TBR News March 8, 2018

Mar 08 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. March 8, 2018:” The Internet has an enormous storehouse of information and nearly any desired material can be located and downloaded. That is the positive aspect of the Internet. The negative side is that the Internet supplies an enormous flood of false, misleading and useless information, almost all of invented out of whole cloth by the same types that also have rushed to join, and use, what is known as the Social Network.

The Social Networks are a handy means for persons to express their personal views on almost any subject and to communicate with others of a like mind. The problem that one notes from reading their postings is the same one observes in reading the comments appended to serious articles on major newspapers. In reading both of these areas, one is at once struck by the utter stupidity of the writers, their total lack of English, their constant bad grammar and terrible spelling and, most important, their desire not to express a thoughtful view but to parade their insignificance and ignorance to a wide audience.

Another negative aspect of the Social Network is that, at least in the United States, all of the networks of any size are working closely with such official governmental agencies as the DHS and the FBI, to spy on their members at no cost or effort to themselves. In these cases, the mindless babblings and boastings of the dim of wit load federal surveillance files with moronic chatters from which the authorities can easily build a criminal case.

We did some research on the social networks and discovered that they have attracted more members than the government can keep up with, redolent of the thousands of hungry flies congregating in a cow pen.”


Table of Contents

  • Saudis Find Out Hard Way: Yemen Is Another Graveyard of Empires
  • And Now For The Good News
  • In Trump’s White House, the Adviser Who Really Matters Sits in the Oval Office
  • Asia-Pacific nations sign sweeping trade deal without U.S.
  • UK must give ‘realistic solution’ to Ireland border issue, says EU’s Donald Tusk
  • The Irish border — what you need to know
  • Sinn Fein calls for British-Irish body to avoid direct rule of Northern Ireland
  • Secrecy News
  • EU threatens tariffs on US products like peanut butter as trade war escalates
  • Netanyahus tried to push moguls to fund Israeli version of Fox News — report
  • Most Russian Plane Intercepts over Baltics Due to Error: NATO General

 Saudis Find Out Hard Way: Yemen Is Another Graveyard of Empires

Invaders throughout history have thrown themselves against the anvil, only to be left bloodied and defeated.

March 6, 2018

by Michael Horton

The American Conservative

“The Saudis are trying to use a brick to smash an anvil. They will destroy themselves, not Yemen.”

That’s how one of Yemen’s more prominent tribal sheikhs described Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The war will enter its fourth year this month. Its primary supporter, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, boasted that it would last weeks or perhaps a few months. The campaign, which was christened “Operation Decisive Storm,” was meant to show off Saudi Arabia’s military might by rapidly defeating the Houthi rebels—who enjoy limited Iranian support—and reinstalling Yemen’s exiled president, Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi.

The war, which is commonly referred to in Saudi Arabia as Muhammad bin Salman’s war, was meant to mark the ambitious young prince’s debut on both the national and international stages. It was also supposed to check what Saudi Arabia views as growing Iranian influence in the region.

Instead, it’s shown Saudi Arabia’s lavishly funded and equipped army to be a paper tiger incapable of even defending the Kingdom’s southern border from sandal-clad rebels equipped with nothing more than light and medium arms. Rather than checking Iranian influence, the war may force the Houthis, whose relationship with Iran has heretofore been limited, to enhance their dealings with Tehran. Most critically, it has resulted in what could be the permanent fragmentation of Yemen. That country’s strategic location along the Bab al-Mandab, just across from the Horn of Africa, and long border with Saudi Arabia mean that the instability in Yemen will be hard, if not impossible, to contain.

This instability and a plethora of unintended and unforeseen consequences are already in evidence along the Saudi-Yemeni border. Saudi Arabia’s military has thus far been unable to secure that border. Hours of footage of the Houthis’ retaliatory attacks on Saudi border posts and other military installations well inside the Saudi provinces of Najran, Jizan, and Asir have been posted on YouTube and other sites. In many of these videos, Saudi forces, even though they are equipped with M1 Abrams tanks and armored personnel carriers, flee in disarray when engaged by a handful of Houthis armed with RPGs and Kalashnikovs.

These southern Saudi provinces are home to restive and frequently oppressed religious minorities that include Zaidis and Ismailis—both of which are branches of Shi’ism that are different from the predominate branch in Iran. The Saudi government has little control over parts of these provinces and, as such, they are ripe for revolt if there is weakness within the House of Saud. Thousands of Yemenis who have had their livelihoods and loved ones destroyed by Saudi bombs would be quick to aid such a revolt.

Rather than relying on its poorly trained and ineffective army, Saudi Arabia has used its air force to pummel Yemen. The Saudi-led campaign, which is reliant on mid-air refueling capabilities from the U.S., has devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, targeted and destroyed much of Yemen’s once-productive farmland, and killed hundreds of civilians. As a result of the air war and sanctions, Yemen now faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 80 percent of Yemen’s population of 26 million requires urgent aid. Photos and videos of starving children and emaciated adults are in clear evidence on Twitter and international news sites.

In South Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE backed militias—ranging from southern separatists to militant Salafi groups that are indistinguishable from al-Qaeda—are competing with one another to secure influence and access to the weapons and materiel provided by their backers. Aden, the de-facto capital for Yemen’s powerless government in exile, is now the scene of almost daily assassinations and bombings. The most recent attack on February 24 involved two Islamic State suicide bombers and killed 14 people. Most of the assassinations, which have targeted clerics, security personnel, and tribal elites, are unclaimed.

