TBR News November 24, 2017

Nov 24 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 24, 2017: ”I regularly help a friend with a very elite business assess potential workers.

I am amazed at the almost total lack of knowledge on the part of recent college or university graduates, although a large number of these alleged developers of higher learning are nothing but money-making scams.

One graduate, with honors, had no idea where Egypt (‘Next to Mexico?” said one recently) was and another thought that Lake Erie was in Arizona.

And the worst of these ill-educated ones all carried some kind of cell phone or tablet and during my interview, they were constantly fishing their electronic toys out of pocket or purse and having brief and mindless bursts of talk with their callers.

All of these useless creatures were told how excited I was in looking over their applications and that I would get back to them very soon.

The applications went straight into the shredder and I armed myself for the next applicant.

If these honor graduates represent the cream of American intelligentsia, I shudder to contemplate the future.

I call this the Curse of the Millennials or the Triumph of Matter over Mind.”

Table of Contents

  • Staggering Variety of Clandestine Trackers Found In Popular Android Apps
  • The US-Saudi Starvation Blockade
  • Backstory: The resignation – and return – of Lebanon’s Hariri
  • ‘They shot at ambulances’: 235 dead, scores injured in bomb & gun attack at Sinai mosque
  • Irish government set to fall weeks before Brexit summit
  • Hello? Anybody Home? Germany’s Voice Suddenly Missing in Brussels
  • The Ever-Expanding ‘War on Terror’
  • The CIA’s private wars


Staggering Variety of Clandestine Trackers Found In Popular Android Apps

November 24 2017

by Yael Grauer

The Intercept

Researchers at Yale Privacy Lab and French nonprofit Exodus Privacy have documented the proliferation of tracking software on smartphones, finding that weather, flashlight, rideshare, and dating apps, among others, are infested with dozens of different types of trackers collecting vast amounts of information to better target advertising.

Exodus security researchers identified 44 trackers in more than 300 apps for Google’s Android smartphone operating system. The apps, collectively, have been downloaded billions of times. Yale Privacy Lab, within the university’s law school, is working to replicate the Exodus findings and has already released reports on 25 of the trackers.

Yale Privacy Lab researchers have only been able to analyze Android apps, but believe many of the trackers also exist on iOS, since companies often distribute for both platforms. To find trackers, the Exodus researchers built a custom auditing platform for Android apps, which searched through the apps for digital “signatures” distilled from known trackers. A signature might be a tell-tale set of keywords or string of bytes found in an app file, or a mathematically-derived “hash” summary of the file itself.

The findings underscore the pervasiveness of tracking despite a permissions system on Android that supposedly puts users in control of their own data. They also highlight how a large and varied set of firms are working to enable tracking.

“I think people are used to the idea, whether they should be or not, that Lyft might be tracking them,” said Sean O’Brien, a visiting fellow at Yale Privacy Lab. “And they’re used to the fact that if Lyft is on Android and coming from Google Play, that Google might be tracking them. But I don’t think that they think that their data is being resold or at least redistributed through these other trackers.”

Among the Android apps identified by the researchers were, with six or seven trackers each, dating apps Tinder and OkCupid, the Weather Channel app, and Superbright LED Flashlight; the app for digital music service Spotify, which embedded four trackers, including two from Google; ridesharing service Uber, with three trackers; and Skype, Lyft, Accuweather, and Microsoft Outlook.

(A Spotify spokesperson wrote, “We take data security and privacy very seriously. Our goal is to give both our users and advertising partners a great experience while maintaining consumer trust.” An Uber spokesperson referred The Intercept to its published details on its use of cookies, which lists some of their third-party cookie providers but is not intended to be comprehensive. Users who visit the privacy policy section of Uber’s website can follow an opt-out link which appears to only apply to interest-based advertising on web traffic. The preferences do not work if a user disables third party cookies, and users must opt out again after deleting their cookies.)

Some apps have their own analytics platforms but include other trackers as well. For example, Tinder uses a total of five trackers in addition to its own.

“The real question for the companies is, what is their motivation for having multiple trackers?” asked O’Brien.

Tinder’s heavy use of trackers means the company has been able to make use of behavior analytics, and also to accept payment from shaving supply company Gillette for highly targeted research: Do college-aged male Tinder users with neatly-groomed facial hair receive more right swipes than those with untidy facial hair?

Capabilities of the trackers uncovered by Exodus include targeting users based on third-party data, identifying offline movement through machine learning, tracking behavior across devices, uniquely identifying and correlating users, and targeting users who abandon shopping carts. Most trackers work by deriving an identification code from your mobile device or web browser and sharing it with third parties to more specifically profile you. App makers can even tie data collected from trackers with their own profiles of individuals, including names and account details. Some tracking companies say they anonymize data, and have strict rules against sharing publicly identifiable information, but the sheer wealth of data collected can make it possible to identify users even in the face of such safeguards.

Although some or all of the apps identified by Exodus and Yale researchers may technically disclose the use of trackers in the fine print of their privacy policy, terms of service, or app description, it is difficult, to say the least, for smartphone users to get a clear handle on the extent and nature of the monitoring directed at them. The whole point of using a mobile app, after all, is often to save time.

“How many people actually know that these trackers are even there?” said Michael Kwet, another visiting fellow at Yale Privacy Lab. “Exodus had to create this software to even detect that they were in there.”

A few of the trackers offer users the option to opt out via email or through their privacy settings. But tracking can resume even after this step is taken. For example, one app requires that users who clear their cache set up the opt-out again. Some opt-outs are temporary. Even if the opt-outs do end up being permanent, few users would even know to activate them in the first place.

