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TBR News March 9, 2017

Mar 09 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 8, 2017: “It would be enlightening to learn just who owns and controls WikiLeaks. We know but we are not talking. Given everything involved, look for a very rough ride in the coming months as more and more truly evil material is released. This is one slow-release capsule that will kill more patients that cure.”

Table of Contents

  • Wikileaks’ CIA hacking dump sends tech firms scrambling for fixes
  • FBI investigating Wikileaks’ vault 7 disclosures on CIA hacking
  • Am I at risk of being hacked?’ What you need to know about the ‘Vault 7’ documents
  • Murder by Accident
  • Families of 9/11 victims might soon get day in court against Saudi officials
  • Islamic State leader Baghdadi abandons Mosul fight to field commanders, U.S. and Iraqi sources say
  • The Left’s great Russian conspiracy theory
  • Turkey has stepped up spying in Germany, says Berlin

 Wikileaks’ CIA hacking dump sends tech firms scrambling for fixes

March 8, 2017

by Eric Auchard

Reuters

FRANKFURT-Tech companies must rapidly step up information-sharing to protect users from prying eyes, a security software executive said on Wednesday after WikiLeaks released a trove of data purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices.

Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization’s revelations, although some said they needed far more information on what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to before they could thwart suspected but previously hidden attacks.

Sinan Eren, vice president of Czech anti-virus software maker Avast, called on mobile software makers Apple (AAPL.O) and Google (GOOGL.O) to supply security firms with privileged access to their devices to offer immediate fixes to known bugs.

“We can prevent attacks in real time if we are given the hooks into the mobile operating system,” Eren said in a phone interview from Silicon Valley, where he is located.

“If we can drive a paradigm shift where mobile platforms don’t shut off access, we’ll be better able to detect when hackers are hiding in a mobile (phone)”, he said.

Avast, which counts more than 400 million users of its anti-virus software worldwide, was named in the WikiLeaks documents as one of the security vendors targeted by the CIA in a leaked page labeled “secret” but lacking further details.

The leaks – which WikiLeaks described as the biggest in the Central Intelligence Agency’s history – had enough technical details for security experts and product vendors to recognize that widespread compromises exist. However, they provided few specifics needed to offer quick fixes.

Reuters could not immediately verify the validity of the published documents, but several contractors and private cyber security experts said the materials appeared to be legitimate. (reut.rs/2mEIxjU)

The 8,761 leaked documents list a wealth of security attacks on Apple and Google Android smartphones carried by billions of consumers, as well as top computer operating systems – Windows, Linux and Apple Mac – and six of the world’s main web browsers.

Apple said in a statement that nearly 80 percent of iPhone users run its current iOS software with the latest security patches. “Many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS; we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities,” Apple said on Tuesday. The statement made no reference to attacks on its computer software.

Google declined to comment, while a Microsoft spokeswoman said: “We’re aware of the report and are looking into it.”

Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco (CSCO.O) were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei [HWT.UL] and ZTE (000063.SZ) and Taiwanese supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan.

Cisco security team members said in a blog post that because WikiLeaks has not released any of the actual hacking exploits, “the scope of action that can be taken by Cisco is limited”.

Omar Santos, a principal engineer in Cisco’s security response unit, said malware appears to be targeting whole families of Cisco devices but is designed to remain hidden so as to steal data unnoticed. He said Cisco assumes WikiLeaks will eventually disclose the hacks, allowing it to fix them.

Huawei declined to comment. ZTE and Zyxel were not immediately available to respond.

STAY OF EXECUTION

Messaging apps protected by full software encryption also appear to be vulnerable to hacking of the smartphones themselves, communications app provider Telegram said in a blog post. But one positive outcome may be that device and software makers will be able to close up these holes, it said.

“This is not an app issue. It is relevant on the level of devices and operating systems like iOS and Android,” Telegram stated, adding: “The good news is that for the moment all of this is irrelevant for the majority of Telegram users. If the CIA is not on your back, you shouldn’t start worrying just yet.”

The WikiLeaks collection contains a mix of copious data and empty files marked “secret” that promised more details to come on attacks against more than 15 security software firms.

U.S. cyber security expert Robert Graham said WikiLeaks provided enough detail to recognize some known vulnerabilities.

“One anti-virus researcher has told me that a virus they once suspected came from the Russians or Chinese can now be attributed to the CIA, as it matches the description perfectly to something in the leak,” Graham said in a blog post.

Some security experts said the CIA’s possible use of tools from other spy agencies raised the risk of false attribution for targeted cyber attacks by the U.S. intelligence agency.

He said CIA cyber spying efforts could be set back years.

The CIA and White House declined comment. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said in a statement.

WikiLeaks said it aims to provoke a political and legal debate about the CIA’s cyber arsenal. However, it was holding back, for now, much of the technical documentation that would allow other hackers and cyber criminals to exploit the hacks – while putting vendors on notice to expect further revelations.

The organization said in a statement it is “avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyber weapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published”.

It described sophisticated tools for targeting the devices of individual users, in contrast to the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of mass data collection on millions of web and phone users worldwide.

(Editing by David Stamp/Mark Heinrich)

 FBI investigating Wikileaks’ vault 7 disclosures on CIA hacking

March 8, 2017

RT

The US has opened a federal criminal investigation into Wikileaks’ publication of what it claims is the largest ever batch of confidential documents on the CIA, revealing the agency’s hacking abilities. The FBI and the CIA are coordinating their reviews.

The FBI has already been investigating transparency organization Wikileaks for years, and the new investigation into Tuesday’s “vault 7” document release is expected to be “another major mole hunt,” a former intelligence official told the Washington Post. “If this is all correct, it’s a big deal.”

Wikileaks published a total of 8,761 documents as part of “Year Zero,” the first part in a series of leaks on the CIA. Tuesday’s release revealed details of the agency’s “global covert hacking program,” including “weaponized exploits” used against company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

The US intelligence and law enforcement communities have been aware of the security breach at the CIA since the end of last year, officials told Reuters Wednesday. However, it is unclear if the CIA sent a crimes report of the incident to the Justice Department, which would have been the formal mechanism to alert federal law enforcement of a potential national security leak, the Washington Post reported.

