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TBR News March 13, 2017

Mar 13 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 13, 2017: “When NASA conducted a moon landing, there were observations to the effect that the landing was a hoax and the film was actually shot in a Burbank sound studio

This is an excellent example of conspiracy theory.

A number of incidents attract the interest of people who become fascinated with various theories and then go to enormous trouble to attempt to construct elaborate support structures in support of them. History is replete with such alternative theories.

There is the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor that precipitated the Spanish American war. An expansionist party in America that chanted about Manifest Destiny, was eager to expand America in various areas and warmly supported a war with the decayed Spanish Empire. Insurrection in the Spanish colony of Cuba gave these jingoists an excuse to press for war. When the Maine blew up while on a show-the-flag visit to Cuba, war was a foregone conclusion. The sunken battleship was subject to extensive investigation after the war and it was discovered that the massive explosion occurred from inside the ship. In all probability it was the explosion of very volatile coal dust but it could also have been a bomb. Since the battleship was manned at the time, neither Spanish nor Cuban revolutionaries could be held accountable. The remains of the Maine were towed out into the Caribbean and sunk in a very deep area, precluding further examination.

Then there was the sinking of the Lusitania in May of 1915. The fast Cunard passenger liner was carrying a mixed cargo of explosives, military equipment, fuzed shells, and over a thousand passengers. The ship was sent, without escort, into an area where German submarines were known to be operating and one of them fired one torpedo into her bows. The first explosion very obviously ignited something in the cargo and the second explosion blew out much of her bows underwater and the ship sank in less than twenty minutes with a heavy loss of life.

In the intervening years, the controversy has raged about the nature of the Lusitania’s cargo and many theories have been postulated about coal dust, ruptured steam pipes and multiple torpedo hits but the plain fact is that the Lusitania was listed in official books as an armed auxiliary cruiser, was carrying military contraband making her a legitimate military target and her sinking had been expected in London circles to draw a neutral America into the European war.

Apologists for the British in general and First British Sea Lord, Winston Churchill in specific have made extensive attempts to finesse the facts but in the final analysis, the Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo that ignited her illegal cargo. That British authorities knowingly permitted civilians to travel on a ship full of explosive contraband was cynical at best and criminal at worst.

There is then the great Pearl Harbor controversy. One side of the issue claims that President Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack through American intercepts of secret coded Japanese diplomatic and military radio messages. Others have maintained that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of Lusitania fame, informed the American President in advance of the attack and Roosevelt merely permitted it to happen. This school of thought claims that Roosevelt, eager to fight his arch-enemy Hitler, pushed the Japanese until they responded with a military attack that opened a war in the Pacific that enabled Roosevelt to have his war in the Atlantic. The government apologists have claimed that no one had any foreknowledge of the attack and that such high-minded men as Roosevelt and Churchill would never have plotted to begin a war for their own ends.

There is no doubt whatsoever that a plethora of secret Japanese messages were decoded but not a great deal of evidence that official Washington was fully aware of the pending attack.

That Japan planned to attack the United States is beyond question, Roosevelt supporters to the contrary, but it is not known the degree or extent that these plans were either known, or if known, comprehended in either the White House or official Army and Navy circles.

Circumstantial evidence, not direct evidence, would indicate that the attack was not a surprise to the military chiefs and the President.”

Table of Contents

  • Denmark warns Turkish PM to postpone visit as Germany mulls legal options
  • German lawmakers call for withdrawal of Bundeswehr troops from Turkey
  • German MPs call for troop withdrawal from Turkish airbase amid rally row
  • Turkey rallies row: Germany and Netherlands harden stance
  • Scottish leader demands new independence vote before Brexit
  • Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should Stay Out
  • Turkey’s determination against Kurds alienates US, Russia
  • Turkey-Netherlands row: Dutch warn citizens after Erdogan threat
  • China blasts CIA after WikiLeaks reveals extent of agency’s hacking abilities
  • Seven ways to keep the CIA out of your home.
  • Rand Paul is Right: NSA Routinely Monitors Americans’ Communications Without Warrants

 Denmark warns Turkish PM to postpone visit as Germany mulls legal options

Denmark has joined a growing list of countries to block Turkey’s attempts at political campaigns in Europe. Germany’s interior minister says there could be legal avenues to bar entry to referendum campaigners.

March 12, 2017

DW

Denmark’s prime minister suggested his Turkish counterpart postpone his visit due to “tensions” between Ankara and the Netherlands, he said in a statement on Sunday.

Danish public broadcaster DR reported Binali Yildirim had planned to visit the country on March 20 but Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said that such a visit could not take place in light of “the current Turkish attack on Holland.”

“Under normal circumstances, it would be a pleasure to welcome the Turkish prime minister,” Rasmussen said in a statement. He told DR that the Danish government was “very concerned” about political developments in Turkey.

Ankara is squabbling with several European countries over its attempts to rally support among the Turkish diaspora for an April referendum aimed at expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

Legal avenues to curtail campaigns

On Sunday, Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said there were legal avenues to stop Turkish politicians campaigning in the European Union for the referendum.

“A Turkish campaign has no business being here in Germany,” he told German public broadcaster ARD, saying he is “strongly opposed politically” to such events.

German local authorities scrapped several campaign appearances over logistical problems, prompting anger from Ankara. The row escalated further at the weekend when the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from entering the country for rallies.

De Maiziere said he was opposed to such appearances, but the imposition of an outright entry ban required careful consideration.

“There are limits, clear limits, for example in the criminal code. It is hardly followed,” he said.

“Someone who insults and maliciously condemns Germany or its constitution has committed a criminal offense. That would at least be a limit,” he said.

