TBR News December 22, 2016

Dec 22 2016


The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. December 22, 2016:” The militant Hezbollah, based in southern Lebanon, has, since the last Israeli incursion into Lebanon. amassed an enormous arsenal of 130,000 surface to surface missiles, some GPS-controlled and very accurate, as well as advanced air protection systems, largely provided by both Russia, via Syria, and Iran,

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has spoken of Israel as a “cancerous tumor” to be eliminated in order to bring peace and prosperity to the Arab world, and of its Ashkenazi inhabitants being destroyed.

Hezbollah’s arsenal includes over 1,700 long-range Fateh-10 and Scud-D missiles, sophisticated weaponry which carry heavy payloads and can hit any part of Israel. Add to that new Russian anti-tank and anti-ship missiles, and future long planned Israeli operations against Hezbollah are rendered very dangerous to the invaders,

With its enormous number of missiles, Hezbollah could rain down huge barrages that will overwhelm Israeli anti-missile defenses, with some 50-60% of their missiles able to easily penetrate the defective so-called  ‘ Iron Dome’ Israeli  defenses.

Such forthcoming  dilemmas are vital for Israel now, given that to await a Hezbollah first strike with this sort of weaponry is to await an enormous massacre of its people.

The Isreali government has been frantically agitating American political and military authorities to launch a US carpet bombing campaign against southern Lebanon in order to wipe out probable missile storage and launching sites.

The Americans have refused to launch such a program and this refusal has enraged the Israel government.

In short, Israel now it felt that it will have no option but to act ‘in self-defense’ and launch preemptive strikes against any possible target in southern Lebanon with the full knowledge that many Lebanese civilians will die as a result.

Their only concern is how the world would react. For this reason, false flag operations, purportedly by Hezbollah, with its rocket launchers , against harmless Israeli dummy targets have been planned in detail.

The Israeli mistake is to have discussed these false flag operations with their opposite numbers in the United States and some of these communicants have passed this information,in toto, on to other interested parties.

Israel is not popular with many top-level American military personnel.

To judge by past history, the international reaction will be as before: foreign offices worldwide will condemn violence on both sides, admit Hezbollah is misbehaving –– few will call its acts war crimes –– but reserve their strongest condemnation for Israel who is universally seen as a chronic regional  provocateur against any Islamic target.”

Aleppo battle: Syrian city ‘back under government control’

December 22, 2016

BBC News

The Syrian army has retaken control of the besieged city of Aleppo, following the evacuation of the last group of civilians and rebels, a statement says.

A UN official said earlier that more than 34,000 people had been removed since last Thursday.

The evacuees have been taken to rebel-held territory in the countryside west of Aleppo and in Idlib province.

This is a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad, whose campaign was aided by Russian air strikes.

The evacuation of the opposition-held part of eastern Aleppo was part of a deal brokered by Russia and Iran.

In return, residents of the government-controlled towns of Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province, besieged by rebels, would also be removed.

In a statement on Syrian TV, the army announced the “return of security to Aleppo”.

“This victory represents a strategic change and a turning point in the war against terrorism on the one hand and a crushing blow to the terrorists’ project and their supporters on the other hand,” it said. The government usually refers to the rebels as “terrorists”.

Ahmed Qorra Ali, part of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, told AFP that “the last convoy has left the rebel-controlled area”.

Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011.

For much of the past four years it was divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

Troops finally broke the deadlock this year with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September.

After breaking through the rebels’ defensive lines in mid-November, they quickly advanced and had seized all but 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) by the time a ceasefire was brokered.

Syrian Army declares Aleppo under full control, ‘return of security’ to city

December 22, 2016


The Syrian Army has regained control over all of Aleppo, returning “security and stability to the city,” the army’s general command announced in a statement.

The city has been liberated from “terrorism and terrorists” the statement said, as quoted by Syria’s state SANA news agency.

Aleppo will now mark a turning point in the war against terrorism, the Syrian Army statement said. “It strikes a smashing blow to the forces that backed a terrorism plot against Syria,” the statement added.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Thursday that the liberation of Aleppo from terrorism is a victory not just for Syria but for all those who are effectively contributing to the fight against terrorism, including Iran and Russia.

“It is also a setback for all the countries that are hostile towards the Syrian people and that have used terrorism as a means [by which] to realize their interests,” he said.

A SANA reporter wrote previously on Thursday that the last stage of evacuating terrorists and their families from eastern Aleppo was underway.

Some Perspectives on the War on Terror

Anyway you look at it, it’s a failure

December 20, 2016

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

The twenty-first century, at least up until this point, might well be described as the age of the terrorist. Even though most Americans and Europeans rank terrorism as low among their concerns, the repercussions when a terrorist attack does take place are greatly magnified by the sheer horror associated with the mass killing of innocent people going about their daily lives.

There are a couple of annual reports that look at terrorism as a global phenomenon. The best known is the U.S. State Department’s Annual Country Reports on Terrorism that comes out in the Summer and covers the previous year. It is mandated by Congress and is largely based on Embassy and intelligence community sources.

The Country Reports purports to be an objective review of the year’s terrorist incidents as well as an overview of some of the players to include a discussion of “violent extremism” issues region by region and country by country. It is a valuable resource which provides considerable information on the various militant groups and the crimes attributed to them as well as their involvement globally. But it is nevertheless a government document. The Obama Administration definitely has had a point of view on what constitutes terrorism and how to deal with it based on how the White House would like to frame things from a political perspective. The section on Afghanistan, for example, implicitly makes a case for a more robust American role in the conflict engulfing that country.

