TBR News March 22, 2017

Mar 22 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 22, 2017: “Social problems mount in the United States. A new president who has had no hands-on political experience, an oligarchy who is afraid of losing both power and money because of this, bloated government budgets with money vanishing from sight in corrupt bureaucrat and legislators pockets, vicious internal in-fighting with false accusations being hurled at the public daily from a controlled media are just some of the problems. What is needed is foresight and a firm hand but both, sadly, are obviously lacking. Stories are floating around the Beltway about another Karl Rove false flag operation (like his 911 failed plan) designed to permit governmental controls to be exercised. America was never a democracy but she has been a republic. Now she is drifting to a dictatorship by committee.”

Table of Contents

  • Will Russiagate Backfire on the Left?
  • The Shroud of Turin
  • Adam Schiff: Grifter, Racketeer, Warmonger
  • The Multibillion-Dollar U.S. Spy Agency You Haven’t Heard of
  • Germany blocks arms sales to Turkey – report
  • Latest North Korean missile test fails – Seoul
  • Flight ban on laptops ‘sparked by IS threat’
  • ‘You can’t buy your way out’: Military bureaucracy causing skilled service members to leave – report
  • Erdogan warns Europeans ‘will not walk safely’ if current attitude persists
  • 5 congressional staffers in criminal probe over unauthorized computer access
  • Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley
  • Exclusive: Lead poisoning afflicts neighborhoods across California

 Will Russiagate Backfire on the Left?

March 21, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


The big losers of the Russian hacking scandal may yet be those who invested all their capital in a script that turned out to based on a fairy tale.

In Monday’s Intelligence Committee hearings, James Comey did confirm that his FBI has found nothing to support President Trump’s tweet that President Obama ordered him wiretapped. Not unexpected, but undeniably an embarrassment for the tweeter-in-chief.

Yet longer-term damage may have been done to the left. For Monday’s hearing showed that its rendering of the campaign of 2016 may be a product of fiction and a fevered imagination.

After eight months investigating the hacking and leaking of the emails of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta and the DNC, there is apparently no evidence yet of Trump collusion with Russia.

Former Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper has said that, as of his departure day, Jan. 20, he had seen no evidence of a Russia-Trump collusion.

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell also made that clear this month: “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all. … There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” Morell was a surrogate for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

But while the FBI is still searching for a Trump connection, real crimes have been unearthed – committed by anti-Trump bureaucrats colluding with mainstream media – to damage Trump’s presidency.

There is hard evidence of collusion between the intel community and The New York Times and The Washington Post, both beneficiaries of illegal leaks – felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

While the howls have been endless that Trump accused Obama of a “felony,” the one provable felony here was the leak of a transcript of an intercepted conversation between Gen. Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

That leak ended Flynn’s career as national security adviser. And Director Comey would neither confirm nor deny that President Obama was aware of the existence of the Flynn transcript.

So where do we stand after yesterday’s hearing and eight-month FBI investigation? The Russians did hack Podesta’s email account and the DNC, and while the FBI has found no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians, it is still looking.

However, the known unknowns seem more significant.

How could DNI Director Clapper and CIA Director Morell say that no connection had been established between Trump’s campaign and the Russians, without there having been an investigation? And how could such an investigation be conclusive in exonerating Trump’s associates – without some use of electronic surveillance?

Did the FBI fly to Moscow and question Putin’s cyberwarfare team?

More questions arise. If, in its investigation of the Russian hacking and a Trump connection, the FBI did receive the fruits of some electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign, were Attorney General Loretta Lynch, White House aides or President Obama made aware of any such surveillance? Did any give a go-ahead to surveil the Trump associates? Comey would neither confirm nor deny that they did.

So, if Obama were aware of an investigation into the Trump campaign, using intel sources and methods, Trump would not be entirely wrong in his claims, and Obama would have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Is the FBI investigating the intelligence sources who committed felonies by illegally disclosing information about the Trump campaign?

Comey would not commit to investigate these leaks, though this could involve criminal misconduct within his own FBI.

Again, the only known crimes committed by Americans during and after the campaign are the leaks of security secrets by agents of the intel community, colluding with the Fourth Estate, which uses the First Amendment to provide cover for criminal sources, whom they hail as “whistleblowers.”

Indeed, if there was no surveillance of Trump of any kind, where did all these stories come from, which their reporters attributed to “intelligence sources”?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any role in the Russian hacking scandal. But the Justice Department should demand that the FBI put the highest priority on investigating the deep state and its journalistic collaborators in the sabotage of the Trump presidency.

If Comey refuses to do it, appoint a special counsel.

In the last analysis, as Glenn Greenwald, no Trumpite, writes for The Intercept, the real loser may well be the Democratic Party.

If the investigation of Russiagate turns up no link between Trump and the pilfered emails, Democrats will have egg all over their faces. And the Democratic base will have to face a painful truth.

Vladimir Putin did not steal this election. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama lost it. Donald Trump won it fair and square. He is not an “illegitimate” president. There will be no impeachment. They were deceived and misled by their own leaders and media. They bought into a Big Lie.

The Shroud of Turin

March 22, 2017

by Harry von Johnston PhD

The Shroud of Turin is a 14th-century forgery and is one of many such deliberately created Jesus-related relics produced in the same period, all designed to attract pilgrims to specific shrines to enhance and increase the status and financial income of the local church.

There were countless crucifixion nails, crowns of thorns, and lances.

And there were burial shrouds.

There were between 26 and 40 ‘authentic’ burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe, of which the Shroud of Turin is just one.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, fragments supposedly cut from the True Cross were available in almost every church in Europe.

A church in St. Omer claimed to have bits of the True Cross, of the Lance that pierced Christ, of His Cradle, and the original stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments had been traced by the very finger of God!