Nazi practices

Erdogan described Germany’s actions as “Nazi practices,” sparking consternation in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called such rhetoric “depressing,” saying it belittled Holocaust victims and was “so out of place as to be unworthy of serious comment.”

Merkel said any future rallies were “possible as long as they are duly announced, in a timely manner, and in an open way.”

On Sunday, German lawmakers called for a withdrawal of German troops from Turkey.

German lawmakers call for withdrawal of Bundeswehr troops from Turkey

Cooling relations between Berlin and Ankara have spurred cross-party calls for German troops to leave the Incirlik air base. Incirlik has been the Bundeswehr’s key base in its fight against the so-called “Islamic State.”

March 12, 2017

DW

German lawmakers from across the political spectrum on Sunday called on the Bundeswehr to withdraw troops and jets from its air base in Turkey.

The Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister-party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, cited the worsening relations and escalating war-of-words between Berlin and Ankara as reason to pull troops out of Incirlik, a key airbase located by the Syrian border.

The CSU’s spokesman for foreign and security policy, Florian Hahn, told the German “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper that “amid this heated atmosphere, it has become increasingly uncertain that the Turkish government can and will guarantee the protection of our soldiers in Incirlik.” Germany should not allow its troops to become a mere bargaining chip in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power games, he added.

Hahn also indentified Jordan as an improved alternative as a base for Germany’s Middle East operations.

Those calls garnered support from the Left Party, Germany’s largest opposition party. Its leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, said: “In light of the current developments in Turkey, it is overdue that we withdraw our Tornado [jets] and Bundeswehr soldiers, as well as halting the supply of weapons to Turkey immediately.”

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere sought to dispel any chance of withdrawal, however, saying that Bundeswehr soldiers were there to “protect NATO interests, and therefore our interests.”

Some 240 German troops are currently stationed at Incirlik air base, most of which are involved in reconnaissance missions in the fight against the so-called “Islamic State” jihadist group.

Rows and Nazi slurs

This is not the first time German lawmakers have called on the German military to pull out of Turkey. In June, Ankara forbade German delegates from visiting Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in Incirlik, a response to the German government’s decision to recognize the killing of around 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as genocide.

While that dispute was eventually resolved months later, tensions between Berlin and Ankara have once again become inflamed in recent days after a handful of German municipalities canceled referendum campaigns from Turkish ministers. Officials from President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party had planned to whip up support from Turkish expatriates ahead of a controversial constitutional reform bill to expand the powers of the presidency.

While a number of cities allowed the rallies to go ahead, Erdogan nevertheless likened the cancellations to “Nazi practices.”

German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert described the comments as “absurd and out of place.”

German MPs call for troop withdrawal from Turkish airbase amid rally row

March 13, 2017

RT

Amid a row with Turkey over its presidential powers referendum, some German MPs are calling for the withdrawal of troops deployed at Incirlik airbase. Germany is flying reconnaissance sorties from the Turkish base as part of the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition.

Concerns over the presence of German airmen at the base, which is located in southern Turkey close to Syria, came from lawmakers of both the ruling coalition and the opposition. Florian Hahn, spokesman for security and foreign policy of the Christian Social Union (CSU), said the Germans soldiers and officers may become pawns in Turkish power games.

Amid this heated atmosphere, it has become increasingly uncertain that the Turkish government can and will guarantee the protection of our soldiers in Incirlik,” he told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. He called on the government to stop investing in the infrastructure of the airbase and transfer the Tornados stationed there elsewhere.

The CSU is the Bavaria-based sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, while similar concerns came from the Left Party, the main opposition force in Germany.

“In light of the current developments in Turkey, it is overdue that we withdraw our Tornado [jets] and Bundeswehr soldiers, as well as halting the supply of weapons to Turkey immediately,” argued Left leader Sahra Wagenknecht, as cited by Deutsche Welle.

The Green Party’s Cem Ozdemir, an ethnic Turk and long-time critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said withdrawing troops from Turkey would send a clear message to Ankara, which is, according to him, “in the process of losing the last remnants of respect towards Europe.”

Several NATO allies have troops stationed at Incirlik, with Germany maintaining a force of some 240. They are ensuring continued flights of the German Tornado aircraft for reconnaissance missions in Syria and Iraq, part of Berlin’s contribution in the US-led coalition fighting terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Germany is considering multimillion-dollar investment into Incirlik for the long-term deployment of its troops there. Turkey is set to benefit from the money, both because its base would grow and because local contractors would be involved in the renovation.

Supporters of the idea of pulling out the Tornados from Turkey say they could be stationed in Greece, Cyprus or Jordan and still contribute to the anti-IS campaign. They also say Ankara already played the Incirlik card last year, when it prevented German MPs from visiting the base amid a row over Berlin’s formal recognition of the mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman Empire rule as genocide.

The obstruction was apparently meant to express Turkey’s irritation with the German parliament after it passed the genocide resolution. In Germany, the parliament has strong oversight powers over the military, which is meant to prevent executive abuse and is rooted in the legacy of Nazi-era atrocities. Lawmakers have to sign off on any foreign deployment of German troops and defense spending in other nations.

So far, the German government has brushed aside the calls to withdraw from Turkey, with Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere saying that German soldiers were there to “protect NATO interests, and therefore our interests.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday spoke along the same lines and suggested that Turkey and other allies should focus on things that unite them rather than on those which divide them.

Tensions between Germany and Turkey have escalated as Ankara prepares for a referendum in April, which seeks to give more powers to the office of the president. The Turkish government is sponsoring a series of rallies of Turkish citizens living in Europe, campaigning for their votes in the plebiscite. In several European nations, including Germany, this effort has been undermined by the cancelation of rallies and bans on the public appearance of Turkish officials at campaign events.

