to detect facial features or expressions.
  • Livestream the camera on to the internet.
  • Detect if the user is on their phone alone, or watching together with a second person.
  • Upload random frames of the video stream to your web service and run a proper face recognition software which can find existing photos of you on the internet and create a 3D model based on your face.

For instance, here’s a Find my Phone application which a documentary maker installed on a phone, then let someone steal it. After the person stole it, the original owner spied on every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone.

The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth to going to work. To grabbing a bite to eat with their co-worker to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.

The government

Edward Snowden revealed an NSA program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance program under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use. It is estimated that between 3% and 11% of the images captured contained “undesirable nudity”.

Government security agencies like the NSA can also have access to your devices through in-built backdoors. This means that these security agencies can tune in to your phone calls, read your messages, capture pictures of you, stream videos of you, read your emails, steal your files … at any moment they please.


Hackers can also gain access to your device with extraordinary ease via apps, PDF files, multimedia messages and even emojis.

An application called Metasploit on the ethical hacking platform Kali uses an Adobe Reader 9 (which over 60% of users still use) exploit to open a listener (rootkit) on the user’s computer. You alter the PDF with the program, send the user the malicious file, they open it, and hey presto – you have total control over their device remotely.

Once a user opens this PDF file, the hacker can then:

  • Install whatever software/app they like on the user’s device.
  • Use a keylogger to grab all of their passwords.
  • Steal all documents from the device.
  • Take pictures and stream videos from their camera.
  • Capture past or live audio from the microphone.
  • Upload incriminating images/documents to their PC, and notify the police.

And, if it’s not enough that your phone is tracking you – surveillance cameras in shops and streets are tracking you, too

You might even be on this website, InSeCam, which allows ordinary people online to watch surveillance cameras free of charge. It even allows you to search cameras by location, city, time zone, device manufacturer, and specify whether you want to see a kitchen, bar, restaurant or bedroom.

How would we feel if someone were standing outside our bedroom window, staring in through the curtains. The most common response would be to call the police. However, what do we do when everyone is being monitored? We shake our head, and try to forget it’s happening. Try to go on with our lives and ignore the constant nag that we’re being watched.

If this article achieves anything, I hope it teaches you digital mindfulness. This is the act of being careful on the internet and taking precautionary measures to save yourself pain and potential ruin in the future, all because you didn’t install an antivirus or put a little bit of tape over your camera.

A good first step to counteracting these issues is study what permissions an app asks for. Does an app like LinkedIn really require camera access? Does an app like Twitter really require microphone access? Before you download an app, check out the reviews and search for any negative information about it to prevent yourself future harm.

Always make sure to cover your webcam with tape, and plug out your microphones when you’re done using them. You never know who’s watching, or what’s happening in the background on your device. It’s only paranoia until it’s too late


Facebook scandal: Data scraping knows no borders

It’s not just the US: 310,000 Facebook users in Germany also had their data harvested without their knowledge — even though they weren’t directly targeted. German politicians are calling for stricter regulations.

April 6, 2018

by Carla Bleiker


After Facebook initially reported that data from 50 million users was harvested and misused by analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, the company was forced this week to revise that number up to 87 million users — 2.7 million of which are from EU countries. Their likes and political leanings were used in the 2016 United States presidential election campaign. German users had their data stolen as well — roughly 310,000 of them.

“Facebook doesn’t know borders,” Cologne-based social media expert Hendrik Unger told DW. “It’s a global network.”

Not all of these hundreds of thousands of German users participated in the poll through which Cambridge Analytica harvested personal data from Facebook users. Only 65 German users actually clicked that link. But the data scraping worked like a snowball system. The app didn’t just take the data of the people who participated in the poll, but also of all of their friends.

‘A network of opacity’

Facebook has known about the basics of their Cambridge Analytica data problem since 2015. But the information is only coming out now, bit by bit.

Facebook is a network of opacity,” Germany’s justice minister Katarina Barley said in Berlin on Thursday. “Ethical convictions are sacrificed for commercial interests.”

Barley is calling for EU-wide consequences for the social network.

“We are going to check whether the possibilities provided by the new European data protection regulation are sufficient,” she said. “We have to establish clear legal requirements for the CEOs of social networks on a European level.”

Barley also demanded that Facebook reveal how its algorithms worked to European authorities.