Meet the Trackers

Google has a vested interest in allowing liberal use of trackers in apps distributed through Google Play: One of the most ubiquitous in-app trackers is made by Google’s DoubleClick ad platform, which targets users by location and across devices and channels, segments users based on online behavior, connects to personally identifiable information, and offers data sharing and integration with various advertising systems. DoubleClick’s tracker is found in many popular apps, including Tinder and OkCupid, Lyft and Uber, Spotify, the Weather Channel and Accuweather, and the popular flashlight apps Superbright LED flashlight and LED light.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that its ad platforms DoubleClick for Publishers and AdMob serve ads on both Android and iOS devices, and that it ties information collected by the networks to a persistent identifier to measure engagement. Although users can control information Google uses to show them ads, they cannot specifically opt out of DoubleClick.

DoubleClick prohibits vendors from sharing personally identifiable information or other unique identifiers, and states that it only stores general location data like city and zip code rather than precise location information unless users enable location history in their Google account. App developers who use the DoubleClick Ad Exchange are required to disclose in their privacy policies that the user’s identifier will be shared unless the user opts out of ad tracking, and to explain how the user can reset their identifier. Google shares attribution data with advertisers and third party measurement partners using these identifiers.

Perhaps the most invasive of the trackers is Fidzup, a France-based mobile performance marketing platform for brick and mortar retailers. The company has stated in its advertising copy that it has developed communication between a sonic emitter and a mobile phone (either iOS or Android) by emitting an inaudible tone to locate a user within a shopping mall or a store. User phones receive the signal and decode it to give away their location. The company further uses geofencing to track users to a so-called “catchment area,” such as a specific section within a store, where it can serve them targeted ads, possibly for a competing retailer.

Mathieu Vaas, a spokesperson for Fidzup, said that the company has not used inaudible tones in two years, but is instead using wifi-based technology to obtain data regarding how customers behave within stores and to retarget them with ads. But information on sonic technologies is posted on Fidzup’s website (as of November 21st) and detailed further in an older version of the site accessed on October 15. Vaas stated that these pages are outdated and inaccessible from the main page, and will be scrubbed from a new website that’s currently being prepared.

Vaas also confirmed that, even just using wifi technology, Fidzup can track highly specific in-store behavior such as aisles visited, the time spent in them, the number of visits to a store, and so forth. Fidzup can also leverage other apps to obtain geolocation data, but the only third parties receiving that data are retailers that have installed the company’s wifi technology within their store, he added, and the data it is only related to behavior within the store.  Vaas later said that Fidzup does not share information with third parties.

“In every store where we are present, we inform the public of the presence of data-gathering technology in the store and indicate to them that they can turn their wifi off, as well as provide them with a link that allows them to permanently opt-out of Fidzup. In that case, their data will be recognized and scrapped automatically and they won’t be retargeted with ads from Fidzup ever,” he said via email.

Though based in France, Fidzup has a presence in San Francisco, and Vaas said that the company plans to start effectively operating in the U.S. soon. Since Fidzup is a French company, Vaas said they are subject to stricter privacy laws and regulations than the U.S. has, and as they “deeply respect consumers’ rights to privacy and their civil liberties,” they plan to operate under those standards in the U.S. as well.

O’Brien and Kwet seemed less impressed with the company’s privacy commitment, writing, “Fidzup’s practices mirror that of Teemo (formerly known as Databerries), the tracking company that was embroiled in scandal earlier this year for studying the geolocation of 10 million French citizens.” Teemo collected navigation data from mobile users and used it to drive in-store sales by targeting users based on locations they had visited. Its website states that it may collect location data using GPS, cell towers, wifi access points, wireless networks, and sensors such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, compasses, and barometers. In addition to collecting IP addresses and identifiers assigned to mobile devices, it also may obtain information from third parties to combine with what it has and share its information with third parties (with some stipulations) as well. As with Fidzup, it is not immediately clear to what extent Teemo is operating in the U.S. Although Teemo is a French company based in Paris, it has an office in New York. Teemo did not respond to request for comment.

Surveillance Mission Creep

Not all trackers are equally invasive, though many grab more information than they arguably should. For example, Google-owned Crashlytics is presumably just a crash reporter, but it does much more than simply performing analytics on app logs. The app, used by Tinder, OkCupid, Spotify, Uber, Superbright LED and LED Light, can also link users across multiple cookies and devices. Microsoft’s HockeyApp, used by Microsoft Outlook, Skype, and the Weather Channel, goes beyond simply collecting and analyzing crash reports but can also track daily active users, monthly active users, the net number of new users, and session counts. AppsFlyer (used by Tinder, Superbright LED, and the Weather Channel) does fraud prevention and protects from malware, but also fingerprints devices by their IDs, tracks users across datasets to circumvent the fragmentation caused by users with different devices, and tracks which users install which apps. A spokesperson for AppsFlyer directed The Intercept to the company’s privacy policy, and stated that the tracker only works with businesses and advertisers, and does not engage with end users. Its terms and conditions also require clients to disclose the collection and use of data in their own privacy policies.

In addition to DoubleClick, Teemo, and Fidzup, Braze (formerly App-Boy) and Salesforce DMP (formerly Krux) appear to collect large amounts of user data. Braze, used by OkCupid and Lyft, can track users by location, target them across devices and channels, and serve targeted advertising based on consumer actions. Salesforce DMP, used by OkCupid, not only captures user clicks, downloads, and other interactions, but also uses hashed device management to effectively circumvent Safari’s third-party blocking. The tracker allows marketers to use machine learning to discover personas, uses cross-device ID, and even uses behavioral analysis to guess when a user is sleeping, and a probabilistic matching algorithm to match identities across devices. There is an opt-out on the Salesforce website, though it’s unclear what percentage of OkCupid users are aware that the dating site is wrapped around the Salesforce DMP tracker and would even know to opt out. (OkCupid did not respond to request for comment.)