I often find that how something is described or even ignored just as important as what is revealed. There is, for example, a section of the report identifying State Sponsors of Terrorism, a status that brings with it various sanctions. It would be difficult to find a section that is by definition more hypocritical as many would certainly consider Washington the leading practitioner of state sponsored terror with its claimed authority to go after militant targets anywhere at any time. The 2015 report names only Iran, Syria and Sudan as state sponsors even though Damascus and Tehran are more often than not on Washington’s side, heavily engaged in fighting ISIS, which the U.S. government in its own reporting clearly identifies as international enemy #1. Regarding Sudan, the report states that it is no longer in the supporting radicalism business while earlier annual reports actually commended it for helping international efforts against terrorists yet it remains on the list, apparently because several individuals close to the White House do not like its government very much and have written scholarly articles attacking its president.

The numbers in the Country Reports tell us something about the impact of terrorism. Deaths attributed to people who might be regarded as terrorists is certainly a huge global problem with the State Department report recording nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks producing 28,000 deaths worldwide in 2015. But the mayhem is very much concentrated in countries that are gripped by what might reasonably be termed civil war, to include Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. Several other countries with high levels of “terror” deaths, to include Nigeria and Pakistan, are engaged in bloody regional conflicts over economic issues fueled by anti-central government sentiment, not exactly civil war but something close to it.

American victims are a lot harder to find. The State Department report, which is only about acts of terrorism overseas, identifies 19 American citizens as victims of terror for the year 2015. Eight of the deaths were in Afghanistan, one in Syria and one in Somalia, all of which can be regarded as war zones. Three were in Jerusalem and on the Israeli occupied West Bank, a region also suffering from endemic violence, killing two American visitors plus a settler who held dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship.

Twenty-two more Americans were injured in terrorist incidents worldwide in 2015 and there were no reported kidnappings during the year. Though I in no way wish to minimize the killing of anyone in a criminal act, which terrorism is, the death and injury toll hardly constitutes a major international threat and I am sure that many more Americans are killed every year “overseas” in traffic accidents while vacationing. The report clearly suggests that international terrorism is an enemy that is largely ineffective at least in terms of being able to do direct damage to the United States, its citizens or its other interests.

A second terrorism report is prepared by the highly reputable Institute for Economics and Peace, which is based in Australia. It’s Global Terrorism Index, currently in its fourth edition, has just come out and it differs from the State Department report in that while it covers 2015 in some detail it is also progressive, meaning that it incorporates new information on terrorist activity into observations derived from reporting that covers 16 years, since 2000. Its overview information itself derives from a large terrorism data base, consisting currently of records relating to 150,000 incidents, maintained at the University of Maryland. As a result, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is sometimes more useful than the State Department if one is seeking to identify long term trends.

One might conclude that what we call terrorism is quite simply warfare by other means and it might not even be useful to try to define it in a distinctive fashion. The GTI report basically confirms the State Department Country Reports on numbers and places where terrorist attacks take place, adding that more than 93% of all reported incidents occur in countries that are already internally extremely repressive or unstable while more than 90% take place in countries engaged in external violent conflicts. Fewer than .5% of terror attacks are in countries that have neither internal or external issues. The most afflicted countries are Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. Three out of the five have experienced direct U.S. military interventions while Pakistan has been under intense pressure from Washington to “do something.” In other words, terrorism deaths occur most often in places where a state of acute internal repression or even civil or external war exist and the role of the U.S. military as an accelerant for instability should be regarded as a given.

And then there is the global U.S. led war on terror, which costs upwards of hundreds of billions of dollars a year and has not actually eliminated any terrorist group while serving as a recruiting poster for assorted radical wannabes. It has also killed, by a very conservative estimate, 1.3 million people. Relying on overwhelming conventional military force and air power, the U.S. can always prevail either on the battlefield or against a radical group that seeks to hold on to territory that it is occupying, but unless Washington is prepared to remain indefinitely it cannot change the dynamic in a country or region that is unstable. Indeed, armed intervention itself followed by staying in place to nation build might actually be counterproductive if one looks at the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq as a U.S. presence frequently inhibits a possible political settlement. When the foreign security presence departs, sooner or later a dissident group will inevitably appear to fill the void. Based on the State Department and GTI reports one has to question a counter-terrorism strategy that has cost cumulatively trillions of dollars to combat an enemy that only rarely can project its power and that normally is only dangerous in the short term and in the immediate area in which it operates.

I have been reading various reports on terrorism for many years now and my firm impression is that the international terrorist threat, as poorly defined as it is, has actually been receding as more and more governments actively seek to eliminate militants in their midst even as fewer states are willing and able to provide them with either assistance or a safe haven. ISIS, the du jour terrorist threat, sought to establish a new territorial state, a Caliphate, but is currently facing complete defeat in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Terrorism is a “dying” industry in every sense of the word and while the U.S. government should take every reasonable step to protect American citizens the key word must be “reasonable.” A global anti-terror Crusade led by the United States is not a reasonable response, nor is it

necessary as terrorist groups always eventually fade away due to their own internal contradictions and the intense hostility of the host country and neighbors. It is time to declare the war on terror finished, move on, and bring the troops home.

Search for Berlin attack suspect intensifies as anger in Germany grows

German officials have come under fire after it emerged Anis Amri, a suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack, was known to police. His fingerprints were reportedly found in the truck that killed 12 people on Monday.

December 22, 2016


The suspect’s fingerprints were found on the driver’s side door of the Polish-registered truck, German public broadcasters NDR, WDR and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper reported on Thursday.