Turkey rallies row: Germany and Netherlands harden stance

March 12, 2017

BBC News

Several EU leaders have criticised Turkey, amid a growing row over the Turkish government’s attempts to hold rallies in European countries.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany and the Netherlands of “Nazism” after officials blocked rallies there.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte called his comments “unacceptable”, while Germany’s foreign minister said he hoped Turkey would “return to its senses”.

Denmark’s leader has also postponed a planned meeting with Mr Erdogan.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was concerned that “democratic principles are under great pressure” in Turkey.

He added that he had postponed the meeting because: “With the current Turkish attacks on Holland the meeting cannot be seen separated from that.”

The rallies aim to encourage a large number of Turks living in Europe to vote yes in a referendum expanding the president’s powers.

However, planned rallies in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands were blocked after officials cited security concerns or said the rallies could stoke tensions.

A gathering in France however went ahead after local officials said it did not pose a threat.

Ties between the Turkish and Dutch leaders became particularly strained at the weekend after two Turkish ministers were barred from addressing rallies in Rotterdam, with one of them escorted to the German border.

Mr Erdogan likened the Netherlands to “a banana republic”, demanded international organisations impose sanctions on the Netherlands, and accused countries in the West of “Islamophobia”.

“I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West,” he added.

On Sunday, Mr Rutte demanded Mr Erdogan apologise for likening the Dutch to “Nazi fascists”.

“This country was bombed during the Second World War by Nazis. It’s totally unacceptable to talk in this way.”

The Netherlands would have to consider its response if Turkey continued on its current path, he added.

Meanwhile, German ministers also appeared to harden their rhetoric against Turkey.

Despite Chancellor Angela Merkel saying her government was not opposed to Turkish ministers attending rallies in Germany, as long as they are “duly announced”, her interior minister said he was opposed to Turkish political gatherings in Germany.

“A Turkish campaign has no business being here in Germany,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told local media.

Separately, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Turkey had “destroyed the basis for further progress in co-operation”.

Reports say the owner of a venue in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, also cancelled a pro-Erdogan rally on Sunday that was to have been attended by Turkey’s agriculture minister.

Sweden’s foreign ministry said it was not involved in the decision and that the event could take place elsewhere.

What is the row about?

Turkey is holding a referendum on 16 April on whether to turn from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, more akin to the United States.

If successful, it would give sweeping new powers to the president, allowing him or her to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.

What’s more, the president alone would be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.

There are 5.5 million Turks living outside the country, with 1.4 million eligible voters in Germany alone – and the Yes campaign is keen to get them on side.

So a number of rallies have been planned for countries with large numbers of eligible voters, including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Why are countries trying to prevent the rallies?

Many of the countries, including Germany, have cited security concerns as the official reason.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Mr Erdogan was not welcome to hold rallies as this could increase friction and hinder integration.

Many European nations have also expressed deep disquiet about Turkey’s response to the July coup attempt and the country’s perceived slide towards authoritarianism under President Erdogan.

Germany in particular has been critical of the mass arrests and purges that followed – with nearly 100,000 civil servants removed from their posts.

 

Scottish leader demands new independence vote before Brexit

March 13, 2017

by Elisabeth O’Leary

Reuters

EDINBURGH-Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday demanded a new independence referendum in late 2018 or early 2019, once the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union have become clearer.

A vote that could rip apart the United Kingdom just months before Brexit would deepen the uncertainty surrounding the two-year process of leaving the EU after more than four decades.

“If Scotland is to have a real choice – when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course – then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019,” Sturgeon told reporters.

Her demand comes just as British Prime Minister Theresa May is poised to launch the Brexit process, something opposed by most Scots in last June’s vote on leaving the bloc.

Ultimately it is the UK parliament in Westminster – where May commands a majority – which makes the call on whether Scotland can hold a second referendum.

But if May refused to approve such a vote she could provoke a constitutional crisis while potentially stoking discord in Scotland.

While Sturgeon said the “door was still open” to talking to the UK government, she added that she was not expecting a change of tack by May’s government over Brexit.

“I cannot pretend that a compromise looks remotely likely given the hardline response so far,” she said.

INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND?

The results of the June 23 Brexit referendum called the future of the UK into question because voters in England and Wales chose to leave the EU, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland they voted to stay, with an overall 51.9 percent of British voters in favor of leaving.

May has accused Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party of sacrificing not only the United Kingdom but also Scotland with its “obsession” with securing independence.

Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in a referendum in September 2014, though the vote energized Scottish politics and support for the SNP has surged since then.

“Only a little over two years ago people in Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom in a referendum which the Scottish Government defined as a ‘once in a generation’ vote,” a spokesman for May said in a statement.

“The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum. Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time.”

Sturgeon has said she wanted Scotland to have its own deal as part of the United Kingdom’s Brexit agreement to keep Scottish preferential access to the single market. But on Monday she said her efforts had hit a “brick wall of intransigence” in London.

“If the UK leaves the EU without Scotland indicating beforehand – or at least within a short time after it – that we want a different relationship with Europe, we could face a lengthy period not just outside the EU but also the single market,” she said.

Sterling rose after Sturgeon said the earliest date for a new Scottish independence referendum was in the autumn of next year. British government bond prices fell. [GBP/]

Recent opinion polls have shown support for independence rising since May announced Britain would not just leave the EU but the single market and potentially the customs union too. A poll last week saw a 50-50 split.

Asked if she believed she could win a second independence vote, Sturgeon replied: “Yes I do. Absolutely, I believe that.”

(Additional reporting by Andy Bruce in London; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Dominic Evans)

 

Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should Stay Out

March 10, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

The Trump administration is making its first radical policy change in the Middle East by escalating American involvement in the civil war in Yemen. Wrecked by years of conflict, the unfortunate country will supposedly be the place where the US will start to confront and roll back Iranian influence in the region as a whole.