The documents are believed to be largely genuine, officials told CNN, but they are unsure if all of them are and it’s unclear whether any of the documents were altered.

The government would not confirm the authenticity of the disclosure or hack as a matter of policy, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, adding that it would be “highly inappropriate” to do so. He did, however, point out that all of the issues revealed in the Wikileaks documents “occurred under the last administration.”

Investigators are focusing on CIA contractors as the likely source of the breach, and Wikileaks itself indicated that its source was a former government employee or contractor.

“This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA,’’ WikiLeaks said when it announced the leaks on Tuesday. “The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.’’

To determine the impact of the leaks, investigators will have to determine whether Wikileaks revealed enough details about the computer code to enable others to develop and deploy the hacking tools described in the release.

Speaking generally, Spicer promised that the administration “will go after people who leak classified information,” and will “prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”

“Playing with our nation’s national security is not something that should be taken lightly under this administration,” he said. President Donald Trump is “obviously… very concerned” about “the disclosure of national security on any level. It undermines our country’s national security.”

Spicer also complained about the difference in outrage between disclosures that happened during the Obama administration ‒ including the FBI’s targeting of journalists, specifically the hacking of Fox News reporter James Rosen’s phones, and the Podesta emails regarding Hillary Clinton.

“It’s interesting how there’s sort of a double standard with when the leaks occur how much outrage there is,” he said.

“There is a massive, massive difference” between John Podesta’s personal emails and the most recent CIA revelations, Spicer added later, calling out Democrats for what he sees as their hypocritical reactions to the two situations. “It’s interesting that we’re hearing not as much outrage now when it comes to some of our issues of national security.”

The US may not be the only country to open a criminal investigation into the document release. Germany’s chief federal prosecutor is also weighing such a probe.

“We will initiate an investigation if we see evidence of concrete criminal acts or specific perpetrators,” a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told Reuters. “We’re looking at it very carefully.”

Berlin has generally been in close contact with Washington over such issues, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to meet with Trump in DC next week.

Am I at risk of being hacked?’ What you need to know about the ‘Vault 7’ documents

Should you be worried about agency snooping? Is this WikiLeaks release just the tip of the iceberg? And is someone at the CIA watching too much Doctor Who?

March 8, 2017

by Alex Hern

The Guardian

What has happened?

WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing website run by Julian Assange, has released a cache of documents it calls “Vault 7”, which contains details of hacking tools used by the CIA.

What is in ‘Vault 7’?

WikiLeaks said 7,818 web pages and 943 attachments were published, but were just the first part of more material to come. WikiLeaks said it has an entire archive of data consisting of several million lines of computer code. The documents appear to date between 2013 and 2016. WikiLeaks described them as “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency”.

The files describe CIA plans and descriptions of malware and other tools that could be used to hack into some of the world’s most popular technology platforms. The documents showed that the developers aimed to be able to inject these tools into targeted computers without the owners’ awareness.

The files do not describe who the prospective targets might be, but the documents show broad exchanges of tools and information between the CIA, the National Security Agency and other US federal intelligence agencies, as well as intelligence services of close allies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

What does this mean the CIA can do?

A broad range of devices are targeted by the agency. A lot of attention is focused on breaking into general-purpose computing devices, including PCs and smartphones, with malware that affects iOS and Android phones referred to in the text, as well as Windows and Linux computers.

The tools described would allow the CIA to take almost complete remote control of a user’s phone, turning it into a complete spying device reporting back to the agency. But it would only do so on the most important targets, since each time the agency uses the malware, it runs the risk of being discovered, prompting manufacturers to release a fix to prevent future attacks from succeeding.

Exactly that happened in August 2016, when Apple issued a global iOS update after three attacks implemented to try and break into the iPhone of an Arab human rights activist were discovered.

The documents also include discussions about compromising some internet-connected Samsung televisions to turn them into listening posts. That hack, like many others, would only work in an extremely targeted manner: it requires physical access to the TV in question, since the malware is loaded via a USB port.

One other document discusses hacking vehicle systems, appearing to indicate the CIA’s interest in hacking recent-model cars with sophisticated onboard computer systems.

Why am I hearing names like Weeping Angel and Nandao?

The purported CIA documents range from complicated computer coding to organisational plans to sarcastic comments about the tools’ effectiveness. The comments paint a picture of an agency filled with fairly typical developers, who like to share emojis, discuss the best text editors, and make pop culture references in their code.

Some of the tools in the release were named after alcohol references, including Bartender, Wild Turkey and Margarita. Others referenced popular movies, including Fight Club and Talladega Nights. One hacking tool, codenamed RickyBobby, after the character who is a race car driver in Talladega Nights, was purportedly used to upload and download information “without detection as malicious software”.

The Samsung malware, developed in conjunction with Britain’s GCHQ, is called Weeping Angel, apparently named after a Doctor Who villain.

Who’s behind the leak?

WikiLeaks said the material came from “an isolated, high-security network” inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, the spy agency’s internal arm that conducts cyber offence and defence. It said the documents were “circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorised manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive”. It did not make it clear who was behind the leak, leaving several possibilities: espionage, a rogue employee, a theft involving a federal contractor or a break-in of a staging server where such information may have been temporarily stored.

Is there more coming from ‘Vault 7’?

Wikileaks has promised further releases of information in the future, but has given no date to expect them, nor said what might be contained in them.

The organisation has also suggested that some of the data redacted from the initial release, such as all of the actual computer code, might be released down the line, once it has determined whether it poses a risk.

How has the CIA and US government responded to the release?

A spokesman for the CIA said the agency would not comment “on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents”. Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer declined comment as well.

What have the manufacturers of the targeted devices said?

Apple, one of numerous tech companies whose devices appear to have been targeted, released a statement late on Tuesday saying many of the vulnerabilities described by the documents were already fixed as of the latest version of its iOS mobile operating system, and aimed to reassure customers that it was working on patching the rest of the holes.

It said: “While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities,” it added. “We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates.”