The “Berliner Zeitung” newspaper also reported that traces of Amri’s fingerprints were uncovered on the truck’s steering wheel. If the reports are proven true, it would be the clearest evidence linking lead suspect Anis Amri to Monday’s attack.

Amri had also previously offered to act as a suicide bomber on known Islamist chat sites, German news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported on Thursday, citing security sources. German authorities listened in on the conversation while investigating so-called “hate preachers.” During the chat, Amri also reportedly talked about how he could obtain weapons.

At the time, authorities believed that Amri’s offers and statements were so encoded that they were not enough to detain him, “Der Spiegel” said.

Later on Thursday Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere met in the federal attorney general’s office to discuss the investigation. Afterwards, de Maizere told the press that the police had found more and more evidence pointing in Amri’s direction, and Merkel expressed her support for the hard work of all the different authorities involved.

Police raids in western Germany

In their search for Amri, police raided a refugee shelter early Thursday morning in Emmerich and apartments in Dortmund where the Berlin Christmas market attack suspect reportedly lived prior to moving to the German capital, authorities said. Around 100 officials, including special units, were involved in the operations.

While confirming that anti-terror operations in connection with the Berlin attack occurred, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office told DW no arrests took place. The spokesman added that operations have been conducted across Germany in the search for Amri.

Earlier on Thursday, the mass-market daily “Bild” reported four people who allegedly had contact with Amri were arrested in Dortmund. The paper said Germany’s chief federal prosecutor confirmed the arrests. Public broadcaster WDR also reported that four people had been taken into custody.

In Berlin, the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz where the attack took place reopened to the public. Berlin police tweeted photos of the pedestrian area being secured with concrete blocks. Organizers decided to reopen the square without bright lights or party music out of respect for the victims.

Officials under fire

The international manhunt for the prime suspect in Berlin’s deadly truck attack raised questions and public ire on Thursday, with many wondering how Anis Amri was able to avoid arrest and deportation despite being on the radar of German security agencies.

“The authorities had him in their crosshairs and he still managed to vanish,” German news magazine “Der Spiegel” said on its website.

German officials revealed on Wednesday that they had already been investigating the 24-year-old Tunisian months before Monday’s rampage. Authorities even held him in a detention cell for a day and kept him under covert surveillance for six months before halting the operation.

“He was even in deportation detention, but had to be released after a day,” Stephan Mayer, the interior affairs spokesman for Germany’s conservative union in the Bundestag, told German RBB-Inforadio on Thursday. He added that the case shows where the deficits lie in Germany’s asylum policies and called for the duration of deportation detention to be extended.

ID papers believed to belong to Amri were found under the driver’s seat of a 40-ton truck that rammed through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 and wounding 48. Out of those injured, 14 remain in life-threatening condition.

‘I ask him to turn himself in’

The attack, Germany’s deadliest in recent years, was claimed by the militant “Islamic State” (IS) group. Amri reportedly communicated with IS at least once, researched how to build explosive devices online and was on a US no-fly list, “The New York Times” reported late on Wednesday, citing an unnamed US official.

German prosecutors have issued a Europe-wide wanted notice for Amri, offering a 100,000 euro ($104,000) reward for information leading to his arrest. They have warned that the Tunisian could be armed and dangerous.

One of Amri’s brothers expressed disbelief on hearing he was wanted and urged him to turn himself in on Thursday.

“I ask him to turn himself in to the police,” Abdelkader Amri told the Associated Press. In separate comments to news agency AFP, he said if Amri turned out to be involved, “he deserves every condemnation. We reject terrorism and terrorists – we have no dealings with terrorists.

False lead wasted time

Many in Germany are also wondering how Amri was able to slip away from the crime scene on Monday – with some levying criticism at the police.

The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” criticized authorities for wasting time for initially focusing on a Pakistani suspect after the assault, in what turned out to be a false lead.

It emerged on Wednesday that the rejected Tunisian asylum-seeker is believed to have ties to the radical Islamist scene in Germany and used six different names and three different nationalities. He also evaded deportation despite his asylum application being rejected due to red tape with Tunisia, which long denied he was a citizen. He received a Tunisian passport on Wednesday, the same day police across Europe began searching for him.

“People are rightly outraged and anxious that such a person can walk around here, keep changing his identity and the legal system can’t cope with them,” said Rainer Wendt, who heads the German police union.

Merkel policy criticized

The apparent security failings triggered renewed criticism of Chancellor Merkel’s liberal refugee policy, which saw nearly 1 million people arrive in 2015.

The record arrivals of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa stoked the popularity of the anti-migrant, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which has accused Merkel of putting the country at risk.

On Thursday, Bavaria’s State Premier Horst Seehofer defended a statement he made hours after the Berlin attack in which he called for a review of Germany’s migration policies.

“A responsible politician must also take a look at the consequences of such an event,” the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told the Funke media group.

The statement drew cross-party scorn, as Seehofer released it before authorities had even issued an official statement on the attack or provided information about the suspected perpetrator.

But even members within the chancellor’s own CDU party criticized what they saw as the potentially dangerous shortcomings of the current system.

“Nationwide, there are a large number of refugees about whom we don’t know where they’re from or what their names are. And that’s a potentially major security issue,” said CDU member Klaus Bouillon, the interior minister of the state of Saarland.

Israeli, Italian victims identified

An Israeli woman who was reported missing in Berlin has been identified as one of the victims of the truck attack, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on Thursday.

The ministry identified her as Dalia Elyakim and said she was visiting the German capital with her husband, Rami. Her husband was seriously injured in the Christmas market attack and remains hospitalized. His condition is reportedly not life-threatening according to the ynet news portal.