To this end, the US is to increase military support for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and local Yemeni allies in a bid to overthrow the Houthis – a militarised Shia movement strong in northern Yemen – fighting alongside much of the Yemeni army, which remains loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

If ever there was a complicated and unwinnable war to keep out of, it is this one.

Despite Saudi allegations, there is little evidence that the Houthis get more than rhetorical support from Iran and this is far less than Saudi Arabia gets from the US and Britain. There is no sign that the Saudi-led air bombardment, which has been going on for two years, will decisively break the military stalemate. All that Saudi intervention has achieved so far is to bring Yemen close to all out famine. “Seven million Yemenis are ever closer to starvation,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen in an appeal for more aid this week.

But at the very moment that the UN is warning about the calamity facing Yemen, the US State Department has given permission for a resumption of the supply of precision guided weapons to Saudi Arabia. These sales were suspended last October by President Obama after Saudi aircraft bombed a funeral in the capital Sana’a, killing more than 100 mourners. Ever since Saudi Arabia started its bombing campaign in March 2015, the US has been refuelling its aircraft and has advisors in the Saudi operational headquarters. For the weapons sales to go ahead all that is needed is White House permission.

A bizarre element in Trump’s decision to take the offensive against Iran in Yemen is that the Iranians provide very little financial and military aid to the Houthis. Saudi propaganda, often echoed by the international media, speaks of the Houthis as “Iran-backed”, but Yemen is almost entirely cut off from the outside world by Saudi ground, air and sea forces.

Even food imports, on which Yemenis are wholly reliant, are more and more difficult to bring in through the half-wrecked port of Hodeida on the western coast.

The resumption of the supply of precision-guided munitions is not the first indication that the Trump administration sees Yemen as a good place to put into operation a more hawkish strategy in the region. On 29 January, days after he took office, Trump sent some 30 members of US Navy Seal Team 6, backed by helicopters, to attack an impoverished village called al Ghayil in al-Bayda province in southern Yemen. The purpose of the raid, according to the Pentagon, was intelligence-gathering – though it may well have been a failed attempt to kill or capture Qassim al Rimi, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Whatever the aim of the attack, it swiftly turned into a bloody fiasco, with as many 29 civilians in al Ghayil killed along with one Seal, Chief Petty Officer William Owens. The Pentagon’s explanation of what happened sounds very much like similar attempts to explain away civilian killed and wounded over the past half century in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The head of the US military’s central command, General Joseph Votel, told a Senate hearing that between four and 12 civilians might have died in the raid, adding that an “exhaustive after-action review” had not found incompetence, poor decision making or bad judgement.

For its part, the Trump administration tried to shut down any investigation into what had really happened at al Ghayil by saying that an inquiry would be an affront into the legacy of the fallen Seal, William Owens. This stance was swiftly criticised by the father of the dead man, Bill Owens, who said the government owed his son an inquiry. “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation,” he said.

In the event, the White House and the Pentagon have so far hidden fairly successfully from any real examination of the destruction of this remote Yemeni village, perhaps calculating that no independent journalist could make the dangerous journey to the site of the attack. But a lengthy on-the-spot report by Iona Craig, entitled “Death in al Ghayil” and appearing in the online investigative magazine The Intercept, convincingly rebuts the official version of events, little of which appears to be true.

Craig quotes surviving villagers as saying that the Seal team came under heavy fire from the beginning and attack helicopters were sent in. She writes: “In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep and donkeys.” At least six women and 10 children were killed in their houses as projectiles tore through the straw and timber roofs or were mown down as they ran into the open.

The Trump administration says this was a “highly successful operation” and there had been an assault on a fortified compound – except that there are no such compounds in the village. Trump claimed that a “large amount of vital intelligence” had been obtained and the Pentagon released video footage seized in al Ghayil only to later admit that the footage had been around for 10 years and contained nothing new.

Ironically, the villagers who fought back against the Seal team actually belonged to the forces opposing the Houthis and the pro-Saleh forces and, on the night of the assault, “local armed tribesmen assumed the Houthis had arrived to capture their village”. It was only when they saw coloured laser lights coming from the weapons of the attacking force that they realised that they were fighting Americans. As the Seals retreated, with one dead and two seriously wounded, the MV-22 Osprey that was to extract them crash-landed and had to be destroyed by other US aircraft.

The Trump administration’s first counter-terrorism operation was a failure for the US and much worse for the Yemeni villagers who are dead, wounded, homeless and have seen their livestock, on which they depended for their livelihoods, all killed. But when Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the raid has been a failure he was promptly denounced by Trump who said that Owens “had died on a winning mission” and to debate its outcome would “only embolden the enemy”.

International media coverage tends to focus on the wars in Syria and Iraq, but in those countries Trump and the Pentagon are largely following the policies and plans of Obama.

It is in Yemen that new policies are beginning to emerge as the Trump administration carries out its first counter-terrorism operation against al Qaeda – if that was what it was – leading to the slaughter of civilians and a botched cover-up. Yemen may soon join Afghanistan and Iraq as wars in which the US wishes it had never got involved.

Turkey’s determination against Kurds alienates US, Russia

March 11, 2017

by Sarah el Deeb,

Associated Press

BEIRUT —Turkey achieved a milestone in its goals in Syria: It established a foothold in the heart of the country’s north after driving Islamic State militants away from its borders and seizing al-Bab, one of the extremist group’s major strongholds and a major supply route.

But Turkey’s determination to also push back the Kurds is alienating the other big players in Syria — Russia and the United States — and threatens to undermine the fight against IS in the imminent assault on Raqqa.