Weather apps are ubiquitous, and one wouldn’t guess that they’d include surveillance. But both Accuweather and the Weather Channel apps (along with Spotify) use the ScoreCardResearch tracker, which can also track data on usage, including information on web browsing and app usage behavior over time and across digital properties, possible relationships between browsers and devices—which can be provided to third parties for advertising purposes. The tracker can even use third-party service providers to obtain more non-personally identifiable information to add to unique profiles using cookies.

The tracker Millennial Media (formerly Nexage) is used by Accuweather and Super Bright LED to “automate the buying and selling of mobile advertising” targeting channel and demographic segments, such as a shampoo company targeting “women ages 25-55 with an emphasis on…pregnancy, stress, and bleach/coloring.”

Microsoft Outlook, the Weather Channel, Superbright LED, and LED Light use Flurry, a mobile ad platform acquired from Yahoo! by Verizon subsidiary Oath. Flurry tracks device and app performance metrics and analyzes user interactions, identifies user interests, stores data profiles as personas, groups and correlates user data, and injects both native and video ads. A spokesperson for Oath said that Flurry’s terms of service require app developers to post a privacy policy notifying what data is collected, stored, and shared and either linking to Flurry’s privacy policy or describing their opt-out service. In addition, the spokesperson said only information that’s not personally identifiable leaves Flurry’s system.

Another tracker, Tune, follows Rideshare users’ online and offline behavior  across devices and also tracks in-app user behavior, uniquely identifies users, and tracks their location.

The AppNEXUS tracker, used by, among other apps, Superbright LED, uses machine learning for targeted advertising. In a phone call, AppNexus spokesperson Joshua Zeitz confirmed that the tracker collects mobile advertising identifiers, type of phone, IP addresses, and a unique app identifier. The company does store mobile advertising identifiers as well as cookies from web users, but Zeitz said data on what ads have been served to what identifiers is only retained for up to 33 days, and that the tracker does not collect names, numbers, or account numbers, that it only keeps device and browser identifiers and cookies, and that it cannot de-anonymize users from its data set. AppNexus stated that it does not share device and browser identifiers tied with third parties.

O’Brien said app developers can choose the types of advertising they embrace, but that it’s unlikely users are thinking about those decisions when installing apps. He also doesn’t see permissions as a solution. “If you’re in a situation where you’re asking the victim of the tracking how much tracking they want, you’ve already gone too far. It’s already a problem,” he said.

Without an overhaul of the advertising-rich phone system, O’Brien said the best solution may be to use the software repository F-Droid, which distributes only free and open source software that does not include unknown or masked trackers or code.


The US-Saudi Starvation Blockade

November 24, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Our aim is to “starve the whole population – men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound – into submission,” said First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

He was speaking of Germany at the outset of the Great War of 1914-1918. Americans denounced as inhumane this starvation blockade that would eventually take the lives of a million German civilians.

Yet when we went to war in 1917, a U.S. admiral told British Prime Minister Lloyd George, “You will find that it will take us only two months to become as great criminals as you are.”

After the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, however, the starvation blockade was not lifted until Germany capitulated to all Allied demands in the Treaty of Versailles.

As late as March 1919, four months after the Germans laid down their arms, Churchill arose in Parliament to exult, “We are enforcing the blockade with rigor, and Germany is very near starvation.”

So grave were conditions in Germany that Gen. Sir Herbert Plumer protested to Lloyd George in Paris that morale among his troops on the Rhine was sinking from seeing “hordes of skinny and bloated children pawing over the offal from British cantonments.”

The starvation blockade was a war crime and a crime against humanity. But the horrors of the Second World War made people forget this milestone on the Western road to barbarism.

A comparable crime is being committed today against the poorest people in the Arab world – and with the complicity of the United States.

Saudi Arabia, which attacked and invaded Yemen in 2015 after Houthi rebels dumped over a pro-Saudi regime in Sanaa and overran much of the country, has imposed a land, sea and air blockade, after the Houthis fired a missile at Riyadh this month that was shot down.

The Saudis say it was an Iranian missile, fired with the aid of Hezbollah, and an “act of war” against the kingdom. The Houthis admit to firing the missile, but all three deny Iran and Hezbollah had any role.

Whatever the facts of the attack, what the Saudis, with U.S. support, are doing today with this total blockade of that impoverished country appears to be both inhumane and indefensible.

Almost 90 percent of Yemen’s food, fuel and medicine is imported, and these imports are being cut off. The largest cities under Houthi control, the port of Hodaida and Sanaa, the capital, have lost access to drinking water because the fuel needed to purify the water is not there.

Thousands have died of cholera. Hundreds of thousands are at risk. Children are in danger from a diphtheria epidemic. Critical drugs and medicines have stopped coming in, a death sentence for diabetics and cancer patients.

If airfields and ports under Houthi control are not allowed to open and the necessities of life and humanitarian aid are not allowed to flow in, the Yemenis face famine and starvation.

What did these people do to deserve this? What did they do to us that we would assist the Saudis in doing this to them?

The Houthis are not al-Qaida or ISIS. Those are Sunni terrorist groups, and the Houthis detest them.

Is this now the American way of war? Are we Americans, this Thanksgiving and Christmas, prepared to collude in a human rights catastrophe that will engender a hatred of us among generations of Yemeni and stain the name of our country?