Italian officials also confirmed later on Thursday that a 31-year-old Italian expat named Fabrizia Di Lorenzo was also among the victims.

At least one other foreign national died in the attack. The hijacked truck’s Polish driver was found dead in the cab with gunshot and stab wounds.

Trump Suggests Berlin Attack Affirms His Plan to Bar Muslims

December 21, 2016

by Mark Landler

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump seemed to suggest on Wednesday that the deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin vindicated his proposal during the presidential campaign to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“You know my plans,” Mr. Trump said to reporters who asked whether the attack on Monday, in which a Tunisian is being sought, would cause him to re-evaluate his proposals to create a Muslim registry or to stop Muslim immigration to the United States. “All along, I’ve been proven to be right. One hundred percent correct.”

It was not clear whether Mr. Trump was reaffirming his much-criticized call for a wholesale ban on Muslim immigration or his subsequent clarification that he would stop only those entering from countries with a history of Islamic extremism. As with many of his pronouncements since his election last month, the remarks, delivered on the blustery front steps of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, were cryptic and left room for broad interpretation.

But hours later, one of his advisers said he was only restating his most recent position.

“President-elect Trump has been clear that we will suspend admission of those from countries with high terrorism rates and apply a strict vetting procedure for those seeking entry in order to protect American lives,” said Jason Miller, the communications director for the transition. “This might upset those with their heads stuck in the politically correct sand, but nothing is more important than keeping our people safe.”

It was the latest confusing turn in Mr. Trump’s positions on major issues since the election. In Twitter posts and comments over the last week, he has pledged to create “safe zones” in Syria, paid for by Persian Gulf nations; accused China of an “unprecedented act” in seizing a Navy underwater drone in the South China Sea; and then, after the Pentagon and China negotiated the drone’s return, suggested that the United States should “let them keep it!”

The series of scattershot remarks has further unsettled a turbulent period in American foreign policy. It underscores Mr. Trump’s challenge in fashioning a coherent approach to the problems he will inherit in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, especially working with a team that consists of retired generals and an oil executive, few of whom have experience in the daily cascade of crises that confront every White House.

“We know he’s got some instincts and predilections, but there is no coherent Trump foreign-policy doctrine, and we’re not likely to see one,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University who worked for President George W. Bush and has been a vocal critic of Mr. Trump.

“They’re in the fun phase now,” Mr. Cohen added, “but they’re in for a whole bunch of rude awakenings.”

One area where Mr. Trump and his advisers have been unswerving is their repeated denunciation of “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But his position on barring Muslim immigrants has gone through various modifications since December 2015, when he first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Philip D. Zelikow, who served in the administrations of both Presidents Bush and now teaches at the University of Virginia, said there were three guiding themes in Mr. Trump’s foreign policy: economic nationalism, a war against “radical Islamic terrorism,” and a “deliberate aloofness” toward the actions of other countries — for example, Russia. “Beyond that,” Mr. Zelikow said, “there is an ambient prickliness. We could end up picking fights with three-quarters of the world.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump and his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, met with a delegation of generals and admirals from the Pentagon’s joint staff at the president-elect’s Palm Beach club. A day earlier, Mr. Flynn met in Washington with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Mr. Trump’s nominees for secretary of defense, Gen. James N. Mattis; secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson; and secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly.

The military officers at the meeting focus mostly on the acquisition of equipment, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose costs Mr. Trump recently complained had spiraled “out of control.” This suggests that his first major Pentagon briefing was about hardware and budgets, not military operations.

Advisers to Mr. Trump did not discuss the meetings or say how he planned to respond to the attack in Germany, as well as ones in Turkey and Switzerland. In a Twitter post on Monday, the president-elect said that terrorism was “getting worse” and that “the civilized world must change thinking!”

That has left analysts to pore over Mr. Trump’s recent pronouncements to figure out how they might alter the policy followed by the Obama administration. His call for safe zones, which he made during a rally in Hershey, Pa., last week, suggested to some that he would seek a more activist role in Syria, probably working with Russia, which has had an antagonistic relationship with President Obama.

“Why is he saying this?” asked Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Referring to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, he said, “The answer is, he’s getting briefings that show that Bashar Assad is so depleted in manpower that it will take years, not months, for him to reconquer his territory.”

“The fact that he said that says to me that he recognizes that Syria is going to be a divided country,” Mr. Tabler said.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump sent mixed messages on Syria. He called for the creation of “a big, beautiful safe zone” in the country to stem the tide of refugees from Syria to Europe. But he also said the United States should resist getting drawn into the grinding conflict against Mr. Assad because the real enemy was the Islamic State.

When Hillary Clinton, his opponent, called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, Mr. Trump warned that it could lead to “World War III” with Russia. Analysts point out, however, that securing a safe zone would probably require some kind of a no-fly zone. They also said it was not clear why a gulf nation like Saudi Arabia would agree to deploy troops or pay for such a zone.

Mr. Trump’s handling of the drone episode with China was similarly inconsistent. His initial Twitter post, “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” suggested he viewed it as a grave affront.

But after the Chinese agreed to return the submersible drone to a Navy ship off the Philippines, he wrote, “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.”

The Obama administration’s response, by contrast, was so muted that some analysts in the region worried that it might embolden China to act more boldly in the South China Sea. Some speculated that the Chinese were twitting Mr. Trump after his own provocative actions toward them.

Mr. Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan this month — the first such leader-to-leader exchange between Taiwan and the United States in nearly four decades — and declared that he viewed the “One China” policy as a bargaining chip with Beijing.