Microsoft and Samsung both said they looking into the reports. The maker of the secure messaging app Signal said the purported tools described in the leaked documents appeared to affect users’ actual phones, but not its software designs or encryption protocols. The manufacturer of the popular Telegram mobile messaging app said in a statement that manufacturers of mobile phones and their operating systems, including Apple, Google and Samsung, were responsible for improving the security of their devices. It said the effort will require “many hours of work and many security updates” and assured its customers: “If the CIA is not on your back, you shouldn’t start worrying yet.”

Am I at risk of being spied on?

Unlike the NSA, which practices on large-scale “SIGINT”, or signals intelligence, the CIA tends to focus on targeted surveillance. The cost of carrying out the attacks described is high, and each time they are used risks them being rendered useless if they are discovered and fixed. That means that it’s unlikely the CIA is using such techniques to hack millions of TV sets at once – not least because that particular hack requires physical access to the TV.

The Agency’s need for targeted attacks on smartphones and other devices is in part due to the general success in encrypted communications. Despite carefully-phrased claims from Wikileaks, the documents contain no indication that encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal have been broken. But if the phone they are running on is compromised at the root level, even the most secure app can’t guarantee its users safety.

As a result, encrypted communication developers are hailing the leaks as evidence of their success. “Ubiquitous [end-to-end] encryption is pushing intelligence agencies from undetectable mass surveillance to expensive, high-risk, targeted attacks,” Open Whisper Systems said in a tweeted statement on Tuesday. “The story isn’t about Signal or WhatsApp, but to the extent that it is, we see it as confirmation that what we’re doing is working.”

Is there anything I can do to help ensure privacy?

Security researcher Matt Blaze shared his tips on Twitter: “What can you do as a user to defend? Boring stuff. Keep your software up to date. Don’t run unneeded apps.” But, most important of all: “Don’t become a CIA target.”

Murder by Accident

March 9, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

In the latest WikiLeaks release, we learn that among other intrusive, and illegal, actions on the part of the CIA, that “The agency explored hacking into cars and crashing them, allowing ‘nearly undetectable assassinations’”

“As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks.The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”WikiLeaks has claimed the CIA planned to hack cars and trucks to carry out assassinations.”

In this, as it has so many times in the past, WikiLeaks has been entirely correct. Not only was the Company looking at such things but has actually practiced them.

The first contrived accident occurred on June 18, 2013, in Los Angeles, California when one Michael Mahon Hastings, an editor for Rolling Stone magazine, had his car suddenly swerve off the highway, smash into the side of the road and explode. It appears Mr. Hastings had incurred the displeasure of the CIA through his investigative writings.

The second contrived accident occurred on June 2, 2014 when IndianUnion Minister Gopinath Munde lost his life in a road accident when a speeding Indica car suddenly swerved and, at a high speed rammed into his Maruti SX4 sedan

Munde, 64, was on his way to the IGI airport when the speeding car travelling at 80-90 km/hour hit the sedan on the left side at 6.20am in Aurobindo Chowk.

Mr. Munde was considered persona non grata in Langley for his actions.

The third contrived accident occurred on September 2, 2014 when the BMW limousine of Russian President Vladimir Putin traveling on  Kutuzovsky Avenue in Moscow was suddenly rammed by a Mercedes Benz traveling in the opposite direction at a high speed. The Benz accelerated and suddenly swerved into oncoming traffic. The BMW was demolished and the chauffer killed instantly. A subsequent police report indicated that no one in the Putin car could have survived the impact. President Putin was out of the country at the time of the incident

All of the vehicles involved had computer systems on board.

Families of 9/11 victims might soon get day in court against Saudi officials

Relatives of the almost 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, are moving forward with their mega-suit against Saudi Arabia over its alleged ties to the terror attacks. A new law passed by Congress over President Obama’s veto allows the legal challenge after years of delay.  Emily Michot  – Miami Herald

March 6, 2017

by James Rosen

Mcclatchy

BOCA RATON  — The pain of Sept. 11, 2001, never goes away for Gina Cayne.

When the Boca Raton widow speaks of losing her husband as he worked on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, tears well in her eyes, her voice strains.

“They killed my husband,” she says, accusing Saudi officials of having financed the 9/11 attacks. “All I want is my day in court.”

She might be within weeks of getting it.

For more than 14 years, relatives of the nearly 3,000 people who died Sept. 11, 2001, battled Washington and several federal judges for the right to sue Saudi Arabia and the royal family in Riyadh — suspected by families and senior members of Congress of providing money and other support to the 19 attackers.

First, district and appellate courts in New York ruled — repeatedly — that a legal protection called “sovereign immunity” prevented the families from suing Saudi Arabia. Then Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama stymied one effort after another by Congress to pass legislation that would overcome those court rulings and open a path for a case to proceed.

But the 9/11 families’ fortunes changed in September, when during a distracting, raucous 2016 presidential campaign, Congress delivered the only veto override of Obama’s eight-year tenure and made the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, settled law.

It has already had an effect: While JASTA was being debated, a federal judge in New York has ordered Iran to pay the families and insurance companies $14 billion for having allowed some of the hijackers to enter and leave the country before Sept. 11 without having transit visas stamped in their passports. Such visas would have made it more difficult for them to enter the United States.

Now, the families are heading to court in the coming weeks, seeking a punitive payout that legal experts say could exceed $1 trillion.

THE FIGHT TO COME

But Saudi Arabia is not done fighting — in court or in Congress. Indeed, Riyadh looks ready to pump unprecedented sums into a lobbying effort to unwind the new law.

The Saudis have hired a team of Washington powerbrokers who have held senior White House and congressional posts going back decades, paying at least 17 firms in Washington, Houston, Cleveland, Denver and Alexandria, Virginia, more than $1 million a month to try to turn back the clock.

Tony Podesta, one of Washington’s top lobbyists and the brother of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager John Podesta, is among the top figures on the team of influential insiders.

“This is one of the biggest lobbying efforts in the history of our country,” James Kreindler, lead attorney for the 9/11 families, told McClatchy.

This time, though, the families can boast of an advantage they’ve never had before — a president who supports their right to sue. President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker, vowed on the campaign trail to do everything he could to help the families, and those families believe he will stand by them even if Saudi money succeeds in turning Congress against a law it just passed.