Saudis argue that the specter of starvation will turn the Yemeni people against the rebels and force the Houthi to submit. But what if the policy fails. What if the Houthis, who have held the northern half of the country for more than two years, do not yield? What then?

Are we willing to play passive observer as thousands and then tens of thousands of innocent civilians – the old, sick, weak, and infants and toddlers first – die from a starvation blockade supported by the mighty United States of America?

Without U.S. targeting and refueling, Saudi planes could not attack the Houthis effectively and Riyadh could not win this war. But when did Congress authorize this war on a nation that never attacked us?

President Obama first approved U.S. support for the Saudi war effort. President Trump has continued the Obama policy, and the war in Yemen has now become his war, and his human rights catastrophe.

Yemen today is arguably the worst humanitarian crisis on earth, and America’s role in it is undeniable and indispensable.

If the United States were to tell Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that we were no longer going to support his war in Yemen, the Saudis would have to accept the reality that they have lost this war.

Indeed, given Riyadh’s failure in the Syria civil war, its failure to discipline rebellious Qatar, its stalemated war and human rights disaster in Yemen, Trump might take a hard second look at the Sunni monarchy that is the pillar of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.


Backstory: The resignation – and return – of Lebanon’s Hariri

November 22, 2017


Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri returned to Beirut on Nov. 22, saying he would remain in his position as prime minister.

His sudden and mysterious re-emergence ended weeks of high-stakes political drama. To tell the story, a team of Reuters journalists, including Laila Bassam, Tom Perry and Samia Nakhoul, leveraged extensive regional sources in politics and government developed over many years.

When Hariri surprisingly announced his resignation in a speech on Nov. 4 from Saudi Arabia, our Middle East team of reporters could tell something was not quite right.

The speech included denunciations of Hezbollah and Iran in unusually hostile or violent terms, language that was atypical of the pragmatic Hariri, and it hewed closer to the line taken by Saudi authorities who owned the channel on which the speech was broadcast, further raising suspicions.

Hariri’s delivery and body language, with eyes repeatedly darting to a script he held in his hands, prompted the Reuters team in Beirut to promptly reach out to their network of contacts to figure out the story behind the resignation.

They found Hariri’s aides and colleagues were just as surprised as they were. Moreover, they appeared unsettled, and some were afraid to speak on the phone, prompting reporters to spend time over several days communicating with sources via messaging applications and face-to-face meetings.

Their work resulted in two exclusive stories documenting the behind-the-scenes developments in a crisis pushing Lebanon to the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Speaking to government officials close to Hariri, Reuters journalists were able to document insider accounts, telling how Hariri’s phone had been confiscated, and how he was kept waiting for hours before being handed a copy of his resignation speech, which he was forced to read on TV.

The key to delivering stories detailing the machinations of a normally secretive world is a deep bench of well-placed sources in the region.

“Sources trust us,” said Samia Nakhoul, Middle East editor for Reuters. “We have long relationships with these officials, politicians and advisers.”

Nakhoul said the key to developing and maintaining these sources is to check in and meet with them, even when Lebanon is not front-page news and they cannot provide information relevant to current events.

These sources allowed Reuters to answer the most significant question that Hariri’s speech raised: was he voluntarily resigning?

The journalists first heard of Hariri’s situation from two sources — but decided they needed more given the sensitivity of the story. They eventually got information from a third source who confirmed the government’s belief he was being held.

The sources included two top government officials in Beirut as well a senior politician, who said he had been ordered to resign and put under house arrest — an unexpected disclosure that led to another exclusive story.


They shot at ambulances’: 235 dead, scores injured in bomb & gun attack at Sinai mosque

November 24, 2017


Friday prayers at a mosque in Egypt took a tragic turn after a coordinated bomb and gun attack targeted worshippers, killing 235 people and injuring some 130 others. Ambulances transporting the wounded also came under attack by gunmen.

The blast at Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, northern Sinai, prompted worshippers to flee the building, running for their lives. When they did so, they came under attack by gunmen. Photos posted online showed bodies covered in blankets inside the mosque.

Ambulances which arrived at the scene to carry the injured to nearby hospitals also came under attack. “They were shooting at people as they left the mosque,” a local resident whose relatives were at the scene told Reuters. “They were shooting at the ambulances too.”

The attacks were carried out by suspected militants. State TV reported that five attackers were involved.

Arabiya news channel and local sources said some of the worshippers were Sufis, who hardliners such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) regard as apostates because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry.

The office of Egyptian President Abdelfattah El-Sisi has declared three days of mourning following the attack. He said that although the attack was aimed at shaking Egyptians’ confidence, it will only increase the country’s efforts to counter terrorism, according to Al Arabiya.

Following the attack, el-Sisi vowed to “vigorously” respond to the actions of the terrorists. “It is a cowardly attack that aims to destabilize the [Egyptian] unity, spread bitterness, and make us doubt our abilities,” he said, addressing the nation. “However, this attack will do nothing but make us stronger and more persistent to combat terrorism,” the president added.

A major campaign, ‘Operation Revenge of the Martyrs,’ has been launched following the attacks, the news outlet reported. Egyptian security forces then allegedly killed 15 extremists involved in the mosque attack in a drone strike in the Al-Risha desert, not far from Bir al-Abed where the attack took place, Sky News Arabia reports citing security sources.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent condolences to the Egyptian president, describing Friday’s attack as cruel and cynical. “The murder of civilians in the course of a religious service is striking with its cruelty and cynicism. We are once again convinced that the notion of human morality is absolutely alien to terrorists,” Putin said in a channel on the messaging app Telegram.