Three churches in France each professed to have a complete corpse of Mary Magdalene.

Jesus’ foreskin was preserved in at least six churches.

Vials of Jesus’ tears, vials of Jesus’ mother’s milk.

One catalogue from that time includes the following: “A fragment of St. Stephen’s rib; Rusted remains of the gridiron on which St. Lawrence died; A Lock of Mary’s hair; A small piece of her robe; A piece of the Manger; Part of one of Our Lord’s Sandals; A piece of the sponge that had been filled with vinegar and handed up to Him; A fragment of bread He had shared with His disciples; A tuft of St. Peter’s beard; Drops of St. John the Baptist’s Blood.”

Many churches vied to become known for the number and importance of their relics.

As early as 1071 the cathedral at Eichstatt possessed 683 relics, while by the 1520s the Schlosskirche at Wittenburg had 19,013 and the Schlosskirche at Halle boasted more than 21,000 such objects.

About 1200, Constantinople was so crammed with relics that one may speak of a veritable industry with its own factories.

Blinzler (a Catholic New Testament scholar) lists, as examples: “letters in Jesus’ own hand, the gold brought to the baby Jesus by the wise men, the twelve baskets of bread collected after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the throne of David, the trumpets of Jericho, the axe with which Noah made the Ark, and so on…”

During the Middle Ages particularly, relic-mongering was rampant; and of course, there were no scientific means to test things, so all manner of domestic flotsam were sold as authentic Holy Relics.

Including shrouds of Jesus.

The advent of more sensitive techniques that used smaller samples to make an accurate dating changed things. In 1988, samples of the shroud were sent to three separate  and highly regarded forensic labs, and the results came back, sub-stantially the same, that the linen in the cloth dated from 1260-1390 AD, giving cre-dence to the hypothesis that the shroud was a medieval forgery. That’s what we think now. But scholars are free to question this conclusion (and some do)–that’s the way science works. Questioning authority is not only permitted in science–it is mandatory.

However, a detailed analysis of the so-called “radiant energy” image of Jesus on the cloth has very clearly shown that it was the result of painting a model with egg tempera paint and then having the cloth pressed on his modestly-draped nude body.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 21

March 18, 2017


Under ordinary circumstances, the U.S. Army relies on high-speed digital communications. But sometimes that is not an option, and soldiers must revert to more primitive methods.

“When electrical and/or digital means of communication are inadequate, or not available,” a new Army publication explains, messages may be transmitted “through the use of hand-and-arm signals, flags, pyrotechnics, and other visual aids.” Many of those alternate communication methods are described in Visual Signals, U.S. Army Training Circular TC 3-21.60, March 2017.

So, for example, “To signal ‘chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack,’ extend the arms and fists. Bend the arms to the shoulders. Repeat. (See figure 1-16.)”

Of course, hand and arm signals have limitations. For one thing, they may be misunderstood.

“Visual signals are generally contextual in nature. For example, the hand-and-arm signal for ‘take cover’ and ‘slow down’ are similar in their perspective movements, however the situation in which each is given is completely different.”

Also, “The range and reliability of visual communications are significantly reduced during periods of poor visibility and when terrain restricts observation.”

Finally, visual or gestural communications “are vulnerable to enemy interception and may be used for deception purposes,” the new Army publication said.


The U.S. defense budget is comprised of several distinct components, including “base” and supplemental spending, nuclear weapons expenses, veterans benefits, and other defense-related costs.

When discussing “the defense budget,” it is therefore important to specify what is being described. Depending on what is included or excluded, “total” U.S. defense spending each year can vary by hundreds of millions of dollars.

This definitional question is neatly illustrated in a new graphic from the Congressional Research Service. See How People Talk About the FY2017 National Defense Budget.

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

Defense Primer: The National Defense Budget Function (050), CRS In Focus, March 17, 2017

Defense Primer: DOD Contractors, CRS In Focus, February 10, 2017

Defense Primer: Procurement, CRS In Focus, February 10, 2017

Military Transition Assistance Program (TAP): An Overview, CRS In Focus, March 15, 2017

Supreme Court Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, updated March 17, 2017

Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief, updated March 17, 2017

Sanctuary Jurisdictions and Select Federal Grant Funding Issues: In Brief, March 16, 2017

The Decennial Census: Issues for 2020, March 16, 2017

A Survey of House and Senate Committee Rules on Subpoenas, updated March 16, 2017

Medicare Primer, updated March 16, 2017

Pending ACA Legal Challenges Face Uncertain Future, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 16, 2017

Statutory, Average, and Effective Marginal Tax Rates in the Federal Individual Income Tax: Background and Analysis, March 16, 2017

Should the U.S. Trade Deficit be Redefined?, CRS Insight, March 17, 2017

Moving On: TPP Signatories Meet in Chile, CRS Insight, March 16, 2017

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy John Lewis (TAO-205) Class Oiler Shipbuilding Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 16, 2

Adam Schiff: Grifter, Racketeer, Warmonger

The ringmaster of the Russia hearings profits from his antics

March 22, 2017

by Justin Raimondo,


The House Intelligence Committee’s reenactment of the McCarthy hearings dramatized Marx’s famous aphorism that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The only thing this circus was lacking was ringmaster Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California”) rising to declares that “I have in my hands a list!”

War was on the minds and lips of the Democrats. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) compared Hillary Clinton’s loss to the 9/11 attacks, because the killing of over 2,000 people on American soil is just like the publication of emails that exposed the corruption at the heart of Democratic party politics. Oh, and “the attack didn’t end on Election Day” – because isn’t that a Russian hiding under your bed?