“There’s no question Trump would veto that,” said Bill Doyle, a retired Wall Street stockbroker who lost his son. “He lived only 30 blocks from Ground Zero. He was down there constantly after the attacks.”

On Sept. 10, 2001, Matthew Sellitto and his 23-year-old son by the same name dropped the younger man’s Jeep 4×4 off at a Morristown, New Jersey, dealership for routine service.

They went to their home in Harding, an affluent hamlet 40 miles west of the Hudson River. On a clear day you could look across the river and see the World Trade Center over southern Manhattan.

High up in the World Trade Center’s north tower, the younger Sellitto worked at the world headquarters of Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm that handled a quarter of all U.S. Treasury security transactions. And that night, father and son joined mother and brother to celebrate Matthew’s promotion to a permanent position on Cantor’s interest-rate swaps desk

The former Seton Hall Prep School hockey star and University of Vermont economics major, still just 23, was elated. His parents were proud.

The next morning, father and son awoke when the alarm went off at 4:20 a.m. Sellitto drove his son to nearby Convent Station to catch the 5:15 a.m. New Jersey Transit train into Manhattan.

More than 15 years later, that short car ride still haunts the father.

Like many other 9/11 families, Matthew and Loreen Sellitto couldn’t bear to remain in the New York area after the attacks. For the tens of thousands of visitors who pour into Manhattan each day, Ground Zero became a hallowed shrine and a tourist attraction. But for those whose loved ones were murdered there, it was an open sore that never healed no matter the towers or memorials that were built on top of it.

Florida drew more of the 9/11 exiles than any other state — at least 100 families, along with relatives of dozens of retired firemen and police who rushed into the doomed towers, according to a government database with the names and contact information for the victims’ relatives.

The Sellittos ended up on Florida’s Gulf Coast, in Naples.

“I got him to the train on time,” Matthew Sellitto said. “I said ‘goodbye, goodbye,’ as you normally do. ‘I love you, I love you. See you later.’

The retired New Jersey real estate developer paused.

“He got out of the car and got on the train. I went home. A little later in the morning, I started to get ready for the day. About five to nine, I get a phone call. I let the answering machine pick it up because I was getting ready to leave. And I hear on the voice message:

“‘Dad, Dad, Mom, Dad!’ I hear it’s my son at the World Trade Center. So I pick the phone up.

“He said, ‘Dad, dad, a freaking plane just flew through the building!’”

“And I’m thinking — a little plane.

“So I said, ‘Well, get out of the building.’ He said, ‘No, no, you don’t understand — we can’t get out! I’m just calling to tell you guys I love you.”

“He says, ‘I got to go.’

“I even asked: ‘What are you guys doing?’

“He said, ‘We’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.’

“And that was it. The call ended. He hung up the phone. That’s the last time I heard from my son Matthew.”

GOVERNMENTS ACCUSED

Less than a year after the attacks, 9/11 families filed suit in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York in lower Manhattan.

The lawsuit accused almost 150 people, companies and organizations across the Middle East and beyond as having helped carry out the 9/11 attacks.

One group of defendants was obvious: Osama bin Laden, Taliban chief Mullah Omar and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the Pakistani-born head of al Qaeda propaganda and self-professed plotter of the 9/11 attacks. He would be captured March 1, 2003, and is being held with other alleged terrorists at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Like many other 9/11 families, Matthew and Loreen Sellitto couldn’t bear to remain in the New York area after the attacks. For the tens of thousands of visitors who pour into Manhattan each day, Ground Zero became a hallowed shrine and a tourist attraction. But for those whose loved ones were murdered there, it was an open sore that never healed no matter the towers or memorials that were built on top of it.

Florida drew more of the 9/11 exiles than any other state — at least 100 families, along with relatives of dozens of retired firemen and police who rushed into the doomed towers, according to a government database with the names and contact information for the victims’ relatives.

The Sellittos ended up on Florida’s Gulf Coast, in Naples.

His voice rose.

“Their money killed my son! Who are they that they can get away with it? Are they that much bigger than the rest of the world that they can get away with it?”

And then he began to shout.

“I don’t play like it’s not about the money. No, it is! I want their money! And I want as much of it as I can get. I want it! Who are they to have that money? I want it! They used that money to murder my son!”

DE FACTO LEADER

Bill Doyle is one of the de facto leaders of the families group pushing to sue. The retired stockbroker now lives in The Villages, a gated sprawling enclave of 157,000 affluent people spread over thousands of acres 60 miles northwest of Orlando.

Like Trump, the man for whom Doyle enthusiastically voted and claims to have been chummy with in the Big Apple, the new Floridian is prone to making brash statements that emphasize his connections in high places and put him in the middle of the action.

Except for when he discusses Joseph Doyle, the 25-year-old son he lost on Sept. 11.

The younger Doyle was working for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor when American Airlines Flight 11 struck it between the 93rd and 99th floors.

Like Matthew Sellitto, Joseph Doyle had just been promoted. Unlike Sellitto, Doyle was not able to call his parents to say goodbye.

“I did get a driver’s license and a credit card,” his father said quietly. “That’s the only part of my son I have.”

Bill Doyle threw himself into making the tragedy’s perpetrators pay for their crime. He contacted lawyers and lawmakers, made frequent trips to Washington, and devoured everything he could read about the attacks.

Doyle attended frequent sessions in New York, on Monday nights, with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, his aides, and several lawyers.

Another regular at the meetings with Giuliani was Lee Ielpi, a New York City firefighter who spent nine months digging out bodies at Ground Zero. On Oct. 12, he carried his son, also a firefighter, from the rubble.

Now living in Osprey, south of Sarasota, Ielpi is not interested in the Saudis’ money. He wants to see them in court.

“I want this brought into the open,” Ielpi told McClatchy last month “People say the families just want money. Bullshit! It’s not about the money. People need to be brought to justice. There were people in Saudi Arabia, whatever positions they were in, who knew the people that committed this crime — who were involved with the people who committed this crime, who met them in California. If in fact it can be proved that the country or higher-ups within the country were involved, we should sue them for everything we can get.”

Over the years, Doyle has become a one-man information clearinghouse as the families seek justice.

“I’m probably the chief advocate for 9/11 families,” Doyle said. “It started from Day One. All the families were running around in circles,” Doyle said. “I saw the need that those people had to be united.”