There is almost no place in the south that is secure against these kinds of attacks. Only in the north, where the Houthis are allied with Yemen’s former ruling party, the General People’s Congress, is there a semblance of security. But there, the Houthis increasingly rule with an iron fist. They have targeted journalists and, in the wake of the assassination of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for which the Houthis were responsible, executed many of Saleh’s supporters.

Still, many in northern Yemen respect the Houthis for their continued ability to defy Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which are increasingly viewed as colonizers by Yemenis in the north and the south. Yemenis living in the north also fear the chaos and violence that could engulf their home if the Houthis are defeated. The Houthis and the parts of the Yemeni army that are allied with them have acted as an effective bulwark against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State. Prior to the start of “Operation Decisive Storm,” a Houthi-led offensive against AQAP had weakened the organization in a number of its traditional strongholds. Now, AQAP is resurgent across much of southern Yemen where its operatives are overtly and covertly enmeshed with many of the anti-Houthi forces.

To combat a resurgent AQAP, the UAE and its proxy forces have launched a new campaign aptly named “Operation Decisive Sword.” Given the deepening humanitarian crisis and ever-increasing factionalism in Yemen, Operation Decisive Sword will be no more decisive than Muhammad bin Salman’s Operation Decisive Storm. What may well be decisive is the defeat of both Saudi and Emirati ambitions in Yemen.

It is estimated that the war in Yemen is costing Saudi Arabia $5 to $6 billion a month. This comes at a time when the Kingdom is already struggling to maintain its generous social welfare programs that are critical to the House of Saud’s continued hold on power. The UAE, too, is spending billions in Yemen, much of it on the private military contractors that are helping it run its war. In the case of the UAE, the government seems to view the billions that it is spending as an investment that will allow it to carve out a permanent sphere of influence in Yemen. The UAE, perhaps more than Saudi Arabia, recognizes that Yemen is incredibly valuable real estate. The governorates where the UAE and its proxies are most active are the areas that are richest in natural resources.

However, it is only a matter of time until the UAE-backed militias turn on their patron. The rhetoric in southern Yemen is already infused with descriptions of the UAE as a neo-colonial power intent on asset stripping. The UAE has already set up a military base on the once-pristine Yemeni island of Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also set up permanent bases on the Yemeni island of Perim in the Red Sea. Social media in Yemen is rife with pictures of UAE military parades in Socotra, of the base in Perim, and, most recently, a photo of dozens of dragon’s blood trees, native to Socotra, that had been stripped from the island. No doubt the threatened trees are destined to become part of the landscaping for a palace somewhere in the Gulf. These kinds of photos, along with the abuses perpetrated by the UAE and their proxies, will in time produce a violent reaction.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE should have examined the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both countries, despite having the best trained and equipped military in the world, the U.S. has failed to achieve its aims. In the case of Iraq, a deeply flawed strategy ended up empowering Iran by turning much of Iraq into a satellite state. In Afghanistan, the war has resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,300 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans. It has also cost the U.S. well over a trillion dollars. Despite the expenditure of lives and treasure, the Taliban—who are active in 70 percent of Afghanistan’s provinces—are on track to once again become the preeminent power.

The U.S. can absorb these losses because of the size of its economy, the strength of its military, and the complacency of much of its population. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE will find it far more difficult to sustain a war effort that does not yield results. On account of their proximity to Yemen, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are far more likely to experience significant and direct blowback from a war that has made tens of thousands of well-armed Yemenis their enemies.

Yemen is an anvil against which a number of invaders have thrown themselves only to be left bloodied and defeated. From the Romans in 25 BC to the Egyptians in the 1960s, Yemen has long resisted invaders. The governments of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE would do well to recognize that their adventure is far more likely to break them than the Yemenis who have defied occupiers and invading armies for centuries.

As the always astute Yemeni commentator Haykal Bafana argues:

Academics, analysts and journalists are perpetually perplexed by the primal vortex of chaos that is Yemen. Wisdom is to realize that this confusing Yemeni enigma, which continuously eludes understanding, is the Yemen Model, defined.

Outsiders may not understand Yemen but Yemenis certainly do and it is they who will, in time, have to end the conflict and begin rebuilding their country. The longer outside powers are in Yemen, the longer this process will be put off and the more danger will be posed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


And Now For The Good News

Yes, things are looking up

March 8, 2018

by Justin Raimondo

Anti War

While I hate to dispel the aura of gloom and doom that the various factions – NeverTrumpers, Beltway quasi-libertarians, Californians, etc. – are exuding here in the Age of Trump, I bear really disappointing good news.

To begin with, the nuclear war all and sundry were predicting and warning against, which was supposed to erupt on the Korean peninsula – the result, naturally, of the Orange One’s bombastic provocations – hasn’t happened, and won’t happen. Indeed, the exact opposite is happening. Just as I predicted and called for, the Koreans – North and South – have taken matters into their own hands, opened bilateral negotiations sans the Americans, and made considerable progress:

“North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to not use nuclear or conventional weapons against South Korea and expressed willingness to hold talks with the United States on denuclearization, Seoul said on Tuesday after a rare two-day visit to Pyongyang.