The Federal Cartel Office, Germany’s national competition regulator, also criticized Facebook. The company had abused its market power by collecting and misusing data the way it did, Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt told newspaper Rheinische Post.

German users merely ‘by-catch’

When you consider that with 309,815 people, the number of users affected in Germany equals that of a medium-sized city, it sounds like a lot. But that number pales in comparison to the 70.6 million users affected in the US. Social media expert Unger goes so far as to say the number of German users affected is “negligible.”

“I’m assuming that the 310,000 German users are merely by-catch,” Unger said. “The goal was to focus on Americans who are eligible to vote.”

Journalist Martin Giesler says that despite the snowball effect, 65 Germans clicking on the Facebook survey alone did not lead to 310,000 German users having their data stolen.

“You have to add all those people who were friends with American users on Facebook that participated in the poll and had their data and the data of their friends scraped,” Giesler told DW. “That’s how you get to 310,000 affected German accounts.”

“The average Facebook user has roughly 300 friends, so that number gets really high really quickly,” he said.

Using Facebook comes at a price

In a telephone conference with journalists on Wednesday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted that his social network didn’t do enough to protect its users and to prevent data abuse.

“That was a huge mistake. It was my mistake,” he said.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg told the Financial Times: “To this day, we still don’t know what data Cambridge Analytica have.”

The social network got rid of its search function that allowed you to find users solely by their email address or phone number, and it restricted access to user data for app developers. On April 11, Zuckerberg is going to testify before Congress on how his company handles user data.

In the phone conference with journalists, he emphasized that he liked the new European data protection regulation that will take effect on May 25. “I think regulations like this are very positive,” he said.

Despite these public efforts, Hendrik Unger does not believe that Facebook’s treatment of user data will change significantly in the future.

“Of course Zuckerberg had to apologize, for his shareholders,” Unger said. “But Facebook is a free-of-charge network. So instead of money, you pay for it with your data and with being available to advertisers.”


German court rejects extradition of former Catalan leader on rebellion charge

April 5, 2018

by Thomas Escritt


BERLIN (Reuters) – A German court on Thursday rejected an extradition request for Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont on the charge of rebellion for his role in the campaign for the region’s independence.

The court agreed to release Puigdemont on bail and said extradition to Spain was possible on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds. The former Catalan leader was arrested last month on a Spanish-issued arrest warrant as he entered Germany.

The ruling means Puigdemont, who fled Spain five months ago for Belgium after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed his regional administration, cannot be tried for rebellion in Spain once extradited on the lesser charge, a German court spokeswoman said.

“The court must now decide if extradition for embezzlement is a possibility,” said spokeswoman Frauke Holmer.

“If that is the case, and Mr Puidgemont can be extradited for embezzlement of public money, then a prosecution for rebellion is not possible.”

Spain respects the German court’s decision, a Spanish government spokeswoman said earlier.

Spain’s Supreme Court reactivated international arrest warrants last month for Puigdemont and four other Catalan politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year.

Asked by Reuters whether the German court was correct to say Puigdemont could not now be put on trial for rebellion, neither the Spanish government nor the Supreme Court would comment.

The German court said the rebellion charge Puigdemont faced in Spain was not a criminal offence in Germany, while the violence component that would justify a high treason charge was also lacking.

“The actions for which the subject is being prosecuted would not be criminal under German law,” the court spokeswoman said.

The charge of rebellion can bring up to 25 years in prison in Spain.

The German court set bail at 75,000 euros ($92,000). Puigdemont must remain in Germany while extradition proceedings continue and must report weekly to police, the court spokeswoman said.

“There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.”

Puigdemont is arranging the transfer of the bail money to Germany, his German lawyer Wolfgang Schomburg told Reuters in a telephone conversation.

“We hope that we can arrange it so that by tomorrow morning he is a free man and can live in Germany in the following days and weeks,” he said.

“We seriously hope Spain will be intelligent enough to withdraw the entire European arrest warrant.”

Puigdemont entered Germany on his way back from Finland to Belgium, where he had been living in self-imposed exile.

Additional reporting by Sonya Dowsett in Madrid; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Roche


Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 24

April 6, 2018


This week China imposed tariffs on imports of various U.S. agricultural products in retaliation for Trump Administration tariffs on Chinese imports. Today the Administration announced that it would consider an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods in response.