Doyle painstakingly assembled a database with all their contact information and details of loss, later sharing it with the government.

Like others, Doyle concluded that it was impossible for the hijackers — with few independent means, low education and limited English — to have acted alone. And so he focused on the men that he became certain were the hijackers’ sponsors — senior Saudi officials and members of the royal family.

Over the next decade, Doyle worked with lawmakers and attorneys to craft legislation that would enable the families to sue the Saudi government.

According to Doyle, he and the families’ lawyers had frequent contact with Bush and Obama administration officials in the State and Justice Departments, addressing their concerns over a bill that would eventually be called the Justice Against Sponors of Terorism Act.

But that wasn’t his only angle. He wanted the federal government to release the Saudi section of the intelligence committees’ 2003 report on 9/11’s causes.

So on Sept. 11, 2011, when Obama traveled to Ground Zero to mark the 10th anniversary of the attack, Doyle was there. At a private lunch afterward, he confronted Obama.

“He got up and he said to me, ‘I will get them released,’” Doyle recalls. “And I said, ‘Oh, God bless, thank you.’”

“For five years nothing happened.”

Beyond making the Saudis pay billions to the families, Doyle has a more visceral goal: He wants to see Prince Bandar punished.

While serving as Saudi ambassador to the United States, Bandar became one of the capital’s most prominent diplomats. Bandar smoked cigars, wore Western clothes and spoke English impeccably. He often delighted his U.S. hosts by quoting corny American sayings. Now Crown Prince and retired in Saudi Arabia, Bandar served as head of its intelligence apparatus from 2012 to 2014.

The 28 pages suggest that money from Bandar was funneled to two of the Saudi hijackers through an intermediary suspected of being an intelligence agent for Riyadh.

“I want my day in court and [to] get his ass in jail,” Doyle said.

Doyle holds special contempt for James Baker, who served as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush and earlier as White House chief of staff for Bush and President Ronald Reagan. Baker Botts, the Houston law firm that his father had helped found, defended the Saudi royal family in the 9/11 families’ lawsuit.

And it was that law firm that helped convince federal judges to reject the families’ suit.

GRAHAM’S ROLE

The federal court rulings that shielded Saudi Arabia sparked a bitter battle on Capitol Hill and at the White House to change the law granting sovereign immunity to foreign governments.

The then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Florida’s Bob Graham, was at the center of it.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Graham began to see raw intelligence suggesting that the Saudi hijackers had not acted alone. He learned that before the attacks, some of them had met with senior Saudi officials both in the oil-rich kingdom and in California, where several had lived.

Graham would later learn, thanks in part to stories in the Florida Bulldog and the Miami Herald, of a wealthy Saudi family in his home state that had befriended other of the hijackers in Florida, and then fled their Sarasota home just weeks before 9/11.

As the coming weeks turned into months, Graham helped lead the first congressional investigation of the attacks, co-authoring a report based on 500 interviews that said communication breakdowns within and among the FBI, the CIA and other federal and local intelligence and law-enforcement agencies had contributed to the failure to uncover the 9/11 plot.

But when the House-Senate Joint Inquiry report was released after a seven-month review by U.S. intelligence agencies, its authors noticed an omission; the final 28-page chapter, examining possible Saudi ties to attacks.

That redaction bothered Graham so much that for the next 13 years, while still in Congress and then after he retired in January 2005, he made it his mission to get the missing 28 pages released.

“My wife says that I failed at retirement. I would agree with her,” Graham said with a chuckle over a recent lunch on the patio of his Miami Lakes office. “There’s been an injustice to these Americans who suffered so grievously in 9/11. And it has emboldened the Saudis. Since they’ve received not even the mildest form of a complaint from the United States for what they’ve done, they’ve interpreted that as being impunity. They can do whatever they want to do. And they have continued to finance terrorists.”

As he pursued his quest to uncover the truth, Graham had some strange encounters.

In November 2011, Graham and his wife got off a flight from Florida at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where they had traveled to enjoy Thanksgiving with their daughter. Although the senator had not informed the government of his itinerary, he said two FBI agents met him at the gate. According to Graham, they handed his wife an FBI manual to read and whisked him away to the agency’s secret office in another part of the airport.

Then-Deputy Director Sean M. Joyce was waiting, according to Graham, and delivered an unusually blunt message, especially one directed to a former governor and retired U.S. senator who had held the highest security clearance a lawmaker can hold.

“He basically said that everything to be found out about the situation with Saudi Arabia and 9/11 had been learned, that I was wasting my time and I should get a life and do something more productive,” Graham recalled.

Graham chuckled again“Obviously I didn’t accept his information or his suggestion very well,” he said.

In another episode, Graham said he learned that an FBI agent in Tampa had done a probe and found many connections between the wealthy Saudi family that had fled Sarasota just before the 9/11 attacks and three Saudi hijackers then living there.

Pressed by Graham on why they had never released the findings, the FBI questioned the agent’s competence.

“Why did they appoint to what was clearly going to be a very important inquiry someone they didn’t have full confidence in?” Graham asked.

The FBI declined multiple requests to respond to Graham’s assertions.

The U.S. government released the long-withheld congressional intelligence chapter on possible Saudi ties on July 26, 2016. Although partially redacted, the 28 pages revealed hints but no proof of official Saudi involvement in the terror attacks.

Focusing on three hijackers who had lived in Southern California, the section revealed their interaction with two possible Saudi intelligence agents and their friendship in San Diego with a Saudi man, Osama Basnan, who lived across the street from two of them.

After the attacks, Basnan told an FBI undercover agent that he had helped the hijackers, was an avid supporter of bin Laden and had cashed a $15,000 check from an account belonging to Saudi Prince Bandar, who at the time was his government’s ambassador to the United States, according to the report.

Both the Saudi government and the Obama administration said the secret section showed, as the then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest put it, “no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al Qaida.”

Graham disagreed, and still does.

“It points a strong finger at Saudi Arabia’s involvement,” he said.

“It has been the primary funder of the regional offshoots of al Qaida in Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere,” he said. “It has continued to operate madrassas throughout the Middle East, North Africa and particularly in Pakistan. It has been a key source of money and fresh jihadists. I would not assume that Saudi Arabia is an important ally. I would even say I don’t think it is our ally, period.”