Ankara’s threats to attack the nearby town of Manbij, held by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces, prompted Washington to deploy new troops in the area to prevent Turkish advances. Turkey’s Syrian allies have been fighting the Kurds around the town, reportedly with Turkish cover, raising the possibility of frictions with the Americans.

At the same time, Turkish forces shelling Kurds hit Syrian government forces, whose patron Moscow reportedly has advisers in the area.

As a result, Ankara has effectively unified Russia and the U.S. in the goal of limiting Turkish expansion in the north. Syria experts say Ankara has lost influence to realize its aim of pushing the Kurdish forces back to the east of Manbij across the Euphrates. Moreover, Washington is pushing ahead with partnering with the Kurdish-led forces in the planned attack on Raqqa, despite Turkish opposition.

“Turkey’s valuable leverage” to disrupt that alliance “has been tossed away as the Russian military and U.S. Special Forces moved last week in Syria’s Manbij to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces from attacking the city,” wrote Ragip Soylu, a Washington-based Turkish columnist for the pro-government English language Daily Sabah newspaper.

From the start, Turkey’s goal with its military incursion into Syria has been to push IS militants back from its border and prevent Kurdish forces from holding contiguous territory from east to west across the border. Turkey considers the main Syrian Kurdish force, the People’s Protection Forces, or YPG, as terrorists since they are linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

Capturing al-Bab last month met both those aims. Turkish forces and allied Syrian fighters marched into al-Bab after the militants withdrew following a grueling fight that lasted over two months and claimed dozens of Turkish soldiers. With al-Bab in its hands, Turkey blocked the Kurds from joining territory they hold to the east and the west.

But from the very start, a chief goal was Manbij, a small but crowded town 40 kilometers east of al-Bab that is the birthplace of one of the Arab world’s most prominent classical poets. When the U.S-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the town from IS in August, Turkey sent its troops into Syria, complaining to the Americans that the Kurdish forces must retreat east across the Euphrates.

“Turkey has always set the Euphrates as a red line,” Noah Bonsey, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said in a telephone interview. “The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force.”

In a new move, U.S. military moved in with small number of troops now positioned on the western outskirts of Manbij to prevent an escalation of violence between its two allies. Calling it a mission to “reassure and deter,” U.S. officials say the troops, with light combat vehicles and visible American flags, are to keep a lid on the tensions brewing in the increasingly crowded battlefield.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, of the anti-IS coalition, said all the forces acting in Syria have converged “within hand-grenade range of one another.”

“We encourage all forces to remain focused on the counter-ISIS fight and concentrate their efforts on defeating ISIS and not toward other objectives that may cause the coalition to divert energy and resources away from Raqqa,” Townsend said last week. He suggested Turkey has no reason to be in the Manbij area. “With the liberation of al-Bab, Turkey has now secured its border from ISIS.”

Meanwhile, as Turkish troops and their Syrian allies advanced east of al-Bab and threatened to move on Manbij, Russia brokered a deal that effectively created a buffer zone between them and Kurdish-led forces by handing over some villages to Syrian government troops.

On Thursday, Syrian government media said Turkish shelling killed a number of its troops. Kurdish officials said Turkish advances continued even despite the buffer zone.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, blamed Russia and the United States for emboldening the Turkish push toward Manbij: The U.S. coalition by providing the Turkish forces with air cover during the assault on al-Bab, and Moscow by agreeing to let Turkey take over al-Bab despite a Syrian government push to liberate the town.

Now with both U.S. forces and Russian advisers in the area, Turkey is not letting up, she said. “In all the wars the Americans took part in, their forces’ presence has some prestige, status, and confrontations are avoided.”

Turkey ultimate intention in pressuring Manbij may be to keep the SDF out of the Raqqa offensive. Ankara has repeatedly demanded to the U.S. that the Kurds not be involved in taking the city, which is the Islamic State group’s de facto capital. Fighting at Manbij ties down SDF fighters that could go to the Raqqa campaign.

Ahmed said if the U.S. wants the Raqqa campaign to move ahead, “they must protect Manbij.”

“All of this is a reminder of the risk in a rushed attempt to get to Raqqa If Turkish interests are not at least placated to some extent,” said Bonsey of the International Crisis Group.

Turkey has a number of ways it could disrupt a Raqqa campaign, he said. “There is a lot that can go wrong.”

 

Turkey-Netherlands row: Dutch warn citizens after Erdogan threat

March 13, 2017

BBC News

The Netherlands has warned its citizens over travel to Turkey as a row between the countries shows no sign of abating.

Germany, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Turkish attempts to hold rallies in those countries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation, saying: “Nazism is still widespread in the West”.

On Monday, the Dutch foreign ministry issued a new travel warning, urging its citizens in Turkey to take care and noting the new “diplomatic tensions”.

The warning to “avoid gatherings and crowded places” came as Turkey’s foreign ministry lodged a formal protest with the Dutch envoy.

Meanwhile, the Dutch deputy prime minister, Lodewijk Asscher, said that “to be called Nazis by a regime which is walking backwards in regards to human rights is just disgusting”.

European Union leaders called for calm.

“It is essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm down the situation,” said a joint statement by foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen, in Istanbul, says that Turkey and the Netherlands, two Nato allies, are now locked in an “unprecedented diplomatic crisis”.

How did the row come about?

The proposed rallies aimed to encourage a large number of Turks living in Europe to vote Yes in a referendum on 16 April on expanding the president’s powers. The plans were criticised by senior EU officials on Monday.

In Germany, for example, there are more than three million people of Turkish origin, of whom an estimated 1.4 million are eligible to vote in Turkish elections. In effect, the diaspora is Turkey’s fourth-largest electoral district.

Planned rallies in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands were blocked after officials cited security concerns or said the rallies could stoke tensions.