Mr. Obama said in a news conference last week: “The idea of ‘One China’ is at the heart of their conception as a nation. And so, if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through the consequences, because the Chinese will not treat it the way they’ll treat some other issues.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

 Migrant in Italy gets 30-year sentence for murder of U.S. woman

January 22, 2016


A Senegalese migrant was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday for the murder of Ashley Olsen, a U.S. woman who was killed in the Tuscan city of Florence in January.

Diaw Cheik Tidianee, 27, was arrested by police on Jan. 14, five days after Olsen’s body was found dead in her apartment. An autopsy revealed she had been strangled and also had two fractures to her skull.

Florence prosecutors said Tidianee had met the 35-year-old Olsen in a local nightclub and that the two had consensual sex in her home under the influence of alcohol, and possibly drugs, before he killed her.

He denied murdering her, telling investigators that he had pushed her and that she had hit her head when she fell over.

Olsen came from Florida and had been living in Florence for three years before her death. Friends said she had moved to Italy to join her father Walter Olsen, who was teaching in the city.

The case attracted considerable international media attention and investigators were keen to avoid any repeat of the drawn-out saga that followed the 2007 killing of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, not far from Florence.

Kercher’s American flatmate Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend spent almost four years in prison for the crime before finally being acquitted last year by Italy’s highest appeals court.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

 ‘Common sense coming back to Washington; Russia not top US threat’ – ex-Pentagon spokesman

December 22, 2016


Even though Russia is “still a threat,” it is not among the top threats facing Europe and the US, former Pentagon spokesperson JD Gordon told RT’s Ed Schultz. It’s important to focus on ISIS, cybersecurity, threats killing Americans and allies, he added.

A leaked document from the Pentagon made it clear that Russia is no longer among the USA’s top defense concerns. The four top security priorities of President-elect Donald Trump do not include Russia.

RT: What is your take on the fact that this is definitely a focus shift, or at least it appears to be, from the Pentagon? And now what does the Trump administration want to do?

JD Gordon: It is great that we have common sense coming back to Washington. Russia is not one of the top four threats that America has. It is not the top four threats that Europe has. So that is important to focus on things like ISIS, things like cybersecurity – threats that are actually killing Americans and killing our allies.

RT: What is it going to take to convince the American people that Russia is not a threat? Or is there some evidence there that they are? Where are these officials in the Pentagon coming up with this?

JG: I think that Russia is a threat to America and to Europe, but it is not a top threat of ours. I think that the US and Russia have a lot to cooperate on, as far as defeating radical Islamist terrorists. That is a huge threat to both Russia and the US.

I just got back from Europe. I was in Hungary, in Slovakia, in Finland; met with a couple of foreign ministers, a deputy prime minister, and one of the things I brought up there is: when was the last time Russians were marauding throughout Europe killing people? 1956 in Hungary; 1968 in Czechoslovakia. However, radical Islamist terrorists are doing it right now. We just saw it in Berlin. We see it Paris, Brussels, Nice. I mean a list could go on, and on, and on. We have the same killers in Moscow and in the US just murdering people. That is what we have to focus on – defeating this radical Islamist terrorism.

RT: Is there a process within the Pentagon that there is going to be a bogeyman if you’re going to keep this budgets coming, and it just so happens that Russia looks pretty good right now?

JR: No, I wouldn’t say that. We have real threats – people are killing Americans right now. And so we have interest around the world that we have to spend money to defend ourselves. Cybersecurity is very important too. China has been hacking us like it is going out of style. We really have to focus on cyber security. It is not just China – other powers in the world are hacking America too, as we know.

RT: Hacking by China was slightly mentioned by President Barack Obama in his final news conference the other day and has been picked up by the MSM that China has hacked, and now they have a stealth fighter, the J20. And there’s a tremendous speculation if we can use that, just like they used the speculation on Russia hacking into the DNC, that the Chinese hacked into the Pentagon and they have the plans of the F22 stealth Raptor, and now the J20 is going to be able to compete at that level. If that is true, this is much more serious than some political hack job if that actually happened. Do you have any thoughts on that?

JR: You’re entirely right. That is much more serious. The level of industrial espionage from China is out of control. And it has been this way for a while. Fortunately, the US government is aware of it – we’re prosecuting people – thank goodness. But China is the one to watch because China wants to knock the US off, as a superpower; China wants to be the world’s dominant power. So we really have to focus on cybersecurity principally from attacks from China. It is not just attacks, but it is also espionage.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 103

December 21, 2016


The Pentagon has prepared a newly updated compilation of infractions that might be committed and prohibitions that might be violated by Department of Defense employees, together with the recommended punishments.

“Mishandling or failing to safeguard information or documentation that is classified,” for example, can entail punishment ranging from written reprimand to removal. See Disciplinary and Adverse Actions, Administrative Instruction 8, December 16, 2016.

The document’s Table of Offenses and Penalties does not include overclassification, faulty compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, or some other readily imaginable forms of misconduct.

But proscribed (and punishable) activities do include retaliation against whistleblowers (conduct unbecoming a federal employee), discourtesy (abusive language or gestures), and lack of candor or truthfulness.


The United States continued to lead global trade in conventional armaments last year, according to a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service, but overall trade declined from the year before.

“Worldwide weapons orders decreased in 2015. The total of $79.8 billion was a decrease from $89 billion in 2014. The United States’ worldwide weapons agreements values increased in value from $36.1 billion in 2014 to $40.2 billion in 2015. The U.S. market share increased greatly as well, from roughly 40.5% in 2014 to 50.3% in 2015. Although the United States retained its position as the leading arms supplying nation in the world, nearly all other major suppliers saw increases too.”