HEADING BACK TO COURT

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, working with Doyle, crafted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. While not mentioning Saudi Arabia by name, it authorizes Americans to sue any government that facilitates or carries out an act of terror on U.S. soil.

Bush, whose family has longstanding ties with the Saudi royals, helped block the measure, warning that it threatened to harm relations with a critical Arab ally. Two influential national security lawmakers, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, pressed their peers not to take it up.

But seven years later, with American sentiment shifting against Middle East entanglements, the legislation’s supporters not only got the bill introduced but saw it passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate in 2016.

Citing similar concerns as Bush and warning the law would not protect Americans, Obama vetoed the measure Sept. 23. Five days later, the House and the Senate overrode that veto in a second set of bipartisan votes.

“We must not hold justice for the 9/11 families hostage to imagined fears,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who lost more constituents on Sept. 11 than any other representative, on the House floor.

“If the Saudi government was not complicit in the attack on 9/11, the plaintiffs will fail to prove such complicity in an American court,” he said. “Justice will have been served, and the Saudis will have been vindicated after years of suspicion. But if it is proven in an American court that the Saudi government was complicit in the attacks on 9/11, justice will have been served — and we, not the Saudis, will have justification to be very angry.”

In the nearly five months since JASTA became law, the families’ attorneys have been preparing to go back into court. They are tweaking previously filed documents and readying new ones with more recent information related to their claim, starting with details from the 28 pages.

They would also like to obtain an un-redacted version of that section of the 2003 congressional intelligence report’s section focusing on possible Saudi ties to 9/11.

But even with support from Trump’s White House, the 9/11 families are in for a fight — and an expensive one.

The Saudi government hired Washington lobbyists to get the law gutted as the new Congress began in January, paying them some $1.3 million a month.

Riyadh is also ramping up pressure on U.S. officials, threatening to retaliate against any suit by selling $750 billion in U.S. assets. In a terse statement a day after JASTA became law, the Saudi Foreign Ministry warned: “The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States.”

The Saudi Embassy declined to comment despite repeated requests from McClatchy. Michael Kellogg, a lead attorney for Saudi Arabia in the case, also declined comment.

The Saudis take heart in a strange about-face by 28 senators who supported JASTA. Within hours of voting to override Obama’s veto, they wrote a letter to the bill’s chief sponsors, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, expressing second thoughts.

“If other nations respond to this bill by weakening U.S. sovereign immunity protections, then the United States could face private lawsuits in foreign courts as a result of important military or intelligence activities,” they wrote.

Among the senators were Republicans Graham of South Carolina, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Jim Risch of Idaho, along with Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The senators offered to work with Cornyn and Schumer “in a constructive manner to appropriately mitigate those unintended consequences.”

Last month, the Saudi lobbyists brought 20 to 40 veterans for three days of pressuring lawmakers to weaken JASTA, putting them up at Trump’s new luxury hotel in downtown Washington, according to Politico.

To counter the Saudis’ lobbying blitz, the families have assembled their own power team.

Some of the most prominent plaintiffs’ law firms are representing them, including Kreindler & Kreindler of New York, Motley Rice of South Carolina, and Ethridge Quinn of Maryland.

Jack Quinn, who served as White House chief counsel under President Bill Clinton and retains powerful connections in Washington, is helping the legal team craft strategy.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s simply no doubt that charities and other institutions associated in one way or another with the Saudi government, and individuals associated with the Saudi government, were providing material support to al Qaida, the designated terrorist organization that carried out this attack,” Quinn told McClatchy. “It is inevitable that the time will come, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, when the Saudis will have to answer these allegations in court.”

The law firms are working pro bono. Having already donated tens of millions of dollars to the cause, they hope to recoup payment via a large settlement with the Saudi government.

Quinn and James Kreindler negotiated the 2003 deal in which Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of 270 people killed Dec. 21, 1988, when Pam Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Gina Cayne is more interested in justice than money.

“I just want the people who helped to murder my husband and the other 3,000 people to be held accountable for their actions,” the Boca Raton widow told McClatchy last month. “I just don’t want to see his murder brushed under the rug. Hopefully we can stop them from killing any more Americans.”

Sellitto and Cayne have new hope that their court date will come. Doyle does too.

Just before Doyle’s wife died in 2012, she beseeched him to continue his quest to get justice for their son and the other Sept. 11 victims.

“One of the last things she said to me to me was, ‘Billy, don’t give up.’ And I said, ‘I’ll never give up.’”

Then, like so many others who lost loved ones on that horrendous day, Billy Doyle wept.

Islamic State leader Baghdadi abandons Mosul fight to field commanders, U.S. and Iraqi sources say

March 8, 2017

by Isabel Coles, John Walcott and Maher Vhmaytelli

Reuters

MOSUL, Iraq/WASHINGTON-U.S. and Iraqi officials believe the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battle of Mosul, and is now hiding out in the desert, focusing mainly on his own survival.

It is impossible to confirm the whereabouts of the Islamic State “caliph”, who declared himself the ruler of all Muslims from Mosul’s Great Mosque after his forces swept through northern Iraq in 2014.

But U.S. and Iraqi intelligence sources say an absence of official communication from the group’s leadership and the loss of territory in Mosul suggest he has abandoned the city, by far the largest population center his group has ever held.

He has proved to be an elusive target, rarely using communication that can be monitored, and moving constantly, often multiple times in one 24-hour cycle, the sources say.

From their efforts to track him, they believe he hides mostly among sympathetic civilians in familiar desert villages, rather than with fighters in their barracks in urban areas where combat has been under way, the sources say.

ISOLATED

At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of Baghdad in Iraq.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces began an operation five months ago to recapture Mosul, a city at least four times the size of any other the group has held. The biggest battle in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, it has been slow going, in part because hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in harm’s way.

The 100,000-strong Iraqi force fully captured the eastern half of Mosul in January, and commanders began an operation to cross the Tigris and take the western half last month. Progress has since been steady and the coalition says its victory is now inevitable, which would dismantle the caliphate in Iraq.