If political humor, albeit unintentional, is your shtick, there was plenty of that: my own favorite was Rep. Jackie Speier – from where else but California? – likening Vladimir Putin to a tarantula spider who has “ensnared in his web” a whole list of Trump supporters, including Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Echoing a common phrase at the hearing, she declared that alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “an act of war,” although she gave no hint as to when the shooting will start.

Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) asked: “Is an iron curtain is descending across Europe?” Yes, the Russians are going to rebuild the Berlin Wall – and make Angela Merkel pay for it. Of course, the US-erected iron curtain of anti-Russian sanctions doesn’t come into it. Carson also took up a favorite Democratic theme: the GOP platform had been “changed” at the insistence of Trump supporters, a falsehood that’s been debunked yet still persists. What happened was that an attempt to insert a paragraph calling for sending “lethal weapons” to Ukraine – which had never been in there in the first place – was defeated. But in the War Party’s campaign of innuendo and fake news, facts don’t matter: what matters is the effort to equate dissent from a foreign policy of perpetual aggression with “treason.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) spent most of his time referring to the “dirty dossier” published by BuzzFeed, which has long been discredited, and bringing up the names of various Trump supporters, asking FBI Director Comey if they were targets of the investigation into Russian influence on the elections –knowing perfectly well that Comey would not and could not answer. The idea was simply to bring up the names in a forum in which they couldn’t defend themselves: that’s what the politics of innuendo is all about.

Aside from Schiff, the Speier-Carson-Castro trio, posing as defenders of our national security, were among the shrillest in their insistence that the Trump administration is a nest of Russian spies. Which is ironic, since the Daily Caller recently reported an odd coincidence:

“Brothers Abid, Imran, and Jamal Awan were barred from computer networks at the House of Representatives Thursday, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.

“Three members of the intelligence panel and five members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs were among the dozens of members who employed the suspects on a shared basis. The two committees deal with many of the nation’s most sensitive issues, information and documents, including those related to the war on terrorism.”

Those three intelligence panel members are Speier, Castro, and Carson. Now aren’t you reassured that our national security is in their capable hands?

These three were merely sideshows, however, because the head clown was undoubtedly the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California). Schiff’s opening statement is a model of McCarthyite smear-mongering. His first target is Carter Page, an oil company consultant tangentially associated with the Trump campaign, who is attacked by Schiff for the “crime” of criticizing US foreign policy in a speech delivered while on a trip to Russia. He then cites the unverified (and largely nonsensical) “dossier” compiled by MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who paid his informants for dirt on Trump, to the effect that Page had a secret meeting with a Putin confidante. Page was supposedly rewarded financially in a murky sale of the Russian gas giant Rosfnet: he was also supposedly offered “documents” to be published by WikiLeaks, “which give the Russians deniability.”

Let’s stop here and ask a question: Why would the Russians offer Page “documents” that portray Hillary Clinton in a unfavorable light – presumably the Podesta/DNC emails – if WikiLeaks was going to publish them anyway? But logic has nothing to do with Schiff’s conspiracy theory: the idea is to simply make “links” based on a bought-and-paid-for “dossier” and smear as many people associated with the Trump campaign as possible.

So what was the price of all this? What did the Russians want? According to Schiff, a Trump foreign policy that “de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share.” As “proof” of this sinister plot Schiff notes that Page, Paul Manafort, and other Trump supporters “attended the Republican convention” (!) in Cleveland where Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak was also present. Kisylak was there along with 80 other ambassadors at an event dubbed “Global Partners in Diplomacy.” Similar events, staged to acquaint foreign diplomats with the American democratic process, have been staged since the 1980s. Clearly a case of espionage.

Schiff then goes into the by now familiar trope about how the GOP platform was “changed” to remove a section calling for the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, which would be “against Russian interests.” To begin with, there was never any such provision in the platform, so it could not have been “removed.”

Secondly, Schiff is betraying his own rather specialized interests here: on July 18, 2013, a fundraiser for Schiff’s reelection campaign was held at the home of Ukrainian arms dealer Igor Pasternak in Washington, D.C. Price of admission: $2,500 a head, and $1,000 for guests. Why is Pasternak such a fan of Schiff’s?

The answer may be found in a Washington Times story published in January, headlined “Ukraine Desperate for Surveillance Equipment in Stand Off With Russia,” which details the efforts of the Ukrainian government to get around the Obama administration’s reluctance to provide them with the “defensive weapons” Schiff is so eager to shower them with. Yet the Times tells us that Pasternak has somehow managed to get around the prohibition imposed by the administration, at least to a limited extent:

“In the meantime, a private, State Department-approved transaction has a Montebello, California, company, Worldwide Aeros, set to erect eight sensor-mounted towers that would deliver immediate surveillance along the southeastern border this winter.

“’This system will provide a much more robust capability to detect incursions into their territory,’ said Drew Shoemaker, vice president of government relations for Aeroscraft, a division of Worldwide. ‘It detects with the radar and then confirms with the camera.’

“With a maximum range of 40 miles, the Elevated Early Warning System, he said, ‘can look quite a distance into whatever territory they are looking at. They can track movements of goods and services in and out of the rebel-held territories. There’s still a large of amount of military equipment in there.’

“Ukraine eventually may opt for blimplike aerostats with even more powerful ranges.

“Worldwide Aeros was founded by a Ukrainian-born engineer, Igor Pasternak, who has won Pentagon contracts to develop different sizes and shapes of airships.”

Follow the money. Pasternak is selling the Ukrainians military hardware, and is doubtless eager to sell them more – paid for by US taxpayers, of course. According to news reports, Pasternak is deeply involved with the Ukrainian government’s military production, which is seeking to eliminate its dependence on Soviet era military hardware:

“On Jan. 3 [2017], as part of a long-term plan to adopt NATO military standards, Ukraine took a step toward ditching this Soviet military carryover.

“Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s nationalized defense industry conglomerate, announced a partnership agreement between the Ukrainian defense manufacturer Ukroboronservis and the U.S. company Aeroscraft to produce in Ukraine a variant of the US M16 assault rifle.

“’The M16 project was conceived some time ago, as the Ukrainian armed forces, border guards, and National Guard will with time switch to NATO standards,’ Aeroscraft founder and CEO Igor Pasternak said during a Jan. 3 press conference in Kyiv.”

Pasternak raises thousands for Schiff, and Schiff raises millions for Pasternak. It’s a sweet deal all around.

Schiff bloviates that his campaign to restart the cold war with Russia is an ideological crusade: “We are involved in a new battle of ideas,” he avers. “Not Communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy.” Yet this is about capitalism – crony capitalism of the sort that enriches both Schiff and Pasternak. As Major General Smedley Butler put it in 1935: “War is a racket.” And Schiff is one of the biggest racketeers in Washington.

The cynical, absurd campaign to tar the Trump administration as a Russian plot to take over America is based on noting but lies, innuendo, political opportunism, and naked greed. Trump famously pledged to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C., and it was inevitable that Schiff, one of the nastiest of the swamp creatures, would arise from the muck screeching in protest.

Let him. He and his party are consigning themselves to the margins of American politics. Their loony conspiracy theories are so far removed from the concerns of ordinary Americans that the distance can only be measured in light years. Polls show that even the majority of Democrats don’t think Trump’s relations with the Russians involved illegality: independents and Republicans disbelieve Schiff’s tales of Russian plots by an overwhelming majority. No normal person cares about Russia: but the Democratic activist base is very far from normal.

That doesn’t mean that this witch hunt isn’t dangerous: it is. The news that the FBI is investigating “far right” and “pro-Russian” web sites ought to send a chill up the spines of civil libertarians, no matter what they think of Trump. And for those who want to see a more peaceful foreign policy, the McCarthyite hysteria generated by Schiff & Co. is bad news indeed. Jackie Speier, for example, has in the past been a reliably pro-peace vote in Congress, but as the Democrats become the party of born-again neoconservatism, at least in the foreign policy realm, the pressure is on to toe the Russophobic party line.

At the dawn of the cold war, as McCarthyism was rising, the formerly “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist and anti-NATO) Republican party became the party of warmongers: the alleged threat of a domestic “communist conspiracy” logically translated into an international crusade to “roll back” communism by military means. What we are witnessing today is a similar transformation of the Democrats. Which is, as Trump would put it, sad!

Get ready for a massive attack on our civil liberties, as the FBI takes out after “pro-Russian” “subversion,” and the Democrats (in alliance with John McCain and Lindsey Graham) conduct their circus-like hearings throughout the year and beyond. A more sickening display of ideological emptiness and brazen self-dealing hasn’t been seen the 1950s.

The Multibillion-Dollar U.S. Spy Agency You Haven’t Heard of

How President Trump might turn an all-seeing spy apparatus on innocent American citizens.

March 20, 2017

by James Bamford


On a heavily protected military base some 15 miles south of Washington, D.C., sits the massive headquarters of a spy agency few know exists. Even Barack Obama, five months into his presidency, seemed not to have recognized its name. While shaking hands at a Five Guys hamburger restaurant in Washington in May 2009, he asked a customer seated at a table about his job. “What do you [do]?” the president inquired. “I work at NGA, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,” the man answered. Obama appeared dumbfounded. “So, explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial…” he said, unable to finish the name. Eight years after that videotape aired, the NGA remains by far the most shadowy member of the Big Five spy agencies, which include the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Despite its lack of name recognition, the NGA’s headquarters is the third-largest building in the Washington metropolitan area, bigger than the CIA headquarters and the U.S. Capitol.

Completed in 2011 at a cost of $1.4 billion, the main building measures four football fields long and covers as much ground as two aircraft carriers. In 2016, the agency purchased 99 acres in St. Louis to construct additional buildings at a cost of $1.75 billion to accommodate the growing workforce, with 3,000 employees already in the city.

The NGA is to pictures what the NSA is to voices. Its principal function is to analyze the billions of images and miles of video captured by drones in the Middle East and spy satellites circling the globe. But because it has largely kept its ultra-high-resolution cameras pointed away from the United States, according to a variety of studies, the agency has never been involved in domestic spy scandals like its two far more famous siblings, the CIA and the NSA. However, there’s reason to believe that this will change under President Donald Trump.

Throughout the long election campaign and into his first months as president, Trump has pushed hard for weakening restraints on the intelligence agencies, spending more money for defense, and getting tough on law and order. Given the new president’s overwhelming focus on domestic security, it’s reasonable to expect that Trump will use every tool available to maintain it, including overhead vigilance.

In March 2016, the Pentagon released the results of an investigation initiated by the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General to examine military spy drones in the United States. The report, marked “For Official Use Only” and partially redacted, revealed that the Pentagon used unarmed surveillance drones over American soil on fewer than 20 occasions between 2006 and 2015. (Although the report doesn’t identify the nature of the missions, another Pentagon document lists 11 domestic drone operations that principally involved natural disasters, search and rescue, and National Guard training.)

The investigation also quoted from an Air Force law review article pointing out the growing concern that technology designed to spy on enemies abroad may soon be turned around to spy on citizens at home. “As the nation winds down these wars … assets become available to support other combatant command (COCOM) or U.S. agencies, the appetite to use them in the domestic environment to collect airborne imagery continues to grow.”