US President Donald Trump described the attack as “cowardly,” while stressing that the world must defeat terrorists militarily.

Militants in the sparsely-populated Sinai peninsula have largely targeted security forces in their attacks since Sisi, then an armed forces commander, led the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Twenty-four IS militants and six Egyptian soldiers were killed in a series of coordinated attacks on checkpoints last month. In July, at least 23 soldiers were killed after suicide bombs hit two military checkpoints, in an attack claimed by IS. Sisi described Sinai as a “nesting ground for terrorism” following a suicide bombing that killed 31 soldiers in 2014.

However, jihadists have also targeted local Sinai tribes working with armed forces, viewing them as traitors for cooperating with the military and police. They have also tried to expand into Egypt’s mainland, targeting Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims. Twenty-nine people were killed when gunmen attacked a Coptic group traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt in May.


Irish government set to fall weeks before Brexit summit

November 24, 2017

by Conor Humphries and Padraic Halpin


DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s minority government looked set to collapse on Friday after the party propping it up submitted a motion of no confidence in the deputy prime minister, weeks before a summit on Britain’s plans to leave the European Union

The crisis is likely to lead to an election next month or in January and may complicate the Dec. 14-15 Brexit summit.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is due to play a major role in the talks, telling EU leaders whether Ireland believes sufficient progress has been made on the future border between EU-member Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland.

The border is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly resolved before it decides whether to move the talks onto a second phase about trade, as Britain wants.

Varadkar is now likely to go into the summit as a lame duck prime minister or in the middle of an election campaign.

The head of opposition party Fianna Fail Micheal Martin said his party had submitted a motion of no-confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald over her handling of a legal case involving a police whistleblower.

Martin told state broadcaster RTE an election “can be avoided if the government takes action” by asking Fitzgerald to resign. But the government said this would not happen.

Varadkar and Martin are due to meet later on Friday.

“At a time when issues and decisions will need to be made that will reverberate in our country for decades to come, the prospect of either an election taking place or a government not being in place afterwards is actually unconscionable,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told RTE.

“These are historic decisions … The agenda that is at play here is one of political interest. We need to be aware of the consequences of the approach that Fianna Fail are taking here,” the usually calm Donohoe fumed.

Asked if Varadkar could seek to dissolve parliament on Friday, Donohoe said that was a matter for the prime minister.

Junior Finance Minister Michael D‘Arcy told Reuters he believed there would be an election before Christmas and a source familiar with the party’s planning said it had begun to make preparations on Friday for an election.


As well as the border, the other issues Brussels wants resolved before talks move on to trade arrangements are Britain’s financial settlement on leaving the bloc and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier assured Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Friday that the EU would defend Dublin’s position in talks with Britain over the coming weeks.

“Strong solidarity with Ireland,” Barnier wrote on Twitter. “Irish issues are EU issues.”

Coveney told parliament on Thursday the government was not yet ready to allow the talks to move on to trade issues and needed more clarity from London.

Fianna Fail’s Martin said Varadkar could still take part in the EU summit and that parliament would be united in supporting him. But the collapse would inevitably distract Varadkar and could undermine his standing during the talks.

University College Dublin politics professor David Farrell said Varadkar may be tempted to take a hard line against the United Kingdom in the talks in a bid to shore up support among voters who are overwhelmingly against Brexit.

“I suppose the only card he can try and play to distract from the crazy shenanigans around the causes of this election is leadership in Europe,” he said.


An election in December or January would be dominated by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, two center-right parties that differ little on policy but have been bitter foes for decades.

But it would also present an opportunity for Irish nationalists Sinn Fein to see if leader Gerry Adam’s decision last week to step down will boost its support. While Sinn Fein has said it wants to enter government, the two largest parties have ruled out doing a deal with the party, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Since Varadkar’s appointment as Fine Gael leader six months ago, his party has narrowly led Fianna Fail in opinion polls that suggest both parties would increase their support but struggle to form anything but another minority government.

The Fianna Fail move comes after Fitzgerald admitted she was made aware of an attempt to discredit a police whistleblower in a 2015 email, but failed to act. Fine Gael say she adhered to due process.

The case relates to a whistleblower who alleged widespread misconduct in the force. His treatment by the authorities led in 2014 to the resignations of the then police commissioner and justice minister.



Hello? Anybody Home?: Germany’s Voice Suddenly Missing in Brussels

After the German election, French President Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for far-reaching EU reforms. But with coalition talks having collapsed in Germany, Berlin suddenly has no voice. Some in Brussels are yearning for a return of the SPD.

November 24, 2017

by Peter Müller


European Union Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger wanted to know what is going on in Germany. To find out, he set up a number of meetings in Berlin this week, including one in the Chancellery. He also arranged to chat with Christian Lindner, the head of the Free Democrats (FDP) and the man who unexpectedly turned his back on German coalition talks in Berlin last Sunday night.

The reason for Oettinger’s interest in the political developments in Germany is simple. He has been assigned with writing a draft EU budget for the next 10 years and his due date is next May. He is currently traveling from capital to capital on the Continent to determine how member states envision EU spending for the period from 2018 to 2027.

But the German voice, which generally carries significant weight when it comes to budgetary questions,is silent these days. “The long process of assembling a government is weakening Germany’s influence in Brussels,” says Oettinger. “German influence on important issues is currently undiscernible.”

The failure of German coalition negotiations in Berlin has caught the European Union completely off guard. Ahead of elections in France and the Netherlands earlier this year, there had been widespread concern about the rise of the right wing and potential difficulties when it came to assembling a governing coalition in those countries. Few such concerns were voiced ahead of Germany’s general election on Sept. 24. Everyone assumed that Germany was solid.