“The Hermit Kingdom added that it’s willing to give up its nuclear weapons if military threats against North Korea subsides, South Korea’s presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong said in comments hours after leaving Pyongyang.

“‘The North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and said it would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed,’ Chung said in a statement, according to Yonhap News Agency.”

Furthermore a hotline is being established between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. An April summit will be held at the border.

Kim understands that the military exercises – which have US and South Korean troops simulating an invasion of the North, and not vice-versa as some claim – scheduled to take place (it’s an annual event) will continue: the fact that he’s willing to accept that and still go ahead with these overtures is nothing short of astonishing. It is certainly unprecedented.

Despite the naysayers – John Bolton predictably calls for an attack on North Korea, along with Lindsey Graham, while Eli Lake is skeptical that anything will come of this, just because – what will save the Korean people in the end is their ingrained (and rather fierce) nationalism — their sense of unity, North and South, despite the ideological divisions of the cold war era. Those divisions, both sides realize, are outlived. Whether Washington realizes it is another question.

Yet Washington is here being reduced to the role of an onlooker. After all, it’s their country. As President Trump tweeted: “a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned.” One can only hope that this includes the United States, but I have to say I’m skeptical about that part. Washington’s War Party has stood in the way of a peaceful unified Korean peninsula ever since the conclusion of the Korean war, and I have a hard time believing they are about to start on the path to peace now. In order to overcome the legacy of that war, the South must break decisively with Washington, and ask the US occupation forces to leave. That is the only way to provide for the security of the North and achieve the denuclearization that is the prerequisite for peace.

And if this wasn’t enough, there’s more good news to report!

It looks like the Trump administration is moving to gut the National Endowment for Democracy, one of the War Party’s principal instruments for regime change. Established by Ronald Reagan as a sinecure for the neoconservatives, it has been headed up ever since by one Carl Gershman, the former national chairman of the Young Peoples Socialist League, and a one-time leader of the Social Democrats USA, a pro-interventionist cold war incarnation of the old Socialist Party. Here is Josh Rogin, a third (fourth?) generation neocon bemoaning the Trump administration’s moves, and predicting that the merger with the State Department – a de facto abolition of the NED – won’t get past Congress.

The neocons are nothing if not survivors: they’ve managed to escape being totally shunned despite their disastrous leadership of the Iraq war, and they’re now enjoying a new vogue in “liberal” and even leftist circles on account of their pioneering efforts on behalf of the NeverTrump movement. This attack on their longtime stronghold in government is bound to call out the Furies, and yet in this era of “America First” nationalism and the explicit anti-globalism of some in the higher reaches of the Trump administration, this time they may well be facing a humiliating defeat. The NED is a rich source of grants and other government goodies: for the neocons to lose this is hitting them where they live.

Yes, the good news is breaking out all over! Enjoy it while it lasts …


In Trump’s White House, the Adviser Who Really Matters Sits in the Oval Office

March 7, 2018

by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump once said “I alone can fix it.” Looks like he may have to. No one else seems to be sticking around.

The record-high turnover at the White House has now reached 43 percent with the pending departure of Gary D. Cohn, the national economic adviser, as the team that arrived with Mr. Trump 13 months ago heads for the doors in increasing numbers and the president increasingly relies on his own judgment for key decisions.

The head-spinning pace of departures has contributed to the sense of disarray in the West Wing, but it reflects the way Mr. Trump has operated since he announced that he was running for president. He constantly searches for new voices, but burns through staff as he quickly loses faith in the people around him, leaving him with a dearth of advisers on whom he genuinely depends. In effect, it can feel like a presidency of one.

Mr. Trump said this week that this did not lead to chaos but to a healthy refreshing of his team, adding that a reasonable amount of conflict helped him make better decisions. But Washington veterans see a dysfunctional operation in which a president becomes trapped in an insular bubble and too dependent on his own instincts and assessments, however informed they may or may not be.

“The truth is that no one has a good gut,” said James K. Glassman, who served as a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and then founded Mr. Bush’s public policy institute after leaving office. “Everyone needs a foundation of values and beliefs and then good advice to test them against.”

Mr. Glassman said Mr. Trump seemed to have concluded that his predecessors made mistakes by listening to bad advice. “Trump looks at Bush and Obama and thinks, ‘Those guys made some lousy decisions — Iraq, Iran, health care — so why should I do it their way? I was right during the election campaign by relying on my instinct. I’ll do the same in office.’”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said that Mr. Cohn’s decision to resign demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s White House could not assemble a coherent team that could navigate the political and policy challenges that face a president.

“One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, of doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller,” Mr. Schumer told reporters. “So the mess-ups we’ve seen this past week,” he added, “I think we’re going to see over and over and over again.”

The White House pointed the finger the other direction later in the day, accusing Mr. Schumer of blocking the confirmation of many officials nominated by Mr. Trump for no other reason than partisan politics

“Senator Schumer is blocking nominees indiscriminately,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “He forces time-wasting procedural votes on nominees and then eventually votes in support of them.” She added, “It’s a disgrace, it’s dangerous and it must come to an end.”

Many of the recent departures, however, have come from the White House staff, which does not require Senate confirmation. Mr. Cohn announced this week that he would step down after losing a fractious internal battle over imposing tariffs. Many White House officials anticipate that some of his top aides will end up leaving as well.