Although the report stated that all missions were conducted within full compliance of the law, it pointedly noted that as of 2015 there were no standardized federal statutes that “specifically address the employment of the capability provided by a DoD UAS (unmanned aircraft system) if requested by domestic civil authorities.” Instead, there is a Pentagon policy governing reconnaissance drones that requires the secretary of defense to approve all such domestic operations. Under these regulations, drones “may not conduct surveillance on U.S. persons” unless permitted by law and approved by the secretary. The policy also bans armed drones over the United States for anything other than military training and weapons testing.

In 2016, unbeknownst to many city officials, police in Baltimore began conducting persistent aerial surveillance using a system developed for military use in Iraq.

Few civilians have any idea how advanced these military eye-in-the-sky drones have become. Among them is ARGUS-IS, the world’s highest-resolution camera with 1.8 billion pixels. Invisible from the ground at nearly four miles in the air, it uses a technology known as “persistent stare” — the equivalent of 100 Predator drones peering down at a medium-size city at once — to track everything that moves.

With the capability to watch an area of 10 or even 15 square miles at a time, it would take just two drones hovering over Manhattan to continuously observe and follow all outdoor human activity, night and day. It can zoom in on an object as small as a stick of butter on a plate and store up to 1 million terabytes of data a day. That capacity would allow analysts to look back in time over days, weeks, or months. Technology is in the works to enable drones to remain aloft for years at a time.

The Department of Homeland Securityhas been at these crossroads before. In 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the department established an agency to direct domestic spy satellite stakeouts and gave it a bland name: the National Applications Office. But Congress, concerned about a “Big Brother in the Sky,” cut off funding. In 2009, it was killed by the Obama administration.

Still, unlike domestic electronic surveillance by the NSA, which has been closely scrutinized and subjected to legislation designed to protect civil liberties, domestic overhead spying has escaped the attention of both Congress and the public. The Trump administration may take advantage of that void.

Initiating a new age of “persistent surveillance,” Trump could use the spy world’s overhead assets to target Muslims or members of Black Lives Matter. The president has spoken in favor of increasing the scrutiny of mosques; aerial assessment would allow him to track worshippers. Drones could aid in the mass roundup of illegal immigrants intended for deportation, and Trump has said he may send federal forces to Chicago to quell the violence. Drones could offer the city the unblinking eye for 24/7 vigilance.

Of course, all that would require a significant expansion of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to analyze the domestic imagery. Before that can happen, Trump, like Obama, has to discover there is such an agency.

Germany blocks arms sales to Turkey – report

The German government has refused approval for military exports to NATO partner country Turkey on a growing number of occasions. Ministers are concerned the weapons could be used to oppress the local population.

March 22, 2017


Berlin has rejected more than 10 applications for arms exports to Turkey in recent months, the German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) reports, citing a letter from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The ministry was answering questions by the left-wing MP Jan van Aken.

As a NATO partner, Turkey is rarely subject to restrictions on arms exports. But there are concerns that since last July’s coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a far-reaching purge of political opponents.

Concern over ‘internal repression’

“The importance of observing human rights will be particularly important in respect to arms export approvals,” a ministry official reportedly said in his reply to van Aken. Since the failed coup, “the federal government’s foreign security policy review” has given special consideration “to the risk of an intervention in the context of internal repression of the Kurdish conflict.”According to German government figures, the federal government had rejected eleven individual arms shipments starting November 2016, compared to only eight between 2010 and 2015. The most recent refusals involved weapons, ammunitions and parts for the manufacture of certain armaments.

Likely to cause friction

“This is a first step,” van Aken told the “SZ” newspaper. “And next, we must make sure that Turkey doesn’t receive any weapons from Germany.”

The Left party MP said the Turkish government was waging war in its own country and in Syria and becoming “increasingly dictatorial.”

German-Turkish relations are tense at present after two cities banned campaign rallies by Turkish ministers who sought to address the large Turkish community living in Germany.

On April 16, Turks will decide in a referendum on reforms to the constitution that would give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan far-reaching new powers.

In response, Erdogan accused Germany of using Nazi measures against his politicians.

Latest North Korean missile test fails – Seoul

South Korea has said a missile test by North Korea off its east coast did not launch as planned. Earlier this month, Pyongyang launched four ballistic missiles, three of which landed in waters off Japan.

March 22, 2017


A new North Korean missile test appears to have failed on Wednesday, the South’s defense ministry said.

“South Korea and the United States are aware of the North Korean missile launch,” said a spokesman for Seoul’s defense ministry, adding they “suspect it was a failure.”

The ministry did not identify the type of missile used in the test.

Japanese Kyodo news service, citing an unidentified government source, said the North might have launched several missiles on Wednesday morning.

The US military later gave more details referring to an air field on North Korea’s east coast.

“US Pacific Command detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch attempt … in the vicinity of Kalma,” Commander Dave Benham said in a statement.

“A missile appears to have exploded within seconds of launch,” Benham said, adding that work was being carried out on a more detailed assessment.

War games underway

The reported failure happened as US and South Korean troops were conducting annual military drills that Pyongyang has called an invasion rehearsal.

The test came two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets that flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) on average, in what it dubbed a drill for an attack on US bases in Japan.

Earlier this week, American officials had said they expected another North Korean missile launch in the next few days.

The US military increased its surveillance over the North, they said, and had detected a North Korean missile launcher being moved, as well as the construction of VIP seating in the coastal town of Wonsan.

Nuclear-armed North Korea remains under several sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

It plans to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with an nuclear warhead.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned Pyongyang that military action was an “option on the table” to bring the rogue state into line, while China has insisted on diplomacy to resolve the standoff

Flight ban on laptops ‘sparked by IS threat’

March 22, 2017

BBC News

An aircraft cabin ban on large electronic devices was prompted by intelligence suggesting a terror threat to US-bound flights, say US media.