Now, though, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken center stage in the EU with his ambitious reform proposals while European Council President Donald Tusk has already come up with a detailed timeline for transforming Macron’s vision into concrete policy decisions. And suddenly, Germany has vanished. “You’re ruining our entire presidency,” complained Kaja Tael, Estonia’s permanent representative in Brussels. Estonia currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

On the Wane

On Monday afternoon, just a few hours after the collapse of coalition talks was announced in Berlin, the European General Affairs Council met in Brussels. The General Affairs Council is made up of the European affairs ministers from EU member states and they were meeting to decide where to relocate the two EU agencies that have to move out of London as a result of Brexit. Some EU observers believe that the council’s decision to relocate the European Banking Authority (EBA) to Paris instead of Frankfurt is an early sign that German influence is on the wane.

Outside the room, Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra joked that his country needed seven months to assemble a new government earlier this year, so the Germans still have five months left. But inside, the mood was more serious. Michael Roth, state minister in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, did what he could to assuage the concerns of his EU counterparts. “Our neighbors are very concerned,” he said. “It’s quite distressing: The election of Macron opened the door wide to changes in the EU. But nobody is walking through.”

The EU is particularly impatient for German input on questions pertaining to economic and currency union. Macron would like to see the creation of a budget to help countries that run into trouble through no fault of their own. But it remains unclear how large that fund should be and who will control it, the European Commission or the individual member states. To be sure, the draft coalition agreement that had been on the table before talks were broken off wouldn’t have provided a clear answer on those issues either. But now, some in the EU are growing concerned that new elections in Germany – which wouldn’t take place before early 2018, if that is the path that Berlin ends up choosing – would strengthen the FDP, which has shown significant skepticism regarding many of the reforms Macron has proposed. A poll released on Thursday found that the FDP is up to 12 percent support, up 1.3 percentage points from its result in the Sept. 24 general elections.

Even More Precarious

Time, though, is growing short. Council President Tusk had been hoping to discuss central questions regarding economic and currency union at the EU summit in mid-December. But with Merkel now merely the head of a caretaker government, doing so makes little sense. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has taken the opportunity to warn smaller EU member states that they shouldn’t wait around for the German-French “motor” to rumble to life again. “Perhaps the other EU members should use the situation in Germany as an opportunity to think themselves about what EU reforms they would like to introduce,” she told DER SPIEGEL in an interview.

The situation will become even more precarious early next year when the negotiations on future EU spending become more concrete. One issue that needs to be address is how to fill the revenues gap that will be created once the British leave the EU. More importantly, though, Budget Commissioner Oettinger would like to change the focus of EU spending to focus more on education and digital issues. But if the Germans want to exert influence on budgetary decision, they have to hurry, Oettinger warns. “I need clarity by next February at the latest,” he says.

Oettinger’s favored scenario, a preference he shares with many in Brussels, would be for German Social Democrats to seriously consider joining another coalition with Merkel. The party ruled out such a scenario immediately following the Sept. 24 election and did so once again after coalition negotiations collapsed last Sunday night. But with pressure mounting on the party to reconsider, the SPD met late into the night on Thursday night and emerged saying the party is now open to at least preliminary talks. It is a decision that Macron, too, will no doubt welcome: He believes that the SPD is more open to his EU plans than Merkel is.

Oettinger, meanwhile, says he has had positive experiences with SPD ministers in Brussels. “From the perspective of Germany’s negotiating position in Europe, the SPD should reconsider whether it might want to return to a governing coalition after all,” he says.

The Ever-Expanding ‘War on Terror’

In the shadows, the U.S. special operations war on “terrorists” keeps on expanding around the globe, now reaching into Africa where few detectable American “interests” exist

November 14, 2017

by Jonathan Marshall


If national-security reporters are ever replaced by robots writing boilerplate stories, blame it on the fact that U.S. military policy has become so predictable and repetitive.

Consider this New York Times story from 2011:

“The Central Intelligence Agency is building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for strikes in Yemen using armed drones. . . . The construction of the base is a sign that the Obama administration is planning an extended war in Yemen against an affiliate of Al Qaeda. . . . The clandestine American operations in Yemen are currently being run by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.”

Back then, the story could just as well have been set in South Asia, where Pakistan was also a major target of CIA and military drone strikes. Today it could apply, with only a few word changes, to new drone bases in Africa that target jihadists across the vast and thinly populated Sahel region.

As NBC recently reported, “The Trump administration is paving the way for lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger as the U.S. military pushes forward with a plan to arm the Reaper drones that fly over that country.”

That push was prompted by the recent killing of four Americans soldiers who were supporting a secret Joint Special Operations Command mission. NBC reported that their death “is fueling an urgency within the Trump administration to take more aggressive steps against the terrorist groups that are operating in North and West Africa, according to intelligence and military officials.”

It’s not clear whether the Trump administration even knows what terrorist groups to target. Numerous armed bands operate in the vast desert region, where ethnic and tribal disputes are rife.

Nor is it clear what critical U.S. interests are at stake. Take a look at a map of Africa and see if you can identify anything that most Americans would find worth fighting over within a one-thousand-mile radius of Niger.

The Action-Reaction Cycle

Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s response is the latest predictable move in the action-reaction cycle we have seen so many times since 9/11: Washington sends troops to the Middle East, South Asia or Africa to wage war against terrorists. The terrorists kill some of the Americans, so Washington sends even more troops, drones and bombers.