His resignation came soon after Hope Hicks, the president’s communications director and confidante, said she would leave in the next few weeks and Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who was part of the inner circle, resigned under pressure amid allegations of spousal abuse by two former wives.

The 43 percent turnover rate calculated by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, far outpaces that of any first-year presidency in the last four decades. And many assume that it will rise even higher soon amid talk that John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; or even Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, might leave.

Even if they do not step down, the constant speculation makes it harder for a White House staff to focus. Few of the original team remain in place; among the survivors are Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, and Stephen Miller, his senior policy adviser.

Ms. Conway said she frequently reminded colleagues that they served at the pleasure of the president. “There are only two people in the building that were elected to anything,” she said she told other staff members. “If you don’t hear your name on the list, get with the program or get out — Donald J. Trump and Michael Pence.”

Mr. Trump has long brought new people in and then cast others out in a perpetual cycle of advisers. The few with staying power tend to be members of the family, although even those who are exiled often stay in his orbit in some fashion. The president, several people close to him said this week, is increasingly running the Oval Office the way he ran his 26th-floor office at Trump Tower, with teams broken into small groups visiting him.

“It’s obviously very different from most presidents but it’s how Trump has operated,” said Andy Surabian, a former special assistant to Mr. Trump. “He’s someone who likes getting different opinions thrown at him. It’s a fascinating thing for a guy who’s very hardened on certain issues. But I view it as a big positive for him.”

Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longest-serving political hand, said that the changes in staff were ultimately “a good thing because I think that’s how you get back Trumpism. The people who are leaving are the people who are telling him you can’t do this, the people who would dilute the platform on which he was elected.”

Mr. Trump has rebuffed concerns from allies and advisers about the tariffs, saying that he is right and that he believes he will be proven so. He has excoriated Mr. Cohn privately for choosing to leave.

Mr. Stone said that working in Mr. Trump’s favor is that “he’s extraordinarily stubborn. When he sets his mind to do something — for instance, utilize the threat of tariffs against those are utilizing tariffs against us — it doesn’t matter who his advisers are. He knows his own mind on this.”

At a news conference this week, Mr. Trump made clear that he thrived on the constant churning and hinted that there will be more departures soon, but he rejected the idea that he had trouble recruiting new people to work for him because “the White House has tremendous energy.”

“There will be people that change,” he said. “They always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else. But they all want to be in the White House. So many people want to come in, I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position.”

Still, even Mr. Trump has taken to joking about the revolving door lately. At the annual Gridiron Dinner last weekend with politicians and figures in the news media, he said, “I like chaos,” and called the turnover “invigorating.”

Almost as if he were previewing the next episode of a show, he added, “Who’s going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?”

Peter Baker reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.


Asia-Pacific nations sign sweeping trade deal without U.S.

March 8, 2018

by Dave Sherwood and Felipe Iturrieta


SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Eleven countries including Japan and Canada signed a landmark Asia-Pacific trade agreement without the United States on Thursday in what one minister called a powerful signal against protectionism and trade wars.

The deal came as U.S. President Donald Trump vowed earlier in the day to press ahead with a plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a move that other nations and the International Monetary Fund said could start a global trade war.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will reduce tariffs in countries that together amount to more than 13 percent of the global economy – a total of $10 trillion in gross domestic product. With the United States, it would have represented 40 percent.

“Today, we can proudly conclude this process, sending a strong message to the international community that open markets, economic integration and international cooperation are the best tools for creating economic opportunities and prosperity,” said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Heraldo Munoz, Chile’s minister of foreign affairs, said he expected Chile’s trade with China, its top trading partner, to continue growing alongside trade with CPTPP countries.

Even without the United States, the deal will span a market of nearly 500 million people, making it one of the world’s largest trade agreements, according to Chilean and Canadian trade statistics.

The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was thrown into limbo early last year when Trump withdrew from the deal three days after his inauguration. He said the move was aimed at protecting U.S. jobs.

The 11 remaining nations finalized a revised trade pact in January. That agreement will become effective when at least six member nations have completed domestic procedures to ratify it, possibly before the end of the year.

“We are very hopeful like others that we will see the CP TPP coming into effect about the end of the year or shortly thereafter,” said Australia Trade Minister Steven Ciobo.


The revised agreement eliminates some requirements of the original TPP demanded by U.S. negotiators, including rules to ramp up intellectual property protection of pharmaceuticals. Governments and activists of other member nations worry the changes will raise the costs of medicine.

The final version of the agreement was released in New Zealand on Feb. 21. The member countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“We’re proud … to show the world that progressive trade is the way forward, that fair, balanced, and principled trade is the way forward, and that putting citizens first is the way forward for the world when it comes to trade,” Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Phillippe Champagne said.

In January, Trump, who also has threatened to pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that it was possible Washington might return to the TPP pact if it got a better deal. However, New Zealand’s trade minister said that was unlikely in the near term, while Japan has said altering the agreement now would be very difficult.

On Thursday, Munoz said CPTPP was not an agreement against anyone and several governments had said they want to join it.

Trump vowed on Thursday to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, although he said there would be exemptions for NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada.