A gathering in France went ahead, however, after officials said it did not pose a threat.

Two Turkish ministers were barred from addressing rallies in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, with one of them escorted to the German border.

Police used dogs and water cannon against protesters waving Turkish flags in Rotterdam.

Mr Erdogan likened the Netherlands to “a banana republic”, demanded international organisations impose sanctions on the Netherlands, and accused countries in the West of “Islamophobia”.

“I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but I was wrong,” he said.

He warned that countries would “pay the price” for their actions.

Turkey’s EU affairs minister, Omer Celik, said Ankara would retaliate against the Netherlands with “sanctions”, without specifying what this would mean.

On Monday morning, Turkey summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires in Ankara for the third time in three days. He was handed two notes, protesting against the treatment of the minister escorted to Germany, and the treatment of protesters in Rotterdam.

And what was the response to Turkey?

Dutch PM Mark Rutte said Mr Erdogan’s comment that the Dutch were “Nazi remnants” was “unacceptable”, and demanded an apology. The pressure from Turkey comes days before the Dutch election, in which Mr Rutte is facing pressure from anti-Islam candidate Geert Wilders.

Responding to Turkish calls for sanctions, he said the Netherlands would “never negotiate under threat”.

Germany’s foreign minister said he hoped Turkey would “return to its senses”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her government is not opposed to Turkish ministers attending rallies in Germany, as long as they are “duly announced”.

At a news conference on Monday, she said the Nazi comparisons were “completely unacceptable” and that the Netherlands had her full support.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he had postponed a meeting later this month with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim because “with the current Turkish attacks on Holland the meeting cannot be seen separated from that”.

He said he was concerned that “democratic principles are under great pressure” in Turkey.

 

China blasts CIA after WikiLeaks reveals extent of agency’s hacking abilities

March 9, 2017

by Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

WikiLeaks’ publication of documents detailing the CIA’s vast hacking prowess prompted a rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday over concerns surrounding the security risks caused by the agency’s ability to crack the world’s most widely-used electronic devices.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was concerned when at asked at a press conference Thursday about Beijing’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release — a cache of documents indicating the CIA can compromise an array of popular tech products, including many made and sold in China.

China “is opposed to all forms of cyberattacks, and urges the U.S. to stop its wiretapping, surveillance, espionage and cyberattacks against China and other countries,” Mr. Geng told reporters.

“The Chinese side is firmly committed to safeguarding its cyber security and is ready to enhance dialogue and cooperation with the international community to lay down a set of universally acceptable rules governing the cyberspace within the UN framework, and build a peaceful, secure, open, cooperative and orderly cyberspace through joint efforts,” he said.

The documents published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday suggest U.S. intelligence is capable of hacking widely used internet routers — including those manufactured by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE — among other tech products.

The CIA “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal,” WikiLeaks said in a statement. The agency has refused to comment on the authenticity of the documents, but multiple reports indicate the leak is the subject of an investigation being undertaken currently by both the FBI and CIA.

Cybersecurity proved to a contentious issue under former President Barack Obama’s administration with respect to his relationship with China. The Justice Department charged five members of the Chinese military with cyber espionage in 2014, and Chinese hackers were reportedly believed to be responsible for a major breach spotted a year later affecting the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Mr. Obama nonetheless announced in September 2015 that he had reached a “common understanding” with his Chinese counterpart on the subject of state-sponsored cyberattacks, and said they agreed that neither country will purposely hack each other’s companies for the sake of stealing trade secrets or other confidential business information.

His successor, President Trump, vowed on the campaign trail to enforce a “zero tolerance policy” with respect to the cyber-enabled theft of corporate secrets.

 

Seven ways to keep the CIA out of your home.

The “Vault 7” documents published by WikiLeaks show us how the “Internet of Things” (IoT) has great potential, yet is also susceptible to remote espionage.So how do I get the internet out of the devices?

March 12, 2017

by Maximiliane Koschyk

DW

The “Vault 7” leaks are the latest revelations to be published by the WikiLeaks website. The material reveals the CIA’s detailed descriptions of the vulnerabilities of smartphones, computers and other electronic devices. The corresponding hacker techniques are also expounded.

Data and consumer protectionists are not surprised. For a long time now, they have seen the “Internet of Things” (IoT) [the physical devices involved in the electronic connection and exchange of data. Ed.] as a potential source of danger. “We examine whether the consumer understands where the data is created, how it is interlinked and what is done with it,” says Michael Schuhen from the University of Siegen in western Germany.

He and his colleagues have initiated a pilot project at the Center for Economic Education at the University of Siegen. They test consumer competence with regard to “smart” electrical appliances, and they offer tips on how to keep hackers out of private homes.

The simple answer: Just don’t use them

“The simplest solution is still: I’ll do without all these applications,” says Schuhen. Often people do not understand everything they should keep in mind, he says. Basically, whenever data flows, it can be monitored. Schuhen says, when in doubt, play it safe. After all, if you do not have any devices with smart features, then you do not have to worry about security issues.

Household check: Which devices are connected to the internet?

Many consumers are not aware of the fact that their home appliances are already connected to the internet or what type of data they transmit. That is why it helps to get a general rundown about the IoT.

  • Which home appliances do I have that collect data, and if they do, what kind of data do they collect?
  • What purpose does the data collection serve, and who has access to it?
  • What is the manufacturer allowed to do with my data; for example, can it be passed on to third parties?

And most importantly:

  • Can I use the product without exchanging data with the manufacturer?

Anyone who is uncertain about the answers to these questions can look for answers using the search engine Shodan.io, for example. Anyone in the world can use this search engine for the IoT to find out whether a device is connected to the internet and how you can protect yourself.