In the process, invariably, some civilians die. More terrorists are born. Soon the United States is building more far-flung bases and waging war in yet another country, without explicit congressional authorization.

As a military strategy, this bipartisan strategy has been a dismal failure. At a cost of several trillion dollars, U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries have succeeded only in growing the numbers of terrorists and insurgents and widening their geographic footprint.

In Yemen, for example, drone strikes and Joint Special Operations Command missions in late 2009 and early 2010 killed dozens of civilians, fueling recruitment of local Al Qaeda ranks.

After one such attack with cluster munitions killed 35 women and children in 2009, Princeton University’s Gregory Johnsen called the Obama administration’s strategy “incredibly dangerous” because it would draw new support to radical jihadists — as indeed it did. Four years later, another U.S. attack wiped out a wedding procession, causing nationwide outrage.

Yet the Trump administration has dramatically increased the pace of drone strikes and other military operations in Yemen, including a botched raid in January that killed “scores of civilians” and one U.S. commando.

More Terror in Somalia

President Obama insisted in 2014 that the “strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

That rosy assessment would come as news not only to the people of Yemen, who have seen Al Qaeda thrive since the United States and Saudi Arabia expanded that country’s war, but also in Somalia. The East African country recently suffered the worst terror attack in its history — a truck bomb that killed more than 300 people in the center of Mogadishu.

That attack, according to news reports, may have avenged a “botched U.S.-led operation” against al-Shabaab insurgents in August, which killed ten civilians, including three children.

Few Americans are aware of the scope of U.S. military operations in Somalia, where Washington is fighting one of its many undeclared wars. American drone strikes may have killed as many as 510 people in the country since 2007, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks death and injury reports.

In addition, the Pentagon has sharply increased the number of U.S. soldiers in the country, from 50 or so early this year to more than 400 today.

On March 30, President Trump declared Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” giving the Pentagon authority to conduct air strikes without interagency vetting to minimize civilian casualties. The decision was quickly followed by a wave of suicide attacks by al-Shabaab against Somali government forces.

Niger Is Next

The head of the U.S. Africa Command has called Somalia “our most perplexing challenge,” but Niger surely ranks high on the list. Its contingent of 800 U.S. soldiers is one of the largest of several dozen low-profile U.S. military deployments on the continent.

The proposed expansion of drone strikes to that nation “would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations,” according to NBC. To date, drones flown by the United States out of a base in Niger have been used only in Libya and Somalia. The base was approved by the Obama administration in 2014 to target “emerging” terrorist threats in the Sahel.

Donald Trump, who long ago forgot his promise to pull back from costly military interventions abroad, is doubling down on Obama’s strategy. “The war is morphing,” said Trump’s close confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the Armed Services Committee. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

The United States already has hundreds of soldiers stationed in neighboring Cameroon, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and other nations — some 6,000 troops in all of Africa.

Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, reports that the U.S. military now conducts an average of nearly 3,500 missions per year on the continent, an “explosive” increase of 1,900 percent since the U.S. Africa Command was created in 2008.

Beware of a Backlash

“The huge increase in U.S. military missions in Africa over the past few years represents nothing less than a shadow war being waged on the continent,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

“This military-heavy policy,” Hartung warned, “risks drawing the United States more deeply into local and regional conflicts in Africa and generating a backlash that could actually aid terrorist organizations in their recruitment.”

The most authoritative new study of the sources of terrorism and insurgency on the continent, Journey to Extremism in Africa (September 2017), finds that what triggers many individuals to join violent groups are incidents of government-sponsored violence, such as “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend.”

“These findings throw into stark relief the question of how counter-terrorism and wider security functions of governments in at-risk environments conduct themselves with regard to human rights and due process,” concludes the report, based on interviews with more than 500 former members of militant organizations.

“State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse. . . These findings suggest that a dramatic reappraisal of state security-focused interventions is urgently required.”

Numerous other experts have drawn similar conclusions from conflict zones in the Middle East and Asia. In 2008, a RAND Corporation report on Lessons for Countering al-Qa’ida warned the U.S. military to “resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment. . . . Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.”

Similarly, the Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy, composed of former senior officials of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department, warned in 2014 that U.S. strikes had strengthened radical Islamic groups in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Among other drawbacks, it declared that “civilian casualties, even if relatively few, can anger whole communities, increase anti-US sentiment and become a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. Even strikes that kill only terrorist operatives can cause great resentment, particularly in contexts in which terrorist recruiting efforts rely on tribal loyalties or on an economically desperate population.”

These findings seem fully applicable to Niger, where “The growing foreign military footprint in the country appears to have fed a local backlash against both the government and Western countries,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Since the killing of the U.S. soldiers, Niger authorities have made things worse, rounding up village leaders and ordering thousands of people to evacuate the area where the Americans were ambushed in order to escalate the war on local militants.

The outcome will, of course, be the exact opposite of what Washington intends. As University of Kent professor Yvan Guichaoua said, “Targeting these groups is the best way to make their leaders heroes, foster unity in jihadi ranks, and inflame communal violence. All policymakers working in the area know well the highly inflammable nature of the situation.”

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has almost no one “working in the area.” President Trump only got around to announcing his intent to nominate an ambassador to Niger on September 2. The administration has deployed only five ambassadors to a continent of 54 countries and has not yet appointed a senior policymaker for Africa in the State Department.

Africa is suffering from a host of maladies, including ineffectual and corrupt governance, severe climate change, crumbling infrastructure and technological backwardness — as well as civil wars and insurgencies. The United Nations just warned that the continent needs 11 million more doctors, nurses and teachers to prevent a “social and economic disaster” by 2030.