The US and UK have announced new carry-on restrictions banning laptops on certain passenger flights.

The so-called Islamic State group (IS) has been working on ways to smuggle explosives on to planes by hiding them in electronics, US sources tell ABC.

The tip-off was judged by the US to be “substantiated” and “credible”.

Inbound flights on nine airlines operating out of 10 airports in eight countries are subject to the US Department of Homeland Security ban.

Phones and medical devices are not affected.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is hosting a two-day meeting of ministers and senior officials from 68 nations to discuss the threat from IS.

The Washington talks will be the first full meeting of the coalition since December 2014.

This will be a chance for the Trump administration to put its stamp on the global battle against the Islamic State group, and for the reticent secretary of state to put his stamp on a foreign policy issue that the president has identified as a priority.

The State Department says the meeting aims to accelerate efforts to defeat IS in its remaining strongholds: the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa.

On the campaign trail Mr Trump claimed to have a secret plan to obliterate the group. But his Pentagon has largely stuck with Barack Obama’s strategy of supporting local ground forces, albeit with increased US military participation as the assault on Raqqa nears. Coalition members will also discuss how to stabilise and govern the cities after the conflict; and they’re looking to see if Washington remains committed to a longer term effort to secure the region.

What do we know of the threat?

Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News there was “a new aviation threat”.

“We know that our adversaries, terrorist groups in the United States and outside the United States, seek to bring down a US-bound airliner. That’s one of their highest value targets. And we’re doing everything we can right now to prevent that from happening.”

Another member of that committee, Republican Peter King, told the New York Times he was forewarned about the ban.

“It was based on intelligence reports that are fairly recent. Intelligence of something possibly planned.”

The restriction is based, we are told, on “evaluated intelligence”, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner writes.

That means that US intelligence has either intercepted discussion of a possible extremist plot or has been passed word of one by a human informant.

‘You can’t buy your way out’: Military bureaucracy causing skilled service members to leave – report

March 22, 2017


After President Donald Trump proposed a $54 billion increase in military spending, a new report suggests that money will not fix fundamental problems that have existed since the Cold War ended.

A report released Monday by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) says that the current system of recruiting, training and retaining military personnel is a “holdover from the Cold War, reflecting the national security priorities and American society of that time.”

After World War II, when the Soviet Union was the only major threat to the US, defense leaders created the “one-size-fits-all” system to ensure that the armed forces would “remain ‘young and vigorous’ enough to meet the physical demands of battle but also retain a large number of midgrade officers and NCOs prepared to command units in case of another major war.”

The BPC says that the system helped win the Cold War, however, is no longer working in the current environment.

“The military uses a 70-year-old ‘one-size-fits-all’ personnel system that brings young people into the military in their teens and 20s, puts them into a rigid command-and-promotion structure, and removes all but the most-senior-ranking service members by their early 40s,” the BPC found.

BPC determined the status quo caused an unsustainable growth of personnel costs and discouraged prospective candidates with new skills from joining, while also “favor[ing] uniformity over individual merit” and discharging personnel at their peak.

Part of the problem, the report says, comes from thoughtlessly throwing money into a bureaucracy. Since 2001, the cost of military personnel has increased by more than 50 percent. However, during that time, the Army lowered recruiting standards, the Air Force saw lower retention with pilots, and service members from all branches have reported a stagnant satisfaction with military life.

Instead, the report suggests creating a more sustainable military system that entices Americans to serve.

“You can’t buy your way out of this problem, and we’ve been trying to buy our way out of the problem with bonuses and all the other things,” former defense secretary Leon Panetta, co-chair of the BPC study team, told Breaking Defense. “Frankly that’s why personnel costs have gone up 50 percent in the last 15 years.”

The report claims that “one-size-fits-all” system that is trapped in the past and “needs to be updated to one that fully engages all of American society, adapts to new threats, is sustainable over the long term, and is technically proficient.”

To adapt to the rising new threats, the report says the military needs to recruit service members with specialties ranging from cybersecurity to translators. To achieve this, it calls on lawmakers to implement 39 policy proposals to create a Fully engaged, Adaptable, Sustainable, and Technically proficient (FAST) military.

Some of the BPC suggested reforms include requiring every young American to take the military’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, which would assess an individual’s critical skills. At the moment, the Selective Service registration is only filled out by men and only assesses basic information.

The BPC also suggests creating a “smart draft” that would be gender-equal, bringing women into the draft. Along with the proposed ASBA test, the military would have a massive database that could be quickly accessed in times of need.

Military spouses would also be able to more easily sustain a career when relocating and improve their access to quality child care services. Many service members become “geographic bachelors and bachelorettes,” due to forced relocation of one member of a family.

A pilot program is recommended that allows service members to have more influence over their future assignments and travel options. At the same time, it would give commanders greater input in staffing decisions, allowing them to pick the members that would be best suited for future missions.

Targeted for removal is the “up or out” system, which ensures turnover by kicking service members out if they are not promoted quickly enough. The BPC suggests replacing it with a “perform-to-stay” system based on merit, performance and experience.

The report calls for specialized recruiting offices to focus on critical skills and allow mid-career civilians to enter the military at higher ranks. An online marketplace would also be created so that commanders could post jobs and rank their favorite candidates, while applicants would be allowed to search and rank their preferred jobs.

Erdogan warns Europeans ‘will not walk safely’ if current attitude persists

March 22, 2017


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans across the world would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude.

Turkey has been embroiled in a row with Germany and the Netherlands over the barring of campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April referendum on boosting Erdogan’s powers.