The CRS report is based on access to unclassified but unpublished government databases. As such, the 72-page document provides a uniquely informative view of the global arms trade. See Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015, December 19, 2016.

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

Defense Acquisitions: How and Where DOD Spends Its Contracting Dollars, updated December 20, 2016

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, updated December 16, 2016

Tribal Broadband: Status of Deployment and Federal Funding Programs, updated December 20, 2016

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer, updated December 16, 2016

State Management of Federal Lands: Frequently Asked Questions, updated December 16, 2016

The FCC’s Rules and Policies Regarding Media Ownership, Attribution, and Ownership Diversity, updated December 16, 2016

Special Minimum Wages for Workers with Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions, updated December 16, 2016

Discretionary Budget Authority by Subfunction: An Overview, updated December 16, 2016

Restrictions on Lobbying the Government: Current Policy and Proposed Changes, CRS Insight, December 15, 2016

U.S. Policy on Cuban Migrants: In Brief, December 16, 2016

The African Union (AU): Key Issues and U.S.-AU Relations, December 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia projects huge 2017 deficit

Saudi Arabia has said expenses next year will again exceed revenues by far as the nation tries to lessen its dependence on oil exports. The government said cost-cutting measures would continue unabated.

December 22, 2016


Saudi Arabia on Thursday projected a 2017 budget deficit of about $53 billion (50.6 billion euros).

The cabinet in Riyadh said expenses next year would reach $237 billion, against revenues of $182 billion. The 2017 deficit would thus be huge again, but down 8.9 percent from the 2016 budget forecast.

“This budget comes at a time of a highly volatile economic situation, which led to a slowdown in world economic growth and a drop in oil prices that impacted our country,” King Salman said on official television.

Cost-cutting drive

The world’s largest oil exporter has frozen major building projects, cut cabinet ministers’ salaries and imposed a wage freeze on civil servants in the wake of last year’s record deficit of $97 billion.

The government made unprecedented cuts to fuel and utilities subsidies last year in a nation long accustomed to some of the cheapest petrol prices in the world.

The plunge in oil prices led Riyadh to intensify economic reform efforts. In April, it released the Vision 2030 program for diversifying the oil-dependent economy.

At its heart is a plan to float some 5 percent of state oil giant Saudi Aramco on the stock market, with the proceeds helping to form what will be the world’s largest state investment fund with $2 trillion in total assets.

The IPO could take place in 2018 and would be the biggest-ever in stock market history.

Drug industry hired dozens of officials from the DEA as the agency tried to curb opioid abuse

December 22, 2016

by Scott Higham, Lenny Bernstein, Steven Rich and Alice Crites

The Washington Post

Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture or distribute highly addictive pain pills have hired dozens of officials from the top levels of the Drug Enforcement Administration during the past decade, according to a Washington Post investigation.

The hires came after the DEA launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that has resulted in thousands of overdose deaths each year. In 2005, the DEA began to crack down on companies that were distributing inordinate numbers of pills such as oxycodone to pain-management clinics and pharmacies around the country.

Since then, the pharmaceutical companies and law firms that represent them have hired at least 42 officials from the DEA — 31 of them directly from the division responsible for regulating the industry, according to work histories compiled by The Post and interviews with current and former agency officials.

The number of hires has prompted some current and former government officials to question whether the companies raided the division to hire away DEA officials who were architects of the agency’s enforcement campaign or were most responsible for enforcing the laws the firms were accused of violating.

“The number of employees recruited from that division points to a deliberate strategy by the pharmaceutical industry to hire people who are the biggest headaches for them,” said John Carnevale, former director of planning for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, who now runs a consulting firm. “These people understand how DEA operates, the culture around diversion and DEA’s goals, and they can advise their clients how to stay within the guidelines.”

The DEA’s Diversion Control Division, tasked with preventing prescription drugs from reaching the black market, wields enormous power within the pharmaceutical world. The small division, with about 300 employees at its Arlington, Va., headquarters, can suspend or revoke the licenses of doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies that fail to comply with federal law.

From 2000 to 2015, nearly 180,000 people have died of overdoses from prescription painkillers in what public health authorities have called an epidemic. States including Massachusetts, and most recently Virginia, have declared public health emergencies as the number of deaths has escalated.

It is not unusual for corporations to hire federal employees directly away from the government.. Their expertise and inside knowledge can be invaluable, but there are laws and regulations to slow the “revolving door” in Washington and prevent potential conflicts of interest.

The restrictions include a lifetime ban on participating “personally and substantially” on a “particular matter” that the official had handled while working for the federal government. There also is a two-year ban on switching sides on a wider array of matters that were in the employee’s official purview. State bar associations impose additional post-employment restrictions for government lawyers.

An industry spokesman said former DEA diversion officials are hired for their expertise.

“Our industry is highly specialized, and the function of drug diversion experts even more so,” said John M. Gray, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which represents drug distributors. “As such, for these individuals who want to continue to grow in their areas of expertise, it is logical for them to pursue government and industry roles that are closely aligned with their professional experience.”

While The Post did not find evidence that the officials violated conflict-of-interest regulations, the number of hires from one key division shows how an industry can potentially blunt a government agency’s aggressive attempts at enforcement.

The DEA diversion officials who have gone to the industry since 2005 include two executive assistants who managed day-to-day operations; the deputy director of the division; the deputy chief of operations; two chiefs of policy; a deputy chief of policy; the chief of investigations; and two associate chief counsels in charge of legal affairs and enforcement actions against pharmaceutical companies.