He announced the plan for tariffs last week, rattling financial markets.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, in Santiago for the CPTPP signing, told Reuters he would not allow the United States to use the tariffs to pressure it in the NAFTA talks. Champagne told Reuters that Canada would not accept duties or quotas from the United States.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Writing by Dave Sherwood and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao



UK must give ‘realistic solution’ to Ireland border issue, says EU’s Donald Tusk

The European Council president has warned the UK against destabilizing the peace process in Ireland. If London fails to provide a “realistic solution” to the border question, Brexit talks will likely flounder, he said.

March 8, 2018


European Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday urged the British government to layout a “realistic solution” to the Irish border question, saying failure to do so risks further progress on Brexit talks.

Tusk said the UK must avoid the risk of destabilizing peace in Northern Ireland, which ended decades of violence between republicans and unionists.

Tusk said:

The question of the border separating Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK and will leave the EU when Brexit goes into effect, must come “first.”

If the UK does not provide a “specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border,” it will be “very difficult to image substantial progress in Brexit negotiations.”

The EU cannot offer a similar deal to trade in services as it can on goods after the British finance minister said the bloc’s third country equivalence regime would be wholly inadequate for the UK, which has a huge financial service sector.

Irish Brexit fears: Ireland has emerged as a sticking point in Brexit negotiations. The British government’s plans to leave the EU’s customs union and single market could force both sides to put up customs checks — a “hard” border — between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish government has repeatedly said it will not accept that outcome. The British government has committed to no hard border, but it has not said how it will ensure that.

EU frustrations with UK: The Irish border is not the only topic the EU and the UK have disagreed on in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Tusk rebuked calls for an unprecedented “deep and comprehensive” EU-UK free trade deal after Brexit occurs in March 2019. He repeated previous EU criticism that the UK was “cherry-picking” by requesting access to EU markets without committing to the costs and obligations of EU membership.

What happens next? Leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries are to meet at a summit from March 22-23. They are expected to discuss and vote on a set of guidelines for EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Talks between the EU and the UK over a post-Brexit free trade deal could start as early as April.


The Irish border — what you need to know

These days, the Northern Ireland peace process and free trade mean you’d hardly notice that there was a border separating two parts of the Emerald Isle. Brexit could make things complicated once again.

December 4, 2017

by Richard Connor


Based on their past meetings, Monday’s Brexit talks between EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May could provide further fireworks. Among the many contentious issues, the question of how to resolve the Irish border dispute could be a major stumbling block. But what makes the issue of the Irish frontier so sensitive?

Ireland splits into two

The British response to the Irish political and armed struggle for independence around the time of World War I was a succession of Home Rule Acts that sought to allow devolution, rather than independence, on the island of Ireland. Initially, one institution was envisaged in Dublin, but unionists in the north would have been unhappy at the prospect of being ruled from such a perceived hotbed of Irish nationalism. Instead, two home rule parliaments were set up, Northern Ireland and the short-lived entity known as Southern Ireland.

After a three-year Irish War of Independence, Britain admitted defeat. Southern Ireland was superseded in 1922 by the Irish Free State, as enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Treaty (pictured above). This state would no longer be part of the United Kingdom.

Carved for convenience

Unionists were in the minority in most of Ireland, but not in the mainly Protestant Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry/Londonderry — all part of the northern ancient province of Ulster.

These four were not considered enough to form a viable area, and so Tyrone and Fermanagh were also incorporated into Northern Ireland. Three of Ulster’s other counties — Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan — became part of Southern Ireland.

All of these considerations meant that physical practicality was never at the forefront of the minds of those who drew the borders. The border often cut through communities, a subject that was the theme of comic writer Spike Milligan’s novel Puckoon, which chronicled the troubles of a fictional village cut in half by the border.

Barely noticeable boundary

The Common Travel Area, established in 1923, has long ensured that there was no need to show passports at the border — a sort of early Schengen arrangement [a European agreement signed in 1985 that largely does away with internal border checks – the ed.] that was briefly suspended during World War II.

It’s a very busy border. Because of the erratic nature of the boundary, regular journeys in border areas often cross the frontier several times. In addition, the northern county of Donegal is separated from the rest of the Irish Republic by a thin territorial isthmus of land. This means it’s often far quicker to reach other parts of the Republic from there by crossing into Northern Ireland.

There are some 300 major and minor crossings along the 499-kilometer (310-mile) border which, unlike most other borders in the EU, is not officially marked by either government although there may be “Welcome to” signs. This makes identifying the border difficult for strangers who are unacquainted with landmarks known to locals as the crossing point.

Time of Troubles

The border wasn’t always so understated. With an escalation in violence in Northern Ireland in 1969, British troops were sent to the province. The border was heavily securitized to prevent the smuggling of weapons from arms dumps in the Irish Republic.

In order to control traffic entering or leaving the province at main checkpoints, the British Army blocked off smaller access points. Roads were cratered and bridges were blown up. For some communities, the inconvenience of this was crippling, helping to fuel nationalist resentment. A study by Belfast’s Queen’s University, “Bordering on Brexit,” asked people what they felt at the time.

“I grew up a stone’s throw from the border,” one woman, from the Fermanagh and Omagh district on the northern side, told the survey. “I remember 22-mile detours to go 4 miles up the road. I remember the militarization of border crossings and the closure of roads. I remember how few services we had and how difficult it was for people to survive. We were completely terrorized by the British military.”