“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” Erdogan said at event for local journalists in Ankara.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

5 congressional staffers in criminal probe over unauthorized computer access

March 21, 2017


Five people employed by members of the House of Representatives remain under criminal investigation for unauthorized access to Congressional computers. Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz employed at least one of those under investigation.

The criminal investigation into the five, which includes three brothers and a wife of one of the men, started late last year, as reported by Politico in February. The group is being investigated by US Capitol Police over allegations that they removed equipment from over 20 members’ offices, as well as having run a procurement scheme to buy equipment and then overcharge the House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week Capitol Police are receiving additional help for the investigation. “I won’t speak to the nature of their investigation, but they’re getting the kind of technical assistance they need to do that, this is under an active criminal investigation, their capabilities are pretty strong but they’re also able to go and get the kind of help they need from other sources,” Ryan said.

The brothers, Abid, Jamal and Imran Awan, worked as shared employees for various members of the House, covering committees relating to intelligence, terrorism and cybersecurity, which included the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of the Armed Services Committee.

Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, and Rao Abbas, both of whom worked as House IT employees, are also under investigation.


The group were banned from accessing the computers as a result of the investigation but, as of earlier this month, Imran Awan remains as an “technology adviser” to former Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to resign in July following revelations that she worked to further Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic primary at the expense of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

News of the brothers’ investigation has sparked speculation that it may be tied to the hack of the DNC servers, the contents of which were first released by Guccifer 2.0 and later published on WikiLeaks.

Russian actors have been accused of being behind the hack, which Democrats claim contributed to Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump. There have also been reports that the DNC hack came from an insider.

An email between DNC staffers in April 2016, which was released by WikiLeaks, references a staff member named Imran and how this person has access to the passwords for Wasserman Schultz’s iPad.

Garret Bonosky, deputy director of office of the DNC chair, tells Amy Kroll: “I have to get [this iPad] thing figured out. Need to make sure I have her username and password before I delete and reload the app.”

“I do not have access to her ipad password, but Imran does,” Kroll replies, later writing: “Just spoke to Imran, call me whenever GB and I’ll update you, don’t delete anything yet.”

Another email from the DNC hack, dated December 2016, references Imran once again. Wasserman Schultz’s assistant Rosalyn Kumar tells scheduler Anna Stolitzka: “[Nancy] Pelosi is doing [a] closed door meeting. No staff or anyone allowed. Kaitlyn come to Rayburn room and get her iPad for Imran.”


The brothers were paid high salaries for their work with various House members, above the median salary for Congressional staffers.

Imran, who started working for Wasserman Schultz in 2005, received $164,600 in 2016, with close to $20,000 of that coming from Wasserman Schultz.

Jamal, who started working as a staffer in 2014, was paid $157,350.12 in 2016. Abid, who started working in 2005, was paid $160,943 in 2016.

Hina Alvi, who was employed as a staffer from February 2007, was paid 168,300 in 2016. Rao Abbas was paid $85,049 in 2016.

The Daily Caller reports that Imran received $1.2 million in salary since 2010, while Abid and Alvi received over $1 million each.

House Democrats supporting the employees have suggested that the Pakistani nationality of the suspects may have inspired the investigation.

Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley

Offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in Bay Area have complained about the cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage

March 22, 2017

by Sam Levin

The Guardian

San Francisco-A Silicon Valley startup is paying employees $10,000 to leave Silicon Valley.

Zapier, an automation company founded in 2011, has announced that it is offering new recruits a hefty “de-location package” if they’re willing to move away from the Bay Area, an unusual perk that offers yet another sign of the worsening housing crisis in northern California.

Zapier, where all employees work remotely, recently announced that if current Bay Area residents were interested in improving their “family’s standard of living” by relocating, the firm would provide $10,000 in moving reimbursements. Since CEO Wade Foster posted about the package last week, the uptick in applicants has been dramatic, he said in an interview.

“A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home,” he said, noting that the firm heard from roughly 150 job applicants over the weekend, including 50 who specifically mentioned the de-location offer. “Housing is really challenging.”

The offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have increasingly complained about the high cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage. Tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 recently spoke to the Guardian about their real estate struggles, and one study suggested that for some engineers, more than 50% of their salary goes to rent.

By many measures, San Francisco has the priciest real estate in the country.

The housing crisis has had devastating impacts on low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, as the growth of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have helped spur mass evictions, homelessness and displacement.

But middle-class and wealthier tech workers have also spoken up about their difficulties buying homes and raising families near their jobs, leading to articles about the “next Silicon Valley” emerging in regions across the US, including Texas, the Pacific northwest and the Midwest.

Foster said he wanted to take advantage of tech workers’ desire to leave the Bay Area by offering a competitive package to those “on the fence” about staying in the region.

“The Bay Area is a great place to live. It’s fun to be here,” said Foster, 30, who lives with his wife in Sunnyvale, a city located near the Facebook and Google campuses. “At the end of the day, if you can’t make the money side of it work, folks seem to be looking elsewhere.”

Foster said he got the idea after two recent hires decided to move out of the Bay Area to Florida and Pennsylvania to be closer to their families. “We’ve basically just flipped relocation assistance on its head.”

The $10,000 offer from Zapier – a platform that connects apps to automate tasks and now employs 85 people – bucks a number of trends in Silicon Valley hiring.

Facebook faced criticisms for accelerating gentrification and worsening the housing crunch when it offered employees $10,000 to leave near its Menlo Park campus. In 2013, Yahoo made headlines when it banned employees from working at home, arguing that communication in an office setting was critical.

Foster said he has long embraced remote working and that more startups should consider the model given how many talented workers want to move away from the epicenter of the industry.“We’ve seen the technology advance to a state where people can legitimately work anywhere in the world,” he said, noting that his staff is global, with clusters of employees in Austin, Portland and the Bay Area.