“It’s obvious that they targeted the office,” said Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who ran the diversion division for a decade before he was removed from his position and retired in 2015. “If you want to understand how we were doing our investigations, the best way to do it is to take our people who are doing the investigations and put them in place in your company. It’s not difficult to understand why you would take these guys. They know the law.”

Most of the DEA officials went to work for the pharmaceutical industry and law firms within weeks of leaving the agency. Among the 31 DEA diversion employees, 22 began their new jobs within weeks of leaving the DEA, according to work histories the officials posted on LinkedIn, as well as news releases and biographies published by the companies and law firms that hired them.

The Post found that several high-ranking DEA supervisors from outside the diversion division also took top jobs with industry: four special agents in charge and three assistant special agents in charge of field operations in some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, Washington and Atlanta.

In responses to questions from The Post, the DEA said in a statement that former employees must follow the law and ethics regulations in taking jobs in the private sector.

“Many who serve in government possess expert knowledge in a wide variety of fields. It is not uncommon for former government officials to use or rely on such expertise when they transfer to the private sector following their public sector service,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said in the statement. “Employees who leave DEA and other government agencies for private sector work are expected to abide by the applicable laws and ethics rules that govern their private sector activities.”

At least five of the 31 DEA employees were hired by McKesson — the nation’s largest drug distributor and fifth-largest corporation. McKesson has been the subject of two publicly disclosed DEA enforcement actions, which resulted in $163 million in fines after allegations that the firm failed to report hundreds of suspicious orders for millions of pain pills from Internet pharmacies and others.

“McKesson has put significant resources towards building a best-in-class controlled substance monitoring program to help identify suspicious orders and prevent prescription drug diversion in the supply chain,” the company said in a statement. “It is only natural that this team is comprised of a broad range of experts, including individuals who have spent time at DEA, as they bring deep knowledge of effective strategies to prevent diversion. Our team is deeply passionate about curbing the opioid epidemic in our country.”

The Post contacted a dozen former DEA officials who went to work for the drug industry, but few agreed to be interviewed. Those who did said they followed federal ethics guidelines designed to prevent potential conflicts of interest for officials who switch from government to the industries they once regulated.

“I don’t feel like I took off the white hat and put the black hat on,” said Larry P. Cote, who left as the associate chief counsel for the DEA’s diversion division in May 2012 to become a partner at the law firm Quarles & Brady. “That’s really not what’s going on. It’s trying to get the best people in place to make sure that companies are staying compliant. And frankly, that benefits the DEA as much as it benefits the companies.”

At Quarles & Brady, Cote serves as co-director of the firm’s DEA Compliance and Litigation Practice Group and provides legal advice to some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Cote said he obtained an ethics opinion from the DEA that advised him on which cases he could and could not handle in the private sector.

Ethics experts said revolving-door issues have been a long-standing concern across the government, with some of the most notable cases coming from the Defense Department. President-elect Donald Trump recently criticized the revolving door at the Pentagon, saying high-ranking officials “should never be allowed to go work” for companies in the defense industry.

The ethics experts said the number of officials switching sides at the DEA raises serious questions about whether the ability of the diversion division to carry out its mission has been compromised by the pharmaceutical industry.

“The findings that so many DEA officials have switched from their roles preventing, detecting and investigating illegal drug use to working for those involved in the supply chain is disturbing,” said Scott H. Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group in Washington. “It’s also another reminder of how well the revolving door is greased and how the revolving door can negatively impact government operations. It’s not a surprise that DEA isn’t as vigilant as it once was when so many ex-feds are working for the companies that they once investigated.”

In 2004, DEA officials became alarmed by the increasing number of overdose deaths. The following year, the agency’s diversion division launched an initiative designed to hold distributors of narcotics accountable for the hundreds of millions of pills that were being diverted to the black market.

The DEA pursued cases against some of the largest opioid distributors in the country, including McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, as well as CVS and Walgreens, which distribute opioids to their own pharmacies. In general, the companies did not admit wrongdoing and said they were taking steps to address illegal diversion.

In 2008, McKesson settled one of those cases, paying a $13 million fine without admitting liability. That same the year, the DEA filed a case against Cardinal. That company also settled, paying a $34 million fine. Cardinal promised to improve monitoring of its drug shipments.

The DEA’s initiative was sharply curtailed in the face of pressure from the pharmaceutical industry beginning in 2013, according to a Post investigation published in October. In fiscal 2011, civil case filings against distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors had reached 131. By 2014, they had fallen to 40.

The slowdown came after DEA lawyers began to require a higher standard of proof before cases could move forward. Supervisors in the field said they were frustrated that their cases were being stalled at DEA headquarters. Top DEA and Justice Department officials have declined to discuss the reasons behind the slowdown.

Government ethics experts said regulators often join the industries they oversee, lured by substantially higher salaries.

“That high rate of turnover makes you really wonder whether those officials were acting in the interests of the DEA rather than the companies they were regulating,” said Craig Holman, an expert on revolving-door issues for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group in Washington. “Just by seeing your colleagues going that way, that tells you that you can shape your future employment prospects if you behave accordingly.”

Once senior employees leave for jobs in the industry, they are in positions to help pharmaceutical companies comply with the complex laws and regulations that govern controlled substances. But ethics experts said they also can exploit weaknesses they are aware of within the DEA.

One of the key players in the DEA’s diversion initiative went to work for a law firm that represents the companies he used to regulate.

  1. Linden Barber, who served as associate chief counsel from 2006 to 2010, guided cases against some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country.