Anything to declare?

Despite the Common Travel Area, movement of goods across the border was not unfettered and customs points were established. Initially, the checkpoints were only intended to regulate the movement of certain goods. However, the Anglo-Irish Trade War of the 1930s saw the introduction of tariffs on agricultural products and eventually coal and steel.

Both governments enacted policies that were damaging to their border communities. Smuggling and black market trading picked up, exacerbated by World War II, in which Ireland remained neutral.

The trade war ended in 1936 but there were still customs checks even after both nations joined the European Economic Community (at the same time in 1973). They only ended with the opening of the European Single Market in January 1993.

Given that Britain appears set to leave the EU Customs Union and Single Market at some future point, the issue of customs checks looks likely to be revisited once again.


Sinn Fein calls for British-Irish body to avoid direct rule of Northern Ireland

March 8, 2018


DUBLIN (Reuters) – Northern Ireland’s largest Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, on Friday said a British-Irish body created under a 1998 peace deal should be convened urgently after London moved to impose a budget on the region because its parties have failed to form a government.

“The two governments must act on their responsibilities as co-guarantors of the (1998) Good Friday Agreement which provides for a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference … as a matter of urgency,” Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said in a statement.

“There can be no return to direct rule,” she said.

Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Kevin Liffey


Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 16

March 8, 2018


The National Declassification Center is preparing to release a set of newly declassified records concerning a little-known Pentagon advisory group called the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) that operated from 1948 to 1976.

The purpose of the WSEG was “to provide rigorous, unprejudiced and independent analyses and evaluations of present and future weapons systems under probable future combat conditions– prepared by the ablest professional minds, military and civilian, and the most advanced analytical methods that can be brought to bear,” according to its founding 1948 directive.

For at least part of its existence, the WSEG “occupied a preeminent position as the principal analytical support agency of its kind at the upper echelons of the DoD,” an official 1979 history of the organization said.

An overview of the upcoming release of declassified WSEG records was posted yesterday by Alex Daverede of the National Declassification Center.

The records include a broad range of topics on weapons systems and war fighting in the early cold war context, only a portion of which will actually be made public. One report, that apparently will remain classified, is entitled “Capabilities of Atomic Weapons for the Attack of Troop Targets.” Other studies address air defense, biological warfare, Soviet military systems, and more.

“I should be done with the declassification work by the end of the month, perhaps sooner,” Mr. Daverede said yesterday.

“This was not a big project for us–only 18 Hollinger [document storage] boxes,” he said. “Ten boxes hold documents that retained their classification after they were re-reviewed, so actual pages released would probably be closer to 5K pages.  Unfortunately there are multiple copies of each document, so in terms of unique pages declassified we are looking at considerably less than 5K.  The up side is that the whole series had been exempt before we re-examined it, so I feel pretty good about getting some records of this obscure organization out on the street.”

Some of the war-fighting topics considered by the WSEG were also on the mind of Daniel Ellsberg during some of the same years, as he discussed in his recent book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. The book has been widely and favorably reviewed in Slate, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, and Arms Control Today (by Robert S. Norris of FAS), among others.

Ellsberg did not mention the WSEG in his book, but the WSEG was well aware of him.

There was a “period of JCS retrenchment in SIOP-related studies after the Ellsberg incident,” according to the 1979 WSEG history. That is, there was a decline in nuclear targeting studies requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the WSEG following Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon papers.


In January, the Department of Defense ordered the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) not to publish certain data on areas of Afghanistan that were held by insurgents.

“This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ to the American taxpayer,” the SIGAR said in its January 2018 report to Congress.

But the Department of Defense soon reversed course, saying it was an error to withhold that information.

Last week, the SIGAR published an addendum to its January report that provided the previously suppressed data. In addition, a detailed control map and the underlying data for each of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were declassified and published. See Addendum to SIGAR’s January 2018 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, February 26, 2018.

The basic thrust of the new data is that Afghan government control of the country is at its lowest reported level since December 2015, while insurgency control is at its highest.

“The percentage of districts under insurgent control or influence has doubled since 2015,” the SIGAR addendum said.


The Congressional Research Service recently updated its report on US nuclear weapons and programs. See U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues by Amy F. Woolf, March 6, 2018.

That is also the subject of a new survey prepared by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris of the Federation of American Scientists. See United States nuclear forces, 2018, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 5, 2018.

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

Joint Resolution Seeks to End U.S. Support for Saudi-led Coalition Military Operations in Yemen, CRS Insight, March 5, 2018

Iraq: In Brief, March 5, 2018

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean Focus on the Politics of Energy, CRS Insight, March 1, 2018

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated March 1, 2018

Millennium Challenge Corporation, updated March 7, 2018

Material Support for Terrorism Is Not Always an “Act of International Terrorism,” Second Circuit Holds, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 5, 2018

So, Now Can Menachem Zivotofsky Get His Passport Reissued to Say “Israel”?, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 1, 2018

Responding to the Opioid Epidemic: Legal Developments and FDA’s Role, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 6, 2018

Banking Policy Issues in the 115th Congress, updated March 7, 2018

How Hard Should It Be To Bring a Class Action?, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 7, 2018


Members of Congress are urging the executive branch to update and expand the security clearance process by examining the social media presence of individuals who are being considered for a security clearance for access to classified information.