Foster said he enjoys living in Silicon Valley, but he doesn’t know how long he’ll stay either. “As we start to think about a family ourselves, it’s a decision we’re weighing.”

Exclusive: Lead poisoning afflicts neighborhoods across California

March 22, 2017

by Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell


NEW YORK- Dozens of California communities have experienced recent rates of childhood lead poisoning that surpass those of Flint, Michigan, with one Fresno locale showing rates nearly three times higher, blood testing data obtained by Reuters shows.

The data shows how lead poisoning affects even a state known for its environmental advocacy, with high rates of childhood exposure found in a swath of the Bay Area and downtown Los Angeles. And the figures show that, despite national strides in eliminating lead-based products, hazards remain in areas far from the Rust Belt or East Coast regions filled with old housing and legacy industry.

In one central Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under six years old came back high for lead. That compares to 5 percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. In all, Reuters found at least 29 Golden State neighborhoods where children had elevated lead tests at rates at least as high as in Flint.

“It’s a widespread problem and we have to get a better idea of where the sources of exposure are,” said California Assembly member Bill Quirk, who chairs the state legislature’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.

Last week, prompted in part by a December Reuters investigation pinpointing thousands of lead hotspots across the country, Quirk introduced a bill that would require blood lead screening for all California children. Now, just a fraction of the state’s children are tested.

Unlike other states that provided Reuters with results for all zip codes or census tracts, California withheld data from zip codes where fewer than 250 children were screened, calling such results less reliable. So, the available data – encompassing about 400,000 children tested in 546 zip codes – likely omits many neighborhoods where lead exposure remains a problem but fewer children were screened.

California’s Public Health Department said comparisons between the state’s blood lead testing results and those from other states aren’t warranted. It said the state tests children deemed at risk for lead exposure, such as those enrolled in Medicaid or living in older housing.


The newest zip code-level testing data was released by the California Department of Public Health in response to a longstanding Reuters records request and adds to a limited set of numbers previously disclosed by the state. The numbers offer a partial state snapshot, covering tests conducted during 2012 – the most recent year for which information was provided – and in about one-fourth of the state’s more than 2,000 zip code areas.

“Testing of at-risk children, and not all children, skews California results to higher percentage of children tested showing lead exposure,” the state said.

Testing that targets at-risk children is common across much of the country, however. And, as Reuters reported last year, many at-risk children in California and other states fall through the cracks of these programs and go untested.

Blood tests can’t determine the cause of a child’s exposure, but potential sources include crumbling old paint, contaminated soil, tainted drinking water or other lead hazards.

In Fresno’s downtown 93701 zip code, nearly 14 percent of children tested had lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current threshold for an elevated reading.

No level of lead exposure is safe, but children who test that high warrant a public health response, the CDC says.

Once common in household paint, gasoline and plumbing, lead is a neurotoxin that causes irreversible health impacts, including cognitive impairment and attention disorders in children.

In all, Fresno County had nine zip code areas where high lead levels among children tested were at least as common as in Flint. The Reuters article in December documented nearly 3,000 locales nationwide with poisoning rates double those found in the Michigan city along the Flint River.

The city of Fresno battles high poverty rates and problems with substandard housing, both risk factors for lead exposure. Some locals are also concerned with drinking water, after unsafe levels of lead were detected in at least 120 Fresno homes last year.

Fresno County’s lead poisoning prevention program conducts outreach across the city, and a program health educator, Leticia Berber, says exposure remains too common.

Still, she expressed surprise at the area’s high rate. “We haven’t looked at it that way compared to Flint,” Berber said.

Eight zip codes in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, had rates equal to or greater than those found in Flint. Other counties containing zip codes with high exposure rates included Los Angeles, Monterrey and Humboldt.

The exposure hotspots remain outliers. Around 2 percent of all California children tested in 2012 had lead levels at or above the federal standard, Reuters found.

Yet in the worst-affected zip codes identified statewide, more than 10 percent of children tested had an elevated lead level. In scores of others, less than 1 percent of children tested high. Three zip codes reported no high tests in 2012.


In California, home inspections are required when a child’s levels reach 14.5 micrograms per deciliter, the state’s formal threshold for a “lead poisoning case.”

State and local health departments provide services, including educational materials, to some families whose children test at or above 4.5 micrograms per deciliter. Like other states, including Michigan, California rounds its blood lead test results up or down to the nearest whole number. So, a result of 4.5 or higher meets the CDC threshold.

In its December report, Reuters tracked California lead exposure rates based on the neighborhood-level data available at the time. The report showed hotspots such as the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, where 7.6 percent of children tested high, prompting media coverage and new initiatives to protect children.

Lead exposure is common in other East Bay areas, including large parts of Oakland, and nearby Emeryville and Fremont, the new data shows.

In January, Oakland city council members introduced a resolution that would require property owners to obtain lead inspections and safety certifications before renting or selling houses and apartments built before 1978, when lead paint was banned.

Emeryville’s city council this month proposed an ordinance to require proof that contractors will adhere to Environmental Protection Agency standards – including safe lead paint removal practices – before they renovate older housing.

Emeryville Vice Mayor John Bauters said paint exposure isn’t the only risk. A long history of heavy industry in the East Bay also left contaminated soil in some areas.

In the Los Angeles area, the prevalence of high blood lead tests reached 5 percent or above in at least four zip codes during 2012.

Since August, a sampling of children tested from the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Westlake, Koreatown and Pico Union revealed about 5 percent with high lead results, said Jeff Sanchez, a public health specialist at Impact Assessment, which helps Los Angeles run its lead poisoning prevention program.

“The more you look,” Sanchez said, “the more you find.”

(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell. Editing by Ronnie Greene.)




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