The intelligence sources point to a sharp drop in Islamic State postings on social media as evidence that Baghdadi and his circle have become increasingly isolated.

Baghdadi himself has not released a recorded speech since early November, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle, when he called on his followers to fight the “unbelievers” and “make their blood flow as rivers.”

Since then, sporadic Islamic State statements mention attacks carried out by suicide bombers at various locations in Iraq and Syria, but place no particular emphasis on Mosul, despite the city being the main center of fighting.

Neither Baghdadi nor any of his close aides released any comment on the fall of the eastern part of the city in January.

The group’s presence on Telegram, a social media network that had become its main platform for announcements and speeches, has tapered off. The coalition estimates that Islamic State activity on Twitter has fallen by 45 percent since 2014, with 360,000 of the group’s Twitter accounts suspended so far and new ones usually shut down within two days.

“GAME IS UP”

In what is likely to be a major symbolic victory for the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, they are now closing in on the area around Mosul’s Great Mosque on the western bank of the Tigris, where Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate.

More than half of the 6,000 jihadists left to defend the city have been killed, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, the author of the book “World of Daesh”, who also advises the Iraqi government. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

U.S. commanders sound upbeat and say the battle for the city is now in a late stage.

“The game is up,” U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Matthew Isler told Reuters at the Qayyara West Airfield south of Mosul, adding that some of Islamic State’s foreign fighters are trying to leave the city.

Those left behind to fight, mostly Iraqis, are putting up a “very hard fight” on the tactical level but they are no longer an integrated force, as coalition air strikes took out command and control centers, car bombs and weapon caches, he said.

“They have lost this fight and what you’re seeing is a delaying action,” he said.

Although the loss of Mosul would effectively end Islamic State’s territorial rule in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials are preparing for the group to go underground and fight an insurgency like the one that followed the U.S.-led invasion.

The “caliphate” as a state structure would end with the capture of Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria, possibly later this year.

Raqqa is far smaller than Mosul, but mounting operations against Islamic State in Syria has been trickier than in Iraq, because the group’s many Syrian enemies have mostly been pre-occupied fighting among themselves in a civil war since 2011.

Nevertheless, Islamic State has faced setbacks in Syria over the past year against three main foes: U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab militias, the Russian-backed Syrian army, and mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels backed by Turkey.

“The inevitability of their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” said Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition, adding that the group’s leadership was now focused on little more than survival.

The last official report about Baghdadi was from the Iraqi military on Feb. 13. Iraqi F-16s carried out a strike on a house where he was thought to be meeting other commanders, in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, it said.

Baghdadi, an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim al-Samarrai, is moving in a remote, mostly-desert stretch populated exclusively by Sunni Arab tribes north of the Euphrates river, according to Hashimi.

The area stretches from the town of Baaj, in northwestern Iraq, to the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal on the Euphrates.

“It’s their historic region, they know the people there and the terrain; food, water and gasoline are easy to get, spies are easier to spot” than in crowded areas, he said.

The U.S. government has had a joint task force to track down Baghdadi which includes special operations forces, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies as well as spy satellites of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

But Baghdadi seems to have learnt the lessons from the 2011 capture and killing of Osama bin Ladin, and relies on multiple couriers and not just one, unlike the al Qaeda founder, say U.S. intelligence sources.

He also switches cars during trips, a lesson learnt from the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda figure in Yemen.

Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, but Iyad al-Obaidi, also known as Fadel Haifa, a security officer under former dictator Saddam Hussein, is known to be the de facto deputy, according to Iraqi intelligence sources.

More than 40 leading members of the group have been killed in coalition air strikes, but the insurgency is likely to continue even if Mosul is captured and Baghdadi and his aides are killed, according to Iraqi security experts.

“There will be other commanders rising because the structure of the organization remains,” said Fadhil Abu Ragheef, an Iraqi security expert specialized in IS affairs.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Mosul, John Walcott in Washington and Maher Chmaytelli in Baghdad; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; additional reporting by Mohammed el-Sherif in Cairo and Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Peter Graff)

The Left’s great Russian conspiracy theory

March 2, 2017

by Brendan O’Neill

The Spectator

The chattering classes have officially lost it. On both sides of the Atlantic. Of course they’d been teetering on the cliff edge of sanity for a while, following the bruising of their beloved EU by 17m angry Brits and Hillary’s loss to that orange muppet they thought no one except rednecks would vote for. But now they’ve gone over. They’re falling fast. They’re speeding away from the world of logic into a cesspit of conspiracy and fear. It’s tragic. Or hilarious. One or the other.

Exhibit A: this week’s New Yorker. It’s mad. It captures wonderfully how the liberal-left has come to be polluted by the paranoid style of McCarthyist thinking since Trump’s victory. It’s a New Yorker for a future, dystopian America that’s been captured by the Evil Empire. The mag’s masthead is in Cyrillic and its famous dandy mascot — Eustace Tilley — has morphed into Putin. It’s now ‘Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley’. Inside the mag it’s even more feverish. A 13,000-word report, ‘Trump, Putin and the New Cold War’, is accompanied by a drawing of a deep-red, UFO-style Kremlin hovering over the White House and firing lasers into it. It’s CGI Hollywood meets House Un-American Activities in an orgy of liberal dread over Ruskies ruining the nation.

It used to be right-wingers who fretted over Russians and Reds and pinkos colonising Westerners’ lives and minds. Now it’s lefties. Trump is regularly called ‘Putin’s puppet’. He’s an ‘unwitting agent’ of Moscow, we’re told. The New York Times even called him ‘The Siberian Candidate’, echoing the title of the 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate, in which an American is brainwashed by Korean Communists to become an assassin. That’s how some seriously view Trump: a Putin-moulded footsoldier of Russian interests who’ll assassinate the American way of life, if not American citizens. I mean, Vanity Fair actually asks: ‘Is Trump a Manchurian Candidate?’ These people need a lie down. You have to get deep into the New Yorker’s prolix report to discover that US officials still haven’t provided evidence for their claim that Putin ordered the hacking of Democrat emails in order to hurry Trump to power: ‘The declassified report [on Putin’s meddling] provides more assertion than evidence.’