“I put more effort into understanding who my interns are” than the security clearance process does, said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr at a hearing yesterday. “You go to the areas that you learn the most about them — social media is right at the top of the list.”

“I can’t envision anyone coming into the office that you haven’t thoroughly checked out everything that they’ve said online,” Sen. Burr said.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to promote the use of social media in security clearance investigations.

“It may be hard to believe, but the Federal Government often fails to conduct a simple internet search on individuals before they are trusted with a security clearance,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).

“Publicly available social media is one of the best ways to understand an individual’s interests and intentions, but our investigatory process still focuses on interviewing the applicant’s family, friends, and neighbors,” he said.

In fact, then-Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper issued a directive in 2016 authorizing — but not requiring — the use of social media in security clearance background investigations. See Security Executive Agent Directive 5 on Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and Adjudications, May 12, 2016.

But the practice has apparently been adopted unevenly and on a limited basis.

“For example, the Army initiated a pilot program that found that while checking social media is a valuable tool, it can be costly and may raise some legal issues,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).

The bill passed by the House this week would require the OMB to report on current use of social media in background investigations, legal impediments to such use, the results of any pilot programs, and options for widespread implementation.

The bill “is a much needed first step in modernizing federal security clearance background investigations,” said a House Committee report on the bill. “In recent years, there have been several cases in which federal contractor employees with security clearances leaked classified information after previously sharing suspicious posts on publicly available social media sites.”


EU threatens tariffs on US products like peanut butter as trade war escalates

  • The European Union threatens to impose duties on U.S. peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice if President Trump imposes tariffs on steel and aluminum.
  • EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom also says Brussels would take the U.S. tariff case to the World Trade Organization and would coordinate with other trade partners.

March 7, 2018

by Silvia Amaro


The European Union threatened on Wednesday to impose duties on U.S. bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice if President Donald Trump imposes tariffs on steel and aluminum.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom also said Brussels would take the case to the World Trade Organization and coordinate with other trade partners against the proposed U.S. tariffs.

She confirmed that the EU has prepared a provisional list of U.S. products that would see higher tariffs in Europe if Trump moves ahead with the tariffs. According to media reports, the EU’s tariffs could amount to 2.83 billion euros ($3.52 billion).

“Certain types of bourbon is indeed on the list as is other items, such as peanut butter and cranberries, orange juice, etc.,” she said, adding that “very soon” the list will be made public.

In an interview Wednesday on CNBC, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross played down the impact of the tariffs. “We’re not trying to blow up the world,” he said.

Malmstrom said the EU was getting ready to put safeguard measures in place to prevent metal flooding in the EU, as a result of the tariffs.

“There are indications that President Trump, very soon, in the coming days, we don’t know for sure, may sign off a decision on import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, which he announced on the March 1,” Malmstrom said.

“This is done under something that’s called Section 232, which refers to internal or national security. We have serious doubts about that justification, we cannot see how the European Union’s friends and allies in NATO can be a threat to national security in the U.S. We find that assumption deeply unjust,” she added.

In the eyes of the EU, “the motivation of the U.S. is an economic safeguard measure in disguise, not [a] national security measure,” Malmstrom added. “That means the EU is entitled to make use of a WTO safeguard agreement to rebalance benefits that we have given to the U.S. in the past.”

Concerns of a global trade war

Trump said on Thursday that the U.S. would be imposing a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, insisting such imports are a threat to national security. The announcement, which has received some criticism from within the president’s party, has raised concerns all over the globe over a potential trade war.

The European Union is the first trade partner to present specific steps if Trump moves ahead with steel and aluminum charges. However, Canada has vowed to come up with its own countermeasures. Mexico, China and Brazil have also said they are considering steps to retaliate.

Regarding a trade war, Malmstrom said “we should be very careful with that word.”

“It is very hard to speculate what will happen [in the U.S.]. … I truly hope this will not happen,” she said about the U.S. tariffs, arguing that trade wars would not be anybody’s interest.

Last weekend, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe needed to take measures as a response to Trump’s tariff threat. “This cannot be a unilateral trans-Atlantic action by the Americans,” he said. At the time, he mentioned possible taxes on Harley-Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s.

However, UBS analysts argued that Trump’s intention to impose tariffs on metals is unlikely to have a major impact in Europe. They said Wednesday in a note that “the share of steel and, more so, aluminum in overall euro zone exports is small.”

“Steel accounts for 1.4 percent of euro zone exports to the U.S. … equivalent to 0.2 percent of total euro zone exports. … Aluminum accounts for 0.1 percent or less of total exports to the U.S. across the large euro zone countries,” the bank said. “So the direct economic impact of the tariffs on the euro zone should be small and concentrated in the respective sectors.”

However, Trump has also mentioned that there could be new tariffs on European cars if the EU retaliates against tariffs on metals.

“Compared to steel and aluminum, exports of automobiles to the U.S. are meaningful,” the UBS analysts said, arguing that an escalation of words and actions between both sides of the Atlantic could have repercussions on their economies.

According to Barclays, a full-blown trade war is not a baseline outlook but a “possibility worth monitoring.”A

“Most at risk from an escalation are Asian economies, particularly those deeply intertwined in global value chains,” analysts at the bank said in a note on Wednesday.