In 2008, Barber’s office filed its first diversion case against Cardinal, accusing it of failing to properly monitor shipments of painkillers. Barber conducted extensive meetings with DEA attorneys assigned to the case and was deeply involved in crafting a “memorandum of agreement” to settle the allegations against Cardinal, according to a DEA document. The case resulted in the $34 million settlement with Cardinal.

In September 2011, Barber, who had been serving as the DEA’s regional diversion counsel in the Midwest, left for the law firm Quarles & Brady. His colleague, Larry Cote, had taken over as associate chief counsel at DEA headquaters.

The next month, the DEA served warrants seeking records from Cardinal as part of a second case against the company.

Quarles & Brady’s clients include Cardinal.

Seven months later, in May 2012, Cote, who helped to coordinate the second Cardinal case while at the DEA, joined Barber at Quarles & Brady, becoming the co-director of compliance and litigation. Cote had appeared in court on behalf of the DEA in the case against Cardinal three months earlier, records show.

Barber said he sought advice from Roberto D. DiBella, the DEA’s ethics lawyer, before and after leaving the agency. Barber declined to say whether he asked DiBella for advice about representing Cardinal, but he said his representation of his clients complied with ethics laws.

“The rules governing my work as an attorney make it inappropriate for me to discuss work I did for DEA and any other clients,” he said in a statement to The Post. “However, the records of DEA will show that I followed the rules. I never worked on a matter for DEA and then worked on the same matter for the other party. I am proud of the work I did for DEA and of the work I do in private practice for clients who want to work with DEA to stop the abuse of prescription drugs.”

The DEA provided The Post with a copy of DiBella’s ethics opinion. It shows that Barber asked for guidance on his representation of Cardinal. DiBella told him that he was banned for life from representing Cardinal on any issues connected to the 2008 memorandum of agreement (MOA).

“Your representation of Cardinal to address an alleged violation of the MOA would on its face appear that you switched sides on a matter that you participated in as a DEA employee,” DiBella wrote.

DiBella did not respond to interview requests. The DEA said the ethics opinion was reviewed by DiBella’s supervisor to double-check the advice Barber was given.

Cote said he also asked DiBella for an ethics opinion before leaving the agency in 2012.

“I provided him with a fairly comprehensive list of the cases that I worked on,” he said in a recent interview.

The DEA provided a copy of the opinion to The Post. It noted that Cote had participated “personally and substantially” in specific matters relating to at least 10 companies while he was at the DEA. It said he was banned for life from communicating with or appearing before the DEA or any other federal agency on behalf of those companies on the specific matters he handled.

The companies include some of the largest drug distributors and retailers in the nation, including McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart.

Cote said he has followed the opinion, which also singled out his work for the DEA on the Cardinal case.

“I did not and really have not represented Cardinal since I left DEA,” Cote said. “Our firm does do work for Cardinal, but I’ve been really walled off from it because some of these matters are still pending and I just didn’t want to go there.”

Josephine Peterson contributed to this report. She is attached to The Post’s investigative unit through a program at American University.

 North Carolina rebuffs transgender bathroom law repeal

December 21, 2016

by Marti Maguire


RALEIGH, N.C.-North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday rejected a bid to repeal a state law restricting bathroom access for transgender people, which has drawn months of protests and boycotts by opponents decrying the measure as discriminatory.

A one-day special legislative session ended abruptly after the state Senate voted against abolishing a law that has made North Carolina the latest U.S. battleground over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The repeal legislation was rejected 32-16, leaving the bathroom restrictions in place statewide. The rejection followed Republican-led political maneuvering that tied repeal to a second provision that would have temporarily banned cities from affirming transgender bathroom rights.

Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson said the repeal effort failed because Republicans reneged on their deal to bring the measure to a floor vote with no strings attached.

The moratorium on municipal bathroom regulations, described by Jackson as a “poison pill,” withered Democratic support, and in the end all 16 Senate Democrats joined 16 Republicans in voting against repeal. Another 16 Republicans voted for it.

The Senate then adjourned without acting on the temporary municipal ban. The state’s House of Representatives had already called it quits.

Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper accused Republican leaders of back-peddling on an agreement ironed out in lengthy negotiations. He said both chambers had the votes for a full repeal, but divisions within the Republican Party killed it.

“The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Phil Berger earlier defended the proposal to link repeal with temporary municipal restrictions as a genuine attempt at compromise, citing “the passion and disagreement surrounding this issue.”

After the vote, outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory blamed “well-funded left-wing interest groups” that he said “sabotaged bipartisan good faith agreements for political purposes.”


Earlier in the week, McCrory had called the special session to consider scrapping the law, which passed in March and made North Carolina the first state to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity.

Supporters of the statute, known as House Bill 2 (HB 2), have cited traditional values and a need for public safety, while opponents called it mean-spirited, unnecessary and a violation of civil liberties.

The national backlash was swift and fierce, leading to boycotts that have been blamed for millions of dollars in economic losses for the state as events, such as business conferences and the National Basketball Association’s 2017 All-Star Game, were moved out of North Carolina.

The pushback contributed to McCrory’s razor-thin defeat in a fall re-election bid against Cooper, an opponent of the law.

HB 2 was enacted largely in response to a local measure in Charlotte that protected the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed its ordinance as a prelude to the state repealing HB 2.

Civil liberties and LGBT rights groups condemned the outcome, accusing the legislature of breaking its promise to do away with HB 2.

“It is a shame that North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made,” said James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union executive.

The North Carolina Values Coalition hailed the legislature for upholding the law and refusing to give in to “demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations or angry mobs.”

(Additional reporting by David Ingram; Writing by Letitia Stein, Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)


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