But that hasn’t stopped the left McCarthyists, these Reds on the Web fearmongers, from buying into all kinds of claptrap about Putin putting Trump in the White House. In December, a YouGov survey of Democratic voters found that 50 percent of them think ‘Russia tampered with vote tallies to help Trump’. That is, White House-eyeing Putinites actually meddled with voting machines or ballot counts. There’s no evidence whatever for this. In YouGov’s words, it’s an ‘election day conspiracy theory’. A kind of delirium is spreading.

The spectre of Putinite meddling is now blamed for everything that doesn’t go the liberal elite’s way. Ben Bradshaw said it is ‘highly probable’ Russia interfered in the EU referendum. Here, ‘highly probable’ is code for ‘I don’t have a solitary shred of evidence for this but I feel it in my waters’. Even the concern over ‘fake news’, which is a problem, is being bent to this broader, swirling fear of malevolent foreigners waging war on our apparently pristine politics and media. It always uses the lingo of invasion. Meet ‘the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media,’ said a Guardian report at the weekend, about a rich bloke who’s setting up various news websites.

The Guardian piece talks about the ‘war of the bots’, including ‘Russian bots’ (‘organised by who?’, it asks, menacingly). Apparently these ‘automated bots’ on Twitter and other social-media sites — a bot being a computer programme designed to say the same stuff over and over — are pumping out political messages and hashtags that have helped to ‘change the conversation’ and boost support for the likes of Trump and Brexit. What’s really being said here is that my mind, your mind and the mind of anyone who doesn’t love the EU or think Hillary would have made a good president have been invaded by Russian bots — ‘organised by who?’ You know who! — and made to believe certain things. Richard Dawkins summed it up in a tweet about the Guardian piece: ‘Terrifying. Sinister social-media bots read minds & manipulate votes. Explains mystery of Trump & Brexit.’

Dear, dear me. What has become of these people? They really believe Putin made Brexit happen? That Ruskies tampered with vote counts in the US? That Russian computer bots ‘read minds’? They’ve lost it. They’ve gone. The very people who for years talked about the problem of conspiracy theories have become the keenest spreaders of conspiracy theories. The people who spent the past few months banging on about the ‘post-truth’ politics of Brexit and Trump have shown they don’t have the first clue what truth is. The people who posed as champions of logic have revealed themselves as peddlers of paranoia.

In his seminal 1964 essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, written in the aftermath of McCarthyism, Richard Hofstadter nailed the two elements of the fearful, fact-lite political mind: first, the obsession with ‘patterns’ of behaviour that might point to a conspiracy; and second, the conviction that the entire political order is under threat from some external force. He noted that McCarthy often talked about the ‘baffling pattern’ of certain politicians’ antics, which seemed to compliment, at least, ‘the wellbeing of the Kremlin’. And he described how political paranoiacs always think civilisation itself is being menaced: ‘The paranoid spokesman traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders.’

This beautifully describes the situation today. Those opposed to the current political order now scrabble about for evidence of Putin-friendly ‘patterns’ of behaviour among Trumpites, tying together every fleeting phone call or dinner engagement into proof that the White House is primarily concerned with the ‘wellbeing of the Kremlin’. And they, too, wring their hands over the end of America or the end of Europe — ‘the death of whole worlds’, the end of everything. They have vacated the world of reason. They’re in the land of the paranoid now, and they don’t even know it.

Turkey has stepped up spying in Germany, says Berlin

Amid ongoing diplomatic unrest, German intelligence has reported an increase in Turkish spying in Germany. Turkey’s Foreign Minister meanwhile has said Berlin “must decide whether Germany is a friend or not.”

March 8, 2017

DW

While tensions between Berlin and Ankara have escalated ahead of next month’s referendum on Turkey’s presidency, the German government said on Wednesday that there has been a significant increase in Turkish spying in Germany.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, said divisions in Turkey leading up to the controversial April 16 referendum on boosting the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were mirrored in Germany.

“The BfV is observing a significant increase in intelligence efforts by Turkey in Germany,” it said in a statement. No further details were provided.

Called referendum rallies

Already strained relations between Germany and Turkey reached a new low this month in a row over canceled Turkish political rallies to drum up support for the impending referendum.

Some 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to cast their ballot in the vote.

Hoping to calm the storm on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met with his Turkish counterpart Melvut Cavusoglu in Berlin. While both diplomats agreed on the importance of good relations, Cavusoglu said that Germany must now “decide whether Turkey is a friend or not.”

More talks in the pipeline

In light of recent comments from both Cavusoglu and Erdogan, Gabriel also made it clear that in maintaining good relations “there are lines that should not be crossed.”

“…And one of those is the comparison with Nazi Germany,” Gabriel said.

Cavusoglu, meanwhile, said he would host Gabriel for a new round of talks in Turkey “as soon as possible.”

In a bid to secure support ahead of next month’s referendum, Erdogan himself is also due to hold a rally in Germany. Critics have warned, however that the proposed presidential system which seeks to expand Erdogan’s powers as president would cement a one-man rule in the country.

Concerns over right-wing Turks and PKK

Fuelled by concerns over tensions between right-wing Turks in Germany and supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Bfv President Hans-Georg Maassen launched an investigation in January into possible spying by clerics sent to Germany by Ankara.

“There is the danger that these proxy fights between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) supporters and nationalist, right-wing extremist Turks will escalate because there is a high, hard-hitting potential for danger in both groups,” Maassen said.

Although not specifically addressing the issue of Turkish spying, Maassen told reporters in January that Germany would not tolerate Turkish intelligence operations within its borders.

#FreeDeniz

Echoing Maassen on Wednesday, Gabriel said following his meeting with Cavusoglu that Turkey’s internal fights should not be imported into Germany.

Berlin has had its own fight to deal with in recent weeks, however, following the arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.

Yucel, a journalist for the German newspaper “Die Welt,” was arrested last month over allegations of terrorism propaganda, making him the first German reporter to be detained in Turkey as part of Erdogan’s wide-ranging crackdown on press freedom.

The 43-year-old, who has penned several articles critical of the Turkish government’s treatment of ethnic Kurds, has been in jail pending trial ever since, with Erdogan labeling him a “German agent.”

 

 

 

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