Trying to address these complex ailments through increased U.S. armed intervention will simply aggravate the problem, as it has in so many other parts of the world. That should be the real lesson we take from the tragic failure of the recent U.S. military mission in Niger, and from the broader tragedy of our post–9/11 response to terrorism abroad.

The CIA’s private wars

November 24, 2017

by Christian Jürs


In 1951, when Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the oil industry in that Mideast nation, he was deposed by a coup instigated by the CIA and the Shah came to power, assuming complete control in 1963.Thousands of Iranians, perhaps millions died during the repressive rule of the Shah and his SAVAK secret police. The Shah was finally forced out in 1979 by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who became the US’s latest foreign enemy despite the fact that he had been on the CIA payroll while living in Paris. The Shah was granted asylum in the United States.

In Guatemala in 1954, again the CIA toppled the popularly elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, which had nationalized United Fruit property.

Prominent American government officials such as former CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith, then CIA Director Allen Dulles, Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs John Moors Cabot and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were all closely connected to United Fruit.

An estimated 120,000 Guatemalan peasants died in the resulting military dictatorships.

Fidel Castro, with covert aid from the CIA, overthrew the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and instituted sweeping land, industrial and educational reforms as well as nationalizing American businesses. Swifty labeled a communist, the CIA then organized anti-Castro Cubans resulting in numerous attacks on Cuba and the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. The island nation has been the object of US economic sanctions since that time.

More than 3,000 persons died in the wake of an invasion of the Dominican Republic by US Marines in 1965. The troops ostensibly were sent to prevent a communist takeover, although later it was admitted that there had been no proof of such a takeover.

Also in 1965, the US began the bombing of North Vietnam after President Johnson proclaimed the civil war there an “aggression” by the north. Two years later, American troop strength in Vietnam had grown to 380,000. US dead by the end of that Asian war totaled some 58,000 with casualties to the Vietnamese, both north and south, running more into the millions.

In 1973, the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile was overthrown by a military coup aided by the CIA. Allende was killed and some 30,000 persons died in subsequent violence and repression, including some Americans.

In 1968, the General Suharto overthrew General Sukarno, the dictator of Indonesia, again with aid from the CIA. Suharto proved even more dictatorial and corrupt than his predecessor. A reported 800,000 people died during his regime.

Another 250,000 persons died in 1975 during the brutal invasion of East Timor by the Suharto regime aided by the US Government and Henry Kissinger.

In 1979, the powerful Somoza family, which had ruled Nicaragua since 1937, was finally overthrown and Daniel Ortega was elected president. CIA-backed Contra insurgents operating from Honduras fought a protracted war to oust the Ortega government in which an estimated 30,000 people died.

The ensuing struggle came to include such shady dealing in arms and drugs that it created a scandal in the United States called Iran-Contra, which involved selling arms to Iran and using the profits to support the Contras.

US Marines landed in Lebanon in 1982 in an attempt to preventing further bloodshed between occupying Israeli troops and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Thousands died in the resulting civil war, including several hundred Palestinians massacred in refugee camps by Christian forces working with elements of the Israeli armed forced under Sharon.

Despite the battleship shelling of Beirut, American forces were withdrawn in 1984 after a series of bloody attacks on them.

In 1983, US troops invaded the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada after a leftist government was installed. The official explanation was to rescue a handful of American students who initially said they didn’t need rescuing.

For nearly 20 years, during the 1970s and 1980s, the US Government gave aid and arms to the right wing government of the Republic of El Salvador for use against it leftist enemies.

By 1988, some 70,000 Salvadorans had died.

More than one million persons died in the 15-year battle in Angola between the Marxist government aided by Cuban troops and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, supported by South Africa and the US Government.

When Muammur al-Qaddafi tried to socialize the oil-rich North African nation of Libya beginning with his takeover in 1969, he drew the wrath of the US Government. In 1981, it was claimed that Qaddafi had sent hit teams to the United States to assassinate President Reagan and in 1986, following the withdrawal of U.S. oil companies from Libya, an air attack was launched which missed Qaddafi but killed several people including his infant daughter.

In 1987, an Iraqi missile attack on the US frigate Stark resulted in 37 deaths.

Shortly afterward, the Iraqi president apologized for the incident.

In 1988, a US Navy ship shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf resulting in 290 deaths. The Reagan Administration simply called it a mistake.

Thousands of freedom-seeking Chinese were killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 after hardliners conferred with former President Richard Nixon on how to deal with the dissidents.

About 8,000 Panamanians died over Christmas, 1989, when President George H.W. Bush sent US troops to invade that Central American nation to arrest his former business partner, Manuel Noriega. The excuse was that Noriega was involved in the importation of drugs to the United States. U.S .News & World Report noted that in 1990, the amount of drugs moving through Panama had doubled.

Iraqi casualties, both military and civilian, totaled more than 300,000 during the short Persian Gulf War of 1991.

It has been estimated that more than one million Iraqis, including women and children, have died as a result of the continued missile and air attacks over the past decade as well as economic sanctions against that nation.

Also in 1991, the United States suspended assistance to Haiti after the election of a liberal priest sparked military action. Eventually, US troops were deployed.

The names of nations that have felt the brunt of US CIA and/or military activity as a result of foreign policy include Somalia, Afghanistan, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Brazil, Chad, Sudan and many others.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated during the Vietnam War, “My government is the world’s leading purveyor of violence.” He did not say “my country” or “my people,” it is the government, or rather those who control it, that are responsible. Although we the distracted and unaware citizens who claim to live in a democracy must take our fair share of the blame.





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