The impact of the Chinese tariffs on U.S. exports of pork meat, cherries, almonds, and ginseng, among other items, was detailed in a new brief from the Congressional Research Service. See China’s Retaliatory Tariffs on Selected U.S. Agricultural Products, CRS Insight, April 4, 2018.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service this week include the following.

U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Changing Oil Prices, updated April 4, 2018

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activity, April 5, 2018

Federal Research and Development (R&D) Funding: FY2019, April 4, 2018

Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): A Summary of the Statute, April 4, 2018

Data, Social Media, and Users: Can We All Get Along?, CRS Insight, April 4, 2018

Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Law and Policy, updated April 5, 2018

Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer, updated April 3, 2018

What Happens When Five Supreme Court Justices Can’t Agree?, CRS Legal Sidebar, April 5, 2018


Israel Is Prepared to Kill More Unarmed Protesters in Gaza

April 5 2018

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

Israel’s army expects up to 50,000 Palestinians to attend protests in Gaza on Friday, and is prepared to once again use deadly force against unarmed demonstrators, one week after Israeli snipers fired at least 650 bullets at Palestinian civilians, killing 15.

With President Donald Trump apparently ignoring last week’s massacre in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, senior Israeli officials brushed off pleas from human rights groups to rescind orders that permit snipers to open fire on protesters who approach Israel’s perimeter fence.

“We have defined the rules of the game clearly and we do not intend to change them,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said as he toured the frontier on Tuesday. “Anyone trying to approach the fence is putting their lives at risk.”

At protest camps near the fence, families of Palestinian refugees originally from towns and cities inside what is now Israel read books and learned first aid as young men stockpiled rubber tires, which they burned to create smokescreens as cover from sniper fire.

Even Palestinians skeptical of the tire-burning, which create toxic fumes, rejected claims from the Israel Defense Forces that the fires justified the use of deadly force against the protesters.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which monitors the treatment of Palestinians in the territories Israel’s military has controlled since 1967, published ads on Thursday urging soldiers to “refuse patently unlawful orders, to open fire on unarmed demonstrators in Gaza.”

“Approaching the Gaza perimeter fence is not an offense punishable by death or serious injury, to be executed immediately via shooting from a distance,” Hagai El-Ad, the rights group’s director, wrote.

Yousef Munayyer, who directs the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, pointed out that Israel’s justification for the use of force against unarmed protesters — that they are agents of a hostile power threatening to invade Israel — is contradicted by the reality that Gaza is not a separate state, but rather an enclave sealed off from the world by Israel’s military, which remains an occupying power under international law.

While Israel has insisted that, since it withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005, it no longer controls the territory, the fact that the Israeli military reserves the right to declare the land along its perimeter fence closed to Gazans suggests otherwise.

But if Israel is taken at its word, and the strip of land it bans Gazans from protesting or “rioting” in is along an international frontier, even the Israeli military’s use of nonlethal weapons, like tear gas, raises questions.

Looking at images of Israeli drones dropping tear gas on the protesters in Gaza this week, Francesco Sebregondi, an architect who investigates war crimes for the research group Forensic Architecture, observed that “tear gas is without debate considered a chemical weapon — hence banned from military arsenals.”

“So,” Sebregondi continued in an email, “either the State of Israel used chemical weapons in a military operation across its own borders” — which would be a violation of chemical weapons statutes — “or the State of Israel used tear gas legally as a means of riot control — in which case, Gaza must be considered within the borders of Israel, with all the sovereign responsibilities that this entails.”

As the International Committee of the Red Cross noted, Israel’s own manual on the Rules of Warfare on the Battlefield, published in 2006, acknowledged that “even the tear gas used by the police to disperse demonstrations is a chemical weapon and thus prohibited under the Protocol.” The manual went on to mock international law: “An absurd situation results in which demonstrators are ‘endangered’ by tear gas whereas fighters going out to battle are protected from it.”

Israel’s military has also reserved the right to spray herbicides along the frontier, destroying crops on the Gazan side of the fence. Keeping the area clear of vegetation provides Israeli snipers with clear lines of sight to fire on Palestinian militants or protesters at will.

In 2015, the Israeli military confirmed to the rights group Gisha that it does use crop dusters to spray herbicide inside Gaza — a scene frequently recorded on video by Palestinian farmers whose crops are damaged or destroyed.

Witnesses who visited the Palestinian protest camps this week reported that crop dusters were flying very close to where the sit-ins are taking place.






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