Netanyahus tried to push moguls to fund Israeli version of Fox News — report

Couple said to have tried to convince billionaires Arnon Milchen, James Packer and Rupert Murdoch to invest $25 million each in new right-wing news channel

March 7,2018

by Sue Surkes

The Times of Israel

Israeli police are looking into suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara tried to get billionaires Arnon Milchen, James Packer and Rupert Murdoch to invest $25 million each in a new Israeli right-wing commercial TV channel, Channel 2 News reported Tuesday.

The business daily The Marker had previously published that the Netanyahus’ former media adviser, Nir Hefetz, who recently agreed to testify against Netanyahu, tried to move the commercial channel idea forward.

According to Tuesday’s TV report, however, the prime minister and his wife were not only involved in the venture, which would be modeled on Fox News, but were the driving force behind it. The idea was that Hefetz would manage it.

The prime minister, who has had a prickly relationship with the mainstream media while in power, reportedly held several meetings on the subject with the businessmen, but was unable to garner enough support. While Packer, an Australian casino mogul, was in favor, the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchen was against and Murdoch, an Australian media magnate who owns Fox News, never fully committed to the idea.

Milchen was already an investor in another Israeli TV news outlet, Channel 10, and had sought to purchase shares in Channel 2, a news outlet now known as Hadashot.

Police suspect Netanyahu sought to help Milchan with the eventually unsuccessful purchase in exchange for gifts from him and Packer, in an affair known as Case 1000.

Last month, police recommended that the prime minister be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case and another case, known as Case 2000, in which the prime minister is suspected of trying to broker a quid pro quo with a media company for favorable coverage.

In the first case, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan and Packer, in return for certain benefits.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

In a third investigation, known as Case 4000, the prime minister is suspected of advancing regulations that benefited the major shareholder in the Bezek telecommunications giant, Shaul Elovitch, in return for Elovitch ordering the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus.

Earlier this week, Hefetz agreed to testify against his former boss in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him and his associated have tried to downplay the amount of influence or access Hefetz had with the prime minister.


Most Russian Plane Intercepts over Baltics Due to Error: NATO General

March 7, 2018

by Oriana Pawlyk


Nearly all Russian-NATO aircraft intercepts over or near the Baltic nations remain non-hostile, and most can be attributed to human error, a top NATO general said Wednesday.

Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters he and his NATO counterparts have not seen obvious offensive acts from Russian aircraft or troops.

He even cautioned against using the term “Russian aggression” in reference to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia because leaders have not seen open hostilities against forces there.

While there is increased political tension, “There [has been] no violation of Baltic countries’ territory — not even the airspace,” Pavel said during a briefing in Washington, D.C.

“All we have [seen] in the region is increased military presence, more exercises, more flights of long-range aviation, more use of intelligence. But I wouldn’t call it ‘aggression,’ ” he said.

“Sometimes, we don’t distinguish between airspace violation or a need to call what is known as ‘alpha scramble,’ ” Pavel said, referring to times when pilots sit alert, ready to jump into fighters and escort unidentified or bellicose jets out of sovereign airspace.

He continued, “Most of these so-called violations are because of a loss of communication or human or technical mistake … I would say 90 percent of these so-called violations are technical mistake[s],” such as omitting transponder signals, flight plans or properly communicating with air traffic control.

“Very few are deliberate or provocative,” Pavel said. “Up until now, we don’t see any real signs of aggressive behavior against the Baltic countries or within the Black Sea region.”

His comments come just months after the U.S. finished its F-15C Eagle rotation to protect Baltic airspace.

The F-15s, from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, acted as a quick reactionary force to surveil the airspace until the mission concluded in January, reporting at least 30 intercepts of Russian aircraft, according to U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa officials.

USAFE in January published videos showing two specific intercepts of Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea, one on Nov. 23 and the other Dec. 13. In each case, neither of the Russian Su-30 Flanker jets broadcast flight codes required by air traffic control, nor did they file a flight plan.

USAFE classified the scrambles as routine.

Before the arrival of the F-15s last year, the U.S. last took part in the Baltic Air Policing mission in 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea. The NATO policing mission has since been taken over by Italy and Denmark.

In 2016, then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the German air force, honing the BAP mission at the time, also counted roughly 30 scrambles. James said those incidents should act as reminders for NATO countries, especially the “newer partners,” to continue joint training.

There have also been multiple passes from Russian jets over U.S. surveillance planes on the Black Sea. In January, a Russian Su-27 intercepted a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries — crossing within 5 feet of the Navy aircraft.

However, Pavel did not say the Russian military’s buildup and modernization effort aren’t cause for concern. He said that effort is the reason why, as a result of the 2016 Warsaw summit, NATO created the Enhanced Forward Presence force to act as a deterrent in the East.

“We’re doing our best to keep the level of this military presence below being a threatening [force] to Russia,” he said. “We didn’t want to create any competition [that] will bring more forces to the region.”

Nevertheless, Pavel said, NATO allies will uphold their commitment to Article 5 of the treaty, which aims to discourage any adversarial attack on member states. But, he noted, Russia has acted mostly within the parameters of policy.

“It fair to say mostly Russia has [acted] within the agreed parameters. From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air. But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not. So we should avoid these with responsible behavior,” he said.

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