Your password is the digital key to your home

“There are of course consumers who are torn between two choices,” says security expert Schuhen. They want data security and data sovereignity and at the same time the convenience of using devices that are connected to the internet. “Then I would advise them to make sure that the data protocols are encrypted,” says Schuhen.

Many digital data streams can be made safe by individually creating passwords and using other encryption methods. You usually set them up in the device’s user settings section. This allows the consumer and not the device to determine the type of data that is transmitted.

Networks: Use safe connections for safe devices

If you want to protect the flow of data in your household, you should use secure internet connections. The basic requirement here is again the use of a password, but you can take another step, says Schuhen. “I build my own network that no one from outside can access.” However, a great deal of work is involved. “I need my own server – the infrastructure. I have to set up the server and maintain it,” says Schuhen and this is probably not something everyone is into. “Either I am an IT specialist or it can get very expensive.” Local networks have another disadvantage. “If I have to set up my own server, I can only control things locally,” says Schuhen. “If I want to have control from outside, I have to set up a VPN client,” explains Schuhen. With the help of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) you can then safely navigate the internet, he says.

Updates are like regular software vaccinations

Not matter how well you secure your internet access, sometimes the security error lies in the operating system. Companies that want to be careful regularly check their software and if need be, they update it if they discover vulnerabilities. Schuhen tells consumers, “Check to see whether the manufacturers offer updates.” Products that do not offer this service are usually cheaper but this is only an advantage when the device is purchased.  “If I save money in that area, then I have the risk of others accessing my device.” For example, Vault 7 documents have listed several vulnerabilities in Apple operating systems. In response to the revelations, Apple said that most of them have been fixed with software updates.

Tape over anything no one should see

It may sound paranoid, but it has almost become standard for many smartphone and laptop users: In the summer of 2016, a picture of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg caused a stir. In a snapshot of his office, you could see that the webcam and microphone of his laptop had been covered with tape.  The fact that a leading digital company takes such precautions was seen by many as a sign that no one is really safe, no matter how well they know the internet.

Is there an app for this? Yes, so use it

The internet connection is safe and the device is safe, but what about the messages you send? There are many apps that have been designed for secure communication and offer encryption and password protection. Most of them are safe but they are still susceptible to cyberattacks. Vault 7 documents have already revealed that hacking strategies often were more geared toward the operating system than the programs. This means that hackers could try to retrieve the messages before they are encrypted and sent through the apps.

 

Rand Paul is Right: NSA Routinely Monitors Americans’ Communications Without Warrants

March 13 2017

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Sen. Rand Paul was asked about President Trump’s accusation that President Obama ordered the NSA to wiretap his calls. The Kentucky Senator expressed skepticism about the mechanics of Trump’s specific charge, saying: “I doubt that Trump was a target directly of any kind of eavesdropping.” But he then made a broader and more crucial point about how the U.S. Government spies on Americans’ communications – a point that is deliberately obscured and concealed by U.S. government defenders.

Paul explained how the NSA routinely and deliberately spies on Americans’ communications – listens to their calls and reads their emails – without a judicial warrant of any kind:

The way it works is, the FISA court, through Section 702, wiretaps foreigners and then [NSA] listens to Americans. It is a backdoor search of Americans. And because they have so much data, they can tap — type Donald Trump into their vast resources of people they are tapping overseas, and they get all of his phone calls.

And so they did this to President Obama. They — 1,227 times eavesdrops on President Obama’s phone calls. Then they mask him. But here is the problem. And General Hayden said this the other day. He said even low-level employees can unmask the caller. That is probably what happened to Flynn.

They are not targeting Americans. They are targeting foreigners. But they are doing it purposefully to get to Americans.

Paul’s explanation is absolutely correct. That the NSA is empowered to spy on Americans’ communications without a warrant – in direct contravention of the core Fourth Amendment guarantee that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” – is the dirty little secret of the U.S. Surveillance State.

As I documented at the height of the controversy over the Snowden reporting, top government officials – including President Obama – constantly deceived (and still deceive) the public by falsely telling them that their communications cannot be monitored without a warrant. Responding to the furor created over the first set of Snowden reports about domestic spying, Obama sought to reassure Americans by telling Charlie Rose: “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls … by law and by rule, and unless they … go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause.”

The right-wing Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, echoed Obama, telling CNN the NSA “is not listening to Americans’ phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law.”

Those statements are categorically false. A key purpose of the new 2008 FISA law – which then-Senator Obama voted for during the 2008 General Election after breaking his primary-race promise to filibuster it – was to legalize the once-controversial Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program which the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing in 2005. The crux of the Bush/Cheney controversy was that they ordered NSA to listen to Americans’ international telephone calls without warrants – which was illegal at the time – and the 2008 law purported to make that type of domestic warrantless spying legal.

Because warrantless spying on Americans is so anathema to how citizens are taught to think about their government – that’s what Obama was invoking when he falsely told Rose that it’s “the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause” – the U.S. Government has long been desperate to hide from Americans the truth about NSA’s warrantless powers. U.S. officials and their media spokespeople reflexively mislead the U.S. public on this critical point.

It’s no surprise, then, that as soon as Rand Paul was done uttering the unpleasant, usually-hidden truth about NSA’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping, the cavalcade of ex-intelligence-community (IC) officials who are now heavily embedded in American punditry rushed forward to attack him. One former NSA lawyer, who now writes for the IC’s most loyal online platform, Lawfare, expressed grave offense at what she claimed was Sen. Paul’s “false and irresponsible claim.”

The only thing here that’s “false and irresponsible” is Hennessey’s attempt to deceive the public about the domestic spying powers of her former employer. And many other people beyond Rand Paul have long made clear just how misleading Hennessey’s claim is.

The liberal Congressman from California, Ted Lieu, has made it one of his priorities to stop the very powers Hennessey and her IC colleagues pretend does not exist: warrantless spying on Americans. The 2008 FISA law that authorized it is set to expire this year, and this is what Lieu tweeted last week about his efforts to repeal that portion of it.

As Lieu says, the 2008 FISA law explicitly allows NSA – without a warrant – to listen to Americans’ calls or read their emails with foreign nationals as long as their “intent” is to target the foreigner, not the American. Hennessey’s defense is true only in the narrowest and empiest theoretical sense: that the statute bars the practice of “reverse targeting,” where the real intent of targeting a foreign national is to monitor what Americans are saying. But the law was designed, and is now routinely used, for exactly that outcome.

How do we know that a key purpose of the 2008 law is to allow the NSA to purposely monitor Americans’ communications without a warrant. Because NSA and other national security officials said so explicitly. This is how Jameel Jaffer, then of the ACLU, put it in 2013:

On its face, the 2008 law gives the government authority to engage in surveillance directed at people outside the United States. In the course of conducting that surveillance, though, the government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans. The government often says that this surveillance of Americans’ communications is “incidental,” which makes it sound like the NSA’s surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails is inadvertent and, even from the government’s perspective, regrettable.

But when Bush administration officials asked Congress for this new surveillance power, they said quite explicitly that Americans’ communications were the communications of most interest to them. See, for example, FISA for the 21st Century, Hearing Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 109th Cong. (2006) (statement of Michael Hayden) (stating, in debate preceding passage of FAA’s predecessor statute, that certain communications “with one end in the United States” are the ones “that are most important to us”).

The principal purpose of the 2008 law was to make it possible for the government to collect Americans’ international communications – and to collect those communications without reference to whether any party to those communications was doing anything illegal. And a lot of the government’s advocacy is meant to obscure this fact, but it’s a crucial one: The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications.”

During debate over that 2008 law, the White House repeatedly issued veto threats over proposed amendments from then-Sen. Russ Feingold and others to weaken NSA’s ability to use the law to monitor Americans’ communications without warrants – because enabling such warrantless eavesdropping powers was, as they themselves said, a prime objective of the new law.

When the ACLU’s Jaffer appeared in 2014 before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to argue that the 2008 FISA law was unconstitutional in terms of how it was written and how NSA exploits it, he made clear exactly how NSA conducts “backdoor” warrantless searches of Americans’ communications despite the bar on “reverse targeting”.

Those who actually work to protect Americans’ privacy rights and other civil liberties have been warning for years that NSA is able to purposely monitor Americans’ communications without warrants. Human Rights Watch has warned that “in reality the law allows the agency to capture potentially vast numbers of Americans’ communications with people overseas” and thus “currently underpins some of the most sweeping warrantless NSA surveillance programs that affect Americans and people across the globe.” And Marcy Wheeler, in response to Hennessey’s misleading claim on Sunday, correctly said: “I can point to court docs and congressional claims that entire point of 702 [of the 2008 FISA law] is to ID convos involving Americans.”

Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, warned in the Boston Review that the ban on “reverse targeting” was a farce. In fact, “the program tolerates—and even contemplates—a massive amount of collection of Americans’ telephone calls, e-mails, and other electronic communications.” Thus, she explains, “it is likely that Americans’ communications comprise a significant portion of the 250 million Internet transactions (and undisclosed number of telephone conversations) intercepted each year without a warrant or showing of probable cause.”

Even more alarming is the power NSA now has to search the immense amount of Americans’ communications data it routinely collects without a warrant. As Goitein explained: “The government may intentionally search for this information even though it would have been illegal, under section 702’s ‘reverse targeting’ prohibition, for the government to have such intent at the time of collection.”

In the wake of the controversy triggered by Trump’s accusations about Obama’s “tapping” his phones, Goitein wrote a new article explaining that there are numerous ways the government could have spied on the communications of Trump (or any American) without a warrant. She emphasized that “there have long been concerns, on both the right and left, that the legal constraints on foreign intelligence surveillance contain too many loopholes that can be exploited to access information about Americans without judicial oversight or evidence of wrongdoing.”

This is what Rand Paul meant when he said on Sunday that “because [NSA analysts] have so much data, they can tap — type Donald Trump into their vast resources of people they are tapping overseas, and they get all of his phone calls.” And while – as I’ve argued previously – any leaks that reveal lying by officials are criminal yet justified even if they come from the CIA or NSA, Paul is also correct that these domestic warrantless eavesdropping powers vest the Deep State – or, if you naïvely prefer: our noble civil servants – with menacing powers against even the highest elected officials.

The warrantless gathering and searching of vast amounts of communications data essentially becomes a dossier that can be used even against domestic opponents. This is what Snowden meant in his much-maligned but absolutely true statement in his first interview with us back in 2013 that “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.” As Paul put it on Face the Nation: “it is very dangerous, because they are revealing that now to the public.” That’s a serious concern no matter how happy one might be to see Donald Trump damaged or how much one now adores the intelligence agencies.

Congress has now begun debating whether to allow these provisions of the 2008 law to expire at the end of the year, whether to meaningfully reform them, or whether to let them be renewed again. The post-9/11 history has been that once even “temporary” measures (such as the Patriot Act) are enacted, they become permanent fixtures of our political landscape.

Perhaps the growing recognition that nobody is immune from such abusive powers will finally reverse that tide. Those eager to preserve these domestic surveillance powers in their maximalist state rely on the same tactic that has worked so well for them for 15 years now: rank disinformation.

If nothing else, this debate ought to finally obliterate that pleasing though utterly false myth that the U.S. Government does not and cannot spy on Americans’ communications without warrants. It does so constantly, easily deliberately and by design.

 

 

 

 

 

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